Monday, February 28, 2011

Suicidal Computers in February

After ONLY eight paltry years, my trusty-- well, not so trusty-- Compaq laptop has decided to spite me by killing itself off. It's been a rough month getting online, but hang in there-- next month, all should be resolved. I'm trying not to drink too heavily to compensate.

The working computer in the house is busy being used to edit an upcoming podcast on D20 Radio, but that doesn't mean I can't post. It does mean I have to plan carefully. March may therefore be somewhat skitzy and erratic; the upside is, due to Hallmark holidays, birthdays and such, I've been taken out to eat more frequently than the norm, and have several reviews to offer.

I'm still working on that Panera soup, too. See you soon.
Peace, Mari

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Crazy Thursday Calms Down...

Today was one of those days that starts at 2:43am with a new song springing in my head; that I didn't, sadly, get up and write down. Can you ever get back to sleep after that? Not me.

Enjoy the evening-- next week I review a new Mediterranean restaurant in my area, that I checked out on the Monday, big V day.

Peace, Mari

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NEW New Year Resolutions!

I've been falling down on the blog, lately. That's primarily due to not having a backlog-- as minute by minute as my posts are, I never planned on blogging that way. My intent was to have several articles on the subjects that interest me, and hopefully you, ready to go when it seemed appropriate, and write and post fresh-off-the-press the rest of the time. A balance, and very doable for a busy writer.

What happened instead was, some of the writing didn't work out. There are posts sitting unfinished, waiting for me to attack them again, that never hit the notes quite right. Amazing in light of what I have posted so far, I know, but I have some standards. And although I cook and we eat everyday, there isn't always a story in it. So I have to leave it alone, sometimes; I learned by not leaving it alone once or twice when I should have. What can I say, I came to this late. Blogging, not writing, that is.

As for this site: this template doesn't do much for us here. Kinda just sits there, looking pink and boring, with not many features. Blah.

So, in the next several months, I'll figure out the other available features here or find a nicer template-- well, maybe not nicer, maybe Cooler? Hotter? Some kind of temperature change. And I'll get more of the stories, ideas, recipes, food-centered contemplations fixed and ready, so that at least 3/4 times a week, and up to 6, there'll be new stuff waiting here. I hope it will be stuff that is interesting to other people; but my taste isn't so odd that I'm in a class by myself.

A note about the Wordless Wednesday phenomenon, common to other blogs, that I've violated recently for my own selfish needs: while I like the concept, Wednesday is usually a good day for me to get out a post of some sort, with time to look up the links, get the pics transferred and all. (Oh, I know, they're not GREAT photography, they're just blackberry pics sent from the phone to email and fixed for light exposure quickly, but that's what I have to work with now-- be patient with me!) So there might be wordless Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays-- or nearly, almost, or so-close-to-wordless days. For the fun of it-- because even when I don't have much to say, I like being here. Pink birds and all.

Cat blogging, I'm not sure about.

PS-- I've written over 30 new songs this month, so far!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tomato Soup Rematch!

Today I'm determined to tweak the recipe for Panera's Creamy Tomato Soup. I've tried it before, as given on their website, and found it was woefully adapted for a home kitchen. Way too milky, not nearly enough tang. And I had used fresh ripe tomatoes, too, instead the canned I'm sure they use. Of course, I tinkered with it till it was edible, and even good; my next door neighbor loved it. But too much tinkering was needed to make it an easy-to-remember tweak. I like the method, though, as it's different from most of the tomato soups I've seen. More old-fashioned, I would say. Which may be why it's so good-- but at $5 a bowl, I can't afford to get it from Panera as often as I'd like to eat it. A redux is clearly in order.

This time, I'll be using crushed, canned tomatoes, too, and lots of 'em. The basic recipe is simple-- onions cooked till soft, flour added to thicken, whole milk poured over that, and then the tomatoes added last. No other seasonings but salt, sugar and bay leaf. I'm thinking a tiny bit of dill will aid the tanginess that is so necessary to the taste of this soup as served at the restaurant. Most people go nuts for the Asiago croutons and think they're indispensable; but I'm thinking, quickly made plain croutons and a sprinkle of grated Asiago will be just as good if not better.

This didn't work.

My starting point, using lots more onion, was a good idea, as was the 1/4 tsp dried dill-- the bad ideas were: using half-n-half as a sub for the whole milk, even at a quarter the original amount, and also my use of crushed tomatoes. I'd hoped to avoid the need to strain, but the second I added them, I knew it all looked wrong and would taste wrong too. Here's Panera's recipe, as given to me off their website:

Creamy Tomato Soup with Asiago Croutons

5 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 Tbs flour
4 cups milk
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups tomatoes, chopped (fresh or canned)
1 Loaf of Asiago Bread(sliced Thick)

1. Melt the Butter in a soup pot.

2. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onion is softened but not browned.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the butter mixture and continue to stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Slowly add the milk, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened.

5. Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes.

6. Add the tomatoes to the milk, and bring just to a simmer.

7. Remove from the heat and put through a strainer.

8. Taste and correct seasonings.

9. Reheat before serving. Top with Asiago Croutons- The More the Better!

10. Make croutons for the top of the soup by cubing Panera Bread Asiago Loaf into 3/4-inch thick slices.

11. Butter both sides of those slices, then cut the slices into bite-size cubes.

12. Bake the bread in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Servings: 6

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 228 calories, 116 calories from fat, 13.1g total fat, 38.5mg cholesterol, 1036.5mg sodium, 535.7mg potassium, 21.9g carbohydrates, 1.6g fiber, 15.5g sugar, 7.3g protein.

Source: From the Panera Bread Kitchen

That's a lot of milk for the amount of tomatoes, and it didn't work out well last time I made it. I subbed half-n-half this trial, but only 1 cup; and mainly subbed because I didn't have milk in the house. We drink soy or almond milk, and occasionally have whole cow's milk around for visiting babies, but not today. So that was misstep number 1-- even at 1/4 the specified amount, still too creamy. I had used the same amount of tomato, changing the ratio that way. I'd still do that, but next tweak, I will likely use fresh tomatoes, and whole milk or unsweetened rice milk if I can find it. To get some extra tang here, I resorted to adding in a half cup Chardonnay, after the soup had been cooked well enough to integrate the other ingredients and avoid a curdling situation.

I can't believe this soup is beating me. But I will get it right...
It just proves that really good food takes some work and thought to achieve. And right this moment, it tastes okay. But that is not good enough for me. Still, there's a Le Creuset pot full, so bring on the shredded Asiago. And a glass of Patch Block Chardonnay.
Peace, Mari

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Space Here, or Nearly Wordless Thursday

What makes good toast? Homemade jam-- that someone else made.
Thanks Amanda! We're loving it. Peach, Candyapple, and the last of the Farmer's Market cache of Rhubarb.*

*From: Martin's Finger Lakes Gourmet Foods
Martin's Kitchen
Dundee, NY 14837
(607) 243-8197

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coffee with the Grownups

I'm so excited-- I' ve just joined a women's coffee group!

This may not look like big news, but hanging around with people close to my own age is something I can't take for granted-- it hasn't happened regularly to me since, oh, ever. When I was four, my best friend Lynn Moore was already in Kindergarten. When I was in Kindergarten, my few friends were each a year or more younger. As a teenager, my friends were several years younger or up to a couple decades older. And so on. Whatever my age has been, I haven't seemed to fit with the people around that shared it. That's why my hubby-man is 12 years younger, my best friends are each a decade younger or older. I have no idea what my age group is supposed to feel like, but I'm looking forward to finding out. I think I can hack it this time-- I have a fairly ordinary roster of adult responsibilites and concerns along with my oddities. And if all else fails, I'll fake it.

So I'll finally have an impetus to get going and check out new-to-me cafes, and update my knowledge of the old favorites. I can hardly wait! Apparently, there's a lovely tea room in Lancaster we'll be seeing, and I've suggested an outing to the Parkside Candies cafe on Main & Winspear. If you haven't been there in a long age, try it-- the service has been excellent every time I've been, and they had the best coffee ice cream I've ever tasted-- even better than mine. And I make good ice cream.

My coffee group is a meetup--- from, an organization that helps people with similar interests meet up in the ether so they can get together IRL. Not a bad concept, and I've found several good writing groups through the site, too. I think it's a wonderful way for someone new to an area to find like minds fast, so pardon me if I've mentioned it too often. Meetup has been a way back into WNY for me... and I appreciate that.
Especially any chance to sample new restaurants and coffeehouses.

Too bad my favorite cold weather coffee mug got broken recently-- I miss sipping from this luscious picture of The Winter King:

Peace, Mari

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This is one of those months when I have less control over my cravings... healthy or not. For days, I've been dying for red sauce-- not just any red sauce, but our "house" sauce, a much evolved recipe originally based on several other recipes. The story goes like this:

When I met the hubby-man, and soon after began sharing his home, he loved to cook for me (those were the days!) and made sure to acquire some vegetarian cookbooks and recipes to help him out. He'd courted me with food to begin with-- pasta. And later a showing of Mystery Science Theatre's lampooning of the godawful movie Hobgoblins. And then we were an item, and then we were entertaining alot at home. Pasta was a regular feature.

After many pots of experimentation, (NOT experimentation with pot; that's another story) we had cobbled together a rich, flavorful sauce from a lovely orange-basil sauce by Bobbie Hinman, a simply perfect Arrabiata from Food and Wine magazine, and another recipe hubby-man had copied off the internet. I think I was the first to combine them, but back then, we both cooked often.

The "internet" sauce was herby with lots of oregano and rosemary, red wine, tempeh bacon for smokiness, whole green olives and lots of garlic. The Hinman sauce was lighter but just as pungent with fresh basil and orange peel. The main thing we took from F&W's easy sauce was the use of whole canned plum tomatoes and mega-amounts of red pepper flakes. The whole thing is so savory and satisfying I never want much with it, just the pasta it's adorning, a glass of red wine and maybe some salad in a basic olive oil dressing. We made it for years, in our Indianapolis home, and I'm sure our neighbors knew when we did!

But the sauce keeps evolving to suit new circumstances. Tonight, I'm doing it in my mini-crockpot, and it is a scratch version of the sauce in many ways-- no fresh basil, no olives, cheap soy-based fakin' bits instead of the good tempeh stuff we can only find at Wegman's. But it already smells wonderful-- the onions and garlic have cooked down, and I've substituted thinly sliced crookneck squash for the green pepper we used to throw in. And crushed tomatoes this time. Our house sauce, with a few changes. Still a rich blend of flavors, heavy on garlic and green herb notes but no basil at all. The last few times I've made it, balsamic vinegar has taken over for wine, and adds something beyond tang-- a little sweetness maybe, in this season when fresh basil is too extravagant to think about.

Too informal to be called a recipe, but this is what I've done--

Our House Sauce

For a medium saucepan or 1 1/2 qt. crockpot, you'll need:

1 Tbsp butter (opt.)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 dried bay leaf (remove before serving)
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp or more dried rosemary
orange peel, fresh-- piece about the size of two quarters
crushed red pepper and salt to taste (start with 1/2 tsp or less each)
1/2 medium sweet, yellow or white onion, sliced or chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fairly small
1/2 C sliced green or red pepper or crookneck squash or zucchini
2 Tbsp vegetarian bacon bits
2 tsp balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

Saute the herbs, onion and orange peel in oil and butter over medium heat in saucepan till softened and beginning to be translucent. Or, cook those together with garlic and other vegetables in crockpot on high for an hour.
Add remaining ingredients (+ garlic, if using saucepan) and cook on low in saucepan for 30-60 minutes (not above a simmer). For crockpot, all remaining ingredients and cook on high for half an hour and low for two or more after that, or low for about 4 hours. Either way, stir occasionally, and taste/adjust seasoning a short while before serving. Serve over hot chunky pasta such as ziti or penne.

On second thought, I might dash out for some olives-- we're out of wine anyway, and that is a craving I can't ignore tonight either.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pasta & Wine Anytime

Did I say cooking was not in my immediate future? I was wrong. But this recipe from easygoing Goddess Nigella Lawson is just barely cooking-- only the pasta is cooked, and we know how strain-free that procedure is. And a good thing too: I'm tired and working on my fourth FAWM song in less than twenty-four hours, it's brutally frigid outside and getting ready to dump mass amounts of snow, and I need need need some wine and a hot meal.

Enter Lemon Linguine. A splash of cream and lemon thickened with egg yolk and cheese, swirl in the hot pasta, and you're eating. When I make this for my family, I just dispense with the egg and add more cream and cheese. But for me, that little touch of richness is a treat. I also like it with cracked pepper most of the time instead of the fresh parsley Nigella uses. To each her own. This is so good, so simple, so almost ready right now. Try it sometime, and eat something good tonight-- we deserve it.
Peace, Mari

Lemon Linguine (adapted from recipe by Nigella Lawson, from How to Eat)

linguine for 2-4

2 egg yolks
2/3 C heavy cream
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan ( I like Romano or Grana Padano here)
zest of 1 lemon and juice of 1/2, more if needed
pinch salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
several Tbsp fresh chopped flat leaf parsley, optional

Boil water for 1 lb., or less, linguine. I often use whole wheat linguine, as I have tonight. Cook pasta till just al dente. While cooking it, make the sauce:

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the cream, then whisk in the zest, lemon juice and half the cheese. Taste and adjust, adding more cheese, lemon or cream till the tang pleases you.

When the pasta is done, remove a cupful of the cooking water to use, drain the pasta and put it back in the pot. Throw in the butter and toss it with the linguine till each strand is barely coated-- use a bit more if needed. It's good!

Stir in the cream mixture and toss with the pasta, adding a little bit of the reserved cooking water if needed to keep it from looking dry-- a few Tbsp of reserved water help make a creamy sauce that coats properly, but add carefully so as not to sog out the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, using more lemon, a dribble of cream or more cheese if desired. Serve in warmed bowls, sprinkled with fresh parsley if desired. it's rich and light at the same time.