20 October 2017

Tuscaloosa is utterly charming

I had the pleasure of visiting the flute studio at (the?)* University of Alabama a couple of weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how adorbs downtown Tuscaloosa is.  I mean, it would really behoove you to like sports, but if not, there's still a bit to do.

Visit University of Alabama's grandiose, thoroughly Southern campus (down below).  There are Roman columns everywhere.  There are probably porches with rocking chairs, too, but I just didn't see them.

On campus, the Museum of Natural History is quite impressive for a university. Also on campus, Gorgas House delves into the Civil War history of the area, but whatever, you're in Alabama so there's no avoiding it.

There are nice parks, like Bowers (it has a pool and mini disc golf, below) and Cardinal (nice walking trails).  Capitol park boasts electricity.

There are some great restaurants downtown.

R. Davidson Chophouse is cool and soothing inside, with upscale, modern Southern cuisine. It's pretty fancy.

The Avenue Pub is a little more casual and boasts great happy hour specials.

Five Bar has nice snacks like the baked avocado and a proper Southern weekend brunch.

Here's how cute the downtown is!

Anyway, thanks for having me, UA flute studio!

*It is always a total crapshot trying to figure out how the natives refer to their school, and I hate it.  When I was at University of Illinois, it was called U of I, and you got mocked for adding "the" in front of it.  But the letterhead all says UI, so what the hell is it, actually?  What the hell is UA?  Is it UA? the U of A?  Or are they dyslexic like University of Colorado, which is inexplicably CU?  In short, I wish you would get it together, academia!

13 October 2017

Thai curry squash soup

It has turned to fall for reals here in NoCo, and we are swapping out our late summer dinner salads (bye-bye, fresh tomatoes) for some warming soups.  You can throw in whatever vegetables you want, but I think the most valuable thing here is that the broth will help you utilize some of that massive pile of summer squash, if you're starting to lose hope but still don't want to just throw it in the compost heap...

Thai Curry-Summer Squash Soup

Serves 4

2 cups roughly chopped summer squash
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3 cups water
1 tablespoon red (or green, or yellow) Thai curry paste
1 cup chopped frozen spinach
1/2 cup frozen corn
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1 cup cooked brown rice (optional)
salt and black pepper to taste
roasted, salted cashews as garnish
Bring the 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the bouillon cube and the squash, and cook until squash is tender, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a blender (careful to place a towel over the cover) or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.

Replace this thick broth to the sauce pan and stir in the spinach, corn, and cilantro.  Cover and simmer until vegetables are hot about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, coconut, lime juice, and rice and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook until heated through and serve in bowls topped with cashews.

06 October 2017

Chicken and Rice revamp (Romanian style)

This is not actually Romanian, nor does it have rice.  It's very loosely based on a delicious, simple, and incredibly comforting dish that a Romanian friend, a talented filmmaker named Ouana, would make to take the chill off a snowy Wyoming night after shoveling the driveway clear.  The peppers, paprika, and sour cream (or my favorite substitute, yogurt) are pretty clearly Eastern European, and the pasta was just what she served with it.  But given the almost international tradition of chicken and rice (of some sort), I thought orzo would echo that nicely. 

Romanian Chicken and "Rice"

Serves 4

8 oz. whole wheat orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken breast, cut into 1/2-in strips
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
12 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
generous handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving

Cook the pasta in well-salted water according to package directions.  Drain except for 1/2 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  When it shimmers, add the chicken breast strips along with some salt and the paprika and stir fry until almost cooked through.  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add the onion and peppers to the hot oil and lower the heat to medium-low. Season with salt and stir.  Allow to simmer until very soft, stirring occasionally, which should take about 20 minutes.  Add the wine, garlic, and chicken to the pan and stir to coat.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

When the garlic becomes fragrant and some of the wine has reduced, add the pasta and reserved water.  Stir thoroughly to mix and allow to simmer another 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld and liquid to reduce slightly.  Stir in the fresh chopped basil and serve in bowls topped with sour cream/yogurt.

29 September 2017

Borscht, how I love thee...

I know it's not cool to say this, but I really love beets.  And I particularly love them in borscht.  They are sweet, earthy, and a great carrier for all things acidic and creamy. Beets are doing great in the garden right now, so you should find your own favorite recipe and make it over and over until your poop looks like you're going to die (just kidding, that will happen after just one bowl).

This is a hot borscht that's very fresh but hearty for cooler weather. This recipe is vegetarian, but you could pop some pre-made little meat balls in at the end of the cooking time, as well:

Ukrainian/ Russian Steppe Borscht

Serves 6-8

3 medium beets, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, for topping
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill for garnish

Fill a large pot halfway with water (about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the beets, and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the can of diced tomatoes.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, and pepper.
Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream, if desired, and fresh dill.

If it's still hot where you live, this summery cold borscht (very Lithuanian) is just the thing:

Cold Borscht

Serves 4

2 pounds of beets (5-6 beets, depends on size)
1 cucumber
2-3 eggs
5 green onions
Small bunch of fresh green dill
2 quarts of kefir or buttermilk
About 2 quarts of cold water
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt and black pepper to taste

Boil the beets skin-on and cool them down to room temperature; also boil eggs till hard, cool then down too; rinse greens and cucumber. Once boiled beets are cooled down, skin them: take a big cooking pot and grate the boiled beets into it using the large slots of grater. Peel and dice the eggs and add them to the cooking pot. Dice the cucumber and add to the cooking pot. Chop the green onions and add to the cooking pot. Add finely chopped fresh dill. Add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cream and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything; add all buttermilk or kefir. Add about the same amount of water (or more, to taste) and mix everything. Cover cooking pot with a lid and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.