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Archive for April, 2010

Crunchy

This is an image from my late grandmother’s tiny autograph book. I was always fascinated by it, thinking about how friends communicated before email, texting, Facebook, blogs… One day when I was perusing the entries yet again, she said I should keep it. J scanned each page so we’ll have them for posterity in case they start to fade, but so far the colors have remained vibrant. I love the idea of one of my grandmother’s friends painstakingly painting this picture of Peter Rabbit munching on carrots, and then maybe the two girls went off to find their own snack…

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Sugar Rush

Lately I have taken up running with the goal of completing a 5k. The race is in May, but I’m enjoying the process enough to want to continue my new exercise routine beyond that date. Problem is, I wilt pretty easily in hot weather, so I’ve been wondering how I’ll keep my energy up while jogging my way through a Chicago summer.

Enter a recent New York Times article which cites research findings that drinking a slushie before working out could provide the boost I’ll be looking for. Apparently the cold, sugary “slurry” might work even better than ice water for bringing body temperature down, hence improving endurance.

Photo: New York Times, April 26

So will I be hitting up the Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven come summer, or will my current pre-run snack of peanuts and raisins suffice? Guess we’ll find out once the humidity hits…

What’s YOUR favorite workout fuel?

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Fawlty Foodie

Now, I’m a talker, but it’s hard to put into words how much I love Fawlty Towers. This BBC comedy series, starring John Cleese, debuted in 1975 and ran for only two seasons. Despite the short run, it has been recognized as one of the best British TV shows of all time, and being half-British myself I could recite most of the lines at an early age. Every person I have introduced to the show can’t help but love Basil Fawlty (the hotel owner who hates his job), his wife Sybil, and the long-suffering hotel staff and guests.

Recently, it occurred to me that many of the episodes of Fawlty Towers have some kind of food theme. For example…

Waldorf Salad, in which Basil cannot understand a single thing an American hotel guest is saying, least of all his request for a mysterious salad.

The Kipper and the Corpse, in which Basil is convinced he has killed a hotel guest by serving him old kippers.

Basil the Rat, in which the hotel kitchen is found to be unhygienic and the waiter’s “Siberian hamster” doesn’t help matters.

But none has quite the same foodie appeal as Gourmet Night. In this episode, Basil and Sybil attempt to improve the hotel’s reputation by hosting a magnificent meal for the local elite. But when their new chef gets too drunk (“potted, soused, inebriated, pickled, smashed…”) to cook, all hell breaks loose. In the midst of the mayhem, Basil’s car breaks down…click here to see him handle it really well.

If you enjoy British humor and have a half hour to spare, click here to watch the full episode. Bon appetit.

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Since I featured clams in the sidebar today, I was thinking about how we had the best clam chowder ever on our honeymoon in Maine (and don’t even get me started on the lobster…but that’s another post). In fact, we loved it so much that we ordered it multiple times while we were there, and I thought I remembered taking a photo of one of those orders.

So I’m looking through our honeymoon pics, and there it is – me with a steaming mug of clam heaven. But I had forgotten what type of mug it was…

Look familiar?

Maybe this “chowdah” experience subconsciously inspired my love of the items described in my post from 4/22? 🙂

Love the mason jar water glasses too.

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Tonight’s menu? Spaghetti. On the side, my husband (hereafter known as J) prepared some delicious zucchini sauteed with onions, and mushrooms cooked with Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Now that I’ve practically licked the plate clean, I’ve got SAUCE on my mind…

J and I are blessed to have inherited two equally tasty, yet very different tomato sauce recipes from our mothers. His mom’s sauce features intense tomato flavor and a decadent dose of parmesan, while my mom’s relies heavily on such unexpected flavors as carrot and celery. Whether either matriarch will be willing to release her recipe into the blogosphere remains to be seen! In the meantime, here are a few saucy thoughts:

At home

If you have some tomatoes (fresh or canned) and onions on hand, you can pretty much make yourself some sauce that’s better than anything that comes out of a jar. Throw those two things into a pan with your favorite seasonings and you’re good to go. But if you have some extra time, try dressing up your sauce with one of these recipes (while the first two are recipes for a complete dish, in either case the sauce could stand alone):

Athenian Orzo, from Eating Well

This has been a go-to dinner party recipe for me for years (especially after my friend Steven started requesting it!). The herbs in the tomato sauce combine nicely with the tang of the feta and capers and the sweetness of the shrimp. Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes of active cooking time. Not too shabby! Click here for recipe.

Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Rolls, from Passionate Vegetarian

Early in our relationship, J told me to pick any recipe for him to prepare for dinner on my birthday, and this is what I chose. The sauce is flavored with basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and bay, and though it calls for lentils it really doesn’t need them. Grilling the vegetables and then stuffing them with spinach and dilled feta cream is so labor-intensive that we only attempt the recipe on special occasions, but every time we’re glad we did. Unfortunately the sauce recipe doesn’t seem to be online, but if you like the sound of the rest of the meal (click here), you can use your own favorite sauce in its place…or, buy the cookbook (authored by Crescent Dragonwagon)!

Pasta Puttanesca, from The Silver Palate Cookbook

And finally, an old favorite from a classic cookbook. J and I love how such a simple recipe delivers such complex flavors. With olives and anchovies, it’s definitely zesty! The authors suggest serving it to “food-loving friends and pouring an earthy red wine.” Many of you probably have this cookbook on your shelf, but if not, click here.

At the store

Of course, if you have to get dinner on the table ASAP, you might not have time to make your own sauce. As with frozen pizza (see post from 4/21), we are bombarded by options for jarred tomato sauce…and, like frozen pizza, most are not so great. I find that a lot of jarred sauce is way too sweet, and if you look at the ingredients many do have quite a bit of sugar.

I think the best of the bunch is probably Classico, with Florentine Spinach & Cheese ranking as my household’s favorite flavor.

For a special treat, though, nothing beats Cucina Bella Suprema Sauce. Discovered by my sister at a specialty food store in Michigan, it’s a combination of marinara and alfredo – VERY rich and possibly addictive. It’s probably best that we haven’t found it locally, because this isn’t an everyday sauce. But you better believe we buy it every time we visit Mich.

And in case you were wondering if I put the wrong title on this post…

Good catch, but it was intentional! As a Sopranos fan, it’s an homage to Tony and friends, who eat pasta in seemingly every episode and call the sauce “gravy.”

Looking forward to hearing YOUR favorite ingredients, recipes, and dishes involving tomato sauce!

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Sometimes it feels like a lot of the talk in the food world is related to male celebrity chefs. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Mario Batali (speaking of which, check out “Heat” by Bill Buford for a peek into the macho world of cooking – it’s a great read). But if you’re in the mood for something with more of a female angle, here are some reading ideas for ladies of all ages:

Fanny at Chez Panisse, by Alice Waters

This book (which I believe is at least partly responsible for me growing up to be a foodie) is written from the perspective of a child exploring her mother’s restaurant. As an adult, I appreciate it even more knowing that the mother/author is Alice Waters, champion of cooking with local ingredients, and the restaurant is known as the birthplace of California cuisine. But when I was little, all I knew was that reading about Fanny’s food adventures made me want to have some of my own. The book contains one of the first recipes I can remember cooking all by myself and serving to my family with pride: calzone with goat cheese, prosciutto, and fresh herbs. Highly recommended for young food lovers!

Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures, by Rick & Lanie Bayless

Here we have a cookbook by a male celeb chef, but with a twist: it’s built around him cooking with his daughter. Bayless is hotter than ever right now since winning Top Chef Masters and opening a new street-food restaurant in Chicago, but this book presents a quieter side of him and covers more ground than the Mexican food he is known for. Most importantly, it focuses on getting young people into cooking (each recipe has notes from both Rick and Lanie), so could be a great gift for a teenager.

Women Who Eat, edited by Leslie Miller

This is a really lovely collection of short stories written by all kinds of women about all kinds of food. It focuses on the intimacy of eating, and the editor writes that she “wanted to read…about women like me – women obsessed and in love with all things gastronomical, who hadn’t necessarily translated that passion into a livelihood.” I feel like she’s describing me – no wonder I loved this book! Plus, it has frites and aioli on the cover, ok? Enough said.

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Food Quote of the Week

“You learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences. Above all — have a good time!”  ~Julia Child


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