25 February 2007

DMBLGiT Results Coming Soon!

Sorry for the delay in posting about this month's Does My Blog Look Good in This? photography competition. Life has been rather hectic around here, but now it has calmed down a little and I will be able to pay more attention to the important things in life, such as photographs of food.

It will be a few days before we know our winners, as the judges and I need a bit more time to score the 90 beautiful entries.

While you await the results, please feel free to browse through the gallery and enjoy.

21 February 2007

One Day Left for DMBLGiT!

Calling all food bloggers, calling all food food bloggers!
There is one day left to submit a photograph for this month's Does My Blog Look Good in This? photography competition.
Entries are due tomorrow, February 22nd, at noon CST.

If you missed the kick-off earlier this month and would still like to participate, you can read the rules here.
If you would like to view the beautiful photographs in the gallery (there are more than 70 entries this month, wow!), click here.

19 February 2007

Wine Night with the Girls: A Classy Excuse to Educate and Intoxicate Ourselves

It has been almost two years since some friends and I started the tradition of Wine Nights. Wine Nights are informal and lovely gatherings where each person brings a bottle of wine that fits into the night’s theme, some information about the wine, and a dish that complements the wine. We sit around a table for four to six hours, tasting, smelling, comparing, not taking notes, laughing, eating, drinking, pouring, spilling, telling stories, being silly, making fun of boys, and occasionally dancing to Usher.

There have been 13 gatherings during the past two years, and there are about 12 girls at each one. You may or may not already know that 13 x 12 is 156, which means that we have tasted 156 wines for the price of 13 wines. Many of those wines I have remembered fondly and purchased afterwards for myself.

Because of the various Wine Night themes, almost all of the wines are bottles that we would not normally choose on our own. The changing assignments allow us to branch out to different aisles of the wine shop that we usually ignore. When we have an assignment, it makes it much easier to walk over to a new shelf, select an unfamiliar bottle, and try to learn more about the wine on the internet.

These are the themes of our past 12 Wine Nights. There are obviously hundreds more regions and grapes that we have not yet delved into, but we’re trying our best! We could always try harder, but then we would be forever tipsy. Forever tipsy, that has a nice ring to it. I think it would make a great bumper sticker.

Wine Night #1: Assigned wines. Every girl is assigned a different grape.
Wine Night #2: Fickle Grapes: Viogner and Pinot Noir
Wine Night #3: Italian Whites
Wine Night #4: Western Australia
Wine Night #5: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Wine Night #6: Germany
Wine Night #7: South America
Wine Night #8: Any wine with the color purple in the label (bring a purple food as well)
Wine Night #9: Sake
Wine Night #10: Rosés
Wine Night #11: Wine Merchant’s Choice. Go to your local wine shop. Ask the person working there what is his/her absolute favorite wine that they sell (in your price range).
Wine Night #12: Bubbly! (Champagne or Sparkling Wine)
Wine Night #13: Storytime. Bring a wine that has a personal story behind it.

When the theme is broad and encompasses different types of wines, we learn to identify characteristics of different grapes from different regions. When we narrow the theme to specific grapes or regions, we can start to discern more subtle differences between winemakers’ techniques, soils, climates, and other factors, most of which we are blissfully unaware.

Some possible ideas for future Wine Nights:
Same wine, different year: Two people pair up. Bring the same wine, but from two different years. Everyone gets two glasses. Compare the differences between the two vintages.

Cheapo Wine Night: Purchase the most inexpensive bottle that your local wine shop still recommends with a clean conscience.

Food before Booze: First, decide which food to make. Research which type of wine will be best complemented by the flavors of the food. Have a few sips of wine before tasting the matching dish, so that you can taste the difference in the flavors that the food brings out in the wine.

Moneybags: Four people go in together to buy a $100 bottle of wine, each person paying $25. The advantages of this: there will only be three wine bottles, meaning we’ll be less tipsy, meaning we’ll taste each one more seriously, which is not a bad idea if we are tasting such fine wines. After the three bottles, if we are still thirsty, we can merrily deplete the hostess’ current wine collection. (Note: This would also be a good night to invite boys to Wine Night, because more people = more money = more $100 wine for everybody.)
(these 2 photos are by Sue)

Any suggestions for more themes? Our knowledge of Old World wines is severely inadequate, so if there are any regions of Europe that you find especially delicious, let me know!
We also especially appreciate whimsical themes, even if they are not as conducive to the development of sophisticated taste buds as regional themes are. Oh well. I heard we’re too young to have sophisticated wine taste buds anyway. I don't know where I heard that, don't know if it's true, but I do know that Wine Nights are joyful, shining moments in our lives, glimmering brightly throughout our workweeks and giving us a reason to work to get money to buy wine to bring to Wine Night.
(top photo in this group is by Sue)

11 February 2007

Achieving Self-Actualization with Bacon

Maple-Glazed Bacon on Gorgonzola Polenta Squares
(Bacon is caramelized in a low-heat oven with brown sugar,
walnuts, and pure maple syrup.)

I have taken the liberty of amending Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs to plan out my journey towards self-actualization. It is my sincerest hope that others will find this revision useful in their individual pursuits of life-fulfillment.

According to Abraham Maslow, a mid-century American psychologist, every human can reach his or her maximum potential once he or she has become self-actualized. What is self-actualization? Well, think of people you know who are generally good-natured, thoughtful, intelligent, wise, mature, tolerant, motivated, appreciative, creative, friendly, helpful, non-judgmental, and who don’t have many problems, as far as you can tell. And if they do have problems, they don’t complain about them too much and they quickly figure them out and move on. Basically, they are the most complete and most awesome people that you know.

Those people are most likely self-actualized. They have taken care of their basic human needs, they are not worried about finances, they are not lonely, they have a healthy but not over-bearing sense of self-esteem, they feel needed and respected in their various communities, and they have transcended into the top level of Maslow’s pyramid, where they can work towards the highest level of personal growth, unburdened by the worldly anxieties that the rest of us deal with on a daily basis.
It might sound like I’m jealous of the self-actualized, but really, I’m not. Self-fulfilled superhumans have worked very hard to get where they are, and the rest of us will get there someday, assuming we were born with good luck and the right personality traits.

As you can see from the above diagram, I have developed a catalyst that will expedite our progress towards self-actualization:

Introduce bacon into the Level of Human Needs in which you currently exist, and you will automatically be bumped to the next highest stage of human growth. Follow my logic:

Imagine that you are stuck on the most basic level, the Physiological Level. You can’t seem to get the hang of breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion. Well, I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, that I like eating bacon more than I like pooping. If this preference applies to you as well, next time you have to go to the bathroom, just make bacon instead. Then you will have conquered one of your most basic human needs and proved yourself worthy of Level Two.

Now that you are on Level Two, you have become acutely aware of your need for safety. My advice is to always carry bacon around in your pocket. If you are ever in a sword fight or any other situation in which you feel like that life is in danger, offer your assailant a piece of warm, crispy bacon. He or she will automatically back down and leave you safely sailing on toward the bright horizons of Level Three.

Welcome to Level Three, the Level of Love and Belonging, where you need to get people to love you in order to move on. It’s no secret that the fastest way to people’s hearts is through their bellies, so feed your friends and loved ones bacon all the time, and you will secure a warm place in their hearts faster than a fat pug can eat a plateful of semi-cooled bacon grease.

Now you are on Level Four, the hardest level to pass because you can’t fool yourself into having good self-esteem. Solution: Repeat after me: “I'm good enough to eat bacon, I'm smart enough to make bacon, and gosh darn it, people like me when I make bacon!” Instant self-esteem and a free ticket to Level Five.

Congratulations, you are now self-actualized. What were once heavy burdens of daily life are now delightful joys that you feel blessed to partake in, and you are free to experience life to its fullest. Your new personality characteristics that you automatically receive as a benefit of self-actualization are:

Morality (It’s ethical to eat bacon, what else are they going to do with all that pig fat?)
Creativity (How many different ways can I make bacon today?)
Spontaneity (Let’s make bacon right NOW!)
Problem Solving (I seem to be gaining weight…it must be because of all the pig fat I am ingesting, I am so smart!)
Lack of Prejudice (Lots of people eat bacon, therefore we are all the same and I love everybody.)
Acceptance of facts (You got more bacon than I did, and I’m okay with that. I also accept the fact that you’re an insensitive, self-indulgent glutton.)

Like many children, I wanted so badly to possess superhuman powers, mainly flying, talking to animals, and moving things with my eyeballs. As I grew older, took some psychology classes, and realized the futility of my dreams (in that order, of course), my fantasies of developing magical powers slowly transformed into hopes of one day becoming self-actualized.

I’m pretty sure that before today, I was on Level Four. But then I wrote that part about liking bacon more than pooping, and I think I might have lost some respect from people who think that's gross, and I so dropped back down to Level Three.

Fortunately, I have Maple-Glazed Bacon on Gorgonzola Polenta Squares, which I need way more than any of Maslow’s aforementioned needs, and if eating these transcendentally delicious appetizers doesn’t get me closer to self-fulfillment, than there is nothing on this planet that can.

Maple-Glazed Bacon on Gorgonzola Polenta Squares
~from Bon Appétit February 2007

1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (or coarse corn-meal)
¾ cup coarsely crumbled Gorgonzola cheese or other blue cheese

1 pound thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup pure maple syrup

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in polenta (or cornmeal). Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until polenta is thick enough to come away from sides of pan, stirring almost constantly, about 15 minutes. Mix in cheese. Spread polenta evenly in 9x9x2-inch pan. Chill until cold and firm, at least 2 hours and up to one day.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 250 degrees Farenheit. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Using on / off turns, blend sugar, walnuts, and maple syrup in processor until nuts are chopped and a crumbly texture forms. Sprinkle mixture over bacon. Bake until topping is caramelized and bacon is cooked through but still flexible, about one hour. Cool 10 minutes. Cut crosswise into 1-inch squares.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cut polenta into 1-inch squares; place on rimmed baking sheet; top each polenta square with a bacon piece. This can be done up to 1 day ahead if chilled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Bake polenta uncovered until heated through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and hot serve hot.

08 February 2007

Does My Blog Look Good in This?

This month, Fancy Toast has the honor of hosting Does My Blog Look Good in This?, a monthly competition that showcases some of the best photographs that appeared in January on food blogs around the world.

There are so many wonderful food blogs in the blogosphere, and so little time to read every single one! This contest gives us the opportunity to see photos we may have missed during the month. Every month on DMBLGiT, I discover one or two more fantastic food blogs to add to my daily read.

I am delighted to be judging with four bloggers whose photographs and sites are absolutely lovely. May I present our esteemed judges:
Fanny of Foodbeam
Jen of Milk and Cookies
Mae of Rice and Noodles
Nicole of Pinch My Salt

If you would like to participate in this month's DMBLGiT, please send an email to DMBLGiTFeb2007 at yahoo.com with the following:

• An attachment of a photograph that was posted on your blog during the month of January 2007. Originals only, please. The work must be your own.
• Your name
• URL of your website
• URL of the post that the photo appeared in
• Title of the photograph
• Type of camera used

Entries will accepted until 12:00 P.M. CST (U.S.) on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2007. As the entries are sent in, I will be posting them in the gallery.

There are several categories in which the photographs will be judged:
Aesthetics: the artistic qualities of the photograph, such as composition, food styling, lighting, focus, etc.
Edibility: the degree to which the photograph makes you want to lick the screen
Originality: creativity, uniqueness
Overall Winner: the brilliant incorporation of the above artistic elements

If you would like to view the gallery from last month’s DMBLGiT, visit the charming Bonapegeek to look at the gorgeous December entries.

Come back to Fancy Toast soon to view new photographs in the gallery!

06 February 2007

I Would Like to Join a Mandoline Support Group.

Cole slaw that would have been made in half the time had I
been able to use my mandolin correctly.

Is there a mandoline support group out there somewhere? A forum for clumsies like me who cannot figure out how to use their new (and expensive) mandolins?
If so, I would very much like to join.e

A few weeks ago I bought a shiny, new mandoline that I was so excited to use. All day long at work, I daydreamed of coming home and slicing cabbage into little, thin pieces. I counted the hours until I could effortlessly slice away in my kitchen, watching delicate, slender strips whirl off the blades and into neat little piles on my counter.
Alas, disaster struck. Instead of producing beautiful and elegant slivers, the mandoline tore the leaves into huge, sloppy chunks, violently destroying the cabbage as well as my hopes and dreams.

In a fit of frustration, I hurled the cabbage mess onto the floor and stomped off to the computer to do some online research. I googled “mandoline directions.” No good. I googled “using a mandoline to slice cabbage.” Nothing. I even googled "mandoline retard" in hope that there was someone out there like me who could help. No success.
Disgruntled, I returned to the kitchen and glared at the mandoline and felt a little bit better when I saw how how ugly it looked with all that ruined food stuck between its teeth. But then I saw the box, and I became enraged again. The OXO box has a beautiful picture of red cabbage, all cut up into tiny, little pieces. Now I know for sure you should be able to slice cabbage on a mandoline!

OXO, you misled me. I bet you used a knife to cut that cabbage, didn't you? That’s what we had to do. My dinner guest got stuck doing it, because I was so exasperated by the entire experience. She did a great job slicing that cabbage the old-fashioned way. The knife worked great, OXO. But I was hoping the mandoline would work great, too.

So if anyone knows of a website that shows people in great detail how to slice cabbage on a mandoline, I would be eternally grateful for that knowledge.

In return, I offer you a tasty cole slaw recipe. Ewwwww…..cole slaw? Wait!
Before you say ewwwwww…..coleslaw again, hear me out. This isn’t real cole slaw! It does not have mayonnaise in it!
No mayonnaise, joy of joys! Instead, the dressing is a mixture of peanut butter, soy sauce, and other ingredients often found in Asian dishes. I would so much rather eat rice wine vinegar than mayonnaise.

I served this cole slaw with a beef and broccoli stir fry, but I see no reason why it can't accompany any meal that you would serve traditional cole slaw with.

Cole Slaw with Asian Flavors
~from All Recipes
~Note: This makes a lot of salad. If you would like the eat it the next day, split the vegetables in half and only add the dressing to half of the salad. Store the other half of the dressing separately, then combine when you are ready to eat. Otherwise, the dressing makes the cabbage go soggy overnight.

* 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
* 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
* 3 tablespoons soy sauce
* 3 tablespoons brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
* 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

* 5 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
* 2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
* 2 cups shredded napa cabbage
* 2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
* 2 carrots, julienned
* 6 green onions, chopped
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

First, make the dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic.

In a large bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients. Toss with the dressing just before serving.

04 February 2007

I Promise This is My Last Taco Post Ever.

After writing about a few delicious tacos I enjoyed in Guadalajara and Chicago, I should probably be finished with the taco topic and ready to move on to something else.
No! I can’t move on! One more taco post!
Maybe after today I’ll give it a rest.

It’s just that I can’t ever really stop thinking about tacos. In one bite, I have everything in my mouth that I could ever possibly need in life...a piece of corn tortilla, a morsel of flavorful meat, a slice of avocado, a crumble of queso fresco, a burst of cilantro...put a taco in front of my face, and all other worldly matters disappear as the taco becomes my entire universe.

It has become apparent to me that I am prone to exaggeration when it comes to tacos. I’m sorry, but I will make no apologies for my obsession.
Um...you can be sorry for not being sorry, right?

In any case, I do apologize for constantly raving about tacos when there are many people who don’t have access to a good taco joint. Especially one that serves tacos al pastor. If that is you, your worries are over. Fancy Toast offers you a delicious taco recipe that you can prepare in your own home. Sadly, this recipe is not for tacos al pastor. But happily, the deliciousness of these tacos might almost surpass that of tacos al pastor. Thank goodness, because how many people do you know who own their own taco al pastor roasting spit?

My friend Abbey and I created this recipe when we were preparing our New Year’s Feast. Actually, it was mostly Abbey who was the mastermind behind the deliciousness. The only contribution I can take credit for is the addition of alcohol and sugar. Are you surprised about that?

The meat was simmered in a bath of blended guajillo chiles, onions, and tequila until it became fork tender. After we shredded the meat, we added sugar and lime juice, and then (poof!) the magic ensued! There are no words for the utterly delightful flavors of that meat. I say ‘flavors’ in the plural form because there was such a depth of flavors that my tastebuds could not decide what to focus on. Sweet, spicy, salty, smokey...there was even a bitterness from the the chiles that was quite lovely.

I am at a loss to describe the taste of this taco meat. I think that maybe even Rick Bayless might be at a loss for words, and I don’t know if that man is ever at a loss for words. Sorry Rick Bayless, that was mean. I love you Rick Bayless. You have changed my life. Abbey and I could never have created this recipe without all the knowledge you have imparted to us.

Abbey’s Tacos
~Serves 12

12 dried guajillo or ancho chiles
3 onions, roughly chopped
4-5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 cup lime juice, divided
2 lbs. meat of your choice (pork shoulder or loin is delicious, but I have also successfully used chicken breast and thighs)
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup cane sugar (white or brown sugar will also work)

Over high heat in a large pot, toast the chiles for about thirty seconds on each side until they turn lighter in color. Do not allow them to burn.

Once cool, cut off the stems and scrape out the seeds.
Put chiles in a bowl of hot water and soak for 10-15 minutes. It helps to put a plate over the chiles so that they are completely submerged. Reserve one cup of the soaking liquid.

In a blender, pulse the onions, garlic, chiles, and 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid. Do not purée.
The mixture should reach a slightly chunky consistency.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the pot. Add the contents of the blender, the tequila, one tablespoon of salt, and 1/4 cup lime juice. Cook for five minutes.
Add the meat. If you are using a large chunk of meat, you can dump it in there in one piece, or cut it into two or three smaller pieces.
Add enough chicken broth so that the meat is mostly submerged. You might not use all six cups of broth.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the meat is fork-tender. Depending on the type and cut of meat, this can take between 40-90 minutes.

Remove meat and allow to cool. Using two forks or your fingers, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces.
Meanwhile, tend to the sauce. If it is watery, increase the heat to let some of the liquid evaporate. This might take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.
Now the magic happens. Taste the sauce. Bitter, isn’t it?
Add sugar and stir. Taste again. Completely different! Somehow the sugar brings out other flavors that you couldn’t taste under the bitterness.
Add salt and lime juice to taste.
Add the shredded meat.

Spoon the meat onto a warm tortilla. Add as many other garnishes as you like, such as crumbled queso fresco, chopped onions, cilantro, avocado slices, radishes, beans, tomatoes, etc.

This makes alot of taco meat. It freezes well, so make it all and then use it later!
This meat can also be used as fillings for other Mexican dishes: tamales, enchiladas, tostadas, etc.