Sing it, Julia!

By on Jun 23, 2015 in quotes | 0 comments

I think every woman should have a blowtorch.

Julia Child

strawberry mezcal joy

By on Jun 22, 2015 in experimenting, fail... or not, libations, love | 0 comments

Once upon a time, a tall, cold-loving woman went to Austin, Texas. She left Chicago one abnormally chilly summer morning (and it secretly made her happy it was that chilly,) boarding a plane wearing a light sweatshirt, and two hours later when she strode forth through the sliding doors of the Austin airport, the heat and humidity hit her like a fist. And it technically was not even that bad. But this woman, this woman hated heat and humidity. But she embraced it, because inside this heat was a lovely, vibrant little city, surrounded by beautiful hill country. And of course… there was food. And that woman was me. And OH did I eat that food. There was the beet hummus that looked like a painting, found at Launderette. There was straight up family style BBQ at the Salt Lick, where I spent the entire meal dancing in my seat with joy. My Wisconsin heart leapt with joy at the prevalence of queso, almost always served with homemade tortilla chips. But my primary purpose was to celebrate the impending 40th birthday of a dear friend whom I have known for 15 years. And after I told her I felt the need to create a custom cocktail in her honor, even though libations are still not my forte, she jumped and sent a list of things she wanted to experiment with. Naturally, my eye lit upon strawberry, because, well, it said strawberry. Another was mezcal. Now this gave me pause. Mezcal. While this is by no means a new spirit, it is definitely new to me. And my head always associates it with tequila, which jumps straight to an unfortunate night in college that may or may not have involved swigging Jose Cuervo straight out of the bottle, and the subsequent morning which basically sealed the notion that I would never drink tequila again. Ever. Most people have that one thing. You know you do. But the nice thing about being a grown up is that you learn, and not just how to not get drunk because LORD you can not do the hangovers anymore. I have learned that there is tequila out there that is so smooth and lovely you want nothing more than to kick back with a little tipple, get a smidge tipsy, and watch life float by. And now… mezcal. Tequila comes specifically from the blue agave, but mezcal does not. It comes from the pina, the mature heart at the center of a maguey or agave plant, and it has quite the history. In reading up on it, I realized that it is traditionally served straight, not as a part of a cocktail. It has this incredibly complex smoky flavor, which is apparently best left appreciated for what it is. There was mention of topping with ground dried larvae. That… was not going to happen. I dithered about the internet, and of course found those who, like me, were about to profane the mezcal and make it a part of the cocktail. My friend bought just a ridiculously good bottle of mezcal (it is her birthday, after all,) and we set to it. First we tried it straight up, and it was indeed a revelation. It had this smoke that just rolled right back through the palate and released, letting a deep sweetness find its way to the surface. I had found references to strawberry and mezcal, using other splashes of ingredients to deepen the strawberry so it could play nice with the smoke of mezcal. And so it began. I chopped fresh strawberries, taking in their floral scent, as I always do. I minced up basil, since it pairs so beautifully with the berry, and I thought a hint of herbaceous flavor might be nice. And I needed to sweeten it just a hair, so I added sugar. But I added brown sugar, so I could keep some darker molasses in there, something to complement the smoke. A splash of balsamic, because I always add a splash of balsamic to strawberry anything, and a generous application of heat. More than generous. I placed the pot over the burner and stirred and stirred, watching that magical event where strawberries under heat collapse into sweet, lurid red goo. And then I realized I was making jam. A judicious quantity of water was added, in an attempt to make a thick syrup. When I was fairly sure I could not get it any more saucy, I painstakingly scraped the entire thing through a strainer, so we would not have to contend with seeds or the now black little scraps of basil. And then… the mix. I wish I had used a cocktail shaker, because really, James Bond had it right with “shaken, not stirred.” Trying to mix things in the glass was… messy. The strawberry conconction kept settling. I spanked a leaf of basil. (No really, this is a thing, spanking herbs.) I carefully balanced a slice of strawberry on the edge of the wondrous glasses my friend had procured. And it was… OK. We kept added a bit here, a dab there, and ultimately discovered it got WAY better when the ice had melted a bit and things were allowed to mingle. Then suddenly that round sweetness of the strawberry basil brown sugar syrup goodness actually showed up and started getting all friendly with the mezcal,...

verdant ribbons… and beans

By on Jun 10, 2015 in baking, dinner, experimenting, vegetarian | 0 comments

There is this one stand at my local farmer’s market that I always frequent because they are they mushroom people, and I can not resist a good mushroom. But of course, a farm can not subside on mushrooms alone. They have quite a bit of prepared stuffs, tamales, soups and the like, and of course in my brain I always think “I can totally make that.” But then… I noticed a bin full of asparagus. No ordinary asparagus, but big, giant stalks that looked as though you could beat someone bloody with them. They really would be a festive form of defense, but likely only good for one skirmish. In which I would lose after having sautéed all of my weaponry. The stand guy caught me in my reverie, and he already knew what I was thinking. “I know, I know,” he said, “people think giant asparagus are going to be all tough and woody. These aren’t.” I raised an eyebrow. He had to be kidding. These look like they could be used for a log cabin for an elf. The Keebler boys could upgrade. But no, he was deadly serious. Apparently they use quite a bit of mushroom detritus as fertilizer for their asparagus. He was hesitant to use the word ‘steroid,’ because it instantly evokes negative connotations, but it sort of was. Their asparagus grows so fast and so furious, it hasn’t had the chance to get all tough and woody. It just sprouts out of the ground and keeps, well, sprouting. So I decided to take him at his word (his mushrooms are delicious, after all,) and I bought a chunk of it. And then… what to do? I wasn’t sure, in my spring asparagus frenzy, that I could take another sautéed number. They were just too intimidating to eat raw, and I will admit, I was still hesitant about them. Enter the peeler. I had heard of the wonder of the shaved asparagus salad (which sounds vaguely pornographic) via Smitten Kitchen, and since I am an admirer of hers, I thought I’d start with that. And then… I did what I always do. I researched. And researched. Dug up recipes here, there, and everywhere. Decided that greenery alone wasn’t enough, I needed something more substantial. And I had that round of leftover cannelini beans I had cranked out with my beloved pressure cooker a few days earlier, seasoned with bay leaf and garlic. I had herbs loose and running around, including a fresh bunch of dill and a potted tarragon plant on the deck. I paused for a moment, eyeing the last of a ridiculous, eye roll inducing bit of chèvre. Being a Wisconsin woman at my core, I of course panicked, thinking a quarter pound of chèvre would not be nearly enough. (It was.) So naturally, I made a pizza. Yes, you read that right. A pizza. While I do adore the traditional pizza, riddled with cheese and pepperoni, every so often I wander off with other types. And, to be fair, Google revealed that someone had done a pizza with spinach and white beans, and since spinach is green, and asparagus is green, and Smitten Kitchen had done a straight up shaved asparagus pizza, a mashup was required. I started to shave the asparagus, cursing my ancient peeler, and wondering why I insisted on clinging to this thing that only worked on the most delicate of carrots. It does look pretty in photos, though. If you have not shaved asparagus, it is quite the event. You will make a mess. Just be ready for that. Your kitchen will smell like someone just mowed the lawn. I have read accounts where people do this with a mandoline. All I could envision was my fingers going free range in a bloody heap on the cutting board. I stuck with the cruddy peeler. It took some doing, but I finally had a glorious, soft pile of thin curls of asparagus. I ate one. The mushroom stand guy was not wrong. It was beautifully tender, even raw. And then… well I sort of lost all control. I tossed in some olive oil, squeezed in a bit of lemon, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Not enough. A sprinkle of salt, a grind or two of black pepper. Nope. A bit of fresh dill and tarragon, minced together and tossed in. Now it was enough. The beans were already flavored with garlic, so I let them be. I pushed and patted out the pizza dough, slathered it with fruity olive oil, and dotted on the creamy white beans. Totally normal and acceptable sized gobs of chèvre were dotted on. And then, the asparagus, slick with oil and redolent of green, herbs, and lemon. The rest of the chèvre was dotted on, after a brief moment of panic, as I still believe ¼ lb. would not be enough. It still was.   A careful slide into the oven, blessed with obscenities as I burned my arm on the edge of the oven on the way in, a fretful wait, and ah! Joy! A light pizza at once creamy and piquant, the asparagus having almost pickled in the heat and spice. A fitting summer pizza, to be sure. Shaved Asparagus White Bean Pizza Technically this could be vegan if you just take away the chèvre. You could also just do the asparagus part alone and make...

Pollan on prioritizing

By on Jun 9, 2015 in quotes | 0 comments

While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.

— Michael Pollan

chocolate chip, deconstructed

By on Jun 9, 2015 in baking, dessert, love | 0 comments

Truly, this isn’t new. I posted something four years go about reconstructing the chocolate chip cookies of childhood memory. Or, to be more precise, how I tweaked the recipe my Mom sent me ever so slightly. Many a things have happened in those four years. In the constant way of life, I have learned more from experience. I have upgraded cameras. Twice. Figured out more of the technical, which freed up the path to be more creative and explore how I wanted to photograph my food. I learned more about the technical parts of cooking and baking, which allows for more rampant experimentation with only a hair less trepidation. Read more and more about food, from a culinary and cultural standpoint, how we veered so far into processed, and people are starting to come back. Slowly. People still want processed shortcuts. Sometimes I do, too. And then it hit me… why was I looking for shortcuts? Granted, I have been accused of insanity when I start talking about how easy it is to whip up a batch of homemade marshmallows (which it is), because I am so in love with making things from scratch, but still… why? Why shortcuts? On an every day basis? Is this truly what our lives have become? In the four years since that cookie post, I have watched as life accelerated, time filled, and for me work took over everything, including my own self-care. And I know this is not exclusive to me. It is everyone, whether they be single and child free like me, or married with multiple children running about. Somehow our modern world has demanded that we fill our time with more things. More material things, more classes, more work, more activities, more social media, more television, more drivel, so much so that we look for shortcuts in cooking, in food, that which nourishes us, in favor of spending more time binge watching that latest Netflix series. (To be fair, I love “Grace & Frankie”.) And in fact, food is a wonderful part of human existence. It can be this wonderful communal event, or it can be a therapeutic small moment, like a cup of really good tea and a homemade cookie at the end of an overblown day overflowing with ‘more’. It is how people make others feel welcome in their home, it is a buffet laid out at weddings or funerals, celebrations of others’ lives, it is how you, with the power of a simple bowl of soup, can make another ill human feel better, even if it is only psychosomatic. And so I revisited the chocolate chip cookie. I revised the recipe after making it with my 3 ½ year old niece, where you can not conform to rigid recipes or timing, and discovered through her overpour of flour that an extra ¼ of flour made a big difference. I remember how intently she studied that dough, taking a scrap I had given her and fiddling with it, seeing what shapes it could make, what it would do if she added more flour, and the sheer unadulterated joy of laying it on the counter and whapping it with her little hand, smooshing it in the most satisfying way. When I came home to see if the replication of the extra ¼ cup of flour would work, I found myself suddenly intrigued by the walnut. I had a bunch of almost whole walnut halves, and noticed how beautifully, symmetrically gnarled they are. Suddenly I was focusing intently on each and every solitary ingredient, sniffing them deeply, hovering and contorting around them with my camera, focusing on just… them. No more. No elaborate staging of pretty dishes, no distressed backgrounds, just… the bare ingredients. And this is the result. (Recipe at the end, I swear.) Chocolate Chip Cookies (this is only a half recipe of the one we made when I was a kid, and it makes a little over 2 dozen, give or take how much you eat raw) 1 c. flour 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 c (1 stick) butter at room temperature (you do not need fancy pants European cultured butter, but please… it is such a strong flavor, get a good butter, not generic. Good old fashioned Land O’ Lakes is delightful.) 1/2 c. brown sugar 1/4 c. white sugar (small note here… the original recipe calls for a dead even mix of brown and white sugar. I happen to prefer brown, so I tipped the scale and added more brown. Do what you will, just add it up to 3/4 c.) 1 egg 1/2 tsp. vanilla 1 c. oatmeal (NOT the quick-cooking kind… technically you could use it, but they won’t have the same chew. If you live near a food co-op or a Whole Foods, get the regular rolled oats from the bulk bins, which will be cheaper than you think, and OH so very tasty) 1/4 – 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional, obviously) 3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or parchment line two baking sheets. Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugars, cream well (until they begin to lighten in color.) Add egg, beat well. Add vanilla, beat well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mix into the buttery eggy goodness and fold in with a spatula until...