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Friday, February 27, 2009

We Interrupt This Broadcast!

I meant to continue my coverage of last week's trip to Austin, but I just have to interject a little fangirl madness! My favorite BBC program, Torchwood, is doing this wacky doodle thing this season where instead of a real season with, like, episodes and stuff, they're doing a five-part miniseries called Children of Earth. It won't be out until this summer *sad* but the official trailer hit Youtube earlier this month. I missed it, because I'm a fangirl but not a completely plugged in one who sits at her computer all day googling Torchwood to see if there's been news. Really. I'M NOT THAT GIRL.

Anyway, I'm posting the trailer below, because it's fun and exciting and looks like maybe it has higher production value than the show's first two seasons--and because *YES* there's a brief, blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash of a Jack/Ianto kiss!!!! My favorite, favorite boys who make out for me on television. Ianto Jones, you rock my world with your sweet little Welsh accent and sexy smirk and snazzy suits. Captain Jack's pretty hot, too. Check it out!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Everything's Bigger in Texas

I was in Austin this past week visiting my parents and sister and their assorted pets. As you may or may not know, Austin is the city of my birth. Which I shouldn't probably say on this blog, since it's the security question on, like, my bank account and stuff, but whatever. Like that would be totally unknowable information if I kept my mouth shut on my blog.

Anyway. The trip was awesome! Lots of good family bonding (Simpsons-style: we watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Death at a Funeral, plus a Travel Channel marathon of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain) and took the dogs to several different dog parks to run around like mad. Austinites, it turns out, are insane for their dogs; pets are allowed everywhere, even in restaurants--it's like being in Paris, except you have to pick up the poop. We also ate LOTS of great food and drank liters of fabulous wine (from South Africa, no less, since Stinger wasn't there to impose his no-wines-from-below-the-equator rule) and just generally made very merry. Probably the best meal of the trip, or at least the most unique, was at an ancient, famed barbecue joint in Lockhart, TX.Smitty's Market, rated in the top 5 bbq places in the Austin area by Texas Monthly, took over the old pit when the previous and even more famous Kreuz Market moved to bigger digs just outside town. We chose to eat at Smitty's because we wanted to see what a real Texas bbq place looked like 100 years ago--because it really hasn't changed much in the last century.
You go in the back and line up next to the actual pit, fire and smoke on your face and in your hair, nearly close enough to singe. The smokehouse guys carve up your order (which you place by the pound. I KNOW.) on an overturned barrel in the middle of the room. Then you take it through to the big, open dining room where you can purchase drinks and sides like potato salad, cole slaw, avocadoes, jalapenos, butter bread, raw onions, and saltines. These are apparently traditional, and I have to say, all of them added something special. The avocado, in particular, was an unexpectedly delightful pairing.What you don't get is barbecue sauce. That, apparently, is an abomination. And really? The meat doesn't even need it.My sister, Georgia, and I were nearly incoherent with glee over the tangy-sweet pork ribs, while my parents preferred the fatty brisket, darkly browned and rich with flavorful fat. There was also lean brisket, which we all agreed could've actually used some sauce, and house-made sausages so crisp, they snapped and spurted hot sausage juice when you bit into them.
The slaw and potato salad were servicable but not great; the room was crowded and unbelievably noisy. The seating was school-lunch-cafeteria style, long tables with benches. There were no plates, no forks (I grabbed long plastic iced tea spoons for the slaw, which may have been a faux pas. Was I supposed to shotgun the stuff like tequila?) We didn't get enough napkins and made a huge mess of ourselves and ended the meal in a meat-induced coma, but it was SO WORTH IT. Lockhart, TX, is barbecue MECCA, and I would go there every weekend if I could. Tune in tomorrow for the other fabulous Lockhart institution, Kreuz Market.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Farmhouse Butternut Squash Soup

By popular decree, I made the Farmhouse Butternut Squash Soup from the February 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine for dinner last night. Impressions: An uncomplicated but satisfying recipe to follow, resulting in a slightly too-sweet soup that was easily seasoned into something great!

Okay, I should say off the bat that I hate when people commit to testing out a recipe and then make all sorts of random substitutions and complain that they didn't like how it turned out. That said, my grocery store (may they burn in whatever Hell exists for the purposes of tormenting those who set us up to fail) didn't have any butternut squash. I KNOW. But still, I wasn't going to let a little thing like not having the main ingredient stop me! I picked up a couple of butterCUP squash instead, hoping that even though they looked nothing like butternuts externally, maybe on the inside they'd be close enough not to matter.Here they are. A tad lighter than I was hoping, less of that pretty orange glow butternuts get, and they smelled and felt more like pumpkin, but acceptable.

The recipe called for peeling, seeding and chunking the squash, and while seeding is easy, peeling is less so for many kinds of squash. Butternut being the notable exception. Since I had to make do with these suckers, I decided the easiest way to get the flesh out of the skin would be to roast them. I set the oven for 375, brushed the cut sides with olive oil, and turned them face down onto a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.
It took about 45 minutes for them to be tender enough to pierce with a fork.

The next bit was fun--I fried four slices of bacon in the bottom of my beloved heavy Le Creuset soup pot. After laying the crisp bacon on paper towels to drain, I stirred the caraway seeds and chopped garlic into the hot bacon fat and sauteed it until golden. It was at this point that I realized I'd better slow down the cooking process, as I had yet to peel and chop the Granny Smith apple and three carrots. So I dumped in my chicken stock to cool down the garlic mixture, which worked a treat since rather than the low-sodium chicken broth called for in the recipe, I was using the frozen homemade stock I had on hand.
(This, btw, doesn't count as an annoying substitution--homemade chicken stock is always going to be better than canned broth. It just is.) While the stock cubes were melting and keeping the garlic from scorching, I chopped and added the rest of the fruit and veg, including the roasted squash.These additions were intriguing to me, as most butternut squash soup recipes are fairly straightforward and unadorned, relying on the silky texture and rich flavor of the squash alone. The apple and carrot were part of why I wanted to give this recipe a try. A little bay leaf and fresh thyme, a few cups of water, and that was it. I set it all to boil for twenty minutes to give the carrots and apples a chance to soften, and went and wrote a few pages of chapter one on the next book.

Then came the least fun part--the pureeing! I always make an enormous mess with hot soup and a blender. Too big a mess to worry about taking pictures of it, that's for sure.
But eventually it was done, and all loaded back into the original pot for reheating and seasoning. This is where I noticed the almost candy-like sweetness of the soup, and upped both the salt and the cider vinegar amounts. Salt doesn't always make things just taste salty. In cooking, it acts more as a flavor enhancer, bringing out the deeper notes in a dish and showcasing them. And the cider vinegar was just good.
I served it with the bacon crumbled on top, accompanied by a green salad with my favorite shallot vinaigrette (more about that tomorrow--I've got the coolest new gadget!!), and a glass of unbelievably delicious pinot noir that was really too heavy for the meal but was so good we didn't care. The soup was great, especially the bacon bites. I'd love to try it sometime with the right kind of squash--roasting the buttercup made my house smell like the inside of a jack-'o-lantern. But good quality cider vinegar is a must for this recipe, because it's added at the end and not cooked down, and it's all that saves the soup from being dessert.

And there you have it! My first command performance. Next month, maybe I'll get you folks to vote on something out of Saveur or Cook's Illustrated. We'll have to see.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Voting Results

The voting for which Gourmet recipe I should make ended in a three-way tie between the Farmhouse Butternut Squash soup, the Braised Chile-Spiced Short Ribs with Black Beans, and the Beer-Braised Beef and Onions. I've decided to cast the tie-breaker vote, since I'm the one who will actually be cooking (and eating) the results. And I have access to a little insider info, in that Stinger wants the Beer-Braised Beef enough to promise to make it himself sometime this week, so I'm eliminating it from the list. Also because I checked out the recipe and while I'm sure the finished dish is delicious, the cooking process looks quite dull and straightforward. Beef + beer + plus onions + low heat = tasty but boring to do.

Braising, in general, is a fairly uncomplicated process where the oven does most of the work for you--but prepping a dish for braising can be fun, and that would seem to be the case with the short ribs. The kick of dried ancho chiles mashed together with smoky canned chipotles and dark, sweet molasses is very tempting. But it's the butternut squash soup, accented with tart green apple and my perennial favorite, bacon, that gets my vote. Plus, I don't think I've made butternut squash soup at all this winter, and it's one of my favorites. The first year we lived in Ohio I made it at least half a dozen times, using recipes from cookbooks ranging from Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Simple to Spectacular to a curried version my mother clipped from the New York Times. A brand new recipe like the one in this month's Gourmet is almost a moral imperative for me.

So stay tuned! Pictures and reviews tomorrow.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I DID make bread! I forgot how sinfully easy it is with the dough hook attachment on the KitchenAid mixer. You don't even have to break a sweat kneading. It's a little lumpy and unlovely in loaf form, and I think the crumb is a bit too tight, but it made a nice enough sandwich for Stinger's lunchbox, piled with smoked turkey, avocado, and radish sprouts. Yes, I make lunch for him to take to work. Yes, it's like having a school age child. Shut UP.

And now, flush with the success of my whole wheat bread, I'm in a very culinary mood. I think I'd like to try something out of this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, which is, as always, full of gorgeous, tempting recipes. Here are the editors' top ten picks for this month:

Parmesan Pull-Apart Rolls
Farmhouse Butternut Squash Soup
Braised Chile-Spiced Short Ribs with Black Beans
Southeast Asian Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup
Apricot Almond Linzertorte
Beer-Braised Beef and Onions
Buttermilk Fantail Rolls
Butterscotch Pudding
Black-Bean Burgers
Orange Polenta Cake

Yum, right? All of those sound wicked good to me. I've decided to take votes from you all to help me decide what to make. If you have your own issue of Gourmet lying around, or if you want to spend time perusing their fabulous website where all the recipes from the magazine are provided for free each month, I'll be happy to accept write-in candidates that aren't on this list of Editors' Top Ten. And then I'll test out whichever recipe gets the most votes and post pictures to show you how it all went. In honor of this effort, I'm even going to go buy a real camera, so the pictures won't be all grainy and iPhoney.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Okay, so I didn't make bread yesterday. I didn't even make a starter. But I did research the entire process, read through several baking sections of various cookbooks (James Beard on Bread! Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II by Julia! The Gift of Southern Cooking by Scott Peacock and Miss Edna Lewis! ) and got sucked into thinking maybe what I really wanted to bake was fresh apple cake with caramel sauce. Except then I'd be forced to eat, like, all of it, and that would be bad. Right?

So today's the day. It's still rainy, I got lots of chores done yesterday (the household things that had been languishing unaccomplished while I scrambled together a revised manuscript), and now all I have to do today is write (no sweat!) and bake some damn bread. Seriously. And since my chores yesterday involved a trip to the grocery store to buy bread flour, I now have no excuse. We'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, Stinger has a new blog up. He's so excited about it, he posted like nine times yesterday. I told him he'd better keep it in his pants today or he'd run out of things to say. He assures me that won't be an issue. Check him out; the blog is full of technobabble, but there are some funny posts in there, too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Cook for the Smell

I turned in my revisions on Monday (hoorah!) and immediately got cover copy to check over, a proposal for a website to look at, and a draft of Kate Pearce's new book which I've been dying to read and teasing her to let me get a sneak peek at FOREVER, and it's pouring kittens and puppies outside. Perfect day to stay in and work, right?

Except I want to bake bread.

Do you ever get those urges? It's like a craving. Not to eat the bread, so much as to bake it. I want to get my hands in the dough and knead the air bubbles out of it and get that little thrill when it actually rises in the bowl on its own. I want to slash the top of the shaped loaf to let steam escape in the oven, and make a pretty pattern, and most of all, have my house smell like fresh baked bread for a couple of days, now that the delicious aroma from my homemade vegetable soup has worn off.

I never made plain vegetable soup before, as in not beef vegetable, or some kind of puree. First I made a vegetable stock, inspired by Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (my new cookbook obsession), then I chopped up a bunch of winter vegetables like carrots, parsnips, celery root, parsley root, swiss chard, and leeks. I softened the leeks in butter first, then added salt, pepper, and the rest of the vegetables to give them some color. When they began to get tender, I added enough stock to cover them, a few handfuls of leftover saffron rice, and let the whole pot simmer away for about 15 minutes. Delicious! The sweetness of the parsnips and carrots balanced nicely with the bitter chard, and the leeks gave a soft, oniony piquancy to the broth. I was a little over-generous with the pepper, having forgotten the way pepper intensifies overnight, so the leftover soup has quite a bite, but it's still good. And almost gone!

So clearly, I must bake bread. I've baked bread before, most memorably brioche loaves with my kitchen accomplice, Meg, when she visited from New York. But I don't know that I'm ready for some complicated pain de campagne poilane loaf that will require a starter, a sponge, and three days to get it right, although that's what Stinger has been agitating for. We'll see what happens.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Done with the revisions! Well, round one, anyway. Let's hope this new version doesn't spawn a second round, hmm? I still need to read through the manuscript and make sure all the new bits make sense with the old bits, but I'm actually looking forward to that.

I also need to come up with a list of possible series titles to send my editor. Apparently my cover is not going to be 'foodie', even though the hook of the series is essentially that all the heroes (and maybe a heroine here and there) will be chefs. It turns out to be hard to incorporate food/kitchen items into the cover design without making the book look cutesy. So they're going for a 'big book' look and a seal or something that states the book is part of a series, and the series title needs to indicate the culinary connection. I've got a list going, things like 'A Chefs in Manhattan Novel' and 'A Food of Love Novel', but I could use your collective brainpower. Any ideas?

Friday, February 6, 2009


We've all heard of the Snuggie by now, right?
The weird, cowl-necked blanketdress that looks like it should come with complimentary packets of grape Kool-Aid? Yes.

This is not, however, a rant about the insanity of a product that combines sweater and throw--this is a rant about how Snuggie's ridiculously profitable gene-splicing experiment has spawned a new bizarre and unnatural product: The Smitten.

My cousin-in-law Allen first drew my attention to this unholy mess by threatening to give it to me next Christmas. Although we later decided it was more of a Valentine's Day present. For someone you wanted to keep veeery close. It's the kidnapper's dream! They're like sneaky, socially acceptable handcuffs! With fleece!

And you just know people are going to eat them up like crack-filled bonbons. Because even though the economy is in the toilet and the job market has tanked, we NEVER run out of money to flush down the drain on novelty items.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cooking Up a Storm

Cooking Up a Storm, edited by Marcelle Bienvenu, is a compendium of the "Exchange Alley" recipe exchange column from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The column began as a way for displaced New Orleanians, and those still in the rebuilding city, to reclaim recipes lost during Hurricane Katrina. Every recipe is preceded by a brief paragraph explaining the dish's importance, either to a specific person who requested it, or in the culinary history of the city, or as a local restaurant's most-favored menu item. The stories are as diverse and varied as the people and cultures who make up New Orleans, and more than one, I'm not ashamed to admit, made me a little weepy. I'm honestly considering cooking my way through the entire book. You know, as a selfless tribute. Because what could I possibly get out of making things like Louisiana Crab and Corn Bisque, Irma Thomas's Macaroni and Cheese, or the Palace Cafe's White Chocolate Bread Pudding?

I know, right? In any case, by mere chance I volunteered at my last Jaycee's meeting to bring the snack for the meeting this Thursday, so I'm making the first recipe in Cooking Up a Storm (not counting the cocktails--oh, yes, there's a whole section of cocktails. Sazerac, anyone?): Better than Better Cheddar. 'Better Cheddar' is evidently a New Orleans party must-have, provided by Langenstein's, an fancy grocery store that specializes in delicious prepared foods. This particular spread involves shredded smoked Gouda, shredded sharp white cheddar, scallions, walnuts, and homemade Creole mayonnaise. Heart attack on a cracker! I can't wait.

What do you think something like that would be good on? I'm thinking Ritz crackers. Or maybe a sliced baguette. Thoughts?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cast Iron Love (with some Hell's Kitchen recap)

In case anyone is interested in how my baeckoffe turned out last week, here's a picture. Isn't that the cutest pot? My mother-in-law gave it to me a few years ago; I'm not sure where she found that sweet little heart-shaped cocotte, but I've used it happily many times.

Personally, I adore cooking with cast iron. It's partly a remnant of my childhood, watching my mother make cornbread in her ancient cast-iron skillet. And partly, it's my love of France and all things French--Le Creuset's gorgeous enameled dutch ovens, skillets, sauciers, and casseroles make me happy just to look at them. The cast iron holds heat better than any other material, and conducts heat evenly and efficiently. I love the substantial weight of the pots, and their graceful shape. We have a nice All-Clad stainless steel set, too, but I confess I use the Le Creuset whenever feasible, purely for the hedonistic pleasure of it. They're soothing.

Maybe someone should invest in Le Creuset for the set of Hell's Kitchen! This season is looking to be explosive. Gordon got more shouty than I think he's ever been for a first episode. Usually he starts out disgusted and darkly amused, and it takes a while to build up to expletive-hurling insanity. Not this time! This bunch of self-impressed loser chef-wannabes ratched up Gordon's hate index from the very start. And I'm right there with him. 75% of the women, and 95% of the men, are pure waste-of-space idiot monkeys, flapping around the kitchen. A guy named Giovanni who doesn't know what polenta is? That Seth, with his howdy doody looking expression and utter lack of experience! Pompous Executive Sous Chef Ben, ludicrous cammo-trucker-hat-wearing Danny who likes to hunt 'gators, and poor, token gay boy Wil. This is a Fox show, y'all. Big surprise who got booted off. If I were LA, who's already admitted to liking girls, I'd be nervous. Of course, she's got Lacey on her team, which must feel like some sort of insurance. Don't get me started on Lacey. YIKES. If Hell's Kitchen were ruled by laws of rationality and logic, she'd be next on the chopping block. But all you have to do is remember how long Psycho Mattie stuck around last season, and you'll be as worried as I am.

Buckle up, guys, looks like another stormy season. I love this show!

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