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I was watching an old rerun of the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa the other day. Ina Garten whipped up a soft and fluffy angel food cake, making the task look as easy as slicing some strawberries to serve with each thick chunk of cake. I've always liked angel food cake, especially the kind flecked with rainbow-colored confetti that comes from a boxed mix. I've never made an angel food cake from scratch.
Early in our marriage, when there was little extra money for babysitters and date nights, my husband and I began hosting casual meals for our friends and their children. There was nothing fancy about these family-friendly, economical meals. The entrée often involved ground beef or chicken, both budget-friendly choices at that time. When chicken was featured on our dinner table, it was always chicken still on the bone. I'm not even sure boneless, skinless chicken breasts, now so popular, were available in grocery stores at that time.
If you've had an opportunity to peruse the grocery store shelves packed with boxes and bags of all sorts of pasta, there is a good chance your eyes caught something called orzo. But is it pasta? You might think it is a type of rice that was mistakenly stocked with the pasta. Or is it a grain? These are all common questions when it comes to orzo, an Italian word that means "barley." Orzo is a small, flat, elongated oval-shaped pasta, resembling a grain of barley. It also looks like rice. It's pasta that can be treated like rice. It can even be treated like barley.
I've often wished I could find one cookbook that would hold all of the traditional Hungarian recipes my grandma and my mom used to make. How nice it would be to reach for one book from the shelf rather than having to search through several Hungarian cookbooks to find the recipe for flaky crescents filled with plum jam that my mom loved or the light and fluffy raised donuts my grandma would spend a whole day making. If you happen to be of Scandinavian descent, you are in luck.
It wasn't the recipes that got me excited when I turned the pages of "Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi," a new book edited by James Norton and published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Norton, editor of The Heavy Table, a wonderful food website focused on the Upper Midwest that I read regularly, stayed at my house one night while he was doing research on pasties and collecting stories for "Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi." That's not what got me excited.
As much as I try to eat foods that are as local as possible, there are some edibles from faraway places that I just don't want to be without. Call me spoiled, and I will agree. I savored my first taste of sweet, ripe and juicy mango during a trip to Jamaica when I was in college. I watched as the women in Ocho Rios walked the streets (this was way before it became a commercialized tourist attraction), balancing baskets of ruby-colored mangoes on their heads. One day, my roommate and I bought one of those mysterious fruits and took it back to the place we were staying.
Watercress often goes unnoticed in the produce department at the grocery store, maybe because there's usually not much of it. Its scarcity could be the result of supply and demand.
I can remember sitting in front of the television set with my dad when Shirley Temple, the famous, cute little dimpled and curly-haired child star of the 1930s and '40s appeared on the screen. By this time, she was very adult and had moved from acting to politics. "She's no spring chicken, anymore, but she still has that sparkle," my dad commented, meaning she was no longer young and still looked good.
I've had crème brulee on my mind since last November when a middle school science teacher borrowed my kitchen torch to make pumpkin crème brulee with her students. I remember thinking at the time that if I ever had a science teacher who did that, well, who knows - I may have been a food scientist rather than a food writer. Crème brulee's reputation as a complicated dessert is misleading. I think it's the French name, which literally means burnt cream, that ups its intimidation factor.
It's been surprising to me how natural it feels to be preparing very satisfying evening meals each week that do not include meat. About a year ago I made a conscious decision to not only take on the Meatless Monday challenge, but to try to have at least two meatless meals a week. It was a decision based on doing a small part to help care for the planet and give a big boost to personal health and wellness. As the Lenten season was approaching, I began thinking of all those Fridays from the past, when my family was young and we strictly observed abstinence from meat.