Pumpkin Banter

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Time to die for your crimes, Jack!"

*Ssshlunk* In plunges the knife, hilt deep, into the pumpkin's personified skull.

"Jesus Christ, Garrett, can't you just carve the damn pumpkin like a normal person?" bemoans my coworker as she details a sketch of my victim's future face with Monet-like perciscion.

"No. And technically I just want the seeds to I can toast and eat them. Jack here is just a by-product of that."

"So you don't want to carve a jack-o-lantern?"

"No, I didn't say that. Honestly, I could care less about lanternizing with a squash. I mean, I think the whole process of hollowing and illuminating disfigured winter produce is creative and whimical, but for the most part this is a culinary venture for me," I note as I begin to furtively whack away at the strings that attempt to keep the pumpkin's stemmed top on.

"Whatever, just skullcap him already so we can remove his brains." Cue the eyeroll.

"Yeah, I'll remove your brains in a second."

Ah, holidays.

Happy Halloween everybody.

Apocalypse, Nowish (In Regards to Wine, That Is)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wow, it's been a while since humanity really had a good show of stupidity in my presence and I guess that, like the dollar, our morals and economic views are depreciating as well. People are becoming a bit more frugal with their spending and (god forbid) now attempting to live within their means. As such, we're resorting to old budget meals we haven't used since the college days, adding a bit more water to our soups, clipping coupons, and aiming for leftovers. Indeed, it has been a while since I broke out doing fried eggs with green onions and soba. An oldie, but a goodie, and at around 25 cents per serving a damn fine bargain.

Furthermore we're choosing our wines from shelves that are much closer to the floor. A economic vertical shift (one of many in the wine industry as of late) that has forced most wine drinkers to take a southward glance when it comes to their selections at the store. I believe 2-Buck Chuck is going to make a resurgence in popularity, and home grown viticulture will probably take more root. Still, for those of us not inclined to brew our own wine we have to resort to blue light specialty wine. I would attempt to make my own, but my innate lack of self-preservation and general clumsiness would lead me to distill some sort of burgundy colored swill requiring two priests and a hazmat team to clean up.

So while at the Whole Foods checking out their specialty low price wines (read: < $7), I noticed a couple price checking a few bottles. She was a ex-pat Orange County woman; bleached hair, boob job (even I know God doesn't make breasts like that), Monolo Blah-nik personality type. He was about 30 years her senior, Armani loafers retiree and seemingly self-taught wine snob; the kind that probably sniffs plastic corks and abhors wine in boxes or with screw caps (Viva la Screwcap!).

Anywhose, back to eavesdropping, I sort of listened in on their conversation. It was a practical discussion of what wine to have with dinner and it seems they were able to afford shelling out a few twenties so good for them. As I don't really know much about wine I moved on to selecting my bottle, a simple white wine for dinner that was going for $6. I knew it went well with spicy food, and I prefer white anyways so it was a happy occasion for me.

"OH! You should try THIS Pinot Grigio, it's really TO DIE for."

I turned to find the woman looking at me with her Trish McEvoy laden face and gesturing towards a bottle on the wall. I glanced and noticed the $22 price tag. Looking back to her I cordially replied in earnest, "It's allright. I actually really enjoy this wine. It goes well with curry and it's more in my budget," in which I laughed to suppress my financial pain and to end the conversation.

"OH! You should NEVER buy a gris that's less than $15. It's just BOUND to be tacky." Unsure where she found this bit of fortune cookie knowledge and unclear as to what exactly defines a wine as "tacky" I smiled back.

"Well, you know, bad economy and all. Have to cut costs somewhere. Could be worse, could not be able to afford a bottle of wine at all."

"OH! OH! I TOTALLY understand. We stopped buying THIS brand," pointing with a well manicured french tipped finger to a $50 bottle of red wine. "It's fiscal TRA-GUH-DY! Like the money-world-apocalypse-NOW of wine!" Older husband looked over and nodded in agreement and then, I shit you not, grabbed a bottle of it anyway and popped it in his basket along with the non-tacky, previously mentioned white.

So I guess, for them, it's not quite the end of the world. Some thought must go into the purchases now before going along with them regardless.

Edible Sacramento & Waterboy Dinner

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Be sure to check out the new issue of Edible Sacramento, the piece I worked on made cover so yay! It talks about the use of fresh, local ingredients in cocktails and highlights Lounge on 20, HAWKS, and Paul Martin's American Bistro. The pics with the article are by the most awesome Holly, and her shots are worth checking out. It's definitely, on the whole, one of the best issues we have ever put out. If you enjoy it I hope you'll look into purchasing a subscription and supporting local food writers. *cough cough*

Also, a special note, Edible Sac is co-sponsoring a special dinner at The Waterboy. Four course meal with pairings from Kunde Estate Winery. Very shnazy. Plus you can meet our swanky ES editors and talk to them about the magazine and give 'em your input!

Jujubes (aka Chinese Dates)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I noticed this fall at the farmer's market a new fruit that seems to be popping up. Jujubes, or Chinese dates as they are often called.

Due to it's adaptability to grow in a wide variety of regions and it's abundance the shrub that grows them is hard to place. It's original cultivation seems to stem from South Asia, possibly Syria or North India, but it has since spread across the continent and is slowly beginning to be cultivated within the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Indeed its ability to stand intensely cold winters and blazingly hot summers and still produce fruit abundantly has made it a easy cash crop and staple for farmers.

So what is a jujube? Well, it's a small simple fruit that has a mellow and smooth taste of green apples but without the tartness of one. The flavor is muted with a sort of serene placidity the one might associate with a lazy Sunday. The texture is firm and crisp, and while not juicy it certainly isn't dry - it has a sort of airy freshness that comes from a small amount of petrified water within it's tense and tight fibrous body (however the fruit is tight, yet very light so one cannot call the texture fibrous, indeed the fruit's cells are so tiny that you can barely discern any fiber at all). At the center is a tiny, stone pit that holds tight to the flesh of the berry. However, when allowed to become a bit overripe they become a bit mucilaginous and are prescribed to help sooth sore throats; furthermore their taste becomes much sweeter.The jujube is often candied or dried out and sugared like traditional dates. Wines and teas are commonly made from them as well for their subtle flavor that, when cured, becomes heady and supposedly quite an aphrodisiac. They are also used in medicine to supposedly alleviate stress and reduce anxiety. Jujubes are also very high in fiber.

I've been keeping them in a bowl and snacking on them periodically. They're light and easy, a tasty snack, palate cleanser, or delicious pairing with tea and light tasting creamy cheeses such as brie.

Aztec Chocolate Cookies - To Warm the Soul and the Classroom

Friday, October 17, 2008

After my professor for one of my classes saw this site she mentioned that she hoped I would bring some sort of noshable in for class. Encouraged (read: threatened otherwise) by my friends Jill and Casey I suppose I had no choice. As such I dutifully prepared these while finishing up my response paper due for said class, sure that both would turn out fabulously.

These cookies are chocolaty and intensely rich, perfectly comforting for the soon coming colder nights. An extra bit of warmth is hearthed in these cookies with the subtle fragrances and flavors of cinnamon and ancho chili powder. With tiny, nutty pops of green flavor from pepitas and another sharp bite from dark chocolate chips these cookies are sure to heat you up and relax your spirits.

Aztec Cookies
What You'll Need...

1 cup of butter
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of white granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ancho chili powder
dash of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of chocolate chips
1/2 cup of raw pumpkin seeds (shelled, unsalted)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Cream the butter and sugars together for about two minutes at medium speed or until well incorporated and light in color.

3. Add the egg and the vanilla extract until well incorporated, about a minute. Be sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl halfway through.

4. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices, and cocoa powder. Add to the butter mixture slowly, and beating at medium speed, stopping once all of it is incorporated (do not overmix).

5. Fold in the chocolate chips and pumpkin seeds.

6. Take small spoonfuls of the dough and roll into one inch sized balls and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Curried Tomato Soup

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I've done the math now and I figure I am either working, doing homework, in class, or writing for one of my side jobs about 70 hours a week. My God, I keep new hours like the new-bitch lawyer at a law firm. Balance that with crazy felines, everyday household stuff, sleep, attempting to get to the gym (will not become a fat foodie!), and my dangling by a thread social life and it becomes hard to find a moment to cook something for myself.

It's times like this I am glad I observed my OCD mother and her zealot-like devotion to keeping a meticulous day planner and having a ready stash of quick and easy recipes on hand that would easily carry over into future meals.

This soup is one of those recipes. Using only a few spare ingredients, some kept on-hand regularly, a few not so much but easily picked up if planning ahead, it's a recipe with amazing versatility. Made as is, it's a exotic tomato soup with hints of curry, lemongrass, lime, and a bit of a spicy kick.

The bonus? It makes plenty. Ah, but there is another fine direction to take this dish to - should you tire of this curried tomato soup then you can easily transform it. Throw it in a pot with some freshly chopped veggies and cooked ground hamburger. You'll have a peppery new tomato sauce which give any pasta a gutsy new taste.Curried Tomato Soup
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet)

What You'll Need...
1 red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Thai Kitchen red curry paste
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 (14-oz) cans of vegetable broth
1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
lime wedges (optional)
cilantro leaves (optional)
sour cream (optional)

What You'll Do...
1. Cook onion in oil in a heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add curry paste and cumin and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, water, brown sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt and simmer 15 minutes.

2. Purée soup in batches in a blender. Return soup to pot and reheat.

3. Garnish with lime, cilantro, and sour cream.

Chapped Lips? Try Honey!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

While delicious over yogurt and drizzled on freshly baked biscuits with butter, honey has other fantastic uses outside of the kitchen.

Honey has long been used for centuries as a healing agent. We know today that honey has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities that prevent infection and help control and destroy outside bacterial agents that are already present. This is due to the low water activity within honey's monosaccharide (basic carbohydrate) composition; since most of the water is trapped in chemical bonds with the sugar there is little extra water for bacteria to live in. Furthermore, honey has a pH level of about 4.5, making it too acidic for most bacteria to thrive in. (First time even using my college chem and bio classes in a practical manner, go me!)

In addition, when used topically the simple carbohydrate compounds can be utilized by the skin preventing discoloration, scarring, foul odor, and the rejuvination of epithelial tissue. Translation: it helps you heal faster with less noticeable marks.

What does this mean? Well, it means that honey makes a damn good lip balm for chapped lips.

All you have to do is put a small dab on your lips and smack them around. As tempted as you will be, do not lick it off. Allow it to dry, which can take a while and your lips will be plenty sticky and smell quite tasty. Once it dries completely your lips will have a protective barrier and healing gloss keeping moisture in and bacteria out.

Feel free to give it a try! (And yes, I did not shave when I took that picture. I was sick that day. Normally, I'm frickin' adorable.)

Burning the Candle at Both Ends and Oatmeal as the Cure

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The trouble with burning the candle at both ends is eventually you run out of wick. That burnt out wick is usually accompanied by glassy eyes, runny nose, headaches, coughing and a bit of sneezing.

Being home sick sucks. Especially as an adult. As a kid it means you stay in bed all day and watch tv. As an adult it means you get behind in work, and even if you're at home there is plenty of shit that needs to get done.

Cooking for yourself is probably one of the last things you want to do. Standing over a stove, or preparing food right now in a hot kitchen sounds dreadful. Don't even want to think about it. Still, one needs to eat and lord knows that ordering a pizza isn't going to help me get better. This is one of those times where a bowl of warm oatmeal, doctored up of course, is the smart route to go.

What's so great is that it's such an easy peasy warm dish to make. Loaded up with spices, fruits, and seeds it's packed with nutrition and tastes great. Other bonuses? Way cheaper than the pre-packaged flavors. Have a glass of OJ on the side (and maybe a multivitamin and cough suppressant), and you're set to go on the couch and under a blanket.

Sadly, I still have to drag my ass to school later to do some observation in a classroom and have plenty of homework to get me busy. Luckilly, the last 12 hours of sleep (I kid you not) have already helped immensely with the recovery.

I used pumpkin seeds and currants for this, but dates, nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, or whatever you have will work just fine. Hope this recipe finds you well.To Make You Feel Better Oatmeal
serves 1

1 cup of old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon of packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of currants

1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds

3/4 cup of hot water

Place all together in a bowl and stir. Get under a blanket and enjoy.

Boiled Peanuts

Monday, October 6, 2008

The only peanuts I'm generally familiar with is the butter kind which I'm not a super fan of, and the roasted and salted kind of which I can put away like I'll win a prize. Still, ever since I read the book Cold Mountain (a horrible read, I say eliminate every character but Ruby and just make it Ruby is the Awesome) I was enamored with the southern recipe of boiled peanuts.

For some reason, the concept sounded so interesting. In California, you just don't have it here. We salt and boil soybeans to have with sushi. Still, why don't we use peanuts? Indigenous to the Americas, it's a shock we haven't utilized the peanut to more than just a school lunch sammich filling.

Luckily, it's peanut season in the Farmer's Market and they're cheap and readily available for your experimentation. I picked up a few pounds for a few bucks and went home to boil away. I went with a recipe I found online at CHOW which called for salt, water (duh), and for a bit of flavor a star anise. I dig Pacific Rim food so I threw in the angular and sweet spice and boiled away.

The results are easy and delicious. Earthy, meaty bits of peanut with a slightly musky resonance that sort of settles with you and imparts a sublime comfort. I enjoy a simple snacky food; salty and healthy it's a great option to keep around. I must admit, I seem to have punished the entire bowl of them, but it's a kind of guilt free indulgence.
Boiled Peanuts
2 pounds of raw peanuts
2 tablespoons of salt

1 star anise
8 cups of water

Fill a stock pot with water and add salt and anise. Bring to a boil. Add peanuts and boil for 45 minutes. Take off heat and let stand for an hour. Drain, serve warm, chilled, or freeze for later in the shell.

Out with the Cupcakes, In with the Yogurt

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It seems that the cupcake fad that swept the nation with such sweet-toothed intrepidation is finally slowing down. The stores have stopped opening, though indeed the ones that did open seem to be doing just fine. The cakes are still dainty, their frosting colorful, their flavors dependable and pleasant.

Still, the little sugary mounds of goodness seem to have placated themselves into their societal niche of the food world. The excitement, the reminiscence of childhood, the chic-ness has packed up and moved on. Even the cupcake blogs have moved on to new projects or closed.

Take this site for example, once it was a prime cupcake blog, and still in some ways it is. There's a good repitoire of recipes here, and I still whisk one up once in a while. However, new interests come in and factors such as time and money, both of which I'm a little low on factor in.

But back to the decline of the cupcake craze.

It all was inevitable. Like slap bracelets, goat cheese salads, and The Spice Girls, all fads eventually oversaturate the market and we become accustomed to them. We wear them in like a good way-old pair of jeans; nothing flashy, but now comfortable and reliable. Always in back waiting for when we can use them again. Books, websites, blogs (this one included), shops, TV specials. We have accepted all cupcakes and there is nothing new about them to us anymore.

And so moves in the next culinary fad. It's been coming for a year or two now, slowly gaining momentum, but is now racing across the nation at supersonic waterslide speeds.

We have shifted to a culture of frozen yogurt (get it?).

Have you noticed? Sure there have been a few yogurt places around for quite a few years, but now it's a surge. A tidal wave of soft serve charged by weight.

But now they aren't your usual vanilla and yogurt. Now it's Tart Flavored yogurt, the intense tang coming from LIVE ACTIVE CULTURES! So neat! So new! Try it now! And you can believe there is plenty of non-fat, low calorie, dairy free and sugar free options. The most delicious whipped flavored-air you ever had.

Toppings that once offered simple selections like marshmallow topping, chocolate sauce, and sprinkles and nuts now proffer a wide gambit of options. Locally grown organic fruits, freshly whipped cream, fair-trade Brazil-nuts, and an assortment of candies, cookies, and mochi all eager to please and complicate your half pomegranate-half banana low calorie creamy concoction.

Not that I'm really knocking it. Honestly, there's a place called Yogurt Monkey here in Sac. 5 minute bike ride, $2.50 for blueberry low cal yogurt with some fresh bananas and yogurt chips? Oh so frickin' yum.

Still, cupcakes and yogurt. Can they co-exist? I think yes. Some stores of each will die once the fads fully fade, and I think they both have their seasonality. Come January, I doubt I'll be wanting cold yogurt, and in August who wants a piping fresh cupcake?

The ice cream fad really hit the food blogs recently, but I think we'll see a big resurgence soon. Flavors and combos for ice cream and frozen yogurts will be penetrating the blogosphere with alarming rate if I'm right.

Only time will tell.

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