Saturday, February 28, 2009

Be vewy quiet... We're hunting wabbits... and Wecipes!

My, what a month February has been. I've continued on my crusade to eat (mostly) at locally owned restaurants and what fun it has been! I've tried out some new places (well, new to me anyway) and found some gems at some of my old favorites. I popped into Finch's on my lunch break a couple of weeks ago, and at the encouragement of my stellar server and foodie partner in crime, Sarah (blogmistress at IU Eats), I ordered the rabbit pasta to go with a glass of my favorite Cote du Rhone wine. It was a surprising lunch. I say surprising because as a general rule, I don't like rabbit. The rabbit that I've had before was gamey, stringy, and unappetizing, and it was prepared by one of the best chefs in Bloomington! So I figured if I didn't like it under those circumstances, rabbit and I were just never going to be friends. But I was so deliciously wrong about this pasta. The big, wide noodles were amusingly difficult to keep on my fork but provided an excellent base for the vibrantly colored carrots and spinach, the velvety mushrooms, and the tender, delicately flavored, wonderfully delicious chunks of rabbit, all complimented by a rich but unobtrusive wine sauce. YUM. Thanks to Sarah and Chef Jeff for changing my mind about this particular critter, and for providing a fabulously French lunch (all too appropriate since I was celebrating my mastery of the French object pronoun that day).

While at Finch's, I also had the opportunity to sample a beer that's been getting a lot of buzz in the local food world lately. It's Brugge Beer of Terre Haute's Tripel de Ripple. Now, I know nothing about beer so I won't even pretend, I'll just provide this link if you'd like to know more. I enjoyed the beer; it was slightly bitter but in the good way that beer should be bitter, and not offputtingly so, either. And that's about all I can say, because as I mentioned, I know nothing about beer. But go to Finch's on a Wednesday ($2.50 pints and buy one get one half off flatbread pizzas), and try it yourself.

I've also had some kitchen adventures of my own lately. As those of you who are friends with me know (and let's face it, no one but my friends reads this blog), I have a petite obsession with the Vegan Decadence Cookies at Soma. I've been on the hunt for a recipe that would allow me to make them at home and probably save me a whole lot of money since I wouldn't have to stop at Soma at least once a day to buy one. So I found a vegan, gluten-free recipe online that looked like it would yield a similar chocolatey goodness to what I was seeking. The problem: it called for several expensive, hard to find ingredients in order to make the recipe vegan and GF. At this point I thought to myself, "Sara, you are neither vegan nor allergic to gluten, surely you can find a nonvegan recipe that will produce an equally, if not more delicious cookie." And I did! I used the Triple Chocolate Esspresso Bean cookies recipe from 101 Cookbooks as a jumping-off point, and made a few substitutions to create the best cookies. Ever. You can pretty much follow Heidi's recipe, but I left out the espresso beans and added a pinch more espresso powder, used dark chocolate cocoa, and chopped up a 65% cacao chocolate bar and threw it in in place of the semisweet chips. I also only ended up baking them for about 8 mins, and at 350, not 375, because my oven runs a little hot. You've got to watch and smell them closely, because the dark batter makes it hard to tell if they're burning. Also, make sure to store them in an air-tight container, because they dry out very quickly. But trust me, these cookies are SO GOOD.

Alright, that's all from me for now... it's almost 2pm on this lovely Saturday afternoon... time to get out of bed :).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Slow Food Potluck!

Slow Food IU had its first potluck of the new year this evening, and it was stellar! We had a record turnout of about 25 people, many of whom were neither friends nor roommates of either Sarah or I, which I thought was pretty impressive. All of the food was wonderful, but my personal favorites were the braised heritage turkey that Sarah made and the baked oatmeal that my friend Emma made, a throwback to our days as campers and eventually counselors at good ol' Camp T. I made some vegan cookies that I am calling "Too Good to be True Cookies," because they do not contain flour, sugar, butter, or any of the other ingredients that make traditional cookies so delicious (and so bad for you), yet they are fabulous! I snagged the recipe (for "Nikki's Healthy Cookies") from 101 Cookbooks, my favorite recipe blog of late. I also made black rice with curried sweet potatoes, a rough recipe for which can be found below.

I have also just learned of the creation of Super Natural Recipe Search, a search engine for recipes featuring minimally-processed, sustainable, "real" ingredients. It's courtesy of Heidi Swanson, Recipe Diva Extraordinaire at 101 Cookbooks, author of Super Natural Cooking, and my current personal culinary hero. Go check it out!

Since I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, however, I am now long overdue on some homework, so I'm off to put my nose to the proverbial grindstone.

Black Rice with Curried Sweet Potatoes

2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup Chinese black rice1 large sweet potato
1 T. fresh ginger
1 bunch scallions
salt and assorted spices to taste (I used some pink Himalayan salt that I picked up in Italy, as well as cardamom, sweet curry, and a little nutmeg)

In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable stock and rice to a boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer; let cook for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato, peel and mince the ginger, and chop the scallions. Drizzle some olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan (the deeper the better) on medium-high heat and add the potato, ginger, and 2/3 of the scallions. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender (the amount of time this takes will vary depending on how big or small you dice the potatoes). When the potatoes are almost done, salt/spice to taste. When both the potatoes and rice are done, combine them, make any last-minute salt/spice adjustments, and serve. Make someone else do the dishes :-p.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Confessions of a Blog Slacker

Whenever I return from a long hiatus from the Blogosphere, I am always filled with a renewed zest and vigor for blogging, spouting promises about how this time, this time I will update regularly. Truth be told, I am a college student, and an over-committed one at that, and sometimes my life just gets in the way of regular blog updates. And then the events I intend to blog about keep accumulating, and then I procrastinate more, simply because the size of the blog I now need to write seems to be too daunting of an undertaking for my current energy level or amount of free time. It's a vicious cycle, one that I may or may not break this time around, but I will certainly put forth a valiant effort and try. At the very least, Rachel will have something to read at work tomorrow.

All of that being said, I have, of course, had a very eventful food life over the last few months. At the end of October, I had the good fortune to be able to attend Terra Madre, a "gathering of world food communities," which took place in Torino, Italy. What. An. Experience. There were 7,000+ farmers, chefs, restaurant owners, growers, producers, vendors, students, gardeners, and other foodies from literally all over the world (I even befriended some fishermen from Iceland), gathered in one place to talk about one thing we all had in common: a passion for good, clean, and fair food. We used the facilities built for the 2006 winter Olympics that were held in Torino, so I think the conference was very appropriately referred to by some as "the Olympics of food." I could easily dedicate several hours worth of blogging to this trip alone, and hopefully I will write more about it later, but suffice it to say this was an eye-opening, life-changing experience for me. I met so many amazing people and made some incredible connections to use in the future. This trip really solidified my desire to spend the rest of my life working to improve the food system.

Slow Food IU has been making slow but steady progress this year. Last semester we didn't get much done in the way of chartering with Slow Food USA, but we did begin having regular potluck meal gatherings which have been a lot of fun. This semester we are going to continue with the potlucks (our next one is Feb 8th), and are hoping to get all of our loose ends tied up so we can get chartered before semester's end. We are also hoping to host an eat-in (think 60's style sit-in plus food) later in the semester when the weather gets nicer so we can stage it in one of IU's many wonderful green spaces (I've got my eye on Dunn Meadow right now...). In addition to that, I am hoping we can also get involved with either the Real Food Challenge or the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, two organizations I learned about at Terra Madre. The Real Food Challenge is an initiative to get 20% of the food served on college campuses to be "real" food by the year 2020, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is an organization of migrant farm workers based in Florida that fights for better treatment of migrant workers, especially those who pick produce that is sold to giant fast food chains, who are often basically slaves to these corporations. I'm really looking forward to taking Slow Food IU in a direction that is a bit more social justice-oriented, lest we acquire the elitist reputation many Slow Food convivia have (deservingly or not) received.

Much to my chagrin, I haven't been cooking much lately. I find it hard to justify cooking anything elaborate for just one person, and I am notoriously bad at eating leftovers, so I have found myself mostly either eating at work, dining out with friends, or eating cereal at my house. It hasn't been an incredibly glamorous existence, but I have eaten pretty well. I've had a lot of free time to experiment with the menu offerings at Jiffy Treet (the local ice cream store where I work, which also has a pretty extensive food menu), and recently had a great discussion with my boss about sourcing more of his products locally. I'm hoping to get grass-fed beef on the menu and perhaps a homemade, hand-pattied veggie burger made by yours truly. I'm also going to try to convince him to source his produce locally when it's in season. I'm really excited about the possibilities here, especially because he has such an open mind about it. When I haven't been eating at work, I've had some great meals out this semester. I've been frequenting Finch's Brasserie as often as I have been able to afford it (which is not as often as I'd like on an ice cream scooper's salary), and have thus far loved everything I've had there, including a Cote du Rhone wine that I am head over heels for. I've been trying to eat at locally owned establishments as much as possible (though Jimmy John's still gets a few late night calls from me), so I've also been making regular appearances at Blu Boy Cafe & Cakery for cupcakes that are a meal in and of themselves, Soma for chai lattes, vegan decadence cookies (YUM), and the cute girl that works at the counter, The Runcible Spoon for Sunday brunch (Eggs Benedict to die for), and the West side Bloomingfoods (just two blocks from my house) for the hot bar, the salad bar, the only good sushi in Bloomington, and the best chicken salad. Ever.

And that's as much of an update as I have the time and energy for right now. Hopefully you'll hear from me again soon, but for now, it's off to bed.


PS: The pic is from a street market I found while exploring Torino...