When we went to Memphis in June, John's mom gave me a cookbook she'd recently bought. It's by Daniel Orr, the chef who owns FARM, a very popular, upscale restaurant in Bloomington that focuses on local ingredients. Though FARM is highly regarded, I somehow have yet to make it there. So I was excited when Julie offered the cookbook to me and John to take home.
So far we've made a few of the recipes, and I thought I would share some thoughts here. 
 Let's start with the bad: 
- The layout is strange. For instance: we wanted to make a veggie pizza. The recipe for the dough was on the same page as the toppings, so that works well. But the suggested sauce is a hummus recipe from the "Snacks" section - flip back about 10 pages. To make the hummus, you need a spice blend from the "Spice Blend" section - flip back another 20 or so pages. That much flipping to make a pizza is a little annoying, but I get it - he just wanted to print each recipe once. And he's adamant that you can sub anything you like for the recipes. 
I'll also say that this book is not for beginners. The ingredients can get slightly difficult to find (unless you have Bulk Barn, of course), and they can also be a bit complicated. While we loved the pizza we made, it took a LONG TIME to make, in order to let the dough rise, to make the hummus, to let the dough rise again, to grill the veggies, etc. It's kind involved for pizza. But it was damn tasty.
Speaking of exotic ingredients: one other complaint, and then I'll stop being a Negative Nancy: the chef suggests subbing anything you'd like for any of the recipes, and I believe in the intro he stresses that these recipes should be accessible. Ok, so far so good. But the very first recipe in the book is for Cattail Pollen Muffins. Oh yes, just stroll down to the local pond and pull the pollen out of some cattails! 
It doesn't exactly sound hard, but it's a little specific. And what do you sub for cattail pollen? Honey? Nothing? I have no idea. In fairness, if you do live within reach of pond (and I'd venture that almost everyone in Bloomington does), then this would very simple to make. But I found it a bit off-putting.
The good: 
Generally, I feel like it's an amazing book. The photos are beautiful, it's well written, and there are tons of options for veg people and omnivores alike. We've made some fabulous food with this book, and I'm looking forward to trying more of the recipes.
Let's look at some examples.

Here's the hummas recipe we used for the pizza.

This hummus has a TON of ingredients before you even make the spice blend, but we suffered through. It was fun to make hummus with white beans, instead of chick peas, and it's extremely flavorful. Making the spice blend took some time, and truly, we didn't do it right because we don't have a spice grinder (or coffee grinder that's designated for spices). John and I agree that it's not our favorite hummus to eat by itself, like we normally eat it. But it's a good base for the pizza. It also made me want to try making a simpler hummus with white beans, garlic, and rosemary.

Here's the pizza itself: hummas, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini and red peppers, tomato, and kalamata olives.

The dough recipe was excellent and made enough for two nights of this fabulous pizza. It would go perfectly with a spicy red wine, like a Shiraz. I'd say the crust was the tastiest part, and that's how I like my pizza to be. You can get away with a lot if you have a good crust.

Next, we made a much simpler recipe: the BLT. For this, we used tempeh bacon, nicknamed faux-bacon,  "facon," "fakin,' etc. We bought special heirloom tomatoes for this sandwich, since tomatoes are sort of the main event, and then took a bunch of pictures of them, because we're weird.

I love heirloom tomatoes. They're so funky looking, and so flavorful.

Here's the sandwich in its finished form:
grainy bread, tomato, avocado, herbed mayo (we chopped some basil and garlic for the mayo), tempeh bacon (amazing!), basil leaves, lettuce, and goat cheese. This is a life changing sandwich.

Seriously, I would eat this all the time if possible. Tempeh bacon is one of the better faux-meats I've had, and I can't wait to make this again. Heaven!

All in all, we like the FARMFood book, and we'll keep using it. I'm interested in trying some of the brunch recipes, since FARM is known for an outstanding brunch.


Summer Foods, 2012

Since this used to pass for a poor man's excuse for a food blog, I thought I'd post a few recipes that we've enjoyed this summer.

First up: Caprese Salad

We didn't use a recipe for these, so I'll talk you through what happened.
I thinly sliced two large tomatoes, and a big ball of mozzarella. We actually had 4 tomatoes total, and I wanted to make the mozz go a little further. So I mixed up a couple big hunks of goat cheese with the juice of half a lemon, and the leaves from about 3 sprigs of our lemon basil plant. Lemon basil is amazing! It has a sweet, lemony taste and aroma, and it went perfectly with these. After that was mixed up, I spread it on every-other tomato, so the stack alternates: tomato, basil, mozzarella, tomato with goat cheese spread, larger regular basil leaf, and then I started the process again. The mozzarella ball was definitely enough for each of these stacks, and the goat cheese added a little flavor. We each ate two, and we also made some herbed dropped biscuits.

Next: Chocolate Chia Pudding with Peanut Butter Crunch Balls.

I've been using a recipe from Hell Yeah It's Vegan for the basic chocolate pudding recipe. It's just chia seeds, cocoa powder, almond milk, sweetener, and vanilla. It's ready in 30 minutes, though it's also good if you let it set a bit longer. We had this for dessert after sushi night, and I love to serve it in these Japanese rice bowls my mom gave me. When I was a kid, she always used the bowls to serve pudding or jello, and it's really a great size bowl for each portion.
After I had the hang of this version, I did a google search for a peanut butter-chocolate version, and I found one here. Then I had the idea to add the peanut butter crunch balls that recently appeared on Oh She Glows, and they are a perfect topping. They're super easy to make, and I just stored the extra ones in the freezer (though they didn't last long!). Chia pudding is my new favorite way to combine omega 3s and 6s with dessert (see a description of chia seeds' nutritional info here).

Next: Gnocchi with Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Goat Cheese.

The Kitchn's Facebook page shared this last week, and we immediately decided to make it. Everything in it is summery, starchy goodness. Since the goat cheese doesn't come in until the end, it melts and coats everything a light, flavorful sauce. Here's a fun fact: I don't like parsley. Ever. This is only a real (white girl) problem when a recipe calls for it, but we usually sub some other herb. After those caprese salads, we had a lot of basil on hand, so I just julienned it and added it to this, for some more herby flavor. This meal was really easy and will probably show up again on our weekly menu.

This week we decided to make the BBQ Chickpea Burgers, also from Oh She Glows. 

They are only slightly complicated to make, and they are SO GOOD. The carrots and spices give every burger a ton of flavor, and the pumpkin and sunflower seeds add a good texture. We used cilantro instead of parsley, and I used the same bbq sauce from the recipe as a condiment. The recipe for fries in that same post is also a pretty good one, though we had to stop ourselves from finishing what would have been a 1/2 lb. of potatoes...each. The burger recipe made 8 burgers, so we had a lot of leftovers - something John and I both love.

We also recently made: Summer Sweet Corn Tacos, from Vegan Pandamonium.

These are super easy and tasty tacos. We cooked the sweet corn, but it actually calls for raw corn, which would take even less time. Throw the corn in a bowl with a can of beans, some spices, and a chopped tomato, and you're basically done. We made a slightly larger batch of the corn/bean mixture, and had this for a couple nights in a row. It's a great weeknight, summery meal. 

And finally, I improved a simple dessert when I had an INTENSE OMG CRAVING FOR CHOCOLATE RIGHT FREAKING NOW! the other night.
As a joke, someone at our engagement party gave John a box of graham crackers (I should say, a neighborhood inside joke from way before my time), but he doesn't like them anymore. So I've been slowly eating the whole box, spreading each one with peanut butter. Then it occurred to me that I could make a very simple chocolate sauce and pour that on top - because how could that be bad, right? I make this very simple chocolate sauce from time to time and put it on frozen strawberries: about 2 tbs chocolate chips and a couple splashes of almond milk. You melt it with the heat on very low, stirring constantly. If it's too thin, add more chocolate, or turn the heat off and let it sit for a minute or two, and it will thicken up. I spooned that chocolate onto these little graham-pb sandwiches, and then put the whole plate in the freezer for about 30 minutes while John and I watched more of Avatar - the Last Airbender (no spoilers, please! I love that show!). That hardened them up and made the whole thing taste more like an ice cream sandwich - I'd highly recommend them!


Sushi Making Party!

One of the things I miss most, now that I'm a vegetarian, is sushi. Some places offer creative, delicious vegetarian options, but they aren't as common. Recently, I started to think I could probably make my own sushi. When I say "homemade sushi," I mostly mean maki rolls, since they are fairly straight forward: just some rice, sheets of nori, and veggie fillins'. How hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong? 

(I refer you to the robot ccokie monsters, and the terrifying snowman cookies, but two examples of how I've demonstrated just how hard it can be.)

John and I consulted a couple of sources before setting out to make the maki rolls. First, we used a book that came in a set of things his mom gave him a couple years ago, for making sushi at home: Simply Sushi, by Steven Pallett. This book came in super handy, and we used it to make the sushi rice - by far the most time consuming and impressive part of the meal. How can rice taste so good? It's amazing, and well worth the time. Pallett also gives a guide to all the products you need to make sushi, and where to find them. I used his book to make our shopping list.

Going to buy the ingredients was a whole other part of our sushi-cultural experience. We went to United Supermarket, aka, the happiest place on earth, our favorite Asian supermarket. Here's the thing: I've never bought sushi rice before. And they have probably 20 kinds of rice, with very little English in their labels. So when we went to find it, I was the confused white girl in the rice aisle, saying things like, "This is short grain white rice. But it's from Thailand? Should it say sushi on it?"
Yes, it should. We also took a while to find the nori sheets, since kombu (a different kind of seaweed product) was sold in a separate aisle. Yaki-nori sheets were the ones we needed, and we happily stumbled upon them.
John and I also watched the sushi episode of Good Eats, where Alton Brown gave step-by-step directions that matched Palletts perfectly (side note: you can find the whole episode, "Wake Up Little Sushi," on youtube). After that we relied solely on the book, since all the directions were so consistent.

Ok. On to the sushi!
We asked Matthew to come over for dinner, since we hadn't seen each other in a while, and because he seems to have finely honed culinary instincts. He had also been to a make-your-maki party before.

First, we layed a half sheet of nori on a rolling screen (which came with the book). John covered it in what turned out to be 100% too much rice.

He drew a line down the center with a tube of wasabi, also purchased at United Market.

He stuffed it with avocado, mango, and a (fried) sweet potato. I didn't fry the taters, so much as cook them in oil in a skillet, to save time. John rolled it, per instructions, tucking the fillings in with his fingers as he went.

In the end, it looked like a little sushi-burrito hybrid, with the filling bursting out. We quickly learned that less is more, if you want the roll to close. The picture below is of his first roll after we cut it. So instead of plating that one, we just ate it in pieces off the cutting board, and went on to the next attempt. And it turns out that falling-apart-sushi tastes just like regular, beautiful sushi!

John went about a second attempt, while Matthew tried for an inside-out roll, where the rice is on the outside. He figured this would allow for more fillings.
First, he covered a half sheet of nori with rice, as before, and sprinkled it with sesame seeds.

Then he flipped it over. Note: for inside out rolls, we put a sheet of plastic wrap on the rolling screen, and it worked perfectly.
With the nori-side up, he layered on mango and avocado.

Then he rolled it up, and it looked great! This one completely hung together, so we cut it and put it on a serving tray to eat when we had a couple of other successful rolls.

Naturally, I forgot to take pictures of everything once we started eating (the gin and tonics may have had something to do with that...and they might be the reason why so many of these pictures are a tad blurry). But I did snap a picture of the last roll I made: also just avocado and mango.

It was my most successful one.

Here's another shot of a moderately successful roll on the serving tray.


The biggest lesson we learned was to keep it simple. John and I tried to think of a bunch of fun veggie fillings, and we had too many. While the mango, avocado, sweet potato, and shiitakes were gone by the end of the evening, we didn't even touch the carrots or cucumber (but we ate them separately the next day). But keeping the shiittakes were the one thing about this dinner that we did absolutely right: I just gave them a quick sautee in some soy sauce with a little sugar, and they were so good. We got a big package of them at the market, and I would completely do that again. Shiitakes are very easy to over cook, so they probably only spent 2 minutes in the pan, max. The texture was perfect, and they went well with all the other ingredients. 


I think that's Matthew's sushi face.

All in all, we were so happy with this meal! It turns out, sushi is hard to make, especially hard if you want it to look nice. But everything tasted fantastic. The three of us agreed that making it gave us a whole new respect for chefs in sushi bars who just crank out beautiful rolls all evening, in minutes. That's some real skill.

Now that we know how to make it and what to expect, I think we would definitely make this again. But we'll probably wait until we have an occasion to have a couple people over, since it's definitely a fun group activity.


Greek Fest 5K and a Tin Caps Game

 After the party in Memphis, John and I spent some time in Fort Wayne. It was a good way to break up the trip. We ran a 5K that was part of Greek Fest, one of the summer festivals that take place at Headwaters Park every year.


It was a hot day for a race, but we both had a good time. What with my recent food problems, I wasn't gunning for a PR. Instead, I decided to just race the three or four people around me. I nicknamed the tall person in front of me "Big Blue," because of his shirt, and I stayed on his heels for almost the whole race. My plan was to pass him in the last half mile, but he ended up slowing down before that. I also set my competitive sights on a girl that, for now, we'll call The Pug.*

The Pug passed me within the last mile, and I was determined after that to pass her before the end. The very last part of the course was within Headwaters, and the paths are narrow enough that I didn't think anyone would pass me. I managed to get in front of The Pug just before the path narrowed, and I finished probably one second before she did.

Immediately after the race, we headed for the splash pad. I love this picture of John. Something about it is so sad.

Our registration included a food voucher for the festival, so we used them up plus $2 on lunch - Greek sausage, spanikopita, and baklava. It was a pretty sweet deal. John and I also tried a Greek beer called Marathon that we both enjoyed.

Since we stayed to use our food vouchers, we were able to hear the award ceremony, though neither of us expected to win anything. But THEN, I got a medal for third place in my age group!

John pointed out that The Pug was about our age, and if I hadn't passed her, she likely would have beat me out for third place - and I would have been pissed about it for the whole day.

That afternoon, my mom took us to a Tin Caps game with her knitting friends. It was a special afternoon at the ballpark for knitters called Stitch n' Pitch, and we saw lots of ladies knitting during the game.

It's so weird that I'm going to really have to say good bye to Fort Wayne when my parents move this summer. But we'll be back one more time before then.

*I know. We're assholes.


Mempis, Summer 2012

Earlier this summer, John and I drove to Memphis for an engagement party that his mom, Julie, threw for us.

The party itself was fancy and a lot of fun, and it was evident that Julie spent a ton of time on it. She had big center pieces that looked like paint spilling from the ceiling (somehow I managed to not take a picture? fail), and Mexican food everywhere. We got to meet a lot of her friends, and people that John knew growing up. Also, bonus!, Kira and her mom came over from Nashville! Kira brought us a ton of tasty beer, which led to an impromptu beer tasting in the garage for the younger crowd at the party.

Other highlights:

 The day of the party, we got a flat tire. We were parking to go meet Morgan and a couple of cousins at a cool restaurant called The Beauty Shop, when John brushed a very sharp metal point on a drain along the curb. Luckily Morgan was there to give everyone directions, and to point and laugh. John's cousin Davis (the blond guy) was a big help that day.

He and his girlfriend, Irene (pronounced EE-reh-neh), hung out with us at Gateway Tire while we waited for them to fix it.

At the end of the night, we opened the presents we'd been given. It's kind of a tradition that when I go to Memphis for Christmas, I put the bows from the presents around my head, and the same thing happened this trip. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the tequila I'd had.

I don't have photos of other stuff we ate, but I will just mention a couple of other neat restaurants, both in Midtown: Alchemy, sort of a tapas place with a long cocktail menu, and some tasty wild mushroom pancakes; and Sweet Grass, with lots of traditional Southern food, and a surprising number of vegetarian items on the menu. The grits were heavenly, and made Sweet Grass my favorite meal out.

We also got to make a trip to the Memphis Zoo, and I'll share just one of the fantastic pictures I took there. It's a great place.

Julie and Keith maintain a huge, beautiful flower garden in the summer, and I'll end with a photo of one of the flowers there. We had a great time in Memphis and hope to go back again soon!