10 December, 2009

Grocery Shopping

I love to grocery shop, I mean I really love grocery shopping. If you've ever been to Market Street on a Sunday with me, or, even better, to a Whole Foods with me, you can attest that I'll spend hours walking each isle inspecting all of the items. I rarely buy much, but I love looking for new items, sampling the breads, and ogling the shined produce; peach season is my favorite. Though grocery shopping happens everywhere the cultural differences between societies are often highlighted in the way they buy and present their groceries and even the frequency of shopping trips out.
In the US everything is clearly orchestrated. Shined oranges and genetically modified apples stay in perpetual surplus stacked neatly in pyramids awaiting our touch. As soon as one is purchased or taken from the immaculate stack an army of stock people descend restoring order. Granted there are different classes of grocery stores; I have yet to see a grocery store in the US which, even at the lowest end of the scale, was anything less than representative of abundance.

A typical orchestrated produce section in a US supermarket.
Spanish grocery stores (Super Mercados)were smaller and more authentic to the human condition; nothing was shined and everything had a true to nature smell, meat smelled like meat. The Spanish system of grocery shopping is slowly creeping from separate smaller shops of panderias and canicerias to the 'all in one' connivence of Super Mercados. Though some Spaniards still hold on to the separate shop approach, which allows for specialization and thus higher quality goods, the connivence and low pricing of the Super Mercados are surely taking over.

A fruiteria in Sevilla, Spain.

Some images of a Super Mercado in Sevilla, Spain.

British grocery shopping is somehow a middle man to Spain and the US, which seems appropriate with their geographic location. Everything is sanitized, bagged, and shined. The bagging is absolutely excessive, even produce is often wrapped in plastic. Produce selection wanes throughout the day; if you go shopping at night you're unlikely to find a surplus of any produce as it's shipped in each morning. I do praise British shops for embracing the free-range, organic, vegetarian, and reusable trends in such a large capacity; even the most rough looking men at Tesco have their lady bug patterned reusable bags in toe to carry their Carlsburg and free-range eggs home in. We as Americans often have these options but they are considered fringe and often priced out of the reach of the average American who sees the green movement as an irrelevant luxury. I still carry my Twiggy Marks & Spencer reusable bag to Market Street where the confused sackers often ask if I want a separate plastic bag for my drinks or produce.

Sainsbury's produce section, at the beginning of the day.

All of these grocery stores pale in comparison to what I consider the holy grail of food shopping; I of course am speaking of the farmer's market. I adore, in every sense of the word, farmer's markets and farm shops, and I have never seen such an abundance of the aforementioned places as I did while in Britain. While living in Oundle I experienced the outdoor market every Thursday and the large farmer's market every second Saturday of the month. I could spend hours looking over the indecently cheap fresh cheeses and eggs, and even had a personalized nickname from the farm produce man, the "Texas Tornado". I still look back to my summer days in southern England and can not help but long for those grocery Thursdays; I'd give all the shined fruit in the world for the smallest of farm shops. Here's a little sample of those times..
Thursday's outdoor market; Oundle, Peterborough, England, UK.

My farm fresh free-range eggs, 2 GBP Port Salut Cheese, local Lemon Bakewell tarts, and amazing raspberries.
03 December, 2009

Bourbon Oatmeal Cookiewiches

It's snowing right now, in Lubbock Texas. I know many people think, 'What, snow? Can't be', but indeed it is. Personally, I don't like the snow. I'm much more of a warm over-cast day girl myself, but to every season turn turn, or something along those lines. So since it's snowing and I don't have anything I should be doing, though honestly I haven't checked, I began to bake.
Now for the past couple of days I've been wanting to make oatmeal cookies, and gave it a go yesterday, but alas, disaster. I'm not going to go into it.
So today I gave it another shot and have come up with Bourbon Oatmeal Cookiewiches. Now I've never been a fan of oatmeal cookies and have never, as a point of fact, eaten a sandwich made with oatmeal cookies, though I've seen them. My disdain for oatmeal cookies wasn't anything personal, I'm not really a cookie person. I also don't like raisins (or Crasins for that matter) in my baked goods; on their own I'm on board. Due to these two statements it does seem like a rather odd choice that I would make Oatmeal Cookiewiches...but mine are without raisins and plus booze...so inherently superior to any previously created.

Bourbon Oatmeal Cookiewiches

1 stick of butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp hazelnut coffee-mate (mine is sugarfree but that's of no consequence)
.3 cup of chopped walnuts (or any nut for that matter)
.5 cup bourbon
.3 cup of corn meal
1 cup of all purpose flour
3 cups of oats
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp salt
.5 lb whipped white icing

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl cream butter, eggs, and sugar together. Add vanilla extract, coffee mate, .25 cup bourbon, and nuts, then set aside. In separate container mix: flour, cornmeal, oats, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Slowly add the dry to the wet mixing thoroughly. The mixture should be decently thick, but everything should be well incorporated. Spoon into tablespoon dollops and flatten into round shapes. These cookies will not spread much so you need to flatten them yourself.
Bake at 400 for 10 minutes? I have no idea, just check on them and you'll know when they're done..

For the cookiewiches

Let the cookies cool completely, very important! You can eat all the warm ones you want, but for the wiches, they must not be warm or it'll melt the icing, which might be nice though aesthetically disastrous. Now pair the cookies by size and shape, which will all be slightly different.
Mix the icing with 3 tablespoons of bourbon. Then using a butter knife or frosting knife, take the smaller of the cookie pairs and put the desired amount of icing evenly on the cookie. Add the paired cookie to the top and lightly squeeze down. You get the idea.

Sorry for the picture quality, I was using the MacBook.

25 August, 2009

Jamaican Sweet Potato Coconut Bisque

I made this soup while living in Manchester and working for the JVC program. My cooking day of the week, was Tuesday, which was the day our vegan facilitator would come to dinner. I always looked forward to vegan cooking Tuesdays. This was coupled with an eggplant curry and rice. Everyone loved it, and has thus been my favorite soup recipe.

4 cups sweet potatoes (canned or baked and peeled)

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp powdered ginger

1 scotch bonnet pepper

1 medium onion diced

2 cloves garlic diced

2 tbsp salt

1 vegetable bullion cube

4 cups water

2 tsp Splenda

1 can coconut milk

Fully smash sweet potatoes, and place in a bowl on the side. Sautee onion, garlic, diced pepper, cinnamon, ginger, salt, in olive oil. Once onions are translucent add water, vegetable bullion, and Splenda, stir until dissolved. Add in mashed sweet potato mixture and can of coconut milk, stir and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend with hand blender until smooth.

22 July, 2009

Pecan Tassies

People in Texas love pecans, especially when they're involved in pies. Pecans, puh-cons, grow on trees and are quite common in the southern United States, and where I live, they're everywhere. I can hardly remember living in a house that wasn't some how adjacent to a pecan tree, and every fall we would collect them and have then taken to a professional sheller to be then frozen and used throughout the year.

I love pecans. I love pecan pie. So I made tiny ones.

Pecan Tassies (tarts)

1 cup Lyle's golden syrup

3 eggs beaten

2 tbsp butter melted

pinch salt

tsp vanilla

1 cup pecans chopped

filo dough (or shortcrust)

Cream butter eggs, salt, and vanilla. Mix in syrup. Take muffin tin and cut circles approximately 3 layers thick and place into each muffin tin, fill with pie filling to 3/4 full. Add chopped pecans on top. Place in oven at 350 F until fork comes out clean. Let set for 20 minutes.

20 July, 2009

Callander Meadows, Callander, Scotland

Our trip to Scotland was lovely; we climbed a few mountains, went on a boat tour, and ate a few meals along the way. Our first night we spent in Callander, Scotland at the Drednought...Not my favorite. Somewhat reminiscent of an elderly person's home, and I mean that as no offense to elderly homes. Oli warned me this might be the case, but it was McNabb!! Haha, so after we got there off we went to wonder around and find dinner.
At the very, I'm going to say, western end of town, we stumbled on a pink building with gates leading back into a meadow and a group of other pink buildings with a sign reading 'Roman Camp'. Oliver and myself hypothecized on what that could mean for a bit, Romany? Gypsies? Romans? Italian camp? We ventured forth. The first thing we saw was mini horses.. Then more pink buildings, a river, then a larger pink building. The place was goregous, and like most of the places in Callander was a hotel and restaurant. Oli ventured in to look at the menu for veggie options while I had a wonder around..
This is the main building of the Roman Camp. Oliver resurfaced from the building with a funny smile and a ton of stories about a huge fireplace, a really tall seating host, and a huge fancy non vegetarian menu. If you're staying in Callander, I suggest you stay here.
On our way we went, still on a quest for food. We stopped at Callander Meadows, greeted by a man from Minnesota we took a look at the menu and found out there was an hour wait, but we put in our name and in less than an hour we were finally eating..
Here's the good stuff..
I ordered the Polenta with ratatouille, wilted chard, truffle oil, and parmesan crisp. Indeed, with truffle on top. Now let me explain that I have always wanted to eat a truffle and be reassured that I sectioned that thing out so that I had a tiny bit with each bite. "what did it taste like?" Mushrooms.

Oli ordered the courgette (zucchini) and pine nut ravioli with grilled fennel. "It was absolutely gorgeous."-Oli

And finally for dessert! We got the 'Wave' dessert, which was a sample of all of the desserts for two. Starting from the back left working our way clockwise; Berry Creme Brule, Sorbet Trio with meringue cookie, Apple Crumble with cream, Ginger Ice-cream, and Bailey's Cheescake. Oli and I both decided that the creme brule was the best, seconded in my opinion by the ginger ice-cream and in Oli's opinion by the sorbet.
My only criticism was that everything was a little melted by the time we got it.. Lame.
All in all lovely meal, and it was nice to finally eat!
I did eventually find vegetarian Haggis in northern Scotland, which was lovely.

10 July, 2009

Nanna Mexico

I love Mexican food, and for awhile I thought I was alone in this country. Mexican food is about so much more than salt and chilies, lard and cheese, it's about friends. How many times have we had a party re-cap over a lunch at Cancun (my favorite Mexican haunt)? How many nights have we giggled over margaritas about someone's unfortunate situation? How any times do we leave swearing never to eat again? Too many to count.
You see, Mexicans are our Indians, our enchiladas are your curries (I'm talking to you, English people.).
Now I'm not one to dread cultural expierences, I won't stop at Subway in every big city because I "miss" American food, but this is something different. I've eaten yorkshire puddings, mash, and bakewell tarts. I've had my fairshare of cauliflower cheese and pub chips, but I miss what I miss. My life in the UK, though not void of laughs or fun, had been missing a certain something, a cilantro spiced, cheesy, tequila something, until Nanna Mexico.
Now as any Texan will attest, we don't trust Mexican food from other places; citing several horror stories about attempting to order Mexican food in other states we are highly suspicious of non-Texan attempts at enchiladas or rellenos. With this said, I was, to say the least, unconvinced by the idea of Mexican food in the UK, but call it desperation, I tried it out anyway.
Nanna Mexico in Cambridge is what I would call a 'burrito shack', kind of modeled in the same vein as Freebirds or Chipotle. I'm not the biggest fan of these places, but in addition to the usual fare of oversized burritos and quesadillas there are "Mexico City Tacos", soft corn tortillas (not those fried shells) topped with cheese, vegetables, meat, or beans with salsa rioja and peppers, I was sold.
I ordered my tacos right after another American in line, which prompted a funny look from Oli; before we left he assured me this was proof that the British do NOT like Mexican food. I'm convinced this is not the case as there were at least 3 authentic brits amongst the American spice fiends.

Mexico City Tacos from Nanna Mexico in Cambridge

Oli's Chicken Fajita burrito.
My only gripe was that there were no Margaritas, though they did have the Mexican beers Corona and Negro Modelo, and Ash, Diane, and Stephen weren't there to share some trash talk; but I'll take what I can get.


I can hear my neighbors, well neighbor to be precise. We live in an old bakery and by old I mean, like historic. We share the building with a single father named Martin; I like Martin but due to our doors being so close and the walls so badly insulated I know quite a bit about him. I know his girlfriend drives a BMW, he has two children, snores, and oddly enough, vomits in the morning.
Now I'm not shy, and have even spoken with this man for hours on end on several occasions (outside, not through the walls), but I wonder, with all the noise I've made, what could he possibly think?
Especially recently.. Now get your head out of the gutter, it's not quite like that. The other night I was making pecan tassies, to help me with my pecan withdrawals and I was making a gluten-free oat crust, when I moved the casserole dish from the hot burner (hob) to the cool one, as it was an accident for it to be on the hot one to begin with. The bowl exploded; really exploded shrapnel everywhere including my foot, tiny shards of glass flew right into my foot, and I screamed for a good 30minutes. Now if I live so close to my neighbor that I can hear him vomit in the mornings should I be concerned that even through an explosion and the after-math of screaming he doesn't say anything? Call anyone?
Just seems odd, that's all I'm saying.

08 July, 2009

Cardamom Encounter

So just a few days ago, I was here, in Oundle, with nothing to do. I often find myself in this situation; I daily purchase a cappuccino from one of the four coffee shops in town, but sadly that only assuages my boredom for the amount of time it takes to finish the drink and work a couple of practice questions in my LSAT study book. Often I turn to my host here, Oliver, to entertain me. On this particular day Oliver was working dilligently on his laptop and I felt that disturbing him would be unfair, so I turned, as I often do, to the pantry.
Well, we don't have a panty, but you get the idea; I don't need your sass okay? And what did I find in the "pantry" you might ask, Cardamom, a big bag of Cardamom. Off to google I went, and then the Co-Op for a bar of chocolate and pistachios.. Here's what I came up with; if some of the ingredients look weird, it's because it's what we had.

Cardamom and Pistachio Bites, dipped in Chocolate

1/2 cup of butter
2/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 cup milk
1 2/3 cup self-rising flour
2/3 cup pistachios chopped
1 bar of dark chocolate
1 egg

Oven temp: 200C

Cream butter spread, sugar, and cardamom. Add milk and half the pistachios; mix thoroughly. Slowing incorporate flour, should gather and ball up as you stir it. Take the ball of dough (which will be sticky) and cover in cling wrap and put in freezer till it firms up, maybe 20 minutes. Remove ball from freezer and place on counter top which is covered in flour. Dust with flour until the dough can be handled without sticking to your hands. Roll out dough on countertop and cut into small squares, about 2x2 inches. Crack egg and whisk with fork in a small dish. Place squares on greased cookie sheet and use basting brush or finger to brush egg mixture on top of each square. Bake until golden and poofy. Allow cookies to cool.
Break chocolate bar up and add to the top of a double boiler (sauce pan on top of sauce pan of boiling water). Stir constantly, adding 2 tablespoons of milk to get a shiney color. Dip the top of each cookie in melted chocolate and top with the rest of the chopped pistachios and extra sugar.

Perhaps a bit dry on their own, but nice as tea or coffee bites.

03 July, 2009

Cardamom Affair

Recently, on a trip to London, I did my traditional pilgrimage to Whole Foods on Kensington HighStreet, and to my delight I wondered upon a huge table of discounted spices. I had always wanted to try cardamom; kheer, indian rice pudding, is one of my all time favorites and heavily flavored with cardamom. At 99p I couldn't really pass up the opportunity.

Returning home from London I tried my hand and the simplest recipe involving cardamom I could find, Cardamom Spiced Filo Crisps with Strawberries and Cream, a good treat for the summer with a Mumbai meets Wimbledon feel to it.

Cardamom Spiced Filo Crisps with Strawberries and Cream:
12 sheets filo dough
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cardamom (ground)
1 cup whipping cream
100 ml Pimms No.1
300 ml Sparkling Diet Lemonade
(Okay sooo the last two may not be a part of the recipe, but just as breathing isn't written it, Pimms drinking is assumed.)

Brown butter in pan, do not burn. Mix sugar and cardamom together in small bowl. Cut the sheets into 10 pieces. Seperate the filo sheets and place the first 10 individually on a baking sheet. Brush the browned butter on each of the bottom sheets then sprinkle sugar mixture on each. Repeat adding new layers on top of the previous, making them as neat as possible, until you've run out of sheets. Add more browned butter and sugar mixture to the tops of the filo stacks and bake at 200C until golden brown. Wait for them to cool and remove them from the baking sheet.
In a bowl whip the whipping cream until it holds peaks. Spoon cream on to one crisp and top with another. Add more cream to the top as well as sliced strawberries.
Mix Pimms and Lemonade in glass, add ice and fresh mint, drink it. Make more. Keep drinking...

Sorry the pictures aren't the best, it was very hot and the cream was falling.
If you like you can layer the filo in a muffin pan and create little cups to fill with cream; lessens the mess and creates a smaller serving.

22 June, 2009

Once upon a time in Scotland..

Oli and I went off for a wander around Edinburgh this last weekend. I say wander when really I mean we were on a quite specific mission to find and acquire "authentic Scottish tartans" to be mailed back to the U.S. in time for the annual McNabb family reunion. From Oundle the drive is about 5 hours, which is not bad for a girl from Texas, but to an English person it's clearly a feat, so Oli and I set off early that morning and arrived at about lunch time.
Whenever I venture to a new big city I look on HappyCow's Returaunt Guide to find a suitable and often off the beaten path place to eat. As usual HappyCow did not disappoint and we were able to grab a bite at the EngineShed restaurant, a vegetarian cafe/bakery/tofu processor housed in a converted train station. The daily menu was presented on a blackboard but the salad bar was to say the least imaginative; I love the idea of trying something completely new and the EngineShed presented me with plenty of options. I had the butternut squash soup and salad plate and Oli had the lemon and mushroom pasta (though I still regret not venturing for the savory nut pies).
After having grabbed our lunch and a package of fresh tofu we set off shopping, which was exhausting but fruitful. Once we loaded all of our goods in the car I quickly fell asleep after assigning Oli the task of finding a place to eat (as it was now 5pm) before heading back. As I woke up I was pleasantly surprised to see the coast ahead of me and a small village of North Queensferry to my right. We parked the car and set out for a bite and stumbled across the Ferrybridge Hotel, where we were greeted by a lovely bartender/waitress and a group of locals sitting in the corner. Service was quick and friendly and the food was top notch!

Above is a very blurry picture of my grilled mushrooms and blue cheese which was superb; I love English Stilton.

Oli had the haggis in filo dough with a beetroot chutney and liked it very much, I, of course, did not try it as it's quite clearly not vegetarian, but I did have Oli google haggis when we got home.. needless to say he was taken aback.

The hotel even had a lovely view of the new bridge being built, which Oli enjoyed quite a bit, even I have to admit, it was pretty cool.

20 June, 2009

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer is one of my favorite things to order at indian restaurants, it's essentially a creamy spinach mixture with chunks of homemade indian cheese, aptly named paneer. Being the traditionally trained indian chef I am, I set along with nothing but the best and freshest ingredients of unquestionable authenticity.. Okay, so that's not true. I just went off of what I knew and could remember from eating out at curry places and since I'm stuck in a bachelor pad for the summer, frozen spinach and the spices I could find had to do.
So if you've ever had saag paneer or even "Googled it" you'll notice that it varies quite a bit from place to place with the creamy/spinach ratio. Mine turned out a little more on the creamy side than most, but it was lovely.
Coupled with two mini-whole wheat pitas it made quite a lovely lunch, and is still one of Oli's and my "easy to make" fast and warm dinners.

(recipe serves 3)
1/2 package (8oz) of paneer cheese
1/2 tbsp butter/margarine
1 onion finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic diced
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder/ chili flakes
2 tbsp of flour
1/4 cup of shaved parmesan
2 cups of semi-skimmed milk
2 1/2 cups (packed) de-thawed frozen spinach
1 tbsp salt
black pepper to taste

Add small amount of cooking spray to a pan and brown paneer on each side. Remove paneer from pan and set to the side. Add butter to pan with sliced onions and garlic and sauté until caramelized, add chili powder/ flakes, and cumin at the end of the sauté. Add 1/2 tbsp of flour to the onions and garlic and incorporate (soaking up the butter from the sauté) slowly add another 1/2 tbsp of flour to the mixture and incorporate well. Gently mix in (and I mean gently) small amounts of the milk, stirring constanly, and then the rest of the flour to make a rue. Once you've added all of the flour and about 1/2 a cup of the milk, add the shaved parmesan, black pepper, and salt. slowly add another 1/2 cup of the milk and then add in the spinach and cooked paneer, mixing constantly. Slowly incorporate the last cup of milk and allow for the mixture to simmer until thickened to desired consistency.
Add more salt to taste and enjoy!

19 June, 2009

The Affection of Confections

Cupcakes; what do they mean to you?
To me, they mean an inexpensive (sometimes) present that has an automatic 'wow' factor. We all see beautiful cupcakes in the windows of fancy patisserie shops and they seem so unattainable, so grand, and there is an undeniable pleasure that comes from gifting something like that to others.. especially when you made it yourself.

I make more cupcakes than I eat, and probably make more cupcakes than others would wish; I'll be the first to admit that. I'm just bent like that I suppose; creation for pleasure under the guise of selflessness.

I like to make pretty things; I've yet to find something prettier than a maraschino cherry.

First entries are always the hardest..

Lunch at the Eco-Cafe in Camden (London). I originally wanted the veggie tikka in a jacket (or baked) potato, but alas, they were out.
My life in the United Kindom thus far has incited a great love for semi-skimmed cappuccinos; my favorite is the froth. Semi-colons are also my favorite.
Sorry about the dirty utensils, I couldn't help myself. I'm Whitney by the way.

05 April, 2009

About "What You SHOULD Know"

What in the world?

I am a twenty-something year old enthusiast and adventurer who, up until shortly, had a very run-of-the-mill amateur food-blog. Who doesn't? Then, while trying to brainstorm new ideas I asked myself, what can I bring to this world of amazing photography and intricate professional recipes? I don't have a mandolin or seven kids so most cutesy themes were out of the question. The answer, I found, was fearlessness. I don't believe there is any recipe you need a Kitchenaid mixer or a culinary degree for, and though I may have to try several times, risking failure and disposable income, I will get it.

This is a blog of tips and facts focusing on specific recipes or ingredients that scare the inexperienced or even those few that give Martha Stewart pause. I, your white knight, am willing to brave the unknown; tackling it all with a small kitchen, no gadgetry, and no pretense.

These are the tricks that the recipe should include, but often doesn't; fret not my friends, I'll try it and let you know "What you SHOULD know"!

If you have any requests for a specific recipe or ingredient leave a comment or email me and don't forget to subscribe!