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Happy Halloween!

victoria  —  October 31, 2006 — Leave a comment

I do love Halloween. I love it in its more homespun, home made guise over the commercial juggernaut it has become (it is the second biggest spending holiday after Christmas). What happened to bobbing for apples and home made, closet raid costumes? What happened to burnt cork beards and trick or treating with a pillow case?

Anyway, Julian and I made Halloween cookies last night for Keifel’s work trick or treating. We, well, I really, went a little Martha on them, but I love playing in icing.


Close up of Frankenstein’s monster’s head


Close up of owls and graves


Ghosts, cats, and pumpkins

The downside of Halloween cookies is the copious amounts of black frosting that make your mouth look like you’ve been bleeding internally for days. Nothing like cute little kids running around with red-black teeth.

If you’ve been reading along you know that Nigella Lawson is one of my personal deities. She is a goddess among women, not just because she is drop dead gorgeous, not just because she cooks like a demon, not just because she is a strong woman who has taken more than a few body blows in life and kept her wits about her, and not just because she is as obviously in love with the English language as she is with food. It’s all of the above and the fact that every interview I’ve seen or read shows a self-deprecating, humble woman who acknowledges the luck and support that got her where she is and that she doesn’t like to be called a chef because she’s a home cook.

Given all that, I was anxious to watch the premiere of her new Food Network show. It didn’t disappoint. Her recipes included a cornbread topped chili with Black Forest-inspired trifle. She also made guacamole and a toppings tray to go with the chili. Per her signature style, the chili had a few additions that veer from the traditional. She added cardamom pods to the chili and cinnamon to the cornbread. She also added cocoa to the chili, but that is something I have seen done before and definitely harkens back to traditional Mexican cooking. She takes a detour into her pantry (oh, I am so envious) to show off her souvenirs from her travels, a fancy broth base from Italy and cloud berry jam from Sweden. I completely connected to that little aside, as all of my trips in the States and abroad have added cooking accoutrements or odd ingredients to my bursting cabinets. Of course, I also prowl Nashville’s international markets for the unique and bizarre.

The guacamole was fun to watch because it appears that Nigella and I have come to the same conclusions about what Guacamole entails. We’ve both skipped the tomatoes. She opted out on onions and uses scallions. I cut back the onion component and switched to red onion. We both add cilantro, though I tend to use way more than she does. I also make a paste of a clove of garlic and kosher salt for mine.

The trifle is a glorious cloud of a thing with a base of chocolate pound cake-cherry jam sandwiches, soaked with liqueur, dotted with cherries, smothered in chocolate custard (pudding for us Yanks) and then gilded with a mound of softly whipped cream. Per the usual, Nigella’s offhand comments and clumsily deft work, make the viewer, well me anyway, want to dive right in and taste it or at least run to the Harris Teeter to stock up on all the necessary ingredients. Keifel has requested that I make the trifle for him to take to work. He would have to take it to work to keep me from bathing in it.

Keifel watched the show with me and we both instantly noticed that this show looks different than the original series and Forever Summer. The other two were filmed and have an engaging warmth that digital video lacks. The new series was filmed in the kitchen of the Shepard’s Bush house that Lawson shared with her deceased husband, John Diamond. I can’t imagine what that was like, but the familiarity of the setting is wonderful for those of us who feel like we got to know Lawson in her trips into her office/library, pantry, bathrooms, kids’ rooms, etc. I can excuse the video because of that.

At the dinner party feast finale we get a glimpse of Nigella’s circle and of course get to watch her eat. I believe one of her guests is her sister Horatia that viewers met in the Legacy cooking episode of Nigella Bites. Keifel thinks Horatia gives Nigella a run for her money on the gorgeousness front. I have to agree. Horatia has a rounder face than her sister, but shares her coloring and the striking eyes. Again, a note of the familiar for the Nigella-obsessed.

She makes a few statements that make me love her all the more. Before dumping the meat into the pot for the chili, she says that she feels safer with organic meat. Yay! I do really feel that those of us who choose to eat meat should demand a safer food supply chain and that organic and free range meat make a much smaller mark on the environment. I don’t think Nigella has the suggestive power of Oprah (I wish) but it all helps. It is expensive. I think it’s worth it to pay more and eat less. ::Kicks soapbox back to the side::

In the signature moment established in the first series, Nigella’s midnight fridge raid, we see the door crack open spilling light into a dark room and a pajama-clad Nigella taking a bit of sour cream and a bite of chili then wrapping the chili pot in her arm, wooden spoon in mouth, disappear into the night. I do love that moment in every show. It is emblematic of the casualness of her cooking, the homey if decidedly posh, vibe she exudes. I’ve read reviews of this and previous shows that harp on her disconnect with her audience and her snobbery and I just don’t get it.

I do realize that economically, she is in a place that is silly for me to even aspire, but cooking is cooking. Ingredients and equipment aside, technique is technique. Anyone who cooks has their own well-worn path and deviations, the same ingredients they figure out how to work into everything, the tools that they would be lost without. Ultimately, her show is on television. She has her hair and makeup done, she surely has prep cooks, someone else deals with kitchen turned set. These are not realities for the home cook. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t offering anything of use to those of us not as high in the food chain financially. Also, I am picky about what I eat and cook with ingredient- and tool-wise. I detest the term food snob because I think it is closely tied to that much, much bigger and nastier concept of anti-intellectualism (I’m trying not to get myself started here), but I don’t object to what it means. And I am “snobby” only so long as I am in control of the situation. I would no more turn down food prepared and presented to me by a friend or family member than I would kick them. I might not make it like they do, and I might not use ingredients that they see as a staple (cream of mushroom soup, I am talking to you, laughingly), but they cooked for me and cooking is an act of charity, an act of love and one of the things that civilizes us.

So, I don’t think Nigella is a snob, but if she is, I don’t really care. And besides, she uses paper napkins out of her detestation of ironing. I try to avoid them out of not using disposable things, but I don’t iron the cloth napkins my friends and family use. So there.

By the Way

victoria  —  May 25, 2006 — Leave a comment

Did I mention that you can buy Foodieporn shirts? Well, you can. They were designed by Keifel with some input from me. I saw a pic of Nigella wearing an “english muffin” shirt and I had to have one and then that inspired some other ideas.

We hope to have more soon, including some for kiddos and menfolk. Oh, the women’s baseball t’s run really small, so order accordingly. Thanks for the Foodieporn love, y’all.

Hey, Teach!

victoria  —  March 21, 2006 — Leave a comment

I am still teaching classes at Ye Olde Pot and Pannery and loving it. I have some students who have signed up for four and five classes. Looking out into a small puddle, 11 people hardly qualify as a sea, of faces and seeing people who have been in the class before is tremendously rewarding. it feels really good to know I am on the right track and that people are responding to my menus and my instructional style.

My manager has really been good about giving me an idea of what she would like to see, then letting me do my own thing. I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to do this. I am thinking I should thank her again…

Just to give you a taste of what we did last week, here are a couple recipes from our Spice Route Cuisine class. I adapted some recipes from Paula Wolfert who is the Mediterranean Cuisine Goddess of Goddesses. Her recipes make my house smell like the Near East of my imagination as everything is very authentic. It does require a trip or two out of your usual grocery run pattern for things like pomegranate molasses and sumac, but it is so worth it when you bite into those luscious mixes of the familiar and the exotic. The woman knows her eggplant and any woman who knows 473 things to do with an eggplant is a friend of mine. I also adapted a Nigella Lawson recipe (mostly by cutting down on the booze as we are not allowed to liquor up patrons at the Pannery).

Stuffed Eggplants with Tomato-Pomegranate Sauce
Makes 4 to 5 servings as a side

8 to 10 small Japanese, Italian, or Indian eggplants
Coarse sea salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
¾ pounds dark turkey meat, coarsely ground (you can also use ground lamb shoulder)
½ Tablespoon Tagine Spices (a Pannery product…can sub cumin, sumac and ground coriander)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 12” x 12” sheet of parchment
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Sugar
4 to 5 flat-leaf parsley sprigs for garnish

1. Gently roll each eggplant back and forth 4 or 5 times on a work surface to soften it and facilitate the removal of the insides. Remove the stems and discard. Use a vegetable reamer or an apple corer and a small measuring spoon to tunnel through the eggplant to within a ¼ inch of the end. Rotate the reamer or corer to scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/8″ shell and taking care not to break the skin; discard the pulp. Fill a large bowl with water, stir in 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt until dissolved, add the eggplants, and set aside to soak.

2. In a heavy medium skillet, melt I tablespoon of the butter over moderately low heat. Add the onion, cover, stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown, about 10 mins. Increase the heat to moderate and add the turkey or lamb, breaking up the meat with a fork. Cook until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt, the Tagine Spices, black pepper, and 3 Tablespoons water. Cook until all the water has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in the pine nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool and wash out the skillet.

3. Drain the eggplants and pat dry with paper towels. Using a small spoon or melon baller, pack each eggplant with the meat stuffing. Reserve any extra stuffing.

4. In the same skillet, heat the oil and the remaining butter, add the stuffed eggplants, and fry in batches, turning, until lightly browned on all sides. In a 5-quart casserole, arrange the eggplants in one layer. Add any leftover filling, then tuck the pepper slices between the eggplants.

5. Drain any excess fat from the skillet and add ½ cup water, the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and pinches of salt and black pepper to taste; bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the sauce over the eggplants, top with a round of wet, crumbled parchment, then a lid; cook, covered, over low heat until very tender, about 30 minutes. Allow the eggplants to rest 10 minutes in the casserole.

6. Carefully transfer the eggplants to a serving dish. If the sauce is too thin, rapidly reduce it to a creamy consistency. Adjust the seasoning with salt, black pepper, and sugar to taste. Spoon over the eggplants, scatter the parsley on top, and serve warm.

Note: You can substitute small zucchini for the eggplant, but reduce cooking time by 15 minutes. I also did one large eggplant, it has to cook a little longer but it isn’t as fiddly as the small ones and is pretty dramatic when you go to cut it up at the table.

Turkish Delight Syllabub
8 five-ounce servings

1/4 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier*
Juice of 2 lemons
8 Tablespoon sugar
Just under 2 ½ cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons rosewater
2 Tablespoons orange flower water
2 Tablespoons shelled pistachios, finely chopped

1. Combine the Cointreau, lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Slowly stir in the cream and begin whisking. This can all be done in a Kitchen Aid mixer or with a hand mixer.

2. When the cream is fairly thick, but still not thick enough to hold its shape, dribble in the flower waters and keep whisking until you have a creamy texture that’s light and airy but able to form soft peaks. Better to be slightly too runny then too thick so watch the mixture closely, especially if using an electric mixer.

3. Spoon the syllabub into small glasses, letting the mixture billow up over the top of the glass a little and scatter the chopped pistachios over the tops.

* You can use up to ¾ of a cup of liqueur to make this more like a cocktail. With the extra liquid it will separate more and be more like a drink.

When I feel the need for Irish beer and a some fish and chips we make the trek to Franklin to McCreary’s. They have the best pub grub I have had the pleasure of consuming in the Nashville environs. It is definitely worth fighting traffic on I-65 to partake.

I have never strayed off the fish & chips menu except for the “pretending to be virtuous” house salad before the deep fried feast. Keifel ordered the cheese and bacon slathered chips last time we were there and despite any pretending to be virtuous thoughts I may have been harboring, I dug in with relish (and skipped the chips that came with my fish basket).

The fish is cod filet with a shatteringly crisp batter about its being. It is better than the one run in I had with fish and chips in London. The chips, or fries for us Yanks, are thick cut and creamy on the inside crunchy on the outside. All the tables are set with ketchup and malt vinegar so you can be as gauchely American or as authentically British Isles as you prefer. However, aside from the decor and the beers, that’s as authentic as McCreary’s gets. There are wings and chicken pot pie to be had that I hear are tasty but haven’t been the purpose of my missions.

One of the very best things about McCreary’s is that we can make it a family affair when we go and it is smoke free, to boot. There are communal style tables lining each side of the very narrow shotgun space and a few seats at the bar in the back. Friday nights are music nights; I still haven’t figured out how they cram a band in there but they do it with regularity. Warm weather offers outdoor cafe tables looking out onto Franklin’s charming main shopping district.

All in all, for those of us who require our fried fixin’s to be more Continental than catfish, McCreary’s is definitely the place. Oh, and if you feel the need to top off your naughty night with some ice cream or caffeine, there is both a Starbucks and a Ben & Jerry’s within a block… not that I would do that or anything.

McCreary’s Irish Pub and Eatery
414 Main St
Franklin, TN 37064-2761
(615) 591-3197
Across the street from Franklin’s tiny cinema usually screening family fare

Sawaddii, Memphis, Tennessee

victoria  —  January 23, 2006 — 7 Comments

Keifel and I recently had the pleasure of an overnight in Memphis for his green card interview. Keifel is now an official permanent resident (Huzzah!) and we got to spend some time together without the interference of work and school for a brief 24 hour span. As our presence was requested at the immigration office at 7:30 AM and we arrived in Memphis around 4:30PM the previous day we had some time to kill, which we spent at the Ye Olde Pot and Pannery outlet, the Davis-Kidd Booksellers Memphis store and finding some sustenance. SC recommended a Thai place downtown by the Peabody, so after some debate about driving versus staying close to the hotel, we headed further west.

The front door to Sawaddii opens onto a very small reception area and bar. The restaurant was practically deserted on a Wednesday night and we were seated immediately. Brightly painted portraits of musicians of every genre line the muted walls and contrast nicely with the dark wood tones of the bar and screen separating the bar back from the restaurant. The tables are comfortable if utilitarian and everything else has the clean lines that one has come to expect of Asian restaurants. The lighting was a little bright for dinner after dark and the music was mostly okay except for a travesty that might only offend me: a bad cover of Van Morrison.

Our overly chatty waiter took our drinks order and disappeared briefly. Keifel and I both zeroed in on the duck dishes of which there were two. We decided to each get one and start with tom ka soup. The soup arrived very quickly steaming with the scent of lemongrass, one of the main reasons that I adore it. It was a bit thinner than I had had before but still with a good body. Overall the flavor was balanced between the citrus notes of the lemongrass and lime leaves and the earthiness of the mushrooms in their coconut milk bath. There is one caveat. The chicken was cooked to death and cut into sizes three times what would be politely manageable on a spoon.

Our duck dishes arrived as quickly as the soup had, in fact, we had not had time to finish the soup. Yes, rushing me through the courses is one of my very biggest pet peeves. Keifel had ordered the roasted duck with curry, pineapple and spinach. It smelled divine. I ordered the Sam Rod duck. Mine smelled pretty good, too. Keifel’s duck had marvelously crispy skin, was cooked perfectly with pink still at the center of the breast, and the curry pulled it all together. I could have eaten a bowl of the pineapple and curry over rice and been utterly content. In fact I should have. The skin on my duck was crispy, but the flesh was overcooked and liver-y tasting. The overly salted sauce didn’t help matters along and the sweet and sour sauce clashed and fought rather than counterpointed. I ate more of Keifel’s than I did of my own.

The server did not comment on my quarter eaten entree. He also took Keifel’s plate before I had finished pushing mine around instead of taking both plates at the same time. Another pet peeve.

Once we had decided that I should write a review, I decided I had to give the dessert menu a go. My choices came down to key lime pie and creme brulee, two of my personal favorites. The key lime pie was not made in house so I decided to attempt the creme brulee. Keifel looked at me with a great deal of scepticism and pointed out that this could only end in tears. I should have listened.

Our waiter disappeared, for a good while. It was the longest span he had spent away from our table and I began to worry that the stress of dealing with us and two other tables may have overwhelmed him, or more likely that he had gone for a smoke. He did finally advent with my dessert and cautioned me the dish was hot because he had just taken the torch to it himself. Really, it should sit for a few minutes after the flaming, to harden, and it shouldn’t get hot as the custard… well, you’ll see.

It was really far too large a portion for one person, which he had not mentioned, and there was a liquid film over the carmelized and burnt sugar topping. The custard was close to room temperature and badly curdled. I was crestfallen. Generally when Keifel and I go out, he always gets the better entree and I try to save the meal with a nice dessert. Not to be.

I tried one more route to dining happiness and ordered coffee. This was their last chance to save the evening as I firmly believe a crappy cup of coffee can ruin a perfectly good meal while a good after dinner cuppa can cover, if not a multitude, at least a few sins.

Sawaddii has great coffee.

Sawaddii Thai Cuisine
121 Union Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38103
901-529-1818

Please stand by

admin  —  January 7, 2006 — 1 Comment

We’ve just upgraded to WP 2 and are currently encountering some issues with our theme, so we’ve switched to the default theme momentarily.

Keifel and I are trying to be good this week, both in not eating out so much (though we did have breakfast at Bread & Co. this morning because we hit the snooze one too many times) and in the eating more fresh veg now that the summer bounty is in full swing and we have a bit more money to spend on organic and local produce.

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i’ve been thinking about borrowing this movie from the dvd club i’m in, but i’m not sure how much fun it’ll be without vic.

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