Sunday, July 6, 2014

Home Again, Home Again

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Well, I’m back from the first round of this summer’s travels–a trip to England, followed by a trip to Idaho (which is, trust me, almost as exotic a locale.)  It’s taken me awhile to readjust my internal clock and get to the point where I can sleep when I’m supposed to and stay awake when I want to,  but for the moment everything seems to be in balance.  Until the next round of travels, that is.

I spent the first three days of my visit to English in a small town called Grantham, about an hour north of London, exploring the mysteries of the old manor house pictured above.  Harlaxton Manor is the home of Harlaxton College, with which my university is a partner–that’s how I ended up making the trip.  If you click through that link, you’ll see some lovely photos of the manor.   I didn’t take as many foodie photos as I’d hoped to on this trip, mostly because all my meals happened within the context of meetings with host colleagues–so styling my food or whipping out my camera just never felt like the right thing to do.   I can, however, point you to some recipes for the delicious things I ate:

Poached Salmon

Sea Bass in Oyster Sauce

Summer Pudding

Lemon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

By far, my favorite item on that list was the lemon panna cotta, which was nicely tart without being too sour.  That’s a precarious balance to maintain, and it requires a lot of taste-testing while you’re making anything with lemons.

Once I got back to London, after the conference, I spent a day and a half sightseeing and exploring parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before.  That included a visit to the south bank of the Thames River, where I wandered through the Borough Market and enjoyed this for lunch:

Grilled Cheese London

This is reputedly the best toasted cheese sandwich in London, and I would not be surprised if it were found to be the best grilled cheese in the world.  I got it at the Kappacasein Dairy booth, where I waited patiently in line with half of the other people at the market.  The people at Kappacasein also sell a dish called Raclette, which involves scraping melted Ogleshield cheese right from the block over a plate of roasted potatoes, and if that line hadn’t been twice as long I might have tried it out–although this sandwich was, I have to say, unbelievably good.  I had no idea grilled cheese could be this tasty.  The sandwich includes a mixture of Montgomery cheddar, Ogleshield and Comte cheeses, along with five types of onions, all sandwiched between two slices of buttered sourdough bread.  (I should probably mention that I gave myself a break from strict adherence to my gluten-free diet while I was in London, but only when I saw something I really wanted to try.  Otherwise I tried to stay on the wagon, knowing I’d be sorry later if I didn’t.)

As if that weren’t enough gluteny gluttony, I also enjoyed the best muffin of my life in London. I have yet to find a recipe that’s anything like it, so I’ll have to come up with my own gluten-free version at some point.  Called an Orange and Lemon muffin, it featured candied orange peel and a sticky orange glaze on top, a moist and citrusy muffin below–and then, as if that weren’t enough, lemon curd in the middle.  I was very happy with my muffin purchase even before I made that discovery, but when I bit into a zingy bite of lemon curd, I was absolutely in heaven.

So, in a nutshell, that was London.  A few days later, The Hubs and I headed out for Boise, my hometown, where we spent some time with my mom–she’s recently moved into assisted living and put her home up for sale,which has been a difficult process. Cleaning out the house where she and my father lived for 45 years was a difficult project for my siblings, to say the least, but the house sold quickly once that was done.  Still, it was important to my mom that we pick the last of my dad’s raspberries before the new owners took possession of the house, so that’s what we did one morning.  We picked raspberries.  Lots and lots of raspberries.

Raspberries

We could have picked twice as many, but after a few hours of work, we figured we had all anyone was going to use or eat.  (As my dad liked to say, you have to leave some for the birds.)  I was sad to see that his rhubarb had finished for the season, and sadder still to see that the garden was so overrun with weeds.  The new owners are very excited about having a large garden space, though, as well as a big yard for their young daughters to play in, and it makes my mom happy to know they’ll take good care of the house we called our home for so many years.

No trip to Boise is complete without a visit to my favorite drive-in restaurant, Fanci Freez.  It’s just a few blocks from my old high school, and it’s one of my favorite places to feel like a kid again–the crazy selection of shake and sundae flavors still makes me feel a little giddy, even though I have my favorites and rarely deviate from them.  The Hubs and I met a friend there (oddly enough, a friend from graduate school in Kansas who now lives in my hometown–go figure) and enjoyed Boston shakes.

Fanci Freez Boston Shakes

A Boston shake is a regular milkshake, with one exception:  it’s topped with a sundae.  That’s right, you get both a shake and a sundae in one cup, and you can mix and match your flavors.  In the days of my youth, the Boston came in only one size–ginormous–so it was the sort of thing you ate only rarely.  Now, Fanci Freez makes it available to everyone, every day, by offering it in sizes mini through large.  I had a mini coconut shake with a marshmallow sundae on top; The Hubs had a small white chocolate shake with a huckleberry sundae on top.  Just enough ice cream to give us a nice sugar buzz.

I’ll be wriing another post about my mom’s china, which was part of the load we drove back from Boise, as well as a couple of kitchen implements I snagged from storage.  Even though our visit to Boise was only a few days long, it was good to bring back some pieces of my family’s legacy and think about how to make them part of a new generation.

 

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

When the Foodie Hits the Road . . .

Photo credit: Mark Spokes

Foodie faithful, this summer will be filled with adventures the likes of which we haven’t seen in this corner of the blogosphere:  tomorrow afternoon, I’m headed for England.  I haven’t been to Europe in over 20 years, and the last time I went as half of a very young married couple excited to see the world.  This time, I’m going as a professor with work to do–and some time to myself when the work is done.  I promise to post pictures of all the interesting things I’m eating (and perhaps a few photos of more general interest as well.)

But I might not do that until after my second trip, which will begin just a few days after I return from England.  That’s right, The Hubs and I are boarding another plane just days after I end my solo trip abroad.  We’re flying to Idaho, both to visit my mom and to pick up some items of sentimental value, now that she’s moved into assisted living and is in the process of selling her house.  Those items include a set of China she purchased while my dad was stationed in France–again, I promise, pictures are forthcoming–as well as a handful of old kitchen implements I remember fondly from my childhood.  We’ll see how useful they are; in case, I’ll be happy to give them a second life in my own home.

And, because we’ll be loaded down, The Hubs and I are driving back to Texas from Idaho.  Three days of road food and the occasional roadside oddity, that’s what you have to look forward to.  The Hubs and I haven’t taken a road trip together in a very long time, not since before the Foodie children were born (unless you count our move to Texas, which I do not–that was no one’s idea of a vacation), so I’m pretty excited about it.

When we return to Texas, I’m fairly sure I won’t know what day it is, what time of day it is, or even what zip code I’m in.  But I’m also sure to have lots of interesting stories to tell!

Mark Spokes’ photo appears courtesy of a Creative Commons license.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles

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When we first moved to Texas, one of the things I noticed right away is that Texans are very serious about their pickles.  Go to any street fair and you’ll find a pickle vendor, usually surrounded by a group of people chomping away on garlic dills.  Go to the movies and you’ll see dill pickles offered as an option alongside the popcorn and Milk Duds.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dill pickles.  But I tend to think of them as a side dish, an accompaniment to a sandwich or a plate of barbecued brisket, not a treat unto themselves.

When I saw pickling cucumbers at my local grocery store, though, it occurred to me that pickles were one thing I’d never tried to make at home.  I’m not sure why; my mom made pickles while I was growing up, so it’s not as if I wasn’t aware of the fact that pickles can be made at home.  Of course, my mom made sweet pickles (which, as far as I’m concerned, come straight from the devil)–so perhaps that’s why the idea of making my own had flown right out of the realm of possibility.

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A little bit of research made it clear that small-batch refrigerator dills are easy enough to make: add the seasoning to your jars, pack in the cucumber spears, pour the hot brine over everything, and let them pickle away in your refrigerator for the next few days.  What surprised me, when I tried them, was how much homemade dill pickles taste like fresh cucumbers–a flavor that really gets lost in store-bought pickle spears.  If you like cucumbers, you’re going to love these pickles.

A few things I discovered in the process of making two batches of these pickles:  wide-mouth pint jars work best.  Regular jars are fine, but wide-mouth jars are easier to pack.  It’s important to pack the cucumbers tightly into the jars, to keep them from floating up out of the brine–I made pickle spears, which are easy to pack, but you could just as easily slice the cucumbers into rounds.  Just make sure to pack the jars tightly, no matter what shape you choose, and cut your spears to fit the jars.  (You’ll see in the photo below that one of my spears was too long–I wound up using a paring knife to slice off the end before I poured in the brine.)

I made my first batch of pickles with only garlic and dill as seasoning, because I tend to be a purist–I like things to have clear, simple flavors, rather than a complex muddle of tastes.  I discovered, after the second batch, that these pickles really benefit from the addition of peppercorns.  Some recipes call for the addition of red pepper, but I wasn’t interested in spicy pickles, so I left it out.  If you like your pickles with a little heat, start with half a teaspoon of red pepper and work up from there to suit your own taste.  You can also add more garlic, if you’re looking for a very strong flavor.

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It’s possible I will be eating only homemade pickles from here on out, now that I know how much better the homemade variety tastes.  The Hubs agreed that these pickles were way better than anything he’d had from the store.  The Foodie children are not pickle people, in spite of the fact that they grew up in Texas among pickle-eating peers, but that just left more for the grownups.  And that, my friends, was just fine with me.

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Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles

Yield: Makes about 4 pints of pickles

Ingredients:

2 lbs. pickling cucumbers

For the brine:
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 T. pickling salt

For each pint jar:
1 or 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
4 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tsp. peppercorns

Directions:

Before you start pickling, sterilize your jars and lids. Running them through the dishwasher will take care of that, or you can wash them in hot, soapy water and let them air dry. After your jars are clean, drop garlic, dill sprigs and peppercorns into each. (For the garlic, lightly smash each clove with the flat end of a large knife. Peel off the papery covering, then drop the cloves into the jars.)

Wash and slice the ends off your cucumbers, then slice them into spears or rounds. For spears, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, then cut the halves lengthwise again, for a total of four spears per cucumber. Pack them tightly into the jars to keep them from floating out of the brine.

Pour the water and vinegar into a saucepan. Add the salt. Bring the brine to a boil, then pour the boiling mixture over the prepared jars. Screw the lids on tightly, taking care with the hot jars. Let the pickles cool to room temperature before transferring them to the refrigerator.

Let the pickles cure for at least 48 hours before eating them. They'll keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

 

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Return of The Foodie

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You may have noticed that I’ve been gone for awhile.

Partly, this was because the demands of my regular life had increased to the point that even One More Thing was too much to think about.  Much as I love being in the kitchen and writing about my Foodie adventures, writing this blog is not what pays the bills.  (Not at this point, anyway, but a Foodie can dream.)  And partly, this was because being the Foodie is like anything else: when you’re not able to do it on a regular basis, you stop thinking about it at all.  Even for someone like me–a person who loves to think about and plan for meals and, eventually, make some food–it’s pretty easy to default to the lazy habits that our sad food culture encourages and supports so well.

But enough of that.  It’s summer, and I’m back.

Within the next few days, I’ll be reporting on a recent adventure with making refrigerator pickles.  (Surprisingly easy and unbelievably good.)  For today, I’ll just report that I’ve been busy making preparations for the upcoming months.  The Meyer lemons on my trees are fattening up with the promise of their floral, lemony goodness . . .

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and the herbs in my garden are growing green and tall . . .

 

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and my love of food continues to be so strong that I’ll even grow vegetables I can’t eat, like these ornamental peppers.  (Supposedly, they’re too hot and bitter to be used in cooking.  I might try one anyway.  We’ll see how brave I am.)

 

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In short, never fear.  The Foodie is still here.

 

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Gluten-Free Gnocchi with Gouda, Bacon and Spinach

Photo credit: Ann@74

A few weeks ago, I was doing some errands on the other side of the city and wound up doing my grocery shopping at a new, much larger location of my favorite grocery retailer (Holla, HEB!)  I’d heard that this location’s gluten-free selection was better than most, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Among the many delights I found on the shelf was a package of Racconto brand gluten-free potato gnocchi.

Although I have a cookbook that includes a recipe for making gluten-free gnocchi from scratch, the fact of the matter is that pasta-making just isn’t part of my usual repertoire (though the photo above makes it look really appealing, I must admit.)  The Hubs has a beloved aunt and uncle who make all their own pasta–they’ve told us, on more than one occasion, that “Noodle Day is a good opportunity for a long conversation.”  Perhaps that day will come for The Hubs and me, somewhere down the road, but for now our long conversations take place over coffee, not pasta.  So I was really excited to find a package of prepared gluten-free gnocchi, since gnocchi is one of my favorite types of pasta.

Because today was a very long, very difficult day, I went with a cheesy, baked preparation that doubles as comfort food.  I used gouda, which I found on sale at my grocery store, in the cheese sauce–normally I’d go with sharp cheddar, so if that’s what you have on hand, it will work just fine.   You’ll also note that I used turkey bacon, which is the only kind the Foodie children will eat.  If you’re a pork bacon fan, again, that will work just as well.  I sprinkled the crumbled bacon over the top of the dish, rather than mixing it into the sauce, to keep it crisp and offer a different texture than the chewy gnocchi and creamy sauce.   The spinach in the sauce, of course, is just good for you, and as long as you’re eating bacon and cheese, you might as well do what you can to look out for your health.

Gnocchi take only a few minutes to cook, so make sure your spinach is thawed and your sauce is well underway before you toss the pasta into a pot of boiling water.  Within a few minutes, you’ll be ready to layer the gnocchi and sauce before popping the dish into the oven to finish up.

Ann@74′s photo was made available via a Creative Commons License.

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Gluten-Free Gnocchi with Gouda, Bacon and Spinach

Ingredients:

1 package gluten-free potato gnocchi (about one pound)
2 T. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 T. gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups grated gouda cheese
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 slices thin-cut turkey bacon, fried until crisp and crumbled into small pieces
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Fill a large pot with water and set it over high heat to come to a boil. While the water is heating up, melt the butter in a large skillet. When the butter has melted, stir in the minced garlic. Whisk in the flour to create a smooth roux (keeping in mind that gluten-free flour will produce a roux that's much thinner than what you're used to, if you've been using wheat flour.)

Whisk in the milk, then the chicken stock. When the sauce is thick and smooth, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated gouda. Keep stirring until the cheese has melted. Finally, add the chopped spinach and stir until it's evenly distributed. If the sauce looks a little too thick, add more chicken broth until it's of a pourable consistency.

Now it's time to cook the gnocchi. Drop them into the rapidly boiling water and watch for them to begin floating--that's how you'll know they're done. Skim them off the top of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a colander. After you've retrieved all the gnocchi, layer them with the sauce in the prepared casserole dish. Start with just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the dish, then add half the gnocchi, then half the remaining sauce and the remaining half of the gnocchi. Top with the rest of the sauce and sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and starting to brown around the edges.

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