Friday, December 31, 2010

Cookbook review: Mosh Potatoes

Mosh Potatoes: Recipes, Anecdotes, and Mayhem from the Heavyweights of Heavy Metal is entertaining. I'm not sure how useful it is as an actual cookbook, but it's definitely entertaining.

It features recipes from the heavy metal community--the bassists, guitarists, drummers, singers, etc., of bands from Iron Maiden to KISS to Alice Cooper to the unfortunately named Alabama Thunderpussy. I use the word "recipes" loosely, because while some of these guys actually cook, there's a lot of "Cheese on Toast"-type recipes. As you might expect, there are some very questionable ingredients--Miller Lite, Coke, Jagermeister, Top Ramen, and canned mushrooms all make an appearance. As you might also expect, a lot of the recipes feature some variety of grilled and/or hamburger meat, some variety of hot sauce, and some clever name ("666 Sauce," "Satanic Burrito," "Metal Meat Logs," the really unfortunately named "Hot Rod Penis Loaf").

Fortunately, some of these guys can actually cook, and not just on the grill. There's "Reindeer Sausage and Pasta," "Fresh Tuna Nicoise Salad," "Cayenne Bourbon Salmon," even "Fair Trade Vegan Avocado Fudge." Some metalheads are vegan, apparently. Some of them might even drink good beer and not Miller Lite, although you wouldn't know it from their recipes.
So it's not a cookbook I'd own. But if you're into metal, or making Jagermeister Grilled Lamb, it might be more useful for you. Either way, it's worth checking out at the local library for its entertainment value. Put on an old Judas Priest album, flip through this book, and think about how glad you are that your high school metal days are long behind you.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jamon iberico

I'll only say this once. If you can find jamón ibérico, buy it. I don't care that it's $60 a pound (or more). It's worth every penny.

Jamón ibérico is a type of cured ham, made in Spain. Like proscuitto, only so much better. It must be at least 75% black Iberian pig, fattened exclusively on acorns. The finest jamón ibérico is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. The exercise and the diet has a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months.

It tastes buttery. I know you're thinking, "How can ham taste like butter?" Well, it does. It tastes like ham and butter and every good thing all rolled into one sublimely fatty piece of meat. This is NOT for cooking with. This is for eating, all by itself. I've had boyfriends I liked less than this meat.

I got some for my parents' recent visit. I got a quarter-pound. It never made it off the paper it was wrapped in; I believe it saw the light of day for approximately 30 seconds before it was gone. It's a rare treat, but a delicious one.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wines from my collection: Bouchard Aine & Fils Pinot Noir 2009

Another entirely respectable pinot noir for under $10. I like the Cellar No. 8 better, but this one doesn't make me cringe like most under-$10 pinots.

It's light, clean, and fruity. It probably won't stand up to heavier foods, but then, you shouldn't be drinking pinot noir with heavier stuff anyway. A good bottle for weekday drinking.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cookbook review: India: The Cookbook

India: The Cookbook is a monster tome. It's billed as "the biggest Indian cookbook ever published," and I believe it. With 1,000 recipes, this is the one Indian cookbook to own.

I say that because for years I've been searching for one good comprehensive cookbook for each variety of ethnic food I love. The Joy of Cooking for Chinese food, Thai food, Indian food, and so on. It's surprisingly difficult. When I can find big reference-type cookbooks, they're usually geared to natives, not to relative beginners who may have trouble finding fresh curry leaves or fermented bean paste. But I think I can find cross the Indian book off my list now.

First, the packaging. Very clever--it comes disguised as a bag of basmati rice. It's big, it's colorful, each section is a different page color. And while the recipes do use a lot of hard-to-find ingredients (asafoetida, nigella seeds, tamarind extract), there are plenty of recipes that I can easily duplicate. Beet curry, fish stew, garlic naan, good old tandoori chicken.

I'm very excited about this cookbook. I love Indian food, and since I live in the 'burbs now, it's not like I can go out to eat for good Indian food anymore. I'll have to make it in-house. With this cookbook, I feel like I can do that. Phaidon, I hope you publish cookbooks just like this one for all the other ethnic cuisines in the world.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Roasted beet, barley, and feta salad

More fun with beets!

1 cup pearl barley
4 medium beets, roasted, peeled and diced
1 shallot, minced
a big block of feta, crumbled
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cook the pearl barley. Combine all. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cookbook review: A Geography of Oysters

A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating in North America isn't really a cookbook, it's a book about food. Which I guess I should really make a separate category for.

Anyway, if you like oysters (and have access to them, more importantly), this is a great book to read. I learned how oysters grow and reproduce, how they're harvested, where that only-eat-oysters-in-months-with-R-in-them rule came from, and why a good martini is a better pairing with oysters than wine. Also, the book goes into all the different varieties of oysters in the world. I'd gotten as far as East Coast oysters vs. West Coast oysters vs. Gulf oysters, but there are so many more than that.

It made me want to go out and eat some oysters.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Snow ice cream

Take a bowl of fresh-fallen snow. Add vanilla, sugar, and milk or cream to taste, until it's just the consistency of regular ice cream.

Merry Christmas!

Wines from my collection: Yalumba Viognier 2008

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Why am I writing about viognier on Christmas, you ask? Well, because this was one of the wines I served at my wedding. And we're drinking the last of that supply. And because it's my first married Christmas!

This is another great under-$10 bottle to keep a supply of. Rich, floral, not too sweet, very silky mouthfeel.

And really, what's Christmas without good cheap wine?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wines from my collection: Cellar No. 8 Pinot Noir 2008

Finally, a decent $9.99 pinot noir.

Just in time for Christmas! Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

It's been a struggle to find a reliable cheap pinot noir for under $10. Or even under $20. But this one fits the bill. It starts out a little simple and thin, but opens up nicely to reveal strawberry and peppery notes. Not too jammy, not too alcoholic, a great weekday wine.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Salty Screw

I had a bunch of fresh grapefruits and oranges to use up, so I juiced them all and made this. It's vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, and fresh orange juice. Somewhere between a Salty Dog and a Screwdriver, so I call it the Salty Screw.

The key is the fresh juice.

And it has fresh juice, so it's, you know, healthy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pita bread

This was my first time making homemade pita bread, but it definitely won't be my last.

It was actually really easy. The trick is to roll it really really thin, otherwise it won't puff.

2 teaspoons yeast
3 cups flour (I used one cup whole wheat flour and two cups bread flour)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Proof the yeast (place in a bowl with the water, which should be very warm but not hot. Let sit until it bubbles). Add the rest, mix to form a ball, and knead for 10 minutes. The dough hook on your KitchenAid, on low, is genius here. Cover the dough, and let rise for two hours or so, until doubled.

Divide in 8 balls, and let the balls rise for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 400. Roll the balls really really thin. I mean it. The thinner they are, the more they'll puff. If they don't puff, you haven't rolled them thin enough. Then place two or three rolled-out pitas on the stone, and let cook for 3-5 minutes, or until puffy. Repeat.

I served with the beet hummus from yesterday. But I'm also making more to use as road food.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beet hummus

When my parents visited last weekend, my mom brought me the last of her garden--a bag full of beets, a big spaghetti squash, several acorn squash, another bag full of kale, and so on. Because we're getting ready to undertake our annual Holiday Drive Across America, I needed to use up all those beets.

This beet hummus is inspired. Tastes like regular hummus, only, you know, with beets. It was amazing with homemade pita bread--recipe for that tomorrow--and as a bonus, I peed purple the next morning.

4 medium beets, roasted, peeled, and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
juice and zest of one big lemon
1 small garlic clove (really, just one; more than one will be unpleasantly garlicky)
1 tablespoon cumin
Salt to taste

Puree. Eat.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fish CSA: Haddock

The second offering from my fish CSA was two big whole haddock. Fortunately they were already gutted.

One is still in my freezer. The other I stuffed with a lemon and roasted whole. Here's what you do:

Snip off the fins with a good pair of scissors, and place the fish on a bed of foil in a dish big enough to hold it. Preheat the oven to 400.

Squeeze a lemon over the fish, and then stuff the halves inside the belly cavity. If you like, add a good 1/2 cup or so of white wine over all.

Sprinkle with good salt.

Fold the foil over the fish, making a tent, and bake for 45 minutes or so.

Remove the foil bed to a platter, and with a good knife, flip the top half of the body of the fish over, revealing the spine. Grab the tail and pull the whole skeleton toward the head. The whole thing should come off all at once, leaving you with the fish's head, spine and tail (which you can drop right into a stockpot, to make stock with) and two big fillets of fish meat. There may still be some small bones in the fillets, but that's the beauty of cooking fish whole--the deboning/filleting process takes approximately two seconds after it's been cooked.

I served with green beans and sweet potato fries.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cookbook review: Baking by James Peterson

Baking by James Peterson is an enormous, step-by-step, multi-picture guide to baking just about anything. Sponge cake, challah, apple tartin, blueberry pie, you name it. I've never had an big sweet tooth, but this book makes me want to go make some chocolate fondant.


Some of the information in the book is incorrect.

The reviews point to serious typos, in both ingredients and baking times. The recipes aren't listed by weight (a serious no-no for serious bakers, as the only way to get a truly accurate flour measurement is by weight), and some of the information is just plain weird. For example--he asks you to press the graham cracker crust onto a cheesecake AFTER it's already been baked. Huh? I don't even know how that would work. Plus, he calls for a blueberry pie to be top-crust-less. Everyone knows a good blueberry pie has a top crust.

So I'm not sure I can actually recommend this cookbook. It's very inspirational, I'll give it that. I love James Peterson's other tomes (especially Sauces); I think I'll peruse some of his others, and keep looking for a good all-purpose baking book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Beef stew with sweet potatoes and green beans

I made this for my parents when they were in town. My dad is a notoriously picky eater, and even he loved this.

It's essentially the same recipe as Beef Stew with Butternut Squash, only with sweet potatoes. I roasted, peeled and chopped the sweet potatoes before adding them. Also, I left out the onions (my mom is allergic) and threw in an entire head of garlic instead. At the last minute, I added two or three big handfuls of frozen green beans.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Zucchini crudo

Or zucchini tartare, if you prefer. Essentially raw zucchini sliced very thin, spread out over a plate, and marinated with the juice of half a lemon and half a lime. Sprinkle feta cheese on top (maybe a little red onion, too) and serve.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wine from my collection: Bear Flag

This is a fun wine.

I selected a bunch of inexpensive wines at random during my latest stock-up; at $9.99, I figured I'd give this one a try, despite (or because of?) the crazy label. So-called "critter wines" tend to be drinkable but not especially tasty.

But Bear Flag was actually pretty good. Their "soft red" blend is a mixture of tempranillo, zinfandel, and a couple of other things, and was very smooth and well-balanced. Not too sweet, not too tannic. I really liked it with stinky cheese. I think I'll have to make it a point to seek this one out in future. I like having good under-$10 wine around for everyday drinking.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wine from my collection: McWilliams Pinot Noir

It's hard to find a drinkable pinot noir under $20. I got this one on sale for $9.99, so I wasn't optimistic. But it's pretty darn close to drinkable. I'm not sure I'd seek this one out again, but it went down a lot better than I feared it might.

It's smooth, not too tannic, sufficiently fruity. It is better if you finish the bottle all at once; the next day it wasn't nearly as tasty.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cookbook review: The Essential New York Times Cookbook

Gotta have it.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook is, you know, a collection of all the recipes that have appeared in the Times. I have the older Craig Claiborne NYT cookbook, and it's comprehensive but dated. This, however, is brand-spanking new, featuring all the things that weren't on the food scene in the earlier edition--quinoa, miso, bison.

I looooooooooove it. I especially like the Table of Contents for each section, listing each recipe. It's big, it's beautiful, you're getting me a copy for Christmas, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookbook review: Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

You'll remember Harold McGee from On Food and Cooking, the magnum opus of food science and kitchen lore. It's hefty, but indispensable.

His new book, Keys to Good Cooking, is essentially a big pretty book of kitchen tips. How to achieve the perfect hard-boiled egg, how to select fresh watermelon, how to sear steak, that sort of thing. It's fascinating stuff, but the book lives in that weird neverland of not-quite-a-reference-book, not-really-a-book-you-want-to-read-from-cover-to-cover. It's the sort of book you want to dip into periodically; it'll be difficult to absorb all that information otherwise. Like I said, fascinating stuff, but there's a lot.

I haven't decided whether I want my own copy of this or not (I got it from the library; I audition a lot of my cookbooks that way). I think I'd like it better if it were a Twitter feed I could subscribe to; a new kitchen tip every day!

(Speaking of Twitter feeds, you follow mine, right?)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

And the winner is...

...mlr-86! Send an email with your contact information to, and I'll send your copy of Recipes Every Man Should Know right away!

Cookbook review: How to Cook Like a Top Chef

Now, here's a cookbook I don't like.

(It's rare, I know.)

How to Cook Like a Top Chef is a spin-off from the hit TV show. First, if you don't watch the show (like me), the cookbook is essentially useless. There are some interesting recipes in it, but most of the book is dedicated to celebrity worship--interviews with the winners and contestants, that sort of thing. All the recipes are paired with a name (John Besh's Frozen Cauliflower Blintz, Rick Bayless's Chile-Garlic Shrimp). That in itself isn't bad, but if you don't know the name, then who cares? The recipes look good, but the presentation is a major turn-off.

If you're a fan of the show, you may get a lot more out of this book. But if not, don't bother.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cookbook review: Recipes Every Man Should Know

There are some things everyone should know how to do, regardless of gender, age, or urban environment. Drive in snow and ice. Change a tire. Sew a button. Open a bottle of champagne. Fix a running toilet. Build a fire. Pack. File a tax return (correctly). Clean (properly, and on a regular basis). And of course, cook.

There is nothing sexier than a man who knows how to cook.

Let me repeat that. Ladies, be sure your husbands/boyfriends read this.

There is nothing sexier than a man who knows how to cook.

Picture Daniel Craig as James Bond, rising out of the ocean in Casino Royale. Now picture him making you breakfast in bed. See?

Anyway. Most men haven't gotten the memo that women really do want them to be able to cook competently, which is why there are books like Recipes Every Man Should Know. It's your basic starter guide, pocket-sized and discreet. As you might expect, it's heavy on the meat-and-potatoes, chili, and grill lore.

Fortunately, there are other recipes, as well, some of them even involving green vegetables. Greens with Bacon, Garlicky Spinach, Roasted Asparagus. I support that. Even basic cookie recipes, and a diagram on how to properly carve a turkey.

So in an effort to improve marriages everywhere, I'm giving this cookbook away to some deserving male! Guys, leave a comment, and I'll select a winner at random!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Using the CSA veggies: Minestrone with kale, turnips and Napa cabbage

I made this using the standard soup architecture.

In several tablespoons of bacon fat, I sauteed:

1 chopped onion
a few minced cloves of garlic
several finely chopped stalks of celery and two big carrots

When that was soft, I added:

the equivalent of two cans of white beans
a 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
two peeled and chopped turnips
3/4 cup Israeli couscous
enough chicken broth to float the whole thing
the rind from a hunk of parmesan cheese
Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
a bay leaf

After 15 minutes or so on medium heat, then:

1 chopped head of kale
1 chopped head of Napa cabbage

Cook until just wilted, and serve.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New veggie CSA!

So in addition to my new fish CSA, I'm in a new veggie CSA, as well. If you're in the Boston area, check out Enterprise Produce. Because it's winter in Massachusetts, it's a six-month time commitment, with a box of stuff every week. Sometimes it's what you would expect from winter in Massachusetts--my first box had kale, potatoes, carrots, buttercup squash, turnips, and Napa cabbage. But they subcontract out to other CSA farms on the East Coast, meaning I also got a bag of mesclun greens, a box of cherry tomatoes, fresh green peppers, and a huge grapefruit. It was a pretty decent haul.

Based on that first box, I'm optimistic about the next six months. It was $700 for six months; between that and the fish CSA, the only grocery shopping I'll be doing in the next six months will be to replenish the pantry. That's $115 a month for fruits and veggies, another $40 a month in fish; that's $145 a month to feed two people. Not bad at all.

By summer I'm hoping to have laid in my own garden here, thus negating the need to join a CSA. It'll be my first garden; stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fish tacos

I used the cooked flounder from my fish CSA to make fish tacos.

Any white fish will do (flounder, tilapia, even catfish), cooked and in pieces. On a tortilla, layer the fish, then shredded red or Napa cabbage, then salsa. Maybe a little salt. Done! And really good.

It's ironic that I moved from Southern California to Boston before I made my own fish tacos.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Adventures with flounder

First: I apologize for the lack of photojournalism to accompany this post. It's hard to take pictures when your hands are covered with fish guts. I'll try to do better next time.

(Also: that is a stock photo of a flounder. The ones I got were lighter in color, a couple of pounds each, and a little prettier.)

I picked up my first delivery from my fish CSA, which consisted of three whole flounder, a couple of pounds each. When I say whole, I mean whole. They were so fresh they hadn't been gutted or scaled. So I had a project ahead of me when I got them home.

Here's what I learned:
1. Lock the cats up first. (I didn't.)
2. You can't freeze whole fish with the guts still inside. You have to clean them first.
3. I didn't bother to descale them.
4. Flounder guts are not actually in the middle. They're off to one side, immediately under the head. Basically their guts live in their chin.
5. My super-sharp professional knives weren't up to the task of cutting through fish scales and skin, which is actually very tough. What did work: my super-heavy-duty professional kitchen scissors. (Also called kitchen shears.)
6. Between my impromptu biology lesson ("Where are the guts?...What are THOSE? Oh, lungs.") and figuring out that scissors worked better than the knives, it was not a pretty or clean butchering process. Just as well I didn't take any pictures.
7. Fish decapitation is very easy with good scissors.

So, in summation: with whole fish, first cut off the head. Find and remove internal organs. Snip off fins/gills if necessary (not necessary with flounder).

Then, since I had three cleaned fish in front of me, I figured I might as well roast them all at once and eat them later.

It's also best if you clean fish the night before trash day, so that fish remains can go immediately outside, and not stink up your house any more than it already is.

I didn't do anything fancy to the fish. I put some olive oil in a roasting dish, added the fish, flipped them to coat on both sides with the oil, and baked them for about 20-25 minutes at 400, until the skin was crispy and the meat was opaque.

After they cooled, I peeled off the skin, removed the remaining bones (and tails), and put the remaining meat in the fridge. I predict fish tacos in my immediate future.

Then I took the three fish heads (minus guts, of course--those got thrown away) and the bones/skin/leftovers and made a big batch of fish stock. I threw it all into a big pot, added a roughly chopped carrot and a couple stalks of celery, two big glugs of white wine, and maybe four cups of water, and let that cook down for a couple hours. When it cooled, I strained it and popped it right into the freezer.

I'll continue sharing fish butchering stories and fish recipes as the CSA continues!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fish CSA!

Well, isn't this exciting! I was afraid that in the move from SoCal to Boston, my CSA days were over. (At least until the summer.) Happily, I was wrong!

For those that don't know, CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Typically you pay a flat fee upfront, for x number of shares over some time period. Usually you can specify large or small box, weekly or biweekly, where you'd like to pick it up, then on your set day you go pick up a box of fresh fruits and veggies. In Cali, I was paying $177 for 12 weeks of small biweekly shares; meaning I was paying $29.50 per box for six boxes of fresh fruits and veggies, year-round. They were grown locally, meaning my food dollars were supporting local farms and farmers, and my produce was usually organic and pesticide-free.

Well! Upon settling in here in Massachusetts, I promptly checked out the CSA options, figuring I'd be out of luck until at least spring. Turns out I am now the proud member of both a fish CSA and a winter veggie CSA (which I'll blog about later in the week, so stay tuned).

A fish CSA (CSF?) delivers several pounds of fresh-caught, local fish, either whole or in fillets. What fish you get depends on what they catch. Naturally I signed right up (whole, biweekly), since fresh seafood is one of the primary advantages Boston has over San Diego--oddly enough. Thanks to my new friends at Cape Ann Fresh Catch! ($120 for 12 weeks; so $20 for each biweekly delivery, or $10 per week. That's a deal in my book!)

So for the next twelve weeks, you'll be getting lots of great fish recipes!

Yesterday I got my first delivery, of three big fresh flounder. Tune in tomorrow for my flounder adventures, including how to butcher fresh fish with a pair of kitchen shears, and why flounder guts aren't located where you think they'd be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And the winner is...

Cole! Cole, send your name and address to and I'll send your copy of The Geometry of Pasta right away!

Butternut squash lasagna

I made this with just butternut squash, no greens; it was great, but a little sweet. Next time I'll add some sort of greenery to this, to cut the sweetness. (I adapted the recipe, below.) You don't need to cook them first, the moisture from the squash should do that while the lasagna's baking.

2 big butternut squash, cut in half, seeded, roasted, and peeled
2 boxes no-bake lasagna noodles
a big handful of fresh sage
a few tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 lbs ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup or so heavy cream
2-3 big handfuls shredded mozzarella
lots of shredded parm
1/2 to 1 cup chicken or veggie broth, or some white wine and the rest broth
nutmeg, salt, pepper
greenery: fresh or frozen spinach, kale, collards, or dandelion greens would work well (enough to layer heavily). If you use frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze the excess water out first.

Roast the butternut squash and let cool. Peel it and mash it up in a bowl. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat; when it begins to bubble, add the sage leaves and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the sage and butter all together to the squash mash, along with the broth and some salt and pepper. (It will be a little runny.)

Add the ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a separate bowl, along with a handful of the parm.

Spread a little of the cheese mixture around your lasagna pan, and layer as so: noodles, cheese, squash, greenery, sprinkling of parm, repeat until you run out of something or run out of space in your pan. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese on top is bubbly and browned.

This is a great vegetarian dish, and hearty enough for carnivores, too.

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cookbook review: The Geometry of Pasta

The Geometry of Pasta tells you the perfect pasta shape for the perfect sauce. Not every shape goes with marinara; just as there's a reason most people use elbow macaroni in macaroni and cheese and not, say, ziti. It lists all the different types of pasta, which sauces go best with each one, and then gives recipes. There's broccoli rabe with orecchiette; pappardelle with zucchini and zucchini flowers; and more obscure shapes, like strozzapreti (with squid and broccoli) and chifferi rigati (with green olives and tomatoes).

You probably won't be able to find a lot of these shapes at your local supermarket, so unless you make your own pasta, it'll be difficult to utilize every recipe in this book. Nevertheless, I love the drawings, and I love the recipes. And being a nerd, I appreciate the scientific explanation behind surface texture = type of sauce.

So I'm giving away a copy! Leave a comment as to your favorite pasta shape by midnight tonight, and I'll choose one at random!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: Opus Vino

Opus Vino is the book you buy when you've graduated beyond all the rest of this week's books. It's ginormous. This is 800 pages of full-color illustrations and descriptions of 4,500 individual wine varietals, and each wine region's top producers and rising stars, covering the owners, the grapes, the wine styles, and the best vintages.

It's a wine reference book in the truest sense of the word. It's not a book you're going to want to sit down with and read cover to cover, like the Windows on the World book. (Don't drop it on your foot, either.) It's not going to tell you which wine under $15 will go best with your Christmas turkey, or what the difference is between Champagne and sparkling white wine. It will tell you the history of every top vineyard in France, and which labels they produce. It will also impress the hell out of your wino friends.

Next week: I drink actual wine, and tell you about it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

Wine Week continues here on Broke Foodie! This week: I review all different kinds of wine books (just in time for the holidays). Next week: I drink wine, and tell you about it.

Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition by Kevin Zraly is the mothership of wine reference books. ("Reference" as opposed to "buying guide.")

This book takes you through every aspect of wine: grape varieties and types of wine, where they're produced, how to taste it, how to match it with food. It's the book version of the perpetually-sold out class, taught by the former wine director of Windows on the World. (Yes, that Windows on the World, the one on the top of the World Trade Center.) It's divided into eight sections (White Wines of France, Red Wines of California, etc.).

The other books this week have been primarily buying guides; they describe specific labels, so that you can take that book into your neighborhood wine shop and get that exact bottle. This book lists some specific labels, but it's more a book that gives you all the background information about wine you'll ever need. You'll really feel like an expert after reading this book. It's pretty super-awesome; after all, it is America's bestselling wine book.

Tomorrow: a really, really big wine reference book.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: Oldman's Brave New World of Wine

Wine Week continues here on Broke Foodie! This week: I review all different kinds of wine books (just in time for the holidays). Next week: I drink wine, and tell you about it.
The two books I've reviewed so far this week concentrated on the most affordable wines, for average people. Those books were essentially buying guides for regular people.
Oldman's Brave New World of Wine by Mark Oldman is a book about all kinds of wine, from the cheap end of the market to the expensive end, and it's an educational book as much as it is a buying guide. That's why I really like this one--because it teaches me something new about wine, in addition to showing me what specific bottles I'm most likely to enjoy.

Also because it has really fun charts.

For each section, it plots the different varietals against Adventure and Price. So an average Malbec will rank low for both Adventure and Price, but Reds from the Loire will rank much higher in Adventure. Classic Cabernet will rank high in Price, but low in Adventure. And so on.

There are great random bits of information scattered throughout, fun lists (vegetarian friendly wines, best wines to go with bacon, good wines for Thanksgiving, and so on), and lots of stories. Basically, after reading this book, not only will you feel like a wine expert, but you'll want to drink a lot of it. I support that.

Tomorrow: the first of the really big wine reference guides.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: The Wine Trials 2011

Welcome to Wine Week here at Broke Foodie! This week, I'll be reviewing a bunch of wine books, so that you can decide which ones are best for your library and your tastes. Next week, some actual wines.

Next up: The Wine Trials 2011.

This book highlights the 175 wines under $15 that beat $50+ bottles in a rigorous brown-bag blind tasting. Apparently a $12 sparkling French blend, J.P. Chenet, beat out a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon. Each wine gets its own page (in alphabetical order), giving you simple taste descriptions and a price. It's written in a very straightforward, conversational style, making it very accessible for average, I-just-want-something-that-tastes-decent-and-will-give-me-a-good-after-work-buzz wine drinkers.

I liked this book better than yesterday's, Good Better Best, because these wines were selected primarily for their taste, rather than their price. These are all award-winners, and I like the page-long descriptions for each one.

Tomorrow: An even better wine book!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wine Week! Wine book review: Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines

Welcome to Wine Week here at Broke Foodie! This week, I'll be reviewing a bunch of wine books, so that you can decide which ones are best for your library and your tastes. Next week, some actual wines.

First up: Good, Better, Best: A No-Nonsense Guide to Popular Wines by Carolyn Evans Hammond.

Wine books tend to assume a certain elevation of taste/income in their readers. I love reading about rare French wines, but how do I reconcile that knowledge with the big bottle of Yellow Tail on my table? Especially when I can only afford the Yellow Tail.

Not so with Good, Better, Best. This book ranks the...shall we say, most affordable end of the wine spectrum. All the $7.99 stuff you see in the supermarket--Turning Leaf, Little Penguin, Jacob's Creek, Woodbridge, and yes, Yellow Tail. Bottles you can find anywhere. Even Franzia and Gallo make an appearance. Nothing over $15.

If you're just starting (or wanting) to learn about wine, or your budget won't stretch beyond jug wine, or you just really like Franzia, this is a great book to have. It breaks out each type of wine (merlot, chardonnay, etc.) by price point and then ranks them by Good, Better, Best. So if you're looking for a $5 - $8 bottle of sauvignon blanc, for example, Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve is Good; Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oak is Better; and Rosemount Diamond Label is Best.

Tomorrow: the world's bestselling guide to inexpensive wines!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bacon and bourbon pecan pie

I had a Pie Fail yesterday.

I know, you're thinking, "Aren't you like the cooking expert or whatever?" Yet, even I mess up recipes from time to time. It happens to the best of us.

I was originally going to make this Bacon and Bourbon Pecan Pie. But I was out of bourbon, and the only bacon in the house was primo wild boar bacon, which I didn't want to waste on a pie. So I made regular pecan pie instead.

Only, turns out it's a bad idea to put both blackstrap molasses and dark corn syrup in the same pecan pie. It was so molasses-y that it was pretty much inedible.

Fortunately the dessert wine I was going to drink with it was pretty good all by itself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beef and butternut squash stew

1 chopped onion
a few minced cloves of garlic
olive oil/bacon fat
1-2 lbs stew beef
a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes
1 roasted butternut squash
rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper
1 cup port
beef or chicken broth

Heat the few tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat, and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the rosemary and thyme. Add the beef, and cook until browned on the edges (maybe five minutes). Deglaze with the port. (Red wine would work well, too.) Add the already-roasted butternut squash, diced into big pieces, and the sundried tomatoes. Add enough broth to float the whole thing. Cook down, covered, for about an hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is a great winter stew. Last time I made it, the butternut squash essentially fell apart after roasting. I threw all the mush into the stew pot, and instead of chunks of beef and squash, I got chunks of beef. The squash virtually disappeared into the sauce, but it gave the whole thing a really divine sweetness.

Also, check out these other butternut squash recipes on Foodista!

Butternut Squash on FoodistaButternut Squash

Friday, November 26, 2010

Acorn squash stuffed with bread, cheese and bacon

Happy Black Friday, everyone!

My husband and I spent Thanksgiving dinner with some of his co-workers, who were graciously hosting an "Orphans' Thanksgiving," for people who had nowhere else to celebrate. Today we'll skip the retail madness, and I'll fix our own little Thanksgiving dinner here at home. Here's the menu:

Roast chicken
Acorn squash stuffed with bread, cheese and bacon, recipe courtesy of The Kitchn
Green beans with proscuitto and balsamic vinegar
Sweet potato fries
Some sort of pie (I'll share that recipe tomorrow)
And of course, a bottle of good wine

And we'll eat it in front of a blazing fire. We'll have to, since we don't have a dining room table yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And the winner is...

mathmahna! (I love Ree Drummond, too!) Send an email to with your name and address and I'll get your copy of America the Edible to you just in time for the holidays!

Oyster stew

My grandmother served this at the beginning of every Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

1 cup milk
1 cup half and half
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon grated onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint drained oysters (save the juice)

Scald the first five ingredients, and keep warm. Frizzle the oysters in a little more butter in another pan, just until the edges start to curl in, and add that to the milk mix. Add the oyster juice, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice OR 2-3 tablespoons dry white wine. Add paprika to taste and serve.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cookbook review: America the Edible by Adam Richman

Full disclosure: I’ve slept with this book’s author.

Not recently: not even in this decade. This was at least…13 (?) years ago, long before he had his own TV show and book deal. We were both poor interns, I was carrying on a miserable and scorching-hot affair with someone else, that’s pretty much the whole story. We dated (ahem, “dated”) for a grand total of about two weeks. That was that, and I don't think I ever thought of him again until I turned on the TV one day and had an epic “WTF?” moment.

(He is now the host of the Travel Channel’s “Man Vs. Food.”)

“I know that guy,” I thought. “Where do I know him fro—oh. OH."

And then:

"WAIT. How the hell does HE have a TV show and I don’t?”

Then I told all my friends I’d had carnal knowledge of a celebrity. And that’s my Adam Richman story.

So of course I had a vested interest in reading this book. Because we all get a vicarious thrill in checking up on our exes, don’t we? I confess, I’ve watched his show and it’s not for me. He travels to various BBQ joints, dives, etc., and eats their epic food challenges—72-oz steaks, 8-lb burgers, pizzas the size of Subarus, that sort of thing. It’s less a show about travel, or food, and more a paean to gluttony. Why eat any size burger, I think, if you’re shoving it down your throat too fast to actually taste it?

Fortunately, the book is not about how to eat 72 ounces of steak in under an hour without hurling. Actually, it's not really about his show at all. (I was surprised by that.) His book is more a collection of loose travel essays about nine different food cities: LA, Brooklyn, Honolulu, St. Louis, Cleveland, Austin, San Fran, Savannah, and Portland, ME. What he ate in those cities, why, which restaurants he'd recommend.

At least a quarter of the book is dedicated to the many nameless women accompanying him on his adventures, and at times he sounds like he's writing a bad romance novel. ("I braced for the arrival of this switchblade-sexy rockabilly baby who couldn't have weighed more than 105 pounds yet flattened me like a 17-ton tidal wave...Her sudden, summer-storm flashes of passion or petulance captivated me completely...She made me a lion, and for sport would slaughter me like a lamb.")

However, purple prose aside, the book is actually pretty good. I love reading about other people's food adventures, especially in cities I know/have visited/would visit, and Adam Richman is nothing if not well-traveled. It's also peppered throughout with recipes (including one from his mom), random bits of information, and lists like "Great Food Songs" and "Top Ten Eating Streets in the US."

So, the real question: would I recommend this book? Yes, of course. I would have enjoyed it, even without the salacious backdrop. But I knew him a realllllly long time ago, during a particularly sad and fucked-up time in my life, so I can't really think of Adam/watch his show/read his book without remembering how sad and fucked up I was once. I like to think I've improved a bit in my old age.

So, in the interest of good-ex-karma, I'm giving away my copy to one lucky reader! Leave a comment about your favorite food celebrity by midnight tonight (Wednesday), and I'll choose one at random!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Official Thanksgiving cocktail: Mulled apple cider with Calvados

I picked up a jug of apple cider last week, in preparation for Thanksgiving. (Alas, it isn't fresh. Also, it's pasteurized, which means it has basically no apple taste and a faint chemical afterburn. Boo.) So this weekend, I decided to do a little experimenting with it, to find the perfect Thanksgiving cocktail.

I tried dark rum, gin, lime juice, a number of different combinations. The clear winner was this one: mulled, hot, with Calvados.

Calvados, for those of you that don't know, is a fancy French version of applejack. Kind of like apple brandy, only not brandy. Apple booze + apple cider = apple goodness!

3 cups apple cider
A few whole cloves and whole allspice berries (or a pinch each of the ground versions)
A little fresh nutmeg
A couple of cinnamon sticks, broken apart
2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used a bourbon-vanilla infused sugar)

Simmer all that down for about 10 minutes, or until hot. Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup Calvados and heat through. Serve with Granny Smith apple slices as a garnish.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving side dishes

Here's a collection of recipes I've published on this blog, that would be great for Thanksgiving side dishes! Don't let me catch any of you with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup anywhere near your holiday kitchens. Ditto marshmallow topping.

Butternut squash and chard risotto
Butternut squash stuffed with sausage and apples
Onion tart
Bourbon corn pudding
Corn fritters
Corn maque choux
Cranberry sauce
Parmesan brussel sprouts
Green beans with Rocquefort and walnuts
Green beans with balsamic vinegar
Acorn squash soup
Glazed carrots
Beet risotto
Champagne risotto
Mushroom risotto
Israeli couscous with apples and cranberries
Lima bean, corn and bacon succotash

Also, try making home fries instead of mashed potatoes this year. Slice potatoes (unpeeled) into wedges, put in a big bowl with olive oil, and mix them around until they're coated in oil. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet, coat liberally with dry rub, and roast at 400 degrees until a fork goes all the way through.

Ditto sweet potatoes, for sweet potato fries, but leave off the dry rub. You can make a kick-ass "aioli" for sweet potato fries by mixing together Sriracha and mayo. Yummmmm.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving ice creams

Oh yes. Ice creams. Why be predictable and serve pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year, when you could serve one of these? Plus, you can make it ahead!

Rum Butternut Squash Ice Cream
Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream with Pecan Praline
Cranberry Sorbet
Maple Pecan Ice Cream

and the pièce de résistance... wait for it...

Butterscotch and Bourbon Ice Cream with Bacon and Butter Toffee Chips

I think that last one is worth buying an ice cream maker for, if you don't have one already. I'm totally hauling mine out this weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

BBQ pork quesadillas

I made a pork loin last week, and still had lots of pork left over. First I put it on salads; then I started adding it to soups; and I plan on using the last of it this weekend in a batch of minestrone. But I still had a whole lot of pork that needed to be dealt with. Yesterday I had a flash of genius: BBQ pork quesadillas!

I shredded most of the rest of the pork and mixed it with the last of my barbecue sauce. (Maybe 3-4 cups of shredded pork to 1 cup sauce.) I mixed that all up together and added it to whole wheat tortillas, along with about 1/4 cup each of shredded habanero cheddar. I topped each with another tortilla, and toasted each one in a big skillet. Because there was more pork than cheese, the finished quesadillas didn't hold together very well, but they were still pretty darned good. I served with a fresh salsa.

So if you have tortillas around, consider that an excellent way to use up leftovers.

I could have also thrown the barbecue pork-sauce mixture onto a tortilla, along with some fresh spinach or greenery, rolled it up, and called it a wrap. Or mixed it with eggs and called it a breakfast burrito.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cookbook review: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

If you don't know the name Alice Waters, you should. She's the famed food activist behind Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant that effectively started the slow food/organic movement; probably the most important American restaurant of the last 40 years. Her philosophy is simple: buy local, high quality ingredients, and cook them simply. Good ingredients don't need a lot of fuss to make them taste good. In fact, too much fuss will usually make them taste worse.

This cookbook expounds on that principle beautifully. Many of the recipes are less recipe and more essay; there are two pages on how to properly cook a pork chop, when the ingredients are pork chop, oil, salt and pepper. It's very practical, very simple and very user-friendly for the novice cook.

People always want the "secret" to good cooking. I think it's a largely American trait, one that makes us obsess over the shortcut. We want to win the lottery, know the right people, drive cars that parallel-park themselves, anything that has spark and glamour. No one is interested in plain old boring hard work. We want a cookbook of thirty-minute recipes with secret tips for success, not a three-page essay on why it's better to cook polenta on low heat for an hour, not when we could be eating 30-second toaster waffles instead.

But it really is better to spend time on some things. Your soul isn't satisfied with quickie sex; why then should  you expect to be satisfied with quickie meals? This cookbook, as part of the vanguard of the slow food movement, really spells out why it's important to take the time once in a while, and why the food will taste so much better as a result.
I also like it because it gives appropriate variations in the recipes. I'm a big fan of variations, so I appreciate it when other cooks point out that you can use other greens like collards in the chard frittata. This has become one of the core reference books in my cookbook library.

(Bonus: excellent ice cream recipe.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oysters Bienville

Mmmm, oysters. I really see no point in cooking them at all; to me, if an oyster is good enough to be eaten raw, there's no sense in ruining it with heat. And if it's not good enough to eat raw, why are you eating it?

I didn't always feel that way. I'll be the first to admit that raw oysters can be a hurdle for a lot of people--after all, their consistency is remarkably similar to snot. I remember when I was a kid, watching my uncles eat raw Chesapeake Bay oysters by the quart and being totally grossed out. (It didn't help that sometimes they dispensed with manners entirely and just drank them out of the quart jar, like some form of particularly chunky moonshine.) So for the longest time I only ate oysters fried. And let's be honest, you could fry cardboard and it would taste good.

Then one day I ate a raw oyster and it realized that, consistency aside, it was actually pretty damned good.

So I picked up a pint of oysters the other day and decided to actually do something with them, rather than just sit down with a fork and a lemon wedge. I adapted this recipe from Cooking Up A Storm. Adaptations noted.

1/2 cup butter
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped--I left these out, didn't have any
2 dozen oysters, with juice
rock salt--left this part out, too
1/4 cup chopped green onions--I used leeks instead
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
6 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup parsley
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb Parmesan
6 tablespoons bread crumbs
lemon wedges

Saute mushrooms in 2 T butter. [SEE ABOVE ABOUT NO MUSHROOMS.] Place the oysters in ramekins, 3 at a time, or individually on their half-shells, and place those on a bed of rock salt in a large dish. [I PLACED MINE IN RAMEKINS AND SET THOSE DIRECTLY IN A PYREX DISH.] Saute onions and garlic in remaining butter, [I USED ALL 6 TABLESPOONS HERE] add flour and stir. (Essentially you're making a white sauce.) Beat egg yolks with parsley and cream, stir into onion and flour mixture, blend well. Add 1 cup oyster juice (or milk, or chicken broth) [I USED A LITTLE OYSTER JUICE AND THE REST CHICKEN BROTH] and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sauce turns creamy. Add mushrooms and cheese, stir until melted and well blended. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over oysters, add breadcrumbs, 450 15 minutes until browned. Serve with lemon wedges.

The finished product was very rich. And cute, in their little ramekins. And good, I guess, my husband ate it right down, but I still think oysters are best raw.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Help me plan a Thanksgiving dinner for two!

The cross-country move wreaked havoc with our holiday plans. Originally I planned to visit my sister on the Gulf Coast. But a move, two new jobs, and limited time off put the kibosh on that. Then I thought about visiting either my parents or my husband's cousin, who's getting married the Saturday after Thanksgiving--but either option involves a 12-hour drive (each way), and DH recently threw out his back. So I think long car drives are out in the near future.

So it looks like we'll be sticking close to home this Thanksgiving, for the first time...possibly ever. I don't feel the need to cook an entire turkey for two people--indeed, any turkey at all--but I also think I should acknowledge the holiday somehow, with something special.

What do you recommend? How best to celebrate Thanksgiving, with no family or close friends nearby, and no interest whatsoever in watching football? Have you ever cooked a full-out Thanksgiving dinner for two people?