1 July 2007

Lessons in Gardening

posted by rlink @ 12:41 to section Gardening

Even though I’d helped my grandfather with his garden when I was a child, I still learn new things about gardening every year. Here is just a small list of lessons taught to me by the small city garden plot I’ve maintained for the last several years.
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12 February 2007

Bigmouth Strikes Again

posted by gastrogirl @ 17:47 to section general

After reading my most recent, shameless-cookie-lauding post, my dear mom felt it necessary to make sure I could walk the talk…so she gave me this:

maida book

I guess I asked for it, huh?

30 January 2007

Cookies for Cynics

posted by gastrogirl @ 14:02 to section Cooking

I am so tired of the cupcake trend.

Perhaps saying so brands me as an infidel, but to be honest, they just don’t do much for me. We recently had two cupcake shops open in my city, and while the cakes are pretty to look at, I just don’t understand the recent national obsession with cupcake-only joints…particularly because the wow factor seems to reside mostly in the style and flavour of frosting, and I have never been keen on copious amounts of frosting. It makes my teeth hurt. So while there’s something to be said for visual appeal, the novelty just isn’t intriguing enough to hold my attention. If there are two types of people in the world, then I am a cookie person. Cupcakes, while fun in the right circumstances, take a back seat.

Because of this strange apathy towards fluffy, frosted cakes, it goes without saying that the standard birthday cake would wither in my house. I don’t dislike all cakes, but tend to prefer heavier, denser ones, and please hold the frosting (although ganache is A-ok). Perhaps if the cupcake shop had a wee flourless chocolate cupcake with no toppings….that is a trend I could go for. Er, but wait, I think that is basically a brownie. Anyway, my everyday sweet tooth prefers the humble cookie as the favourite fix in terms of size and toothsomeness. I like that they don’t need special containers and are easy to transport – all the better to give away if I’ve made too large of a batch. I like that they are drier, chewier, and often dunkable. Also…not that I should be thinking about health when consuming cookies, but in the “low-fat” realm, cookies seem to be able to hold their own better than many other baked goods do. On the other hand, perhaps Nick Malgieri‘s new book could put me in my place for that remark.

Even if you disagree, what better month than January to try out those cookie recipes you just didn’t get to during the holidays? Consider this my response to an over-frosted scene. A plus with the following recipes is that they both last for at least two weeks if kept in airtight containers, so no pressure to eat them all at once (ha ha). Since there’s no secret to my love of cookies with apricot and ginger, I was anxious to try Nic’s Apricot Ginger Oat Biscuits from Bakingsheet. Although these are two tastes that taste great together, they are nothing at all like the cornmeal cookies I made last summer, so if you’ve tried one recipe, don’t neglect its fraternal twin here. I made some minor adjustments to make them more flavourful, doubling the amount of ginger and apricots, as well as adding a splash of milk to the batter, as by itself it was too dry to hold together. Otherwise, the cookies were delicious – the corn syrup keeps them a little bit chewy inside, even though the outside is more crisp and biscuit-like. I should note that by “biscuit” I mean the British/Australian use of the term, which usually translates to “cookie” for Americans. I also have a possibly misguided perception that biscuits are less sugary and more crisp than American-style cookies. At any rate, these are just right for dunking into hot tea. They are homey and somewhat humble looking, but have a terrific flavour.

apricot ginger oat biscuits

In addition to the biscuits, I made another tea-compatible cookie: Cardamom Squares, adapted from another old recipe from Gourmet. They are not strictly cardamomy – more like just light spice cookies but with cardamom in a starring role. They’re extremely easy to put together, though, as most slice-and-bake type cookies are. They are tender, last for a long time, and look fairly elegant when drizzled with a bit of chocolate. The texture is somewhat more crisp than shortbread, but not quite hard, either.

cardamom squares

By the way, don’t you think Cookies for Cynics would make a great book? What sort of cookies would cynics eat? Something bitter, perhaps? I like the idea of a DIY series For Cynics, to replace those awful (Cooking,Business,Science,Remodeling,Whatever) For Dummies how-to books. Of course these aren’t really for cynics, and eating them won’t make you cynical…so don’t blame me!

There is one catch to my cookie fetish: since cookie recipes tend to be uncomplicated and ideal for quick gratification, it tends to make one lazy for trying more complex desserts. With that in mind, I ought to try something a bit more challenging soon! While I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s the next holiday I can think of that would give me an excuse to try something a bit fancier (I daresay Candlemas might be too obscure). Oh, as if I need an excuse anyway. Meanwhile, here are the recipes…
Continue reading “Cookies for Cynics”…

26 January 2007

Technical Difficulties

posted by gastrogirl @ 18:57 to section general

Gastronomicon is experiencing some technical weirdness. As a result, the sidebars and some of the html might look weird for a bit. We’ll have to wait for rlink to return from Philly (since the blog is hosted on an old machine of his) to get things straightened out.

Edit: All better. –rlink

21 January 2007

Squid and Cranberry Salad

posted by rlink @ 23:38 to section Cooking,Food

A while back, the owners of a long-since closed local bar and small concert venue decided to turn their empty space into a restaurant serving rustic Southern Italian cuisine. The dining room may be full of so much kitch that it looks like your crazy Italian grandmother’s house, but the food more than makes up for it. One of the menu items that I love is a squid and cranberry salad. I’m not sure how cranberries factor in to Italian cuisine, but I’ve tried to recreate the dish anyways.
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The Passion of the Truffle

posted by gastrogirl @ 22:38 to section Cooking

It must be quite obvious by now that I can’t resist a bad pun, particularly for the title of a post. But this one really is relevant to the content, and these truffles both inspire and exhibit passion! I made this recipe for my very first Sugar High Friday, a blogging event that encourages participants to share their sugary creations based on a particular theme. This time around, it’s hosted by top-notch food blogger David Lebovitz. The theme of this Sugar High Friday, #27, is Chocolate by Brand. We were told to make a chocolate treat using a particular brand, and explain the whys behind our choice. Below is my entry, which are Passion Fruit Truffles made with El Rey Mijao (61%).


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27 December 2006

Wintry Shortbread

posted by gastrogirl @ 13:26 to section Cooking


As a person of Celtic extract, I should probably have some strong opinions on shortbread. This might be even more apparent to my friends who were around when I got into a mad bidding war on eBay and spent far too much money on a set of vintage shortbread molds emblazoned with Welsh dragons, Scottish thistles, Irish harps, and English roses (and they don’t even work very well, alas). I do have a few basic criteria: anything called shortbread definitely needs to have plenty of pure butter, no eggs, not be too sugary, and should be crisp, not chewy. I’m not too much of a purist when it comes to the difference between “shortbread” and “shortbread cookie” (traditionally, shortbread is pressed into a mold or formed in a disc, shortbread cookies are just that – rolled into a log and sliced or rolled flat and cut with cookie cutters), but apart from those simple rules, I’m game for a bit of experimentation – plain butter shortbread is a wonderfully simple treat, but there’s no need to stick with just that.

I found this recipe for Rosemary Shortbread a few years ago in Gourmet magazine, and since then it’s become one of my signature holiday cookies. The flavor of rosemary lends a romantic, early-winter mood which goes splendidly with tea. Its texture is both tender yet slightly crisp, and when decorated with little sprigs, makes a lovely and rustic gift when wrapped carefully in parchment and twine.

Rosemary Shortbread
adapted from Gourmet magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

superfine sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary in a bowl.

Mix together butter, honey, and confectioners sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed, then add flour mixture and mix until dough resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just comes together, about 8 times. Halve dough and press each half evenly into a 9-inch pie or tart pan. Score dough into 8 wedges by pricking dotted lines with a fork. If you like, press a spring of rosemary onto the center of each wedge. Sprinkle dough lightly with superfine sugar.

Bake the shortbread until just golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then cut along score marks with a large heavy knife. Keep shortbread wedges in an airtight container.

* Pressing them into pans makes it easier to make a uniform shape, but if you like, the halves can be rolled into 8-inch discs and placed on baking sheets to cook.


12 December 2006

Blogging by Mail!

posted by gastrogirl @ 12:32 to section Food

My BBM Holiday Package! (well, what’s left of it…)
BBM Holiday 06

A couple of days ago, I received my Blogging by Mail package! It was from from a guinea pig with a wok at wok with me (love the name of her blog), whose blog I’d never read before but will definitely begin doing so regularly – she’s got some great-looking recipes there. I can’t believe how amazingly generous she was with the package; the box was absolutely huge!! You can see in the picture that three of the boxes are empty because they’ve been eaten already. ;) “Diddy” (the nickname she goes by on the blog) is originally from China, so many items had a Chinese theme – for example mooncakes, which I’ve heard so much about but never got around to trying (delicious!), flavoured watermelon seeds, and mix for bubble tea (did you know that I love bubble tea?). She also included a box of Buckeyes since she now resides in in the US, as well as a delicious homemade pumpkin roll cake, chocolate covered pretzels and Russian tea cookies (those last three have already been gobbled up). All I can say is WOW!! Thank you so much! It really made my day and tickled every one of my sweet teeth to a major degree. This Blogging by Mail stuff is so much fun, and I can only hope the partner I’ve sent to is half as pleased – no word yet, but stay tuned…

4 December 2006

Post-Post Thanksgiving Post

posted by gastrogirl @ 14:11 to section Cooking

Well, so much for my plans to take pictures and post about my Thanksgiving this year! Things have been so hectic with me between work, preparing for T-giving, and organizing a 50-person party for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. I also still need to make goodies and send a package to my Blogging By Mail partner. Too much to do! At least on Thanksgiving the Apple, Parsnip, and Sausage dressing I made was well received, as was my variation on a Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cake. If I make the stuffing again, I will use only sweet sausage rather than sweet and hot, and perhaps cut down the meat a little – it was my first time making sausage dressing, and I would have preferred it to be a little less sausagey. The parsnip/apple combination is grand, though, and I’ll have to come up with more ways to pair those two up. The icebox cake was extremely rich and quite good – the main difference from the original recipe was that I made a slightly thicker mousse and soaked the inner ladyfingers in plenty of espresso. The result was something akin to tiramisu but with chocolate mousse instead of mascarpone. The presentation was lovely, just like the picture – so if you’re looking to impress but don’t want to put much time into a dessert, I urge you to try making it.

Meanwhile, here’s a not-so-great photograph of a genuinely great recipe for a pistachio cardamom cake I made a month or so ago when things were slightly less busy. It’s very easy to whip up and is just perfect with tea or coffee. Given that I’m already madly in love with cardamom, when it’s mixed up with pistachio and butter in this cake… swoon. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

pistachio cardamom cake

1 cup unsalted pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 scant cup sugar
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grind pistachios in a food processor until fine. Mix nuts with flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Cream together butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at at time and beat until fully incorporated. Mix in milk and vanilla, then add flour and pistachio mixture in two or three batches and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into a 9-inch round cake pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick emerges cleanly from the middle. Sift powdered sugar over the top if desired. The cake is wonderful plain or served with fruit such as orange segments or strawberries.

20 November 2006

DC Bites

posted by gastrogirl @ 10:30 to section Dining

Last weekend, I took a much-needed break and drove to Washington, DC. In between doing the usual touristy stuff (museums, monuments), I made some effort to seek out some restaurants recommended by various internet sources and review sites. For the most part, they were all excellent and I surely gained 5-10 lbs by chowing down on wonderful food. Luckily, walking around museums helped relieve my guilt. :) What follows are some short opinions about the restaurants we visited. With the exception of one, which was less than $10, all the places we ate at would probably fit into a medium-budget range, with dinners averaging around $15-20 per person.
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