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Gin gin mules on the porch

Today it’s a little difficult to look at these photos I took last week, since on both Monday and Tuesday mornings this week we woke up to a layer of snow on the ground. On Tuesday, it didn’t even melt before the day was over. It was a harsh reminder of how unsure we should be about the season ahead of us. But we wait, patiently, knowing that nothing is certain, trying to keep the faith that days will come again when everything will look like this:

Gin-gin-mules_2

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Weekend Links, April 14

Porch_beers

First porch happy hour of the year!

Yesterday I posted one good thing to do with homemade ricotta – here’s another! I’m not sure why they specify store-bought ricotta, because the homemade stuff would work beautifully. And I love the comment at the bottom about using coconut milk or greek yogurt instead of cream … I’ll have to try that soon.

Oh, and here’s yet another idea. Simple, but perfect for spring.

London chefs divulge their guilty pleasure foods. (One of mine? Potato chip, peanut butter, and jelly sandwich on the softest white bread possible.)

Bartenders share their hangover prevention tips. (Mine? Water water water water water ibuprofen water.)

I’m really excited about David Lebovitz‘s new book, particularly because of this buckwheat madeleine recipe.

As many of you may know, I cannot pass up a good link about food and hip-hop. Funkmaster Flex’s hilarious instagram feed. I think “Nice! Who likes salads???” is my favorite.

Helpful, helpful. How to read a French wine label.

I love eggs in cocktails! Well, I love eggs almost anywhere, but in cocktails they are so interesting! The last one we made was basically a negroni shaken with an egg, and it was fantastic.

Six-Onion Pizza with white onions, leeks, shallots, red onions, scallions, and chives! I’m in.

If you hate looking at pictures of adorable newborn lambs, don’t click here. A lovely day-in-the-life series of photos from a farm in Nova Scotia.

And if you’re going to click on just one of these links this week, make it this one, a fascinating article that touches on the science of taste and flavor, how food corporations develop their products, and why there’s really only one ketchup, as far as most of America is concerned.

This week’s meal plan – we’re trying to keep things fairly easy and simple as the semester comes to a close over the next month, so our plans will be a little less involved than normal:

  • Last night – the maple-glazed pork belly we didn’t get to two weeks ago, with wild rice and roasted broccoli
  • Packaged Indian food (the lentil and eggplant options from Trader Joe’s are quite delicious) with packaged frozen parathas (we’re obsessed lately) and homemade raita
  • Mac and cheese with peas and tuna (a classic comfort food for both of us)
  • Lunches: ham sandwiches with homemade whole wheat sandwich bread, kale salads with white beans and coconut (recipe to come, or at least that’s the plan!)
  • Breakfasts: bran raisin muffins and banana bread with yogurt
  • Dessert: lemon curd tart (testing for an upcoming class)

Homemade pasta handkerchiefs with garlic broccolini and ricotta

Pasta_broccolini_2

In Spring 2007, Brett and I made fresh pasta for the first time. It was my first year of graduate school, and I lived in a dangerous and isolating part of Los Angeles that meant it wasn’t a good idea to leave my apartment after dark. (And I never did!) Brett was still in Claremont finishing his last year of college, and a complicated combination of our class schedules and the location of our internships meant that each of us separately drove or took transit back and forth between Claremont and Los Angeles every single day, a commute that could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours each way. It was a particularly stressful spring, as we criss-crossed eastern Los Angeles County, as our coursework swelled, and as we both tried to find jobs and decide where we’d get our first apartment together. The weight of the semester began to creep into every moment, and as an escape we began taking on cooking projects. We baked bread for the first time; we made croissants; we made fresh pasta. We took entire evenings off and drank cheap bottles of wine and made recipes we were sorely underprepared to make, lacking the tools, experience, or space required.

The first time we made fresh pasta, we rolled out the dough with a long bottle of cheap riesling, which stood in for the rolling pin we didn’t have (which itself would have been standing in for the pasta machine we didn’t have). We kneaded the dough by hand for what felt like hours and rolled out sheet after sheet on the two square feet of counter space in my kitchen, and by the time the meal was ready to eat, many hours after we thought we’d be eating, we flopped into our chairs utterly exhausted. I have a picture of the meal, and among the time-telling ephemera on the table (flip phone!) I can see immediately how much work it must have taken to make that bowl of pasta. I remember the next time we made it, and based on the apartment and who was there I know it was at least two years later. We again rolled out the dough with that same bottle of whine (which served as our rolling pin for quite a few years), overcompensating and rolling out the pasta far too thin, and when we again flopped into our chairs many hours too late, I remember thinking I’d probably never make pasta again.

But I did, again and again, and these days we have it down. I wish I could go back and tell my 22-year-old self that it didn’t have to be so difficult, and I’m more than happy to transmit that message to all of you right now. Fresh pasta! It doesn’t have to be so difficult. A food processor and a pasta machine make it fairly quick and easy work, and the finished product is absolutely worth the effort. Fresh pasta is rich and buoyant, a completely different experience than the dried grocery store variety – even the high-end brands – and the satisfaction that comes with having made something with your hands can fill in any of the meal’s empty spaces.

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Weekend Links, April 7

Scones

Currant cream scones, before forming

For the first time since starting these Weekend Links posts, I find myself faced with just one link to share. Not much happening on the internet this week? More likely that I’m being a bit misanthropic. I promise that next week I’ll have better things to share.

But this one could potentially keep you occupied for a while – one writer’s collection of the best food documentaries.  Some are a bit dated at this point, but still worth watching. I have some catching up to do!

This week’s meal plan:

  • Dinner party – chicken and spare rib paella, honeyed chorizo with pear and bleu cheese/Iberico cheese, spinach/cheese buñuelos
  • Clam chowder with bacon
  • Pupusas we brought back from LA, plus curtido and El Pato salsa
  • Braised pork shank with rice and cabbage
  • Banh xeo (Vietnamese rice crepes) with ground pork, mung beans, bean sprouts, and nuoc cham
  • Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ black bottom oatmeal pie, via The New Midwestern Table
  • Lunches: Ham, homemade ricotta, and roasted red pepper sandwiches on Madison Sourdough poppy millet bread, leftovers
  • Breakfasts: French toast, overnight oats

 

A new paloma

If you, too, are lucky enough to live in a place where the weather patterns are beginning to shift in a way that changes everyone around you, you should put this on your list. You should make it in the evening and drink it outside when it’s first just barely warm enough to do so, preferably on one of these evenings that reminds you how wonderful it is when there’s still sunlight after dinner. It won’t matter at all that, out of practice and extraordinarily optimistic, you’ll end up a bit underdressed for the temperature. Or that you haven’t put the cushions on the porch chairs quite yet. Won’t matter one bit. 

Paloma Read more

Weekend Links, March 31

Blossoms

Blossoms, Pomona Organic Farm

Sorry for the relative radio silence these past two weeks. A wonderful week in SoCal full of sun and friends and incredible meals lead to a very hectic week after, and we’re still playing a bit of catch-up. But I’m scrambling to get back in the game. Here are some links to get your week off to a good start:

Butter is not the problem.

Why do we equate vanilla with plain?

Gin, Aperol, cucumber – I’m in.

What’s up with the weird-fitting label on Angostura bitters? This and more in a behind-the-scenes factory tour. (Also – has anyone out there tried their rum?)

A super-handy Whiskey Glossary (for all those times you need to know the difference between Canadian and Irish whiskeys on a moment’s notice).

The search for a good coffee grinder. (Just don’t ask me what we use because I’m too embarrassed to tell you.)

Edible maps of the world.

Inside Rick Bayless’ Mexican Culinary Research Library.

This week’s meal plan:

  • Chinese dumplings with pork and Napa cabbage (using leftover filling from a few weeks back)
  • Coconut dal and curried pea fritatta
  • Oven-roasted pork chops, braised red cabbage, spätzle
  • Maple-laquered pork belly, wild rice, and salad
  • Lunches: kale salad with wild rice, scallions, cilantro, edamame, carrots, and sesame seeds, with a rice vinegar-sesame oil vinaigrette
  • Breakfasts: overnight oats, bran muffins and yogurt

Mohnkuchen, Austrian poppy seed cake

Everyone’s getting a little excitable around here. A few days of above-freezing temperatures has turned a collective just-this-side-of-desperate sense of downtrodden winter defeat into a somewhat crazy-eyed and suspicious exuberance. Folks know full well that these conditions won’t last forever and seem to be steeling themselves for the emotional roller coaster otherwise known as spring, but it’s the first sign that things will get better, and that’s notable. I’m mentally making lists upon lists of the things I will cook when the outdoor market returns and the selection at the grocery looks a little more lively, and I’ve never felt the inspirations of seasonality as much as I do living in the Midwest in late winter.

Mohnkuchen_slice

There’s something about this poppyseed cake that makes me think of spring. Perhaps it’s that our love of this cake is deeply rooted in our love of Austria, and both times we’ve gone to Austria it’s been on that cusp of late spring/early summer, both times over our wedding anniversary, both times when we’ve desperately needed a little refreshing. It’s one of the more rustic Austrian desserts and we saw it most often on the menus of Heurigen, the wine taverns that are so central to the Austrian sense of Gemütlichkeit.Versions differ slightly from place to place – some have streusel toppings and a shortbread base (the more German-style Mohnkuchen) or some sort of glaze or frosting. But all feature a base of poppy seeds ground into a texture similar to wet soil, nearly paste-like and colored midnight blue. Where in the United States poppy seeds are generally included in a recipe for appearance or texture or a slight flavor addition, in this cake the poppy seeds are the appearance, the texture, and the flavor. The cake is intoxicatingly dark in hue and flavored intensely of poppy seeds – nutty and slightly floral. The texture is toothsome, but with only the hint of the crunch you normally get with whole poppy seeds. It’s unlike any traditional American dessert I’ve had, and has become one of our absolute favorites to make.

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Weekend Links, March 10

Window_daffodils

Spring inside.

At the end of this week we’re headed to Southern California for the first time in almost a year (!), so there may not be Weekend Links the next two weeks … I’ll be far too busy eating my way across the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

We brewed a batch of hard cider this winter but it turned out a little dry for my tastes … hoping this cider shandy recipe might be a good way to revive it.

It took me a bit of time to appreciate bitter cocktail ingredients like Campari and Aperol. Not there yet? This guide to appreciating bitter cocktails will help. (And once you’re there – or while you’re on the way – here are three of my favorites: negroni, Frühling’s 19,  sparkling wine with bitter orange.)

We recently added an AeroPress to our arsenal of coffee/espresso devices, and I’m loving it. If you too have AeroPress fever, here’s an interesting overview on the guy behind it (also the guy behind the Aerobie frisbee, strangely enough).

Which cocktails do you find overrated? (I have to say, I definitely agree with the Moscow Mule sentiment …)

Meal plan:

  • Quiche with leeks, bacon, swiss chard, and Emmentaler and whole wheat crust (my basic pie crust recipe using whole wheat pastry flour instead – requires at least 8 hours of resting before rolling out)
  • Massaman curry with tofu, potatoes, and carrots
  • Grilled cheese and cream of tomato soup
  • Pasta with thawed frozen pesto, plus red peppers, mushrooms, and any other random vegetables we have floating around the kitchen (there’s always some)
  • Breakfasts: Brett’s bran muffins, slow-cooker oats with fruit and spices (a variation of this)
  • Lunches: Leftovers and more kale/lentil salad, this time with toasted coconut and currants
  • Desserts: Mohnkuchen (poppyseed torte – hopefully recipe posted sometime this week)

Cardamom Old Fashioneds, adjusting old favorites

I had a lot of grand plans to write a post tonight about how I develop and test cocktail recipes. I was going to talk about ratios of ingredients and categorizing types of drinks and where to get inspiration and all sorts of other helpful tips and guidelines. But it’s been a surprisingly long week, especially considering it’s only Tuesday evening, and I’m ready to head on into the relaxation part of the evening. Apologies.

Cardamom_OF_2

I will say this, though – flavoring simple syrups is one of the easiest and most adaptable ways to play with cocktails, and it’s a method I rely on a lot when I’m thinking about new flavor combinations. The inspiration for this one came from a drink we made in Chicago last weekend, visiting a friend who is experimenting with making homemade bitters. (Hi, Todd!) After dinner on Friday we explored a bit with his bottles and jars of extracts and put together a drink resembling an Old Fashioned with rye, cardamom extract, bitters, and a bit of sugar. The combination of cardamom and rye was smooth, sweet, and warming, a completely natural extension of the flavors in both, and I knew I’d want to continue playing around with the idea when we came home. Read more

Weekend Links, March 3

Pear_galette

Double-crust pear galette, last week

A good overview of the proposed tweaks to nutrition labeling. A good start, though there’s still a lot of work left to be done.

I will never order a small pizza ever again.

Perfect timing – you can make some homemade ricotta and then use it in this sandwich, which has been haunting my food daydreams this week.

Also perfect timing, after I spent some time in my class last week telling my students why I don’t use pepper as a default in the same way I do salt, three articles exploring that very thought (1, 2, 3). “Why, too, do so many recipes invite us to season ‘with salt and freshly ground black pepper’ upon completion? Why isn’t it salt and cumin, or salt and coriander, with every dish in the Western canon? What’s so special about pepper anyway? Perhaps it’s time to rethink the spice.”

I haven’t quite jumped on the drinking vinegar/shrub bandwagon, but I will definitely try this new brand coming out of Madison and this shrub-inspired cocktail with grapefruit juice and apple cider vinegar looks really, really good.

Why do we accept the “pseudoscience” of health foods?

I wish I knew more about the nature of the restaurants on Yelp’s recently-released “Top 100 Places to Eat” list, which compiles the 100 restaurants across the country with top reviews. Looks like quite a range, and I wish I knew more about the patterns among them – good service? good food? good ambiance?

I should do a post like this one sometime soon. What are the things I always buy? I’ve been meaning to do a “Stocking the Pantry” post for a while, in the same vein.

A couple of great tips for inventing new cocktail recipes.

Speaking of which, we often start with our favorite cocktail recipes and make adjustments. Here’s an overview of some interesting Manhattan variations (granted, some are a little fancy for a home bar).

This week’s meal plan:

  • Wild rice gratin with kale, caramelized onions, and mushrooms, topped with poached eggs
  • Baked macaroni and cheese with peas, roasted onions, and bread crumbs
  • Eggs poached in thawed lentil-sweet potato stew, plus thawed Tartine-style bread with spent grains
  • Breakfasts: more overnight steelcut oats in jars, yet again (I’m thinking maybe toasted coconut and nutmeg this week?)
  • Lunches: A second round of adapting this salad, which was absolutely wonderful last week alongside bread with butter or crackers with cheese
  • Desserts: Either whole wheat trail mix cookies or my favorite oatmeal-maple cookies. Or both.
  • Drinks: I’m really excited to try out that grapefruit-vinegar cocktail I linked to above, and I’d like to play with a cardamom old-fashioned after having something like that at a friend’s house on Saturday