23 January 2010

Cluttering the House: map of the world

I've been looking for a large, vintage picture of the map of the world for quite some time now. I thought I might have to give up and simply buy a poster and frame it. However, as I was strolling along 2nd Street in Old City, I (actually, the person accompanying me) noticed a bookshop next door to AKA Music. The shop had no sign in the window or above the door since Jules, the book/antiques dealer who opened it two months ago, has yet to obtain one. Jules has an amazing selection of old books, paintings, photographs, and antiques. And lo and behold, I saw a beautiful map of the world. The frame is worn and the picture faded, but I had to have it. And for $40 (!), how could I resist? Now it will lean against the bookshelf until we (my husband and I, that is) decide whether we're sticking around or moving to another neighborhood.

Playing with Food: artichoke pizza and mushroom soup

It's very difficult to find a pizza shop that has artichokes for a topping. This is unfortunate for me since white pizza with artichokes is one of my favorite foods. In Pittsburgh, where I lived most of my life, there's a great restaurant called Bites-n-Brews in the Shadyside neighborhood. You can build your own pizza, and I always get the white pizza with artichokes and black olives. I finally tried to make my own, and it came out mediocre - not bad but definitely not great. I used a Food & Wine online recipe again, adding black olives to give it that Bites-n-Brews flair. My problem in the kitchen -- and really in life -- is that I'm terribly impatient, and so I didn't take the time to roll out the pizza dough thin enough. This produced a pie that was both misshapen and a tad bit underdone. I also could not find frozen artichokes (which the recipe called for), so had to use canned ones instead. I hate canned foods not only for their inferior flavor but also for the BPA that lines the cans. I suppose I could have used a fresh artichoke, but first I have to learn how to peel and cut one. Anyway, this was the result. (As you can see, not the most elegant of dishes.)

My impatience in the kitchen was the cause of a culinary abortion this week - a mushroom soup so vile that I had to feed it to my garbage disposal. I'm obsessed with mushroom soup, particularly the kind that my mother makes once a year for Christmas Eve. It's a traditional Polish recipe that utilizes dried mushrooms (which she special-orders now that we're in the States), some pureed veggies, mushroom and veggie stock, cream, and egg noodles. It's among my favorite foods in the universe, and every year I make myself sick because I consume so much of it. I found a recipe for mushroom soup and also called my mother for advice. I decided to mix her recipe (which she cooks by memory, taste, and touch - so no precise measurements) and the recipe I found in a magazine (I believe it was in Vegetarian Times). I was so impatient - and hungry - while attempting to reconstitute the mushrooms, puree the carrots and shallots, and simmer the mushroom bullion, that I'm not sure where I went wrong. All I know is that my soup was grainy, watery, and, though the mushroom aroma was prevalent and quite nice, completely inedible. I didn't bother to take a photo because it looked like I pureed watery diarrhea. So, my dear reader (if there is one), I will have to try again another time. Perhaps, when I visit my parents next time, so my mom can take me through it step by step.

Before I end, though, I do want to share a picture of my first loaf of bread after I sliced it open. I'm working on my second loaf as we speak and will try my hand at rye bread in a few days.

17 January 2010

Playing with Food: Goat Cheese Pasta

I've been teaching myself how to cook and bake for the past few years. I'm still fairly mediocre at it, but, with practice, I may master it yet. This week I slightly adapted a Food & Wine recipe: a fusili dish with goat-cheese and eggplant, to which I added asparagus. It came out rich and delicious and I'm mighty pleased.

As a European by birth, I am obsessed with good bread. American bread is often processed and vile; I can't believe people actually ingest the so-called "wonder bread" without vomiting (I could also say this about processed yellow American cheese). Since it's not often convenient for me to go to the bakery for fresh bread, I decided to try my hand at baking it. I purchased Jim Lahey's My Bread, a beautiful book with idiot-proof instructions. Mark Bittman, the author of one of my favorite cookbooks (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), popularized Lahey's method and I was eager to try it. After a 24 hour+ rise, voila! My first loaf! I feel like a kid at Christmas.