Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29: National Surf and Turf Day

Surf and Turf - a common menu option in steakhouses.  I've only ever seen surf and turf as steak and lobster, but some places will serve shrimp instead of lobster. has a page touching on the history of surf and turf.  Interestingly enough, it seems that "surf and turf" is a relatively new thing in the culinary world with the first mention in the 60s.  There isn't a whole lot out there about surf and turf but The Nibble does a good job of rounding up what information is available. 

When I think about the nutrition of the average surf and turf dish, I can't help but think it's probably a good thing that National Surf and Turf Day is celebrated once every four years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28: National Chocolate Souffle Day

75% of the time, today would be the last day of the month, National Chocolate Lover's Month/Chocolate Month, and National Chocolate Souffle Day would be the perfect way to end the month.  Well, this year isn't in that 75%, but it's still National Chocolate Souffle Day!

I've never made a chocolate souffle, but I have made souffle in the past.  Twice, both for one lab because my first was a disaster.  If you're careful and patient souffles are pretty easy, but if you rush any part of the process... you end up with a hot mess.  NPR has some information about the science involved in making the perfect souffle.  If you feel like giving it a shot, Reluctant Gourmet and Real Simple both have recipes that look pretty good. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27: National Strawberry Day and National Kahlua Day

National Strawberry Day

I grew up in the Strawberry Capital of the World.  At least, I thought it was - that's how it was touted by the tourism board and we had the California Strawberry Festival, so it had to be, right?   Well, Plant City, Florida, lays claim to the title "Winter Strawberry Capital of the World"  and has a strawberry festival of it's own. (Starting in two days, actually!)  Ok, ok...I can be cool with that... the addition of "Winter" makes it different enough.  But did you know Louisiana has a strawberry festival, too?  And TexasVirginiaTennesseeWisconsin?!

Most of those places are not places I've associated with strawberries.  California, Florida, and New England are the US locations I most associated with strawberries.  According to this USDA paper, CA, FL, and Oregon are the three states that are the biggest suppliers of strawberries in the US.  (Take a look - some of the stats in that paper are very interesting.)  This economic paper from Iowa State has some interesting information about the cost of producing strawberries in CA, FL, and OR, as well as information about how US production compares to other regions of the world. 

That paper would've come in handy when a Finnish penpal sent me a postcard saying some city in Finland was the Strawberry Capital of the World.  Or when a French guy tried to convince me that a city in France was the Strawberry Capital of the World.  We had a very loud argument about that because I wasn't going to concede and neither was he.

National Kahlua Day

I'm not a fan of drinking Kahlua, but I sure do enjoy baking with it.  There are hundreds of different Kahlua cake recipes out there, but I have a favorite.  I got this from one of my former roommates, who got it from her mom, who...  Well, this is where it gets a little complicated.  Apparently my roommate's mom worked with a lady who made a delicious, delicious cake and refused to give the recipe to anyone.  She eventually gave it to a couple as a wedding gift, making them swear never to share the recipe.  One day, the original baker dropped the recipe in the parking lot, left it on her desk, or somehow left it vulnerable because one of her coworkers copied it and shared it with everyone before the original baker knew.  At least, that's the story I've been told-  I often wonder at the veracity of the story.  It almost has the makings of a fairy tale.

Anyhow, here's the recipe!  It's a very moist, very rich cake.


1 German chocolate cake mix w/pudding

2 eggs

½ cup Kahlua

¼ cup oil

16 oz. sour cream

12 oz. chocolate chips

Blend cake mix, eggs, Kahlua, oil and sour cream.  Stir in chocolate
chips.  Pour into a greased and floured tube or Bundtcake pan.  Bake
40-45 minutes at 350.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan.
Can be sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

National Snack Food Month

Dried cranberries are my ultimate favorite snack.  I'll sprinkle them on salads, bake them into muffins, mix them into my trailmix...  but ultimately, when I have dried cranberries, I'll eat them by the handful.  Oh, I try to limit and slow my intake by using a scoop or a bowl, but I'll keep going back for refills.

So when I saw that Craisins now had flavors, I figured I would give them a shot.  So I bought one of each flavor plus the original (which I just adore) and did a taste test with my roommate.  We tasted some of each flavor and compared them to the originals.

The flavored Craisins can be summed up very easily: Blegh!

All of the flavored Craisins had weird chemical aftertastes.  I've never had that with the regular Craisins.  The cherry-flavored tasted like normal Craisins at first, then they tasted like a rotten batch of maraschino cherries.  And normally I like maraschino cherries, chemicals and all!  The pomegranate ones were the least offensive with a faint pomegranate flavor, but still had a lingering chemical flavor.  The blueberry-flavored ones were the worst- it was just all chemical to me.  I thought maybe it was just me and that I was sensitive to some chemical used in the flavoring process, but my roommate had the same negative reaction to the flavored Craisins.

You can see a bit of a color difference. 
Left to right: original, cherry, pomeranate
and blueberry-flavored craisins.
I opted to use the pomegrante-flavored ones in a recipe, hoping that cooking them would make them better.  It seemed to help, so maybe the flavored ones would be good for baking.  Still...  I'll be sticking to the non-flavored dried cranberries.

February 26: National Pistachio Day

Internal Dialogue Time!  Setting: this morning, in front of my computer.  "La dee da dee da.  I should check what day it is.  Oh, National Pistachio Day.  That's cool... Hey, waitaminute, didn't this already happen?"

So I did some checking and, sure enough, I had talked about pistachios on January 26th.  I did some more checking and there are sites around that list National Pistachio Day as January 26th and some that list it as February 26th.  I'm thinking that this confusion might be due to the fact that California has a Statewide Pistachio Day in January (January 18th).  Well, I'm going to go with the assumption that today is Pistachio Day, since January 26th had another food observation (peanut brittle) and today does not. 

Well, to celebrate, I bought a package and enjoyed a handful of pistachios.  I thought about baking some pistachio and cherry biscotti but I couldn't bear to cook with that many pistachios - I just wanted to eat them!

Check out some interesting information about pistachios from Fooducate while you snack on pistachios today. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 25: National Clam Chowder Day and National Chocolate Covered Nuts Day

National Clam Chowder Day

The 21st of last month was New England Clam Chowder Day.  Now, today is just National Clam Chowder Day and I think this is for all types of clam chowder.  Did you know there was more than just New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder?  Apparently there's also Rhode Island, Hatteras, Delaware, and Minorcan Clam Chowders - all different just enough.  I'll have to make it a goal to try all of them.  (Yes, I have some mundane life goals.)  Of course, each region claims that their clam chowder is the ONLY clam chowder. 

It's interesting to read about the history of clam chowder.  Although, the histories of clam chowder you find on the net are all a little different.  What's Cooking America has the history of New England, Manhattan, and Minorcan Clam Chowders. 

National Chocolate Covered Nuts Day

In honor of National Chocolate Covered Nuts Day, I picked up some Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds from Trader Joe's.  One thing I love about Trader Joe's is that the cashiers feel free to chat with you about the products you're buying.  Today, the cashier looked at the chocolate-covered almonds and asked if I had them before.  I hadn't and he let me know that everyone else who has had them said you get hooked after one.

Everyone else wasn't kidding.

The tasty sea salt and turbinado
almonds set me back $3.99
I've had the chocolate and salt flavor combination before and I love it.  These Trader Joe's almonds were no exception.  These hit all my taste buds and sent them to nirvana.  I ate quite a few of these and then firmly put the lid back on so I would stop eating them.  They really are delicious and can easily become a mindless eating food.  I'll have to be careful about that.

If Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar just doesn't appeal to you, Trader Joe's has other chocolate covered almonds.  The Sea Salt and Turbinado cost me $3.99.  Some stores will sell other chocolate covered nuts, but I most often see chocolate covered almonds.  You can also make your own chocolate covered nuts - just melt down some of your favorite chocolate in a bowl or saucepan, toss the nuts in, then spread the nuts on a baking sheet or parchment paper.  Let cool and then enjoy.
You can also just get plain dark or
 milk chocolate covered almonds.

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24: Tortilla Chip Day

Today's Tortilla Chip Day!  It used to be that the only tortilla chips you could get in stores were those yellow or white corn tortilla chips.  Now, you can get tortilla chips in all sorts of colors (blue, red, white, yellow, green) that can also be festively paired for the holidays (Christmas?  Look for bags of red and green!  Fourth of July?  Try a bag of red, white and blue tortilla chips!)  Not only is there a huge variety in color, there's also a huge variety in shapes now- triangles, strips, bowls, scoops, etc.  And of course there are the "added value" tortilla chips that flax seed in them to help you boost your omega-3 intake and tortilla chips that have lime or other seasoning.

Don't get me wrong - I love tortilla chips.  I currently have some triangle-shaped blue corn with flax seed tortilla chips and a large bag of round yellow-corn tortilla chips.  For me, tortilla chips are a tool for eating salsa, chili or hummus.  Yeah, tortilla chips are essential for making nachos, but I prefer to use tortilla chips for dipping.  One super-easy dip I like to make for tortilla chips is simply a can of refried beans and half-a-full-size jar of salsa mixed together.

Now, you can make your own tortilla chips, if you'd like, but these are a food I prefer to buy.  I've only made tortilla chips once, and they came out a little too oily for my preferences.  While I don't have any preferences for tortilla chip shape, I am very picky about the level of oiliness and salt.  If I go to a Mexican restaurant and they serve me a lackluster or flat-out bad basket of tortilla chips, I'm already negatively inclined to the rest of their food. 

Oops!  February 23 was National Chili Day

For some reason I thought today was National Chili Day.  Then I checked and I also had the 28th down as Chili Day.  So I did some more checking and found sites that said it was the 22nd, the 23rd, the 25th...  Ahh!  The confusion!

Finally, this site informed me that the fourth Thursday of February is National Chili Day.  Ah, things make more sense now!  Well, I wish I had realized that because I love making chili.  It's so easy to do with a crockpot- throw in beans, chiles, tomatoes, peppers, onion, seasoning, meat if you want it, set to cook and enjoy in a few hours!  (Or you can always go the super-easy route and open up a can of chili.)

Just remember chili can lead to flatulence so you may not want to eay any before an important meeting or presentation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23: National Banana Bread Day

I love banana bread.  Absolutely love it.  I inherited a recipe from my grandmother and I've made it many times every year for as long as I can remember.  When I was younger, I couldn't do much other than mash the bananas and just watch an adult do all the actual baking.  When I got older, I was the one that made it.  I was a little offended one year, when a family member eventually 'fessed up to preferring a banana bread made by a family bread.  But that was okay- that family member didn't know that the friend's recipe used buttermilk and accidentally grabbed what he thought was milk for his cereal the next member.  Yeah, I'll admit to laughing a little. 

So here's the recipe I got from my grandmother.

Banana Bread
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 bar) softened butter
2 mashed ripe bananas (the kind that are black on the outside but not completely mushy inside)
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk

Beat together sugar and butter until creamy. Mix in eggs.  Mix in milk, bananas and vanilla.  Stir in remaining ingredients by hand. (That's according to my grandmother - I always just use the beater.  It's just so much easier.) Bake in greased 9x5 loaf pan in 350 degree oven until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (~50 minutes).  You could also add 1/4 cup raisins, if you feel like it.  I like to bake this recipe in muffin portions.  If I make them bite-szie, they disappear really quickly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22: National Margarita Day and Cook a Sweet Potato Day!

National Margarita Day

I love how the HuffPo describes National Margarita Day: "one of those completely made up and unnecessary holidays that you can't help but love."  There is also a collection of margarita recipes at the site, if you're so inclined to celebrate.

A classic margarita, according to the International Bartender's Association, is a shaken and strained cocktail of tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice.  I don't think I have ever had a margarita like that.  I believe I've only ever seen frozen or blended margaritas served in restaurants.  Blended margaritas are so popular that you can buy buckets of mix to make your own at home.  Actually, margaritas are just a popular drink and you can buy mixes for non-blended ones.  There's even sugar-free mixes (Emily of B is for dia-Betus loves using sugar free margarita mixes for cocktails.)  There are many options for margaritas- you're sure to find one you like.

While the actual origin of the margarita is debated, the margarita is definitely associated with Mexican food in the US.  One of the regular restuarants for my group of San Diego Comic-Con attendees is Fred's Mexican Cafe in the Gaslamp and whenever we're there, just about everyone has a margarita (or two).  Oddly enough, while I almost always have a margarita (or horchata if I'm driving) when eating at a Mexican restaurant, I don't think I've had a margarita in Mexico.

So, to celebrate, I had a strawberry margarita (pictured).  It was a little too sweet for me and a little light on the alcohol content.  Next year, I'll celebrate National Margarita Day by making my own.

Cook a Sweet Potato Day and National Sweet Potato Month

Uncooked sweet potatoes
February is National Sweet Potato Month and today, Feb 22, is Cook a Sweet Potato Day.  (I just love it when the food observances line up like that.)  Sweet potatoes are a big deal in North Carolina, since NC produces most of the sweet potatoes in the US.   Sweet potatoes probably originated in South or Central America and if you go to South America, there are so many different types of sweet potatoes than there are in the US.  And if you go to Okinawa, Japan, (or if you're lucky and live near a Marukai or Mitsuwa in the US) you really should try beni-imo (aka Okinawan sweet potatoes or murasaki-imo, which literally means "purple potato.")  Beni-imo have a light brown/tan skin and are white inside when raw, but turn a bright vibrant purple when cooked.  Beni-imo are hugely important in Okinawan cuisine.

The cooked sweet potatoes, with skin pulled back to
reveal brightly colored flesh.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any beni-imo in time for today, but I did cook up three different sweet potatoes- one purple, one orange, and one that was described as being "bright red."  It just looked like a different shade of orange to me and was nowhere near what I call red.  I can't remember what variety any of them were, though.  (I'll have to remember to write down the names next time.)  The purple one was kind of dry, not super sweet and would probably be good for making potato chips or a colorful scalloped potato dish.  The darker orange potato was so good.  It was super moist, practically creamy.  I loved the texture and thought it was sweeter than the purple potatos.  The other orange potato was very sweet, very good, and really reminded me of the canned "yams" (really sweet potatoes) that are ubiquitous during the winter holiday season in the US.

When cooking sweet potatoes, I prefer to roast them over hot coals.  I don't typically have access to a grill, so I usually just cook sweet potatoes in the oven.  They're super easy to cook, but can take a while.  Just wash the potatoes, stick them in an oven safe dish, and bake in the oven until you can easily stick a fork in them. 

Looking for reasons to eat sweet potatoes?  Self magazine reports that sweet potatoes are a food to eat for young-looking skin and provides some recipes to help you eat sweet potatoes.  Reader's Digest provides you with three more reasons and some recipes, including one for Sweet Potato Cake.  And WebMD, along with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) both love the sweet potato.
Lightly mashed sweet potatoes, side-by-side for color comparison.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21: Sticky Bun Day

Today's Sticky Bun Day.  No baking or attempts at baking today, though - I looked at recipes for sticky buns and my arteries all just kind of shuddered at the thought of more butter and sugar.  (I still have that cherry pie to work on!)

Initially, I thought sticky buns were the same as cinnamon rolls.  They're not.  The crucial difference between sticky suns and cinnamon rolls is how they're baked.  Cinnamon rolls are made by making a roll of dough, slicing it, and then simply placing it in a baking dish.  Icing is then drizzled on top.  In contrast, traditional sticky rolls are made by putting all the "sticky" ingredients in the baking dish first, then putting the dough on top for baking.  After the buns are baked, the baking dish is flipped so that the all the sticky ingredients are on top for serving.  Sticky buns also typically have pecans or walnuts,

Due to my initial reaction of "OMG, no more butter for a week please!" I started looking to see if there were any "healthy" sticky bun recipes.  I found a gluten-free recipe, a whole wheat recipe, a vegan recipe, apple sticky buns.... even a sticky bun recipe from a diabetic food site!  I really wouldn't call any of them "healthy" though.

If you do celebrate Sticky Bun Day by baking sticky buns, just try not to eat the whole batch.  Seriously.  Every picture attached to a recipe looked so delicious, I can honestly see myself eating a whole batch if I made sticky buns.

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20: National Cherry Pie Day

Yesterday, when I checked to see what today's food celebration was, I thought, "Ooh, cherry pie day!  Cool - I'll make a cherry pie!"  It wasn't until I remembered there was no mail delivery today that I realized that today's probably National Cherry Pie Day because it's also George Washington's Birthday.  Yes, sometimes the most obvious connections will elude me for a long time, then jump in front of me.

Making a cherry pie today not only celebrates National Cherry Pie Day, but National Cherry Month, and Great American Pies Month.  (What are the "Great American Pies" anyhow?  Apple and cherry?  Or does it need to be a pie with a patriotically themed top crust?)
I toyed with the thought of making mini pies, since individual-sized desserts are trendy right now.  (Plus, I keep eyeing the Mini Pocket Pie Molds from Williams-Sonoma every time I go in.)  I knew I would be short on time tonight, though, so a simple, quick pie would be the way to go.  This meant instead of making the same crust I used in the rhubarb pie attempt, I opted to use ready-made pie crust from Pillsbury.  (A pack of two was less than $4.)

Once again, I looked at various recipes and went, "Meh, who needs a recipe?"  While that attitude led to disaster with the rhubarb pie, today's cherry pie experiment came out an almost success.  I started with a pack of ready-made Pillsbury pie crust and a bag of frozen sweet black cherries.  I realized I didn't have enough cherries, so I appropriated some cherry preserves from my roommate.  I cooked the cherries and a cup of the cherry preserves in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  When most of the liquid had come out of the cherries, I mixed 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of corn starch.  I removed the cherries from heat, added the sugar-starch mixture, added 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of wine.  (I used Little Penguin Merlot, but you could really use any red wine with berry tones.)  Then I returned it to a very low heat, and simmer until the mixture thickened.  I removed it from the head and let it cool.

Oh, this isn't going to be pretty...
When the cherry mixture cooled, I put it one of the crusts and followed the directions on the package for using the other crust as the top crust.  I didn't do that part so well and the crust broke in places it wasn't supposed to and I got some of the cherry filling on the edge.  This was when I realized it wasn't going to be a very pretty pie.

 I baked it for 50 minutes at 375.  At 18 minutes in I realized I had forgotten to put tin foil on the crust.  So I pulled it out, put the foil on to keep it from burning.  At 50 minutes, I pulled it out, brushed the top with an egg white wash and sprinkled sugar on top, and popped the pie back in the oven for another 10 minutes. 

Cherry pie innards
We should've let it cool completely before cutting into it, but we didn't.  As a result, the filling oozed and it was impossible to cut the pie nicely.  At that point, I didn't really care about the pie's appearance since the crust wasn't pretty - I just wanted to know what it tasted like.  The roommate declared, "Points for not using too much sugar this time" and proceeded to inhale a piece.  It was a pretty tasty pie.  I'll probably repeat the steps to make another cherry pie, but next time I'll make my own crust and let the pie cool.  (Now that the pie has cooled, the filling doesn't ooze out quite so much.)  I might also consider using chocolate wine in the pie, as a hint of chocolate would go really well with the cherries.  I like the result - I just wish I had some whipped cream to go with it.

Looks more like a cherry crumble or cobbler than a pie,
 but still pretty darn tasty!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19: Chocolate Mint Day

Today's Chocolate Mint Day and I have a mint plant that is of the chocolate mint variety, but since my calendar is supposed to be about food holidays, though, I'm guessing that "Chocolate Mint Day" is referring to chocolate with mint flavoring. 

Chocolate and mint are paired together in so ways.  There's chocolate mint ice cream, cookies, cakes, candiesbeer, tea, and fudge.  Smitten Kitchen even has a great recipe for Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Mint Cream.  There are endless ways to pair chocolate and mint.  I'm just curious how long this pairing has been happening.  Probably since the days of the Aztecs.

And of course, it's Girl Scout Cookie Season, so if you're a lover of the combination of mint and chocolate, it's time to go get those Thin Mints. 

Also,  Delish says it's National Chocolate Month which makes sense since it's also Chocolate Lover's Month.  In honor of the month, Delish has 8 facts about chocolate.  Really, the only one that was new to me was that the US doesn't even rank as one of the top ten chocolate-consuming nations. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18: Crab-stuffed Flounder Day & National Drink Wine Day

Crab-stuffed Flounder Day

Another dish I've never had!  Since I love eating fish, I decided I'd give this a shot and try making it.  I figured all I would have to do is: get fish, get crab, stuff crab inside of fish, season with whatever I felt like using, and cook until done.  Totally should've been easy, right?

Couldn't find flounder that I felt comfortable buying.  I didn't
even have Flounder from The Little Mermaid, so have a
Nemo instead.  They're Disney relatives, right?I did mess up
by not looking at the Country of Origin Labeling - this crab
was from India.  I just read "wild-caught" and chose it.
I'll be much more mindful next time.
Well, it didn't happen.  Why?  When I eat fish, I do my best to follow the advice put forth by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  Seafood Watch does a great job of making it easy to make responsible choices about the fish you eat.  So, prior to heading out to the grocery store, I checked the Seafood Watch's pages for crab and flounder.  Looking at the crab page, I figured I'd do pretty well, since I was heading to Whole Foods and only one type of crab was listed as "avoid."  Then I looked at the flounder page and realized I might run into problems.  I'm currently on the East Coast and Atlantic flounder is listed as a fish to "avoid."  Plus, flounder is generally caught with trawling, a fishing practice I really don't like.  Since I was going to Whole Foods, I thought I might have a chance of finding the Seafood Watch-approved Pacific flounder.  No dice.  Since I'm on the East Coast and Whole Foods tries to provide local foods when possible, only Atlantic flounder was available and the fish counter guy let me know that they never carry Pacific flounder.  So I'll save eating flounder for when I'm on the West Coast. (Although, I may not ever eat it due to the way it's caught.)

If you're interested in consuming sustainably harvested fish, I highly suggest getting the free pocket guides and mobile phone apps from the Seafood Watch.  Also, if films are more your style, check out the movie End of the Line.  It's what I show people who have never thought about where their fish comes from.

National Drink Wine Day

When my friends heard about this day, the response was, "We can totally celebrate that day!"  While I haven't yet (I really don't think I could type well if I were intoxicated and yes, I consider buzzed intoxicated since I feel buzzed driving is just as bad as drunk driving) we did do a wine tasting at Total Wine & More

Our current wine collection.  Not pictured are the three open
bottles.  I'm not a lush, i swear!  Plus, it's always good to
have a few extra bottles to give as gifts.
If you're interested in trying wines prior to buying them, there are plenty of wine tasting opportunities.  Every state has at least one winery and wineries are excellent places to go for wine tastings.  At wineries, you're guaranteed to talk to someone who is passionate about wine.  If there are no wineries close to you, there are still plenty of opportunies for wine tastings.  Total Wine & More has wine tastings twice a week, Cost Plus World Market has wine tastings at some locations, Trader Joe's has wine tastings, and Whole Foods has wine tastings and wine events in some locations.  Wine festivals are also another great way to try new wines.

Holding your own wine tasting is also a great way to celebrate National Drink Wine Day.  Get together a bunch of friends, have everyone bring at least one bottle, and you provide snacks.  Try to make sure there will be a variety of wines, either by assigning everyone a country to bring a wine from or by simply asking in advance what everyone will bring.  It kind of sucks to have ten different brands of California merlots.  Unless of course, you're going with a California merlot theme and will be trying all Spanish wines the next week.  Once, my friends and I decided to try to find out if there were any good cheap wines.  We each brought three bottles of wines that cost less than $10.  We ranked the wines on a scale of 1-10 on taste and then for every $1 below $10 that the wine cost, it got an extra point.  I managed to win because I brought a $3 wine that was mediocre.  (Thank goodness for Big Lots!)

Korean pancake with crab and hot sauce.
A glass of the Weingut Geil with the
Spier waiting in the background.
Today, since I'm using the crab I bought to make Korean pancakes (similar to the Japanese okonomiyaki), I opted to buy a bottle of Spier Chenin Blanc since the tag at the store said it went well with crabcakes.  (I figured if it went well with crabcake, it would go well with Korean pancakes with crab.)  Despite having multiple bottles of wine at home, I actually bought five bottles of wine including a chocolate wine that I'll talk about when I talk about National Chocolate Lover's Month.  Since I already have an open bottle of Weingut Geil Gewürztraminer Kabinett, I figure I'll have a glass of the Gewürztraminer and then a glass of the Chenin Blanc.  (I really do love pairing Gewürztraminer with spicy foods.) 

If you do decide to celebrate National Drink Wine Day, do so in moderation.  While wine can have health benefits, those health benefits go flying out the door if you over indulge.  And NEVER drink and drive.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17: Cafe au Lait Day, Indian Pudding Day & Cabbage Day

Three food celebrations today! Cafe au Lait, Indian Pudding, and Cabbage!  I really don't think all three would go well together in a meal, so I'm not quite sure how they all ended up on the same day.

Cafe au Lait Day

I don't like to drink coffee (but will if I'm craving caffeine and there's no tea) yet I worked in a coffee shop as an undergrad where I never had to make a cafe au lait.  I wasn't even sure what it was and I'm still not.  Apparently, what a cafe au lait is depends on where you go and who's talking.  There's not a whole lot out there on the internet about cafe au lait and Wikipedia ended up pretty much the only site that explained what it is in various countries.  I found it interesting that cafe au lait is served in bowls in some countries.Gumbo Pages has a story illustrating what New Orleans residents consider "real" cafe au lait and how to make it. WikiHow's instructions are a little easier - make coffee and mix with hot milk. The only thing that seemed consistent about cafe au lait is that it has to be made with hot milk.  Otherwise, you're just having coffee with milk.

Indian Pudding Day

Maybe it is a sign of times or a sign of my upbringing, but when I read "Indian Pudding Day," I thought I would be learning about a pudding based on cuisine from India.  Instead, the "Indian" in the name is referring to Native Americans.  I've never had Indian pudding but it is apparently very popular in the Northeast.  (This may explain why I've never heard of it- I haven't been in that region yet.)  Some articles say that Indian pudding originated in the Northeast, but according to this very enthusiastic Indian pudding fan at the Plimoth Plantation it wasn't.

For those like me who have never heard of Indian pudding, it's a type of hasty pudding - which in the US means it's cornbased and cooked in milk or water.  (Hasty pudding in the UK is apparently different and can refer to any sort of grain.)  Indian pudding is cornmeal cooked in a pudding using molasses.  I'll have to ask my Northeast friends about it because it sounds extremely sweet.  I'll have to try it when I go to Boston.

Cabbage Day

Growing up, cabbage was always pale green or the purple/red kind in superstores or Chinese cabbage (aka Napa cabbage, bok choi, sui choi, etc.).  Very compact, dense, round and full of squiggly insides- that was the typical cabbage.   Recently at the Farmer's Market, I've seen what cabbage actually looks like (I didn't realize there were so many leaves that were discarded from the supermarket cabbage!) and a variety that was new to me, pointy cabbage

When I can take a pretty picture of
sauerkraut, then I'll ptobably have
taken a photography class or two.
Cabbage has always been a favorite vegetable of mine.   I'm not a fan of coleslaw, but that's how a lot of Americans eat cabbage.  I never ate sauerkraut as a child because my dad doesn't like it, but I've found I love it.  Sauerkraut is great on sandwiches (use it in place of sour cream or creamy dressings for a healthier alternative) and on pizza.  I also will just scoop some out into a bowl and eat it as a snack.  If you tried sauerkraut and didn't like it, try another brand!  I've found that there are just some brands of sauerkraut that just taste bad.  And if you're ever in San Diego, CA, for the December Nights festival, definitely hit up the Romanian house in the International Houses for Romanian sauerkraut on top of a sausage.  Or you can always make your own sauerkraut, whether it's Romanian or South American.

I'll typically eat Chinese cabbage as kimchee with rice or on top of a bowl of noodles.  I've found that all types of cabbages will work great in a stir-fry.  My number one favorite way to eat cabbage?  Japanese pickled cabbage.  When I'm feeling particularly lazy and I want the cabbage right away, I'll use ichijikan zuke no moto.  Just a quick sprinkle of that, a little lemon juice, and shaking to mix it all up and you have a tasty cabbage side dish.

Not familiar with cabbage?  This CDC site has some great tips for picking fresh cabbage and what to do with it.

Cabbage is good for you.  If you didn't like it as a child, give it a try as an adult.  You may find it pretty tasty.  Just don't boil it - in my opinion, it ruins the cabbage and boiled cabbage is the reason most people don't like it.

National Fiber Focus Month

As a quick nod to National Fiber Focus Month, I thought I'd share this NPR article titled, "Is Adding Fiber to Food Really Good For Your Health?"  I especially love how the article ends - basically with a message to eat apples instead of processed foods.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16: Almond Day

Today's Almond Day!  In my opinion, almonds are simply a wonderful food.  Everyone I've met who is involved with the field of nutrition loves them and recommends them.  (I'm sure there are some nutrition/food professionals that don't like almonds, but I haven't met them yet.)  Almond scents and artificial almond flavoring makes me cringe - they often smell and taste too chemically.  I did make a honey-almond soap once that was absolutely divine smelling, though. 

Did you know that US commercially grown almonds only come from California and that California is the leading world supplier of almonds?  This PDF from UC Davis gives excellent information and some interesting facts about almonds.  I found it interesting to learn that there are more than thirty varieties of almonds.  What was really eye-opening, though, was to learn that there's an Almond Reserve to help keep almond prices stable.

The California Almond Board tries it's best to make eating almonds easy for consumers.  They have tins you can order to help you portion your daily intake of almonds.  The CAB says a serving is 23 almonds, yet the 100 calorie pack I had today had 22 almonds.  (Yes, there are only 20 in the picture.  I got hungry and ate two before taking the picture.)

While I'll use almonds in cooking, frequently using almond slivers or sliced almonds in place of pepitas or pine nuts, I hardly ever bake with almonds.  I decided to try making this vanilla almond cookies recipe from Chobani. The reviews were mixed and few, but I gave it a try because I had some Chobani I wanted to use up.  After reading the comment about how "cakey" the cookies were, I reduced the baking powder to 1 tsp.  I also substituted almond slivers for slices, since I had slivers on hand.

Here you can see the first batch on the right and the second on the left.  For the first batch, I kept everything the same but I didn't care for the shape of the baked cookies, so I rolled the remaining batches in sugar instead of just dropping them on the cookie sheet.  In the first batch, the cake-like nature of the cookies caused the almonds to shift when the cookies rose, so for the second batch I really pressed the almond slivers into the dough, slightly flattening the cookies in the process.

I didn't care for how the cookies came out.  They were still cake-like, but were oddly chewy.  Perhaps there's too much liquid in the recipe.  This is definitely a recipe that needs tweaking, but I think I'm going to use the rest of my almond slivers sprinkled on my cereals and salads or baked into a completely different cookie recipe.  Maybe I'll try this Almond Orange Cardamon Cookie recipe from the CAB.  One thing's for sure - I am definitely going to try this Beet Salad with Almonds and Chives recipe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15: International Gumdrop Day

Right after a day of chocolate indulgence and gift-giving, it's International Gumdrop Day!  I'm not sure how this one got "International" tacked on in the title while most others just get "National."

Like cream-filled chocolates, finding gum drops was harder than I expected.  I remember gumdrops being chewy candies with an outer coating of sugar, like these.  I couldn't find gumdrops like that at the three stores I went to.  In fact, the only gum drops I came accross were the DOTS brand, the smooth gumdrops that come in a multitude of flavors.  I'm most familiar with the five basic flavors, so it was neat to learn that DOTS also come in yogurt and tropical flavors.  (I'm not a fan of licorice, so those DOTS were always given away.)

In addition to just eating gumdrops, you can even bake with gumdrops.  Also, gumdrops are great for decorating sweets.  You can place them on top in pretty patterns, slices them for roof tiles or stepping stones for a gingerbread house, make roses with them, or other flowers like pansies or tulips.    Or you can just make your own grumdrops in whatever shapes you want!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14: Cream-filled Chocolate Day (or Creme-filled Chocolate Day, if you prefer)

Happy Valentine's Day!  Or Singles Awareness Day!  Or, most simply, Happy February 14th!

Today in the US is a big day for chocolate-giving.  (It is in other parts of the world, too, like Japan- although the traditions are a little different.)  Stores here have been stocking Valentine-themed chocolates since before Christmas.  So with today being the peak of chocolate giving in the US, it makes sense that today is Cream-filled Chocolate Day.  (Plus, it's Chocolate Lover's Month, so bonus!)

Chocolates aren't my favorite Valentine's Day candy, so I didn't pay too close attention to the chocolates when I was at the store last week.  During an impromptu run to the store today, though, I looked carefully at the chocolates offered.  Not one was cream-filled!  I was a little shocked - were they all purchased already?  Are they not that big of a seller?  Maybe cream-filled chocolates are only sold in the variety packs or as individual truffles at chocolate shops, like Godiva.  (By the way, if you sign up for their rewards club, you get a free truffle every month.)

Even if you don't have chocolate today, honor Chocolate Lover's Month by reading up on some strange ways chocolate keeps you healthy.  And just remember that tomorrow is what my friends like to call "Half-Off Chocolate Day."

Also, it slipped my mind that yesterday, the 2nd Monday of February, was Oatmeal Monday.  Whoops.  Well, considering oatmeal already gets a month (January), gets at least one other day (either the 16th or 29th of October) and is celebrated in cookie, muffin, and waffle form later in the year - I don't feel too bad about missing yesterday's Oatmeal Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13: Crab Rangoon Day and Tortellini Day

Crab Rangoon Day

You might've had these at a Chinese restaurant.  They're the deep-fried dumplings consisting of cream cheese, crab meat, and some vegetables (typically onions, scallions, or water chestnuts) encased in a wonton wrapper.  I really don't think they're "authentic" Chinese food, as they contain cream cheese, so I'm guessing that it's more of an American-Chinese food.  Still, they're quite popular in Chinese restaurants and they're super easy to make

Tortellini Day

When I have pasta, it tends to be spaghetti.  Sometimes I'll have the spiral pasta or the tube-y pasta.  See?  I told you I don't eat pasta very often - I can't identify pasta.  Oh, if someone put pasta shapes in front of me and told me to identify them, I'd eventually get most of them because I've heard the names- I'm just not sure what shapes the names are attached to.

So I asked around about tortellini.  I got some interesting descriptions, some of which were most definitely not suitable for this family-friendly site.  The safest, best description of tortellini I got was "pasta rings stuffed with cheese."  In fact, tortellini can be stuffed with meat or cheese.  When stuffed with vegetables, it's tortelloni.

While there are plenty of instructions online for making fresh tortellini and Alton Brown has a recipe available, I opted to buy a pack of frozen cheese tortellini - I just don't have the time to make fresh tortellini from scratch today.  Chowhound has a short thread discussing store-bought tortellini and the two big ready-made brands I'm aware of are Barilla and Buitoni.  Still, I went with the storebrand because of cost and because if I like it, I'll start trying the different brands.

I looked around at recipes online in an attempt at trying to decide how I'd use the tortellini.  There are plenty of soup recipes that use tortellini, like this Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup.  There are also plenty of salad recipes, like this Hot Tortellini Salad.  You can even use tortellini to make a Mexican Pasta Salad.

Inspired by all the recipes I looked at, I created my own salad.  I cooked the entire bag of frozen tortellini according to the instructions on the bag.  While that was cooking, I put a bowl of fresh kale (torn into bite sized pieces) in the microwave for one minute.  Then, a can of light-red beans- poured into a microwave safe bowl, of course.  (I just wanted to make that clear, so that no one tries sticking a can of beans in a microwave.)  I chopped up two sundried tomatoes.  Then, when the pasta was done and drained, I mixed about a cup of the tortellini, 1/4 cup of the beans, the kale (probably a cup to 1.5 cups), and the tomatoes.  After drizzling a little bit of the oil from the sundried tomatoes and sprinkling some crushed red pepper on top, I think I came up with a tasty tortellini salad.  Hrm... I think I'll call it the (Almost) Complete Tortellini salad because it had something from 4 of the 5 food groups.  Although, I could argue tomatoes are a fruit...hrm..  Well, it's a vegetarian friendly recipe, but not vegan. 

Since I didn't use all the tortellini, my roommate ate some in a much simpler dish.  She took some pumpkin pasta sauce that she bought at Williams-Sonoma, heated it up, and poured it over the tortellini.  A little sprinkle of parmesan and her dinner was ready to go. I'm not a big fan of pumpkin, so pumpkin pasta sauce isn't really for me.  I'll have to try tortellini with some of my tomato-based pasta sauce.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12: Plum Pudding Day

Well, here's yet another food I haven't had.  At first, I thought plum pudding was pudding that was plum-flavored.  As is the case with most foods I haven't had, I was completely wrong in my guess of what plum pudding was.  Plum pudding, also known as Christmas pudding, doesn't even have plums!  That makes me feel a little misled. 

Plum pudding is a steamed or boiled pudding containing raisins.  According to Epicurious, a "superb" English plum pudding takes at least four days, but it's best to take a whole year to make it.  And here I thought the cinnamon roll recipe that takes 24 hours was time-consuming!  A whole year? Yikes.  Although, in looking at recipes, the shortest recipe takes three and a half hours. 

I am delighted by this plum pudding recipe from 1860.  I love how it starts out - "stone carefully." It amuses me for some reason.  One day, I hope to write a recipe that has directions like the ones in that recipe.  This 1847 recipe is adorable, too.  (Yes, I sometimes use "adorable"  to describe recipes.  I also use "cute" to describe snakes, which just completely weirds out my parents.)

One thing I couldn't figure out: if plum pudding is associated with Christmas, why is February 12 Plum Pudding Day?  Maybe it is because today would be the day to make it so it can soak in brandy until Christmas?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

National Grapefruit Month

It's National Grapefruit Month!  Grapefruit is in season and is cheap right now.  (Oh, the wonders of buying food in season!)  2 for $1 at the farmer's market.  99 cents each at Trader Joe's or 5lbs for $4.50.  $0.69 a pound at the local grocery store.  While I've seen grapefruit as cheap as $0.25 each before, the current prices are pretty good and I've stocked up on grapefruit this month.  I've already made multiple shopping trips where I've bought grapefruits - in fact, one grocery store run was precipitated because I had eaten all my grapefruit!

I decided to honor National Grapefruit Month not only by gorging myself on the tart citrus, but also by trying the variations of grapefruit I could get my hands on.  From Trader Joe's I picked up Cocktail grapefruit, Ruby Red grapefruit, and Pummelo grapefruit and from the local store down the road, I picked up a  white grapefruit.

Most people cut their grapefruit in half and use a grapefruit knife or spoon to eat the segments.  I prefer to peel mine like oranges and eat the liths and whatever pith is still attached to them.  I don't have my citrus peelers with me, so peeling these grapefruits was a little messy.  Yes, I realize citrus peelers are a single-purpose kitchen gadget (a big no-no when living in small spaces) but if you ever make candied citrus peels, you can make some really pretty and even strips using a citrus peeler. 

On the left, you can see the four grapefruits.  The cocktail was the smallest, then the white and the ruby red, and finally the large pummelo.

So what did I think of the grapefruits?

Cocktail:  I had never heard of the cocktail grapefruit until I saw it at the store.  It is apparently not really a grapefruit, but a cross between a frua mandarin and a pummelo.  Of the four, it was hardest to peel nicely and the flesh was so juicy and soft.  Because of this, when the cocktail grapefruit was segmented, the liths didn't hold together very well.  There were a lot of large seeds, 2-3 in each segment.  For me, the cocktail grapefruit started off tasting much like a navel orange, then oddly there was a bit of a salty aftertaste.  My roommate reported the same strange salt flavor, so maybe we just got an odd batch.  I may have to try another one to see if I get the same salty flavor.  The cocktail grapefruit I had was not tart at all.

White:  This grapefruit is the basis for the grapefruit juice that one friend absolutely loves and another can't even use in mixed drinks.  For some people, white grapefruit is too sour and tart.  My white grapefruit had a "normal" grapefruit flavor, for lack of a better term.  It was a little sour and tart, but super juicy.  Again, the liths didn't stay together very well.

Peeled liths of the grapefruits, left to right: pummelo, ruby red, white, cocktail.

Ruby Red:  The history of Ruby Red grapefruit is pretty interesting, as is the importance Texas places on it.  It was the first grapefruit to be granted a US patent.  Anyhow, of the four, I liked it the best and it is the one I buy the most.  It was the easiest to peel and segment, with the liths holding together fairly well during peeling.  It had a quite a few small seeds but only a couple of larger seeds.  Flavor-wise, it was the sweetest and only a little tart.  Beautiful color and very delicious.

Pummelo: A friend recently fell in love with the pummelo and has been regularly buying it.  When she first described this citrus fruit she recently tried for the first time, I got confused because she kept calling it a "pomelo."  Turns out, it's all the same- pummelo, pumelo, pomelo...  all refer to the same large citrus fruit.  The pummelo I had was super-pithy and the liths held their shapes really well when peeled.  My roommate described the pummelo as "the apple of the citrus world," because it was almost crunchy.  It would be really good for dipping in chocolate.  The pummelo was hard to peel because of the thick skin and pith.   The pummelo was sweet, not tart at all and had a very mellow flavor.  Not nearly as juicy as the other grapefruits, I think the best way to describe the pummelo is "mild."

I've still got one of my five-pound bags of Ruby Red grapefruit left, so I'll be eating grapefruit for a little while now and that's perfectly fine with me. 

February 11: Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day and Peppermint Patty Day

I don't really have anything to say about Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day except...  did you catch President Obama's joke during the State of the Union speech?  Oh, and has anyone actually cried over spilled milk?  Anyone the age over five that is?

Okay, on to Peppermint Patty Day!  Peppermint patties are peppermint flavored discs  covered in chocolate.  I've never been a fan of the combination of chocolate and mint together, so this is another food I don't know a whole lot about.  The only peppermint patties I know of are York peppermint patties.  Those seem to be pretty popular.  You can also make your own.  Plus, I think they'd be great for decorating chocolate cakes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10: Cream Cheese Brownies Day

It's Cream Cheese Brownies Day!  I figured that cream cheese brownies just meant that cream cheese was mixed into the batter before baking.  Well, it can be, but there are quite a few variations on cream cheese brownies.  Some recipes call for the cream cheese to be a separate layer on top of a chocolate layer, while others use the cream cheese to create a marbled effect.  Here's a quick round-up of recipes I looked at:

Eventually, I picked this recipe from Kraft.  Since I have no large microwave-safe bowl, I melted the butter and chocolate using my Micro Pitcher set from Tupperware (that thing is awesome!) and then poured the melted butter and chocolate into a mixing bowl.  Otherwise, I just followed the recipe as it is written.  One little puzzle I ran into was that the cream cheese mixture was a lot of mixture!  I was expecting it to be a smaller amount but there was enough that I could have probably made it a layered brownie.  Also, swirling the two batters together was a bit problematic - the chocolate layer was really thick.  The recipe says to swirl gently which I figured was just cutting a knife through in various directions.  Nope!  This took some actual swirling to get the batters to mix in a nice swirl pattern.

Here's my attempt at getting the swirl, but not really getting it....

 I put it in the oven anyways, wondering if the two batters would mix more while baking.

I baked it for 40 minutes and, since I also had trouble spreading it evenly in the pan, it cooked a little unevenly.  The top of the cream cheese portion browned a little in spots. 

It was tasty and the smell was so good that the brownies were cut long before it was completely cooled.  It's a good recipe - very, very sweet - but definitely not a good recipe for those concerned with their weights.