Ode to the Oregon Truffle

Oh, Oregon Truffle!
Living in the shadows of your European cousins
Never getting the respect you deserve
It’s time for a change!

Oh, Oregon Truffle!

Dug from the rich Oregon soil
Shaped by the hand of nature.
Your earthy scent: remeniscent of all that made you

Oh, Oregon Truffle!

Your time has come:
Break out of your silence
And grace our plates and palates.

"Who ever says truffle, pronounces a great word, which awakens erotic and gourmand ideas both in the sex dressed in petticoats and in the bearded portion of humanity." Brillat-Savarin, 1825

This weekend, I was fortunate to be a patron at the First Ever (and I hope, Annual) Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene. And no, not the sugary kind of truffle, but the lovely, lumpy, sweet-smelling fungi kind of truffle. Truffles across Europe have been the fodder for gourmands and chefs for centuries – some of these small fungi now rope in a hefty $2000 a pound! But this event was to honor a lesser-known variety of truffle called the Oregon truffle, whose range extends from Vancouver Island, British Columbia to Southern California. These little truffles were virtually unknown about 20 years ago, they began to get the culinary recognition they deserved. James Beard (born in Portland, by the way) declared in 1983 that Oregon truffles were at least as good as the French Black and Italian White truffles."

Truffles are a fungi, like mushrooms, but which grow under ground. They are the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi (symbiotic) that live in soil and associate with tree roots. But, instead of fruiting above ground, the truffle fruits below ground - and never sees the light of day (unless it is dug up). Yet, truffles are common in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Douglas Fir forests, as they grow in the needles and topsoil around the Douglas fir tree. The beauty of a truffle is that it is one of nature's own exquisite creations: it is rare, and no human has been able to reproduce it's subtle, complex flavor.

Oregon Wild Edibles

Browsing the goodies displayed at the Truffle Marketplace, one of the vendors I came across was Juan Alcala, a truffle specialist for Oregon Wild Edibles. He and his partner, Jim Wells, have been friends for 34 years and recently began their business to help the plight of the Oregon truffle. The two gentlemen know a lot about truffles… they were kind enough to answer all of my questions, and each of their truffles comes with sheets full of truffle information and a guarantee that each truffle passes their very high standards and was grown in clean, unpolluted soil. They even recommend that you squeeze, smell and handle your truffles every day (Who wouldn’t want to play with their food? Especially with this bunch?).

Juan Acala

Oregon Wild Edibles has both white and black truffles available. Each truffle is graded as either Small, Medium, or Premium (the “cream of the crop,” so to speak), which in part determines the price; and each type of truffle is denoted by season: spring or winter. This time of year, the winter truffles smelled most heavenly, and had truly gorgeous brownish-red marbling, while the spring truffles had much less marbling and were far less fragrant. Because of their value, commercial collectors often have incentive to sell all the truffles they find, whether they are mature or not. Immature truffles have little culinary value, as they have not yet developed the pungent aromas that chefs seek. This frequent presence of immature specimens in commercially available Oregon white truffles has diminished their reputation and value on the world market compared to their European counterparts. Not so with the truffles that Jim and Juan collect and sell: Quality is one of their top priorities...they won't sell you a truffle that doesn't meet their standards.

A beautifully marbled White Oregon truffle

Oregon Black truffles are unique in both scent and flavor. Their fragrance is far different from that of the European Black truffle, which Juan and Jim had available for comparison. European truffles smell kind of like a spa to me - that earthy clean scent. The Oregon Black smelled more like an earthy cheese. We determined that the European truffle they had for display would fetch a pretty penny: almost $675 dollars!

So what do you do with the gorgeous smelling fungi you’ve just purchased? Oregon Black truffles are typically used for desserts – they have a sweet, almost nutty and floral scent. But they are also wonderful for other culinary delights, depending on how ripe they are. There are 7 stages of ripeness, and depending on the stage that the truffle is currently in (which can change from day to day, by the way), you can choose what kind of culinary magic you would like to make with your truffle. Juan and Jim recommend stage 1 for whipped cream or ice cream while stages 6 and 7 are best for sauces or filet mignon with demi-glaze. They also mentioned that although smell is the best determination of ripeness, what you make with it will not necessarily come out tasting like it smells (although it will still be wonderful, and that’s part of the fun of cooking, right?!)

The truffles are like cheese: alive. So when you’re storing them, be sure to give them room to breathe. As they ripen, they will continue to give off water vapor through their outer skins, which can begin to rot if not taken care of, but you also don’t want them to dry out either. Juan and Jim recommend keeping the truffles refrigerated, and in a sealed container, gently wrapped in unbleached paper towels or organic cloth. If you are using a plastic instead of glass, be sure to avoid contact with the plastic. When droplets begin to appear on the sides of the container, change the paper towel. You should also discard any rotting truffles lest they contaminate others – but not before gently peeling the outsides of them to preserve the deliciousness inside. If necessary, you can also freeze truffles for later use. They can be used in sauces or even grated if done quickly before they thaw too thoroughly.

I ended up with a single premium White truffle – medium sized, only .20 oz. (it's the end of the month, so I'm poor again!), but it was ripe and full of flavor and fragrance. Juan helped me pick it out himself. I took it home, cradled in an unbleached paper towel, and (after taking pictures of it, of course) decided to make a soup that would showcase my new purchase. With such a small amount, I wanted to maximize the flavor as much as possible – I could have put it in an omelet, but I just couldn’t wait that long! I decided on a savory white bean soup (recipe below). I had a few very small truffles that had been stashed in my freezer from the end of the farmer’s market, when we had been so busy that I wasn’t able to cook anything with them. They went into the pot to flavor the soup, while my newly arrived truffle was the star feature: thin shavings on top, accompanied by a tiny swirl of organic white truffle oil made by another local artisan from Yachats, Oregon.

Those of you that have been reading my site for a while are aware that I support the Slow Food Movement, and try my best (with the means I have as a student, of course) to give the majority of my business to local farmers and vendors that follow practices I believe in. Oregon Wild Edibles fits right in with these goals, their prices are reasonable, and their practices are admirable. So if you are a supporter of similar ideas, would just like to try one of Oregon's finest delicacies (Valentine's Day is coming up), or even learn more about these truffles or what to do with them, write to them, email them, or give them a call! (Remember, this is a small business, so they aren't set up to do direct website ordering yet) I'm sure that you'll be hearing much more about Oregon truffles in the future. Most of the pleuthera of information here was provided to me by Juan and Jim.

Oregon Wild Edibles
Jim Wells and Juan Acala
PO Box 11021
Eugene, OR 97440
Fax: 1-714-459-7147

I'll be posting a few of the other vendors I discovered while at the Truffle Marketplace in the next few days. For now, here's the soup recipe:

Truffle-scented White Bean Soup, adapted from Cooking Light

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 tbsp. roasted garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
24 oz. of cooked cannelini beans
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
a few small Oregon White truffles for adding flavor to the soup
truffle oil, and one very ripe Oregon White truffle for garnish

This is a simple and tasty soup. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan and saute the onion for a few minutes or until it begins to turn translucent. Add the roasted garlic cloves, pepper and fresh rosemary and saute for 30 seconds more. Add the chicken stock, beans and small truffles to the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. At this point, your house is going to smell delicious, I promise. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Wait 5 minutes, then blend half of the soup at a time in a blender until smooth. Divide into bowls, then drizzle with truffle oil and garnish with thin shavings of a ripe Oregon white truffle. Serves 4.

Note: I might add a little cream to the soup at some point also; perhaps with the lemon juice. I know that this defeats the purpose of "cooking light," but I think it could really benefit from a little extra creaminess. A little gorgonzola thrown might also be lovely :)


A Remedy for the Sniffles?

My favorite vendor at the Lane County Farmer's Market is named Freeman Rowe. Freeman used to be a biology instructor at our local community college and is the mastermind behind the Mt. Pisgah Mushroom Festival that takes place here the last weekend of every October, which also happens to be my favorite place to pick up fresh porcinis (unless you've got the skills to go and get them in the forest yourself, of course). I also love Freeman because he has the most unusual items for sale at the Market - some of my finds from his booth have included fresh porcinis, huckleberries, beautifully carved gourds, mason bees, and baby kiwis - all things that he gathers from the forest, finds, or cultivates himself as is evident by his hands, which have that grandfatherly roughness that comes from spending a large portion of your life being outdoors, working with soil, or gathering your own tasty treats from nature. And he's very friendly to boot!

Here's a picture of Freeman from our local events newpaper, the Eugene Weekly. You can read more about him (he's very fascinating) here. Can't you just tell how sweet he is from that smile?

This last summer, when I walked up to his booth (I always go there first so that I don't miss out on whatever cool thing he's offering that week), he had boxes of elderberries. My only previous experience with elderberries comes from Monty Python movies, so I asked Freeman what I could possibly do with these little blue-hued berries.

Well, it makes the most delicious wine. Some people make it into jam, or my favorite is to just make a tincture! he told me. Just don't drink too much elderberry at once, or you'll have a hangover like you'd never believe! Woo-wee!

Since we'd already made wine from the blackberries in our yard, and I've got a whole cupboard full of jams that I made from various fruits all summer long as they came and went with the season, so I decided on the tincture...even though I didn't really know what it was. I've since looked it up: An alcohol solution of a nonvolatile medicine. Sounds boring, but that's the definition! It's actually pretty cool. Read on...

He gave me the instructions:

Elderberry tincture: Stuff as many elderberries as you can in a glass jar, then fill it with vodka to the top (thus the alcohol solution). Close up the lid, and stick it in a dark place for 6 weeks or up to 3 months. Shake it every day for the first month or so (I just did it when I remembered), then strain it out, toss out the berries, and there's your tincture!

I guess this also means that it's nonvolatile once it's finished? How does that work?!) Anyway, I followed them to the letter (except perhaps for the shaking part), then stuck it in the cupboard to mature...anxious to see what this 'tincture' was all about.

When it finished, around Christmas, I did some searching on the Internet, and found that these tinctures are actually quite common. You can even buy them in health food stores. And they allegedly will cure everything from the common cold to the flu, according to some people. There is some clinical evidence that elderberry has some properties that are useful to shorten the length and even prevent you from getting the common cold. It's now found in lots of teas and other natural cold remedies, but you should absolutely read up on it before trying this, of course. Some people have allergies to it as well, so make sure you're not one of those people. I don't know if it actually works, but I started to get a nasty cold last week, took my tincture dutifully, and didn't end up getting sick past the second day. It may be mind over matter, I suppose. Who knows? But it tastes good, it's a small amount, and Freeman has been around a long time...

If you decide to make it, mix 1 tsp. of the finished tincture into an 8 oz. glass of water, and take it three times a day. It's got sort of a tangy berry flavor...like raspberries, but more tangy. The water can be hot or cold, but we really like it mixed into a steaming mug of hot water...besides, if you're getting sick, or think you are, there's nothing like a steaming mug of anything!

The market won't be around again until April 1, but if you're here in Eugene (or anywhere nearby), be on the lookout for Freeman's booth. While you're there, go say hello and check out some of the treasures he's got to offer.

Eugene Saturday Market
8th and Oak, downtown Eugene
Every Saturday
April 1 - November 11

P.S. Stay tuned for more local products and vendors to come...I had a wonderful time at the 1st Annual Oregon Truffle Festival on Sunday, and I'm excited to tell you all about the people and products I discovered.


The dinner that sealed The Deal

When Loving Boyfriend first asked me out, it sounded like a sympathy date. Yes, it's true. He gave me some line about how my roommate and everyone else I knew in Eugene (I had only been there for a couple of weeks) was out of town, and then offered to let me tag along with him, Mr. Popular, to a party. This came directly after my honest question, "Are you M. L.?" and his smartass answer: "Who wants to know?" After which, I was completely taken aback and thought he was a bit of a turd. But he was right, everyone I knew was out of town, and I wanted to meet more people, so I decided to go anyway (I knew that my roommate knew him). He proceeded to play cards and ignore me the whole party! But then he asked me afterwards to come over for tea and was so cute and charming, I gave in. I'm glad now that I gave him that second chance.

For our first 'real' date, he cooked me dinner (he must have known the way to a foodie's heart)...I brought the wine, he had a movie...and the rest was well, history. But I'm convinced that it was the dinner I made him that sealed the deal for the long haul - I cooked, we danced in the kitchen to Jerry Garcia's "Sugaree," ate and laughed, and I've been cooking for him for almost three years now (although, mind you, he's also a very good cook). Yesterday, with the first sunshine (don't you just love the way that word rolls off your tongue?) we've had in a month shining through the whole day, I was in an upbeat, lovey-dovey mood and I wanted something quick and easy for dinner. I decided to go back to that first meal I made for Loving Boyfriend: Parmesan Chicken topped with Lemony Greens. We also had a bit of roasted fennel on the side, because I just love roasted fennel. The roasting mellows the anise flavor and gives it soft, rich texture that is simply divine.

This is simple, and delicious. I think I actually got it from Cosmo back then (Gosh, *blush*).

Parmesan chicken: Take two small, boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound them out to 1/2 an inch thick (or thinner if you would like) between two sheets of plastic wrap. Place some flour, salt and pepper on one plate. On a second plate, add breadcrumbs (try home-made!) and grated parmesan cheese (you can use seasoned breadcrumbs or season them yourself - I added basil and oregano). Then in a wide bowl, lightly beat one egg. Dip the chicken breasts in egg, then the flour mixture, then egg again, and finally the bread crumbs. Press down lightly when you do the breadcrumbs to get a little thicker layer of them on top. Heat a small pat of butter and a bit of olive oil together in a pan, then cook the chicken for a few minutes on each side until cooked through. The coating on the chicken sounds easy, and it is, but it's taste far outshines it's simplicity.

For the lemony greens: In a large bowl, juice one small lemon (I used another Meyer lemon!), and then gradually whisk in 2 tbsp. of good olive oil. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Next, add two large handfuls of mixed greens and toss them with the lemon vinaigrette, then place a handful on top of each chicken breast. Do this right before serving.

Roasted fennel: Preheat the oven to 350F, then cut the bottom of the fennel bulb (the white part only) into smaller peices. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper (you could add a bit on lemon juice here too) in an oven-safe dish or pan and roast for 35 minutes or until soft and carmelized.

That's it. That's how I caught my Loving Boyfriend. I guess all the rest of the nights I've spent slaving over the stove is how I've kept him? Hopefully he's not expecting me to stay "barefoot in the kitchen?!" Honestly, though, I fell like a rock, and even after all this time, I'm still smitten. He still makes me laugh, and although he's still a turd sometimes, now I just love him despite it!


We're off to ski for the weekend (well, LB is going to ski and I'm going to try not to break my legs, back, tailbone, arms, head, or torso; spend the day hanging out chasing the kiddos on the bunny hill yelling, "wait! show me how to do that!"; and the night drinking peppermint patties and trying to drown out the pain I've inflicted upon myself during the day. But hey, why be technical about it?) so I'll 'talk' to you all after our return!


What do you do with left-over lemon curd?

After gaining several empathy pounds, in a record amount of time, from just baking a cake that had 11 1/2 cups of butter and 10 3/4 cups of sugar (oh God, I can't believe I ate two pieces), I realized with some dismay that when I looked in the fridge, there was still a left-over jar of Meyer lemon curd in there, staring back at me.

I think I have related my feelings about wasting food here before, and as something that makes me feel incredibly guilty, I decided that the lemon curd absolutely had to be used up. And soon, before it went bad. Real bad. And came out of the fridge to attach itself in it's buttery silkiness to my rear end while I was sleeping. ( Don't worry, I whisked that cake away to the 'office' -the lab, remember I'm a scientist - the morning after I made it so that we wouldn't even be tempted to eat more of it).

But, what to do with leftover lemon curd? Dipping bread or cookies or scones in it wasn't an option...there was far too much of it...it was only good for 5 days according to the recipe, and it had already been four. Then I got an idea from a blog I've just recently discovered...Culinary in the Desert. Joe makes delicious goodies and new recipes every day (he's got organization I can only dream about!). One of these included a yummy looking lemon coconut bread about a week ago. But what's better than coconut bread dipped in lemon curd? Coconut cupcakes filled with Meyer lemon curd! And how about topped with cream cheese frosting?

In my searches on the Internet, I found inspiration for almost exactly this on a new blog! Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit has a cupcake of every kind! And they're beautiful! Following suite, but not the recipe available (I wanted coconut cupcakes), the end result was easy, and so far, there haven't been any complaints from Loving Boyfriend...only: "I'm going to go have another cupcake."

The cupcakes themselves are awesome. I used this coconut cake recipe from epicurious.com, and they were perfect. I added a bit of lemon zest just to help tie things together, and used only a cup of coconut. They were tender and light (in texture, not calories, silly!), with just a hint of lemon, and literally melt in your mouth (in the best way possible). I even took some of the extra cake batter and turned it into a coconut mini-loaf without the frosting (although I love to play with frosting, I actually prefer to eat cakes that don't have it!).

The cream cheese frosting was a Cooking Light recipe, you can find here. I left out the coconut, because I wanted smooth frosting. I used a large round tip from my very cool cake decorating kit that Loving Boyfriend gave me for Christmas to pipe on the frosting after thinning it every so slightly with a bit of light corn syrup. I tried Chockylit's suggestion for cutting the top off into a cone to put the lemon curd inside, but I had much more success with how the cupcakes looked in the end when I just piped the curd into the center of the cupcake through the top, then covered it up with the frosting. Taking a bow to chockylit, I added a bit of Meyer lemon zest to garnish the top. Viola! No wasted lemon curd, and I haven't had to eat more than one (of course, we might have to put L.B. on a diet soon...)!

WAY Too much information

Tagged, again! Nerissa, at Deetsa's Diningroom, tagged me for the TMI meme...and since I've already confessed my culinary inadequacies, I figured that now I should confess more general stuff. Head on over to her site to see all of her little divulgences...

Here goes: Ten things you (probably really) didn't (want to) know about me

10. I don't wear my hair up when other people are around. Ever. I don't do this because when I was in elementary and middle school, my brother and his best friend would always tease me about my ears - which stick out ever so slightly. I developed a complex about it, and no matter what Loving Boyfriend or anyone else has done to try and convince me otherwise, I just can't do it! Of course, he feels bad about it now (right, bro? well, he'd better anyway!), but too little, too late!

9. I have (thankfully) survived two really horrible car accidents.

8. I have a tattoo.

7. Loving Boyfriend and I have our own wine label:

M&Ms Boot-knockin' Blackberry Blast: This slightly sweet wine comes to you straight from Cali and Samson's back yard - all organically fertilized - and made with love by M. and Michelle (his labor, her pleasure). Enjoy with family and friends. 750 mls.
Bottled in Eugene, OR.

6. Although I have very eclectic music tastes, I prefer bluegrass and folk music to any other kind.

5. I once paid $75 dollars for a 16 oz. bottle of conditioner, from Lush. (But I didn't really mean to...the price was in English pounds...I thought I was splurging a little, but with the shipping, it turned out to be a LOT! Luckily, their website also has prices in dollars now too!)

4. I can't stay out in the woods overnight by myself - I'm pretty convinced that I'm afraid of the dark (at least that kind of dark)...and I don't like storm drains. I blame this on reading too many scary novels, like Stephen King's IT, when I was younger.

3. I once got asked out on a date by my cousin. (We didn't know!) Luckily, I didn't like him very much (in that way), so I had turned him down. We ran into eachother again at a family reunion, about two years later. Also lucky for us, we aren't related by blood, just marriage.

2. I've jumped out of a perfectly good airplane - with the intention of going all the way to the ground and hoping my parachute opens before I hit it. Some people call this "skydiving." (It's actually an incredible adrenaline rush...and everyone should try it once...I just don't ever need to do it again. Ever.)

1. I have been to the bottom of the ocean in the deep-sea submersible, DSR Alvin (2500 meters!).


Kitchen Wisdom, part One

Some of the most important lessons I've learned, I've learned in the kitchen...

This weekend I learned that if you are using a cheese grater, you should definitely keep the knuckle of your thumb well out of the way. (Ouch.)


In the Pink...revisited

Those of you that have been reading my site for a while might remember my rather *unusual* entry for an event called "In the Pink" put on by Emily at La Dolce Vita. It was an event to raise awareness about breast cancer, and the stories and people who have or have had it, by making something pink.

Because my first dessert didn't turn out very pink, I took an unusual route and made a pink drink instead: Rhubarb Schnapps. However, the problem with making home-made flavored alcohol, is that it takes a while to mature. And while I have been busy cooking, baking, traveling, and working... in the dark, cool recesses of my lazy susan (Why do they call it that, anyway? Was there really a lazy Susan so unfortunate as to have had a piece of cabinetry named after her and her loafing?), mature it did!

After straining out the now-white rhubarb peices that so gracefully allowed their beautiful red color to turn my bottle of vodka into a striking pink color, and then putting it through some cheesecloth (a bit of sugar sticks around and will forever cloud the bottom of your bottle if you neglect this step), I now have a large bottle of very pink grown-up drink.

I'm imagining pulling this out of the cupboard during a girl's night, and being the hit of the 'party' as we all drink pink girly shots together
. Why, yes, Muffy, I made it myself!

Anyway, it's very tasty. I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to shots - I've had some rough recoveries from nights that I liked the shots a little too much, but this one I can do. It's rather sweet, but not sickeningly so, and perfect for a shot or a sip, as it's lost all of it's harshness over the last several months. It's also a fun gift - I brought some home in a pretty bottle for my mom and sister when I came home for Christmas. Unfortunately, the pictures and the lighting in my kitchen do not do the color any justice, but hopefully you get the idea.

You can check out Emily's round-up, and a lot of other pink desserts here.


the seven meme

seven has always seemed like a lucky number to me. and lucky me, i was tagged by Melissa, the culinary prowess behind Cookingdiva, for the seven meme (thanks, Melissa!). so here goes:

7 things to do before i die:
i would really love to go to italy and indulge in all of the glorious food and wine available there (and of course, visit my friend, Ilva). Plus, there are about a bazillion other places (and bloggers) I would love to visit. i want to have children (at least one!) and see them grow up and become parents themselves. learn to make and decorate cakes well enough that even as my own biggest critic, i'm still happy with them. own a house. work at a job that i love going to, every day. get most of my vegetables from my own garden.

7 things i cannot do:
eat ketchup. eat hotdogs. wear a mini-skirt. wear my hair up when other people are around. downhill ski (and yes, i am from Colorado, but i don't downhill ski!). wear a bunch of make-up. gracefully let Loving Boyfriend beat me at something. refrain from worrying about something.

7 things that attracted me to blogging:
meeting new friends with interests similar to my own. the recipes. the incredible photography. the laughter that comes when reading some of my favorite witty bloggers. learning about how other people, in my own country and in many other countries, eat and cook and enjoy food. actually making my own website. taking my own pictures of food!

7 things i say most often:
"Samson, NO." "Will you get this down for me?" (i'm 5'0") "Will you put this back up for me?" (i'm 5'0") "Not while I'm cooking!" "Ack! There's dog hair in my food!" "It's raining." "This stupid experiment never works!!"

7 books i love:
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The Stranger, by Albert Camus. The Art of Eating, by MKF Fisher and Joan Reardon. The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells.

7 movies i could watch over and over:
Sliding doors. The Lord of the Rings. Like Water for Chocolate. Seven Senses. Amelie. Shawshank Redemption. The Usual Suspects.

7 bloggers i'm tagging:
i think everyone i know has already been tagged! If not, consider yourself to be so now - Tag, you're it!

My very first cake...

With real buttercream frosting, that is. Piped and spread by yours truly. And made with the queen of lemons, the Meyer Lemon. Meyer lemons taste like a subtle cross between an orange and a lemon - not as sweet as an orange, not as sour as a regular lemon, but full of flavor none-the-less. I have an infinite weakness for any recipe that includes a meyer lemon in it, and when I saw a recipe for Meyer Lemon Cake on the front of Martha Stewart's Living Magazine while in the Orlando airport, I snatched it up.

I first met Meyer lemons last year, courtesty of a killer recipe for Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade that I'll have to post at some point, and the affair has commenced and continued as I have waited patiently all year for them to come into season once again. Shauna's recipe for Meyer lemon sorbet is also in the "to be made" pile...perhaps even as the christening for my Kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment, which I have yet to use (somehow, winter rain just doesn't scream out "ICE CREAM" to me, but sorbet sounds quite pleasant, even this time of year).

Let me describe the cake to you: Pull off one of the beautiful candied Meyer lemons topping the cake. Dig your fork into the golden-hued, pillowy swiss meringue buttercream frosting to find four soft and moist layers of butter cake delicately flavored with Meyer lemon zest. Each layer is sandwiched with dense, rich, and tangy Meyer lemon curd and covered with a modest dousing of Meyer lemon simple syrup = Pure lemony bliss.

One fair warning: Do not make this entire cake for yourself, unless you want to have a heart attack and die on the floor in sugary, buttery bliss. It has over 2 lbs. of butter between all the components! And I also used up almost an entire 5 lb. bag of sugar! And that's only for the 8" tier (serves 12-15), which is all I attempted! Good thing I made it for my book club - and I'll never tell them how much of either ingredient went into it...I'm praying there won't be any leftovers, because this recipe does NOT fit into my "healthy eating" resolutions. But I only had one peice, I promise (Okay, maybe 2, but not in the same day)! However, it does make a very impressive presentation, especially if no one has ever seen you make a cake before...minus, of course, the few things that didn't end up looking like I had planned (the leaves did not 'sugar' well, the candied lemons are pretty lopsided, and I couldn't get the cake squared, so next time I'll cut around the edges, not just the top, and refrigerated frosting = cottage cheese until you warm it up and beat it thoroughly. I also had some help putting it together from our temporary roommate, so I didn't get to do things exactly like I wanted to, but I'm still proud of how it turned out anyway).

It was definitely good practice. I'm swiftly finding I have a love of baking and a pure fascination with the art of decorating cakes. Chandra, at Lick the Spoon, has been a great inspiration, and I feel it's a perfect way to use that artistic side of my brain that sits feeling useless in the non-science part of my brain most of the time...combining my itch to be artistic with my love of food...what could be more perfect? Loving Boyfriend also surprised me with cake decorating lessons and a kit full of over a hundred decorating tools for Christmas (Awwwww)...so there will definitely be more in the future. As I've said, this one is certainly far from perfect (how do they get that perfect square shape???!), as I still have so much to learn, but it was my first, and I had a great time!

The cake recipe is posted below, because it's tasty enough to eat alone, and not horribly bad for you, if eaten in very small quantities. The whole cake as is is pretty labor intensive, but if anyone wants the rest of it (remember: tasty HEART ATTACK!!), here's a link to the recipes for the lemon curd, lemon simple syrup, candied lemons and the buttercream frosting recipe, as well as the cake assembly. My biggest complaint was the that frosting was a bit too buttery - if that's possible, because it didn't really taste like frosting, it tasted like colored butter! But I also had help with making the frosting from one of my roommates (she actually made it), so I'm not sure if it was made perfectly according to the recipe...that will have to be something I check another time. Bon appetit!

Meyer Lemon Cake, from Martha Stewart Living
Makes 8 cups batter

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for pans
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large egg yolks, plus 8 large egg whites
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
3/4 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two 8" cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

2. Put butter and 2 cups sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in egg yolks, 1 at a time, and zest. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk. Transfer batter to a large bowl.

3. Put egg whites into the clean bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until foamy. Add a pinch of salt; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat until stiff peaks form.

4. Fold one-third of the egg-white mixture into batter with a rubber spatula. Gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture until just combined; do not overmix.

5. Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake until cake is golden and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean (about 45 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack; let cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Invert onto rack. Remove parchment; reinvert. Let cool completely. Cakes can be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic, up to 1 day.


Sweet Vermouth Chicken

I don't know that I've ever had vermouth before, except in a martini, but when I saw this recipe for Sweet Vermouth Chicken, my mouth started watering and I headed out to the liquor store on a mission. The woman there actually confused me as being a member of the party behind me since I was "only buying vermouth" for $3.95 a bottle...and apparently that makes me a weirdo, but it was the only sweet vermouth they had! After tasting this dish, however, it was $3.95 well spent, and perhaps she would be the one 'only buying vermouth' if she tasted it. Although some reviewers had complained about dry chicken breasts and not enough sauce, I had plenty (but I think I only made two breasts with the amount of sauce listed below, so it probably wouldn't hurt to make a little extra or even double it) and my chicken was very tender and juicy. I left out things like canned chesnuts (they're expensive!) and used mixed dried berries instead of just cranberries, and fresh pearl onions instead of frozen, because it's what I had in the house. I also modified the recipe to use dried porcinis instead of regular button mushrooms and used chicken stock instead of chicken broth, again because it's what I had on hand (I make the chicken stock as soon as I'm running low and buy dried porcinis in bulk for cheap). We loved it, and will be making it again. Best of all? It's healthy, but tastes full and rich and naughty!

Sweet Vermouth Chicken, adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

Cooking spray
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I actually used bone-in chicken breasts)
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted
1/2 cup fresh pearl onions, peeled
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sweet vermouth
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/8 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken with about half each of salt and pepper. Add half of chicken to pan, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Place on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until chicken is done, but still tender and juicy.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic to pan. Sprinkle flour over the mushroom mixture, and cook for 2 minutes or until flour is lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add vermouth to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits, and boil for 30 seconds. Add broth, parsley, tarragon, and remaining salt and pepper; return to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until sauce is reduced to 1 cup (about 10 minutes). Add cranberries to pan, and cook for 2 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast half and 1/4 cup sauce)

CALORIES 315(7% from fat); FAT 2.7g (sat 0.7g,mono 0.7g,poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 41.2g; CHOLESTEROL 99mg; CALCIUM 36mg; SODIUM 315mg; FIBER 1.5g; IRON 1.8mg; CARBOHYDRATE 21.4g Cooking Light, DECEMBER 2005


Home Sweet Home

I'm back from the land of citrus and warm winters, and I'm dying for some home-cooked food!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to eat out at any wonderful restaurants while I was in Orlando - I ended up having dinners with collaborators at mostly chain restaurants or Disneyworld favorites and breakfast and lunch were spent trying to find something cheap and fast. Thanks to the suggestion from Faith in Orlando, who commented on my site before I left, I was able to try some southern Indian cuisine because I suggested it to a friend who tried it and brought back the extras (delicious!). I suppose I should have guessed this would be the case with no car, an extremely modest budget, and being at the mercy of my own desire to follow around and socialize with distinguished scientists in my field who didn't have the world of fine-dining in mind while at the conference. Not to say that many scientists don't like food as much as myself (they do!) but they either had different tastes - "anything but Indian food" (Damn!) or "let's just eat next door at Chilis because the line at this place is so long and I have to work on my talk" (noooooo!!!!). Ah, such is life.

I did, however, get my hands on some lovely, freshly picked, bright yellow home-grown grapefruits to bring back some sunshine to my very wet and very flooded Eugene, courtesy of a University of Florida faculty member up in Gainesville. I felt like my prayers had been answered! In the airport in Phoenix, I also picked up some heirloom popcorn and some prickly pear cactus jellies. So, all was not lost!

So, in an effort to re-gain my feeling of being home, I want to share with you one of Loving Boyfriend and my own favorite recipes: Lentil Enchiladas. This is one of those recipes I've been cooking for ages and have cooked over and over. It's perfect for a dinner at home for two (even the leftovers are great), or nice enough to make for guests. It's also a vegetarian dish that even a carnivore could love. And even better? It's also healthy, one of my goals for how I'd like to see my cooking evolve this year (Inspired by recent posts by Vickie at the Moveable Feast Food Blog and Ilva at Lucullian Delights). I'm not even sure where it came from, but it's been good enough to have stood the test of time...and in a kitchen like mine, where I cook something new nearly every night, that's saying a lot!

Lentil Enchiladas
Serves: 4

1/2 cup lentils (I use the brown variety usually)
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup avocado
4 tortillas
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1-2 limes, quartered
(for garnish)

1 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
3/4 cup corn kernels
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. lime juice
1/2 - 1 seeded and chopped jalapeno
salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add lentils, and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer the lentils until all the liquid is absorbed (about 30 minutes). While this is cooking, mix together the ingredients for the salsa. When the lentils are finished, remove from heat and add red onion, red wine vinegar, cumin, and salt and pepper and mix together. Fold in the avocado.

Spray a baking dish with cooking spray or rub it with a bit of olive oil. Warm the tortillas in the oven (wrapped in foil) or microwave (NOT wrapped in foil, try paper towels), then fill each with 1/2 cup of the lentil mixture and roll them up, placing them in the baking dish seam side down. Sprinkle with tops with cheese and bake for 10 minutes, or until cheese melts and becomes bubbly. Serve topped with salsa and lime wedges.


Baby, it's COLD outside!

...And so, I'm headed to Orlando, Florida...for another 7 days.

The life of a graduate student requires that we sometimes go off to various places in the world (within the USA on my budget!) to go to conferences, and I'm off to attend one of my favorite ones: The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. It's a meeting that brings together scientists from all branches of biology to help them integrate their research with that of others. I think that this is one of the most important things that we as scientists can do, so I'm happy to support it. And I'm happy to leave behind all the rain and darkness that my home state is currently being bombarded with. But I can tell you one thing, I'm not excited to go and travel and not have Internet access for another week! I miss you all!

But I'll be back...with lots of photos of the places I get to eat...gulp...as long as I can muster up the courage to whip out my camera and explain to my fellow scientists why I simply must take photographs of everything I eat... more likey I might end up with pictures of the outside facades of the places I eat, but I promise to try! I'm still crossing my fingers that I'll get lucky and have Internet access in my room, but being that I am a lowly grad student, this may not be the case.

So, keep cooking, my friends, so that I have many new recipes to try when I am finally able to be home! Have a wonderful first week of 2006, and I'll talk to you all when I return!

PS. If anyone can recommend a restaurant while I'm there - please do so! Hopefully I'll be able to at least check my email at some point!


Blogging by Mail #3

When I arrived home from Colorado, there was a package sitting on my table. From Australia.

"Australia?" I thought, "I don't know anyone from Australia..."

I checked the name on the back - Clare B. - and didn't immediately recognize it. So I opened the package.

It was full of lots of foodie goodies! It suddenly donned on me that this was my package from Blogging By Mail #3, hosted by Cathy at My Little Kitchen. What a lovely and unexpected Christmas/New Years present!

I reached my hand in to find a pleuthera of delicious snacks and fun ingredients:

There were Horizon Australian salt flakes - pure white crystals with a sharp, very intense taste that I can't wait to dash onto some yummy dishes. A package of wasabi noodle snacks - both Loving Boyfriend and I love wasabi-flavored anything!

Reaching further, I found three Indonesian Seasoning mixes: Rendang (Beef in chili and coconut seasoning), Nasi Kuning (Yellow Rice), and Opor Ayam (Chicken in coconut gravy), all of which sound delicious. I have never seen any of them before, so I'll be sure to post pictures and comments as soon as I have time to try one of them.

On top of all of this, there were also Tim Tam cookies - chocolate covered wafers sandwiching more chocolate (yep, there are four in the picture, but I won't tell you how many are left now - they're fabulous!), as well as some Cadbury chocolates with different flavors - strawberry, milk chocolate, and caramel. Cadbury makes really tasty milk chocolate!

Down at the bottom, I found little goodies to help with all that holiday baking...Ceres chocolate meises - little sprinkles, also from Indonesia. There were also two little containers of 'sparkling cachous', which Clare just informed me were recently banned in the US, so that makes them even more precious! They're for freshening your breath, right Clare?

And to top this very generous collection? A plate full of homemade cookies, wrapped in pretty green cellophane, and all of which were very tasty. Since there aren't many left, so I decided not to take a picture in an effort to not make myself feel guilty for devouring an entire plate of cookies. Hey, it was still the end of the year, so I figure that I was still allowed to gorge before the New Year's resolutions start up, right??

I'm speechless...thank you, Clare! I truly appreciate it, and I'm so happy to be able to experience a little peice of Australia through your kitchen. What a wonderful way to begin a new year. Clare is the webgoddess of Eat Stuff.net and if you've never seen her site, do go over, check it out, and say hello! (I'm especially drooling at her latest post of the stollen she made over Christmas...it looks amazing!)

And thank you, Cathy, for hosting! Blogging by Mail #4 has been announced, and there is still some time to sign up if you're interested in joining in!


Ringing in 2006...the foodie way

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you had a wonderful, fabulous holiday season, no matter which holiday(s) you might have celebrated! I missed having access to my computer (and thus, to all of you) but it's also nice to take a break and just spend time with my loved ones. I had a wonderful time, even bowing down and taking on a helper role (instead of the director) in the kitchen, standing beside my mother and my little sister (both kitchen goddesses themselves). Christmas is my family is steeped in tradition. My mom decorates the house to the hilt - which makes it truly
like a homecoming for me - and it never quite feels like Christmas until I see the Christmas tree lit up and brimming with all of the ornaments my mom has collected from around the world and during all our years of school, the candles burning in the windows, and Alabama's Christmas album playing over the loudspeaker. Many of our traditions, however, are all about the food: Crab soup on Christmas eve, a delicious new breakfast recipe every year, and Prime rib with horseradish sauce for Christmas dinner. It's something I look forward to every year, especially because I've never made them myself, and this year was no exception.

When I returned to Eugene after the holidays, prime rib was still on my brain. We were tired from driving for two days and going non-stop while we were in Colorado, so we weren't feeling like bar-hopping or being crazy for New Years Eve. We decided to ring in 2006 at home. To
make it special, we decided that it was time to drink the 1982 Carmenet, and to do it in style, with a delicious dinner to accompany it.

We were told that the wine was ready to drink, now, and the best way to get the full experience from it was to use those big, balloon glasses. So I went out on New Year's Eve and bought two of the biggest balloons I could find...so big, in fact, that little 5'0" tall me had to use two hands to hold them.

Now, what to have with a rich, red wine? Red meat is the classic accompaniment...so what's the most extravagant red meat I could think of? Prime rib! So that's what we decided to have. I had I been eyeing a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine for a rosemary roast, so this was perfect! I decided that roasted, carmelized pearl onions and wild rice with scallions and truffle oil would go nicely with everything, and a simple green salad with homemade croutons to finish things off. For dessert? Another recipe I had been eyeing: Dark Chocolate Pie with Cocao Nib Praline, this one from Gourmet. Yum. We went to the grocery store, got all the ingredients, and I started cooking.

The closest to a 'prime rib' I could find, was a 'sirloin roast'. I'm not sure what the difference is exactly (I'll have to look that up), but it was still delicious. I patted it dry, rubbed it with salt, pepper, and minced garlic, then threaded rosemary sprigs through the twine on all sides. I browned it on all sides in olive oil heated to almost smoking (about 10 minutes), then put it in the roasting pan and stuck it in a 350F oven. It took about 45-50 minutes - I took it out when it reached 125F and let it rest for about 10 minutes, covered with foil (this is for medium rare - the final temperature was around 135F). It went really nicely with a dollop of prepared horseradish sauce.

The side dishes were easy. I peeled the pearl onions (okay, here's where I called in Loving Boyfriend for reinforcements...it sucks to peel pearl onions!) and then boiled them for about 5 minutes. After draining them, I let them sit in a 3:1 ratio of sherry vinegar and honey for 10 minutes, then roasted them in the oven while the roast was cooking. This was a recipe originally from Cooking Light magazine, but I wasn't able to print it out from the computer, so that was my recollection of it, and it worked just fine, and tasted incredible. The onions take on a tangy sweet carmelization that's just fabulous.

The wild rice was also simple. This was another Cooking Light recipe from recollection. I simmered some locally grown brown wild rice in a 2:1 ratio of chicken stock to rice for 45 minutes in a covered sauce pan. When it was still a bit chewy (not crunchy), I fluffed it with a fork, added some thinly sliced scallions and about a tsp. of lemon zest. I also drizzled on some white truffle oil because I remembered there being comments about the original recipe with walnut or olive oil being a bit bland. It came out incredibly flavorful, but still nice and light.

Before we sat down to our New Year's Eve feast, we had to open the wine. This was where our luck chimed in to say hello - the cork was very fragile! It wouldn't come out and just kept crumbling into pieces! After about three wine openers and a small paring knife, and taking it all in stride, we were finally able to get the cork out (with only a few cork pieces to mar the deep red color of the wine).

We swirled it, breathed in deeply to get all the aromas those big balloons could hold, and tasted our first sips of a wine that is only 4 years younger than ourselves (2 years older than my youngest sister!). It was very aromatic, with full flavor, a deep red color and none of the bite or dryness of some of the other 'big reds' that we've had.

The final act of our meal? Dessert! The pie was a bit labor intensive, but good, although I only got through half a slice because it was FAR too rich for my tastes. I actually felt kind of sugar-sick after eating that half too. So I plan to play a bit with it, and someday, when I have it figured out, I'll post the recipe for everyone, as it is a very elegant-looking dessert. My first order of business will be a regular crust - the crust as is was melted butter and flour and sugar and it was really buttery and sweet, so hopefully that will take some of the edge off. Another essential component was what the recipe called for (that actually saves the pie in my opinion): unsweetened whipped cream.

All in all, it was a perfect way to ring in the new year... and to end an old one (don't worry, we did have a bite each of black eyed peas right after midnight - with salt, pepper, thyme, and scallions - just for good luck). Now, on to those resolutions!