Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chocolate Party (at Home)

So, it looks like this is quickly becoming a food blog... Perhaps it's just that cooking and eating and writing and thinking about food is most of what I do for fun these days, and so it always feels like the appropriate topic of conversation. Is it? Do you all like hearing about our eating escapades?

In any case, this time around, the fair Mexican mole is our topic of conversation. (Though just now after reading the Wikipedia entry for "Mole sauce," I'm not exactly sure this can be labeled as such, since it doesn't neatly fall into any of the categories laid out there. But it was delicious!)

The idea for this dish came from an invitation to a Mardi Gras-Chocolate Party (hosted by some local Madison foodies) we got a couple weeks back that encouraged us to bring something chocolate to pass. Because I figured most things there were going to be of the sweet variety, I thought it would be fun to make something savory and chocolatey. We also had this bar of 85% cacao Dagoba chocolate that was far too bitter for actual eating but that I thought would make a delicious mole sauce. First I thought about making something like empanadas with a mole filling, but then that seemed like too much work. And so, the idea for mole black bean quesadillas was born!

This also gave me the opportunity to use our new pressure cooker, which I'm quickly learning to love. We've decided to go BPA-free (see Consumer Reports review of BPA in canned food here), giving up canned foods for the most part, and definitely at least canned beans for now (just in time for my history of canning dissertation!). So the pressure cooker really comes in handy for this. We buy lots of beans in bulk at the co-op (so cheap!), and then after soaking them overnight in 3 parts water to 1 part beans, cook them in the pressure cooker for just 4 minutes, let the pressure drop, and voila! delicious, perfectly-cooked, non-salty, non-chemical-filled beans! We've then taken to freezing portions of these beans in 2 cup servings, so that they can be had on hand for a quick meal, just like a can of beans. Now I just have to figure out what else the pressure cooker is especially handy for (I've been eying this book Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, by Lorna Sass, lately, so maybe someday I'll get some more ideas from there).

So, for this meal, I cooked a bunch of beans, and scooped out four cups to use in this recipe. Beautiful, shiny black beans:
I then combined these beans with 2 cups sauteed onion, 6 cloves minced and sauteed garlic, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, flour, vegetable broth, the crushed chocolate bar, sugar (which I only added because our chocolate was unusually bitter), and salt. And then it looked like this:

Finally, I made some quesadillas with this black bean-mole combination, some shredded Cedar Grove cheese, red onions, and pickled jalapenos on wheat tortillas (Trader Joe's has good trans-fat-free tortillas, which are actually surprisingly hard to find elsewhere). We used some of the leftover filling to make a quick burrito with the same ingredients, plus a thrown-together slaw of shredded cabbage and lemon juice.
Sadly, we didn't end up making it to the chocolate party, but at least Justin got to enjoy the fruits (or the quesadillas?) of my labor:
(We were so proud of how these turned out that I allowed myself to imagine that, if we had gone to the Madison foodie chocolate party, someone there would've exclaimed, "Whose quesadillas are these?! I want to hire this person to be my chef/caterer/food-provider," and a whole new life for me would've been born. I guess I'll just stick with my regular life for now...)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bayless-Inspired Feast

Last week, we joined with our friends for one of the very best home-cooked meals I've ever had. Inspired by Rick Bayless, we decided to put together a Mexican menu, the likes of which would--I'm betting--rival anything the man himself would serve. And I'm allowed to brag about this meal, I think, because most of the food (and all the best dishes) were not made by me, but by uber-culinarily-talented friends of ours (not that I usually have any problem bragging about my own dishes [unless you consider the bragging itself the problem...]). Feast your eyes on: Home-made Margaritas; Mushroom Ceviche; Smoked Trout and Poblano Salpicon; Citrus, Jicama, and Cucumber Salad; Twice-Fried Tofu Tortilla Soup; Swiss Chard, Onion and Monterey Jack-Filled Enchiladas in a Tomatillo Salsa; Green Poblano Rice; and Chocolate Pecan Pie. Wow.

Now off to dream Bayless-inspired dreams!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weekly Food: Kheer Muffins

The other great meal we had was at Maharaja, an Indian restaurant on Madison's east side. We got the vegetarian feast for two, and it came with way more food than we could handle: Samosas, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma, Karhi Pakora, Basmati Rice, Nan Bread and two desserts of mango ice cream and kheer. We had so much food that we had to take leftovers, but I, as usual, didn't want styrofoam containers. That was all that was on offer, though, so the best I could do was convince our waiter Kirv to bring only one container instead of two. But then he snuck in an extra little box, insisting we take the rest of the kheer (a sweetened dairy rice dish) home as well (even though we'd been trying to leave it behind since it was the one element of the meal we didn't love). So, we came home with these leftover curries--which we gobbled up--and this little box of cloyingly sweet, liquidy rice. I knew we weren't going to eat it in its present form, so I had to transform it.

And so I had to make some muffins. I've been on a muffin kick lately because they're about the only thing, besides fruit, that I can eat in the morning. Justin insists I eat a breakfast, so muffins it is. He's the Norm to my Marge. Here's the classic scene from Fargo that captures our relationship around breakfast:

(phone rings)

Oh, jeez.
Hi, it's Marge.
Oh, my. Where?
Aw, jeez.
OK, there in a jiff.
Real good, then.

(hangs up phone)

(Marge to her husband Norm)
You can sleep. It's early yet.

Gotta go?


I'll fix you some eggs.

That's OK, hon. I gotta run.

You gotta eat a breakfast, Margie.
I'll fix you some eggs.

Oh, hon, you can sleep.

You gotta eat a breakfast.

And since I, too, like Margie, have gotta eat a breakfast, I took my cup of kheer, added a cup of white flour, a cup of wheat flour, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a quarter cup of soy milk, a tablespoon of butter, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and a handful of raisins, and popped it all in the oven.

And it worked! (and this is a real accomplishment for me, since I love to cook, but have never been much of a baker, especially an off-the-cuff sort of one!) Golden, tasty muffins: (I took the Kirv-ball thrown at us and threw it right back)

Weekly Food and Craft: Cartoons and Vegetarian Feasts

My old friend Microsoft Paint came in handy this weekend, helping me to make a cartoon drawing for my friend D's 30th birthday. Here's the original:

And the cartoon version I drew:

Aside from crafting digital cartoons, I also found some time to do a little cooking this week, even amid the delicious meals we had out and about. More on the cooking in the next post, but first about the restaurant treats of the week. Last night, we attended a dinner of the Madison vegetarian meetup group, which has monthly dinners at local restaurants that offer a special vegan menu just for the group. Last night, it was at the Green Owl, Madison' s new and only vegetarian restaurant. Although we've been to the Green Owl before, they really put it all out there last night, serving a truly delicious meal of:
  • kalamata olive, pesto, and roasted red pepper tortilla roll-ups
  • hummus and baba ganouj with pita chips
  • baked corn cakes
  • samosa stuffed phyllo cups
  • spicy tomato and chickpea soup
  • Lebanese Sfeeha Pastry (spinach and walnuts in a folded soft pastry), served with carrot-cilantro salad, hummus, and muhammara;
  • vegan chocolate cream cake with raspberry puree
  • and orange blossom lemonade.
It was all amazing, but the cake may have taken top billing. Here's a photo I managed to find of the delectable dessert:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Weekly Kindness: Operation Parent Birthday

For the last couple of weeks, my great friend D. B. has had a message on her Gmail chat status that read something like "Who wants to play Operation HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DANA'S PARENTS?" I decided that I very much wanted to play, and so she sent me her parents' address and my task was to send them a postcard. The idea was that she would get as many people to send them postcards as the number of years they were turning on their respective birthdays (though she didn't reveal what that number was).

So I made the parents an owl postcard (by cutting out the front of a card Justin's dad had sent us the week before and writing on the other side), recounting all the reasons I wanted to acknowledge and celebrate them on this day (whatever day it is when they receive the card!). I hope it brings them a smile or two, and that they feel loved and appreciated--most of all by their awesome daughter. Leave me a comment if you also want to play Operation HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DANA'S PARENTS? and I'll pass along their address to you.

Weekly Kindness is a part of my 2010 Resolutions of Happiness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Weekly Conversation: Much-Needed Boosting

Although I have sometimes felt that there's a great divide between graduate students and faculty, and that we are all too busy in this great rat race to actually sit down and have a conversation with someone we're not obligated to be invested in (or even when that obligation does exist!), today I was reminded that it does not always have to be that way. I poked my head into a faculty member's office today to chat about a totally procedural thing, and that small conversation turned into one that restored my faith in (some) professors' ability to be interested and engaged and present during a routine conversation. Besides talking about the issue I'd stopped by to discuss in the first place (which I got such good supportive advice about), we chatted about my undergraduate majors, about the power of good prose, about recruiting students from under-represented groups to our department, about my summer plans, about Justin's teaching, and so on. I left feeling somewhat renewed.

I shouldn't make this sound like a thing that never happens, because I've had many wonderful faculty members nurture me and applaud me during my 3.5 years here, but this conversation came at a particularly important time and boosted me more effectively than a deep brown plastic seat at a Midwestern restaurant ever could.Weekly Conversation is a part of my 2010 Resolutions of Happiness.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Resolutions of happiness

Justin wrote some wonderful New Year's Resolutions this year, and although my only resolution so far was to write a similarly wonderful list, I haven't made it very far. So, I've decided that instead of making a traditional list, I'm just going to think about what makes me happy, and try to do one example of each on a weekly basis. Plus, if I actually keep up with this, perhaps it'll make good blogging material and I'll be able to check yet another resolution off my (imaginary) list: Blog Regularly. Please let me know what you think of these ideas, and which ones you might try to incorporate into your own life.

The List:
  • Weekly Blog: Write here at least once a week, documenting my progress on the other tasks.
  • Weekly Food: Cook a creative, delicious meal (or, for half a point, eat such a meal at a restaurant). (Send me recipes to try out!)
  • Weekly Craft: Make something! Whether it's a card, a gift, a sewing project, or a little note, exercise my craft muscle. (Share ideas, requests...)
  • Weekly Kindness: Do something nice for someone. I'm leaving this intentionally vague for now, and it may overlap with the other projects, but mainly I'm shooting for random acts of kindness that brighten someone else's day. (Please send ideas my way!)
  • Weekly Conversation: Have an interesting, enriching, and/or enlivening conversation with one person (besides Justin--though he of course is the ultimate in being interesting, enriching, and enlivening)
  • Monthly Reading: Read one non-work book per month. I guess it reflects well on what I'm doing academically that it's sometimes hard to differentiate work from non-work, but I'll do my darndest. And I'm always looking for reading recommendations.
We'll see how it goes!