Archive for April 2006

An easy way to spice up your spring salads

From Bryan Miller over at NPR, Stop the Madness: Make Your Own Salad Dressing.

Making your own salad dressing is embarrassingly easy -- and cheaper than buying it in the store. Of course, preparing vinaigrette every day could become a nuisance, especially, if, like me, you often forget to make it until the last minute when hot food is already on the table. My solution: Make big batches of the stuff and store it in wine bottles or mason jars.

I always make my own dressing, and like Bryan I often wait until nearly the last minute. Lately I've been better and whip it up while I've got a down minute during dinner prep, like right after I put something in the oven. Then it's ready to go and all I need to do is pour it over the salad when the time comes. I heartily recommend making your own dressings, it's so simple and so much tastier!

With temperatures already in the 70s here in New York City today, and expected to go as high as 80°, who wouldn't want to have A Simple Yet Chic Picnic this evening? Clotilde tells you how in this NPR column from last summer. But you better get on it, because the forecast is for a return to more seasonal April showers and colder temps this weekend.

Ramp country festival this weekend

According to their website, Richwood, West Virginia is the heart of ramp country. To celebrate, they're having the Richwood Ramp Fest this Saturday, April 22. Where exactly? "Located in the south central portion of West Virginia in Nicholas County, deep in the hills, accessible by two-lane paved road and Richwood is situated just at the edge of the Monongahela National Forest." Drat! I had ramps last night for the first time, and they were yummy. This festival sounds fun but I can't make it this year, perhaps next year.

Over at The Kitchen Sara Kate's got a Spotlight On: Ramps. Since the ramp season is so short in New York City, there's a flurry of activity right now while they're available. Yesterday at the Union Square Greenmarket I saw no less than five vendors with piles of them. I'm going back for more tomorrow!

From NPR's "All Things Considered," White Eggs, Brown Eggs: What's the Difference? Anyone who grew up in Massachusetts in the eighties can tell you, without having to even listen to the audio: "Brown eggs are local eggs, and local eggs are fresh!" At least, that's what the TV was always telling me. And it sure stuck, I always buy brown eggs. I only buy white eggs if that's all they sell, and I do so begrudgingly.

McMenu: Do-It-Yourself McDonald's Restaurant Recipes. Hmmm...I'm not sure I like McDonald's enough to make it at home. Now do it yourself In-N-Out burgers? Or do it yourself Shake Shack? That would be something!

Creating giant sized snacks

My new favorite web site is Pimp My Snack, where people recreate typical snacks but make them bigger and better. I'm keeping this one in mind for next Easter: Giant Creme Egg! This guy combined 22 Cadbury creme eggs into one giant egg, and I have to say it looks delicious. Then he sold the monster on eBay for &164;17.03.

I don't know what it is about changing the size of something, but I'm smitten with mini items (like baby chocolate bread puddings I made recently and have been meaning to write up) and maxi items. There's something about creating a homemade Reeses Mothership that I just adore.

Augieland's eating Otto's Ramps Pizza, and he's got a photo and it looks yummy! I've been meaning to make some dough and get back into using my pizza stone here at home. Perhaps tonight we'll try a homemade ramps pizza. His just sounds so yummy!

Go wine tasting in the Hudson River Valley

Wine-tasting at vineyards near New York City? I didn't even know that was possible! But the Shawangunk Wine Trail, "is nestled between the famous Shawangunk Mountains and the majestic Hudson River in Ulster County, just 85 miles north of New York City." It's an organization of eight wineries and you can visit and sample their wines. There are plenty of other attractions in the area, from nature trails to farmer's markets. I guess it makes sense, but really, I had no idea this was just upstate. I'm going to go check it out for sure.

You might want to do that Shawangunk Wine Trail in the near future, as Luxist has some information on Global Warming And The Future of Wine. Sounds like some wine-making regions will be threatened by changing weather and possibly unable to grow their current varietals of grapes.

Brown eggs promote genetic diversity

Reader Emily writes in with some interesting information regarding brown eggs and diversity.

The argument I've heard (from the environmentalists) is that you should choose brown eggs to preserve genetic diversity. The brown chickens are in the minority. The white chickens are mass produced for meat and for eggs. The argument is that if you buy brown eggs you keep up demand for these more rare chickens, and hence the diversity.

She also included a link to The ICYouSee Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart: An Alphabetical List of More than 60 Chicken Breeds With Comparative Information. Handy is right! It makes me wish I could have my own chickens here in Manhattan, but I don't think they'd do well inside an apartment. Especially not with our cat. But if I could, I'd totally get chickens that lay blue and blue-green eggs.

Today is answer the reader's question day

Joan writes in with an interesting question, and rather than reply just to her, I thought I'd answer it here for everyone. She writes:

You eat such a wide variety of things - I think you even mentioned enjoying liver at some point. Other than processed food, what kind of food don't you like? Is there something that should be healthy or decadent or natural that you just can't stand?

Well, there was the whole time of my life when I didn't like tomatoes, but that ended in 2002 (see my Battle Tomato post for more details). Now I love tomatoes. And I do like liver, from liverwurst to foie gras. I can't think of anything I don't eat anymore, though I wasn't always that way. Some times I'm not in the mood for a certain food or dish, but it's not because I don't like its ingredients. And there's nothing anymore that I have to avoid out of disgust. I love beets but I used to hate them and think they tasted like dirt. Figs scared me but now I savor their sticky sweetness whenever possible. I like all the fancy potentially gross foods like raw oysters and caviar (even just the roe used on sushi rolls) and escargots. I like all kinds of fish and shellfish, cooked and uncooked. It seems like there should be something I don't like, but I can't think of it now. I even like veal cheeks!

Ok, maybe I wouldn't like some serious offal, like tripe or heart or beef tongue, but I suspect it's only a matter of not having tried it. I bet if I were to eat at St. John's in London (menu here) I would enjoy ox heart and chips. I've had bone marrow several times and always found it delicious. So in a very long answer to your question, "Is there just can't stand?" Nope.

NPR's All Things Considered follows up on the story I linked to last week with more about the difference between the eggs, Brown and White Eggs, Unscrambled. Apparently, "[m]any listeners were disturbed by an April 15 interview that attempted to explain why some eggs are white and some are brown." I'm not sure what there is to be disturbed by: some chickens lay brown eggs and some lay white eggs.

Ameliaaah on Flickr has a photo set of cakes she's decorated and they're amazing. Check out this dragon cake! Be sure to look through the whole set, there's some astounding cake decoration in there. It makes me want to bake a cake and decorate it this minute, except I fear it won't come out even 1/4th as nice as hers.

Makeshift vent for serious chicken cooking

Here's an inventive and dedicated response to common cooking problem: Mon Poulet Rôti. The author is a big fan of Thomas Keller's "My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken" but it preparing it fills her kitchen with smoke. She's concocted her own vent from supplies at Home Depot and voila, no more smoke-filled kitchen. I've been having a similar problem in my own kitchen, even though I do have an exhaust over my stove. I think that either a) it's not strong enough or b) it needs repair or new filters or something. Any time I cook meat on my cast-iron skillet our apartment fills with smoke. Alas I can't try this method because I don't have a window to vent out of that's easily accessible.

There are foods I don't like

Yesterday when I answered Joan's question (see Today is answer the reader's question day) about food I didn't like, I really felt like there was something I was overlooking, some food I really just didn't like. Last night over dinner, Jason said the same thing, "I know there's something you don't like." We talked about it for a bit and then finally came up with the two things I don't like and actually won't eat if I find them on my plate.

The first is radicchio, that red and white "green" that often finds its way into gourmet-type salad mixes. It's simply too bitter for me. I've tried numerous times to eat it, but after one bite I'm always discouraged by its flavor and I give up and gently push it to the side of my plate.

The second ispapaya. I've never liked papaya though I tried it often enough when I lived in Mexico back in 1989. Not living in a warm climate since then, I haven't had continued opportunities to see if it's gorwn on me. But I had it on my honeymoon when I ordered a fresh fruit plate. Since I now like mango but didn't used to, I assumed I also now liked papaya. One bite made me think that might not be the case. After a second, I was denouncing the papaya and moving on to pineapple.

(Note: I do like green papaya, which I had in Thailand. I've read that green papaya is either unripe papaya or a different "papaya" altogether. Either way, I like Thai green papaya salad a lot!)

So there you have it, the two foods I don't like and won't eat. Now you know that if you invite me over for dinner, you really shouldn't prepare a radicchio and papaya salad unless you want me to go home hungry. Plus that would be just gross, radicchio and papaya just totally don't go together.

Artisanal American cheese exploration

Last night Jason and I went to a great benefit for Cheese by Hand. Cheese by Hand is:

Cheese by Hand is a project conceptualized by us, Michael Claypool and Sasha Davies, to explore the landscape of artisan (hand-made) cheesemaking in the United States. Our goal is to capture the experience of cheesemakers around the country, in their own voices, and share them with consumers and cheese fans everywhere. We hope that this will promote understanding and support for the products themselves and also the variety of farms that make up our country‰Ûªs agricultural system.

On Monday, Michael and Sasha will set off on a cross-country tour to visit cheesemakers around the United States, taping their interviews as they go. We were treated a small sample at last night's event, a slice of an interview with Matteo Keehler of Jasper Hill Farm. You can find the clips in this post they wrote about the Jasper Hill Philosophy. I'm looking forward to hearing more. Michael and Sasha hope to post clips and updates from the road, so I'll be following their site closely.

R.W. Apple in the New York Times on an oyster lover on the West Coast, The Oyster Is His World.

A great knife sharpening tutorial from eGullet

I'd noticed my chef's knife was seeming a little dull, and was thinking I should probably sharpen it when I stumbled across this excellent eGullet post about Knife Maintenance and Sharpening. It's so in-depth that I didn't do more than skim it yet, but looks like a great resource for sharpening. Now to find the time to read the whole thing before I sit down with my stone and get my knife back to proper sharpness.

Accidental Hedonist takes a look at lettuce in a bag in response to a reader's inquiry, We get Letters v. 24: Lettuce in a bag. Worth reading if you buy your lettuce this way.

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