Tag Archives: food

Cooking Tips from the Tasteless

We are  more than halfway through January, so it may be a little late in the game to talk about New Years Resolutions … buuuuut I feel like I am actually succeeding for once, so I want to share my winningness with you, dear readers!

This year, instead of cut and dry, do or die resolutions having to do with my weight (a favorite for me and every other person in America according to current TV commercials), I made a promise to myself to work on some more general things.

  1. I will yell at my kids less (already failed spectacularly, but hey it’s an every day battle)
  2. I will get back to crafting (I have made 6 batches of goats milk soap and cannot wait to make more while also boring everyone to death with details about soap making. Look out, that post is coming soon, dear readers … i.e., captive audience)
  3. Learn some new recipes…

…I am a mediocre cook (and that is being nice). Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat delicious food and I appreciate that cooking is an art form … mama just don’t have time for all that nonsense. For years the only “spice” in my cabinet was salt and my usual goal is to have a protein, vegetable, and starch on the plate in under 30 minutes. Edible is what I aim for, adjectives like “tasty” and “flavorful” are out of my reach. But recently my husband and my oldest daughter have been voicing their … let’s say concerns … over my recipe repertoire. So this year I decided to try something new. I checked out a few cookbooks from the Library, found recipes to try, and then (this is where it gets interesting) … I read them. I didn’t just glance at the ingredients, substituting half of them with what I had on hand.  I made lists, I purchased things and I followed the directions. And do you know, it worked? So far I have made three different meals from three cookbooks that my husband and kids ate, and then … ASKED FOR MORE. Not for something else, mind you, but for more of the thing I cooked.  It. Was. Amazing.

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The Best 30 Minute Recipe (suggested by my boss Ian!)
From this cookbook, I made a skillet version of shepherds pie. Even with peeling and photomashing the potatoes myself (my kids had a field day with the peels, creating “witches stew”) this really did only take 30 minutes and it was delicious. (Sadly this was also the only meal I remembered to photograph.) I plan on making several more recipes from this book. I may even go out and buy my own copy, and that is saying something.


bookcover.phpI Didn’t Know My Slow Cooker Could Do That

This one I just pulled off the shelf on a whim. I love my slow cooker and the few passable things I do make are made in the slow cooker, where all I have to do is dump the ingredients in and walk away. I have tried to find different slow cooker recipes before but generally get annoyed because they mostly seem like variations on the same 10 to 15 recipes. This book had a couple new things I have never tried before and the beef and broccoli recipe that I made was great.

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One Pan, Two Plates
This was another one I found on the shelf. I really like the idea of those “4 or 5 or whatever random number of ingredients” recipe books, but when I’ve flipped through them I don’t really see anything interesting. I picked this one up hoping it would be similar in theme given that the recipes were limited to one pan and meant for weeknights. But that it would offer more flare; and while the recipes were a little more involved, I liked that the directions were simple and ingredients were kept to a minimum. Also, technically I have four plates I need to fill nightly, but my seven-year-old eats like a bird and the toddler can only put away so much before passing out in a food coma, so it worked for us. I made Hungarian beef goulash, mainly because I have always wanted to try goulash; it’s a great, fun word to say. I will admit I may have liked this more than my husband and kids, but I don’t care. It was yummy. A lot of the recipes in this book seem like things outside my ability level, but they also sound delicious, so I am going to try and stretch myself by making a few more recipes. If things go well this might be another title I actually go out and buy for keeps.

I am going to try and keep this resolution. There is a certain amount of pride I felt making things that my family liked instead of  something that just met their basic dietary requirements. If you have any suggestions for other recipes or cookbooks I should, try leave them in the comments, and I will report back any triumphs, and failures, from your suggestions.

-Natalie

 

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Suzy, my friend! Curry chicken?

My favorite take-out place closed on December 31. I am devastated. I never thought I would live in a world without Zaw’s Asian Food (2110 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill.) I was a college freshman, working at the Green Grocer on Hobart Street when Sonny Lee, the manager, convinced me to try something other than white rice (I’m that kid that didn’t let their food touch.). The first thing he introduced me to was their curry chicken. I’ve eaten it at least once a month since 1995. And I’m not the only person, according to this recent Yelp review:

I am so upset about this [closing] I can’t even express it. The curry chicken here was my favorite thing to eat to the point where I would consider it as a last meal. It was a red spicy curry sauce with garlic and ginger and chicken broth. I will miss it so much.

Last meal indeed. It is named Zaw’s Asian Food for a reason. Owners Marvin and Esther Lee are originally from Burma (Myanmar), so the food was never typical take-out; it was a little bit of everything. Through 20 years, 11 apartments, 6 boyfriends, 8 jobs, and 2 degrees, Zaw’s has been there. I live on the South Side. I willingly crossed a bridge for take-out. That’s some serious business. Not only did Sonny know what I wanted to order, he recognized my voice on the phone, he asked about my husband, he noticed weight loss and new haircuts! When I picked up my very last order, Sonny shook my hand and told me it had been a pleasure knowing me all of these years. His voice broke; I left in tears.

I sincerely hope the Lees have a wonderful retirement. And that they pass their recipes on to someone. I have a lead: Ron Lee, the owner of the Spice Island Tea House, is Mr. Lee’s nephew. Anyone have other ideas? I really don’t want to use these cookbooks. Let’s have lunch!

CompleteCurryBookComplete Curry Cookbook, Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie

Authentic curries made easy. Curry is enjoyed throughout the world. This wonderful selection of curry recipes draws its inspiration from India, Thailand, China, England, Indonesia and the Caribbean. These quick, easy and tantalizing recipes feature ingredients found in supermarkets, yet the dishes maintain authentic tastes and flavors.

BurmaFlavors of Burma (Myanmar): Cuisine and Culture From the Land of Golden Pagodas, Susan Chan

Susan Chan depicts the culture and traditions of Burma, providing ample information on the Burmese market, commonly used ingredients, and eating and serving customs, explaining, for example, that Burmese eat with their fingertips. She also familiarizes her readers with the language, festivals, and principal cities of this country. Complete with b/w illustrations and photographs.

BurmaRIversBurma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid

The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.

TheCurryBookThe Curry Book : A Celebration of Memorable Flavors and Irresistible Recipes, Nancie McDermott

Whatever its incarnation — in a lightly seasoned deviled egg, a cold chicken salad, or a spicy Indian- or Thai-style dish — curry is one of the most popular seasonings in the world. Nancie McDermott explores endless variations on the curry theme, from Jakarta to Senegal, Tokyo to Jamaica, and Sri Lanka to South Carolina. The result is an untraditional — and accessible — celebration

BigBookofCurriesThe Big Book of Curries: 365 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World, Sunil Vijayakar

The Big Book of Curries details the intricacies of these delicious dishes, from the numerous herbs and spices that flavor them to essential equipment and accompaniments. The recipes are organized by main ingredient–meat, poultry and eggs, fish, and shellfish–with a special section on vegetarian meals. Techniques for cooking the perfect rice are included, and there is even a selection of starters to prepare the palate. With these 365 recipes to try, an amazing culinary experience is only a few minutes away.

sad & hungry for curry,
suzy

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Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:

-Ginny

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Food Books That Aren’t Really About Food

Cookbooks, memoirs and novels are my most checked-out items, and as I’ve recently discovered, there’s a sort of magical thing that happens when those worlds collide. You don’t have to be a hardcore gourmand to appreciate the fact that food plays a central role in all our lives, making it a vibrant and relatable conduit for storytelling, exploring memories, making analogies and creating a sort of shorthand between the author and food-savvy readers.  Cooking and baking can be the hook that gets you interested or a thread that ties the story together, but it’s never the whole story.   Here’s a look at some of the recent selections I’ve enjoyed in the subgenre I’m calling food-books-that-aren’t-really-about-food, both fiction and nonfiction.

Julie and Julia

“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

Julie & Julia – Julie Powell

The movie adaptation of this memoir was released few years ago, when I first started being interested in cooking. I thought it was sweet movie with nice performances, but it was all-and-all pretty forgettable to me. As is so often the case, the book is so much better! I loved Powell’s sharp, foul-mouthed humor. The story isn’t so much a treatise on the wonders of Julia Child as it is about about finding meaning and purpose when you are feeling adrift. After finishing this, I added Powell’s more recent memoir, Cleaving, to my to-read list.

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds has been praised time-and-time again by CLP staffers, so I’ll keep my synopsis short: The author of Scott Pilgrim is back with a faced-paced story featuring magic mushrooms, mistakes and second chances, and a house fairy in a graphic novel set in the restaurant world. It takes about one sitting to read, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

For my first experience with a Nora Ephron book, I went for this short novel about a cookbook author grappling with her husband’s affair. While it doesn’t sound like a setup ripe for hilarity, Ephron manages to pull it off with trademark wryness. A book about cooking-as-caretaking, relationships and Rich People Problems, I have to admit, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook which is narrated brilliantly (of course) by Meryl Streep.

Excerpt from Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Online source: http://comicsalliance.com/lucy-knisley-relish-review/

Relish:  My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley was born and raised surrounded by an eclectic collection of restaurant critics, artists, chefs, home cooks, farmers and gardeners, and she has the stories to prove it. I quickly devoured (heh, see what I did there?) this adorable graphic novel filled with food-centric memories, stories about growing up, and reflections on the value of friends, family and food. Comic-style recipes, like this one for huevos rancheros, punctuate the book.

Maman’s Homesick Pie – Donia Bijan

I picked this up with a few other Middle Eastern cookbooks for my monthly themed potluck, and was happily surprised to find it wasn’t really a cookbook, but a memoir with recipes (written by an award-winning chef) interspersed throughout the chapters.  Maman’s Homesick Pie chronicles the life of author Donia Bijan and her family members as they adjust from a happy, well-to-do life in Iran, to living as immigrants in America as a result of Islamic revolution, to Bijan’s training as a professional chef in Paris.  All of her memories are woven together with stories about food: how food was used as a bridge to the family’s Persian heritage, and how adapting to American food rituals is a big part of the enculturation process. The story is engrossing, as is the rich, descriptive food writing. Even if you aren’t interested in that, I say it’s worth a checkout for the recipes alone.

Some related selections from my to-read list:

The Language of Baklava: A Memoir – Diana Abu-Jaber
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
Shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper: a sweet- sour memoir of eating in China – Fuchsia Dunlop
Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India – Madhur Jaffrey
The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
The Baker’s Daughter: A Novel – Sarah McCoy
Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses – Meredith Mileti
Cakewalk: A Memoir – Kate Moses
Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family – Patricia Volk
The Truth about Twinkie Pie – Kat Yeh

-Ginny

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Drood Food

Drood

I have this thing about food in books. I don’t even know if I can adequately describe it; I just love when characters are eating bizarre (to me) food. I’m not sure why this is, but if yesterday’s Eleventh Stack post (“Sorry, Not Sorry”) didn’t prove anything, everyone has his or her own quirks, literary or otherwise.

Anyway, I recently listened to the audio book of Drood by Dan Simmons, and suffice it to say, there are some rather entertaining gustatory passages in this novel narrated by fellow novelist Wilkie Collins, and a good friend of Charles Dickens. In this scene, Collins is having “supper at a club to which [he] did not belong but at which [he] had guest privileges.”

“I settled down to my solitary meal. I enjoyed coming to this club because of how the chef here prepared lark pudding, which I considered one of the four great works produced by my present age. Tonight I decided to dine relatively lightly and ordered two types of pate, soup, some sweet lobsters, a bottle of dry champagne, a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters and minced onions, two orders of asparagus, some braised beef, a bit of dressed crab, and a side of eggs.”

Wilkie considers this to be a “modest repast.”

He then goes on about the culinary skills of Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife.

“…one of the few things I had ever liked about Dickens’s wife was her cooking – or at least the cooking she oversaw at Tavistock House, since I had never seen the woman actually don an apron or lift a ladle. Years ago Catherine Dickens had (under the name Lady Maria Chatterbuck) brought out a volume of recipes, based on what she served regularly at their home at Devonshire Terrace, in a book called What Shall We Have For Dinner? Most of her choices were visible on my table here this evening, although not in such plentitude or with an equal glory of gravies (I consider most cooking as simply a prelude to gravies) – as her tastes had also run towards lobsters, large legs of mutton, heavy beefs, and elaborate desserts. There were so many variations of toasted cheese in Catherine’s volume of recipes that one reviewer commented –

“No man could possibly survive the consumption of such frequent toasted cheese.”

(OK, two things. I think I could survive quite well by consuming toasted cheese, thank you.  And, secondly, I cannot possibly be the only one who didn’t know that Charles Dickens’ wife published a cookbook, can I?)

[Note to self: finish your blog post before jumping down that occupational hazard of a rabbit hole of trying to find a copy]

Half a page later, and with Collins still at the table eating the same supper:

“This night, I could not decide between two desserts, so – Solomon-like – I chose both the lark pudding and the well-cooked apple pudding. And a bottle of port. And coffees.”

Even though I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be trying this at home in my vegetarian/gluten-free kitchen, I couldn’t resist finding out what consisted of lark pudding. According to this post from the blog Victorian Gems, this delicacy includes “one pound of rump steak, three sheeps kidneys, one dozen larks, nicely picked and drawn, and all well seasoned with two of salt and one of pepper, and one dozen oysters blanched.”

Yum. Save room for dessert, indeed.

No wonder Wilkie Collins had troubles with gout. I mean, obviously we know a lot more today than our Victorian friends did back then about the connection between food and health but … still.

Bon appetit.

~ Melissa F.

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Enter the Secret World of Cirque

Readers tend to have good imaginations.

For example, you may have imagined that there is more to the life of the Library than meets the daylight eye. You have, quite possibly, entertained fantasies of secret rituals and mysterious adventures taking place after the closing chimes have rung and the doors are bolted fast. Perhaps you have daydreamed about the inner worlds of books leaping free of their pages, magicians and their companions (both sweet and sinister) roaming through the stacks, wild and playful, making merry mischief underneath the stars while the city’s mundane citizens sleep.

For one night, and one night only, all of those possibilities will come true. And you can be a part of it! But only if you have a ticket.

Click through to purchase your tickets!

Click through to purchase your tickets!

Experience Cirque

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main (Oakland) 

Friday, October 17 From 7 to 10 pm

This dreamy iteration of our popular after-hours event series ushers you into a world where the lines between reality and fiction blur. Enjoy enchanting performances by Belles Lignes Contortion, The Wreckids, Guy and Zoob, and Mr. A.H. Hastings. Refresh yourself throughout the journey with creative cocktails and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres, or fortify yourself with beer and wine as you face dazzling challenges which include:

  • Glimpses into the future with tarot readings and spirit drawings.
  • Winding your way through a shadowy maze in the Library stacks.
  • Mask making, airbrush tattoos and elegant face art.

Early Bird Ticket Special: $45 per person until October 13
$55 from October 14 until we sell out!
Hors d’oeuvres and three (3) drink tickets included in the ticket price.

Want to bring some of the magic home with you? Our silent auction is your chance to acquire classic card catalogs and other refurbished library furniture, lovingly restored by Team Laminates and Workshop Pgh. Raffle tickets will also be available for other mystical treasures and cunning prizes–visit the auction page for full details.

Great treasure and magical adventures await in the shadowy world of the after-dark Library. Will we see you there?

cirque

–Leigh Anne

Note: After Hours @ the Library supports the day-to-day operations of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. For tax purposes, the fair market value of the refreshments and entertainment for the event is $25. The tax-deductible portion of each ticket is the cost of the ticket, less $25.

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Us vs Them: or, a Rust Belt Sibling Rivalry

clevepitt

My regular late summer visit home to Cleveland was this past weekend with its requisite must do’s of each visit – family, friends, food, and cultural or sporting event. I’ve been living in Southwest PA nearly as long as I lived in Northeast Ohio, and the one constant over those many years has been the comments (some positive, but most not) from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors regarding the “other” city. If they only knew that each is more alike than not, and both cities have such great assets that citizens of each city should be eager to explore, and easy to do with such a relatively short drive down the respective turnpikes. And so I thought it high time that I point out some of the greatness of each city:

FOOD

westsidemarket

Who doesn’t need to eat, and make that part of any trip? Both cities have wonderful ethnic neighborhoods highlighting the melting pot aspects of each of these Rust Belt cities. Cleveland’s Little Italy  neighborhood near the cultural center of  University Circle, which hosted its annual “Feast” celebration this past weekend, is not to be outdone by Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, nor is Polish Hill and the pierogies produced throughout Pittsburgh to be outdone by Cleveland’s Slavic Village and those specialty foods produced by the hearts and hands of Northeastern Ohioans. And while Clevelanders have the historic West Side Market to make their purchases of specialty meats, cheeses, produce and more, Pittsburghers are able to stroll the streets of their historic Strip District and stop in to make purchases at the likes of Salem’s, Wholey’s, and Penn Mac.

Hot Sauce Williams is a must stop in Cleveland for lovers or ribs, and soul food specialties, but in Pittsburgh you have to do a little bit more digging to fill your craving for mac and cheese or greens and other soul food favorites. Cleveland, and more specifically my childhood neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, boasts famous chefs in residence (Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and James Beard award winning Douglas Katz). Pittsburgh has many of its own top chefs in the local restaurant world… including James Beard contenders and winners Justin Severino, Kevin Sousa and Trevett Hooper to name only a few… where it will just be a matter of time before many of these become nationally known food stars.

SPORTS

pncpark

Now, be honest, we must all agree that Pittsburgh has a bit of a leg up on this topic with the many championships achieved by the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins throughout the decades (brought to light in the very excellent Heinz History Center’s Sports Museum), but Clevelanders have something Pittsburghers don’t – a professional basketball team.With the return of basketball’s prodigal son whose name shall still remain nameless among many of my Cleveland family and friends, it may be soon that Cleveland will be able to crow about a being a city of champions.

WATER

clevelandlake

Pittsburgh has three rivers, which come together at “The Point”,  and the spectacular bridge architecture and terrain that goes along with those geographic features. Cleveland, on the other hand has a river (which no longer burns!) and a Great Lake, complete with beaches, marinas and fresh walleye. A trip along the Mon or Allegheny is just as enjoyable as a boat ride along “north coast” beaches and down the Cuyahoga River, famous for having caught on fire back in 1969, as well as having a beer and festival named after it.

CULTURE

Cleveland_Museum_of_Art_-_lagoon_with_statue

Two rust belt cities only 2.5 hours from each other are so fortunate to have world class orchestras, not to mention museums of art housing some of the greatest works of art from world renowned artists (one of which is free to get in!) Pittsburgh has a wonderful children’s museum, both cities have fun science centers, Pittsburgh can claim the wildly eclectic Warhol Museum and Mattress Factory, while Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh’s contribution to the jazz world might be a surprise to outsiders, but with names like Eckstine and Strayhorn as part of the musical fabric of this town, this particular musical genre puts a plus in Pittsburgh’s column.  And neither city lacks multiple options for live theater venues for fans of Broadway, off Broadway, and home grown productions.

And of course…LIBRARIES

carnegie440

What kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t mention the plethora of FREE resources available to residents of both cities and their surrounding suburbs through their local public library system!? For those of you here in Pittsburgh, the city has 19 neighborhood branches for you to visit via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and if that’s not enough the entire county of Allegheny boasts a total of 70 library locations! Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are equally rich in their public library offerings –from the downtown branch on Superior Avenue to the outlying community libraries in Euclid, Beechwood, Berea and more.

Beyond the spectacular architecture of many of the original Carnegie libraries, many branches in both cities boast special collections worth the trip out of your own neighborhood. The A.C. Free Library in Carnegie, PA has a special collection of Civil War memorabilia for all you history buffs, and speaking of history, the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA was the first Carnegie Library in the United States! The Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library system’s historic Walker & Weeks building is home to a large circulation collection, special collections and the Eastman Reading Garden, which is home to a fantastic collection of public art. And CPL’s Main branch even has a drive up window!

Now, before you start commenting below, I know that I left out A LOT of other assets both cities have to offer (alternative music scene, green space, urban agriculture, educational institutions, public transit, brew pubs, and more), but I’m going to leave those for you to discover and share with your favorite naysayer when you make your trip up to Cleveland or down to Pittsburgh, because I know you will after reading this, AND I know that you will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that these siblings are more alike than not!

-Maria J. (proud to claim both cities as “home”)

(all images courtesy of Google Image search)

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