Saturday, July 31, 2010

Road Trip: Part 7

Before we got to Bloomington, the scenery changed again. This time, we were looking at huge cornfields. Oh, we’d seen corn before, but they were smaller farms. Now, tie was all corn, as far as they eye could see.

We picked an exit that had the potential for a room and some food, too a quick drive up and down the street to see what lodging was available, and ended up at America’s Best Inn, which is a euphemism for your basic motel.

Although a sign on the side of the building proudly proclaimed “Free High-Speed Internet,” the strongest signal I found was labeled “La Quinta 2.” There was a La Quinta across the highway, but somehow I doubted that America’s Best was really La Quinta 2.

With lodging arranged, we turned our attention to food. There were menus in the lobby. Three of them were for Chinese restaurants, so we picked the closest one.

When you walk into a quirky little restaurant, there are sometimes hints that this could be one of those amazing hidden gems…or not. The two bicycles in the dining room next to what looked like a stove…yes, those were hints.

While the menu in the hotel lobby was fairly short, the menu at the restaurant had a more substantial variety. The waiter offered drinks, and when I chose hot tea, he brought me a small, handle-less cup and a stainless stell pitcher with hotwater and loose tea. He said it was a jasmine tea. We were off to a good start.

I ordered an egg roll and we decided to split pot stickers. I ordered the moo shoo pork, and the waiter walked away. We called him back and he said, “Oh, I thought you were going to split it.”

That was odd. I our younger, hungrier days, when we went to Chinese restaurants we’d often each order a meal and ome more to split. We don’t eat as much now, but we haven’t reached the point where we’re ordering a small meal and splitting it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Road Trip: Part 6

Back to the big road 1-70 again, headed to St. Louis. Since we started so late, we decided that we wouldn’t try to make Chicago that day. Plans called for a stop in St. Louis for a little touristy stuff, another grocery excursion, maybe some dinner, and then we’d drive for a while and stop in either Springfield or Bloomington, depending on time and tiredness.

But first, lunchtime rolled around, and hubster asked if I’d me interested in anything from McDonalds. I opted for a vanilla shake to go with my leftover ribs, and this time I had the presence of mind to take a photo of the smoke ring. But really, what smoke ring? Except for the very thickest parts, these things were smoked pretty much all the way through.


As for the shake, it’s got to be a good half-dozen years since I had a shake from McDonald’s and it was just about as I remembered. Ah, vacation road food.

We continued our trek to St. Louis, making good time and looking at trees and forests and a lot of green. As we got closer to the city, We needed to pick a destination, and I plugged in a a winery as our tourist stop in St. Louis.

Road Trip: Part 5

As soon as we got out of the air conditioned hotel and stepped into the real weather, the humidity really hit me. “It’s like a rainforest,” I said. “A jungle.” Now, I know that Kansas City is nowhere near as humid as a tropical rainforest. I’ve been there. It’s drippingly humid. But compared to high and dry Colorado, it was humid enough for me to comment on.

And having lived in Chicago, I knew that this wasn’t a humidity that the natives would even comment on. This was normal. A really humid day was … special.

I queried the GPS on grocery stores and got a list of places…scrolled down a bit. A few sounded like they were more likely to be quik-market type places, and I was looking for a regional grocery store where I might find some barbecue sauces from the local places and see what other regional products were available.

When my scrolling let me to Cosentino’s Price Chopper, I figured that was a good bet. I’d heard of Price Chopper. So off we went. Through an industrial area…and then we emerged at a more populated area.

Hubster went in with me to get some road snacks for himself, tossed them into my basket, and fled the store. He’s not a big fan of grocery stores. I think this was maybe the second time he’d been in a grocery store with me. “Have fun,” he said. “Take your time.” Yeah, he knows how I am.

I checked out the baking section, spices, pickles, and condiments, and few other odds and ends. I bought a jar of local honey because I liked the name of the town where it came from. I was still able to carry the little basket and was heading to the checkout when I came upon a stacked display of beer from a Kansas City brewery. I grabbed two six-packs – a porter and a pale ale, and that’s when things got a bit heavy.

I started chatting with the woman in front of me about barbecue and when her mom came up to the line, she told her how I liked to go grocery shopping when I’m out of town. They both thought it was interesting. The cashier was also interested when I said I was from Colorado and we had another little conversation about barbecue.

After I was bagged up, someone ran and got me a cart since it was obvious that it would have been awkward to carry all that stuff, and off I went. People in grocery stores are usually so friendly…

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Road Trip: Part 4

Ah, morning! I heard a vague sound, squinted my eyes open, and thought that it must be pretty darned early for the light to be so blue and vague. It took me a while to figure out where I was and why I was staring at a wall that didn’t belong there. Ah, yes. Hotel. “Good morning,” I said to my early-riser hubster.

“I was going to give you another 15 minutes,” he said. Then it would be ten o’clock.”

Time zone change and traveling had done me in, and the light was all wrong because of those lovely hotel drapes that can block the light so efficiently. I wished for a cup of coffee to appear, but settled for a shower, repacking, checking email on the weird hotel system (No wireless? Really?) and we trudged down to check out.

Then I pointed sub-humanly to a bakery I’d seen in the hotel complex, assuming that there would be coffee available as well. Hubster kicked the coffee habit, but he indulged my incoherent ramblings. I stared at the pastries and decided that the giant croissant would keep me going for the next leg of the journey.

“I’m all out of lids,” the nice lady said after I had pumped out the cup of coffee. Aargh. We wanted to get on the road. But I wisely had brought a thermos with me. It had been filled with water, but I figured that I could pour my coffee in there, and we’d be good to go.

I dumped several containers of half-and-half into my coffee and sipped enough so I could walk with it lidless. And it was darned good coffee. For a moment I regretted not finding out the brand, but I had other purchases in mind, and I was anxious to get to our next destination.

A grocery store.

Road Trip: Part 3

When I last left you, there were no rooms at the inn.

Luckily, I wasn’t pregnant, nor were we traveling by donkey, but it still wasn’t optimal. We walked away from the hotel lobby desk considering the prospect of hunting for another room in Kansas City.

But…but…I was starving. And my husband was clearly tired of driving. We decided to grab some food while we discussed the options. So we went to Arthur Bryant’s where we ordered a huge slab of ribs and some random sides.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Road Trip: Part 2

Before long, the scenery changed again. Rolling hills with scattered trees turned into forests alongside the road, with deep green leaves a contrast to the lighter green grass. This was the scenery I grew up with, where there’s always a stand of trees somewhere on open land. If it’s not right up against the roadway, it’s off in the distance.

And of course, the weather changed as well. We could feel the humidity, the air was thicker, and the heat seemed a bit hotter, just because of the humidity. Dry and hot is not the same as hot and humid. I grew up in Chicago, I know what it’s like, but feeling it change as we drove was interesting.

Now, I’m used to the dry air and I’m used to seeing mountains at the horizon. Or, like the first part of the trip, it’s mostly empty land with a few scattered stubby trees, but you have an unobstructed view all the way to the horizon. Barring, of course, man-made structures and purposefully planted trees.

And soon we saw a city looming ahead.

Taking the Show on the Road

Taking a trip with no set itinerary and be fun, but it’s also a bit reckless. The first leg of our journey (everybody sing… “on the road again…”) took us from Colorado through Kansas on I-70. The Colorado portion wasn’t very scenic, given that we were leaving the mountains and heading through rather flat, dry land.

We made one quick detour to a “place of interest” before we left the state of Colorado. Marked on the map was the “Kit Carson Carousel,” I was curious to see what it was. We took the exit, followed the signs, and ended up at a county fairgrounds that was closed. A building had a sign for the carousel, but we didn’t bother banging on doors, we just headed back to the highway.

On the way back, my husband spotted a helicopter up on a pedestal, and he noticed that the ‘copter display included some equipment that he buys parts for, so we stopped and I took some photos.

The sky was dark and cloudy and the helicopter was dark and sort of monotone, so I wasn’t sure what the photos would turn out like, but it was our first tourist moment of the trip.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BOTD: Black and White Sweet Rolls

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved marble poundcake. I loved the swirl as much as I liked the flavor.

When I started thinking about creating a bread with a chocolate swirl, my first inclination was to make a loaf, just like those poundcakes I loved so much. But then I thought that fluffy sweet rolls would show off the swirl even better. And a pull-apart loaf is just plain fun.

The interesting thing about the two doughs in this recipe is the way they feel when you roll them out. The white dough is springy, as you'd expect. The chocolate dough is completely willing to be rolled, almost spongy, with no resistance at all. But they rise equally well, and they are almost identical after baking. Well, with the exception of the color.

If you don't like almond, you can leave out the almond extract, but I think it works well with the chocolate. If you don't like nuts, leave them out. They aren't essential to the recipe, but they add a nice texture. If you have extra nuts, you can sprinkle them on top of the rolls.

As for the icing, it's not necessary, but it looks pretty and people tend to expect that extra jolt of sugar with sweet rolls. I like to add a little vanilla to it so there's something more than just sweetness, but that's your call. If you like a lot of icing, make a double batch.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Making Tomato Paste

I'm on the road, so I can't blog about what I'm cooking right now. I will be blogging about what I'm eating as we find interesting places, but for now I'll have to go back in time to something I made before...

Not that long ago, really. Last fall. At the end of the season, I got a great deal on tomatoes, and I planned on canning them. I started out with canned whole tomatoes and then I progressed to tomato sauce and salsa and chili sauce. I started running out of storage space and jars.

I decided that it made sense to reduce the remaining tomatoes as much as possible, and that meant tomato paste. I froze most if it rather than canning. That made sense to me, since even the smallest jars hold more tomato paste than I reasonably will use in one recipe, and I'd end up freezing the unused portions those jars, anyway. Might as well just freeze it from the start.

If you're canning tomato paste, you need to add extra acid - either citric acid powder or lemon juice, according to one of my canning books. So check out a reliable source for the proper amount to add, and the canning time and techniqe. But if you're freezing, you don't need to add anything you don't want to. In my case, I didn't want to add much at all.

Making the tomato paste is easy, but it takes quite a bit of time, and it spends a lot of time on the stove, so it's best to tackle the process on a cool day. You can make as much or as little as you like, and you can season with garlic or bay leaves, or add red bell peppers or even some hot peppers.

Or, as I did, leave it plain. I figure that if I want the taste of garlic or bay in a dish, I can add it separately. But if I don't want those flavors an they're already in my tomato sauce, I can't take it out.

Tomato Paste
(for the freezer)

Tomatoes
Salt

Yes, that's really all I used.

Figure that your sauce will be about 1/4 the volume of your tomatoes - or less, depending on how watery the tomatoes are and how thick you want your sauce. Considering you'll spend quite a bit of time babysitting this on the stove, you might as well make enough to make it worthwhile.

Quarter and core your tomatoes, adding them to your heavy-bottomed pot as you finish them. Heat on medium heat, mashing the tomatoes down to break them up. When all of the tomatoes have been added to the pot, add just a bit of salt - figure no more than 1/2 teaspoon to 4 quarts.

Let the tomatoes simmer, stirring occasionally for about an hour, until they are very soft.

Strain the tomatoes through a food mill, strainer, or similar device to remove the seeds and skins from the pulp and juice.

Return the pulp and juice to the pan and continue cooking until the mixture has reduced to the thickness of tomato paste. Because, after all, that's what you're making. This will take 2-3 hours. Don't be tempted to raise the heat too much, or you could burn the sauce. Stir as needed. As the mixture thickens, you will need to stir more often.

When the paste is thick enough, remove it from the heat, let it cool off, then chill it. Freeze in your preferred containers, or scoop it into ice cube trays to freeze, then put the cubes into a zip-top bag to store in the freezer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Orange Marmalade

A friend of mine has long-distance custody of several citrus trees, and every once in a while she ends up with boxes of oranges and lemons. More than any one person could use. So she gives them to anyone who will take them.

When a friend gives you oranges, make ...  marmalade?

Before I attempted this, I've never made marmalade before, and never really thought about what was in it. After I made it, I was surprised how easy it was. I was also surprised at the standing time after the first boil. I thought that maybe it was an antiquated step, but even newer books had similar instructions.

Many of the marmalade recipes I found required grapefruit. Some required the seeds to be added and then removed, because apparently the seeds make the marmalade bitter. I wasn't interested in a bitter marmalade, though.

Of all the recipes I looked at when I was contemplating my bounty of oranges, this was probably the easiest.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Devilish Deviled Eggs

When I was growing up, my mother would make extra money putting together "party trays" for small events. She'd have pickles and carrot sticks and meatballs and I'd usually help her stuff celery with some sort of cheese mixture. But my special exclusive job was to make the deviled eggs. Apparently I had a talent for it.

Before the party trays got rolling, I liked deviled eggs, and I didn't mind making them because we'd make just a few for snacks. When the party trays came along and I was making dozens and dozens of them...well, let's just say that it got to be a lot less fun. When you're ten years old, you don't have the attention span to want to neatly stuff dozens of eggs.

When the era of the party trays ended, I swore off of deviled eggs. They were old fashioned. They weren't very exciting. Not only was I tired of making them, but I was tired of eating them. As a young adult, I never volunteered to make them for potlucks and parties, and for sure I didn't make them at home.

Years later, my husband mentioned that he really liked deviled eggs, so I relented. And the funny thing is that after a long hiatus, I liked them again.

My usual recipe includes some horseradish for a little kick, but the last time I made them, I decided they needed even more heat. They needed to be devilish and not just plain old deviled. And since I'm a bit addicted to a certain hot condiment, of course I had to use that for the heat.

This recipe uses 6 eggs, which makes 12 pieces, but you can double and triple and multiply to make as many as you want to.

Friday, July 23, 2010

BOTD: Light Cottage Wheat Bread, V.2

Yesterday, I overbaked a loaf of bread, but I liked it otherwise, even though I also let it overrise. So I decided to make it again, using a different technique. Why make it the same way, if I can do something different, right?

The white whole wheat in this loaf adds some healthy fiber, and the cottage cheese adds moisture and richness. But although it's got the whole wheat, it's appealing to folks who want white bread for a sandwich.

This time around, I used all the same ingredients in the same amounts, but the technique was different; Not only did I avoid the mistakes of over-rising and over-baking, but I also opted for a same-day bake instead of an overnight rest in the refrigerator.

This bread has a different texture than the first one, and it has the same moistness and good flavor.

So, in yesterday's question of whether the ingredients or technique matter most, in both cases, the ingredients did their job, and the flavors are similar. But technique changed the texture of the bread signifcantly. The interesting thing was that when my technique was so flawed yesterday, the bread was still good. So good ingredients helped, and I've got to say that the other key was that the formula was a winner as well.

The ingredients today are the same as yesterday, but I'll repeat it, for convenience. The instructions are different.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dining Out: Dinner at O'Shays

I figured I should test my new camera's skills at taking restaurant photos, since I'll be taking it on the road soon. Here's one of tonight's dinner specials at Mike O'Shays in Longmont.

It was flank steak topped with peppers and a balsamic sauce served over mashed potatoes with chives. Mixed vegetables completed the meal.

It came with soup or salad. I went with the tomato basil bisque, but forgot to take a photo. See, I'm not completely trained yet. I don't take photos of every morsel I eat.

My dining companion went with the pulled pork sandwich with barbecue sauce, but dived into it before I could snap a photo of the presentation.

But here it is anyway.

I took custody of the pickle.

BOTD: Light Cottage Wheat Bread

The question sometimes comes up as to which is more important - technique or ingredients. Sometimes it's about which you need to make a great dish, and sometimes it's about which to blame when things go horribly wrong.

When it comes to bread, I think that it's very forgiving, if you know how to adjust. If you don't add enough yeast, you let it rise longer. If you can't bake it right away, it's happy to rest in the refrigerator.

Well, this bread was plagued with problems. My problems; no blame for ingredients or equipment.
The first problem was that at one point in the process, I let the bread overrise drastically.

The second problem was that I overbaked it. Silly me, I heard the timer, but knew that I probably had another five minutes to go, so I didn't rush into the kitchen right away.

Then I got involved in what I was doing and forgot the bread had beckoned. Twenty minutes later, the bread was a bit overdone. The crust was overbrowned and a bit thick, and it was pretty hard and crunchy when I was cutting it. Considering all the egregious errors on my part, it was actually a pretty good bread. The only problem was that I had planned on using the bread for sandwiches, and the crust was a little hard for that. But the taste was good.

Overall, the bread was pretty forgiving. It was destined to be really good until I overbaked it, and even then it was a decent loaf.

Here's the recipe as it should have been, and I'll note my errors as well.

And just for the fun of it, there's another version of the same recipe tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Brownies

Bring up the topic of gluten-free foods in any group, and you're sure to get a variety of responses. I've heard everything from, "It's a fad. It will pass, just like Atkins," to "Gluten is bad for you. People shouldn't eat it." As usual, the truth lies somewhere between those two sentiments.

Gluten isn't bad for everyone, but it is very bad for some people. If you don't have gluten issues, then it's no more harmful than anything else you eat. But if you have celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities, avoiding gluten is important.

As with all allergies and sensitivities, there are varying degrees of symptoms. Some people are fine with small amounts of gluten, while others can't even have a trace of it before they have a reaction. That's why gluten-free boxed mixes are made and packaged in facilities that are free of all gluten products. It's not just a different packaging line, but an entirely different facility.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BOTD: Lemon Basil Flatbreads

Flatbreads are great. You can eat them as wraps for sandwiches, or tear them up and use them as a vehicle for dips or to sop up gravy. Call them tortillas and fill them with spicy Mexican flavors, or call them pitas and fill them with lamb and tzaitzki.

If you make too many, cut them in triangles and put them in a low oven to get crispy, and you've got chips. What's not to love?

Better yet, they're easy to make. And fast. You don't need to let the dough rise until it's competely doubled, so these can be done in much less time than a traditional bread. I've made flatbreads with little more than a brief rest after kneading, and they've been just fine. I've also made flatbreads with dough that has rested in the refrigerator overnight. If I'm being completely honest, I have to say that I like them best when they're made fresh and eaten right away - I like the texture better. Of course, everyone's tastes differ, so try it yourself. Cook some right away and save the rest to cook the next day.

Wraps are nice on a hot summer day, filled with fresh, light ingredients. Even better on a hot summer day, you don't need to turn on the oven to make these. They can be cooked on a griddle or grill, or in a cast iron pan on the stovetop. I like using a comal because it doesn't have the high sides of a frying pan to deal with, but a frying pan works just as well. Or cook them on the grill outside.

Instead of making plain flatbreads, this time I decided to add some flavor. Lemon and basil play nicely together, and make the flatbreads more interesting on their own. They'd make a nice wrap for chicken, fish, pork...or do what I did and stuff one with grilled vegetables and top with a bit of Greek-style yogurt for a nice light lunch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

BOTD: Sunny Oatmeal Bread

Yeast must be very conflicted. It eats sugar, but it thrives in an acidic environment. Sort of like me, loving the Colorado environment, but wanting to eat Chicago pizza.

I can't have both, but it's a lot easier for the yeast. In this case, buttermilk adds that extra acidity that makes the yeast giddy and bubbly.

As far as sugar for the yeast's dinner, this recipe includes some rich brown sugar along with the starch in the flour and oats. It's a happy yeast that makes lovely bubbles.

This dough is a little drier than most bread doughs that I make, but the yeast can handle it.

It's also a smaller loaf than I usually make. But that's fine. With all the seeds, it's a pretty rich bread, so it will last a while.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Well, that wasn't supposed to happen...

Every cook in every kitchen once in a while has a dish that doesn't turn out.

In my case, this one didn't turn out...
..out of the pan, that is.

I can't blame the recipe. Living at high altitude, a lot of baking recipes fail. And even if they don't fail completely - like the a cake recipe that boiled over the sides of the pan - sometimes they fail to become what the recipe writer intended.

And when it comes to recipes publicly posted on the Internet, there's always a chance that the recipe may not be exactly what you envision. In this case, the recipe was Banana Pound Cake. To me, pound cake is a certain density and texture. This was much lighter. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing; just different.

If I was making this for company, I'd salvage it with some judicious trimming followed by some sort of frosting. No one would ever know the difference. Or I might have tried taking the stuck chunks out of the pan and piecing it back together, and then glazing or frosting to cover the cracks and gaps.

As it is now, I think I'll just slice it up and eat it as-is. It's not bad cake, just broken.


And of course, sea level bakers will probably have a completely different experience with this recipe.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Boneless Turkey Breast - On the Grill

Sometimes simple is best. I bought a rolled and tied boneless turkey breast, slathered it with some of Anija's Twice-Bitten Mustard (with chipotle for an extra kick of heat) and put it on the grill to cook. When it hit 160 degrees, I pulled it off, wrapped it in foil, and let it rest.

Sliced, served, eaten, done. And not much to clean up afterward.

Of course it would work with any mustard. Honey mustard would be nice. Or any rub or topping or glaze that you like.

And the leftovers made great sandwiches for lunch.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Liver and Onions - What's not to love?

I grew up in blissful ignorance of the hatred of liver and onions. Oh, I'd heard jokes about people disliking liver, but I thought it was just bad kids on TV who didn't like it. I loved it. I couldn't imagine anyone not liking it.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I told my then-boyfriend that I was making liver and onions for dinner for us. He gave me an odd little look, but didn't say anything.

That night, he didn't look enthusiatic when dinner got to the table, but he sat down anyway. A guy's got to eat.

He took put some on his plate with a resigned expression on his face. And then he started eating, and his expression changed.

And then he asked me what it was.

"Liver and onions."

"But...but...I can stick a fork in it...I can cut it with a knife! I don't even need a knife! I can cut it with a fork! What is this, really?"

I had no idea what he was going on about. I'd only eaten liver and onions cooked one way. I'd learned it from my mother, and that was how I cooked it that night. It seemed perfectly normal to me, but he was going on like I'd turned hamburger helper into beef wellington.

Later, he confessed that he never liked liver before. The only liver he'd ever eaten was tough and chewy. This was the first time he'd ever had a tender piece of liver, and from that moment on, it became one of his favorite meals.

And of course I joke that he married me just because of that meal of liver and onions.

Once in a while I modify the recipe just a little. Sometimes I cut the liver in small slices, sometimes I add mushrooms or green peppers. This last time, I added some precooked baby potatoes to the onions, just to heat them up. But for the most part, the recipe stays the same. Because I like tender liver.

The secret to tender liver is pretty simple.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teriyaki Sauce and Grilled Steaks

Many years ago, before there were any Japanese restaurants in our area, my husband got a recipe for something called Teriyaki Sauce from a co-worker who claimed it was authentic.

Now, I'm not so sure about authentic, but it's still a decent sauce. I've been making batches of this for years, and it's great on steak, chicken, vegetables... whatever. I use it as a marinade, as a dipping sauce, and as a flavor enhancer when I'm cooking. It's sweet and salty. And pretty cheap to make.

The recipe makes a lot, but it also stores well. Before I ever gave a second thought to this spoiling, I simply made it and stored it in a cabinet. For months on end. I figured that since all the ingredients were shelf-stable, the cooked product also was. If you make it with fresh ginger and garlic, it might be a tad less shelf-stable, so I'll leave that up to you.

There are plenty of commercial teriyaki sauces on the market now, unlike when I was given this recipe. But the nice thing about this one is that you can tweak it to your liking. I've been meaning to make it with brown sugar instead of white, just for a change. And you can certainly add more spices.

Or just make this basic recipe and tweak small amounts of the sauce as you use it in recipes.

I haven't made this for a while, but I had enough on hand to marinate some ribeyes destined for the grill.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Victoria Cauliflower

At the farmer's market last weekend, a farmer was selling a vegetable labeled "Victoria Cauliflower." I'd never heard of it, so of course I bought it. Later, I looked it up, and found no information on it. So I'm not sure if it's something he named, or if it's a new variety.

On closer inspection, the Victoria Cauliflower looks an awful lot like Romaneso.

But the Romanesco I bought a few weeks ago from a different farmer was a deeper green, and it also was tinged with purple. But that could be from growing conditions, weather, or any number of reasons why two of the same variety of plant would turn out different.

Here, at the right, is the Victoria as it sat at the market.

Instead of chunking it up, I cut it in half through the core, then in quarters, and then into thin wedges.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BOTD: Poppy Seed Hot Dog Buns (and the Chicago Hot Dog)

When I moved away from Chicago, I thought that the lack of poppy seed hot dogs buns in my new hometown was something I could remedy by shopping better. It took a while for me to figure out that poppy seed buns aren't popular outside Chicago. Everywhere I asked about them, I got quizzical looks, but no buns.

A few hot dog vendors here sell Chicago-style dogs with poppy seed buns, but grocery stores don't sell them at all. Ever.

Of course, my answer is to make my own.

The instant mashed potatoes in the bun recipe are my secret weapon for making fluffy buns, and the semolina adds a nice depth of flavor. Much better than store-bought buns, for sure.

Quick Shine is a baking spray that's used to create a shiny crust, and it also helps toppings adhere. It's handy to have on hand if you do a lot of baking, but it's not necessary. A simple egg wash - an egg beaten with a bit of water - will do the same thing. On the plus side, the egg wash is a completely natural product, but on the negative side, it can be a waste of an egg if you don't have a lot of bread to brush.

Of course, the poppy seeds are optional, so you can skip the egg wash if you don't want seeds.

As far as a Chicago-style dog, the traditional condiments are:

Relish
Onions
Yellow Mustard
Tomatoes
Sport Peppers
Celery Salt
Cucumber or pickle spear
...on a poppy seed bun.

Needless to say, you can leave off what you don't like. Not every hot dog place in Chicago offers all the toppings I listed, and some offer even more. But the one condiment that's traditionally omitted from the Chicago dog is ketchup. Use it at your own risk.

And now, you can make your own poppy seed buns.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On the Grill

I came home from the farmer's market this week with a bounty of vegetables. Instead of just one vegetable on the side, I decided a mixed grill made more sense.

First, I boiled the teeny potatoes (both red and yukon gold) to give them a head start. Meanwhile, I sliced yellow squash, zucchini, and some fresh onion. I sprinkled on a little salt. Sometimes I'll marinate vegetables destined for the grill in some balsamic vinegar, but when I saw that my bottle of rice wine vinegar was just about empty, so I used that instead. Just a couple tablespoons.

Then I drizzled on the olive oil, mixed it around, and let it sit until I was ready for it.

I fired up the grill, put the grill frying pan on the grill to let it get hot, then dropped in the vegetables and potatoes. I stirred them around every once in a while to let them cook and brown a bit.

Little effort, lots of flavor.

And no, you don't really taste the vinegar. It's not like a pickled vegetable, it's just a flavor enhancer. You can leave it out, or use any other vinegar you like. As I said, balsamic is usually what I use, but sherry vinegar is nice, or a wine vinegar or even cider vinegar. Or lemon juice. It adds a little brightness, not tartness.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cappuccino Ice Cream

I love it when multiple goals coincide.

First, I wanted to make ice cream. Second, I wanted to use ingredients I had on hand, if possible. And third, I've been itching to enter some recipe contests.

The problem with some recipe contests is the fine print. The first issue that comes up are the exclusions. Many contests ban members of the media. I work for a newspaper, and that's the media. It's a small newspaper, but depending on how stringent the rules are, it could disqualify me.

Second, some contest disqualify anyone who is a "food writer." Ugh. What does that mean? I've got this blog, and I write a bread column for Serious Eats, and I write a cooking column for the newspaper. Add all that together, and it looks like a lot of food writing. But enough to disqualify?

For a contest that was being sponsored by King Arthur Flour, I got clarification on their definition of "food writer" and they said that if more than half my income came from food writing, then I would be disqualified. Otherwise I was good to go. I qualified. By a mile.

But that might not be the case for other contests. So if I can't get a clarification on the rule, I skip the contest.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

BOTD: Tomato Swirl Buns

I needed to bring some buns to a dinner, but I wanted something more interesting than my usual fluffy white buns. But not too complicated, since I didn't know what else was being served.

I decided that tomato powder would be a nice addition, and a swirl pattern would be nice.

The finished buns didn't have a strong tomato taste. There was just a hint of a different flavor, but not so much that it was distracting. The orange color was interesting, and the swirl was pretty.

If you're making this for a meal where you're in charge of all the flavors, these would be nice with the addition of an herb or other flavoring along with the tomato.

So here's how it went:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Scenes from the Farmer's Market

After a slow start, this week the market was bursting with wonderful produce. No need to say much more.

Here are my views of the Longmont Farmer's Market.

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