Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Recipe - Hummus

I recently realized that I needed to add a late morning snack on days I go to the gym. Because feeling like your hands are cement blocks flung around on twigs just isn't ideal. So, I glanced around my kitchen to figure out what I could add to my diet that would give me energy through the extra hour or two before I had lunch, but not break the calorie bank. I settled on hummus with pita (flax, oat brand and whole wheat flour pita bread, to be exact, and it's quite yummy despite its wheat-germ smoothie sounding roots).

Za'atar Hummus

1 large can of chickpeas (I don't remember the size, I think it's 800 some-odd grams)
1/4 C olive oil
Lemon juice to taste (I usually just squirt a bunch until I feel like it's enough, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe one lemon's worth?)
Za'atar spice (same deal as the lemon juice, just kinda sprinkle it on top)

Put all above ingredients in a food processor (or if yours is as teensy as mine, do half at a time), blend until mostly smooth. I can't seem to get mine thoroughly smooth, but it's not the end of the world if there are chickpea chunks (I love alliteration).

Can be refrigerated and eaten for several days. The recipe for this I found online said three days. I ate it in five and I'm still breathing, but your mileage may vary.

Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Restaurant Review - Grezzo's (Vegan raw food)

Friday night, I went to Grezzo's in the North End for vegan raw food. The menu on the link is mostly the same, though the specials have changed.

For those of you who aren't familiar with vegan or raw food, the basic concept is this: vegan means that there's no animal products involved (no meat, eggs, milk, cheese, honey, yeast, maple syrup) and raw means that nothing is heated over 112 degrees. They also don't use any canned or processed ingredients. The literature on the table mentions that raw food is supposed to give you a buzz after the fact, but I don't honestly remember the whys of it. For more about the raw food movement, visit the Living and Raw Foods website.

I was intrigued by the idea. I've heard of the raw food movement, and I know a lot of people swear by it. I'm neither a raw foodist or a vegan, but I am an adventurous eater and figured I'd try it. Plus, my cousin was in town to run the marathon, and had expressed interest in eating there. So after the race, I headed over with her (I'll call her C, for cousin, just so I don't have to keep writing "my cousin") and P (as a side note, P and I had stayed with C when we went down to the inauguration, so we wanted to treat her to an awesome night out as thanks).

So, we get to the restaurant for our 6:30 reservation. And this place is tiny. I mean, seriously, probably about the same size as my shoebox condo, but elongated. It was very cute, though, tastefully decorated, comfortable chairs, and (/open geek out moment) cool menus with magnets that slid open so they can change the menu (/end geek out moment). The tables were very tight though, because they were trying to squeeze in as many people as possible, and there was very little room to actually sit in the seats if there was someone sitting at the table behind you. P is tiny, and even she felt like she didn't have enough space.

The waitress was very friendly and had a great spiel about the menu. Answered all our questions (what's the lobster really? mushrooms. What're the oysters? mushrooms. What's the cheesecake? nuts. What's the cream? nuts.) and was all in all quite enthusiastic. So I ordered the drink special (Grapefruit and Orange cocktail with lemongrass, thyme, and chili-infused sake with a pink salt rim) while P and C were deciding what they wanted to drink. And we waited. And waited (no water mind you, though they did bring some spiced olives for the table). It took about a half hour to get my drink and more time after that to get P and C's drinks. Another ten to fifteen after that to get the straws we'd asked for (by then, we'd just decided to drink out of each other's glasses to taste. My drink was not good. I tried to take a couple sips, but it just wasn't happening. So I set the drink off to the side and asked for water. And the waitress didn't even ask how my drink was until right before dessert (when it was far too late). She did take it off the bill, though, so I have to give her props for that.

I decided to order the tasting menu and P and C each got an appetizer and an entree (plus P got a dessert). We all shared the dishes around, so I'll just list below what we got and my reactions to them.

Vietnamese Coconut Soup - lemongrass, ginger, mustard greens, mint and basil
This was ok. It was actually pretty creamy, and while I realize I prefer soup hot, it was better than I expected it to be. The basil was quite good, the mustard greens added a kick, and the lemongrass and ginger added some crunch. The tasting menus size was definitely enough of it, though.

Mushroom Soup - baby bellas, soaked dulse and pineapple
This was also ok, and I definitely didn't need more than my little serving. I'm not sure what all was in it, but it was a little sweet, a little savory, with a small spicy kick.

Sliders - spiced patties on vine-ripened tomato, pommes frites and pickles, creamy "bleu cheese" watercress
This was the best course of the whole meal (except dessert). It's the only one I really truly enjoyed eating. It was their take on a hamburger (not sure what the patty was made of), but the tomato buns went together really well with the pickle, watercress, and potato chips (the chips were potato slices soaked in vinegar and then dehydrated).

Gnocchi carbonara - dumplings, creamy rawmesan and fresh English peas with pea shoots and crispy eggplant
The dumplings were made out of mushroom, the peas had some wasabi on them I think, and the pea shoots were pretty but rather tastless. All in all, this course was fine but pretty uninteresting and didn't taste like much. C ordered a full appetizer of this in addition to the smaller one I got on the tasting menu, and it didn't come at the same time as mine. In fact, when her entree came out, she still hadn't gotten the gnocchi, even though we'd already asked twice. The gnocchi came out after the entree (the waitress said the kitchen was backed up, but when I went to the bathroom, I noticed that they were chatting. It's seriously restaurant 101 to deliver food in the right order and at the same time as the other people eating at your table).

Seaweed salad - kelp noodles, sea beans and nori with wasabi vinaigrette
I hated this dish. It's the only one I really couldn't eat at all. Not because of the spicy, because I like spicy. But it tasted like they'd just sprinkled wasabi over it, like wasabi flavored veggies. Ugh. Thankfully, C enjoyed it and ate the whole thing.

Falafel in a lettuce cup
This was pretty good as C's entree. Didn't disappoint (though I only had two small bites, but she seemed to like it well enough). The problem was that it came out by itself and P and I were left without our entrees. Ours came out after C's was already finished. Again, restaurant 101.

Star Anise Crusted Papaya Steak - dill vermicelli with cucumber and olive salad
The papaya steak was really interesting - it looked like fish (they even made the little hash marks), but tasted like papaya. It was pretty good, actually.

Land and Sea - maitake, yellow oyster, black trumpet, hedgehog and honshimeji mushrooms. Smooth lemon "ricotta", dulse and Maine coast kelp
The first couple bites were good. But raw mushrooms only go so far, and I guess I realize now that I vastly prefer them cooked. I think that might be personal preference, but I couldn't finish this dish.

Rich brownie sundae - vanilla gelato, chocolate truffle sauce, brazil nut crumble
This was the best course of the night. There was also a little dash of mango and raspberry coulis on the side that was a wonderful counterpoint to the chocolate.

Chocolate Torte - apricot and candy macadamia crust with lavender blue gelato
This was quite good as well. The torte seemed rather like chocolate mousse and the gelato was delicious. The waitress forgot to put the order for this in, so there was another wait at this stage.

In looking at my overview, I realize I gave a lot of pretty goods and fines for the courses. But really, for the price we were paying, only the sliders and the dessert seemed worth it to me. None of us really enjoyed the meal (I don't think), though we found it very interesting, and there were courses here and there that were enjoyable.

But the thing is, we were there for three and a half hours. Yup, that's right, three and a half. And it's not because we were chatting non-stop and just never left. It would good to catch up with both these lovely ladies, but it was also frustrating because there were such long waits for everything, and by the time we left, it was 10p.

I would definitely not recommend this restaurant. If the service is poor and the price high, then I'd expect the food to be fantastic to make up for it. But it wasn't. I hear there's another raw food place in Beverly that's better, maybe I'll try that one next.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Recipe - Spiced Stuffed Eggplant

I was quite please with this recipe. It's completely vegan, but entirely full of flavor. It's spicy (cayenne), sweet (sugar), bitter (eggplant), and all around yummy. It will definitely make my list of recipes to make again.

Imam bayildi (spiced stuffed eggplant)
2/3 cups olive oil
4 whole eggplants (of the Asian eggplant variety, or 2 regular eggplants)
1 cup passata (I used a couple T of tomato paste instead)
t sugar
juice of 1 lemon
4 ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
T ground cumin
T ground coriander
1/2 t cayenne
2 onions, finely diced
2/3 c currants
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Score the tomatoes with a sharp knife, ten blanch in boiling water until skins start to peel back. Put tomatoes in a sieve and let cool (or run water over them until cool). Remove skins and seeds and dice the rest. Set aside

Dice one of the eggplants and cook in hot oil until golden brown on all sides. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, cook garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne until fragrant. Add the onion, reduce heat, and cook until softened. Stir in the cooked eggplant and diced tomato. Sprinkle the parsley and mix together. Season with salt and pepper.

Take the other eggplant, cut the top off, and peel thin strips off the flesh so that it is striped white and purple (I have no idea how this affects how the recipe comes out, but it looks kinda cool). Slice the eggplant down the middle, length-wise. For each half, slice it lengthwise again until it is almost cut through and open it like a book. Then slice each half again almost through, so you have an accordion shape (four triangles sticking up, connected at the bottom).

Place accordion-side up on a baking sheet. Top the two eggplant halves with the spiced eggplant mixture, filling down into the dips in the eggplant and in between the two pieces. Combine the passata with the sugar, lemon juice, and remaining olive oil and some salt. Pour over eggplants. Cover the dish with aluminum foil (I skipped this and it was fine) and bake for 45-60 minutes until the eggplant has softened and sauce has reduced.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Recipe - Aloo Puri and Veggie Pakoras

Aloo puri are fried puffed potato bread. Think little buttery fried bread rounds. I was surprised how good they were (when I didn't burn them). I was quite pleased with how they turned out. They weren't nearly as puffy as the ones in this picture, they were more like little bread-like pancakes.

The veggie pakoras didn't turn out so well. Part of it was because I didn't cook the potato long enough, so some of the slices were still raw. But the batter didn't stay on in the cooking process, and even when it did, it wasn't very flavorful. I'm including it here, because maybe someone has some tips on what went wrong and how to fix it?

I don't normally fry food (ever), so this was my first foray into it. The aloo puri is vegetarian and the pakoras are vegan.

Aloo puri (fried potato bread)
8oz russet potatoes, peeled and cut into equal-sized pieces
2t salt
2 1/4 c flour
2T melted butter
1/4c warm water
vegetable oil for frying

Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, then return the potato the pan over low heat for 2-3 minutes, to allow it to dry out slightly. Mash and allow to cool.

Sift flour and t salt intoa bowl. Add mashed potato and stir. Add the butter and water little by little, mixing until you have a firm dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until soft and elastic. Let stand for 30 minutes, covered (better results if not left for longer than 30 minutes).

Roll the dough into small balls and flatten into a circle using your hands. When the oil is heated until very hot, add one or two puri at a time, turning once, until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Zard choba pakora (potato and cauliflower pakoras)
2t ground coriander seeds
t ground turmeric
1/2t ground cumin
1/2t dried red chili flakes
1 1/2 c flour
2t sale
4 large potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets
30 fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
vegetable oil for frying
pepper

Mix coriander, turmeric, cumin and chili flakes in a bowl. Combine flour and 7 fl oz water to form a smooth batter. Season with 2t salt and black pepper and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes, put in a pan, and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and allow the potatoes to cool. Blanch the cauliflower in boiling water for 3 minutes until softened slightly, but still slightly crunchy. Drain and allow to cool.

Mix the spices wit the batter and cilantro. When the potatoes have cooled, peel off the skin and cut into 1/4" slices. Heat the oil in a large pan. Dip the potato/cauliflower slices in the batter, coating well on all sides, then fry them in small batches. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday Recipe - Garlic and Cilantro Nan

These were tasty....and seriously garlicky! I would probably decrease the amount of garlic in them, because I had a bunch of leftovers and I just couldn't bring myself to eat them, they were that fragrant. But I think if I tweaked it a little, they'd be an awesome addition to a yummy meal.

Garlic and Cilantro Nan
1 large egg
1 t sugar
T Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 c flour
pinch of salt
1/2t baking soda
2T oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2T softened butter
1/2t cayenne
small bunch of fresh cilantro leaves
4 scallions, finely chopped
pepper

Whisk the egg, sugar, yogurt, and milk until smooth. Sift in the flour, pinch of salt and baking soda to make a soft dough. If needed, add a little water, a teaspoon at a time (if the dough's a bit too dry). Kneed the dough for 3-4 minutes, add oil and continue to knead until the oil has been absorbed into the dough (and dough is soft and elastic). Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a cloth or paper towel, and let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425. Crush the garlic with salt to form a paste. Stir the garlic paste, cayenne, cilantro, and scallions into the softened butter. Season with black pepper.

Divide the dough into eight balls. Flatten the dough until about 1/4" thick and smear with the herb butter. Allow the dough pieces to rise for another 5 minutes before baking. Lay two nan (or as many as fit) on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the over for 7 minutes until golden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday Recipe - Malaysian fried noodles

This recipe didn't turn out quite so well. Mostly, I think this was because I couldn't find either dried shrimp or shrimp paste, which would have added a much heftier flavor profile. I tried adding fish sauce to make up for it, but it just wasn't quite the same thing. But I'm still giving it to you here because I think that it might turn out really well if the appropriate ingredients are used.

The chili paste is definitely powerful, though take my word for it...you don't want to leave any of it in tupperware all week and then open it to check on it. Practically bowled myself over, and ended up throwing up the whole tupperware with it. Not that it wasn't a good chili paste (it was), but sitting and marinating in its own juices, it just got to be a bit much.

10 large dried chilis
5 shallots, peeled
5 garlic cloves, peeled
t shrimp paste
6T oil
5oz firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10 oz skinless chicken breast, sliced
10oz raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (or you can take the lazy route like me, and buy frozen cooked deshelled shrimp)
6 choi sum (or baby bok choy), cut into 1 1/4" lengths (if you buy too much and have leftovers, these are great cooked with a little olive oil and garlic, like spinach)
t tomato puree
T dark soy sauce (following the tradition of this recipe of not having stuff, I got home and realized I didn't have soy sauce (well, it was hiding, but I didn't find it til later), but I didn't want to go out, so I just tried to make do)
lb fresh thin yellow wheat noodles, cut into short pieces (I wouldn't used these next time, because they turned into big balls of doughy substance that wasn't very appetizing, I'd probably use rice noodles)
4 scallions, finely chopped
8oz bean sprouts
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

To make the chili paste - soak the dried chilis in boiling water for 20 minutes until softened. Seed and finely chop (unless you're paranoid of chili oil getting on your face, like me, and you just chop them up without seeding them because you don't want to risk the small chance that any tiny microdot of chili oil will get on skin). Using a mortar and pestle, pound the chilis, shallots (it helps to chopp these first, unless you have shoulders of steel), and garlic into a paste. Add the shrimp paste and 2T f water and mix. Heat T oil over medium-high heat and cook the paste 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer to a bowl.

Heat the remaining oil and fry the tofu 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Add the onion and garlic to the oil and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the chicken and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the shrimp and choi sum.

Add T of the chili paste, tomato puree, 1/2 cup water, and soy sauce, and bring to a simmer. Add the noodles and cook for 3 minutes. Add scallion, bean sprouts and tofu. Adjust seasoning with salt, black pepper, and add a little lime juice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Recipe - Scallops with spicy cilantro chutney

I'm back! It's been forever and an age since I've posted, but I've been keeping up with my international theme the whole while. So today kicks off a week or two straight of recipe posts, to catch up with everything I've missed! March was Asia month and April is Caribbean and Central/South America month.

The recipe below turned out quite yummy. The sauce was just the right balance of spicy and creamy and herb-y. And it reheated rather well, surprisingly (you never know how seafood is going to be, reheated.

Scallops with Spicy Cilantro Chutney
chutney:
4T raw cashews
1 garlic clove, minced (or pressed)
1/2t salt
t sugar
4 medium-hot fresh green chiles, seeded and freshly chopped
large bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
T Greek yogurt
juice of 2 limes

for the scallops:
12-18 sea scallops (you can present them in the shells, but I didn't bother, since I didn't have shells)
2" piece of fresh ginger
2T oil
3 scallions, finely sliced
small handful of fresh cilantro or mint leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Dry-roast the cashew nuts in a skillet until golden brown. Set aside half the nuts to garnish the scallops (I skipped this step). Blend the remaining cooled nuts to a paste with the garlic, salt and sugar. Add the chili and cilantro and puree. Add the yogurt and 2T of water. Puree until the texture suits your taste (I suppose this is similar to chunky or smooth peanut butter taste? I dunno...I MUCH prefer smooth peanut butter, but for this recipe, I prefer it chunkier, to offset the soft scallops). Transfer the chutney to a bowl and stir in the lime juice. Taste. It should be hot from the chili, sweet from the nuts and yogurt and salty and sour from the lime juice.

Finely slice the ginger into thin shreds like needles and lightly crush the reserved cashew nuts with the back of a knife. These are both used for garnish on the scallops (and I used neither).

Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the scallops for 60-80 seconds each side, depending on how big they are. When they're brown and caramelized, put them on a plate. Spoon a little of the chutney over top, sprinkle with ginger and scallion, cashew nuts and fresh herbs. Can be served over quinoa or couscous for a complete meal.




Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday Recipes - Thai Omelets and Shrimp Rice Salad

Broke out the Thai cookbook today. My recipes were limited by the fact that I didn't want to buy 2 dozen ingredients, and I don't like coconut. I briefly considered making spring rolls, but didn't want to deal with the wrapping and frying. I figured an omelette would be pretty easy, and a salad even easier.

I had to improvise a bit. The store I went to did have lemongrass (and let me tell you, it's very bizarre to cut up something that looks like a dry scallion and have it smell like lemon), but they didn't have lime leaves or thai basil. Also, I forgot to buy cucumber, but the salad recipe says that you can pretty much throw anything in there and it'll work. Also, I used frozen shrimp instead of dried shrimp with shrimp paste.

Thai Omelet
8oz pork (I actually used a pound, and the flavors still came out just fine)
2 tomatoes, diced
onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2T sugar
2T fish sauce (doesn't actually taste like fish, so don't let the name deter you)
1-2T cilantro, minced
2T peanut/grapeseed oil
5 eggs
2T fish sauce

Pour oil into pan and saute onion and garlic until soft (but don't let the garlic brown or it can become bitter). Add pork and cook until slightly browned. Add tomato, cilantro, 2T fish sauce and sugar and cook until liquid (from the tomatoes) has thickened a little bit (or, until you get tired of cooking it, like me, and just use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pan).

Beat eggs together with 2T fish sauce (what I did was to do three eggs at a time, as that was one omelet and when I make the rest of the pork into the omelet, I'll crack more eggs). Pour the egg mixture in a thin layer into a medium-large pan and cook until slightly browned on the bottom and no longer runny on top. Spoon pork mixture on top. Using a spatula, serve on a plate. The recipe said to fold the egg over the pork into a packet. However, I put too much pork and it just didn't fold easily (it'll come out of the pan more easily if you lift it a little on each side to loosen before sliding the whole thing out). So I just had a pork sandwiched in egg, and it was tasty.

Shrimp Rice Salad
3C cooked rice (I used brown rice)
20 frozen shrimp, defrosted and cut into small pieces (I'm guessing at the amount, this is flexible)
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced into small pieces
C toasted slivered almonds
avocado, pitted and diced
juice of 1 lime (the recipe called for 2 lime leaves)
2 Thai basil leaves (I left this out all together)
1 Asian pear, cored and diced
1 1/4C water
2T sweet chili sauce
1 spicy green/red pepper, minced
2T brown sugar

While the rice is cooking, put the water, sugar, 1/2 stalk sliced lemongrass, lime juice, and shrimp in a small pot and bring to a boil for about five minutes. The original recipe said to strain the liquid and use that as dressing, discarding the rest (given that the dried shrimp would not be included and therefore not discarded. I chose to add the shrimp to the dressing, and therefore didn't strain it).

Put the rice in a large bowl and let it cool. Remove dressing from heat and let cool. While cooling, cut up the pear, the rest of the lemongrass, and the avocado (and 1/2 cucumber, if desired). Toast the almonds.

Add the pear, lemongrass, avocado, almonds, sweet chili sauce, Thai basil (if desired), chili pepper and dressing. Mix thoroughly.

To be honest, I haven't actually tried it yet, but will be eating it for lunch. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Recipe - Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

This week starts of Asian month on the Lethological Gourmet. This stir fry is Chinese with a touch of Thai in the lime juice.

It actually turned out pretty well. Whenever I make stir fry, it either seems to turn out really well or really badly, with no in between. Thankfully, it ended up quite flavorful and spicy (I added in some extra red pepper flakes, just in case). The cilantro is also my addition, just because I had a bunch extra fom another recipe that I didn't want to go to waste.

The recipe makes about four large servings, and I served it on a bed of quinoa.

Spicy Chicken Stir Fry
1/2t ground turmeric
1/2t ground ginger
t salt
t ground pepper
2t ground cumin
T ground coriander
t red pepper flakes (to taste)
T sugar
lb skinless, boneless chicken, cut into small pieces
1 bunch of scallions, sliced into small rounds
2 red bell peppers, cut into thin 2" strips
1 zucchini, cut into thin 2" strips
1 baby eggplant, peeled and cut into 2" strips
1 medium onion, cut into 2" strips
T lime juice
T honey
1/4-1/2C minced cilantro
oil

Mix the turmeric, ginger, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Add the chicken to the spice mixture and coat thoroughly.

Heat 2T of oil in a pan and stir fry chicken until cooked through and golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add a little more oil to the pan and cook veggies until soft. Add chicken, lime juice and honey. Add cilantro just before serving.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Grasshopper tacos, anyone?

So, those of you who've been reading my blog for a while will recall my rant about people who are unwilling to try new things. The upshot of it was, if I were presented with the opportunity to eat bugs, then I'd have to take it or I'd be a total hypocrite.

Tuesday, I was presented with just such an opportunity....and I took it.

And you know, they were actually pretty good! If you didn't know they were bugs, you'd never have guessed.

I went to an authentic Mexican restaurant. First, there were the yummy carafes of sangria. Then the appetizer: grasshopper tacos (tacos de chapulines). Having seen that on the menu, really how could I pass it up? They were less like tacos and more like eggrolls (the taco shell was wrapped around instead of open-faced like the pic above), with adobo chiles, and there were spicy and minty sauces on the side.

For dinner, we had calamares enjitomatados (calamari sauteed in onion, garlic, tomatoes, spices, and jalapenos), beef tinga (beef cooked with assorted peppers), and indio vestido (cactus paddle stuffed with cheese in guajillo and tomatillo sauce...the sauces forming the shape of the Mexican flag). This being my first time eating cactus, I had no idea what to expect. Basically, picture a big piece of cactus with cheese and sauce and there you have it. It didn't have a very strong taste, the difference to it was more the texture...hard on the outside, slightly juicy and slimy on the inside. Not my favorite of the dishes but nonetheless tasty, and I'm quite glad I tried it.

For dessert, we were deciding between avocado cheesecake and cactus nut bread. The cheesecake won out because it was so unique (how often am I really going to see avocado cheesecake on a menu?). And let me tell you....YUM!

All in all, an excellent meal, as well as an exotic and adventurous one. If you're ever in Somerville, try Tu y Yo, or see if there are any authentic Mexican places near you...and let me know about your experience!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday Recipe - Spinach Feta Triangles

I decided to include Greece in my Middle Eastern month (ducks and covers as a pot of avgelomono and spanikopita are flung in my direction). But this is mainly because there's so much cross-over in the foods of that region, that it just seems to fit a little better for my purposes.

I decided to make spinach feta triangles. Initially, when I didn't read the recipe through properly, I thought I was planning on making spanikopita (spinach phyllo squares), but it turns out they're more triangles, kind of like the Greek version of egg rolls. And I didn't realize how time consuming it would be. Yikes. I need to get a butcher's block table, because bending over my regular table is not doing my neck and back any good...

In any case, it came out pretty well. In fact, I actually prefer it as leftovers. When I ate them hot out of the oven, I thought they were ok, but nothing to write home about (but maybe that's because I ate four in rapid succession, so it was taste overload). I had one with my dinner last night and quite enjoyed it.

I doubled the recipe and froze a bunch, so you could always halve it and make fewer. The recipe below made two cookie sheets worth of triangles (I don't know, perhaps 20?).

Spinach Feta Triangles
20oz fresh spinach, washed
4 small-medium onions, chopped
2 bunches of scallions, chopped finely
1/2C parsley, chopped
1/2C dill, chopped
1/2lb feta, crumbled
1/2lb phyllo dough (usually in the frozen aisle at the store)
olive oil (in spades)

Put onions and scallions in a pot with a little olive oil and cook until soft. Add the herbs and spinach and cook down until wilted. Remove to another bowl or pot with a slotted spoon to drain any excess juices. Let cool.

Take out the phyllo dough. Fold it in two to keep the inside ones moist (or well, not moist, but not dried out). By the time you finish, the outside phyllo will be dried out and hard to cracking, so be sure to keep it on the outside (if you have any tips as to how to get it not to dry out, please let me know). Take one phyllo and cut it into strips of about 3.5"x12" (approximately, it doesn't have to be exact - the ones I used I cut into rough thirds).

Start with one strip, brush it with olive oil. Place another strip on top and brush it with more olive oil. Scoop some of the spinach feta mix and place it at one end of the strip in a triangle shape (with the end and side as two end of the triangle and the hypotenuse being on the inside, not on an edge). Fold this triangle of spinach like a flag - the first fold brings the end of the phyllo towards the side without the spinach, then keep folding in triangles until the spinach is entirely encased in the phyllo. Place on the baking sheet (preferably on a silicon cookie sheet, but barring that, greased with olive oil. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo. Once they're complete, brush the triangles with olive oil and place in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes (or until the bottoms slightly brown).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Monday Recipe - African Chicken Stew

I decided this week to move away from the Middle East and travel south down into Africa. Peanuts are a big part of African dishes, and this chicken "stew" (actually, more like stir fry) comes originally from Sierra Leone. It can be modified easily, much like Asian stir fries, for whatever you have in your fridge.

I was quite happy with how it turned out. A little sweet, very peanut-y, and slightly spicy, and I served it over a bed of quinoa. I'd definitely make this recipe again.

African Chicken Stew
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (3 pound) roasting chicken, deboned and cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup unsalted natural-style peanut butter
  • 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  1. In a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil over medium high heat. Add chicken, and brown quickly. Remove chicken from pan. Reduce heat to medium low, and add garlic, onion and potato to the pan; saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with cumin, coriander, black pepper, red pepper and salt. Do not let garlic brown.
  2. Mix in water and browned chicken, and any accumulated juices. Place lid on skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Remove lid, and stir in the peanut butter and garbanzo beans. Make sure the peanut butter is blended in. Replace lid to simmer for 10 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning, and serve.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Running like the wind

I've never been a runner. Actually, I've always hated running. In high school, I joined the track team. I joined not for the competition (my piano lessons were on the same day as the meets) but for the exercise, since I was a rather sedentary teenager. I was the slowest person with the least endurance on the team. It just seemed like a chore. I still continued jogging the summer after graduation, but I never really liked it. Then I got to college and took up rowing (but not crew, I couldn't get my butt up before the crack of dawn) and running went down the pipes.

I was on vacation in Alaska a few years ago and the hotel had very little in the way of exercise equipment. At that point, not being an instructor, I didn't know what kind of cardio I could do without equipment. So I decided to go running. The hotel was at the end of a 7 mile peninsula, so the scenery was beautiful, the sky seemed like it was sitting right on top of the ground rather than overhead. It wasn't terribly cold (being August), so I decided to give it a shot. And I hurt for three days afterwards. End experiment.

Then I got into group fitness. Step, kickboxing, cycling, weight lifting. Between jacks and jumps, leaps and lifts, there didn't seem to be a need for anything else. And then I started teaching boot camp.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love boot camp. I change up the format slightly every class, so none of us ever get bored. Sometimes I use the step, or kickboxing, or jump ropes, cones, ladders, all that cool equipment personal trainers use. It's great. But if I have them on stations, every station doing something different, I go around and correct their form. I might do a little bit of a workout during class, but not much. And when more than 50% of my classes are boot camp, I end up not getting much exercise myself.

Enter running. I've played with the idea of running for a couple months. It still seemed like a chore to me, something I wouldn't necessarily enjoy, but I was interested in trying it because it's different than my current workouts, and different is good. I almost got derailed when a friend told me that running 2-3 days a week might not work well because it would be difficult to progress, and anything under 4 miles pretty much sucks, before you hit your running high.

Then another friend mentioned she wanted to try running intervals. One minute running, one minute walking. Intriguing. This I could do. I have to be careful, because I have an old foot injury that could flare up, but with the right shoes and not going overboard, I should be fine.

So yesterday was my first try. I warmed up five minutes (walking at a 4.0 on the treadmill). Then my intervals were 7.5 on the treadmill for a minute and 4.0 walking, for ten intervals. How was it, you ask?

Awesomely-fantastic-wow-this-is-what-a-runners-high-feels-like?

The thing about it was, it wasn't daunting. It was just a minute. And who can't run for a minute? Ok, I can do this. And damn did it feel good! I didn't have to worry about what anybody else was doing, about correcting form, about how their workouts were going. It was just me. I understand now why so many people try running and stick with it.

To avoid my plantar fasciitis coming back, I won't go crazy with increasing it. I'm figuring I'll do three running workouts a week, and I'll slowly start increasing the run-walk ratio (or I'll make it a run-jog ratio).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Recipe - Hummus and Persian Chicken

The original recipe for the hummus called for 1/2 butter and 1/2 olive oil. Apparently the butter goes really well with the Basturma (beef) that makes up the other half of the recipe. But I just wanted hummus, so I just doubled the amount of olive oil and cut out the butter. It turned out really well, in fact. The predominant flavor in the recipe was olive oil, but it was quite tasty with celery, carrots, and green peppers.

I did change up the chicken recipe quite a bit. The recipe in the cookbook called for the chicken to be fried in oil after dusting it with flour and spices. But in the interest of a healthier recipe, I baked it instead (without the flour).

Hummus
3 cups chickpeas (I used organic garbanzos out of a can)
cup EVOO
t finely chopped garlic (about 1 large clove)
T freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
2t ground cumin (I realized I didn't have ground cumin, but cumin seed worked well enough)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, cover the chickpeas in about 8c of fresh water (or enough to cover the chickpeas with some room to spare). Bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the chickpeas for at least 25 minutes, until tender. Drain the chickpeas.

Before they cool, puree them in a food processor with the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, and salt and pepper, until very creamy. Serve with chopped veggies or bread.

Persian Chicken
2 cups plain, whole milk yogurt
1/2t saffron
T chopped garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 1/2lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
C walnut pieces (toasted in the oven until slightly crunchy and chopped finely)
t paprika
T dried mint
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon


Puree the yogurt with a teaspoon of water, the saffron and garlic until the mixture is smooth. Taste (if it's too garlicky, add a little yogurt and re-puree). Pour over the chicken and mix well in a glass or stainless bowl. Cover and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the chicken in a casserole dish with a minimum of the yogurt (just whatever stays on the chicken during the transfer). Sprinkle the paprika, mint, salt and pepper over top of the breasts and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes (or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fun New Foods: Za'atar

So it seems this week I will follow the theme of the week's region...at least for today's post. Yesterday, I posted about scallop leek pizza with a za'atar crust. And because za'atar isn't very common in the States, I wanted to do some more research on it. So here goes...

You've seen the spice mixtures at the store before - Provencal spice, Italian herbs, Asian spice mix, curry spice, Louisiana spice, you name it. There's a spice mix for any flavor palette you could whip up. Spice mix for poultry, fish, pork, beef, veggies, ten times over. There's spicy spice, sweet spice, fragrant spice, spicy sweet spice, woody spice.

Za'atar, when broken down into its spices, isn't all that exotic. It's oregano, marjoram, thyme, ground sesame seeds, salt, and may also include (depending on the variety) cumin, coriander, and fennel seed.

My local farmer's market makes a wonderful za'atar stick...bread seasoned with oil and za'atar spice that's rolled up into a thin wafer, like a savory cookie. And man are they seriously addictive. I should make those this weekend, that sounds highly yummy.

Za'atar can be used on bread and veggies. It can be combined with olive oil to make a dip. It can be sprinkled on labneh (a drained yogurt that's almost like cheese). It can be sprinkled on hummus. In Israel, it's often a side you can sprinkle on pizza (rather like we have hot pepper flakes here).

In Lebanon, there's a belief that eating za'atar will make the body and mind strong, so children taking exams often eat za'atar bread for breakfast.

I see my recipes for this weekend taking shape...hummus and za'atar sticks.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Recipe - Scallop Leek Pizza on Za'atar Crust

This week kicks off Middle East and Africa month. This recipe takes some liberties with traditional cuisine (and I changed it a bit too), so it doesn't belong to any one country in particular. But it nearly jumped off the page at me because of an excellent goat cheese balsamic leek pizza I had at a local restaurant. So here's my version of this Mediterranean dish.

I would probably add more za'atar and garlic next time, as it could have been a little more flavorful, but it did turn out quite well.

Za'atar Flatbread
1 pkg active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups flour
1t salt
4T olive oil
4T za'atar spice (I found this at Whole Foods in the international aisle, not with the spices)

Whisk the yeast into the warm water and let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, or until there's a light foam across the surface. The water must be under 120F or it will kill the yeast.

Whisk in the 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the flour and 1/2t of the salt. Stir/mix at a low speed until the flour is combined and the dough forms. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 7-8 minutes, until the dough is still sticky to the touch but stays on the mixer in one piece.

Lightly oil a large stainless or glass bowl and scoop the dough into it. Cover with plastic and chill for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight. The dough should double in volume.

About 2 hours before baking, place the dough and 2T of EVOO on a heavy baking sheet and cover with plastic. Let it rest and rise again for 1 1/2 hours at room temperature.

Press the dough onto a baking sheet, using your hands to stretch and pull it into the corners. I use my knuckles to flatten it out, which also created little craters to catch the spices. First sprinkle with olive oil across the top and then sprinkle with za'atar spice and 1/2t salt. Let the dough rest for at least 20-30 more minutes, uncovered at room temperature.

Scallop Pizza with Leeks and Goat Cheese
2 cups heavy/light cream
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
T olive oil
3 large leeks, white part only, sliced and washed
1/2t fennel seed
1/2t nonflavored, whole-grain mustard
6 scllions, bottoms trimmed, cleaned and roughly chopped
2t minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
10 large dry sea scallops
a couple ounces of goat cheese
large bunch arugula

While the bread is rising, bring the cream and wine to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the cream has reduced by one third and is thick (is will also look a little like it's separating, but that's normal). Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat 1T of the olive oil and sate the leeks and fennel seed until the leeks are tender and soft (about 8 minutes). Be careful not to brown the leeks or they will become bitter. Season the leeks with salt and pepper.

Stir the leek mixture into the cream mixture and add the mustard, scallions, and garlic. Cook a little while longer to marinate the flavors.

Split the scallops in two so you have 20 thin discs.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Take the flattened za'atar flatbread and lay a thin layer of arugula over top (the original recipe had the arugula on the side, not cooked on the pizza) and spoon a thin layer of the leek mixture onto the dough. Arrange the scallop slices over the top and intersperse thin slices of goat cheese in between (this was my addition also). Season with salt and pepper.

Place the pizza in the over and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the edges are crisp and browned and the top is bubbly.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Back to the Basics

So, I find that I'm not motivated by this new international theme going on. I'll still be doing the international recipes every monday, so you can definitely look forward to that (kicking off Middle East/Africa on Monday). But I have trouble finding the motivation to carry the theme through the whole week, which you can probably tell since this is my first post since monday.

So, starting next week, we'll have monday recipes, then the rest of the week will go back to the way it used to be - wednesday exercise, friday rant/thanks, and tuesday/thursday whatever I feel like.

See you next week!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Italy - Manicotti

Here's our last week in Europe and we're traveling this time to Italy. Italian food is just as varied as French food is, with each region having a different focus or tradition (I'm feeling too lazy at the moment to write them all out, but if you're curious, you can check out this site). It's supposedly a popular food in Italy because it's easy to make, but seriously, this took me all afternoon! Maybe it's just because it's unfamiliar to me. I forgot a couple of the ingredients (the eggs and the parsley), but it still came out pretty well. I had a bunch of the meat and ricotta mixture left over, so I made an impromptu lasagna using ratatouille instead of tomato sauce. Between the tomato sauce for the manicotti and the ratatouille for the lasagna, my freezer is now down to nearly half full (or empty). I would, however, use more tomato sauce than what's listed below next time.

The other problem I had was keeping the manicotti together. The pasta ripped apart and it turned into manicotti casserole instead. I don't mind, it still tastes as good. It just doesn't look quite as pretty. If any of you have tips for how to keep it together better, I'd love to hear them.

And if you're anything like me, you're going to have to do dishes three times, I used that many pots and pans.

Manicotti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
  • 10 oz chopped spinach
  • 1 (12 ounce) package manicotti shells
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups spaghetti sauce, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent. Saute garlic for 1 minute and stir in ground beef. Cook until well browned and crumbled. Season with salt and set aside to cool.

To the ground beef mixture add the cooked spinach and ricotta cheese. When the mixture is cool, add the beaten eggs. Spread 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Gently drain the manicotti shells and carefully stuff each one with the meat and cheese mixture; place shells in prepared dish. Lightly cover the dish with plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel to prevent shells from cracking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Prepare the white sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and chicken bouillon. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble. Stir in half and half and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Pour or ladle the sauce evenly over the stuffed shells.


Stir the basil into the remaining spaghetti sauce. Carefully pour or ladle spaghetti sauce over the white sauce, trying to layer the sauces without mixing.


Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, uncover and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes more.


Cook spinach according to package directions. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add manicotti shells and parboil for half of the time recommended on the package. Drain and cover with cool water to stop the cooking process and prevent the shells from cracking.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Thanks - Lost and Found

So, following on my experience at the inauguration (which was awesome!), we had another... adventure on Tuesday evening/night. Let me set the stage.

N's 25 year old brother (M) is special needs. Not severely so, he's very independent, can communicate just fine (in French), and is basically happy and singing and goofing off a lot of the time. Because he's 25, he wants to assert his independence, so when we'd be walking around, he would head off out in front by himself, but he'd always come back. Until Tuesday.

After the inauguration and our relaxing stint at Starbucks, we headed back to the Mall to watch the parade on the jumbotron. The two boys headed off down the Mall, P and I walked about a block away to see if we could see the actual parade, and N wandered around a little bit closeby to wait for the boys. P and I went back to the Mall (12th street) to wait for them, found some chairs, and sat over a steam grate to get a little bit of heat. N and her younger (11 year old) brother soon showed up, so we all sat there a bit on the heating vent. M still hadn't shown up, so we decided that we'd meet up at 5 or 6 at a sandwich place where we had lunch the previous day, and P and I headed to Chinatown. At this point, my cell was running low on battery. We checked in with N a couple times. The first time, there was still no word from M and she was still waiting (it was dark by that point, and cold). The second time, she said he'd been found on the Metro, and they were going to pick him up, so we arranged to meet at the Metro stop in Maryland near where we were staying. P and I had dinner and then headed out to the stop. They weren't there. I called, using the last of my battery, and she sounded awful. She was at the police station, M had never come back and he hadn't been at the Metro. P and I headed back to my cousin's house so I could charge my phone.

When I got back, I had two messages, one from M, and one from an sergeant in the park service (I'm going to give his full name: Craig Monahan. He did an awesome job helping us, so I wanted to give him his due, as well as hats off to officer Yurico). I called him back, and he said they had tracked M's Metro card use from l'Enfant Plaza to Greenbelt (our Metro stop), but I told him I hadn't seen him there. Then I realized...they were tracking my card. N had owed me money from dinner the night before and had purchased my Metro card along with their three. So they were tracking my card the whole time, and that's why M "disappeared" from the l'Enfant stop. He was never there. We found out later that the Metro services center that was doing the tracking hadn't bothered to check the other cards, just the one with the most recent usage.

P and I had picked up dinner for N in Chinatown, so we loaded it, a cell phone charger, snacks and water into the car and headed in to the city to get N from the park service station. We drove around the city, stopping in bars and restaurants that were still open (it was midnight by this point) to ask if they'd seen him. We stuck to areas mostly that'd he'd been to before because we figured he'd go where he was most comfortable. Then N decided she had to walk, so she got out to check the local ATMs (since they're out of the cold) and P and I drove over to where we'd gone to Starbucks earlier in the day, just in case he ended up there. He hadn't. By the time we reconvened on the Mall, it was almost 3a and we'd been awake for almost 24 hours. My vision was starting to get a little blurry around the edges, so we headed back to Maryland.

N tried to reach her mother in France, but wasn't able to get through. We all did our best to sleep. At 5 or 6a, N's mother called me. My cell phone ring isn't quiet, so my heart was yammering in my chest, because I thought it might be the park service who'd found him. But it turns out that he had been found. The only thing he had in his possession was his Metro card (N had held on to everything else to keep it safe), which was one of the reasons we were worried - he had no money to get food. He used his Metro card to get to the airport (I don't know which one), found an employee there who spoke French (and who was kind enough to buy him a coffee). And somehow, he found a way to phone his mother in France, who then called us. We called the park service, who went to the airport to pick him up (N talked to him on the phone to tell him how exciting a ride in a real police car would be, so he was psyched up about it). We were to pick him up in the morning (or, later in the morning I should say). N woke us up at 9:30 to say that he was at the house, and we should sleep in. A wonderful police/park service agent named Elizabeth (I don't remember her full name) dropped him off all the way out in Maryland.

It turns out the reason he never came back was that he got confused about the Mall...he had come back, but instead of returning to 12th street were we were, he went back to 7th street and didn't find us.

We were really worried while this whole thing was going down, because we didn't know whether he was stuck out in the cold, if he'd run into some unsavory characters, or the like, though we were hoping that all would turn out for the best. And it did. The park service had some wonderful people on staff who did all they could to help us, and they did so in a very friendly and compassionate way. My cousin also was wonderful - she normally goes to bed early and gets up early, but she picked us up at 9:30 at the train, and she woke up when we got home at 4 (I still don't know how she heard us) to find out if everything was ok. She also made fresh bread for us every morning in her bread maker and let us stay an extra day (to get sleep after the long night).

It was a tough situation, but with the five of us working together with the authorities, we were able to pull through it and M came back safe and sound. If you're ever in a like situation (which I really hope you're not), I hope that you have the luck that we had to work with as many wonderful people and to have the situation resolve as well as ours did.

Definitely a Friday, or a whole week, of thanks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration: Day 2

The day dawned bright and early (or should I say dark and early?), alarms ringing at 4:45. And we thought that that might actually be a bit late to start out, but we couldn't bring ourselves to get up earlier. A long day ahead! We got to the last stop on the metro around 6:30a and there was a mass of people milling about outside, like a tidal wave flooding into the station. The metro definitely made a boatload of money off the day, as everyone had to buy passes (unlike Boston where they generally make events like First Night on 12/31 a free subway day). The passes created a bottleneck in the station, because everyone had to feed their pass into the turnstile and go through individually. At first, we didn't understand why they couldn't find a way to make it go more smoothly (whether by opening the gates or what have you), but it turns out that they really thought it through. When we got on the subway car, there were only a few of us on it. But by the time we got off, it was packed solid. If we'd all packed the car at the end of the line, then nobody at the following stops would've been able to get on and it would've been a nightmare.

When we arrived at L'Enfant Plaza (which is one of the big central stops right near the Mall), the people on the platform were packed right up against the outside of the car already, before we got out. The train had to sit for a few minutes before we could even think of disembarking. Once we got off and the train pulled away, there were a few very nervous moments, as we were balanced precariously at the edge of the platform and the next train was pulling in. There was one escalator going upstairs (and they had thankfully stopped them all so we wouldn't crush into each other, everyone just walked up). I took this photo at the top of the stairs (top - you can't see it well, but that whole bottom level is covered in people), and this one at the escalators going outside (bottom):

Once outside, we headed to the mall. This was about 7:00 by this point, and man was it crowded! Romny left me a message saying that the line for the metro at some point during the morning was seven blocks long. We got there, found a spot, and then I headed off to find a port-a-potty, and N's two bothers headed to find them as well, but we were quickly separated. And when I got back, I couldn't find N or P to save my life. We brought walkie talkies, but we didn't get much on them except static or other people talking. Cell phones worked but were spotty. So wandered around a bit, and was able to reach C on her cell phone, so I tried to find her up a the next jumbotron (which was about a block away). Our conversations went something like this:

me: I'm opposite the carousel on the left side of the Mall
C: which left? facing the Capitol or facing the monument?
me: left facing the Capitol. Do you see the red pom pom waved overhead?
C: yes! I see the red pom pom! I'm closer to the Capitol.
me: how much closer? how many trees up from the pom pom are you?
C: oh, wait, maybe I don't see a pom pom, I think that was a hat...
me: how about the video camera being waved overhead with a stick?
C: hmmm, I'm not...(call lost)
I finally reached P and we met up at the Carousel (yay! Everyone was very friendly, but I didn't want to spend the next four hours with strangers only...). So, when I left N and P, and N's brothers hadn't come back, she went looking for them. Then none of us came back, so P was left alone. Right before she found me, N came back with her brothers (she had stood on top of a trash can to find them and was yelled at by security). So P and I were set to meet her ten people back from Leaf Man (pictured above). Next time I go to anything crazy like this, I'm definitely bringing something I can wave overhead!

We found ourselves a nice little area in the midst of the crowd craziness - there were three or four mega-tall people in a row, creating a large open space behind them, so it wasn't as tightly packed as elsewhere. That's where we stayed until the inauguration feed began. While we were waiting, they played clips from the Sunday afternoon concert, and I recorded Pride (In the Name of Love) because I love U2 and it was just an energizing song, but can't get it to upload this time.

They started showing the people walking onto the Capitol steps around, I dunno, 11. They had the inauguration committee, the Supreme Court, the senators (I saw both of mine there -Kennedy and Kerry), the governors (didn't see Patrick), the appointed cabinet, the past presidents and their wives, the past VPs and their wives, and pretty much anyone else of importance in politics. And they actually started on time with the ceremony (this whole thing was planned wonderfully). First was Biden's swearing in, and there were tons of cheers and flag waving and hoopla in the crowd. Then came Obama's time. You can't see it well, but the photo on the left is of Obama taking the oath. A man in front of me in the crowd lit up a cigar as the rest of the crowd cheered and screamed and waved. One woman was able to record the whole speech on her cell phone. As he talked, the chorus of "Amen" and "Mm hm" around me was resounding, and the woman standing next to me was nearly in tears.

After his speech, the crowd started to move fairly quickly (as we were leaving, the Poet Laureate was reading her poem, and I was fascinated especially by her calling words both "spiny" and "smooth"). We headed to 12th street to try to get up to the parade. No dice. So we headed up to 14th street. Still nothing. Down to 7th. We were starting to feel like rats in a maze, coming to dead ends. The jumbotron recommended heading to 14th to catch the metro, but we knew it would be insane right about then. We tried our hardest to get to the parade but couldn't, so we headed over to the other side of the Mall and just started walking where there were the fewest people. At this point, we were tired and freezing and were looking for a cafe of some kind to warm up. But it was all Federal Buildings. We ended up behind the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is a five star hotel (they hosted one of the galas last night), but the doors were locked to the outside. As we were walking away, someone exited, so we raced in to hear an employee call security down to the doors (because there were many of us coming in). We walked through the hotel and found a Starbucks on the other side. This was the perfect Starbucks to go to. We waited in line for about an hour, I got my London Fog tea latte and some chocolate, and we went out the other door, which led to a little closed hallway where we set our stuff down, peeled off layers, and basically began the slow process of feeling human once again with the warm drinks, the warm air and the rest. We heard a rumor that they closed l'Enfant Plaza because someone fell on the tracks, but I'm not sure about the veracity of that.

After about an hour or an hour and a half, we decided to head back to the Mall. And there they had the parade playing on the jumbotron. So P and I decided to go over and see if we could get to it now that the crowds were less. We managed to get up 12th to the street before the parade, the staging ground where all the marchers line up before they head now Pennsylvania Ave. We saw women in tiny costumes (I hope they had skin-color insulation, because man was it cold out there!) and marching bands then we headed back to watch more of the parade on the jumbotron.

We ended up in Chinatown, which is where all the vendors ended up. The atmosphere was wonderful down there. Lots of people walking around, looking through the vendor's tables, shopping the sales in the stores. And there were also tons of people running around in tuxes and dresses and heels, heading to various galas, from the military ball to the regional balls to the official one (I hear that Obama went to something like 7 or 10 balls on Tuesday night).

By the time we headed back to the metro around 8:30, there were many fewer people there and it was practically normal traffic levels.

The inauguration was a wonderful experience. I saw one lady with a bunch of the free pins Pepsi was handing out (the ones we were chasing yesterday that were so elusive) and asked her where she'd gotten them. She was wonderfully sweet and gave me one of her pins that she had two of (Yes You Can) and her friend gave P her only pin (Hope). That's the kind of spirit that was out on the Mall yesterday. When I was lost, I was talking to people in the crowd, and one couple told us that if I couldn't find my friends, then I could stand with them. Everyone seemed supercool with all the crowded craziness going on (except for the few people sitting who got made when people tripped on them). One lady took our pictures because she wanted pictures of people from all over the place. There was a lady wrapped up in yellow and red fleece, a lady where heart-shaped sunglasses with Obama written on them, and a plethora of Obama hats and pins and random gear. It was a very positive atmosphere, and given the hard economic times we're facing, that's exactly what everyone needed. A few moments to stand back from their troubles, to feel like there's someone up there who's working for them, to feel hope again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration: Day 1

So I'm at the inauguration! There's definitely a buzz in this city. On Sunday, we visited the White House briefly, but couldn't see much because the really good view was blocked off in preparation for the parade tomorrow. We walked around a bit, then headed out.

Today we decided to get in to town in the morning, but not too terribly early. So we headed to the train station around 10:30 or so to buy our tickets. The paper tickets they're selling have Obama's face in black and white printed on them, and you can also buy a commemorative hard plastic card (it looks rather like a Back to the Future style to the card) for the metro. We waited in line:All in all, the line was not long at all. We waited not even ten minutes (despite the number of people this looks like, it really wasn't long at all). Plus, they had a metro employee up at the machines helping (and thank goodness, because I probably would've ended up with tickets to Baltimore or something). The line was backed up all the way to the subway turnstiles, so it seemed much denser than it actually ended up being. I don't have a picture, but when we emerged at the end of the day, the line was just as long....except that when you left the station it extended another block or so down the street. Yikes! Am I ever glad I bought my tickets this morning instead of waiting until later on! Looks like everyone stopped by the station tonight to get their tickets for tomorrow morning and ended up stuck in an hour's long line.

When we got to the Mall, there weren't too many people milling around...I was actually surprised, because I expected more. The weather was beautiful. Cold and crisp but not biting like it was yesterday. But that could've had more to do with my nifty sleeping bag jacket than any objective take on the weather. And all the layers I wore to keep warm: exercise pants under jeans, a long sleeve shirt under a thick sweatshirt hoodie and my sleeping bag jacket, gloves, and thermal socks. I had those heat packets (that you use for skiing) on hand in case they should be needed and thankfully today they weren't (actually, not entirely true....they went to a good cause because C forgot her gloves so I put the hand warmers in her pockets). I'm thinking I could set up a brisk business selling the rest of my handwarmers to people at the inauguration tomorrow, there were plenty of vendors doing the same thing today!



You want to know the problem with wearing so many layers? I'll give you a guess with this picture:



And just imagine, there are lines of these EVERYWHERE in the city. It's rather amazing in fact. The Mall is lined with them end to end. There are so many, I really don't envy the people who have to come out and empty them. Because I came across a couple that were already full, and it's not even inauguration day yet!

So then came the vendors. There was everything from the people with a cause (and honestly, they had the best t-shirts out on the Mall, in my opinion), the people with a message (black power, Yes We Can, change is coming, what have you), the people with a fight (P has a great picture which I haven't gotten yet, but there were several ultra-conservative religious types with placards which both promoted Christianity and denounced homosexuality, abortion and sports nuts in the same breath), and the people with a talent (from handmade bags to buttons to hats). It was fascinating looking through the merchandise, and the people buying the merchandise. There were people from every corner of the country. From the students from Utah who were actually able to get inauguration tickets (because how many people are going to want them in such a red state as Utah?) to my friends from France, from the Floridians shivering in the cold to the DC-ites with a slightly shell-shocked glaze in their eyes.

The great thing about this election is that it's brought so many people together, and it's really brought politics to everyone, especially the youth, in a way that it just hasn't been before. Sure, we've had plenty of elections, but this is the first I've seen (and this is the fourth election I've voted in) in which the election really ignited people's passions and emotions more than their sense of civic duty. People here are excited. Any time they see a button or a bag they like, they'll run over and ask you where you got it. In fact, we spent a good amount of time chasing the elusive Pepsi truck...the mysterious truck which was giving away free "Hope" bags and pins, but which always seemed to be beyond the next street. Given just how many people are crushed into the city, I didn't see any tempers flying today. I saw a lot of cooperation and a lot of compassion, a lot of excitement and a lot of hope.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lethological goes to Washington

So bright and early tomorrow morning I'm off to Washington for the inauguration. I'm traveling with my friend P, meeting up with C and her family, and N is flying in from France. France! Woohoo!

I'm bringing my camera and plan to take pictures and write blogs posts. So politics are going to overtake the Gourmet webpage for the next few days.

The regular deal will be back late next week, followed closely by Italy week the week after next.

Hello freezing millions, we'll warm up the capitol with our cheers!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dodge Dip Duck Dive Dodge!

In the summer and fall, there's kickball to get my social sports fix. In the winter, there's no kickball sadly. I suppose they'd rather we not all get frostbite playing in the snow. One of the great things about kickball, in addition to playing the game, is going to the bar afterwards and socializing (whether it's talking, playing flip cup, beer pong, or what have you).

So, in the winter, there's dodgeball. This is my third year playing dodgeball. Last year and the year before, the league I was in wasn't very social. Everyone went to the games, spiked balls at people with super intensity, and then went home. Very little bar socializing. Definitely more exercise than kickball though. Most of the exercise in kickball comes from jumping up and down and cheering.

This year, we've switched to a new league, which is wonderfully close to home. The only thing I knew about it going in is that we play in sock-feet. This seemed rather strange to me - I pictured a hardwood basketball court and people sliding around in their socks like on a skating rink. Could be fun, right? Actually, it's a padded floor that's pretty springy, so skipping is mandatory (at least in my book). It's a tiny room, so one of the strategies it cuts down on is this - tossing the ball really lightly high in the air, as a means to tantalize the opponent, make them focus on that ball, and then pegging them with a fastball while they're not looking. You can still do that, just not floating it really high, as the ceiling's only about 8-9 feet high.

The other great thing about it is that they have refs provided. In the old league, we had to ref our own games, which led to anywhere between snippy exchanges to out and out arguments with the refs over calls. In this game, there's a lot of the stress taken out because the reffing is consistent and objective.

And music, can't forget that. They pipe in rock, techno, and pop music to pump you up while you're playing. It's awesome.

So here are the basic rules:

1. No more than six players on the court at a time. Of those six, no more than four can be guys (but you can play six girls).

2. Each team runs for the three balls on their right side of the court. We used to all run for the same balls in the center and man did that lead to some serious face offs (and ripping balls when people both grabbed the same one).

3. If you get hit by a ball, you're out. Unless you're pegged in the head, in which case your ears are ringing, but you're still in the game.

4. If you catch a ball, the person who threw it is out and one of your out teammates can come back in the game. I almost caught a ball with my thighs once. If I'd made that catch it would've been totally awesome. But I didn't, so I don't know why I'm mentioning it.

5. You must go to the bar after the game. Ok, so, not an official rule. But it should be! Dodgeball is awesome and fun, but we're really there to socialize, right?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tapas

My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I've only been out for Tapas four times in my life. Each time was a little different, but they were all spectacularly yummy.

Basically, tapas is a series of appetizers. The table as a whole will order them and you have a little bit of each one, which eventually adds together to make up a whole meal. It's even better when you're there with several people, because you can order tons of them. This is great if you have menu ADD, where you look at the menu and want to order every single thing on there.


First of all, there's the sangria. In my opinion, meals can only be made better by sharing a pitcher of sangria. Then there's the wide variety of tapas. There are cold and hot ones, meat and vegetarian, spiced and simple. Something for everyone. I'm going to list some of the most interesting tapas from one of my favorite local tapas restaurants, Dali:

Patatas Ali-Oli | Potatoes in a Homemade Garlic/Caper Mayonnaise
Pulpo a la Vinagreta | Octopus Vinaigrette
Mejillones con Aguacate | Green-Lipped Mussels w/Avocado
Queso de Cabra Montañes | Baked Goat Cheese w/Tomato & Basil
Gambas al Ajillo | Garlic Shrimp
Gambas con Gabardina | Saffron-Batter Fried Shrimp w/Mojo Sauce (oooh, someone put their mojo in this recipe! Must be good!)
Vieiras al Azafrán | Scallops in Saffron Cream
Ravioles de Mariscos | Lobster/Crabmeat Ravioli w/Langostino Sauce
Costillas de Vaca | Beef Short Ribs in Rioja Wine Sauce
Pato Braseado | Roast Duckling w/Berry Sauce Conejo
Escabechado | Braised Rabbit w/Red Wine, Juniper and Garlic
Caldereta Genoveva | Braised Lamb w/Almonds & Mint Essence

Interestingly, they also list Sopa de Ajo, which is the garlic almond soup I made over the weekend and didn't like. It's apparently from the Pyranees.


Now I'm hungry. Seriously. I want tapas now. Mmmm.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Spain - Catalan Salmon and Almond Garlic Soup

This week kicks off Spanish week on the blog. I haven't ever cooked Spanish food before, but I just got a Spanish cookbook at the holiday book sale, so I figured I'd give it a go. There were a ton of recipes using chorizo (sausage) and some with red meat, but as I did lamb last week for France, I wanted to change it up a bit. I ended up making salmon, and the recipe was wonderfully easy to make.

One thing I failed to take into account was that the recipe called for 8 fillets of fish, and I was only cooking two. So I ended up with a huge bowl of sauce left over. No matter! I took some chicken out of the freezer, dumped a few spoonfuls of sauce into the bag and put it in the fridge to defrost. Dinner tonight, mmm! For the rest of the sauce left over, I took an ice cube tray and filled eight of the cube-holes (is there a name for those cube-holes? There should be...but then, maybe there's is, this is the "Lethological" gourmet, so not remembering words is par for the course). I then stuck the tray in the freezer. And it did, in fact, freeze solid. So now I can take out one cube at a time and have some yummy marinade!

I'm putting the salad recipe below too. It's not Spanish, but it was yummy, so I decided to include it. And for once, I actually tossed the salad with the dressing. Normally I make salads at work, and I don't have a big bowl the mix it in, so I just plate it and put the dressing on the top. But it's soooo much better tossed! And the fig vinager I found at Whole Foods, while damn expensive, really ended up being wonderfully tasty (if you're curious, it's from l'Olivier, and it's fig pulp and vinager mixed together).

The Almond Garlic Soup I didn't like at all. I'm not sure if it's the recipe or if it's an acquired taste, but to me it tasted like salad dressing (too much vinager). I'm including the recipe anyway, just in case it's my taste buds, and to give you an idea of what it is. I must say, I was really surprised that there was bread in the soup, and that it wasn't cooked at all.

Catalan Salmon (Catalonia is the Barcelona region of northern Spain)
8 salmon fillets (or you can make 2 and have extra sauce)
3 avocados (1 avocado works for two fillets)
1 1/3 cups of olive oil (plus 2T)
1/3 cup sherry vinager
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup orange zest (I didn't have exactly that, I used the zest of two oranges)
3T capers, drained and chopped finely
salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse the salmon and place it skin-side down on a baking dish (or grill). Brush with 2T of olive oil and bake (I don't know the exact timing, but I put it on about 350 for, I don't know, 15-20 minutes). To know when it's done, take a fork and pull at the flesh a bit to make sure it's light salmon (cooked) instead of deep orange (raw).

While the salmon is cooking, whisk together the oil, vinager, orange juice, zest, capers, and salt and pepper. Also, cook up your favorite grain (I used quinoa). Slice the avocado (I finally got to use my nifty avocado slicer (left), which didn't work as well as expected, but I was still excited to try it). Plate the quinoa and avocado side by side and top with the salmon. Spoon enough sauce over top to lightly cover the salmon and avocado. Enjoy!

Salad with Fig Vinegar Dressing (I'm not going to give quantities on the veggies, depending on how much you need just make enough dressing to cover it all)

baby spinach
red bell pepper, cut into small pieces
walnuts
apples, with skin and cut into small pieces
grapes, halved
parmesan

dressing
1-1.5 parts olive oil
1 part vinegar (either balsamic, white balsamic, or fig)
dollop of dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Garlic and Almond Soup (this is apparently a speciality in Spain, though I'm not sure if I'm making it correctly here. If any of you have made it and can see where I went wrong, please let me know!)

3c blanched almonds
4c fresh country bread, cut into 1" chunks
3T coarsely chopped garlic
2/3c sherry vinegar
2/3c olive oil
3T salt
6-7c water
sliced almonds and halved grapes for garnish

Put the blanched almonds and garlic in a food processor and process until grainy. Add the bread, vinegar, oil, salt, and 4 cups of water and process until paste. Pour into a bowl and add the remaining water. Chill for four hours. Stir thoroughly before serving and add sliced almonds and graped to the bowls after plating (I forgot the grapes).
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