June 2006

Sorry I haven't been about lately.  My dear boy Matt of Geek Casual was here visiting.  A brief review of our dinner at Ristorante Bartolotta will be forthcoming…

Anyhow, as a segue, and even though it seems a bit presumptuous to be taking part in something that so many fantastic foodbloggers have done, Rhi answers The Cook Next Door meme.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I'm an American, so mine involves frozen pizza.  [winces]  Yeah.  Er…I have a paranoid fear of getting burned that has no basis (that I'm aware of, at least).  When I was about 10, I made a pizza for myself and my younger brother because Mom and Dad were busy.  We've always had an electric oven, and in my hurry to gingerly take the pizza out, I dropped it onto the heating coil.  Quel horreur.  Not to mention a burned bit of pizza and a mess.
As for actual cooking…when I was 12 or so, a friend and I made cream puffs ourselves, from scratch, using Mom's Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 70s.  They were quite good.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
All of the people in my family who cook, I'd say.  Both grandmothers, my mom, my dad's grilling.  That said, a lot of their cooking isn't overly…creative, it being of the Midwestern German Lutheran 50s Type.  I tend towards slightly more experimental techniques these days.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Not on hand.  I bet Mom or Dad or Grandma have a few.  I have a very strong pleasant memory of making brightly coloured sugar cookies with Grandma, but there aren't any pictures, I don't think.

Mageiricophobia – do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
This is really stupid, but I'm terrified of having water boil over and make a mess, probably because I was criticised for it as a kid when making mac and cheese (which my brother is making now, actually, and freaking out because the date on the box has past).  Also, I hate peeling skin off chicken, but doesn't everyone?

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Valued: My Wusthoff Trident knife, which disappeared in Scotland, never to be seen again.  That, my rabbit-style corkscrew with a bottle opener on top, a glass baking dish, and a really good Pyrex 1-cup measuring cup.
Letdown: One of those hardboiled egg slicers.  I used to play ours like a guitar when I was a kid, broke one of the 'strings' and got yelled at…these days, I don't see the point.  You can't cut anything else with it, it's not strong enough!

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like – and probably no one else!
Honestly, I don't like much that's too weird.  I'm mortified to state that my absolute favourite food in the whole world is green bean casserole, though.  Kinda declassé, yeah?  I also like to heat up pastries and donuts until they're too hot and soggy, then eat them with a fork.  And I'm the only woman I know who really loves onions.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without
Besides the above green bean casserole and onions…I'll cheat and say another three, 'cause I can.
-Garlic.  A little garlic makes anything savoury better.
-[yellow tail] Shiraz.  I keep meaning to try and cook with this, because I suspect it would make a great sauce.  It's the #1 selling mid-range red in America for a reason!
-Salami.  I think I like this better than any other meat product.  Either that or I'm just in the mood.

Three quickies:
Your favorite ice-cream…
I honestly like plain vanilla or caramel cashew frozen custard–which you can't get anywhere else but Milwaukee.

You will probably never eat…
Brains or sweetbreads.  I'm a Hannibal fan, so I can't escape the imagery.

Your own signature dish…

Any other questions you'd like to add?
What dish would you love to tackle that you haven't got to, so far?
I'd love to do a whole meal at some point, something Vietnamese or Thai.  Only thing is that I really, really dislike fish and seafood, not to mention bananas.  Big problem, that.  So maybe I'd have to say something Italian.  I'd like to try and make my own pasta.


By the time I got to WisCon this year, all of the booksellers in the dealer room were out of the '05 Tiptree Award winner: Geoff Ryman's Air, or, Have Not Have.  I had read the opening chapter in one of the Year's Best SF/F anthologies (or maybe it was one of the Nebula collections?) a while back, and had eagerly awaited the publication of the full book.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to buy it at WisCon, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a copy when I was down at Central Library here in Milwaukee last Tuesday.  I just finished it today, and I'm pleased to be able to give it a good review.  Does it 'expand or explore our understanding of gender'?  Yes, I suppose.  It's not nearly as directly related to gender as many of the past winners, but I will give Ryman credit for dealing with the idea of a woman in a developing country having to work past massive injustices (many gender-related) to keep her village and friends from being overwhelmed by new technology.

What interests me more, remarkably, is the idea that either the UN or global corporations could impose a networking service on anyone, without a personal choice.  For Mae and her peers receive no vote, are suddenly thrown from the world of Not Have to Have without much transition in a Test that goes awry.  Because they get no choice, Mae finds that she has to teach everyone how this will work…or they will all be lost once Air goes live.

I was quite impressed by the characterization and realization of the people and the world in the novel, as well as the political aspects.  These are real people with real lives facing a fantastic change, and drastically impacts one's view of the Third World.  A good show, really, on Ryman's part, and I'm duly impressed.  It's worth a read.

Crepes are honestly not as difficult as socially implied, at least here in America.  We don't really do them on a regular basis, prefering our own version of pancakes, but they actually are quite delicious and fairly easy.  The worst part is really the spreading of the batter over the pan, but after one or two it's easier to get down pat.

I first made crepes when I was in Scotland last year, after reading a recipe in Nigella Lawson's Feast.  Fantastic book, recommend it highly, not only because of the foodporn, but also her candour is a lot of fun and fairly down to earth…not to mention she's not bad on the eyes herself.  Anyhow, after a couple misses, I got it just fine and made some savoury crepes with a beef filling, reminiscent of ones I had at the now-closed Cafe Casablanca in Northampton.

These are sweet crepes (recipe from Joy of Cooking) that I put caramel sauce in and fed to Mom and myself the other night.  Not too bad for my second try.  Joy lists recipes for both sweet and savoury crepes seperately–Nigella's can go either way, though I think adding a bit of sugar to her recipe might not hurt.  The big key, and I can't stress this enough, is putting enough butter in the pan, but not enough to make them too greasy.  This is something I need to work on, myself.

Crepes, part 1

Crepes, part 2

The title of this post, by the way, comes from a saying I learned in Italian class first year of college.  When one is about to attack a difficult task, one wishes someone good luck by saying 'en boca del lupo' (in the mouth of the wolf).  The person replies with 'crepi il lupo' (kill the wolf).  One of the few things that stuck in my head from said class…probably make my professoressa wince if she knew.

Coming soon, part 2: Savoury Crepes Revisited!

True confession:
My transition to left-wing yuppie is complete.  Over the last year or two, I’ve become a latte girl.

I blame it entirely on Melissa Kruger (Smith AC ’03) at the Elbow Room on Green Street in Northampton.  Made the mistake of coming in starting in fall of ’04 for a caramel latte with cinnamon on top, and I’ve been a sucker ever since.  Having a four hour long class on Tuesdays this spring and requiring something to drink for my ADD self to focus didn’t help either.

Melissa (and her now moved on employee Joe) make the best lattes in town.  For serious.  To make sure, I tried them at almost every other place in Northampton (except Shelburne Falls on King ’cause I never got down that way at times I wanted a latte)…and yeah, it’s the truth.

Now that I’m back in Wisconsin, I’m on the search for the best latte in Wauwatosa…not an easy feat when the major cafe nearby is Starbucks.  Watch this space for more ratings.

Places I’ve Been
-Starbucks, 1417 Wauwatosa Ave: Caffe Latte w/shot of caramel.  Not bad in a pinch, actually.  My complaint has always been that SB burns their beans on purpose, but they’re not doing it as much in Tosa.  A little too sweet to start out, actually, as if the caramel was added last instead of the espresso.  Tsk.
-Alterra Mayfair Mall, 2500 Mayfair Rd: speshul caramel drink that is basically a latte with whipped cream on top.  Nice.  A bit too sweet all the way though, though that could be the whipped cream, which is optional.  Brilliant value.
-Alterra at the Lake, 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr: latte w/caramel shot.  This isn’t in Tosa, but it’s worth an addition solely because the ambience is great.  Actually, I like this better than their specialty drink (see above).
-One Way Cafe, 1427 Underwood Ave: latte w/caramel shot.  Grah.  They put too much caramel in, and the milk was slightly off.  Tasted a bit…cardboardy to me.  Good price, but not so good drink.  Almost like pudding from a box.
-Caribou Coffee, 418 N. Mayfair Rd: latte with caramel shot.  Brilliant, with the right ratio of espresso, milk, and caramel.  Almost as good as Elbow Room in Noho.  Seriously.  Not to mention their coffee is fair trade, or so the guys said.
EDIT (7/07): I had a Caramel Highrise at the one on Calhoun and Bluemound and it was very tasty indeed.
-Cranky Al’s, 6903 W. North Ave: latte with caramel shot.  Not bad but not the best thing ever.  Still, it’s good to patronize local businesses, and they do baked goods that are so good that it would make up for any latte loss.  Not to mention friendly people.  Downside is that they aren’t open for coffee in the afternoon, which is often when I want some.
-City Market, 8725 W. North Ave: latte.  They do their lattes more like they do in Europe here.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not always what I’m looking for.  Also, wtf ugly building outside.

Places I Haven’t Been
-Gloria Jean’s Mayfair Mall, 2500 N. Mayfair Rd: Been in WI a long time, but if I’m at the mall I’d rather have Alterra, ’cause I know what I’m getting into.

Got a suggestion for somewhere to go?  Leave a comment.

Title swiped, with apologies, from Amanda Hesser’s fun book.  Unlike her husband, I don’t drink lattes after dinner.  Mostly.

The first in a series, yours truly talks about what she's made from scratch lately.  Terribly exciting.

This noon, Mom said she'd make breakfast, as she hadn't had any yet either (and I had just got up…shut it).  I said sure, scrambled eggs.  Then, ten minutes later she went off to the library to get something because she thought they were on summer hours already, and told me 'you can start if you want.'

I ended up making the whole thing.  There aren't any pictures because it wasn't overly pretty, but it tasted good.  So here is…

How to Make Scrambled Eggs Like Rhi Does
serves two with toast

Get out a bowl and crack in three eggs.  Pour in a bit of milk, but not too much–maybe a quarter cup–it's not worth measuring.  Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder as you like.  At the same time, heat about a half tablespoon of butter in a large pan on your stove at about Medium Low heat (halfway).  While it's heating, whisk everything in your bowl together until it's fairly consistent in colour.  You can do this with a fork.

Before the butter burns…it really shouldn't, you haven't been doing this that long…and once it's melted, tilt your pan and spread it all around, up the sides if you can.  Make sure you get a good cover.  Then pour in your eggs.

Let them cook for a minute or two while you get out as much sliced or grated cheese as you like.  I used the three we had open in the house–American, Cheddar, and Provolone.  (If you're compulsive like me, you'll end up with smaller egg bits because you stir a lot.  Of course, this keeps it from burning.)  Tear in the cheese in bits, let it sit to melt for a minute, then stir again.

Keep cooking until it looks almost the shade you like.  Mom and I like it with brownish bits on the pan side, but not burned.  Then tear in two pieces of cold cuts. (My favourite is salami.)  Let them warm through and cook a little, still tearing it up with your fork.  Around this time, make your toast or whatever to go with it.  Turn down your heat to simmer if you have to wait around, or turn it off entirely.  Serve immediately.

This, of course, allows for as many variables in flavourings as you want.  Dried oregano is good too, I think.  Of course, using fresh herbs means you have to take other factors into account, but they'd probably shape up nicely.
EDIT: Apparently this is in time for EoMEoTE #16: The Da Clucki Code, but since I have no picture…ah well.  Here's a haiku regardless:
Scramble, boil, poach:
Langdon found etymology
in his morning eggs.

Since Mom and I had both been jonesing a bit for pineapple upside-down cake, I decided to make some.  Pulling out my trusty Joy of Cooking (Christmas present…and a damn fine one indeed), and comparing it to the recipe I pulled from Epicurious, I set about on a DIY project…

As I said earlier, baking is kinda scary, and I was sincerely afraid that I'd bugger things up.  Especially since Joy's recipe called for buttermilk, something we don't keep on hand here in the wilds of suburban Wisconsin.  Mom said I could make my own with vinegar and milk, but to me that seemed a bit risky.  Did it, regardless, following these instructions (1 cup milk + 1.333 Tbsp vinegar, after failing with cream of tartar), and it didn't look quite right, sort of like dip that's separated really badly, or curded cheese (which, really, I suppose would be the whole point of the word 'curdled'…duh).  Added it anyway.

Other than that, everything went fairly smoothly.  Joy of Cooking's recipes have instructions mixed in with the ingredients as you go, which is both a blessing and a curse, as I only skimmed the directions first and ended up running around while in the midst of prep…but everything turned out in the end.  Apologies for the photo quality, as I was getting a glare with my flash on, and the light in our kitchen is slightly yellowish.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake!

Closeup Cake

Lovely.  Almost as pretty as a store cake, and far more tasty.  We haven't been poisoned yet.