Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dutch Baby

Saturday mornings mean sleeping in. Late. Or at least until the sun shines through the slats in your blinds and the birds start singing and the neighbors start mowing their lawns (which is actually somewhere around 7 a.m.). But when there's no incessant alarm buzz to jolt you into consciousness, it feels like sleeping in. Especially when you can stretch and pull out the book you fell asleep reading and continue until hunger pangs you.

At which point you'll roll out of bed and head to the kitchen to make some coffee to go with scrambled eggs, pancakes or french toast. But next Saturday, you should make a dutch baby instead. It's like a pancake but fluffier and crispier. And it's the perfect thing to share.

Dutch Baby: adapted from Gourmet and A Homemade Life 3 large eggs 2/3 cup whole milk (I used a mixture of half-and-half and skim) 2/3 cup flour 1/4 teaspoon vanilla dash cinnamon dash nutmeg dash salt 2 tablespoons butter lemon juice powdered sugar Pre-heat oven to 450. Place large sauce pan in middle rack of oven. In a medium bowl, beat eggs until fluffy and pale. Add in flour, vanilla, spices and salt, beat until smooth. The batter will be pretty runny. Remove sauce pan from oven. Melt butter on the pan and spread around evenly. Pour batter into pan. Bake until puffed up and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. The dutch baby should slide out of the pan onto a plate pretty easily. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not So Much About Food as Elephants

Kenton of The Two Foodies made a request for some Africa photos, of which there are 1800. I've been slowly whittling them down, but I keep getting distracted by the elephants. When I come across these pictures or any of the hundreds of photos of pacaderms in my possession, I start ooo-ing and aww-ing--not something I normally do. I mean, look at the babies. How freaking cute are they?! These particular elephants had just crossed the Linyanti River from Namibia into Botswana (using their snouts to breathe under water, and the babies hold onto the moms' tails--cute cute cute). These elephants are crossing in the exact spot our Land Rover was in when we first saw them swimming. As they approached my dad said, "Well, I better go use the lou with the view before they get here." Our guide was like, um, no time for that, get in the car--stat. The elephants were pretty defensive when they first got out of the water. I was watching a video (which I'll post tonight), and there were about 20 elephants in total. They immediatley positioned that baby between the adult female and the adolescent. Apparently, (and this is my favorite part about the elephants) they're really protective of the family group. If one of them dies, they actually mourn, and they'll return to its burial site pretty frequently. If one of the elephants in their group gets attacked, they will turn around and defend it. Groups of elephants never get attacked by predators (except humans) because they circle up with the babies in the middle. Another of my favorite parts that we caught on tape is of one of the adolescent elephants. The entire group of elephants was trumpeting at us, stomping their feet and fanning their ears. I noticed that one of the half-sized elephants did it anyway and then scampered off. I just imagine it saying, "Yeah, take that humans! Uh-oh, I can't be last." See how ridiculous long this post is? I could go on for ages about how great the elephants are. I mean look a how freaking cute that baby is!!!!!! If cutesness could kill ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sweet Indian Dumplings

After two tries at deep frying without injury, I think I can call myself a professional. Even when these wontons inflated to the point at which I thought they just might explode, sending scalding hot stuffing in the direction of my eyes, I kept my cool. These fried wontons come to you courtesy of the last page of May's Gourmet magazine. Believe me when I say that I was thinking about them even in Africa. I thought they might make the perfect appetizer for Sarah's slumber party. I chose the vegetarian variety, for which I already had nearly all the ingredients (I substituted coconut milk for actual coconut meat). However, I was a bit disappointed with the quantity of stuffing required for the wonton (it was probably me not following the directions). The recipe said it made 24 wontons, but I only came out with 18 with a meager teaspoon of the savory-sweet coconut sauce dropped in the middle of each round. My adaptation of the recipe adjusts the issue. Indian Sweet Coconut Dumplings: adapted from Gourmet 2 cups coconut milk 1/2 cup brown sugar 4 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds 4 tablespoons sultanas 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 24 round wonton wrappers Combine all ingredients (aside from wonton wrappers) in a small saucepan on medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer until sauce is thickened and liquid has nearly evaporated, it should take 15 to 20 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and let cool. Lay the wonton wrappers out on a flat surface. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of sauce onto the middle of the wonton. Using a brush, spread water on the edge of the wonton wrapper. Fold wonton in half and pinch shut. Bring about 2 cups of vegetable oil to a boil in a medium frying pan--it should be about an inch deep in the pan. Carefully drop the stuffed dumplings into the hot oil, turning with a slotted spoon to brown both sides. Remove from oil when browned--it should take less than 5 minutes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

French-style Yogurt Cake

I nursed a craving for orange-flavored baked goods all last week. It wasn't until Saturday that I had time to fulfill it. This is another recipe from Orangette Molly's A Homemade Life, which you all should read. (With additional inspiration from my friend Jess at Cake and Cup.) The weekend was simply great. I had the apartment to myself and spent Saturday cleaning and then rewarded myself by baking, and I even squeezed in some time to write before heading off to a slumber party at Sarah's (yes, I'm 25 and going to slumber parties--I love my life). I do such a horrible job of scheduling time for writing what I want to write (aside from the contents of this blog). I have mastered the art of procrastination. I have two stories due at work this week for trips I went on about a year ago. I turned in a story to The Reader yesterday that was originally due on Friday at 8 a.m. Without an impending deadline and a serious time crunch, I cannot produce. But what I do produce under the time crunch is probably not as good as if I started earlier.
Baking is different. You can procrastinate and you could try to make shortcuts, but everyone will know. Baking takes a set amount of time. In this case, prep time (which is a bit more subjective) and then 35 minutes to bake. And that's it. It's time you either have or you don't.
French Yogurt Cake with Orange: from Orangette 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder dash of salt 2 teaspoons orange zest 1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt (plain) 1 cup granulated sugar 3 large eggs 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil 1 tablespoon orange juice For Syrup: 1/4 cup orange juice 1/4 cup powdered sugar For Icing: 1/2 cup powdered sugar 2 tablespoons orange juice Preheat oven to 350. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and orange zest. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar and eggs until smooth consistency. Add the dry ingredients and stir. Pour in the oil and mix. Drop in just a dollop of orange juice. Pour batter into cake pan and bake on center rack for 25 to 35 minutes--my oven always takes 35.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the powdered sugar and orange juice for the syrup. When cake is finished, pull out of oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Dump out onto a plate, flip right side up on to another plate and transfer to wire rack--which, as of this recipe, I decided I must invest in. Place a piece of parchment paper under the rack. While the cake is still a bit warm, pour the syrup over it. In the same small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and the juice for the icing. Pour over cooled cake while it's still on the wire rack. Allow icing to set and then carefully transfer cake to serving platter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Like It Hot

Before going to Africa I went to this lovely place called Ohio for a culinary weekend at the Hide Away Inn. I don't want to talk about the details of the weekend--in fact I'd like to forget the details of that weekend. However, the inn was adorable and the food--oh my--I could not wait to finally have time in my schedule to make this soup and salad. Thai food usually comes with a kick that, when well done, simply wakes up the taste buds to enjoy the lime-ginger-lemongrass-curry flavors that dominate Thai dishes. I've heard it said (so I can't take credit for this analysis) that Thais have perfected the sweet-spicy-savory flavor combinations. Cucumber Salad:
1 large cucumber
3 green onions, finely sliced
1/4 cup diced red pepper (I used green bell peppers--they are half the price of the red peppers for no reason that is apparent to me)
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro (I tore my cupboard apart and still couldn't find even dried cilantro, it's fine without)
1/4 roughly chopped dry-roasted peanuts (didn't have this either)
2 tablespoons lime juice (or juice from 1/2 a lime)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (don't mind the smell, your food won't taste that bad)
1/2 teaspoon oyster paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Wash and dice the cucumber. Add spring onion, peppers, and cilantro and peanuts (if you have them) to the cucumber in a large bowl.

In a separate, smaller bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients with a fork or whisk to make a dressing. If it turns out you don't have oyster paste lying around but you do have musaman curry paste collecting dust in the cupboard, replace oyster paste and cayenne pepper with curry paste (something likely to be incredibly spicy if it's anything like this curry). The substitution worked out perfectly. Coconut Lime Soup: 2 14-ounce cans of coconut milk
2 cups water
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce (this is what Thais use instead of salt, fyi)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
dash of cayenne pepper
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Bring coconut milk and water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Mince ginger root in a garlic press and add to stock. Stir in lime juice, fish sauce, turmeric powder and cayenne pepper. Season to taste. Add half of the green onion. Simmer soup for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve and garnish with remaining green onion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My mom invited me over for lunch yesterday. She promised salmon (it's actually trout), and I came running. She could have given me beef stroganoff and I would have come (well, maybe not, I hate beef stroganoff). The meal turned out perfectly: butter lettuce salad, topped with sauteed trout and dill with an olive-oil-lemon-juice dressing. But there was a moment or two, when the kitchen filled with smoke, that we thought that was the end of the fish. Could there be any question about where I get my cavelier carelessness in the kitchen? Obviously it's courtesy of my mother. Salad with Trout and Dill: butter lettuce 1 filet of trout (or salmon--my mom declared that salmon has a better taste) a couple sprigs of fresh dill from a potted plant in your mom's yard drizzle of olive oil juice from half a lemon (per salad) dash of salt and pepper My mom cooked the fish (scale side down) in a skillet without any oil or butter but with the lid on so that the steam would cook the top of the fish. Even though it burned the scales, the thick part of the filet was still a bit raw, so she cut it up and sauteed it for a few minutes until it was flaky. Mint Sun Tea: one-gallon glass jug one gallon of water four or five tea bags (depending on how strong you like it) big handful of fresh mint leaves sun Fill the jug with water (the jug cannot be opaque). Toss in the tea bags near the top and throw in the mint leaves. Leave the jug with the tea and the mint outside in the sun all day. Bring it inside and pop it in the fridge. Serve over ice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alternative BLT

The beautiful thing about not being in school and thus a recipient of a summer holiday is that summer begins when you choose. I chose May 2, the date of my departure to Africa. Now that it's summer, I can do things like go to the Farmer's Market, do the Taco Ride and eat tomatoes. I know this tomato was grown in a greenhouse. I know. But I couldn't resist.
My original plan was to make an avocado-chicken dish using this tomato, but when I finally finished gardening at 8 p.m. I was ready to eat, stat. And whenever hunger takes ahold of me like that I make poached eggs and douse them with salt and pepper. This is a variation on the BLT that replaces bacon with eggs, the only thing better would be a BELT. The sandwich is super easy to make, the hardest part is eating it.
Egg-Lettuce-Tomato Sandwich
To poach an egg, heat about 2 cups of water in a skillet. Add to cracked eggs to the water before it is boiling, being careful not to break the yokes. The eggs should be about half submerged in water. Cover the skillet to allow the steam from the simmering water to cook the top of the eggs. I like my eggs over easy. To get perfect consistency, remove the eggs from the heat and the skillet once the bright yellow of the raw egg turns a foggy yellow color. This means that the thin layer of egg white on top of the yolk has been cooked.
To make the sandwich, toast bread and top with lettuce, tomato and poached egg. Finish off with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

She Who Lived to Tell of Smoke that Thunders, Trumpeting Elephants and Laughing Hyenas

I made it. I'm back and sitting at my desk in Omaha, Neb., eating the only thing left in my cupboard (that took less than five minutes to make): I've gone through my emails, discovered (to my joy) that Neko Case will be coming to town in June (along with Bowerbirds and St. Vincent--could life be any better) and sifted through more junk mail than I realized I receive. After some 36 hours of traveling, I am in a bit of a daze and microwave popcorn is the best I can do. But wow, what a trip. There was something completely new at every bump in the very bumpy road. And my friends, the sky, the sky. I cannot describe the sky, the vastness, the colors, the clouds going on forever and forever amen. Though right now I am content with my indoor plumbing, Iron & Wine and to move only at the pace that the Earth turns--at least for the moment.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Africa or Bust

In less than 24 hours, I will be boarding a plane to start on what amounts to a 24 hour trek over land and sea to the fabled continent of Africa. This is something I never thought would happen. I love to travel, but I have sort of just written off destinations like Africa and Patagonia and Australia--too far, too expensive, too many great things to see closer to home. But sometimes the universe works in the direction of poor, assistant editors working one-and-a-half (great) jobs to pay the bills, and said universe (in the form of a benevolent editor in chief) draws your name from a pot to go on the trip of a lifetime at the tender age of 25. Additionally, the universe invites your 50-something-year-old father (whose only trip abroad has been to various points in Canada) to join you on the trip. And even though said father snores and obsesses about details such as batteries, swine flu and withdrawing money from ATMs, you cannot wait to experience something of this magnificence with one of the greatest people in the world (second only to my mother). I don't know that I can describe how incredibly blessed I feel to get to go on a trip like this for my job. To be honest, I've been so busy lately I haven't had much time to think about it. (I haven't even packed yet.) You may be interested in the details of my epic voyage. Tomorrow we wake up and fly to Johannesburg, South Africa, spend the night there and fly to Livingstone, Zambia, the following day. Victoria Falls (the above photo) is on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border (we will not be heading to Mugabe's Zimbabwe). Then we will be trekking to the Okavango Delta in Botswana to do a safari. We'll be gone for about 12 days, returning to Omaha on May 14. I'll catch you on the flip side. Image of Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls courtesy of Huffington Post (who probably stole it from someone like National Geographic)