A Rose by Any Other Name Smells Just as Sweet...Unless it's a Buttercream Rose

...and then it's just tasty! Well, if you like frosting that is...which I don't (well, to be more accurate, not this kind of frosting). But they sure are pretty! I am now a very proud recent graduate from a Michael's Craft Store Cake Decorating class - I even recieved my Certificate of Merit (whatever that means) from Wilton because the class is based on Wilton's methods. I had been enthralled with a new show on the Food Network called Sugar Rush for the last several months (okay, not enthralled with Mr. Warren Brown himself, but the cakes and the sugar art - so cool), so for Christmas, my Loving Boyfriend, being the Best Boyfriend he could be, did some sneaking and calling around until he found a cake decorating class and proceeding to bestow upon me a reservation in the class and most of the supplies I needed to get started in cake decorating (maybe I should just call him Best Boyfriend from now on?).

So for the last four weeks, I have been spending my Wednesday nights baking up Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines' cake mixes (preferred for the class) and whipping up two batches of Wilton Class Buttercream frosting (read: Tub o' Shortening; EW)...so needless to say, Wednesday nights were busy and I was grumpy. But come Thursday evening, I gathered up all my supplies, trudged off with my cake, my shortening...er, frosting, I mean, and my supplies and went off to learn how to decorate cakes. The class covers pretty things like star and shell borders, two or three different kinds of flowers and leaves, figure piping, writing, and of course, my favorite: roses. Obviously, I still have much to learn, and I don't dare show you my first two cakes, because I had only 10 minutes to decorate them at the end of class each week and they are positively ugly. BUT...even though it's not perfect, I'm very proud of my third cake:

It's like ART, with FOOD. What more could I ask for? I get to use the side of my brain that sits in hibernation for 99.8% of my daily life and I get to play with food. Plus, it's a quick way to make friends - bringing in a cake every week for people to gorge themselves on has people running to your lab (or office) to have some. (Yeah, we eat in lab - don't worry, not off the floor or around the chemicals!). So, here's a big THANK YOU to the BEST BOYFRIEND EVER...and a little pat on the back for me. yay!

We are off to the land of the Gourmet Ghetto (Berkeley, CA) so I won't be posting for a few days...we've got interviews for jobs down there (well, LB does...I'm just "visiting" a lab who has graciously offered to take me in if we move there!) and are visiting friends we've known since we were in diapers (please don't picture that). Have a wonderful first of March, happy cooking and I'll be around to see what you've all been up to when I get back on Monday.



Homemade Harissa

I've been seeing lots of recipes lately that call for harissa, a sauce that is a staple in North African cuisine, specifically Tunisian. With its fiery taste and gorgeous color from the main ingredient - chilies - harissa is used to add both flavor and color to various dishes. It is traditionally served as a condiment, like a relish, and used to accompany couscous. It's supposedly great mixed with olive oil and lemon juice for dipping torn off pieces of crusty bread, mixed with olives or to enhance salads or soups, cooked fish, or meats.

Reading through some of my cookbooks - dreaming about all the dishes I'd like to make next month - I came across a recipe for harissa in Christine Manfield's latest book, Stir. The book has beautiful photography, and is essentially a collection of recipes for homemade spice pastes - including harrisa, sambal, massaman and green curries, and complete with recipes for using each paste in a variety of different dishes. Stay tuned, because after tasting the harissa when it was finished, I'll definitely be making some of the dishes from this book - the flavor is fantastic. It's smoky, with undertones of the cumin, caraway, and garlic...and even a taste on the finger made me realize that I'll be trying to find anything I can to use as a vessel for sopping up this yummy sauce and getting it into my belly!

The heat in the sauce can be varied according to type of chilies used, and by how much of the seeds and veins you leave with the chilies. I used some lovely dried Anaheim chilies that were sent to me by my friend, Dawn, over at SoCal Foodie over Christmas (she's taking a breather from blogging at the moment, so I hope she comes back soon!). I took out about half of the seeds after soaking and chopping the chilies, because while I like a healthy kick of spice to my sauces, I do still like to be able to taste my food! And it's definitely still spicy! Everything else was a staple I had lying around, and you probably do to.


Dregs from the pantry: Spicy parmesan, broccoli, and pine nut risotto

It's the end of the month.

We're getting desperate.

We've eaten everything that's a ready-made meal. We've eaten everything we can from the fridge, minus one small and lonely head of broccoli, some leftover bits of cheeses, and a single grapefruit that has become soft and supple and been in there far too long. We've started digging into the drawers, the lazy susan and the freezer to find anything we can that's edible...that will make some kind of meal with the myriad of strange ingredients from my 'foraging' that we have remaining. We haven't quite reached sheer desperation yet, but even the Nature's Variety Prarie is starting to look more appetizing (unfortunately, we already gave the dogs all the biscuits)...If you've noticed that I haven't been posting many recipes, you're right - I'm broke! The food we've been eating hasn't exactly been fancy, nor blog-worthy.

Such is the life of a graduate student...getting paid your meager salary once a month, and living paycheck-to-paycheck hoping that no unexpected expenses come up so that you'll actually make it through to the end of the month. Someday we'll have real jobs like the rest of the world! This month we weren't quite so lucky - we ran out of money weeks ago to do any 'major' grocery shopping and have only been picking up a thing or two as is absolutely necessary. We're used to doing this once every in a while, but we've had expenses the last two months that wiped us out early; and we've completely decimated the kitchen goods I once kept in full stock so that I could make most recipes with only a trip to the store for perishables (now, those were the days!)

So, last night, we went through everything...I went methodically through the cupboards and drug out everything I could imagine might go together...broccoli, the last green in our fridge...parmesan cheese bits, leftover from other recipes since I've been a bit wary of the grater lately...a few pine nuts...

Well, this would have to do. I knew I had a little arborio rice in the cupboard that our old roommate had left when she moved in January. I had an open box of chicken broth in the bottom of the fridge (one of the few items I had stocked up on the last shopping trip)...how about a broccoli, parmesan, and pine nut risotto?

Sounded good to us! I got out the rice, the cheese, the pine nuts and broccoli, then grabbed a bottle of white wine I keep for cooking from the fridge, and chopped up our last onion and two cloves of garlic.

Unfortunately, when I picked up the chicken broth box, it had only a half a cup in the bottom of it.

With a sigh, I opened up the lazy susan, hoping beyond hope that I might have a hidden can of broth in there or two...

And there, before me, like a light shining out from the recesses of the dark, was a second box of broth! Hallelujah! I warmed it up, and started making a risotto that turned out to actually be mighty tasty. After our first bite...it was even deemed blog-worthy. So here it is...the dregs from our pantry, put together so that if you might find yourself in a situation similar to our own, you might not starve to death, you might even make a delicious meal...

Spicy Parmesan, Broccoli and Pine Nut Risotto, from our kitchen to yours

2 tbsp. butter, divided
olive oil
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
~ 2 tsp. tarragon (I used dried; use fresh if you've got it)
~ 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup of white wine
1 box of chicken broth or stock (I'm not sure how much is in one of these)
~ 2 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
~ 3/4 cup finely grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tbsp. of butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a medium saute pan until melted. Add onions and to the pan and cook for a few minutes. Add the broccoli and saute until just tender and onions become translucent but not browned. Add the garlic, tarragon and red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds. Heat the chicken broth or stock to a simmer in a separate saucepan. While this is warming, add the rice, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until you can see a small white dot in the center, and the kernals are covered with oil. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, then begin to add the broth or stock one cup at a time, while stirring. Make sure that the broth is completely absorbed before adding the next cup. After about 20 minutes, or when the rice is still slightly chewy, but not hard, and you reach the end of your broth or stock (NOTE: I ended up adding an additional cup of water to get the texture I wanted, but my arborio was part brown and part white; so I think the brown takes a little longer). Remove from heat and fold in the remaining 1 tbsp. of butter. Then stir in parmesan and pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Garnish, if you've got it!

Now...just three more days to go...


Does the Uglyripe deserve its pedestal?

For months now, I've been hearing raves about the Uglyripe...a winter tomato, banned from being distributed from it's birthplace in Florida to the rest of us yearning for real tomato flavor in these coldest months, simply because it was too ugly. I had never even heard of this "ugly-duckling" tomato until I read an article about it in Gourmet magazine, stating that it had the look of a "sunburned Ruebens derriere." Appetizing, no? But the article also stated that the taste of this particular derriere was worth the price ($4.99/lb in their story) to enjoy the juicy-sweet drippings of a "tomato that tastes like a tomato" in the wintertime.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, and I would guess that most of you are on par with the taste, texture, and look of heirloom tomatoes, but I don't think the Uglyripe is ugly at all! In fact, I think it's gorgeous. First of all, it's actually red...not to say that there aren't beautiful heirloom varieties that abound in yellows, greens, oranges and shades of pink, but boy do I hate the round pink baseballs you can get in stores this time of year...especially when I know that they could be red; if they were not picked green, pickled with loads of ethylene gas, then shipped far and wide for you and I to "enjoy." But, just LOOK at those voluptuous curves! For those of you that have been reading my blog for a while, you know I grew up on a farm eating tomatoes we hand-picked from the garden, sun-kissed, juicy, and ripened by nature only. You also know my sheer love of this beautiful red fruit - because a good sun-ripened tomato has a flavor unlike anything else on Earth... which sad as it is, has turned me into a bonafide tomato snob.

So imagine my surprise while browsing a local market this weekend for a decent, but cheap, frozen dinner, when I caught sight of this beautiful crimson specimen of an Uglyripe tomato. Now, I know what you're thinking, but if you had to be in our kitchen, in our house with NO heat (while your dumb boyfriend chose this particular weekend of "record LOW temperatures" to go interveiw for jobs in Hawaii), and it's colder inside the house than it is outside coating the car and the ground with frost that doesn't get warmed up enough to melt during the day; you'd be hiding under an electric blanket and not wanting to cook either; just like moi!

I have no idea how these Uglyripes got here, to Eugene, because all of the information I can find about them is from the controversy last year about how the Florida Tomato Commission wouldn't allow them out of the state because they simply had too hideous a visage for consumers. But, nonetheless, here they were...at $2.69/lb! And what's even better than finding yourself a regular 'ol Uglyripe? A certified organic one at $2.69/lb!

So, of course, I just had to buy one. I had to see what all the hype was about. Was this gorgeous tomato just a prude? Taunting us with her well-endowed curves and bright red summer color, yet holding out on taste? ...Was she really just a tease? ...all the while tasting like mealy cardboard on the inside? Regardless, she was a pretty sight for these winter tomato-sore eyes. I took her home, nestled in her own little sack to keep her safe, and waited until the following day when the light came out and I could get a good picture for ya'll (Yep - altruism at it's finest...I put aside my lavish tomato-eating lust just so that I could take a decent picture to share with you...awwww....).

Now, being a good scientist, I needed a Control for this experiment. Since I just can't bring myself to eat completely shitty tomotoes from the grocery store in the wintertime, the only ones that I will buy on occasion are the organic vine-ripened ones that cost $5.99/lb. (YOUCH! Now, I'm a little concerned that these fancy Uglyripes are so cheap, but you're not supposed to look a gifthorse in the mouth, right?) These tomatoes still don't taste very good, but sometimes, even a tomato snob gets desparate for a tomato...not very often, mind you, but sometimes. So out came my altruistic nature once again; I broke down and bought one (as you simply must have a Control for any experiment).

I scored each of the tomatoes on a scale of 1-5 (5 being highest; 1 being lowest), so here is the data for The Uglyripe Experiment:

First of all, Color. The Uglyripe scored high in this department - I just think it's so pretty! The vine-ripened tomatoes tend also to be much nicer looking than the pink baseballs next to them in the bin, although I am partial to the curves of the Uglyripe compared to the little perfect spheres that make up the Control tomato variety...because at least in my experience, it's pretty un-natural to get a perfectly round tomato. This is just personal preference, of course, but since I'm the one doing the experiment... Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 5

. The Uglyripe had a good texture. It gave in all the right places, was firm, yet yeilding. Lucky for the Control tomato, it didn't do so bad in this department either. Score: CONTROL - 5 ; UGLYRIPE - 5

When I cut into the Uglyripe, the juice came shooting out - but not too much (also good). The Control tomato looked a little mealy, as opposed to juicy, but it wasn't as bad as some I've seen, so I gave it a decent score. Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 4

Now, came the Taste test; the most important. First, the Control... to get my palette aware of what it should be comparing. A bit of salt to bring out the flavor, a big swallow of anticipation, I opened my mouth, shoved it in, and...almost tasteless. It didn't taste like anything. No sun-love here; no burst of juicy goodness... nothing at all, just BLAH. Slick and smooth...but sticking to the sides of my mouth and tongue as I mashed it up in there. Reminding myself that this was for the good of all, I swallowed the red goopy mess and took a swig of water to wash the carboard down. Ew.

Now armed with something to compare the Uglyripe to, I cut myself off a slice, sprinkled a bit of salt on the flesh, and took my first timid bite.

Chew...chew...and then it hit me. It didn't taste good at all! It actually had kind of a sour tang to it, but that was the only noticeable flavor! No gush of rich, complex flavor - sweet from the sugars held in by the sun. I felt cheated, failed, hurt. The rest of this poor Uglyripe is now sitting in my fridge - waiting to be cooked into some future dish, cuz I'm sure as heck not going to eat it by itself again. Score: CONTROL - 1; UGLYRIPE - 2.

Now, perhaps my expectations were too high. Can one really expect a winter tomato to taste anything like the memories of a summer tomato? Or years of expectations built up from eating them out of my mother's garden, picked by her hands, and sliced with love? To be fair, I can say that on those few days during the winter where I just want a slice of a friggin' tomato on my sandwhich or I just don't feel like thawing out the roasted tomatoes I've stored away or opening a jar from our stock of home-canned heirlooms tomatoes or if I can't stand the thought of opening another can from the store (a very viable option, because at least these are canned when their flavor is still in tact) - I'd probably spend the $2.69/lb (cheap, comparatively) and buy myself a winter Ugly.

If I was a really good scientist (which I'm not or I probably would be working and not blogging right now), I would have bought more than a single Uglyripe and a few vine-ripened specimens for comparison...since we know that one must repeat ones experiments before making any solid conclusions. Well, this scientist is a poor grad student scientist, and she just didn't want to spend all of her meager savings on less-than-delicious tomatoes. So, until summer, I think I'll still be getting my tomatoes from a can.

Overall Scores:
CONTROL - 12/20;
UGLYRIPE - 16/20;
Cardboard from the box my BBM4 presents came in - 20/20;
First taste of a summer tomato after a winter of waiting - PRICELESS.


Some food should just go to the dogs...

Especially if it's made for the dogs! And shaped into cute little doggie bones!

After turning green with envy as my little sister (who recently got engaged - Congrats, L! ...now wait a sec, does this make me an "Old Maid?!") described a cookbook she had recently acquired called the "Three Dog Bakery Cookbook," I was more than thrilled when I opened a package from my hometown (thanks be to you too, mom) to find my own copy of this little volume, filled with the wherewithall to make my own canine treats, tucked neatly inside.

The Three Dog Bakery makes baked dog treats and sells them in stores around the US. They are "'paw'-sionate" advocates of dog food and treats with no weird preservatives, salt, sugar, chemicals, animal fat, or other not-good-for-your-pup stuff, and most of the recipes are made with ingredients that the majority of us have in our cupboards and would eat ourselves. It's a company run by Dan Dye and Mark Beckoff and was started with the first store in 1989...apparently, they've been going strong ever since and have now opened several stores in several states.

I quickly scoured the book for easy recipes to start, and there are recipes for everything from bones to cookies to seasonal favorites and even doggie birthday cakes (hey, why shouldn't we celebrate theirs too?). Although I have never had any intentions of baking a doggie birthday cake, perhaps now that I have the resources, I'll feel motivated to do so. But with my luck, the pup would eat it all in one sitting and I'll have to get up and let him out a hundred times that night! We'll have to see about that one.

So I raided the cupboards to see what we had on hand, and then I found the perfect recipe: Hanukkah Noshers. No, it's obviously not Hanukkah, but who cares?!

Hanukkah Noshers, from the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook
Makes ~30 treats, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups water
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Preheat your oven to 350F. Combine the applesauce, egg, peanut butter, vanilla and water in a large bowl. In a second bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, oats and peanuts. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix until it comes together, then turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until combined. Roll dough to 1/4" thick, then cut out shapes. Place on a greased baking sheet (I think mine are non-stick, so I didn't grease it), and bake for 45 minutes. Cool on a rack, and once cool, store in an airtight container.

Note: There's no need to let these cool in the oven like many other dog treats to make them crispier...these are pretty crispy on their own. Watch them towards the end of cooking to make sure you don't burn them...

(If you're wondering about the parsley in the picture, if dogs can have birthday cakes, why not garnishes?!)

The recipe doesn't contain anything strange...everything in the ingredient list is recognizable...and there aren't even any completely strange combinations that I might avoid myself...

...so I decided that I had to try them.

I'm a scientist, right? That scientific curiosity is ingrained in my genes, causing the need to experiment. Plus, I figured that if it's good enough for the pooches, it's good enough for me! (Don't let that make you think that I would eat their other food though...because there's NO WAY anything like that that I didn't make is going in my mouth! If you want to read about someone crazy like that and get a really good laugh, check out this guy: Steve ). I grabbed one up, took a tiny bite off the corner of one of the bones, and chewed...slowly.

The verdict: I don't recommend them. They don't taste bad, but boy are they bland. I had to drink an entire glass of water to rid my mouth of the taste. I won't be eating dog treats anymore. But the dogs love them. They run around beating eachother off to see who can be the best behaved in order to get fed first.

I also decided that these would make excellent gifts for our other canine-loving friends. I was planning to put them in colorful cellophane bags with cute little ribbons tied around the tops, and distribute them among the dog-owners I knew. But I burned the second batch. Oops. So, instead of being chivalrous, I kept them all for myself. Er, my dogs, I mean. But I shall definitely make doggie gifts for friends one of these days. Until then, my dogs seem pretty happy with them.


It's alive! It's alive!

No, I didn't just create a gigantic green-hued monster that looks like it got into a fight with a sewing machine but has a big heart...

Instead, I have just birthed "The Recipe Files": I have joined the masses of bloggers who were smart enough to figure out how to archive their recipes for quick and easy access to them. Okay, so it took me almost 5 months to figure out how, and yes, I am getting my Ph.D., but it's not in computers, silly! Plus, when you've waited that long, it takes a while!

Now you don't have any excuses for not making alcohol in your spare time like I do...er, don't do. I mean. Ahem. The rest of my recipes are also there. I will try to update it at least once a month, but please don't be shy if you find one of the links doesn't work or if I missed one that you remember. Thanks! The link can permanently be found on the sidebar (over there ----->) under "Recipes from The Accidental Scientist" from now on.

Happy recipe seeking!


Christmas in February!

What's better than getting a surprise package in the mail?

Nothing, right?

It's sort of like Christmas, but on any old ordinary day.
Getting to rip the tape off the package...
fighting off Loving Boyfriend so that I actually get to open the package
that has my name on it

(he can hardly stand to wait until I open it myself because he gets so excited)...
just wondering what could possibly be inside...

Yep, there's nothing better than getting a surprise package in the mail.

Unless, of course, you get a surprise package filled with Belgian chocolates!
And a whole suite of other goodies!

You guessed it...I recently recieved my Blogging By Mail (BBM#4) package..."The Music Edition," hosted by Food Ninja. This is my second time participating, and I've been SO lucky to have two wonderful packages filled with foodstuffs from two countries I've never been to! Last time, it was Clare, from Eatstuff.net, and this time, the lovely Eva, who unfortunately for me, does not have a blog, but is an avid blog-reader! Eva, THANK YOU for all of the wonderful gifts! Eva is Swedish, but living in Belgium, and here's just a few of the delicious goodies she sent my way:

1) Chocolate: Lots of different kinds of Belgian chocolates to try - as she said, "no package from Belgium is complete with out a bit of Belgium chocolates!" Loving Boyfriend has been banned from eating too many of them because I want to savour them myself!

2) Reindeer Salami: Harkening to her Swedish roots, this is a Swedish specialty, and it's delicious. LB and I took it on our cross-country trip this last weekend as we were celebrating Valentine's day a bit early, and it hit the spot just right!

3) Plum Chutney: Homemade! I haven't gotten to open this one, but I plan on it soon!

4) Belgian Waffles: Lucky me! These are definitely not going to last long around my house.

5) Bruschetta herbs: I haven't opened this yet either, but I already bought the bread to slather with a spread containing these herbs.

6) Little snacks: a bag of little candy gummy-like snacks to try - I haven't dug into these yet either, but I will soon...I've been too pre-occupied with the chocolate!

7) Almond Cookies: These look really tasty too, but I haven't gotten my hands in the box yet.

8) And because the theme of this month's BBM was "Music," Eva also included a CD filled with folk songs (my favorite) from many different countries. It's perfect, and I love that it's filled with songs that I would not have known about without an introduction from Eva.

You can check out the round-up from the rest of the participants here. Thanks for hosting, Food Ninja!

I think I might have jinxed myself naming this post after Christmas...it's supposed to SNOW here in Eugene, Oregon tomorrow and on Monday! We only rarely get snow...this will be the first time I've been in town when we've had it!

A Page in U.S. History

This is cool. The Library of Congress recently released over 1500 pictures that were taken by government photographers in the years leading up to and during World War II (1939 to 1945). The pictures were taken as slides, and were experimenting with color film, which had only recently been developed. When these amazing photographs were taken, there was no way (yet) to print the pictures in color, so the slides were archived. They were only recently printed and are now available to the public from the Library of Congress website. You can view them, search for certain subjects (I, of course, had to look at all of the food ones), including location - I found several photographs for Colorado, where I was born, and downloaded them to print out for my grandparents. Below are a few of my food favorites, and amazingly enough, many of the vegetables (especially tomatoes and these eggplants) look like what we consider "heirloom" varieties, that we pay premium for these days if we don't grow them ourselves. Also interesting were the prices of things - oranges for a penny!


I promise I don't only make liquor in my spare time

Yes, Ilva, this is for you! Since I have recently been (kindly) accused of being one "who is given to making alcoholic beverages" in my spare time, I figured that I might as well continue to be guilty of it! But isn't it pretty? That amber hue? And oh, if you could only smell it through your computer...redolent of apples and cinnamon and star anise and flowers on a summer day: Quince Brandy. This recipe came from Nigella Lawson's book, How to be a Domestic Goddess - one of my favorites. Actually, the purchase of this particular book spurned the alcohol-making fetish in me, as it's also where the Rhubarb Schnapps recipe came from.

I'm not a big brandy drinker - in fact, I've never had it before, except to add flavor to a cake, but this is pretty darn good...and I actually liked it much better than the brandy by itself. The quince mellows the sharp bite of the brandy, and gives it all those wonderful smells, while still retaining the brandy flavor. Loving Boyfriend said (what do I know about brandy?) that I was suppposed to put it in a snifter, hold it over a candle to get it slightly warm, swirl to release the aromas, and then drink it. This is me attempting to do this, sans snifter (Hey, give me a break! I'm a poor graduate student!), and even though it didn't get warm, I still like the picture!

The recipe, like the others, is simple: When you can get your hands on some quinces, cut them up into slices. Add a couple of cinnamon sticks, some star anise, and pack it all into a sterile glass jar (straight out of the dishwasher is fine - preferably still warm, but it really isn't that important since it's going to be filled with alcohol). Fill it to the top with brandy, tap it to release any air bubbles, screw on the lid, and viola! You're finished. Give it 6 weeks to 6 months in a cool, dark place, and then it's yours to enjoy. I waited about 4 months before dipping into this beauty, and it was worth the wait. You can even leave all the goodies in the jar - it makes a beautiful presentation, and would also make a nice gift.


The easiest ribs you'll ever make (or love)

It's difficult to take a picture of pork ribs that doesn't look gross...the bones sticking out there all bare and staring back at you... But I promise the taste of these ribs will make you forget all about that.

Now, I know that there are some purists out there - myself included with many things; but after making various kinds of pork ribs over and over again on grills, slow-cooked in the oven, braised, dry-rubbed, BBQ-sauce slathered, etc. etc. etc., Loving Boyfriend and I have decided that this recipe is our utmost favorite way for us to cook ribs at home: Smoky-Flavored Barbecued Ribs...in a crockpot.

Yes, it's true...in a crockpot. These taste soooo good...they literally fall completely off of the bones and into your plate, your fingers, your mouth... Combine this with the fact that it couldn't be easier, and you've got yourself a real winner in our house. This isn't to say that I don't absolutely love it when other people make slow cooked ribs on a grill - say, the ribs at Papa's Soul Food here in Eugene (to die for; his motto is: "Food so good, it'll make you wanna slap yo mama!" and it's true! Sorry mom.), but of all the ribs we've tried to make at home, these inevitably come out tasting better, more tender, and are eaten the fastest...we even tested this during the Superbowl.

The spread we presented to our friends included homemade coleslaw, potato salad, bread, baked beans, brownies for dessert, and three different type of ribs: Baby-back in the Crockpot, slow-cooked (over low heat) country-style in the oven, and a bbq-ed rack of spare ribs slathered in BBQ sauce and cooked uncovered for 3 hrs, also in the oven (no grilling this time of year for us!). The verdict: the crockpot ribs stole the show. Loving Boyfriend and I even wrestled over the leftovers of the baby-backs while the other ribs still sit lonely in the fridge.

No matter what, if you're craving BBQ, it's the middle of winter, and you're a busy person; these are the ribs for you. Do the first half of the recipe before you go to work (or even the night before), because it only takes 15 minutes, then finish off the cooking when you get home...and you can even get a glass of wine, kick your shoes off, and relax for an hour while they're soaking up the sauce!

So here it is: tried, tested on an unbiased audience, and mouthwateringly delectable...


El Vaquero: The Cowboy comes to Eugene

There's just something sexy about a cowboy.

Rustic and charming, well mannered, causally touseled and wearing a bit of leather...rrrowwrrr!

Yes, a cowboy is sexy, but he becomes especially so when he's serving you an incredible assortment of creative drinks, excellent tapas, and gourmet desserts.

There' s a new restaurant in town called "El Vaquero." As soon as we got paid, I bribed Loving Boyfriend to go with me to "The Cowboy" for a date by offering a night away from the "kids" (ie. the puppy), some killer tapas, and heck, I even offered to pay. Needless to say, he was game.

I called and got reservations for 8pm (recommended...because this place is new in town, there can be up to a 2 hour wait), we dressed ourselves up properly for a date on the town, and headed out a bit early with intentions of spending some time in the bar trying out one of their drinks. I came armed with the knowledge that the restaurant is owned by Katie Marcus-Brown and Sara Willis, the masterminds who created one of my other favorite restaurants in town, Red Agave, which is known for it's creative cocktails.

When we got there, the place was packed. Not only the restaurant, but the bar. The walls were painted in warm shades of cream and red, and the decor was rustic and simple with exposed wooden beams and glazed particle board on the floor. Chic accents lended a hip southwestern flair to the place - a shiny silver bull's skull hung on a torquoise wall in the bar, and several of the bar stools were covered with cowhide.

We sidled on up to the bar, and requested a drink list. Perusing the list is like taking a trip around the world to various bars to taste each of their specialty drinks. Included were drinks from Spain, Peru, France, places around the US and even one from Eugene's own Red Agave.

I decided on the Planter's Punch, from the Planter's Hotel in Missouri, a mixture of Meyer's Rum and passionfruit puree, while Loving Boyfriend went a bit more traditional with a Manhattan. We sat down in the bar, and waited patiently for our table. Before long (much shorter than I thought it would be since we had come early), we were granted a table.

The menu is, by far, Eugene's most extensive tapas selection. In fact, there's nothing like this in Eugene. We wavered between the choices, and decided on the Albondigas de Camarones: shrimp dumplings, Croquetas de Papas: artichoke-pecorino and sweet potato fritters, and the Almanida: cured Spanish chorizo, fried marcon almonds, marinated spanish olives, marinated piquillo peppers, marinated manchego (curado), marinated carrots with pickled red peppercorns, and boquerones (white anchovies). I had also been told that El Vaquero's house-made bread was one of their specialties, with a different variety every day. Today's selection was rosemary biscuits and we dutifully ordered them to go with our meal. We topped this off with a half carafe of sangria (you simply must have sangria with Spanish tapas).

Everything, and I mean everything, was mouth-wateringly delicious. They started us off with a free plate of crisp cucumbers to dip in their tangy house avocado salsa with a squeeze of lime. the Almanida showed up next and it was a fabulous combination of Spanish flavors, each portion bursting with flavor. My favorite were the delicate boquerones. They were completely unlike the anchovies I've had elsewhere. They were very mild in flavor and not really fishy or briney...they tasted almost like trout, but fresh from the ocean. The albondigas de camarones came lightly covered in a rich cream sauce and speckled with parsley and spices, and the croquetas de papas literally melted on your tongue and were bursting with spicy curry (the sweet potato) or the subtle smokiness of spanish paprika (the artichoke-pecorino). The rosemary biscuits lived up to their reputation...they were tender, fluffy and light, and packed with flavor.

For dessert, I had my eye on the Sticky Toffee Pudding with sundried cherries and bourbon whipped cream, but we decided instead to go with the cheaper "dessert tapas," smaller portions of desserts, so that we could try two. We went with the carrot cupcake with orange cream cheese frosting and, as I have a weakness like Rob, of Hungry in Hogtown, and cannot pass up a creme brulee: chocolate creme brulee.

The desserts arrived shortly after we ordered them, and were delicious. The crust of the creme brulee let out a satisfying crack, and the custard was rich and creamy and speckled with evidence of real vanilla beans. The only downfall of the evening was that they mistakenly left us with only forks to eat our dessert, and if you've ever tried to eat a creme brulee with a fork, you'll understand why I felt it was necessary to dip my finger in the mini ramekin and get the rest out: it was that good, and I just couldn't wait for a spoon (Don't worry, no one saw me! I hope.). The carrot cupcake was moist and dense, with just the right amount (a dollop) of the rich orange cream cheese frosting on top. The best part? We enjoyed all of this for a mere $41.00.

I've found a new love: this cowboy has stolen my heart. I do love Red Agave, but it's pricey. I have other haunts around town that are on the cheaper side, but the food in not nearly as wonderful as what we discovered at El Vaquero. I think I see many more dates at El Vaquero in the future for us!

Sorry there aren't any pictures - I'm still a little timid about the flash on my camera in restaurants...especially those that are fairly dark! And even though I had planned on bringing it and trying some photos without a flash, I accidently left it at home. But the way we were eating, I'm not sure that I would have been able to resist long enough to snap a picture of each of our dishes!

El Vaquero
296 East 5th Avenue
Eugene, OR


Love your Heart

For all you ladies out there, especially those in the US but also all over the world, today is National Wear Red Day. This day was designed to bring about awareness that heart disease, not cancer, is the #1 killer of women in the United States (I'm not sure about other countries, but if anyone has that information to share, that would be wonderful). The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is sponsoring Heart Truth, dedicating the entire month of February as American Heart Month, to remind women all over to take care of their hearts. This cute little red dress is the symbol that they have launched to inspire women to take action and protect themselves - by being aware, by educating themselves on the symptoms and what they can do to prevent heart disease, and to show their support for the movement. You can buy it here, if you'd like, to support the movement. Or you can just don your reddest of red shirts/pants/scarves/dresses to show your support. But most of all, I just want you to be aware.

This is probably especially important for those of us, like myself and I'm guessing most of you, who love to eat food like perfectly marbled beef, rich desserts and crisp bacon (Oh, Lord, how I love bacon!). If I had known all of this before I saw it on CNN this morning, I'd have cooked or baked something heart-healthy and/or red to showcase on here today, but alas, I was not "in the know." So, please, my women friends (and men, tell your women friends, spouses, loved ones and coworkers!), not just those in the US, but all over the world, when we're cooking and baking wonderfully delcious delicacies - think about your hearts too. Learn more about it, get enough exercise, eat things that aren't so heart-happy in moderation (of course we can still have them!), and eat lots of heart-healthy goodies! Remember to make your over-all diet low in saturated fats, trans fatty acids, and cholesteral and high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat versions of dairy products (or at least moderate amounts of full-fat versions (like an excellent cheese)...yeah, yeah, I know you've heard it all before...but this is important!

Note that this is also, in part, selfish - I want to be reading all of your blogs for years and years and years to come!

Here's a few websites to get you started:

The American Heart Association - especially knowing the numbers important to your heart health, and getting them checked, if you haven't

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute



Comfort food

Rain. Rain. Rain.

Cold. Cold. Cold.

Chili. Chili. Chili.

Feeling the need for comfort in the midst of the torrential downpour outside my windows that has been my reality lately, and that has also been dripping slowly and steadily into my garage through the roof somehow (uh-oh), I seem to always turn to soup for comfort. The best soup for crappy weather in my book? Chili! This began as a recipe for Mexican Black Bean Sausage Chili, and again, I went with what I had (I've been living the um, broke life of a student for a while now). You can make your own sausage from a mixture of ground pork and ground turkey, as is called for in the recipe, but I had bulk hot italian sausage in the freezer, and even though the recipe is Mexican, it still tasted fine. Instead of adding all the goodies to the sausage, I added some of them to the pot instead (wine, sherry vinegar, garlic and chili powder). I'll definitely try their sausage recipe next time, just for kicks, as I'm sure it's delicious.

For the rest of the chili, here's my adapted/bastardized version, which would serve about 4-5 people (Look at me, breaking out of my recipe safe-haven! Necessity seeds invention, no?)

By the way, does anyone have any recommendations for a superb sherry vinegar? Mine is almost out, so I'm on the lookout for a new brand...

Mexican Black Bean Sausage Chili, adapted from Cooking Light

3/4 lb. of bulk pork sausage (Italian, or flavored yourself)
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. of chili powder (if not in sausage)
2 chipoltle chilis (in adobo sauce), diced (this makes a pretty big kick, in both my own and LB's opinion, but the original recipe called for 3!)
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of water
1 large can (not the 14 oz, but the bigger one?) of whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed
a splash of red wine, a splash of sherry vinegar (optional)
chopped scallions, for garnish
sour cream or plain yogurt, for garnish

Crumble and cook sausage in a large saucepan, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides and cooked throughout. Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chilis and cook for a few minutes until spices are toasted and onion is tender. Next, in a food processor, combine 1 cup of stock with one cup of black beans and process until smooth. When the onion is translucent, add this mixture, the beans, stock, water, tomatoes, wine and sherry vinegar. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until it begins to thicken. Serve with chopped scallions and sour cream, and some hearty bread on the side (we had onion-chedder beer bread).

Ahhh, perfect for eating in front of a warm toasty fire, all wrapped up in a blanket with your sweetheart. Just make sure that you have a big glass of milk around (or add a lot of yogurt for a garnish) to tone down how spicy it is!!

Note: Ever wonder what to do with the rest of the adobo chilis in the can? Here's a tip I recently came across...grind your left-over chilis (sauce included) in a small food processor or blender, then put them in a freezer-safe container. You can then scrape the top of the frozen, processed chilis to get the amount you need (apparently, there's no need to thaw them as they're easy to scrape). 1 tbsp = 1 chili. I've never done this, but it sounds great. What I've done in the past is frozen them on cookie sheets until hard, then put them in a plastic freezer ziploc until I need them...this works also, but then you have to deal with chopping them later, so I think I'll try this next time.


I'll have another taste of that cheese, please!

While at the Oregon Truffle Marketplace this weekend, I saw a table full of big, beautiful wheels of creamy-fleshed cheese sitting on a table, and made my way over (after grabbing a complimentary glass of Oregon wine to go with it, of course). I was pleasantly rewarded with friendly vendors who offered me a slice of their little heaven...which quickly transported my tastebuds to my own.

The vendor that I discovered was Tumalo Farms Specialty Cheeses, the brainchild of Brazilian- born Flavio S. DeCastilhos and his wife, Margie. Flavio and his wife produce mostly goat milk cheeses, made from milk that they get from resident goats on their 84 acre farm outside of Bend, OR. The surprising thing is that they have only officially been producing cheese over the last several months. Yep, that's months, not years. One of their cheeses actually won an award before it was even on the market! I think that their biggest selling point is that they have unusual flavors that they add to their traditional Classico recipes for gouda, chevre and feta - and in addition also try to showcase unique-to-Oregon and local ingredients.

I tried three of their cheeses. A delightful Fenacho gouda, enriched with fenugreek which is an herb found mostly in the Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern dishes. It has a wonderfully nutty, yet sweet taste that is unlike anything I had ever tasted before. The second cheese was the Giallo gouda, a smooth cheese with tangy mustard seeds packed perfectly throughout the flesh. A third gouda had specks of rosemary - a flavor thought up by Flavio's wife, executed by Flavio, and extremely popular...they were slicing up their last wheel when I arrived. They also have other unusual flavors in this same line of cheese (their Signatura Classico line), including lavender, hazelnut, and even a couple made with a local microbrew and a hard cider.

When asked how he got interested in cheese making, Flavio, a former computer-industry executive, told me that while he was traveling in Brazil, he became fascinated with the art of making cheese, and decided he wanted to do it back here in the states. He came home, began researching how and what to do, and started building his state-of-the-art facilities. Two years later, Tumalo Farms exists and while still a small, family-owned farm and business, this cheesemaker is already catering to restaurants and gourmets, making sure they have enough to keep their sellers happy. You can even buy their cheese in 10 and 2 lb wheels! This makes me think that there might still be hope for me yet!

I ended up with the Giallo gouda. I couldn't resist. I loved the fenugreek-flavored Fenacho with it's unusual taste, but the mustard seed was tangy and comforting, and what I was looking for at the time because it went perfectly with the amazing Viande duck and poussin pate I also came home with (I know, I'm weak in the face of food). Although Tumalo's supplies for retail purchase are getting low for the season, you can still order some of their cheeses direct from Tumalo on the website, or if you're in the area, stop by for a visit and a tour of the farm...and while you're there, I bet they would let you taste a few.

Flavio DeCastilhos and assistant Marilyn Jewell

Tumalo Farms Specialty Cheeses
64515 Mock Road
Bend, Oregon 97701
fax: 541.350.3718