Saturday, July 14, 2007

I have No Idea...

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
I found this posted on Taylor's door this morning.

Last night we had a "boy night" here. This week Nannette brought her 8-year-old nephew, Cody.

Before they came, Cody talked to his sister Jordin on the phone. "We're going to Karen's for supper," he told her.

"She likes girls better than she likes boys," Jordin told him.

Huh. I guess I must have really snowed that little girl!

We had burgers on the grill, watermelon, the canned baked beans that I couldn't get Jordin to put on her ice cream sundae last week, and some cucumbers & tomatoes from the farm, as well as farm potatoes that I had roasted.

Nannette and I had glasses of Riesling, and then sat on the patio, trying to stay awake. Cody played Wii Golf with Nate and beat him! Cody has a really cute laugh...kind of a Woody Woodpecker thing.

And of course Taylor, Tony, and Mensa Boy all watched "Man vs Wild."

It was a fun evening.

Of course now we have this "deadly poison" thing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Grilled Okra

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
I posted this photo on August 13, 2005 and I've never had okra any different way since then. I adore this stuff and find myself wondering when my farmer is going to give me some this year. It's one of my favorite snacks.

My adorable friend, Kathy Richardson, who has left her job as our school principal to become the Queen of Math and Science at Winthrop University, just sent me an email asking me how to make it. She snagged a few one day as I was taking them to a class dinner.

So here's what you do:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Clean your okra and cut off the tough knobs at the ends. Or not. Those ends do make handy-dandy handles for when you are eating them.

Roll the okra in olive oil and lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. I like to cook mine in this cast iron grill pan so that I get those nice grill marks. I'll roll them around periodically on the pan that's been heated NASA hot on top of the stove, and then finish them off in the oven.

But you can put them right into the oven on a cookie sheet or grill pan.

And basically just roast them in there until they are charring and have softened.

Take them out, sprinkle liberally with kosher salt, and munch away!


A Day of Learning

Yesterday we met my aunt and uncle at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte for lunch and to tour the exhibits. They were in town for an Elks convention and were about to leave to drive back to Albert Lea, Minnesota.

I learned a few things yesterday:

1. I learned a lot about the BG Library. I can't say that much of the information in there was new to me. I've been exposed to the life and ministry of Mr. Graham quite a bit. But this place is simply stunning. The use of modern technology to tell the story of Christ and the story of this ministry is simply amazing. It's too bad that the media made such a big deal about the talking cow. I barely noticed that.

2. I learned that you should take an auto-focus lens and use your camera strictly on auto settings if you have a chance to see someone you haven't seen for a couple years, and you have only a couple of hours with your subject matter. I took my 50mm lens, which I have to manually focus, and I ended up with quite a few shots that were simply not focused correctly. Largely due to my slow hand at it, but also due to the fact that I was in a low-light situation most of the time, where it is just plain harder to focus.

So, with all that, here at the few (somewhat) useful photos I took yesterday:

Jimmy Fox is a bus driver for our school. He actually drives kids from our neighborhood. Not mine anymore...our 'hood is too large now and needs two buses. Anyway, he's a retired minister and loves driving. Ever since the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association moved to Charlotte, Jimmy has wanted to work there in some capacity. This summer his hopes were realized when he was hired part time to drive shuttle buses and golf carts. He is absolutely loving it!

Here are my aunt and uncle in the exhibit areas. See what I mean about focus? I'm disgusted with myself over these. live and learn.

Here is Mensa Boy and my uncle. MB's crystal clear, isn't he? Sheesh. So my uncle...he's an Exhalted Ruler in the Elks. I think that means he's like the president of their lodge or something. They have something like 1600 members in their lodge. I never knew much about the Elks, but they do a ton of charity work. So, like the Rotary, they basically exist to raise money and give it away.

And finally, my aunt. She's my dad's baby sister...10 years younger than he is. Like my parents, Lyle and Lila love camping. They plan to sell their home when they retire and go on the road fulltime. They'll buy a little house in some state where the taxes are low, and then stop in there whenever they aren't on the road.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Product Review: Grainy Pastas

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic

The markets are becoming full of whole-grain products now. As my friend Jenny says, "Now is a great time to be on a diet." There are so many high-fiber, low-fat products now. I'm still skeptical about sugar content, but I haven't really done much investigating in that area yet.

In response to the fact that most Americans like their pasta smooth and white, several manufacturers are making blends of white and whole wheat. This Barilla line, called "Plus," is kind of a happy medium between Mueller's Whole Grains and Creamette's white, highly-processed products.

Here's a mini-comparison of three kinds of pasta. I'll just compare calories, fat, fiber and sugar for one serving (56g or about 1/2 cup):

Mueller's Enriched Macaroni-Cal 210, 1g fat, fiber 2g, sugars 2g

Barilla Plus Penne-Cal 210, 2g fat, fiber 4g, sugars 2g

Mueller's Whole Grain Rotini-Cal 190, 2g fat, fiber 5g, sugars 4g

So the whole grain is the lowest in calories, but the sugar content is twice as high. I suspect to make it more palatable to the average American consumer. But you do get 1g higher fiber and lower calories, which drops the Weight Watcher's point value:

Mueller's Enriched-4 points

Barilla Plus-4 points

Mueller's Whole Grain-3 points

The kids liked it. Actually, I should say they didn't dislike it. Ok...they didn't say anything at all. But neither did I. I assume they noticed...especially Taylor, who has a heightened sense of smell and taste, as well as being the most observant member of the family. I did not volunteer that the pasta was different and they did not comment that it was. So I passed that test.

I made a dish from "Cooking Light" magazine that had spinach, asparagus, bacon and parmesan in it. They gobbled it right up.

The Mueller's Whole Grain pasta was good, but a little too Euell Gibbons for us. Even for me, I thought. It was pretty dense and somewhat chewy. I like chewy in my pasta, but I thought the texture was just a little too apparent. I like my pasta to be a vehicle for the sauce...a background singer, if you will. I don't want the pasta itself to make any statements of its own.

Both pasta were more expensive than the regular stuff. Like about 50 cents higher per box. But I'll buy the Barilla Plus stuff a lot now. When I'm not busy making my own, that is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Simpsons: Bart Simpson's Chalkboard

I've never been a fan of "The Simpsons." Never have seen even one episode. But when I found this compilation of chalkboard scenes on youtube, I couldn't help but share it. (I was surfing for videos, music and photos about education and technology)

Feed-the-Preacher Night


Every Friday (almost) we have our friend Tony over for supper. You've heard me talk about Tony. He's our minister, but also a close friend. I like to joke that Tony is the other 12-year-old I never had. When he is here, he gets Taylor riled up and they both take turns keeping us in stitches most of the night.

We sit around the supper table and talk about nothing most of the time. Tony tells jokes, we all tease him about how bad they are, and usually Nate, Taylor, or Mensa Boy introduce some speculative science thing that I don't understand. One night it was about geosynchronous orbit and wouldn't it be cool if we could have things in orbit around the earth that would be only a yard or so off the ground?

I usually just sit and watch it all happen. As my friend Jenny says, "It's like a train wreck. You just can't take your eyes away from it."

A few times this summer we've also invited my neighbor Nannette and last week she brought her niece, 7-year-old Jordin.

So the balance of power between the boys and girls evened out just a little last Friday.

Friday night dinner is usually a big affair. A large meal with dessert most of the time. I don't do that just to impress Tony. I like to relax by cooking and having a guest just gives me an excuse to whomp up something with several steps. And besides...Tony eats ANYTHING. I love having non-picky eaters at my house.

Last Friday, however, was a boy-friendly meal. Tacos. And for dessert we made our own sundaes. Nannette's niece is a little shy, so we gave her the lead on that, taking her to the grocery store with a list so that she could get all the ingredients we need for some really good sundaes. As I'm prone to do, I made up all kinds of stuff to pull her leg. "Pickles, Jordin? What about the pickles? You can't have a sundae without pickles! The best ones I know have ice cream, pickles, baked beans, tabasco sauce, chocolate chips, sprinkles, chocolate sauce..."

It was when she decided I was crazy that she relaxed, I think. That and the camera. She walked around with my camera and took photos most of the night. The little girl took a lot of photos of my house, including the messy parts.


But when we took her out to my neighbor's garden, I found that she has a pretty good knack for framing and macro photography:

It was a great night. And no one ever did put any pickles or baked beans on their sundae, so I don't need to put those items on next week's grocery list..


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crime Doesn't Pay

Apparently today was not a good day to be a Chinese Food & Drug official.

At first, when you hear the lead-in to this story, and they are saying what has happened, it strikes you as sort of funny...that someone with this kind of job would do something worthy of this kind of punishment.

But as you listen to the entire story on NPR, you find that this situation is very very serious.

Peach Cheesecake

Actually, it's not the cheesecake itself that is peachy. It's the peach compote hidden inside, and the peach preserve glaze on top, that lends the peachy flavor to this cake.


I found this recipe on Epicurious.It was originally in Bon Appetit magazine, June 2002.
The recipe was a pretty straightforward New York-style cheesecake recipe.

If you decide to make this, bear in mind that you really need to start a day ahead of the day you serve it.

Peach Cheesecake with a Gingersnap Crust

When you are ready to start, take your eggs and cream cheese out and put them on the counter. You really want them to be at room temperature when you make the filling.

Make the compote first, because it has to cool a little.
combine in a small saucepan:
4 small peaches (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons of sugar (more or less depending upon how sweet the fruit is)
1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves and the peaches break down and are juicy. Stir occasionally. This should take around 5 minutes. I used frozen peaches from last year, so I had to let mine go a little longer, just to let them thaw. Uncover the the pan and let the peaches cook until they are tender and the juices thicken.

Cool the compote. I would think to at least room temperature. But really you could probably make this ahead of time and refrigerate, then take it out to warm up a bit before you use it. It's not a big deal: it's pretty forgiving. I just wouldn't put HOT compote in the cheesecake batter.

Now, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take out a very large roaster pan, large enough to set the springform pan inside, and place it on the counter out of the way. Lay a kitchen towel in the bottom. Fill the teakettle all the way full with water and set it on the stove to boil. This is for your bain marie.

Make a gingersnap crust by grinding up
25 gingersnap cookies (about 6 ounces)and
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter

Press the crust into a 9-inch springform pan, bringing the crumbs up the sides about an inch. Put the pan into the oven and bake until you can smell the gingersnaps browning, 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven to cool on a rack.

Reduce the oven heat to 325 degrees.

Make the cheesecake filling
4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese until it's fluffy. Gradually add 1 1/4 cups sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla.

Place your pan on top of a piece of foil that is large enough for you to gather up around the outside of the pan. This will help with any leaks.

Spoon half the batter (about 3 cups) into the crust. Then spoon the compote by tablespoonfuls around the batter, spacing the glops apart. Pour the rest of the batter onto the top.


Here is my friend Cassie putting together the cheesecake. She is a cheesecake-maker extraordinaire.

Okay. So now you have the cheesecake together and the water in the kettle has either come to a boil or is about to. Gather the foil up around the outside of your springform pan.

Place the large roaster pan in the oven and pour the boiling water into it. Then place the cheesecake pan into the roaster.

Now, you are going to bake this cheesecake for about an hour. But start looking at it by around 50 minutes. You are going for a lightly-browned top and you don't want it to be all the way "set." The center of the cheesecake should have a little bit of a jiggle to it if you nudge the pan. You will probably think it's underbaked. But that cake is going to hold a lot of residual heat for quite some time. Not to mention the water in the roaster pan.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven. I remove the entire roaster with cake inside and place it on the counter, then remove the cheesecake. But that's probably not wise, because the water can slosh all over. And it's hard on the back. You can just remove the cheesecake from the pan.

Let it cool on a rack for a while.

The recipe says to cool it for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the outside to be sure it's loose from that pan, then remove the sides of the pan and refrigerate for a day. But other recipes suggest you cool it for a day and then remove the sides before you serve it. I prefer that method. I just don't want to do anything that might upset the cake before it's all the way chilled. And need to chill overnight. It's tempting to just go 5 or 6 hours, but a 24-hour chill is really the best here.

"And it was evening and then morning, the second day."

Make the glaze
Combine in a small saucepan
1/2 cup peach preserves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Stir this over medium heat until the glaze comes to a simmer. The recipe suggests straining it, but I had a snafu removing the cake from the pan, so I used the lumps and bumps and extra glaze that I would have lost from straining to glaze the top of the cake and cover the ugliness. I'll tell you about the mess in a second.

Remove the springform sides of the pan by running a knife around the edge between the crust and the pan sides, and then loosening the sides and sliding up over the top.
Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, arrange some peach slices on top, and maybe a sprig of mint.

And there you have it!

This was the fourth cheesecake I've made. I've never had one crack. Cracking happens when the cake becomes overcooked. It's still great to eat that way, just not as strikingly beautiful. Glazes and toppings help to cover up cracks. I think the bain marie method really helps to assure that the cake does not crack. The water is an insulator and helps distribute the heat throughout the entire cake, so that the bottom and sides don't get overcooked before the middle has had enough time. Because cheesecakes are large and dense, bain maries just make sense. (Like that? I made that up)

My snafu. So this was my fourth cheesecake. Never have had any trouble whatsoever, so I figured now I had enough experience to make a cake for the newspaper. A photograph-able cake.

I removed the cake from the refrigerator and began to run my knife around the edge. It was hard to make the knife go. I didn't expect that. The pan I use is pretty much nonstick. I kept going. I loosened the pan sides and started to lift it off. It really seemed like it didn't want to come. As I gently lifted the side up, there was cake stuck to it and it snagged my perfect top and tore a jagged edge about 6 inches long.

I had managed to run my knife down between the crust and the cake, instead of between the crust and the pan. I had cut the side crust completely off the cake. ARRGH!

Ugly cake.

So I meticulously cut the crust remnants from the pan, fitting it like a puzzle to the sides of the cake with my fingers. Gently, gently pressing the sides together to "glue it." I carefully smoothed down the jagged top and then glopped all the lumpy glaze across the top.

I think it turned out pretty photogenic, if I do say so myself.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
This is my kind of hummer. Absolutely no cost (well, may a few cents of sugar)...way less than the Hummer car...which costs about what our first house did.

I've been cooking and photographing all weekend. Both require a lot of breath-holding. So today I'm working on breathing.

(I should explain that I do not ALWAYS hold my breath when I cook. Just when I cook something I've never done before, I plan to photograph it, and I'm worried that it might end up looking a little messy. See below)

I am absolutely LOVING my new little lens for my camera. But I should mention that this particular photo was not taken by that one. The new lens is a 50 mm. This was taken with my 55-200 telephoto lens. I started out sitting 4 feet from the feeder with the 50 mm lens and the birds were just too scared. They came to the feeder - that wasn't a problem. But they were swooping at my head. And all my shots were to the side like this one because they always like that perch. My office window is to the left of this shot, so now I've removed the screen from that window and I plan to shoot them through the glass with the little lens so I can get them straight on.

During breaks from work, that is. I'm going to be doing some serious desk jockeying this week. I have material for 5 stories, another story that needs more interviewing, and about 30 hours worth of CDs to do for the Clevelands.

So back to work. I'll write about the food later. That's one of the stories for the paper (yay!).


My Peach Puzzle. Much messier-looking than the photo on NPR, but just as good, I think.