Tuesday, September 26, 2006

why does food taste better outdoors?

This is a perennial question, first asked by (I believe) Lucy in the Enid Blyton's XXX of Adventure series (Castle of Adventure, Island of Adventure, and so on), and more lately, by kitchenhand on his excellent blog, What I cooked last night. My answer is I don't know, but also, who cares, because it does, and we should just accept this and then go forth and eat as many meals out of doors as the weather will permit.
On my writing weekend, I ate most breakfasts and some lunches on the deck, and all snacks on the beach. Dinners were formally served in the dining room, but the appetizer course was eaten on the deck, with various forms of alcohol. As Virginia Woolf is my witness, it did taste better. See above, a 7-layer dip that was devoured not long after this picture was taken.
I took brownies (see here), and made a curried vegetable dish, for which there is neither picture nor recipe. It was the kind of dish which arises out of what vegetables are available and look good (onions, green and hot peppers, potatoes, corn, cherry tomatoes) and comes together with a pinch of this and a grating of that.
We were also well-supplied with chocolate, which as everyone knows is crucial to the writing process.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

the joy of brownies

I'm making brownies tonight to take to a writing thing I'm doing this weekend. Brownies are good because I've made them so often I don't really need the recipe anymore--they make me feel like a high-flying, don't-need-to-check cook. Also, they're good because they're good. No one ever pokes at them dubiously and asks, "Now what's this again?" They do say, "Oh, I shouldn't." But then they do.
I originally used the Joy of Cooking recipe, but over time I've tinkered with it a little, and I have several different variations. The big difference is that I use more chocolate and less sugar, because I like them fudgier and a little less sweet. I sometimes make them with nuts, but not too often, because one of my daughters hates nuts, especially nuts in cookies. I also use the trick (which I think I read about in one of Maida Heatter's cookbooks) of lining the pan with foil and then lifting the brownies out to cool--they're much easier to cut and you don't have to pry them out of the pan with a fork if you overbake them the slightest little bit.

1/2 cup butter
5 0z unsweetened chocolate (if I have it I use Scharffen-Berger)
1 and 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
a tiny pinch of salt
1 cup flour
I often add
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, and
1 cup chocolate chips
but this time I substituted 3/4 cup of slivered dried apricots and a handful of chopped crystallized ginger for the chocolate chips.

Melt the butter and chocolate together (I use the microwave, doing it in 30-second increments so it doesn't get too hot; is there such a thing as overmelted?). Beat the eggs with the tsp of vanilla and the pinch of salt. You could also add other spices, etc., if you're using them.
(The old Joy told you to add the sugar to the eggs, and then the chocolate/butter mixture to that. But the new one says to add the sugar to the chocolate mixture--the advantage of this is that you don't have to wait as long for the chocolate to cool, because it cools somewhat when it mixes with the sugar. And then you don't have to worry about it being curdling the eggs. And it works fine.)
After adding the sugar to the chocolate/butter, mix in the eggs lightly, mixing well but not beating. Then add the flour, mixing until just before it all comes together (so that there is still some flour visible. Add the nuts and/or chocolate chips or whatever you're adding, and mix the rest of the way.
I line a 9x13 pan with foil, and I grease the foil with butter, and then I throw in a mixture of sugar and cocoa to coat the pan (as you are directed to do with flour for some cake recipes), tapping out the excess. In goes the brownie batter, and the pan in the preheated oven, to bake at 350 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes--checking the brownies with a toothpick to see if they're done.
Sometimes I add a tsp of chili powder (chipotle or ancho); sometimes a half tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. I made it once with a syrup of mint made from the mint in my garden, but I forgot to write that version down, so I'll have to invent it again some time. I also made it once and drenched the still-warm brownies with a slathering of black raspberry jam, and then a chocolate-bar frosting, which was so decadent that I haven't yet done it again.
Some things that don't work: minimarshmallows and Heath Bar bits (they both melt into the brownies). But white chocolate chips are good; and M&Ms would probably be fine, too. I won't taste the brownies with slivered apricot, ginger, and walnuts until tomorrow, but they smell divine, and D says they're pretty good.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

the 5 things to eat before you die meme

Started by The Traveler's Lunchbox, this has been variously and wondrously interpreted by bloggers, including Faith at Mekuno Cooking (who tagged me); Karina at gluten-free goddess (she gives 5 foods to live for); Cookiecrumb (who includes a deathbed wish); and kitchen hand at What I cooked last night (he has 5 meals).
I had trouble coming up with my own list--too many wonderful things, of course, but also, how to interpret it--personal foods? universal foods? unique and amazing foods? My list turned out to be personal, but somewhat accessible.
1. Pizza in Italy. I didn't really know how good pizza could be until I went to Italy. The 1st one my sister and I had (a Pizza Margherita in an 8-table restaurant in a Roman alley) was a revelation that swept aside all the unsatisfactory experiences with Domino's and their like. (Actually, any food in Italy would be a good list item--almost everything we ate there was wonderful.)
2. My mother's torte, made always for Christmas dinner, and occasionally on other state occasions. We learned that my sister couldn't have it for her June birthday though, since the heat tended to uncrisp and even melt it. When we were young, the torte seemed like a miraculous and unique creation, but I know it now as a variety of dacquoise, meringue layers filled and frosted with whipped cream flavored with cherries and pineapple. It's one of those recipes that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts.
3. Warm bread you've made yourself. The taste is wonderful enough in itself, good even w/o butter (although butter is welcome), but it's even better because of the sense of accomplishment. I waited a long time to taste this because of my fear of yeast, one of several food-preparation fears I had: fear of yeast, fear of canning, fear of pressure cookers, and fear of deep-fat frying. I've conquered the 1st two, and I'm contemplating learning how to make doughnuts.
4. Pierogi, an eastern-European kind of filled dumpling for those of you whose grandma didn't make them by the dozen, filled most often with potato and/or cheese, but now available in other flavors. I'm part Slovak, and my grandma and aunts were great pierogi makers. I myself am a great pierogi buyer. Hmmm--maybe I have a fear of pierogi? Pierogi should ideally be served with fried onions, some sour cream, possibly sauerkraut, and some kielbasi sausage. It's a dish that will turn you Slovak (or Polish or Hungarian).
5. A BLT, with homegrown tomatoes and lettuce, which incidentally we had last night for dinner--tomato slices as large as dessert plates, Red Sails lettuce, bacon from The Sausage Shoppe (home-cured), and bread from one of my favorite bakeries, the Stone Oven. I was starting to feel sick last night, and the BLT made me feel cured, for a while at least.

Bloggers I'd like to tag (and who I'm pretty sure haven't posted on it yet): Barbara at Tigers and Strawberries; Liz at Pocket Farm; ladygoat at Foodgoat; Queen of the Kitchen; and Gina at Crazy Diamond.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Back from Logan, Ohio, where I discussed canning with my son-in-law. He and my daughter have done green beans (in a pressure cooker) and tomatoes so far, their first time. D and I have done peaches, pears, chutney, and peach jam. The combination is starting to approach a balanced meal, along with the venison we have in the freezer. Back to the land! Oh, wait--too late for that. Not to mention that I don't want to chop my own wood and make lye soap or whatever they were doing on those communes in the '60s while I was living a more ordinary life.

I haven't quite got the hang of jam-making yet. I'm never sure how long to cook it and my sources are somewhat contradictory. Plus, I can't resist adding things to it (balsamic vinegar? why not!). The peach jam I made yesterday came out tasting very good, but a little too solid--too much pectin? or just overcooked? I'm not sure. I won't give a recipe, because I kept adding things in a manic way, but it tastes pretty good. I'm calling it Balsamic Peach Jam--a little balsamic vinegar, some cardamom seeds to spice it up a little.

Here's the jam on some vanilla ice cream: very bad picture; very good jam.