Archive for April, 2009

23
Apr

Gardening

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Gardening, Yay

I am very excited that I might actually have a real garden in my backyard this summer. I have done all of the prep work and put in the stakes for the tomatoes, and now all that’s left is putting the plants in the ground (and managing to have them not be killed by squirrels or lack of water).

Now if you are thinking that I am a proper locavore who is doing this to be closer to nature or organic gardening or some such, let me tell you how I first got into gardening. My sister and I went to Space Camp, so we got on a list that was invited to try growing Seeds from Space! Sorry, let me say it again = Seeds From Spaaace! *glee*

So before the Challenger explosion, a satellite (the Long Duration Exposure Facility – LDEF) was installed into orbit. The plan was to see how well various construction materials would withstand orbit in space, and they contracted out space to non-government experiments as well. And one of the experiments was to test 25 pounds of seeds.

So we received our packet of seeds, and we weren’t told whether they were space seeds or control. And we got out a little lab notebook and grew them. And it was awesome. They were delicious. My sister and I had never had read tomatoes ripened on a vine before. And we preserved seeds and observed the same strain of tomatoes for about three generations. And then we started adding other varieties and some hot peppers… and we had kept a garden ever since. And ever since I’ve moved to the city, I have been craving my own garden, instead of having to drive out to the suburbs to forage from my parents’ garden.

This year looks like success.

So I’m planning what to plant:

Garden

  • 4 tomato plants
    • 2 early girl
    • 1 grape
    • 1 roma
    • I am really tempted to try to plant more, but I don’t really have the space, and I don’t know that I’ll be sharing the harvest with that many people
  • hot peppers
    • 1 regular jalapeno
    • I saved seeds from my neighbor’s garden last year that had small jalapenos that turned red quickly
    • maybe something else
  • Squash – I saved some delicata seeds last summer, so I’ll see if they sprout. Otherwise, I have no idea. But just 1 squash, whatever the variety
  • Herbs
    • Basil – I hear it does especially well near tomato plants
    • Cilantro? I always manage to kill it in pots. Maybe it will do better in the ground
  • onions? I have an onion that was sprouting that I properly rooted. I hear that alliums help deter insects

Small pots on my porch

  • 6 – 4″ pots (need to buy 3 more to replace cracked ones)
    • dill
    • parsley
    • sage
    • thai basil
    • marjoram or savory
    • lovage
  • 6 – 6″ pots (need to buy 2 to replace cracked ones – there was an incident with a dog with a loose leash on my porch last summer)
    • bronze fennel
    • more parsley?
    • more rosemary
    • lettuce
    • ?
    • ?
  • up to 4 – 6-8″ pots (I have three plastic 6″ whose rims are too wide for the other plant stand)
    no plans yet for this stand

Step 3: Profit!

I want a whole field to plant. There are so many things that I just keep not even considering because I don’t have the space.

How did you miss experiment number 1? Easily. I hadn’t posted about it yet.

Well, there I was reading A Mad Tea Party‘s back catalog of entries, and I came across this piece about the joys of mustard oil, and I was intrigued. A few months later, I decided to give it a try and dropped her a comment for help finding the piece and looking for suggestions, and she has generously become my guide to this new-to-me lipid.

So I went to my local Indian grocer and located the mustard oil – all of which was explicitly labeled at massage oil, not for consumption. So I went to the guy behind the counter and commiserated with him about the evils of US Customs and their regulations on importing foodstuffs, but I was assured that it was good quality and edible and just the thing I was looking for.

So experiment 1 was going to be with the mashed sweet potatoes served at Cooking with Catladies. Only not only did I decide that they didn’t need any oil, but also I found the taste of the mustard oil surprisingly strong. Straight out of the bottle, it tasted of dark green, earthy things – sort of like gnawing on the very dark tip of leeks. Which I do, so it’s not a deal breaker, but it did put off subsequent experiments.

So I wrote a comment to the original inspiration for the experiment, and I asked her if it was supposed to taste like that (just in case). And heard back that it was indeed, and that high heat cooking mellows out the flavor.

Well, I do surprisingly little high heat cooking. It’s the combination of my love for electric ranges and my love for non-stick cookware. Yes, I know I have no class. I’m okay with that, and it’s easy to make rice and wash dishes.

But I’m still excited about the mustard oil.

So when I was looking for something to do with two scrawny remaining potatoes, I reached for the mustard oil.

Potatoes with onions and peppers

I poured 2 teaspoons of mustard oil into a pan, and turned up the heat.

When the oil had spread out, I added 1 tsp mustard seeds (and propped a larger skillet over top because they pop up and get everywhere otherwise).

After the mustard seeds were popping away gleefully, I threw in 2 potatoes, cut into pieces just a bit larger that 1cm squared; 1 diced yellow onion; and 2 jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and sliced.

When the onions became limp, I added 2 minced cloves of garlic and a frozen cube of minced cilantro.

I added some curry powder, and that dried things out a bit too much, so I added water. I had the feeling that dicing a fresh tomato into the mix would have been the perfect option here, but I didn’t have any fresh and a can would have been too much.

The end product was tasty. Actually, it was a little too oily, but the oil flavor was mild and delightful and it was not strong at all.

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15
Apr

Victory!

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Uncategorized

When I first went to register this domain name, I was shocked that all permutations of nocounterspace were available despite its applicability to both cooking and interior design. 12 hours later, .com was taken. Grrr! Squatters!

But I said, “La la la – let them have .com – .net is good enough for me.”

A couple weeks ago, though, the squatter had the balls to email me and ask, “So didn’t you want this domain? Look it’s all shiny.”

And I wrote him a fun email denouncing the whole squatting thing and saying that I was perfectly happy with my .net anyway. Thank you.

Only, I randomly googled a little bit later, and all of a sudden the domain was free. Hee!

So, yeah, now nocounterspace.com will redirect here. (sorry, interior designers)

14
Apr

Dinner = Fail

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in dubious, Food

I ate most of my produce before heading off to Boston and then New York, and I finished off the two wrinkly potatoes (in an upcoming post) and the remaining kale earlier this week.

So yesterday and today, I have been steaming chicken dumplings that I bought frozen in Chinatown.

Fail #1 – not reading the package
How hard could it be to steam dumplings? I’ve done this before, and it’s pretty simple. The only hard part is having the water line low enough that it won’t boil up to the level of the dumplings (making them hard and chewy instead of soft and silky, but still delicious).

Well, I missed the part where the chicken meat was not pre-cooked and you should check the internal temperature. Until I was 2/3 of the way through the package (i.e. the second day of eating them). And even when I did notice, I decided that that rather than tossing the pink piece back into the steamer that it would just leak everywhere, and it was tasty anyway.

Right, so if you never see the post about mustard oil, have someone check my apartment to make sure my cat isn’t eating my salmonella-poisoned body.

Fail #2 – Overcompensating
So, once I noticed that they needed to cook a bit more, I walked off and left the pot unwatched for about eight minutes. *cue ominous music*

This was enough time for the subsequent dumplings to steam to tasty perfection.

It was also enough time for the liquid to steam away completely (in a well-covered pot) and for the bottom bamboo tray to stick to the burning non-stick coating of my pot.

Right.

So I’ve had the same cheap, thin, crappy basic apartment-warming set of pots for about four years. Really, they were cheap and crappy. And the coating was starting to wear around the edges of two of the saucepans.

But I kind of loved them. For all kinds of reasons I hadn’t been expecting to.

And now that I definitely need to replace my pots, I have to figure out whether I want quality cookware (foodie guilt!) or whether another set just the same will suit my needs.

What I like about the cheap set

  • the pots nest together, so I’d like another proper set regardless of quality
  • I love the crappy-set wee sizes – the 1 qt saucepan that exactly holds a square of ramen or 2 person quantities of hot chocolate or 1 can of campbell’s soup & the 5 qt soup pot which makes exactly the right amount of stock for one of my large airtight containers
  • I like the knob handles on my lids much more than the ones with two attachments points that you can fit your fingers in, which seem to be more prevalent in higher end lines. I think the lids stack better with just the know resting in the apex of the lid above.
  • Would you believe that I haven’t scratched the non-stick coating on the cooking surfaces at all? It’s dead easy to take care of, if you know how… and I don’t even have a dishwashing machine. The only wear points for the coating have been around the rims where the lids rest

What I would like to be better in my next set of cookware

  • I don’t like handle rivets poking into the inside cooking surface. When I was young, we had no pans that did this. The technology can’t have been lost.
  • fine, slightly more even heat distribution might be nice, but it hasn’t been much of a problem

What I would like, but can’t afford/fit in my apartment

  • I’d love me some enameled cast-iron. I’ve used my friend’s, and it’s easy to clean, surprisingly non-stick, and sexy as hell. But she could find hers at the local thrift stores and had a lot of storage space.
  • I can’t fit a full-sized stock pot, but now that I know three or four people interested in canning, a big ass pot is looking appealing. If I can just figure out where to put one.

So please offer me cookware suggestions.

8
Apr

Boston

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Food, hot chocolate, restaurant, Review, travel

I just got back from a Women in Media conference in Boston. And I ate delicious food there.

We changed venues to the Radisson Hotel in the theater district. And – wow! – what a hotel. Aside from one concierge who sent me off a mile and a half looking for a PNC bank ATM, only to find that it was a CitiBank building (Fail!), all of the staff was generous and helpful. They had sleep number beds, which while I can sleep on anything so I don’t know about quality they sure were hilarious. They had showers I could marry: the bathtub was wide and deep enough to fully relax and submerge and supported your head comfortably while lounging and I am not a small person, but this was the best tub ever. And the shower head also provided just the right spray, and the water was hot forever. I would move in to this hotel.

Oh, and the hotel restaurant, the Theatre Cafe, had good food, too. I only ate Sunday breakfast there, but I heard several people at the conference exclaiming over the delicious soups available. So for breakfast I had the buffet, and for $16 it really should have had eggs to order. So overpriced, yes. The scrambled eggs, however, were surprisingly tasty steam table eggs – they were juicy without being wet. And they had the best breakfast potatoes ever (not hyperbole) – small wedges with the skin still on, onions, peppers, and the best combination of texture and flavor (soft, melting in the mouth, with still some texture and a hint of crispiness – I know that sounds undistinguished, but it was surprisingly addictive). Plump sausages and crispy bacon. I skipped the pancake and waffle option. But I did get a biscuit when they put out fresh after we were already full to bursting – and I ate it all because it was buttery and crumbly and had a simple sausage gravy that was equal to the best I’ve had. The fresh fruit (standard cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and watermelon) was tucked away in a corner, but was surprisingly flavorful for early spring. The pastries were the only disappointment – they were a bit stale tasting and not even slightly flakey. Note that I used the word surprising frequently – the buffet did not look promising at all through the window, and I had originally planned to try somewhere else, but the rest of my group was eating there, and I easily succumb to peer pressure.

Also, the hotel was directly opposite a Legal’s Seafood, a food court, and a whole bunch of other tasty restaurants. My group had packed a lot of food because the previous venue had very few eating options, but I ended up abandoning the cheap route in favor of trying new places.

Friday night, however, I took the T to Porter Square to meet my sister and brother-in-law at an old favorite, Elephant Walk (who seems to have uglified their webpage, but trust me that this is an elegant place). I had a special of duck and eggplant over napa cabbage in a light green curry and coconut sauce. The flavors were light and sparkling. I have yet to have anything bad from their menu.

Saturday lunch – P.F. Chang’s Despite being a chain, seemed like the perfect destination for a bunch of women who had only just met. The lunch bowls were tasty, but unexceptional. The sides, however, were amazing. I ordered the spinach stir-fried with garlic, and was glad to eat all that was left after it was passed around the group. Someone else ordered the spicy green beans, and I had to fight hard not to take all of hers, too. Next time, just sides! We were delighted by the $2 dessert shooters, but I sent back my great wall of chocolate when I found that it was contaminated with raspberry coulis – seriously, people, the 90s are over and we don’t need raspberries in everything chocolate.

Saturday dinner – Tantric. So when I was heading back from Friday’s dinner, I noticed this restaurant, but I couldn’t figure out whether it was a swanky nightclub or a bar for trendy trendsters, but there didn’t look like there was anyone in there eating or being unattractive, so I wrote it off. Luckily, my friends did not make this first impression and I am easily swayed. We were close to 5pm going to dinner, and there weren’t many people in the restaurant at that hour, which was wonderful. We had very generous service – not only did I easily persuade someone to leave us a pitcher of water, but also they kept coming by trying to refill our glasses. And people stopped by three or four times to make sure we were enjoying our food. And, boy, were we ever! Since I hadn’t budgeted on going out to eat this much on this trip, I ordered the soup of the day: tomato coconut. This was a lucky thing, too, because it was delightful. I have no idea how to make this soup, but it was a bit like a really comforting cream of tomato but with coconut and lemongrass flavors perking it up and making it almost delicate. Genius! My compatriots ordered Muttar Paneer (Mmmm! buttery), Chicken Vindaloo (delightfully spicier than most American restaurants), Uttapam (ordered by a woman who remembered it fondly from her year in (I think it was) Malasia and she was not disappointed), and a dosa (masala dosa, perhaps) (it was huge, as always, and served rolled in a cigar-shape instead of a cone. The slice I had was delicious and filling). I recommend this restaurant, and I plan to try their lunch buffet in two years when the conference returns… hmmm… though another shot at their soup would be good, too.

Sunday lunch – Maggiano’s. Another chain. Actually, I was wandering around Boston looking for an ATM for most of the lunch break, but I ended up* meeting people just as their food came. One of my friends was kind enough to split her huge eggplant parmesan with me. It was food and the company was lovely, but it was mushy and not exceptionally tasty.

*So after taking the T back, I decided to save time meeting up with people by hailing a cab. Only I didn’t have any cash because the ATM mission was a failure. Did you know that most cabs in Boston are not capable of taking credit cards? How are they more behind Philly? My city rocks. Anyway, the second cab I hailed ended up offering to drive me for free! Yay Boston! He was a sweetie.

Sunday dinner – Montien – a thai restaurant near the hotel. I ordered crispy Pad Thai because I had never had it before. Again, I was late to pop in, so I did not read the menu carefully when ordering. Sadly, crispy pad thai does not mean that they take the finished dish and fry it a bit in a hot skillet – no, it means they substitute delicious noodles for little crispy ones like you use to top salads. 🙁 And without a mess of hot noodles, the bean sprouts stayed quite crispy and didn’t meld into the dish at all. On the other hand, the other three dishes I tasted from the table were all excellent: Pineapple fried rice (not much pineapple, but the dark raisins in the rice surprised everyone by being just a mellow dark flavor of awesome without being obtrusive), tamarind duck (so I love duck, and I totalyl should have ordered this dish! – lots of slices of duck with very little sauce), Salmon Choo Chee? (I think this was the salmon dish. delicious!). The thai iced teas were only average. And I missed the appetizer course

Sunday dessert – Finale – Instead of staying at the thai restaurant for dessert, we went on a quest for a sexy dessert place one of my friends had passed earlier in the day. Instead of sitting down, we decided to go over the bakery side and get small things we could take back to the hotel. It seemed like all of their chocolate items had coffee incorporated in some form, so I just went for a hot chocolate – especially after I saw that their traditional bittersweet hot chocolate was made with Valrhona Equatoriale. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. Sinful and subtle and just the right balance of bitter and sweet. Other people had the lemon tart (butter to which lemon happened – pure hedonism made for tea), and a crème brûlée that’s the best one I’ve had on this coast. Seriously, Washing state has spoiled me for crème brûlée anywhere else – no matter what restaurant we went to there, always amazing crème brûlée. Finale was not quite as good, but it had the excellent quality cream and it had the temperature almost perfect (i.e. not cold, people!). It was delicious even if it was in a cheap aluminum tin. Ignore the packaging and indulge!