Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Mabon!

Veggies from the garden, along with a capri salad made with my own cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.

Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of Fall, and also the pagan holiday of Mabon. I love this time of year, when the leaves are changing and the air is crisp, and I have the urge to spend a lot more time in the kitchen.

Mabon marks the end of the grain harvest, and much like Thanksgiving, is a time for celebrating the fruits of our labor, both literally and figuratively. As I mentioned in my last post (much too long ago, I know), this year was my first attempt at a vegetable garden, so for the first time I have my own little harvest to celebrate.

I ended up getting a lead test through A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, and the process was very easy. I took a few different soil samples from different parts of the garden area, put it into a plastic bag and mailed it to them along with a form downloaded from their website and a check for around $40 (I got the extended test to analyze the soil composition -- the lead test by itself was around $20). They sent me back a detailed analysis that told me that my soil was okay (barely) for growing plants where the fruit would be eaten, but not the leaves. So the tomatoes and peppers were okay, the herbs needed to go into containers. So that's what I did, and it all worked out very well. I've had an abundance of standard and cherry tomatoes, bell and jalapeno peppers, as well as all the cooking herbs I tend to use most often.

I've enjoyed the garden so much that I plan to kick it up a notch next year. I plan to put in a raised bed, buy some tomato cages (the stakes just weren't enough) and experiment with some additional vegetables and herbs. I wasn't able to get the composter and rain barrel this year, so I plan to do that next year as well (I found out that you can get them through the City of Chicago, so I may do that).

I also plan to try and hang and dry some of my herbs in our pantry, and I'm going to try to keep my herbs growing inside through the winter. My two cats are the biggest obstacle to this -- the only good place for herbs is the kitchen window, and keeping the cats from getting up there and eating them is going to be a challenge. But it's been so nice to have fresh herbs always on hand (and free!) that I don't want to give it up. I'll try and keep up with the reporting as I go along.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to attempt to leave a smaller footprint. I've been meaning to write about that for a while now, and Earth Day inspired me to get to typing.

Chicago seems to be a relatively environmental city on a governmental level -- we've got the hydrogen buses, the rooftop gardens, lovely parks, a preserved lakefront (no museum please! ) and some really great resources for bicycling. However, the blue bag recycling program has always been something of a joke, and I don't feel there's been much effort to educate Chicago residents as to what to recycle and how. We now have blue "carts" that are specifically for recycling placed beside the regular trash cans in some neighborhoods (including ours), and there seems to be some effort being made to make sure that what goes in those bins actually gets sorted and recycled. That wasn't really the case with the blue bags. The bins just kind of showed up one day, though, and I still had to go and figure out what was okay to put into them. Which I resolved to do, and have, and I've also attempted to cut down on buying throw-away products. I have a nalgene water bottle and a coffee thermos, and I try to use those instead of buying out (although I've recently relapsed into buying Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings), and I carry canvas bags in the back of my car to use instead of plastic bags when grocery shopping (the islands of plastic that are floating around out in the ocean really freak me out). For more information about what to recycle and where, I found the article How to Recycle Practically Anything a good starting point.

As far as what I'm doing in the kitchen, this year I'm making my first attempt at a vegetable garden. We live on a first floor and have access to a large (by urban standards) back yard. A couple of years ago my friend and I dug out a gardening patch, and I've half-heartedly attempted to keep it up. It's gone from pretty to completely overgrown a few times over now. I know nothing about gardening, but I'll have (in theory) a little more time to think about it this summer and I hope that planting vegetables and herbs I can actually use will hold my interest more than planting flowers.

I've been spending some time researching online and have a basic plan. I figured out our Zone (5) and got some idea of what I can plant from Burpee and Gardeners. Burpee was a really good resource for figuring out whether to start seeds indoors or sow them directly into the ground (although at this point I'm going with plants -- I guess I'm a little late in the game for starting from seed). It also lists expected growing times and plant height, and it has a wish list feature that I found handy. I was able to figure out which plants go well together using this List of Companion Plants on Wikipedia. I plan to do some additional research on the individuals plants (I've already done a bit on tomatoes) and I hope to update here as I learn. This past Sunday I spent the day clearing out last year's leftover overgrown mess (with the help of the two kids who live upstairs) and putting in some edging. I would have liked to have created a raised garden bed, but it seemed like purchasing a kit for a garden this big was going to be too expensive. This weekend I plan to head to Gethsemane and pick up a tester to test the soil for pH balance, and I'm also trying to figure out how to get it tested for lead. If all's well, the next step is to buy plants. If the lead content is too high, I'll have to plant into containers instead of directly into the ground. We'll just see how it goes!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Can I Have a Napkin Please?

Discovered via Laughing Squid, I thought this Food Court Musical was hilarious. I think the world really needs more spontaneous outbursts of song. This particular burst was organized by Improv Everywhere.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ninja Cream Puff

"If a Ninja could be a food, what food would it be?

A cream puff. A very deadly cream puff. Maybe the pastry, it has very sharp angles on it, and the cream that's inside is poison. The powdered sugar is actually, um, powdered swords. That's a pretty deadly food right there. I wouldn't mind being that food. Would not want to eat one, though."

Ask A Ninja Classic: Question 17, Omnibus

(At the very, very end.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

DIY Dinner via WiredScience

Photo Credit: DC Duby Wild Sweets.

I'm not much of a DIY girl, but I received a tweet from WiredScience linking to a blog post called DIY Dinner and the 'Dinner' bit prompted me to go check it out. Thankfully so, as it contained a fascinating set of links to molecular gastronomy resources that I'd never heard of. The highlights:, with it's PDF collection of Hydrocolloid Recipes such as Pomegranate and Vodka Fluid Gel, Frozen Parmesan Air and Spherical Tea Ravioli. In addition, upon delving a bit into the Kymos blog, I found a link to the beautiful as well as informative Foodpairing site.

DC Duby Wild Sweets
, a somewhat difficult-to-navigate but nontheless interesting site where you can purchase a variety of high-end scientific sweets (Pinot Noir Hot Ganache & Strawberry Praline Pearls for me, please!) as well a "complete line of culinary elements" that you can purchase to spherify, densify and gelify your food (recipes available on the site).

Kopykake Edible Ink for Epson printers, which will enable you to make like Cantu in your own kitchen. Say good-bye to that hot oven, toss the methyl cellulose, and just chow down on pictures of your food!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday Night: Fish!

Some girls spend their Saturday nights out: dinner and a movie, drinks and dancing. I often spend my Saturday night experimenting with food while listening to my favorite podcasts. For example, last Saturday was spent up to my ears in fish viscera while being entertained by MacBreak Weekly, Girls Gone Geek and Generally Speaking. Fun, right?

Actually, it was.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a marketing agent for Kona Blue and asked if I would like a sample of Kona Kampachi to try and, only if I wished, write about. I agreed, saying that I'd love to try it and would be happy to write about it as long as I genuinely liked it. I had the choice of receiving the fish whole, cleaned or filleted, and as I'd never worked with a whole fish before, I decided the take the more adventurous route.

I did some research on cleaning fish in my reference books, On Cooking and The Professional Chef, and found resources online from Cooking Enthusiast and Then I jumped right in, rather clumsily and making a fairly big mess, and ended with two notably uneven fillets (the second side went more smoothly than the first). I'm sure I left a shameful amount of fish on the bone, but I froze the the head and bones to make fish stock at a later date.

It seems, from what I've read online, that Kona Kampachi is especially tasty raw, but I'm still not comfortable enough with raw food preparation to attempt sashimi in my home kitchen. I decided to pan sear it, since that's the method that I'm most comfortable with, with just some salt and pepper so that I wouldn't be getting anything but the full flavor of the fish. I cooked half leaving the skin on and half skinned, and preferred the skin on. A trick to this is to remove the skin after the fish is cooked and continue to crisp it up a bit in the pan.

The fish was delicious—moist and full of flavor. Kona Kampachi has a 30 percent fat content, which makes it tasty and hard to overcook (my initial cooking was on the rare side, but I actually preferred it medium). It also makes it a good source of Omega 3's, so it's also a healthy choice. I'd like to try it again, and next time I may steam it.

If you'd like to try Kona Kampachi but your local restaurants aren't serving it yet (it only recently reached the Chicago market), you can order it online directly from Kona Blue, or find it at Whole Foods. If you're in the Chicago area but would prefer to try Kona Kampachi at home, you can find it at Dirk's (it's currently listed at one of Dirk's favorites).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Winter Borscht

This recipe, adapted from the New Moosewood Cookbook, is one of my favorite winter soups. Borscht is a traditional Eastern European dish, and there are many variations. This version comes from the Russian tradition, where beets, cabbage and tomatoes are standard. Beef stock, as well as the addition of beef or sausage, would probably be the more authentic, but I like to use chicken stock and I don't add meat. You could also use vegetable stock or just water for a vegetarian stew.

The original recipe called for boiling the beets with the potatoes, but I thought that roasting them would provide more flavor. However, I really wanted to preserve the red color and wasn't sure that I would get the same results as boiling them and then using the cooking liquid. To keep the color, I rinsed the cooked beets (and the juices off the tin foil I roasted them in) in a bowl with some water (I used some of the cooking liquid from the potatoes, but cold water would be easier) and then peeled the beets over that bowl of water so that any juice would be retained. I then strained out the beet peelings and reserved the liquid for cooking. All of this is optional (it's a little messy). If you want to preserve the color without the extra work, boil the beets and use that liquid. Or you can roast them and peel them without reserving any liquid. It won't affect the flavor and you should still get some color. I just think that the intense red is pretty, and I like to extract flavor from anywhere that I can think of.

I also used the reserved pot likker from my New Year's collard greens as part of the cooking liquid, and that worked out well.

This soup is great for a warming but light weeknight meal, served with some hearty bread (or in my case, leftover cornbread).


3 medium russet potatoes
3 large beets
4 cups liquid, (chicken stock, beef stock, or water)
1 Tablespoon oil or butter
1 medium onion, medium dice
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 half small cabbage
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon dill
1 Tablespoon brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
lemon juice or a little more cider vinegar, to taste
salt and pepper , to taste
sour cream or yogurt, for garnish
dill, fresh or dried for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wrap beets in foil and roast for one hour or until tender. Cool with cold water (reserving liquid to preserve color if desired.) Remove skins (over bowl to reserve liquid if desired). Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a pot and and cover with cold water. Add salt and cook over medium heat until tender (approximate 20 to 30 minutes).

Heat oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute until translucent.

Add cider vinegar and saute to au sec (almost dry). Add caraway seeds, celery, carrots and cabbage, plus 2 cups of the liquid (including reserved beet liquid if using). Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender (10-15 minutes).

Add the tomatoes, dill, brown sugar or honey, beets and potatoes. Cover and simmer for at least 15 more minutes.

Add Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot, topped with sour cream or yogurt and dill.