30 April 2016

Gardening links!

OK, it's not technically drink, food, or travel, but gardening is certainly related to two of the three (especially if you keep a mint patch in your yard for mojitos).  If you are lucky enough to have the yard space, you can grow enough to keep away from the grocery store all summer, but even a tiny patio or balcony yields enough space for some container gardening. Try it.  Everything really does taste better when you make it yourself.

These tips/links are based on zone 4 people obvs.

Veggies & fruits that taste the most amazing when grown in your yard, IMO:
sugar snap peas

Veggies & fruits that are super easy/low maintenance in a larger space:
sugar snap peas
green beans
various greens: Swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce (keep in partial shade to avoid bolting)
summer squash (beware: a little goes a long way)

Good for containers:
tomatoes (yes, really--get a very big pot and grow smaller varieties, like grapette, cherry, and roma)
all peppers, hot and mild
strawberries (give them some height for trailing)
any herbs

Herbs that will over winter (in the Denver area and lower elevations):
Siberian tarragon

Favorite blogs:

You Grown Girl
Kitchen Gardeners International
Chiot's Run
Mr. Brown Thumb Urban Gardening Blog
Tiny Farm Blog
my alma mater, University of Illinois, also has a great extentsion

Some old-school books:

Carrots Love Tomatoes (the classic bible of companion planting)
McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container (I used this back in the early 00s when I lived in an apartment in Indianapolis)

27 April 2016

What I ate on the Gulf last week

I went to University of Southern Mississippi last week to teach and perform in my role as an Altus Performing Artist, so of course, I ate my way from the airport in New Orleans all the way to Hattiesburg.  It was a short trip, but I'm pretty sure I still managed to gain a few pounds, mainly in butter.

In Hattiesburg

Crescent City: Cute family restaurant down the street from USM. I had crawfish Monica and a sad glass of water because I had to play that night.  The food was super good.

Branch: Chi-chi small plates and cocktail place.  I ate smoked wings, fried broccoli (no breading, just a bit seared and black on the ends) with lemon-yogurt sauce, mussels and fries, and deviled eggs with Sriracha, bacon, crab and avocado. The cocktails looked lovely, but I stuck to a glass of Chardonnay as I considered my 6:30am departure time for the airport the next morning.

In New Orleans

Jacques-Imo's: I think this is officially in the East Carrollton neighborhood, spitting distance from Tulane University. This place was utter chaos--I had to scream like I was at a Prince (who died the day of my recital, which is what I'm blaming the poor attendance on) concert. We split an app of friend calamari, then I had the daily special of blackened snapper on top of a bed of spicy mussels, crawfish, and shrimp with my choice of sides, a red cabbage with sausage braised in butter and perfectly seasoned red beans.  I think there might have also been a salad, but I blacked out at one point. Oh yes, the house white wine was delish and cheap.

Rue De La Course: Right down the street from Jacques-Imo's. It's in a big old bank building, playing classical music, of all things, and catering to the hipster Tulane set (I say this with affection). I ate Almond cream cake and had a smooth, smooth latte.

22 April 2016

Rhymes with avocado

Avocados don't seem to be going away, even though I actually think they're kind of slimy and tasteless.  It's funny how no one ever asks my opinion on these food trends (for the record, I totally approve of the bacon one).  I don't buy into the "healthy fat" claim, either, if it's just your excuse for binging on fat. But, these funny-looking little fellows can be pleasant if used correctly.  If you want to do something besides smash unseasoned avocado into a piece of toast, try some of these:

Tasty things with avocado

Swap egg for avocado in a tangy bearnaise sauce!

In a recipe combining all of the douchiest trends of the last five years (but I love them), you can make this tasty kale, avocado, and quinoa salad from OMG food.

Make a creamy sauce for your pasta salad.

Try Cooking Classy's ranch dressing recipe, which uses avo & yogurt as the base.

I still love this guacamole recipe with bleu cheese and bacon in it.

This is stupid.  No one likes you
when you eat this. 

19 April 2016

One groovy neighborhood in OKC!

My travel is often rushed, my sight-seeing limited, because I'm popping in and out of a town for a concert or master class. Thus was my all-too-brief experience in the Oklahoma City area the first weekend of April, which was gloriously sunny and warm in stark contrast to today's winter storm passing through southern Wyoming. I could bemoan my lack of thoroughness, but I'm not a paid travel writer, so you get what you get.  On the plus side, I have super cool friends to show me around, so you can trust me on this write-up.

I stayed in OKC's Paseo Arts District, which is apparently fabled as the place that housed all the "dirty hipppes" back in the '70s and '80s.  First Fridays are the monthly arts walk, and many of the 25 or so galleries have a great spread of snacks and FREE WINE.  You heard me.  The galleries are nice, too.  Also see: live music and food trucks. It's like a monthly carnival!

The neighborhood is a winding collection of narrow streets with no sidewalks and densely packed Craftsman homes in various states of repair, giving the place a little bit of a New Orleans feel (minus the peeing in the streets). But the restaurants aren't exactly catering to dirty hippies these days--you pay a premium for farm-to-table artistry which blends California fare with good old Southern fried things. Two I tried (and loved):

Picasso Cafe has a great mix of carnivorous and vegetarian options using fresh, local ingredients, a bunch of local beers on tap, and a drink menu the length of a Joseph Conrad novel. I had the fried green tomato po' boy (the leftovers make a perfectly good breakfast, no matter what anyone says).

Pizzeria Gusto has a thickish, pillowy crust and some great toppings to choose from.  (Also, a fantastic wine list with a generous pour). The veggie pizza with grilled red peppers, onion, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and black olives was super-fab.

I also made a day trip to Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma. While the vibe seemed rather fraternity house-esque. you can't deny that they have a beautiful campus.  

17 April 2016

Potato Gratin with Horseradish

Creamy, cheesy potatoes underneath, crisp, thin chips on top, and all with a minimum amount of effort.  I think this is exactly what the doctor ordered on this snowy weekend here in the Rockies, with plenty of Bloody Marys on the side, of course...

Potato Gratin with Horseradish

Serves 6-8 as a side

unsalted butter for the baking dish, at room temperature
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup prepared horseradish
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and black pepper
½ yellow onion, diced
1 ½ pounds russet potatoes (about 3), thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cheese (smoked gouda, sharp, cheddar…)
Chopped fresh parsley for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish.

Put the cream, horseradish, garlic and onion in a medium bowl, season with some salt and pepper, and stir to combine. In the baking dish, spoon a thin layer of the cream and onion mixture onto the bottom. Layer the potatoes, followed by a sprinkle of cheese. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Repeat this process until the dish is filled and the gratin is moist, pressing gently to submerge the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the potatoes are tender and the top is golden, 50 to 65 minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh parsley before serving.

08 April 2016

A strawberry pie you can make in the winter!

It's not exactly winter anymore, but it's also not strawberry season yet.  You can buy loads of flavorless "fresh" strawberries to make this pie, but frozen works perfectly, with a little cornstarch to sop up the juices.  It's one of my favorite ways to alleviate my spring fever.

Tart Strawberry Pie

Serves 8

6 cups frozen strawberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp powdered cardamom
6 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice

Make the strawberry filling:
Let the strawberries thaw in a colander to the point where they are no longer icy but are still firm. Place in a bowl with all the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Put your pie together:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

Pre-bake the shell according to package directions (or, prick sides with a fork, line bottom with parchment paper and dried beans as weights, and bake about 10 minutes, or until sides start to get crusty). 

Pour the filling into the crust. Place the second (unbaked) on top of the pie dish and with your fingers or with a fork crimp the edges to seal them. Cut some slits at the top of the pie. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of sugar on the crust. 

Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes. Once more lower the heat to 350 degrees and cook 20 more minutes or until the juices have thickened and are bubbling.

01 April 2016

I grew up eating April Fool's food.

You know, fair reader of this blog, that I am a proud product of the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, to be specific. In the Great Lakes, we make casseroles (NOT hot dish in Illinois, anyway), our salads sometimes come with candy bars, and every rural road house near a pond has a "famous" fish fry on Friday nights. As I was thinking about the relevance of April Fool's to food, I realized that plenty of my favorite childhood foods could be considered pranks to the uninitiated.  So no, this is not a joke post; it is a celebration of Midwestern heritage, or perhaps a humble question: were our parents just messing with us our entire lives?!

Classic Snickers Salad: I've never had this, but I've certainly heard about it a lot.  I think it's more of an Iowa thing, and the people are a littler weirder over there (they get their gas at a place called the Kum N Go, for instance).

1(8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1(12 ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed
6 Snickers candy bars
4 -6 granny smith apples

Mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until thoroughly blended. Fold in Cool Whip. Cut Snickers into bite size chunks and add to cream cheese mixture. Chop the apples into chunks and stir. Chill 1 hour before serving.

Catherine's Cherry Salad: my grandma hauled this one out for fancy meals, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was served in a crystal cut bowl (not pictured), and it was my favorite thing to eat with ham.

1 container of Cool Whip
1 (15 oz.) can cherry pie filling
1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained

Mix it up and put in your best serving bowl. Show-offs might add chopped walnuts, but this salad stands alone.

Tuna Noodle Casserole: I called this "tuna noodle glop" because I was a pretty bratty kid, and my parents could never control me. It's a pretty complicated recipe involving canned tuna AND canned cream of mushroom soup, so I'm just going to leave this link here for you.  Oh, and here's the Green Bean Casserole recipe while you're at it.

Chicken and Noodles: what the hell is it?  It's not quite a soup, not a casserole, but it is some sort of soupy side dish to be served near your turkey at Thanksgiving. Now, I will say that in the Riner family, we always did it with homemade noodles, so you can replace the nice, light egg noodles in this recipe with some fat, doughy ropes that resemble Elmer's glue. I also don't remember so much chicken in the dish, but there was was some.

Don't forget to put the Ranch dressing out, because that shit goes on everything: salad, baked potato, tuna noodle casserole...

For more classic recipes, you might like The Hospitality of a Midwestern Potluck from April 2015.