Archive for November 2007

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

November 29, 2007

There’s something about the changing of the seasons and each new holiday that rolls around that seems to set the mind to memories of years past, of recipes tried, of both successes and failures and of dishes you want to make again, just because, you know, it’s that time of year. I guess for some people this is how traditions are started. I notice it myself as I start to get a little older and am no longer completely tied to the traditions of my family, that I’m developing my own customs, my own habits.

For the minute this inclination means that I’ve pulled out a recipe that I only came across a couple of years ago, a recommendation from a close friend who had made it for a dinner party and deemed it a smashing success. Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce. This, I thought, I’ve got to try! And from that year on, this dish has become part of my yearly fall/winter tradition (depending on when the cold really settles in). I probably made it two or three times that first year (I tend to get a bit obsessed when I first discover a killer recipe) but I’ve also made it every year since then and it’s certainly one of the first recipes in my file that I think about when I’m pondering what I might want to toss into the oven on a cold evening to warm up the house and bring sweetness to the air.

I urge you to give it a go yourself, if you’re so inclined. I personally love using the potato bread as it completely dissolves when you add in the liquid and that’s somehow so satisfyingly mushy (probably completely lacking in nutritional qualities, but hey, it’s dessert, what do you want?). I also lighten the recipe by using milk instead of half and half and if you don’t like too sweet of a dessert, then you could probably cut down on the brown sugar, though I like it just the way it is. Serve it with or without the caramel sauce, it’s fabulous both ways, depending on how invested you want to get and whether you’re going to eat it all in a fairly short span of time. This recipe also freezes well. I just cut it up and wrap individual portions in saran wrap and put them in the freezer for those days when I get that craving for something ooey and gooey. Hope you enjoy this as much as I have and perhaps it will become part of your tradition, I’ve got a pan of it in the oven right now!

P.S. You’ll find the recipe under the “Recipes to live by”

Waxing Lyrical on Chocolate

November 29, 2007

One of my favorite things about food is considering the experience(s) of eating it. What and who it makes you think of, what it makes you feel, and going through the process of trying to describe these aspects of it. This practice is admittedly difficult, but it is also fun and exciting. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I’m so intrigued, indeed some may say obsessed, with aphrodisiacs. I enjoy exploring the effects that these foods have on my mental and physical condition. Admittedly this is a solo venture at the moment, but I’m viewing this as an opportunity to become more in tune with me, myself, and I; something we can all spend more time doing.

In this particular discussion, I wanted to focus in on one of my favorite aphrodisiacs, and hopefully yours, chocolate! Mmmm… I’m licking my lips just thinking about it.

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Chocolate… I used to shun it, I used to go months without eating a single bite of it, I used to pay no attention to it whatsoever, but everything is different now! Now, like a lovesick, sex-crazed female I can’t go a day without thinking about it continually, without indulging in it at least once, but preferably twice. My body yearns for it, I feel out of sync if I don’t have it, I daydream about it when I’m not eating it. With thoughts like this, no wonder chocolate is likened to sex!

Given the fact that it is a food that purportedly supplies your body with feelings similar to being in love, it’s no wonder people can become hooked on it. I’ve heard that it’s mainly a female thing, this yearning for chocolate, and I understand where some of these urges might originate. But for me it’s more than just a sometimes need, it’s a continual longing that can only be satisfied by one thing and that is pure, unadulterated chocolate. Not baked into a cake, or as chips in cookies, or liquefied in hot cocoa, just straight up, straight to the heart solid gold chocolate, preferably dark.

What I love most about chocolate is the texture, the solidness melting into liquid lusciousness on your tongue. Filling your mouth with a warm feeling of contentedness. The fact that the heat of your body serves to cause this transition from solid to liquid sensuality, brings your focus to your body, allows you to savor each bite all the more knowing you’re the one bringing about the change. The smoothness of chocolate is somehow so calming and yet invigorating at the same time. Given that a single bite can make you feel so many sensations is just one reason why we should all be eating more of this sweet indulgence.

Meal for One

November 21, 2007

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I recently finished the book entitled Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone which is a compilation of stories written by food and other writers about their experiences eating alone. I would say that the overall impression the book gave was that eating alone is a time when it is more difficult to take care of yourself and the amount of time and effort you put into the meals tends to take a nose dive. The level of enjoyment you get from food also decreases concomitantly. There were those few people who most certainly relish eating alone, but in the end it really boils down to differences in life circumstances: people who can never eek out a moment to themselves and who are constantly catering (almost literally) to the wants / needs of others in their lives, really enjoy those times when they can sit back and treat themselves to what they truly enjoy, whereas those people who eat alone as a habit, as part of their routine, are not so enthralled. I wanted to take this book as a jumping-off point to try to explore my own thoughts, feelings, and emotions about eating alone, because, let’s face it, I do it a lot.

I do it so much in fact, that I think I’ve started to become self-righteous about my alone time over my meals. I happen to currently be living a lifestyle where eating with other people has become nion impossible most of the time and in order to make this seem less of a burden, I think I have reframed the circumstances in my head to make it seem as if I’m the one making the decision to eat on my own. Rather than feeling lonely, this perspective is supposed to make me feel validated, empowered, and like a strong independent single girl, which is what I am. But in the same breath as I say these things, I also am so wholly aware of the importance and benefits of eating with other people and I do miss it and I do long for it and I know exactly what many of the contributors of the above mentioned book were talking about when they said the satisfaction just isn’t there when you’re dining solo.

In some respects eating most of my meals alone has its benefits because I can have whatever I want whenever I want and not have to worry about anyone else. Truth be told though, I like to experience the world through other people’s likes and dislikes almost as much as I like to experience it from my own view. This is probably the anthropologist in me coming out. That said, this is likely one of the few times in my life that I will have the freedom of choice I currently do. But I have to admit that this “freedom” has left me in one heck of a rut. What is it about solo dining that leads to repetitiveness? I eat the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with a few variations) almost every single day. Obviously this isn’t particularly healthy in terms of getting a balanced diet with a variety of vitamins and minerals from different foods, though I certainly eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in my daily routine. However, the funny thing is, I believe I truly do enjoy the foods that I eat, however many times I eat them. I cannot explain it, but having a salad that fills up an entire mixing bowl every night just makes me happy.

On the other hand, this pattern is constraining and I yearn to experience more. However, making the time to cook just for yourself feels as if it is an activity best reserved for leisure time, not something I often feel that I have a lot of. Sometimes you do have to make a conscious decision to have it be a priority to treat yourself with as much respect as you would others; this just seems so difficult. I would absolutely be willing to spend the time to put together a wonderful meal for friends, but I would not typically expend anywhere near the amount of energy for little ol’ me. I suppose it all comes back to the idea that food is really a vehicle for shared experiences. I love to try new foods and to make new recipes, but it only seems worth the while if there are other people there to make the meal memorable, to discuss the food, or just to help in creating lasting memories. So while I continue to eat most of my meals alone, I will reflect on fabulous shared meals from the past, plan meals with friends for the future, and persist in making the same peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast everyday until something changes.

Thanksgiving Potlatch – 5th Annual

November 18, 2007

First of all a note about the name of this event… The potlatch is a celebration or ceremony that typically takes place amongst certain Indigenous peoples in North America, and is often associated with groups living on the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The host of any given potlatch demonstrates their status through both the quantity and quality of goods they distribute, whether that is food or trinkets or other resources. A hallmark of some potlatches is the destruction of a portion of these resources as a definitive display of the ability of the host to redistribute their wealth.

My first year in graduate school we started a tradition of a Thanksgiving potluck held the week before Thanksgiving, and being anthropologists, we dubbed it the Thanksgiving potlatch. There were discussions of breaking things or setting things on fire during the course of that first party, but these have since died down. The main point, as with all parties this time of year was a reason to get together and share some great food in a warm house with wonderful company. This year we expanded the guest list a bit to invite some non-anthropologists and the party could definitely be pronounced a resounding success.

Part of the reason I love these potlucks is because you get to sample traditions from different people’s families, or try new recipes that you’d never other wise have an opportunity to. My family is 100% stuck in a rut when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the food, I look forward to it and I love every last bite of it, but there is always room to try new things and to same other traditions as well.

The tradition at the potlatch is to serve roasted chickens rather than turkey because our original hosts (who were unfortunately in Africa on field research this year) prefer chicken and honestly, it’s much more manageable of a bird. So I left the host in charge of preparing them and watching them as they roasted in the oven, knowing full well that he’d probably get caught up in a conversation and forget to baste the birds or leave them in too long, which ta da, yep kids it happened, just as I predicted. But fortunately the birds were quite resilient and they weren’t in the least bit dry.
Another funny little cooking misstep was assigning the cranberry sauce to my friend from the Czech Republic who’d never made it before. It’s simple I said, you just follow the instructions on the bag. Of course she didn’t manage to read all the instructions all the way through to notice that you need to make it a day in advance to stick it in the fridge so it will solidify. We had very liquid cranberry sauce, but hey it’s still better than the canned stuff (personal opinion I know), and it still tasted awesome.

My own cooking snafu came when I was trying to make the gravy, often a difficult task. How many stories have you heard about lumpy gravy? Believe it or not I’ve never had to make it before, it’s always my mom’s job on the holiday, though I’ve certainly watched and know how. Problem was I didn’t catch that the big cup full of liquid on top of the microwave was the pan drippings, so I just used what was literally on the bottom of the roasting pan and started making the gravy. Then once we realized I had missed out the major source of flavor we just poured the pan drippings into the already-started gravy and tried to thicken it from there. I ended up making about two quarts of gravy I think; it was ridiculous. And by the time I’d finished everyone was already eating, so they could have cared less about it.

Other dishes we had included two kinds of stuffing, steamed veggies with cheese, a fabulous salad with strawberries and walnuts, my own sweet potato casserole (check out the recipe on the sidebar – it’s not the kind with the marshmallows and I promise it’s awesome!), bread, spaghetti squash, and mashed potatoes with onions. For dessert (this time I had a minute to take a few pictures before everyone got to the table) there was a pumpkin pie and an apple pie, two kinds of cookies, and pumpkin bread. All of them were lovely, believe me I tried everything!
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Thanks to everyone for coming! And for those who weren’t able to be there for one reason or another, perhaps think about starting your own similar tradition with your friends. It’s wonderful to have these family traditions that we carry on, but also fantastic to expand out and make new ones with your friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Zocalo rant

November 14, 2007

It’s a good thing I live alone, because you do not want a pissed off Teagan on your hands and that is exactly what I am right now. I just got back from the restaurant reviewing experience at Zocalo (located at 36th and Lancaster Ave) and the whole thing was a complete disaster. I don’t think I will concentrate on the food too much here since that was actually decent, but it was everything else that made the meal what I would consider to be a big flop. Okay, so in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am writing a review of the restaurant for 34th Street magazine, the arts and culture section of The Daily Pennsylvanian (the DP) that comes out each week on Thursdays. They were fully aware that we were coming to review the restaurant this evening and we even had a photographer with us from the paper snapping very obtrusive photos throughout the meal (I’ll get to her more specifically in a moment). I had called the manager about a week ago to set up the time to come in and also to make sure that the meal would be compensated because The Daily Pennsylvanian doesn’t have a big enough budget to pay for all the meals at all the restaurants it reviews. It’s a great gig to be able to eat out at some of the top places in the city for free, but you have to take the whole experience with a grain, or ten, of salt because the restaurant knowing who you are when you walk through the door clearly colors your experience and also you feel as if you can’t write too scathing a review of a place which was kind enough to supply you (a “starving” graduate student) with a free meal. That said, let’s turn to this evening’s meal.
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I was informed that the DP would be sending along a photographer to the restaurant to meet us at the time of the reservation and that they would most likely be sitting down to eat with my friend and I. This ended up being extremely awkward on many levels, not only because I was anticipating a fun evening hanging out and catching up with a close friend, but also there was clearly a significant difference in what she (the photographer) and I wanted to get out of the meal and it did not make for a pleasant dining experience. When we first arrived at Zocalo the photographer was already there and had actually requested a table on the outdoor patio, um hello it’s 50 degrees outside and I’m not a big fan of eating both in the dark and with my coat on. So I nixed that idea post haste! The service throughout the meal was ridiculously slow. This, above all can make a good meal turn awful really quick. It took us over two hours to eat a two course meal, that means we had drinks, appetizers, and entrees and we gave up at desserts because I was honestly too sick of sitting on my bum in the same darned chair. I absolutely hate being in situations where you feel as if you’re trapped somewhere and you would rather be doing something else. I’m not one to sit still for very long, long enough to enjoy a good meal for sure, but this was above and beyond absurd! Our waitress, it should be admitted, was very knowledgeable and extremely nice, bringing us a taste of the mole sauce before we ordered so we could see if we would like the chicken mole dish (she was right when she said it was bitter, the sauce tasted almost burnt to me!). I acknowledge that service is something that my parents (and particularly my dad) have always been picky about and this is probably part of the reason why I am so attune to it, also because I myself have been a server. Honestly though, when the time between courses is so long that you start to play with the leftover food on the table to entertain yourself, that is too long. It was a Tuesday for goodness sakes; there was no one in the restaurant for the most part!

And then there was the intrusiveness of the photographer throughout the meal. I will not deny that she was doing her job, but I would say that she went far above and beyond the call of duty. This is a school paper, there will be one photo used next to an article about the restaurant that is about 200 words, this is not a big deal. I would say it is not to be taken too seriously, it’s more about going to eat out at these places then being a stickler for the assignment, but clearly this girl had other ideas. She literally took so many shots of her entrée when it arrived that my friend and I had finished ours by the time she even started to eat hers. And she also did not share any of the food that she ordered. Now I do understand this from one perspective, some people are not comfortable with sharing food and that’s their prerogative, but when you go out to a place to do a review of it, you want to try as many things as possible on the menu to get a sense of what they have to offer. Well, clearly she didn’t grasp this concept. I think it all boils down to this, dining is not only about having good food and a nice ambiance, but also about who you’re eating with. Obviously having an interloper for this meal who only added to the slow pace of it (and believe me I do like to savor a good thing, just not two hours worth of savoring) made what could have been a fun experience a completely frustrating one!

Dragon Fruit follow-up

November 9, 2007

So Trader Joe’s has dried Dragon Fruit, and it’s even the magenta kind!  Before you grab your coat and rush out to get some, I would caution you that I’ve tried it and it tastes rather funny, not like any dried fruit I’ve ever had before (well it is a different kind of fruit to be fair).  But I kept thinking to myself as I was chewing away on the thin little slices that it reminded me of something else, and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s most similar to a mushroom cream sauce.  Now you are entirely turned off, but it does definitely have an intriguing mouth-feel what with all the little black seeds in the flesh. I would say that you shouldn’t buy it expecting some sweet flavor explosion, because you will be disappointed.  I was so eager to try it that I didn’t even finish putting all my groceries away before I cut open the bag.  It certainly stopped me in my tracks once the flavors were swirling around in my mouth though.  Imagine what beautiful dishes you could cook with it; the color is amazing.  There’s lots of possibilities, just take it to the more savory end of the spectrum.

Squirrel Potpie

November 6, 2007

Next time one of those rabid city squirrels gets on your nerves, consider this as a way to take out your aggressions and also carry on local tradition. This recipe comes from The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking by Edna Eby Heller published in 1968 it was an attempt to document the culinary practices of local Pennsylvania Dutch families and standardize measurements so that future generations could reproduce these “classic” and traditional foods. It may not sound all that appetizing, but keep in mind that squirrel probably tastes somewhat similar to rabbit in its gameiness (I cannot actually attest to this assertion) and also that people living in rural environments would have taken advantage of whatever wildlife they could get their hands on. Since squirrels aren’t the most readily available meat in the markets today, if you want to try it, perhaps substitute rabbit. There are also three variations on the potpie dough offered, since dough consistency and taste was a very personal / regional preference.

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Squirrel Potpie
(Serves 6)

1 squirrel
Potpie dough
1 large potato, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced parsley
½ cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup water

Boil the squirrel until tender. Remove from broth.
Prepare Potpie dough squares. Drop into broth the peeled and sliced potato, 2 teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and parsley. Drop in the dough squares also. Cover and boil for 20 minutes.
Roll pieces of squirrel in flour, then brown in the butter. After removing the squirrel from skillet, pour the water in the skillet, then add this same water to potpie before serving.

Potpie I
(Serves 8 )

Every Pennsylvania Dutchman eats Potpie. Boiled with meat and potatoes, those squares of dough are really delicious.

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons lard
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup water

Combine dry ingredients. Cut the lard into the flour mixture until the pieces are very fine. Lightly stir in the beaten egg and water. Roll out very thin on floured board. Cut into 2-inch squares with knife or pastry wheel. Drop into boiling broth with meat and potatoes. Cook 20 minutes.

Potpie II
(Serves 8 )

This Potpie is called “the slippy kind,” in contrast to Potpie I which has baking powder in it to make it light.

3 tablespoons shortening
2 cups flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
milk (1/4 to ½ cup)

Cut shortening into the flour and salt. Beat egg and add to it the dry ingredients and enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll half of dough very thin. Cut in 2-inch squares. Drop into boiling broth with meat and potatoes. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

Potpie III
(Serves 8 )

3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening
1 cup water
black pepper

Mix together the flour, salt, shortening, and water as for pastry. Roll on floured board till 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 2-inch squares and drop into boiling broth. Add a copious amount of black pepper. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.