Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Soup Month

One more January post for the year.  The other day, I went to a science center and had a blast.  Of course, by the time I got home, it was way past dark and I was hungry.  Since it had gotten chilly as soon as the sun set and I wanted something easy to eat, I grabbed a box of Pacific-brand soup.  Prior to this soup, I had never had any Pacific-brand product other than their soy milk, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.  But since I had just done a clean out of my emergency supplies and needed to restock my emergency food supplies, I fell prey to the marketing tactic of "Hey, a coupon for a product that's on sale!  I think I'll buy it!"  So I bought two of the minestrone with chicken meatballs since it was the only one the store had, thinking I would try one and if I liked it, I could come back and buy more for my emergency supplies.  (Having food you like or at least don't dislike during an emergency is a nice thing since circumstances are going to be rough anyways.)  I've normally buy boxed soups because I prefer to avoid canned foods, but the boxed soups I normally buy have pour spouts and require refrigeration after opening.  I was interested in these soups since they're single-serving and shelf stable.

 I was feeling particularly lazy and wanted my food right away, so I opted to heat it in the microwave.  I ended up microwaving it for twice the amount of time listed on the box.  It was thicker than I expected and something about the flavor kept throwing me off.  Maybe it was the sodium content - I don't typically eat processed foods and I don't add table salt to most of my foods.  (I horrified my best friend once when she visited me in my old, super-tiny studio apartment.  She asked for salt for her eggs and I had to reply that I had none.  I couldn't bake in that place, so I didn't even have any for baking.)

The soup was edible.  Nothing exciting, but not horrible either.  I'm perfectly okay with adding this soup to my emergency food supplies, but I think I'll have to try some of the other flavors.

If you're interested in trying this soup, Pacific Foods is offering coupons here.  Also, the current issue of Whole Food's Whole Deals has a coupon for $1 off two.

(The top right picture of the soup is more true to color, but came out blurry, so here's a sharper photo.)

Bread Machine Baking Month

Using the bread machine, I made a two more breads.  Unfortunately, neither of these used whole wheat bread, so this post is limited to celebrating Bread Machine Baking Month.  Again, both recipes are from More Bread Machine Magic and both recipes are in the "Sweet Breads" section.  (I do have other bread machine cookbooks - this just happens to be the latest one I bought at a used book store, so I'm going through the recipes now.  I also happen to be picking recipes with ingredients I already have.)

First up, Cammy's Greek Bread.  This one rised a lot - I'm really glad I chose the medium size!  It hit the lid of the bread machine.  I did have to use the full amount of milk suggested because my machine had trouble working the dough.  The bread was very sweet and not really appropriate for sandwiches, but it was good for toasting for breakfast and for French toast.  This bread was also used for bread pudding with cranberries.  It was tasty, but it's not a bread I'll be making often.  I can imagine it being perfect for brunches, though.

Next, Dad's Rice Pudding Bread.  I did run into a bit of a problem because the butter I used was still cold and I didn't cut it into small chunks.  The machine had some trouble working the dough until I cut the butter up into small pieces  and added more milk.  You can see the not-quite perfect dough ball here.  My roomie doesn't like raisins, so I left those out.  The result was a dense bread with a lumpy top.  The bread has a very nice cinnamon flavor and I can imagine that raisins would be perfect in this bread.  I've been enjoying this bread as breakfast - a slice gets me through my morning classes when I wake up late and don't have time to make a real breakfast.  (Unfortunately a common occurrence this semester.)

A look back at January - Meat Month, Prune Breakfast Month, Slow Cooking Month, Fat Free Living Month

One month of blogging at least a few words daily - not too shabby.  Unfortunately, while I managed to touch on the daily food celebrations, I didn't fare as well with the monthly food celebrations.  So this is a bit of a "catch-up" post to reflect on some of the monthly food celebrations I didn't talk about.

Meat Month

I think I subconciously avoided this topic because it's a controversial and deeply personal decision to eat meat.  I've been described as a "sometimes omnivore" by friends and family.   Some people have asked if I'm vegetarian - let me make it clear: I am not.  I choose not to eat meat often (particularly red meat) for personal reasons based on nutrition and environmental impact.  (My eating habits tend to be red meat 4-5 times a year, poultry 0-2 times a month, and fish 4-5 times a week.)  I do have friends who are vegetarians or vegans, but all chose that lifestyle for different personal reasons.  On the other end of the spectrum, I have friends who cannot fathom a meal without meat as the centerpiece.

I still eat meat, though, so I try to choose meats I feel were produced as sustainably as possible.  As with all things, the more you know, the better off you'll be.  If you're a meat eater, get to know your local butcher.  Gain an understanding of meat price flucuations and why some meats are so much cheaper than others.   Go visit a farm or go hunting - see where your food comes from.  Or read Omnivore's Dilemna, What to Eat, and an evironmental science book. 

Prune Breakfast Month

Prunes are typically associated with older people.  I'm not sure if it's the wrinkles or the -ahem- digestive benefits of prunes, but for some reason most young people laugh or go "ew!" when talking about prunes.  However, I like prunes, as I do almost all dried fruits.  I've never had them for breakfast, though- just as snacks.  California Dried Plums has some suggestions for breakfast recipes featuring prunes.  I suppose it's more marketable to call them "dried plums" instead of prunes.  Actually why do we do that?  Dried apricots, dried apples.... so why do we call raisins raisins instead of "dried grapes" and prunes prunes instead of "dried plums?"  Something to look into later.

Slow Cooking Month

I thought this would be about the Slow Food Movement, but Slow Cooking is actually using a crockpot.  Crockpots are awesome, and therefore slow cooking is awesome.   A Year of Slow Cooking  is blog devoted to slow cooking and definitely worth checking out.  Plus, I'm finding I like blogs that have a focus on doing something for an entire year.  I wonder why that is....

Fat Free Living Month

Wow.  If someone can live on fat free foods for an entire month, color me impressed.  I like my cookies and breads too much to ditch the butter in them.  Plus, a lot of my protein comes from nuts and those are naturally fatty.  Americans do eat a lot of fat, so maybe trying to eat one fat free meal every day for a month would be a good goal to start with.  It makes sense that this is in January, since January is the month most people make resolutions to start dieting and losing weight.  Hrm...maybe a month is how long most people can stay on a fat free diet - I mean, Valentine's Day and all that tempting chocolate is right around the corner.

January 31: Brandy Alexander Day

Today is Brandy Alexander Day.  I've never had a Brandy Alexander, but it does seem like a tasty drink - just take a look at this highly reviewed recipe from Drinks Mixer.  This recipe from AlcoMixer adds grated chocolate and uses cream instead of half-and-half.  Brandy Alexander is another drink that might be named after a person- in this case, the Russian tsar Alexander II, but it seems it was invented for a royal wedding.  A closely related cousin of the Brandy Alexander is the Panama Cocktail which uses white creme de cacao instead.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30: Croissant Day

When made right, croissants are airy, flaky, buttery treats.  My dad prefers his croissants slathered in jam, my mom prefers hers plain with her morning coffee, and I prefer mine as bread for sandwiches.  To my tastebuds, cold croissants are the perfect bread for ham and cheese sandwiches.  They're good warm too, but only if the whole sandwich is warm with the cheese slightly melted.

My roomie and I found a recipe to make croissants, using the bread maker to knead the dough.  Unfortunately, the recipe calls for at least 5 hours of chill time, if not overnight, before the dough can be worked and then when working/shaping the dough, another hour of chill time.  I don't have the time during a weekday to devote that much time and concentration to baking, so maybe we'll try out the recipe this weekend. 

Yes, I like food so much that if a recipe requires hours of work, I will schedule my weekend around the recipe.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29: Corn Chip Day

Corn chips are a food I've never known anyone to make from scratch, yet so many recipes use corn chips as ingredients.  Still, if you wanted to, you could make your own corn chips.  As an ingredient, corn chips are crushed and used as breading, sprinkled on top of soup, or used to dip into chili and cheese.

Corn chips also seem to be synonymous with home sports-viewing parties.  I'm not sure why, but every sports party I've been to has had corn chips.

Hrm...maybe that's what today is Corn Chip day - it's close to the Super Bowl!  Today would be the day to buy some corn chips for your Super Bowl Party! 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28: Blueberry Pancake Day

Blueberry pancakes are totally scrumptious.  I don't like using the large, juicy blueberries that you can regularly buy at the store.  Instead, I prefer using the smaller wild blueberries.  I find that using the large blueberries makes it hard to flip the pancakes (I like to use a lot of blueberries.)  When I'm at my parents and it's the right season, I'll pick blueberries right off the bush, wash them, then toss them in the batter.  I can't wait until it's blueberry season again.

I also find that blueberry pancakes are usually sweet enough I don't need syrup.  Sometimes, I may use honey, but normally just topping the pancakes with bananas is good enough.  It's almost like having blueberry-banana panacakes!

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27: Chocolate Cake Day

Today's Chocolate Cake Day.  I'm not a huge fan of chocolate cake.  Oh, I'll not refuse a piece if someone offers me one at a party, but I've always prefered other cakes instead of chocolate cake. 

Some people like their chocolate cakes dense and almost fudge-like.  Some prefer a light and airy chocolate cake.  Some make their cakes from a boxed cake mix while others insist on cakes only made from scratch.  One friend always put a spoonful of mayo in her chocolate cake batter, claiming it gave the cake a smoother texture.  Even though I was grossed out when I first heard this (I don't like mayo) it makes sense - I assume the oil in mayo is somewhat like using oil to make a chiffon cake.

However you like your chocolate cake (less cake and more icing, perhaps) today's the day to celebrate the indulgence that is chocolate cake.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26: Pistachio Day and Peanut Brittle Day

Pistachio Day

Pistachios are pretty cool nuts.  Normally, if a nut is green, it's somehow gotten moldy and gross.  Not so for a pistachio!  They're normally a beautiful green color.  And tasty.

Pistachios are one of two types or nuts that are dangerous to put within arm's reach of me - if I can reach the pistachios, I can gaurantee that I'll take them from you and eat them all.  They're just so delicious!  I try to be good about not having a whole bag of pistachios in front of me and usually use small bowls, but I always seem to find myself re-filling the bowls. 

I'm also loving the new ad campaign for pistachios.  It's a pretty well done campaign.  I snooped around PistachioHealth.com, which I believe is linked to the campaign.  Now, as with any information out there on the internet, be cautious about who is providing the information.  That said, it's a pretty nifty site.  There's plenty of information in every day terms for the consumer, and for RDs and DTRs  there's afree CPE opportunity for 1 credit

I just wish I could figure out what to do with all those pistachio shells.  I wonder how well they'll work as drainage for potted plants...

Peanut Brittle Day

I've made peanut brittle multiple times for classes now.  Both times, we used this Alton Brown recipe and I've also used it for my Christmas candies bags.  I'm actually very surprised that the reviews are so low, but in reading some of them it seems as if the "light amber color" phrase is what throws people off. I actually had the same problem once- more on that in a bit.   If you decide to make the recipe, use a candy thermometer if you have one; otherwise, use the cold water test.

The first time I made the brittle, everything went perfectly.  I was a little worried that it wouldn't set because it was a bit humid that day, but apparently it was dry enough to work in my apartment.  The brittle came out very nicely and everyone at my work helped me eat it.  (There was no way I was going to eat four pounds of brittle all by myself!)

The second time was a disaster of a brittle.  My lab group didn't do the cold water test or use a thermometer and just tried to gauge by color.  "Light amber" is what the recipe calls for, but I think we all forgot that "amber" is close to a rosy medium brown.  It never set but we managed to salvage the mess by turning it into oven roasted peanuts and we had enough ingredients left over to get it right the second time.  The trick is to do the cold water test enough times or use a thermometer until you feel confident in your ability to judge what is "light amber."

So don't be scared off if you don't get it right the first time.  I've made it (successfully) multiple times now and once you get the hang of it, it's a truly easy recipe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25: Irish Coffee Day/Week

Today's food day is National Irish Coffee Day.  Turns out, the entire fourth week of January is Irish Coffee Week.  (Hey, a food day and a food week that go together!  And they're in an appropriate month - cold weather is perfect for hot drinks.)  Prior to today, if you had asked me if I had ever had Irish Coffee, I would've said yes.  I also would've been mistaken.  I looked up Irish Coffee recipes and it seems that Irish Coffee is basically a type of Hot Toddy.  It's coffee with alcohol and brown sugar with cream on top, really, but what makes it Irish?  I guess it's the alcohol - it's whiskey.  I don't keep whiskey around in my place, so I don't think I'll be making Irish Coffee today.

Drinks Mixer has a simple and easy to understand recipe for Irish Coffee, along with a video if you need more help.  Also, did you know that there's a World Coffee in Good Spirits Championships?  It's like the Olympic of Irish Coffee making.  There can only be one competitor from each country, so I assume you have to win a bunch of regional and eventually a national competition.   Of course, what I really want to know is how can I become a judge at one of these competitions?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24: Lobster Thermidor Day & Peanut Butter Day

National Lobster Thermidor Day

By the time I finish this year-long experiment, I'll probably have a huge list of new foods I'll need to try, either homemade or bought. 

And that list will include lobster thermidor.

Another dish I had never heard of until today, lobster thermidor sounds like a truly indulgent meal and I want one now.  When I try lobster thermidor, I'll probably first try it in a restaurant and then attempt it at home if I really like the dish.  (My main reason for trying it in a restaurant first?  I don't want to deal with live lobsters - those claws look so intimidating!)  Oprah.com has Julia Child's Lobster Thermidor recipe and just look at those ingredients!  Cream, cognac, tarragon, mustard....That looks like a recipe for deliciousness.

National Peanut Butter Day
Peanut butter is one of those foods that works great as a topping (on apples, celery, bread, etc), pairs well with other spreads (jellies, jams, honey), can be an  ingredient (as in peanut butter cookies or pasta) or can be scooped out of the jar with the spoon and just eaten by itself.  I think everyone is familiar with peanut butter and has their favorite brand of peanut butter.  I'm not particularly brand-loyal to peanut butter, I just like to buy the simplest peanut butter.  When was the last time you looked at the ingredient list on a jar of peanut butter?  You'd be surprised what goes into most peanut butter.  I try to buy brands that are simple (some brands out there only have 2 ingredients - peanuts and salt!) and have no ingredients I'd work with in a lab setting.  If the peanut butter separates, that's fine by me.  It's not that hard to mix it all back together.  The only downside to buying more "real" peanut butter is I have to keep it in the fridge where it gets really cold and hard to spread.  To combat this, I scoop some out into a bowl and microwave it for about 30 seconds.

To celebrate Peanut Butter Day, I opted for a quick snack during the State of the Union speech because I wasn't hungry enough yet for a full dinner.  I topped a toasted slice of homemade bread with crunchy peanut butter.  Since it was looking a little plain (but still delicious as-is) and I had some rhubarb pie (see yesterday's post) that needed salvaging, I put a couple of spoonfuls of cooked rhubarb on top.  This ended up being a very nice snack, but I wish I had apples or bananas.  Apple slices just seem perfect for dipping into peanut butter and I love peanut butter banana sandwiches.

So whether you like crunchy, creamy, super loaded with unpronounceable ingredients, or you make  your own, enjoy a scoop of peanut butter and think of new ways to use peanut butter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23: Rhubarb Pie Day & National Pie Day

Some calendars identify today as National Pie Day, while others identify today as National Rhubarb Pie Day.  Actually, today IS National Pie Day, but since I'm a bit of a nerd and I believe National Pie (Pi) Day is March 14th, I'm gonna go with today being National Rhubarb Pie Day.  (And hey!  Making a rhubarb pie today actually kind of honors National Pie Day, too!)

Now, I've had rhubarb in pies before (the Purple Pie Place in Custer, SD, has the best strawberry rhubarb pie I've ever had) but never have I had just a plain rhubarb pie.  I was determined to celebrate today by making a rhubarb pie from scratch.  Probably not my best idea, since I can't remember the last time I made a pie entirely from scratch.  I looked around on the web and in my cookbooks for a rhubarb pie recipe that I wouldn't need to buy any additional ingredients beyond what I already had.  In the process, I found the pie section of the Rhubarb Compendium.  It's a truly impressive collection of recipes all based around rhubarb. 

I found plenty of recipes that I could work with, but in my hubris (or excitement?  or "desire to experiment?") I chose to throw all the recipes out the window (figuratively, of course) and just threw together my own.  Remember how I said earlier, "probably not my best idea?"  Yeah....

I started with this pie crust recipe from AllRecipes.  After reading the comments, I did stray a little - I put the shortening in the freezer before use to make it cold, used only 1/2 a cup of very cold water, and added 2 tablespoons of sugar.  It was very simple and easy to make - it'll be a recipe I keep around.

Then, it was time for the filling and... well, this is where things got creative.  (Meaning: I said, "Recipe?  I don't need stinkin' recipe!")

I chopped up four heaping cups of rhubarb and then tossed it with two cups of sugar and six tablespoons of flour.  Dumped the mixture onto the crust, baked with crust edges covered in tinfoil for 30 minutes at 425, then 25 minutes at 350, removed the tinfoil and cooked for another 15 minutes at 350.

Based on the resulting pie, I made two mistakes, the first being too much sugar.  (I suppose the argument could be made that my first mistake was choosing to not follow a recipe.)  The pie crust came out wonderfully, but the filling was too sweet.  Second mistake?  Not putting the flour and sugar on the crust in the pie pan, then putting the rhubarb on top of that.  The result was some flour and sugar stayed on top and didn't mix with the rhubarb and the filling came out very runny.  Criticism recieved was that it was "pie soup," too sweet, and the crust was the only edible part.

I may try this again, reducing the sugar and putting the flour and sugar on the bottom.  In the meantime, to keep the pie from being a waste, I'll probably scoop out the filling, boil it down a little more, maybe add lemon juice for some tartness, and use it as a topping for pancakes or waffles.

So, chalk up one on the kitchen screw up scoreboard, but I'm still going to keep playing around in the kitchen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22: Blonde Brownie Day

Again, another food I had to look up.  Oh, I totally know what a brownie is and I do indulge in one or two every once in a while.  (Those bite-sized brownie pieces make it hard to do!)  But I had no idea what a blonde brownie was.  I thought maybe it was another name for the brownies with peanut butter or butterscotch swirls.

I was wrong, but in looking at blonde brownie recipes, I'm still a little baffled.  Blonde brownies just look like a thick, more cake-y than normal chocolate chip cookie.  This Applebee's (or is it just Applebee's inspired?) recipe for blonde brownies uses a maple syrup topping and that definitely makes it different than chocolate chip cookies.   AllRecipes has a very popular blonde brownies recipe that, if you believe the comments, have earned awards at local cooking competitions.

One breakfast: National Egg Month, National Hot Tea Month, & National Oatmeal Month

 Inspired by having one dinner that celebrated multiple food observations, I decided to try a breakfast that did the same.  The result was the meal you see here.

To celebrate National Egg Month, I opted to make what I call an omelette.  It's amazing how many variations of omelettes there are and just how vigorously some people will argue over what exactly constitutes an omelette.  Apparently, even the spelling is up for discussion!  Omelette or omelet? 

Well, as with all my omelettes, it had veggies and lots of 'em.  I always keep a bag of frozen veggies in my freezer to add to dishes and omelettes are one of those dishes.  In addition to the standard mix that comes in the bag, I added mushrooms and celery leaves.  (What?  You throw those away?  They're perfect for soups and omelettes!)  I cooked those in the frying pan with no oil until they've thawed, added two beaten eggs, and then cooked it, flipping it once.  If you want fluffy omelettes, add oil, water, or milk when beating the eggs.  You can add anything to omelettes - vegetables, cheese, meat.  In fact, that's one reasons why omelettes are great for breakfast when you have picky eaters present - you can easily customise omelettes.  Sometimes, the omelette will stick to the pan or fall apart.  If this happens, don't worry - just mix it all up and call it a breakfat scramble.  Throw the mixture into a burrito and call it a breakfast burrito.

For omelette toppings, I opted to combine catsup and some Korean sweet and spicy sauce.  Normally, it's just one or the other but today I felt like mixing it up.  Other things I'll top my omelettes with?  Soy sauce, salsa, or bruschetta topping.  I've never mixed those together.

Since it's Oatmeal Month, I decided to have a bowl of one of my favorite oatmeals.  While making your own oatmeal is easy and super cheap, I do keep on hand some "Just Add Water" oatmeal packets.  Lately, I've been loving the oatmeals from BetterOats.  They have a few lines of oatmeal, most notably a line with flax seeds added.  The BetterOats brand oatmeals are a bit different than the other "just add water" oatmeals - these specifically come with the directions to use the packet as a measuring cup for adding cold water and then to cook the oatmeal in the microwave.  I've been eating this brand of oatmeal for a little while now.  The last place I lived, the directions were perfect.  The microwave in my current place must be set high as the first couple of times I made oatmeal, it exploded all over the microwave.  I now cook the oatmeal about 30 seconds less than recommended.  I also add cinnamon to oatmeal no matter what.

It's also National Hot Tea Month and I celebrate that pretty much every day.  I just haven't remembered to talk about it.  The other day, I had someone call me a "Tea Addict."  Granted, she called me that because I was on the third 16 ounce mug of tea she had seen that day.  (She didn't know about the 16ounces I had with breakfast.)

I know some tea purists sniff their noses at anyone drinking bagged tea.  While I wish I had the time to properly prepare loose-leaf tea everytime I drink tea, it's just not something I have the time to do with as much tea as I drink.  I always have both loose-leaf and bagged tea.  Loose-leaf is great for weekends when I'm not rushed and is wonderful because I can blend my own teas.  Bagged tea is great to keep a tea bag in my purse or for when I'm rushing out the door with my travel mug because I'm late for class.

The tea with breakfast was Teavana's Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls Green Tea.  I love green tea.  Black is okay if it has overtones of floral, vanilla, or orange.  White teas aren't bad either - I just think they're almost too delicate for me and I have  yet to find a red I like.  As for tisanes (herbal teas), I'll drink the occasional chamomile at night.  When drinking green, I add nothing.  Most black tea, I'll add a little sugar, sometimes cream.  Herbal teas, I'll add honey.

Also on the note of National Hot Tea month, I have to give a shout out to Teavana's Perfect Teamaker.  That's what I used to prep my tea.  I don't always use it for tea prep, but it is very easy to use and clean.  Plus, I always have fun watching the leaves unfurl and I don't have a glass teapot yet.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21: Granola Bar Day & New England Clam Chowder Day

Granola Bar Day

Granola bars are awesome when you're hiking or camping.  Or when you find yourself stuck in a class or meeting and you start getting distracted by a growing hunger.  Whether you like crunchy granola bars or chewy granola, granola bars are handy little snacks.

Store-bought granola bars can sometimes have ingredients you weren't expecting, so always check the ingredient list.  You can always make your own granola bars, too.  In honor of Granola Bar Day, CDKitchen has a round up of granola bar recipes.  If you like a certain brand of granola bars, make sure to check the brand's website for coupons.

As for me, I do keep at least one box of granola bars handy and usually have one in my bag. 

New England Clam Chowder Day

I'm not a huge fan of heavy, creamy soups.  I prefer my soups to be light and broth-based, so I don't eat New England Clam Chowder very often.  Clam chowder can be hit or miss- some people make it too salty.  New England Clam Chowder is good when paired with crackers.  Food Network has a highly rated recipe of New England Clam Chowder.  Epicurious has a New England Clam Chowder recipe that uses bacon.  AllRecipes also has a recipe that uses bacon. I guess bacon makes it really taste good - just look at the number of reviews and the average rating!

Well, if you have a bowl of New England Clam Chowder today, not only are you celebrating the day, you're also celebrating National Soup Month!

Friday, January 20, 2012

National Wheat Bread Month, National Soup Month, National Bread Machine Baking Month

I've been keeping up with the daily food celebrations, but I can't help but feel I'm lacking on the month and week food celebrations.  I just don't blog as much as I anticipated.  I did manage to make a dinner this week that touched on multiple food month celebrations.  Let's take a look at the dinner.

First, bread made in the bread machine!  There!  That knocks out National Bread Machine Baking Month.  Wait!  It was a 50-50 wheat bread... there's National Wheat Bread Month!  Sweet! And since it's been cold and rainy, soup is the perfect thing to warm me up.  (National Soup Month!)

The bread was made following the "Fifty-Fifty Whole Wheat Bread" recipe from More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway.  Not only was it a hit with wheat-bread-loving me, the roomie liked it, too, and the recipe was officially labeled a "Yay!" recipe.  (We tend to sort new recipes as "yay," "needs a little tweaking," "meh," and "ew, never again.")  The bread was so tasty, it only lasted a few days, so I didn't get as many pictures of it as I had hoped.  In fact, that's the last piece there with dinner.  It was had as toast with jam, butter, or honey, used to make cheese toast, and used in a sandwich.  I did add a little more water than the recipe called for, as the bread machine seemed like it was struggling.  Pictures of the bread at the start of the cycle and at the end:

The majority of my soups these days are made from scratch.  Soup's just so easy to make.  In fact, Grist called soup a "packaged food you never need to buy again."  If you're scared to jump right in and start making soups completely from scratch, you can always buy a soup mix and toss it in the crock pot.  Crock pots make soup making easy - just toss in some veggies, some liquid (broth, water, milk) and just let the crock pot cook away.  Looking for a recipe?  Whole Foods recently tweeted a link to Heart Greens Soup.

Truthfully, there's always a day or two when I didn't start up the crockpot, I have no leftover soup in the freezer, I'm lazy, or I'm hungry and I want to eat IMMEDIATELY.  For those days, I do turn to packaged soup.  For some people, sodium is a concern but some packaged soups are low in sodium - you just have to hunt through all the labels.  If you're worried that soup in cans can expose you to BPAs, there's always soup in boxes or paper containers from soup counters.  The soup pictured here became mine because my roomie didn't like it.  She felt the onion flavor was too strong (she doesn't like onions) but I thought it was just fine.  If my basil plants hadn't succumbed to the cold, I would've added a little basil to the bowl, if only for color.

Then, because I felt the dinner needed more vegetables and something green, I added some leftover broccoli raab.  (Remember, make half your plate fruits and vegetables!) This broccoli raab was cooked in a saute pan with some garlic and almond slivers.  If you like broccoli, you'd probably like broccoli raab.  If you can't find it in the grocery store, it may be hiding under a different name, but it basically looks like broccoli if it was stretched and had smaller florets.

January 20: Cheese Lover's Day & Buttercrunch Day

Cheese Lover's Day

Cheese is tasty and super-versatile.  With cheese, you can make quesadillas for a quick snack, side-dish, or appetizer.  With cheese, you can make a sandwich where cheese is the star ingredient (Grilled Cheese Sandwich) or the finishe touch on a sandwich with other fixings.  Top your omelettes with cheese.  Bake a dish featuring cheese (lasagna, souffle, cheese pizza, etc.)  Pair it with wine.  Or just eat cheese alone. There's just so much you can do with cheese.

Well, I figure most cheese lovers already enjoy cheese in as many dishes as they can and try all the various cheeses at stores, so in honor of Cheese Lover's Day, I've put together a list of cheese factory tours that Cheese Lovers should visit.   (I'm a sucker for factory tours - even if I have no interest in the product being made!  I just like knowing how things are made!)  There are so many places you can go see cheese being made, either on a small scale or on a large scale.
I'm actually going to stop with the factory tours now.  There are cheese  factories everywhere.  If I list for each state, this entry would be huge!  Just head on over to Google and search for a cheese making tour near you.

Other places for cheese lovers to go to:
  •  Local farms and dairies (not just those with cheese factories.)  Many farmers love talking about what they do and will gladly tell you about their products and the animals that produce the products.
  • Wineries.  Even if you're not a wine drinker, wineries are great places for cheese lovers.  They typically stock good cheeses that pair well with their wines.  Some places will have local cheeses on hand and give you contact info for your local farmer.
  • Cheese restaurants.  TIME had an article in 2009 about restaurants for the cheese lover  Or how about a cheese bar?  Cheesetique, a cheese and wine bar in Virginia, even offers classes for cheese lovers.
  • Grocery stores.  I know this seems like an odd suggestion, but grocery stores with a specialty cheese section, like Bristol Farms and Whole Foods, will usually let you try a cheese before you buy.  Some stores constantly  have new cheeses out for you to try.  I love buying cheese at Whole Foods because there's always a selection of "Under $4" cheeses.  Sometimes these are familiar cheeses, but most often they're cheeses I've never heard of and may not be willing to buy a whole lot of.  So I buy a small "Under $4"  chunk and avoid the risk of buying a huge chunk of cheese I may not like.
Quick easy way to celebrate Cheese Lover's Day?  Cheese toast!  My friend Carrie loves to have cheese toast for breakfast, while I like to have it as a snack or paired with a hot bowl of tomato soup.  I'm not sure how everyone else makes their cheese toast, but here's how I make mine: toast a slice of bread, sprinkle it with shredded cheese of choice, add herbs if I'm feeling like it (rosemary pairs really well with cheddar), and broil it in the oven just until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.  You have to keep a close eye on the bread when you broil it - you can quickly burn it.

Buttercrunch Day

Trying to figure out what "buttercrunch" is reminded me very much of trying to figure out what English Toffee is.  In all honesty, I'm still puzzled what buttercrunch is, as it seems like it's toffee with butter in it, which is what I thought English Toffee was.  I guess I'll have to find a candy book to figure out the difference.  In the meantime, Better Homes and Gardens has a Toffee Butter Crunch recipe that looks salivatingly good.  Apparently, Almond Rocas are buttercrunch toffees.  I've ate so many of those candies when I was younger that adults always warned me my teeth would fall out.

Of course, after telling me this, they'd eat a piece or two.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: Popcorn Day

Popcorn is such an awesome snack.  For some people, it's a staple at the movies.  (Not for me - when I'm at the movies, I get Icees.  Preferably red ones.)  Some people drench it in butter.  Some prefer kettle corn.  Some prefer their popcorn drizzled with chocolates and nuts.  Or how about popcorn with caramel and nuts mixed in?

Popcorn is a whole grain food and is pretty darn good for you.  The benefits of whole grain are pretty much touted everywhere these days.  The problem with popcorn, though, is what you add to the popcorn.  Do you add excessive amounts of butter?  Or cover each piece completely in chocolate sauce before eating it?

Popcorn also makes a great party snack.  It's cheap and if you have access to one of the mini-popcorn-machines, you can have a blast making the popcorn.  Having a huge party or a wedding with a carnival or movie theme?  Consider renting a large popcorn maker - it's sure to be a hit.

While I enjoy the occasional box of CrackerJacks or MooseMunch, when I make popcorn at home I try to keep it fairly healthy.  My preferred go-to-popcorn-toppings are typically found in the spice rack: paprika, chili, cinnamon, spice mixes, garlic powder, pepper...  I'll go through phases of what I want on my popcorn.  Currently, it's the spice mix you see pictured.  Remember - I like my food spicy.

So in honor of National Popcorn Day, I made some popcorn to nosh on while watching my free Redbox rental.  (I love how they give a free code every month!)  I made quite a bit.  The large silver bowl is the unflavored popcorn, front left is buttered popcorn, and mine is the popcorn front right.  The only downside to how I eat popcorn?  Without oil of some sort, the spice has a tendency to fall off and settle to the bottom of the bowl.  This means I'm always trying to scoop up as much spice as possible with the last pieces of popcorn.

A long time ago, I stopped consuming microwave popcorn.  Since I also don't have an air popper anymore, I pop my popcorn on the stove in a saucepan.  This never ceases to amaze my friends - they've all gotten so used to microwave popcorn and air poppers that the "old-fashioned" way of making popcorn is fascinating to them.  It's really simple, too - heat a little oil in a sauce pan, add 2-3 kernels of corn, when the kernels pop, add more kernels, constantly move the pan to keep from burning the popcorn, and then keep on heat until all the kernels have popped.

On a final note, air poppers are fun because if you angle a bowl just right, you can get the popcorn to shoot off in many directions and then everyone tries to catch the popcorn.  Granted, you end up with a huge mess, but you'll laugh until it hurts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18: Peking Duck Day

I can't recall eating Peking Duck.  I've had duck and I've had duck in Chinese restaurants, but what exactly is Peking Duck?  Well, according to this About.com site, peking duck takes a very long time to cook.  Over 10 hours!  Looks like most restaurants in the US don't follow this method (plus, I'm fairly certain it would be considered an unsafe prep method) and just roast a duck for a very long time with s mix of spices.  AllRecipes has a recipe that seems a lot more do-able than the About.com one.  I really can't see myself making Peking Duck at home, but I'll have to try it the next time I go out for Chinese.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Plotting a calendar

As part of my prep for this blog, I was checking my Meredith calendar against various calendars on the web.  The Meredith calendar lists one food for each day, probably in the interest of space, but some days are days where multiple foods are featured.  Some foods get more than one day!  (Which is totally not cool.  That's just greedy.)  Some calendars disagree on certain days - for example, one calendar says Popcorn Day is Jan 19, while another says Jan 31.  (And don't even get me started on Waffle Day - I've got five different dates so far!) I'll need to do a little more legwork to figure out how to resolve some of these conflicts.

One things I have noticed, though, is a sad lack of vegetables.  Oh, there's a Vegetarian Month and week, and a "Eat Your Fruits and Veggies" day, but no "Collards Day" or "Broccoli Day."  At least, I haven't found those.  Perhaps, if I manage to keep this blog going for the full  year, my next project would be to create a "healthy" or "vegetable" calendar where each day is honoring a different vegetable. Maybe I could even get different groups to join in and help promote the days.  Doable?  Maybe.  We'll see how I go with this blog first.

January 17: Hot Buttered Rum Day

I like rum. I'm not a fan of butter.  I suppose this is a side effect of being a nutrition student  I only ever have butter around if I'm going to be baking, but I don't use it on toast or anything.  So when I read "Hot Buttered Rum Day,"  I thought to myself, "Must be butterscotch flavored rum.  No way anyone would actually drink butter."

Self, you were so wrong.

A quick search turns up an Emeril recipe at Food Network for Hot Buttered Rum.  I nearly gagged when I read the recipe.  Yet, it has such a high rating.  Maybe people really do enjoy consuming melted butter in their drinks - I just can't fathom it.  I like the idea of the spices, but not the butter.  I'd rather just have the rum, thank you.  Epicurious also has a Hot Buttered Rum recipe. It's not as highly rated as the Emeril one, but I'm not going to be drinking either one, so you'll have to let me know how the two compare.

While I'm sure it tastes good, I don't think I'd be able to get over the fact that I'm basically drinking a couple of tablespoons of melted butter with my alcohol.  The thought sends shudders down my spine and I feel my heart cringing, while my tongue tries to convince my brain that this is something I need to try.

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16: International Hot and Spicy Food Day & Fig Newton Day

Fig Newton Day

I need to start looking ahead more on the calendar.  Had I realized it was Fig Newton Day, I might have purchased a package.  I can't recall the last time I had a Fig Newton or one of the "Fig Newton Wannabes" (I suppose those are more accurately called fig bar cookies) but I do remember them being fairly tasty.  True Fig Newtons are the fig-flavored ones but the strawberry ones are yummy, too.  They don't do well as a "toss-'em-in-a-bag" snack - you need to keep in them a hard-sided container if you're going to have them as a take-along snack because they're so soft. 

International Hot and Spicy Food

I think I celebrate this day more often than any other day.  I love, love, LOVE spicy food.  Kimchee, Korean hot pot, Chinese Hot and Sour Soup.... all foods I've had in the last couple of weeks.  I top just about everything with a probably-not-healthy-for-me helping of crushed red peppers.  Jalepeños are a staple in my fridge and I recently bought piquins.  (Supposedly, they rank at 70,000 Scoville units but I nibbled on one without any problems.)  Habañero salasa?  Love it.

I have a habit of eating spicy foods, even when I shouldn't.  At House of Blues once, I ordered a jambalaya that was decorated with a pepper.  I can't remember the name of the pepper, but the waitress warned me not to eat it, claiming it was "the hottest pepper you could get."  I seriously doubt that now that I've done more research on peppers, but when she took our plates at the end of dinner, I had eaten most of the pepper, which had shocked her.

The only time I can come up with a pepper besting me is when I went to dinner with friends at Stone Brewery in Escondido, CA. A friend ordered a dish with "Thai peppers" and accidentally injested one.  She ended up claiming all the liquid at the table and then some.  Extremely wary of the peppers now, she gave them to me.  I nibbled on one and felt my lips go numb.  I was in heaven.

I don't know if there's something broken with my taste receptors or if I just love the challenge of eating spicier and spicier foods, but I love it when I find something truly spicy.  If someone swears up and down it's spicy, I'm gonna eat it.  I love the shows Heat Seekers and Man v. Food.  I frequenly bookmark the places they go to and plan roadtrips.  I recently saw a repeat episode of Man v. Food where Adam Richmond went to San Jose for a wings challenge.  Watching that show, I was getting annoyed that I've never been to Smoke Eaters so it's now on my list.  I'd love to eat the Hellfire Challenge, but I couldn't do it - I just don't eat that fast.  I could probably handle the burn, but there is no way I can eat 12 wings in 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15: Strawberry Ice Cream Day and Fresh Squeezed Juice Day

Again with the non-seasonal food!  On my hike today, I was completely bundled up and using the little pocket heaters to keep my fingers from going numb.  A couple of times, I found myself slurring while I was talking because my lips and cheeks had gone numb from the cold.

So ice cream has probably been the last thing on my mind today, but today is Strawberry Ice Cream Day.  I do love strawberry ice cream- just not when it's pretty much freezing outside.  Strawberry ice cream in the summer when it's in the 90s?  Yes please!  Whenever my dad would bring home neapolitan ice cream, the pink stripe would disappear first.

A friend of mine has an ice cream maker and loves it.  An ice cream maker doesn't really have a place in my life as I don't need any one-use appliances that I would only use a few times a year, but I am looking at getting the ice cream extension to the KitchenAid stand mixer.  Still, it won't get a lot of use so we'll see.

Fresh Squeezed Juice Day

If you prefer concentrated juice to fresh squeezed juice, please let me know. Well, flavor wise, as I suppose concentrated or purchased juices are definite time savers when compared to fresh squeezed juice.  But nothing beats fresh squeezed juice when it comes to flavor. 

Fresh squeezed lemonade ranks easily as my number one drink.  Adding crushed fresh strawberries just makes it even tastier.  My mom loves fresh squeezed passionfruit juice and will mix it with crushed blueberries.  Friends of mine have expressed preference for fresh squeezed grapefruit, orange, and tangerine juices.  Personally, I think it's a travesty to not eat tangerines, but when you think about it, the only fruits you can squeeze are citrus fruits.  Everything else you have to crush or puree.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

National Soup Month

Definitely cold enough for soup today.  Using some daikon, bonito flakes, shiitake mushrooms, collards, and some miso paste, I threw together a a quick soup.  Not a traditional miso soup by a long shot, but it was tasty.  And hot.  That was the important part - it warmed me up.

I've also been thumbing through The International Soup book.  Many, many tasty looking soups in that book.  There's a lentil soup in there I may just have to try.

January 14: Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

One thing you'll learn about me if you continue reading this blog is that there are a lot of food I either don't eat or rarely eat.  Deli meats for example.  I'm not a huge meat eater in the first place, and I'm just so paranoid about how safe some foods are that I just don't eat deli meats a whole lot.  I do eat black forest ham and pastrami on occasion, though. 

Since today is "National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day," I read up on pastrami.  Now I know why my Romanian friends love it - pastrami is Romanian!  I also didn't realize that real pastrami is brined - I thought it was just seasoned with lots of spices. 

Pastrami sandwiches have such a devoted fanbase that there is a thread over at Chowhound on making the perfect pastrami sandwich.  I'm personally a fan of a pastrami panini.  I like paninis because paninis are less likely to fall apart on me when compared to most sandwiches.  Oh, the pastrami sandwiches with big fluffy hoagie rolls are good too, but I prefer paninis.

I suppose my perfect hot pastrami sandwich would be some slices of really good, spicy pastrami, with hot mustard (not that plain yellow stuff!), a slightly toasted white bread, then using a panini press to smush it all together.  Add a side dish of cucumber, pepperocini, and tomato salad and some salt & vinegar chips and I'd call it done.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13: Peach Melba Day

Maintaining this blog has been educational.  It makes me learn about foods I've never been exposed to or have never tried.  Today is a great example of that.  Until today, I've only heard of peach melbas but I didn't know what they were.  A quick internet search teaches me that peach melbas are peaches, raspberry sauce, and ice cream.  I also learned that peach melbas are named after opera singer, Nellie Melba, and that there is a whole bunch of foods named after people.  I didn't realize so many foods names after people existed and I've never heard of a majority of these foods.  Maybe that could be a side project one day - reading the biographies of people who have food named in honor of them.

Peach melbas sound easy to make and maybe one day I'll make one.  Again, though, I am confused: why this food on this day?  Oh, I understand that marketers get involved, but why on earth a day in January for a food that features traditionally summer food?  Peaches and raspberries are summer foods for me and I'm sitting here with an electric blanket- cold foods like ice cream are so not on my must eat list right now.  Maybe it's the longing for summer that pushes us to have food holidays that feature summer foods in winter.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

National Soup Month, courtesy of Whole Foods

I haven't really been doing as much as I thought I would be for the "month" foods.  I'll get some up soon, but in the meantime, Whole Foods has a blog entry in honor of National Soup Month.  It's going to be cold enough this weekend that all I'll probably want will be soup, so I'll probably really truly celebrate it this weekend.  Actually, it'll be cold enough to celebrate both National Soup Month and National Hot Tea Month!

January 12: Curried Chicken Day

When I saw that today was Curried Chicken Day, I immediately thought, "Whoo!  I'll make Curry Rice and use chicken in my curry!"  Then I thought about it some more.  Curried Chicken Day.  Not Curry Rice with Chicken Day.  What the heck was Curried Chicken Day?  Was it just making curry with chicken and no veggies?  Could I rub curry spice on chicken, grill it and call it curried chicken?  What about quickly stir-frying some chicken and sprinkling some curry spice on it?

So I turned to the cookbooks.  I had picked up a recipe card from Penzey's Spices for "Curried Chicken and Vegetables" - nah, I'd have to buy a lot more spices.  Thumbed through Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson to "Chicken and Cashew Nut Curry" - again, don't have all the spices.  The American Heart Association cookbook has a Curried Pork recipe...nah, not interested. 

So I turned to friends.  Turns out, one friend swears by using Thai Kitchen's Curry Paste and the recipe that comes on the green curry paste.  So, I picked up some of the Thai Kitchen's Green Curry Paste and looked at the recipe. 

I didn't follow it. 

Oh, it was inspiration, but I didn't want to use my coconut milk (that's for when I make mochi!) and it still seemed more like a curry recipe than a curried chicken recipe.  So I did what I usually do - I improvised.  I threw a bunch of stuff together in a baking dish and tossed it in the oven...

and this is what came out!

Okay, so it looks a little bland, color-wise.  Next time I do something like this, I think I'm going to toss in some green peas to kick up the vegetable and color components.  Lack of color aside, it came out pretty darn tasty!  I ate half of it and saved the rest for tomorrow's lunch. 

Feeling like duplicating what I did?  Probably no, but in case you are, here's how my Curried Chicken with Onions came to be.
  • Cut one chicken thigh into bite sized pieces.  Toss into a baking dish.
  • On another cutting board (always use separate cutting boards) slice up one small brown onion.  Toss slices into baking dish.
  • Scoop out some curry paste into dish.
  • Splash some fish sauce into the dish.  Pause.  Look at stuff in baking dish.  Shrug and splash in some more fish sauce.
  • Look at stuff in baking dish again and decide to sprinkle curry powder on chicken.
  • Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for 20 minutes, covered with lid for baking dish.  Remove from oven, stir everything together, replace the cover, and cook for another 20 minutes. 
I ate it with some rice (a brown and white mixture), kimchee, mixed vegetables, and a glass of almond milk.  Dessert was a small bowl of cranberry sauce. As I stated before, I think next time I'll add some peas.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11: Milk Day and National Hot Toddy Day

Milk Day

I think everyone knows what milk is.  It's that white liquid that you pick up in the dairy section, in plastic gallon containers or in cardboard containers.  In some places,- Britain, I've been told, is a good example- the milk is made shelf-stable and sits in boxes in non-refridgerated shelves.  In class, we've worked with dry milk which was an entirely new experience for me.  You can have soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk...  Yeah, they aren't really milk since they technically didn't come from a mammal, but for people with lactose intolerance or for vegans, they're good alternatives.  And any of the shelf-stable stuff, whether it's the soy milk or the dry milk or the UHT, is good to have in your emergency kits.  (You do have an emergency kit, right?)

So, I figure most people are familiar with milk, so I thought I'd use today's post to talk about a milk many in the US may not be familiar with: camel milk.  Yep, you can get camel milk in the US.  Camels are great sources of milk in areas that are extremely dry with poor forage.  Many desert and nomad cultures place great importance on camels.

Until recently, it was illegal to sell camel milk in the US.  If you owned a camel, you could drink its milk, but you couldn't sell it.  Laws have changed and now, depending on the state, you can get camel's milk.   Some people claim it can cure various disorders, but I haven't read any of the papers and I'm not doing any of the research so I can't make a statement.  In the meantime, I'll keep remaining doubtful that any one food can cure anything.  Be part of a healthy diet?  Sure.  Cure something? Eh....

Still, that doesn't keep me from thinking camels are adorable and wanting to go to a camel dairy.  (Camels might smell, but their lips are so soft and they're adorably comical!)  So where are these mythical camel dairies in the US, you ask?  Well, I can only find one that you can visit: Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, CA (near San Diego).  It's not producing camel milk for human consumption yet, but they do have tours on select days.  Supposedly there are other camel dairies around, but I can't seem to find any internet presence.  I can only speculate that the other "dairies" are small scale and not really "dairies" but are instead farms with one or two camels.

National Hot Toddy Day

The first time I heard of a "hot toddy" was when I was out in the desert, which gets extremely cold at night, and I asked for a hot tea, honey, and lemon.  When my order arrived, my friend asked if I wanted a hot toddy, explained what it was, and then added some whiskey from her flask.  (I'm still a little surprised at how many of my friends have multiple flasks and use them.)  Apparently, I now had a Southern-style Hot Toddy.

According to Wikipedia ("According to Wikipedia."  I wonder how many times a day that get's said.  That should be a book title.  But I digress!) a hot toddy is any hot drink with alcohol.  That's it?  Psh!  Then I've had plenty of hot toddies!  Another friend holds a huge Christmas party every year and serves delicious mulled cider.  And Swedish glögg?   MMM!  (There's tasty Swedish glögg at the December Nights celebration every year - I highly recommend it!)

But my favorite "hot toddy" would be a drink I learned from a former roommate.  We just called it alcoholic hot chocolate.  I think Chocolate Hot Toddy sounds more distinguished, so I'm going to call it that from now on.  To make a Chocolate Hot Toddy, make your favorite hot chocolate and when you pour it into a mug, leave a little room.  Then add Godiva Chocolate Liqueur to taste.  For variation, try adding Godiva White Chocolate liqueur or some Bailey's.  If you want it minty, you could try a little creme de menthe.  Or a little stronger?  Try adding a little vanilla vodka.  That's the beauty of a Chocolate Hot Toddy - it's customizable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 10th: Bittersweet Chocolate Day

Now this is a day I can easily celebrate.  I love bittersweet chocolate (a.k.a. extra dark chocolate) and I try to make sure to eat at least a piece a day.  (It's good for both your brain and your heart!)  It's usually my afternoon snack or my dessert at night.  Sometimes, I'll use it in something like a microwave s'more or crushed and sprinkled into my yogurt. 

When I was younger, I couldn't stand chocolate.  I still don't really care for chocolate cake or ice cream (I much prefer vanilla in both cases), but as an adult, I find I really like dark chocolate.  Milk chocolate is too sweet and white chocolate is even sweeter.  Finding a chocolate I like was hard at first because I was also trying to stick with companies whose business practices I found ethical.  I once read a collection of food essays (I think it was Food for Thought by Rubin, but I can't be sure) and one essay was about the mostly unethical chocolate industry.  After reading that essay and learning about the links chocolate has to child slavery and damage to the environment, I vowed to only buy from companies I thought had good practices.  Stop Chocolate Slavery has a pretty thorough list of chocolate companies and whether or not they claim to be organic and/or fair trade.  I do occasionally buy from Chuao Chocolates, even though they're not organic, because one of the owners presented at the Science of Chocolate and was impressive.  It still has that small family feel and the shop in La Jolla is always nice to visit.

However, I have to admit my go-to chocolate these days is Taza Chocolate.  (It's found at most Whole Foods.)  It really reminds me of the chocolate you buy in Mexico - slightly grainy, rich, flavorful, and just dissolves in your mouth.  It's not listed on Stop Chocolate Slavery, but claims to be Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified and USDA Organic.

Some places, though, I can't find Taza or it is just out of my budget for the day. Another chocolate that I like to buy is Endangered Species chocolate, specifically the 88% with the blank panther on the packaging.  If I'm feeling indulgent or craving something really sweet, I'll go for the 77% with almonds and cranberries (the one with the wolf on the packaging.)  Normally, though, when I'm trying a new brand, I'll reach for the 85% or higher, as that's what I like best. 

I've tried 99% chocolate and I just don't like it.  Yet, I love taking cocoa beans, taking off the outer shell, and then nibbling away on the bean.  Most people prefer to crush the beans and use them as topping because many people find the bean to be bitter.  For some reason, I don't but I still can't stand the 99% chocolate.  I'm not sure why, but for me, 100% cocoa = awesome, 99% = ew!, and 88% cocoa= awesome.

Another chocolate I like is SweetRiot.  Those cute little tins filled with chocolate-coated cocoa nibs are perfect to keep in my purse or backpack.  When I have the urge for chocolate, one or two of those little nibs can help making the craving go away.  They're USDA Organic and are working on earning their fair trade certification.  I'm not sure of all the places you can find Sweet Riot, but I know you can find them at REI, Whole Foods and the SweetRiot website.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9th: Apricot Day

When I first saw that January 9th was Apricot Day, I scratched my head and went, "Huh?"  I've always associated apricots with summer.  My troop leader had an apricot tree, so every year our entire troop spent one summer Saturday picking apricots and making apricot jams.  One of my friends loves apricots and, every summer, if she offers you an apricot, you know you're a friend of hers because she doesn't part with fresh apricots for just anyone.

So I was a little confused to see that Apricot Day was in January.  Turns out most of the apricots in the US are imported.  A lot come from Turkey and Australia and you can find them year-round, dried.  So when we're in the middle of winter and US-grown  apricots are pretty much non-existent, the fruit is ready elsewhere in the world.  At least, that's why I'm guessing it's in January. 

Some apricots are grown in the US, with California growing the most and Washington and Utah also producing apricots.  You can buy California-grown apricots at Apricot King.  Not sure where you can buy Washington or Utah-grown apricots online, but SavorWA can help you find apricots if you're in Washington.  Seattle Can Can has some really good apricots recipes if you happen to find yourself with an excess of apricots.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2nd week of Jan: National Pizza Week

It's National Pizza Week!  Whether you like your pizza delivered, made from scratch, or simply popped into the oven from the freezer, pizza is one of the most versatile foods ever.  You can personalize it in so many ways. 

In honor of National Pizza Week, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite places to get pizza.
  • Pizza Fusion is one of my favorite places to get pizza.  If there's a Pizza Fusion where I'm traveling to, I make sure to eat there.  Pizza Fusion is cool for the fact that they offer gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian pizza options.  Plus, the whole wheat crust?  This is the first place I've found where I love the whole wheat crust more than the regular crust.  Definitely check out Pizza Fusion if there's one near you.
  • Lily's Pizza in Raleigh, NC, is a pretty cool pizza place.  Maybe it's just the slightly skateboarder-y vibe to the place or it's the fact that the pizza there is absolutely delicious, but I like visiting it.  Plus, any place that puts jalapenos on pizza gets my approval.
  • Gourmet Pizza Shoppe in Redlands, CA, is chock full of creative (some might say "weird") pizza creations but I have loved everything I've had here.  I've been known to order one pizza to eat while there, one dessert pizza to share with friends there, and then 4-5 pizzas to-go.  I take those back home and wrap them and freezing them for later consumption.  Peanut butter on pizza?  Definitely sounded weird at first, but it's surprisingly good.  Check out the menu, especially the "...on a pizza?" section.
  • BeauJo's in Denver, CO, has a very tasty garlic pizza.  Like Pizza Fusion, you can have gluten-free crust if you need it.  The Honey Whole Wheat crust is a favorite of mine - I love honey breads, so of course I love honey crusts.  Plus, the descriptions of the pizza sizes amused me.
  • Pizza Port in Carlsbad, CA, is awesome.  Every year they have a Strong Ale Fest and I love going there.  They have an absolutely delicious pizza called the Festival Pizza which has sausage and sauerkraut.  Sounds weird, but it's oh-so-tasty.  They only make the Festival Pizza when they're having a special event, so be sure to check the calendar.  There are multiple Pizza Ports in the San Diego area, and all have their own flair and serve tasty pizzas, but the Carlsbad location is the only one with the Strong Ale Fest.  Plus, if you're an Angels or Padres fan (I love both teams), Pizza Port is the place to hang out during baseball season.
  • Delfina Pizzeria in San Francisco, CA, is cool for the fact that they use local ingredients.  I tried the broccoli raab pizza which was pretty good.  I haven't found anywhere else that uses broccoli raab on pizza.
  • Kate's Pizzeria in St. Louis, MO, had a pizza with parsnips. That was actually the first time I had parsnips and I couldn't understand why some people don't like them.  They're pretty darn good on pizza.
Now, you might notice that I listed no places in New York or Chicago.  That's because I have yet to go to either place.  I've had pizza from places that claim to have "New York style" or "Chicago style" pizza, but friends who have been to New York and Chicago always seem to say, "The pizza in New York (or Chicago) is nothing like this."  So I can't form an opinion on New York or Chicago pizza yet.  That's on my bucket list, though!

January 8th: English Toffee Day

Today is English Toffee Day!  I wasn't sure what the difference between regular toffee and English toffee was, so I hit up the internet trying to find an answer.  Apparently English toffee involves butter can be chewy or hard, and is different than what is identified as toffee in the UK.  I haven't been to the UK, but I'll have to have my British friends buy me some real English toffee so I can try it.

Cooking Light's forum has a thread discussing the diffeence between butter toffee and English toffee.  According to one poster there English toffee has raisins while another says that English toffee has chocolate and nuts on top.  I've had brittle like that.

Paula Deen has a English Toffee Recipe here.  Like all candy recipes, I really recommend using a candy thermometer.  You can do the water test if you feel comfortable with it, but candy thermometers just make it so much easier.  There's also a YouTube video on making English toffee.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 7: Tempura Day

I'm not a big fan of fried foods.  Oh, I've attended "Fried Food" parties where we all brought stuff to fry in a deep fryer and I crave french fries about once a year, but for the most part, I tend to avoid fried foods. 

Except for tempura.  It's pretty much the only fried food I really like.  Tempura is simply an assortment of vegetables dipped in a batter and then fried.  You can dip it in soy sauce, ponzu, or a spicier dip of your choice.  Popular in Japan, tempura can be eaten as the main part of the meal, accompanied with a bowl of miso soup and a bowl of rice, or tempura can be used as a component of a meal.  For example, large bowls of noodles will be topped with various vegetables, fishcakes, and one or two pieces of tempura (tempura soba or tempura ramen).  Some Japanese restaurants will have "combo boxes" where tempura shares the spotlight with another main dish (like teriyaki beef or chicken katsu) with rice, pickled vegetables, salad, and soup on the side.

When I make tempura, I like to use a Japanese batter mix.  Occasionally, I'll make the batter from scratch, but I find using the Japanese batter mix is usually better because it's hard to find the right flour to use.  For the vegetables, I love using sweet potatoes, asparagus, onions, green beans, kabocha, and bell peppers.  I'll use shrimp sometimes, but I only ever need one or two so I hardly ever buy shrimp and just go vegetarian with tempura.

Topping noodles with tempura causes the tempura to end up a little soggy.  Normally, the minute a food gets soggy, I don't want to eat it, but tempura?  Still good.  Using cold, leftover tempura to top Okinawa soba is one of my favorites things to do.  Reheating tempura in the microwave?  Not so much.  Somehow, eating tempura cold and slightly soggy on top of piping hot noodles is just pretty darn good.

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 6 - Shortbread Day, Bean Day and Three Kings Day

January 6th is Shortbread Day, Bean Day, and Three Kings Day.  Okay, okay... so Three Kings Day really isn't a food holiday, but there are so many food traditions to it that I had to give it a shout out.  I love the tradition of a King's Cake (link to recipe at AllRecipes), even though finding the "prize" really isn't a reward since it means you're responsible for hosting the next Three Kings Day party and providing the cake.  It's still a fun tradition and a reason to party. Every country (and some regsions/states/cites) has it's own tradition for Three Kings Day, but I'm most familiar with King's Cake.

January 6th = Shortbread Day. 

I have a particular fondness for Trefoils, the Girl Scout shortbread cookie.  (Not my favorite GS cookie by a long shot, but still good!)  My mom has a shortbread recipe that I really need to get from her.  She cuts hers into shapes using cookie cutters, but shortbread cookie molds always draw my eye.  I can't justify buying one, though - I just don't make shortbread often enough.  Instead of using a mold, I just cut it into triangles. 

Shortbread is pretty basic and easy to make.  Traditionally, shortbread is just butter, sugar, and flour.  Food Network Magazine has a pretty good, basic recipe for shortbread.   Whether you cut it into triangles, use molds, or just buy the cookies from the grocery store, shortbread cookies are pretty darn tasty.

Bean Day

Beans, beans, the musical fruit!  The more you eat, the more you toot! The more you toot, the better you feel.  Let's eat beans for every meal!

Are you familiar with that children's refrain?  Maybe you've heard a different version of it?  Well, even if this is the first time you've come accross that little ditty, you're probably aware that beans are really a fruit - they're legumes.  The USDA has a nice little explanation about why beans are a unique food, counting as both protein and vegetables.

In honor of Bean Day, I convinced one of my really good friends to share her bean salad recipe.  If you're missing a can of beans, you can always double up on another type.  As for the seasoning, she typically just uses McCormick's Italian Seasoning, but she's found that any Italian seasoning works, and will sometimes use Tuscan Sunset from Penzey's Spices.  She eats this just plain, but I think it pairs well with a slice of whole wheat toast. She also just drains her beans, but I prefer to rinse any canned beans.  This recipe is also vegan.

Sharon's Bean Salad
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 can wax beans, drained and rinsed
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can green beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of black olives, drained
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 tsp pepper
1 pinch salt
Italian seasoning to taste

Mix all together in a bowl.  Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

The original recipe calls for chopped red onion (1/2 cup) but she really dislikes onion and never eats it.  I like to add it back in and I like to add pepperocinis for a little extra kick.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 5 = Whipped Cream Day

Whipped cream, so light and airy, has many delicious uses.  You can have it on top of your espresso drink or hot cocoa.  Or on top of a fruity alcoholic drink.  If frosting on cakes is too sweet for you, try whipped cream instead.  Whipped cream + strawberries + Angel Food Cake = pure heaven.  Of course, there are plenty of adult  uses for whipped cream, but I'm trying to keep this blog family-friendly so you'll have to look those up on your own.  And let's not forget that Ali Larter's character in Varsity Blues made a fashion statement out of whipped cream.  You can try making a dress out of whipped cream but don't expect the outfit to last very long.  (Plus, I belive shaving cream was actually used in the film.)

When thinking of whipped cream, what comes to mind?  Is it Cool Whip in a tub that you have to scoop out with a spoon?  Or is it the whipped cream that comes in a can and you can spray it out?  Or do you make your own?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 4 = Spaghetti Day

January 4th is Spaghetti Day.  Spaghetti is pretty much the only Italian food I know I like.  (Yes, I like pizza, but from everything I've heard, pizza in Italy is nothing like the pizza in the US, so I can't say whether or not I like it.)  Whole wheat noodles, thin noodles, thick noodles, plain tomato sauce, lots of herbs, sauce with meat, meatless sauce, vegetables, no vegtables...  There are so many delicious possibilities with spaghetti.

My favorite way to make spaghetti?  Well, whole wheat noodles to start.  I've gotten past the whole "throw the noodle on the wall" thing to see if the noodles are cooked - I usually just eat one when I think the noodles are ready.  For the sauce, I tend to go meatless (my friend calls me a "Sometimes Omnivore") but if I add meat, it's maybe an ounce or two of cooked, lean ground beef. 

I have no real preference for sauce - storebought or homemade canned, I like it all.  Ragu, Prego, Newman's Own, store brand...  As long as it comes in a jar and is tomato based with no meat, I'll get it..  (Maybe because I add so much stuff...more on that in a bit.)  I just don't get the spaghetti sauce that comes in a can - all that worry about BPA leaching into tomatoes. 

Then the key to my spaghetti: veggies.  Lots and lots of veggies.

If you were to look at the ratios of my spaghetti, it's probably 1 part noodles, 1 part tomato-based sauce, 0-.5 part meat, and 5 parts vegetables.  I usually get a sauce with vegetables or mushrooms already, but then I always add my own.  Onions and garlic are always added in.  If I have fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers, they get added.  Same with zucchini and other squashes.  When I'm really lazy, I may just add a bag of frozen stir-fry veggie mix.

Now, it's time for  my favorite veggie: peppers.

The hotter the pepper, the happier I am.  Habañeros, Anaheims, fresh jalepeños - I love them all.  If I don't have any fresh pepper, I'll add two or three tablespoons of crushed red pepper to my spaghetti sauce.  Sometimes, I'll add some salsa, just for an extra kick.

How do you have your spaghetti?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 3rd = Fruitcake Toss Day and Chocolate-Filled Cherry Day/Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day

Fruitcake Toss Day

Time for a confession!  (Already?)  I've never eaten fruitcake.  Really.  I've always been interested in trying some, since everybody claims fruitcake is terrible.  I've thought about buying fruitcake, but somehow I got the notion that fruitcake is something you give - purchasing one for yourself would break some secret societal norm.  So I've never had one.

Every year at the Holiday White Elephant party, a fruitcake (rumored to be the same one year after year) would put in an appearance.  I never did end up with it and I always wondered about this persisting rumor that people regift fruitcake the next holiday season.  As much as I would like to try fruitcake, there is no way in the world I'd eat one that was a year or more old.

So, if you have fruitcake leftover or fruitcake that you never opened, give it the old heave-ho today.  It's probably too old to be safe, so toss it out.

Chocolate-Filled Cherry Day / Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day

Some sources say that today is Chocolate-Filled Cherry Day while others say it is Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day.  I have never seen a chocolate-filled cherry and a quick bit of internet-sleuthing turned up nothing useful. It would be an interesting candy, though - maybe one day I'll have to try making it.  I'll start with maraschino cherries (as chemically-soaked as they are, I do have a soft spot and smile-inducing memories for maraschino cherries) and then I could inject some chocolate cream inside (much lik with the cream puffs).  Or...ooh!  Even better!  Start with fresh cherries, remove the pits, and place a couple of chocolate chips in the vacancy created by the pit.  Maybe even roast them slightly to melt the chocolate.  If anyone does this, please document the experiment for future generations. 

Chocolate-covered cherries, on the other hand, are pretty easy to find, especially during the holiday months of August (when Christmas marketing begins) through February (Valentine's Day).  There may even be some around during March and April (Easter).  In honor of today, I ate half a chocolate-covered cherry from a box of See's chocolates (yes, I'm the kind of person who cuts all the chocolates in half to see what's inside). 

Making chocolate-covered cherries is probably a great deal easier than making chocolate-filled cherries.  Still, I think I'll give it a shot someday.