Sunday, October 29, 2006

art and food

D was in a juried art show which had its opening last night, so we went and mingled with other other artists and art lovers. Some good stuff--above is the 1st prize winner, which was called "Emerging."
And here is my favorite painting of D's in the show:

And here is the food--it was solid fare of the cheese-cracker-grape-olive variety, but I particularly liked the signs, which suggested mysterious food and drink misbehavior at past openings that I'd like to hear more about.

Monday, October 23, 2006

one of the 50 best restaurants in America

I went out to dinner with some friends last Friday--a kind of memorial dinner. We did an informal writing retreat in the summer, and want to keep the energy alive; also just to have fun.
We went to Parker's New American Bistro and it was wonderful--above is my entree, a moistly tender piece of pork loin with just the right amount of chewiness. And here's the lamb sausage on a polenta cake appetizer: also extremely good (I snagged the last bite).
One of the nice things about Parker's is that everything is very good, and also as local as it's possible to be when you're running a restaurant. Parker is a local-foods advocate, and is active in various ways around Cleveland and northeast Ohio in the farmers markets, etc. In fact, he's closing the restaurant to give more time to these activities, which is good and bad. Good: more attention to local food, better farmers markets. Bad: no more Parker's.
So this dinner might have been a swan dinner, if I don't make it back before the end of December. It made me think of all the times I'd been there before. It's in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, which is where I went to high school, so the 19th-century building was familiar to me from before it was a restaurant (it's quite close to a boys' school, in the vicinity of which the girls from my girls' school did a certain amount of hanging out).
And then later, when I was working at Cleveland State, my boss would sometimes take me to dinner at Parkers. He liked it because they would bring his plate without any garnish or vegetable. He didn't like to see anything impinging on his meat and potatoes--it ruined his appetite, he said. At other restaurants they would say they'd leave off the carrots or the curly kale, but then they would forget. He also liked the dessert souflees, which had to be ordered at the beginning of the meal (they still do). I had my first souflee there--lemon, very good.
Parker's was featured by Gourmet as one of the 2006 50 best restaurants--one of not so many Cleveland restaurants to be so honored--so it's quite a loss. I'm thinking I ought to go once more at least before it's gone forever.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

food news from here and there

Dagoba Organic Chocolate has been purchased by Hershey. Click here for some words about this from Schilling of Dagoba via David Lebovitz's blog. Question: is Hershey planning to gobble up all the organic/artisan chocolatemakers? Is this an evil chocolate plot? Stay tuned.
Elise at Simply Recipes has posted a recipe for Caramel Apples, which look so wonderful I'm thinking of changing my mind about not liking them.
Bridal gown made by future husband, a baker, from cream puffs. See here.
Kitchenhand gives a personal history of the bean, and a recipe.
I had cheese (an unidentified cheddar scrap rescued from the back of the fridge) and crackers (Ritz) for lunch. No photos.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

fair food

I went to the Fairfield County Fair in Lancaster last weekend. It's the last county fair in Ohio every year, which gives it an air of nostalgia--last fair, end of summer--quick, eat some funnel cake. Which I did, along with a lot of other stuff.
I also went to look at the food exhibitions, which I love. I've never entered anything (although come to think of it, why not?). I love the gleaming jars of jam and the giant vegetables, and the slices of pie and cake going limp, on display for days after their eat-by dates. This year, I especially liked the weird carrot exhibit, but I'm also always a sucker for outsize tomatoes and giant pumpkins.
I guess some people think of county fairs as outdated, and possibly they are, but I love their connection back to the time when Ohio, and much of the U.S., was mainly agricultural, when farming was one of the major occupations. Making a good jar of jam or canning garden produce wasn't just something you did for fun, but a survival mechanism. Long ago, in the winter, you couldn't go to the store and buy some sundried tomatoes or a jar of capers or spiced peaches. If you didn't have it in the root cellar, you did without.
This was my 1st year canning, and I admit I'm glad I don't have to depend for my winter diet on my food-preserving labor, because it was hard and time-consuming and I was thoroughly tired of it when it was over. But I don't want to lose the connection, even if it's sentimental, even if I'm being food-nostalgic.
The fair is also a wonderful spectacle, full of color and noise and movement. This was the first time I went in the daytime and I felt pleasantly overwhelmed by the sun and the blue sky, the moving crowds, the bright colors of the booths and the rides. A holdover again, right? For those benighted generations w/o electronic diversions. But a day later in front of the tv, I remembered being at the fair, when instead of sitting in front of the flat screen, I had walked in the very midst and moil of the highly-colored, doughnut and gyro scented air, able to put my hands on the giant goose-necked squash or press my face against the chainlink fence to see the sulky race.
And yes, I did have a deep-fried Twinkie.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

some things I have cooked

One thing is the pumpkin stuffed with a sausage stuffing. I got the idea of a stuffed pumpkin in my head (which sounds uncomfortable), and then I bought a small pumpkin to symbolize fall, and then I felt we should eat it before it went squashy. I think I was influenced by the Sausage-Stuffed Acorn Squash at Chez Megane--that's how the pumpkin got in my head.
I precooked my pumpkin halves in the microwave a bit and also precooked the sausage a little because we were both hungry. The stuffing was very simple: mild Italian sausage, an egg, some torn up bread, a splash of milk, and some herbs from the garden (basil, parsley, and sage). I garnished it with some sauteed sage leaves, and it was very good.
Another thing is the Tomato-Apple Salad, which was the result of having tons of apples from D's father's tree. They were very insect-bitten this year, and most of the apples have to be cut and cut again to find the good parts. We wanted a tomato salad, but there weren't enough tomatoes left in the garden, so in desperation, I added chopped apples--this was an excellent idea. The salad was about equal parts chopped yellow tomato and chopped tart apple, in a vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon juice, with a sprinkling of kosher salt and a grind or 2 of pepper. Who knew that tomatoes and apples went together so well? I'm thinking now of a tomato soup with apples in some form: chopped? juiced? sauteed? We'll see.
Something I've cooked with: my new olive oil, brought back from the food nirvana of California by my friend Kris. It's from Lodestar Farms, a lemon olive oil with a very nice pedigree: extra virgin, cold pressed, late harvest. So far I've only used it twice. I drizzled it on the stuffed pumpkin when it came out of the oven, and I've dressed the pumpkin seeds with it after I roasted them. Both applications heavenly.
This weekend I'm going to Logan, Ohio, home of Pizza Crossing. I expect to try some pepperoni, and pepperoni/sausage/mushroom/hot pepper with my grandsons, who don't mind if I eat the hot peppers off theirslices.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

all the things I haven't cooked, plus my favorite herb

I haven't cooked anything at all this week. I'm working on a big project, and D has taken up the spatula (as he did for a lot of the summer). Yesterday, he made a crockpot venison stew that was the ultimate comfort food, with drop biscuits to sop it up, which was so heavenly and nourishing that it may even have increased my IQ a couple of points.
I wasn't cooking over the weekend, and I wasn't blogging either, so I missed contributing to Kalyn's my-favorite-herb event, and didn't get to vote for basil, which came in poor second to cilantro (cilantro 13, basil 7). Check out her round-up, here.
So this is a belated tribute to basil. I have 7 basil plants growing in my garden, 3 of them still looking pretty good although it's been chilly (we haven't had a frost yet). The photo above was taken yesterday, when I was on my way to the library.
I use basil a lot. In summer it goes into 8 out of 10 dinners. I use basil leaves instead of lettuce on my sandwiches. I put a leaf or 2 in my cup of herbal tea in the mornings. I dry part of what I grow and use it as long it lasts (it never lasts long enough). And I make pesto and freeze it.
Pesto is my favorite basil recipe. I got my original pesto recipe from a book on herbs that I've lost. I bought it at an herb shop run by a chirpy old woman, the kind of person from whom you want to buy something, because they're so nice and they answer all your stupid questions about growing this and making vinegar out of that, and in this case, because they're so cute (she was wearing a straw hat with real daisies stuck in the ribbon band around the crown). So I bought the book, and read it through and through, learned how to make herb vinegars, different ways to dry, and most important, how to make pesto.
I changed her recipe somewhat, reducing the oil, for instance--and I see no need to stick to pine nuts; I've used walnuts and almonds, both of which were fine (walnuts give a better texture though). I add a little vinegar because I was nervous then about botulism or something, and I still do because I like the way it tastes. I also like it to be spicy, so I often add part of a hot pepper.
Here's my recipe, which is always amendable--I don't really measure anything anymore, so these are estimated measurements.
Basil Pesto
2 cups of basil (I put it in a pyrex 2-cup measuring cup and really squash it down tight)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (it's best if you use fresh-grated, but in a pinch, I've used the stuff in the green can and it's pretty good that way)
a handful of some kind of nuts: pine, walnut, almond; I used pecan once, and I'm thinking of trying pistachio this year, since I have half a bag in the freezer)
a splash of vinegar: probably this splash is in the nature of a scant tablespoon; I use whatever I have in the cupboard.
a whole or half hot pepper: I've used both dried and fresh; jalapenos or cayenne, usually.
a clove or 2 of garlic
I put everything in the food processor except the olive oil and let it go for a minute; then I add the olive oil a little at a time through the feed tube. Sometimes I use more than a quarter cup--I like it to be moving toward smooth, but still a little textured--more olive oil would make it more sauce-like. Mine mounds up in the spoon.
I sometimes add other things on a whim--some green or red pepper; half an onion; some parsley. And I mix basils, except for purple, which I segregate.
I freeze it in small containers, and we eat it in all the usual ways--pasta, mainly. But it's also good on a sandwich, either by itself or mixed into a little mayonnaise. Even frozen it has a strong aroma--when I open one of the little containers I can smell the basil and it's like opening my back door to summer.