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Not all who wander are lost.

April 13, 2010

Especially in this case.  If you are looking for my blogging you can now find me working on a new project.

Crispy Edges

Tah Dah!

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Chili for a chilly day – along with some philisophical musings on humanity.

January 21, 2009

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had made beans for the first time. Unfortunately, the project intended for the beans was nowhere near completion, so I neglected to mention how they would be used.

Being the daughter of a good Texan, I could hardly make it through this cold winter without making a good pot of chili. I have my mom’s recipe, the ingredients take up an entire page. There are a some cool ingredients (tequila and chocolate) that add depth of flavor. But there are also I few ingredients I didn’t want to use (spicy V8 and Bush’s chili magic). So I had to rework the recipe from scratch.

I have a theory pertaining to cultural food, which is that it is nearly impossible to escape the culinary styles of your home culture. You can adapt recipes from that culture – but they will always be a little off.  I feel that this is caused by the lack of comfort with the ingredients and methods. Anyone can fallow a recipe, but to be able to cook at an improvisational level takes total immersion, or at least total dedication. This is a problem I’ve run into when attempting curries, or Pad Thai. My cooking style is a blend of tex-mex and euro-american traditions. Which means that I cook the onions first, then the garlic, then whatever else, and add the spices last. As much as I admire other culture’s cuisines, most of my attempts seem to be watered down versions of the real thing.

One example that immediately comes to mind, is my experimentation with curries. Last summer I had an ample supply of fresh produce at my disposal. I wanted to make a big batch of vegetable curry that would last me through the week. So I cooked my onions, garlic and hot peppers, and then added the chopped up veggies, and finally added the tomatoes and spices.

It was awful. It tasted like I had drenched the vegetables in curry-spiced-ketchup. The next day I told my boss about my misadventure with curry, at which point she mentioned that with Indian food you always cook the spices and onions first – soon fallowed by the tomatoes.

Since then, my curries have turned out much better.  I’m still a long way off from mastery – but now at least they are enjoyable.

Back to the chili: I thought it would be interesting to use my lesson in Indian cooking, and re-translate it to my cullinary comfort-zone. The beans had soaked all night, during the day I had stewed them in pureed tomatoes, onions, and spices. Instead of going about my usual chili routine, this time I pureed the onions, garlic, habeneros, and spices (a la curry paste). I sauteed the puree in hot oil and I deglazed the pan a few times with apple cider vinegar  pick up all the browned flavor bits on the bottom of the pan.

I removed the cooked paste from my French oven and seared the beef cubes with bacon fat, salt and pepper. I put it all back in the pot, added some tomato paste, and cooked it down until the tomato paste was brick red and fragrant. I deglazed the hell out of it – just for kicks – and stirred in the beans that had been simmering on the back burner.

No chili would be complete without mom’s key ingredient.

As a final touch, I melted down a bar of 72% cacao chocolate (my mom’s trick for adding a smoky, mole-ish flavor).

While I feel that it is very difficult to cross cultural boundaries in the kitchen… I also feel that learning the cooking methods of cultures other than the one(s) you grew up with can only improve your day-to-day cooking. When it comes down to it, a great pot of chili has a lot in common with a great pot of curry – or for that matter a cassoulet or tagine.

I guess you can tie that in to the bigger picture of you want to get philosophical.

But I’m hungry.

-Sweatergirl.

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I’m a glutton for mountain cheese.

January 17, 2009

I will be helping with my first tasting this Wednesday night at 7pm.  Paul K will be teaching everyone about Mountain Cheeses, 14 varieties from compte to emmentale.  So please come.  You’ll get to see me cut cheese, it should be exciting to say the least.

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Testing 1-2-3

January 15, 2009

Anyone who has been on my website in the last few days has noticed some inconsistent changes. I think that this blog has taken a new direction in the last year, and it was overdue for a new look.

I think the biggest change in my food-nerdom mentality is that I now can acknowledge exactly how little I know about the subject I love. Its an exciting place to be – and I want that excitement to be carried into my blog.

And so, after twiddling around with various themes I settled on this one. The bookshelf is the soul of my kitchen, so it only makes sense that it was featured in the header. All the wisdom of the great cullinarians is at my fingertips when I need learn how to crystallize ginger, or roast a beet. A book of my compiled family recipes reminds me to “always double” my Grambetty’s cornbread dressing. Likewise, if you flip through my Grammy’s copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, you’ll find her notes jotted down on the grease stained pages.

My past, present and future is outlined in this collection. I still have I still have my first cookbook. Its a security blanket of sorts. I bought it at my sixth grade book fair, and from it I learned how to make pesto and shrimp scampi. I would stay up at night reading this book. Its still hanging in there, last year I used it to make tuna-burgers when Nic and I were dangerously low on foodstuffs.

I have the obligitory “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating,” which I got sophomore year of college after being seriously sick of college dorm food. Sometimes I would read this book when I got sick of studying, reminding myself that life after college would be much… tastier.

Which it has been, and is where I am now. Standing at the forefront of something I think will be huge. A gustatory awakening.

Shortly followed by a gustatory realization, that while I pride myself in being “a good cook”, there are a lot of basic skills I am lacking because I either a) never learned them, or b) was to lazy to use them.

case in point:

Tonight I boiled beans from scratch for the first time. Ever.

Growing up we had beans and cornbread on nights that were too chilly to make anything else.  But I must have been absent during the “how to make dried beans” lesson. Even after the last couple years of making beans and rice on a weekly basis, I never ventured outside the can, because I assumed (wrongly) that cooking dried beans must be a total pain in the ass.

Whoops.

This adventure is just one in many ways that my love of food has forced me to step slightly out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been an advocate of tasting everything (via my mother), but trying to cook everything? That’s an entirely different banana. Cooking is as much about processes as it is about ingredients. And if those processes are foreign to you it will take at lot of fearless cooking, and trial and error, before it becomes second nature. Take it from the girl who took twenty two years to boil a pot of beans.

Consider it my new year’s resolution.

Until next time, Sweatergirl

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Oh, why hullo.

December 29, 2008

Dear Readers,

Once again I’ve disappeared into the dregs of society. You see, my life is tough. I’m constantly bombarded by amazing food, and the people that accompany it. I spend my time slurping, tasting, talking and learning. Its so utterly exhausting, that I seem to have entirely neglected this little blog.


But blog-neglect aside, I seem to have a pretty incredible life. I can walk to work, grab a pear from the coop en route, and enjoy the hell out of that pear. My job description involves constantly tasting with people, and engaging them in the newest gastronomic thingicism. The more I learn about food, the more I realize how much more I need to learn. Even when I’m home I’m reading about – and experimenting with food.

Of course, being surrounded by the biggest food-nerds in the business helps. In the last few months I’ve made some of the most wonderful friends. They are passionate, opinionated, food nerds. People who live for cheese, bread, spices, and olive oil. People who prioritize the role of good food in their lives. And because of this, their self-reliance knows no bounds. They cook everything from scratch, brew their own beer, plant vegetable gardens, raise chickens… Who new that living such a hedonist lifestyle could be so sustainable and gratifying.

Well, I hope that this explains where I’ve been the past few months. Once again I’ll play the slow game of catch-up.

Until next time, Sweatergirl

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Alas, no camera.

October 7, 2008

Sometimes I feel that my most beautifully presented dishes are made when I don’t have access to a camera.  Today I made a recipe from “Twist of the Wrist” by Nancy Silverton from Le Brea Bakery.

It showcases “not-from-scratch” meals made with quality pre-prepared canned and jarred goods.  It also, fortunately, has some really beautiful culinary photography.  For a work-related project I fallowed her recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Sauteed Farro, Pancetta, wilted spinach, and pumpkin seed oil.

Here are the changes I made

-I made my own butternut squash soup by roasting the butternut with duck fat and fresh ground cumin seed. Then Pureeing with roast onion, and some dry white wine vinegar.

-instead of using canned prepared Farro I cooked the dried Farro we carry at the deli (with a 1 to 2.5 grain to water ratio) , and once it was cooked I sauteed it with our sun-dried garlic rather than using fresh minced garlic.

-Insteed of kosher salt I used our Welsh Halen Mon salt.

-I used the acorn addition pancetta from La Quercia.

As soon as it was prepared I rushed it all to the deli to be enjoyed by my coworkers.  Once it was plated with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil it was one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever made; it tasted absolutely delicious.  It was the perfect fall dish.  Sadly, my camera was out of juice, and the moment was not captured for all.

But here’s a picture of a pretty kitchen thing in its place.  Inspired by my coffee tasting class today, and by my desire to learn how to pull a perfect shot of espresso.

Oh little retro espresso machine.  You are to lovely for words.

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Butternut Squash Soup + Unnecessary Pretty Kitchen things…

September 30, 2008

As yesterday was the first blustery day of fall, I was feeling the need for some autumnal healing. I somehow find myself incapable of avoiding the deli on my days off, and it just so happened that I had a meeting with HR about health insurance anyway (I’m insured, this means my adulthood is official) So I was already wandering around in Kerrytown with a cup of coffee and a few minutes leftover on my parking meter.

I walked in to the People’s Food Co-op and bought a few redskin potatoes and a butternut squash.

I’ve noticed that since I started working at Zingerman’s my style of grocery shopping has completely changed. I no longer go to Meijer’s with a page of groceries. I have pantry stocked with a few necessities from trader joe’s, and a few really nice ingredients that I use in just about everything (Katz apple cider vinegar, heather honey, 8 yr. Balsamic). When I decide to make something, I think about it all day, and on my way home from work pick up the things I don’t have. Meat from Sparrows – and veggies from the farmers market or PFC. It feels like a very sexy – almost a European – style of shopping. And I find that it means I spend less money and waste less food.

When I got home I found “butternut squash” in my Flavor Bible, and decided on a squash soup with bacon (I had a stub of mystery bacon that I had obtained for super cheap at work) cream and nutmeg.

I made the soup by rendering the bacon fat and using it to oven roast the cubed squash and potatoes. Once they were soft I pureed them in Grammy’s old Cuisinart, and added a quart of chicken stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. I finished off the soup with a drizzle of cream, and for presentation, some fruity olive oil, parmigiana (although next time I’m trying goat cheese), and ground pepper.

Success! It was yummy.

And now, a few completely unnecessary kitchen things that have caught my eye.

Its a salt pig! It holds salt above your cooking area to keep good salt readily accessible during all stages of cooking. It keeps the salt in a cool-dark-dry place. Totally unnecessary – but absolutely adorable and I want one.

Next on the list of silly kitchen gadgets – an immersion blender. Something I meditated on while I was making soup yesterday. It would be nice to puree a soup without having to transfer it to the Cuisinart, while getting two other bowls dirty in the process. On the downside – it really does top the list on unitaskers, and its pretty rare that I find myself needing to puree a soup while its still in the pot. Being lactose intolerant, the glamor of making milkshakes in the glass isn’t quite as thrilling as it is for some.

In other exciting news. I’ll soon be moving to dry goods, which is super exciting. I’ll get to be the one of the olive oil / vinegar / exciting things in jars experts I always respected and admired before I started working in the deli. Moreover, my job will be talking to people about cooking. I can’t wait!

Ciao, Sweatergirl