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Friday, December 31, 2010

Cake #9: New Year's Eve Cake

It's been awhile since I've made a cake (like 8 months!) and the next cake in the book was described as "if you were one of those kids who couldn't wait to chaw on a hot fireball candy, then this coffee cake is for you". I am going to bake this cake soon, but since we were having people over for New Year's Eve, I decided to skip it and go to the next cake, Dorie Greenspan's Swedish Visiting Cake. It was pretty easy to make, pretty fattening and sweet, and the only problem I had was trying to dec it out for new year's:
Once I poured the batter into the pan, instead of putting almonds all over the top, I tried to leave them off the section in the middle that says "2011"- see it? Look closely. You could still see it after it was baked, if I told you about it and traced my finger around where the numbers are:

The numbers even turned out browner than the almonds around them, so it should have worked! But almonds might be too large for this sort of thing, and damn it was time-consuming.
This cake has a zest of one entire lemon, so it's quite lemony. It also calls for almond extract, which can be overpowering, so next time I think I'll cut the almond in half. I would also like to try to make it with 1/2 the butter. It calls for 1 stick melted, and it just seemed like a lot. I wonder if you could add 1/4 c applesauce to the sugar at the begging, and then 1/2 stick of melted butter to the batter at the end.

The cake didn't rise very much, but it was easy to cut into small slices and serve to a lot of people. It would make a good sweet coffee cake.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yogurt Whole Wheat Bread w/ Herbs

This recipe is for a bread maker. If you don't have one (and you want to make bread) you should go get one, it is definitely worth the effort. Here is the one I currently use (it's my 2nd). It's on the spendy side, but that's because I had a simple one that I used for about a decade, so I knew I would use the hell out of this one- it has manual settings that are difficult to find on most models.
Anyway, if your bread maker wants to know what size of loaf you are making, this will be for a 2 lb. loaf.
Also, It took me a long time before I became brave enough to try a bread recipe using yogurt. But when I did, it became the most popular type of bread made in our house, and it works great as sandwich bread too!
Okay, here's the recipe:
1 c yogurt (plain or vanilla)
1 1/2 T olive oil
2 T maple syrup
1 t. salt
1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
2 c all purpose flour
1 T gluten
2 T wheat germ
1/2 c warm water
2 t. active dry yeast
3 large garlic cloves, minced
fresh thyme (dry works too)
fresh rosemary (dry works too)
a dollop of olive oil

First, measure out the warm water and make sure it's not hot. It should be around room temperature, or 80 degrees at most. Add the yeast to it, set aside.
Next, add all the ingredients in the list down to the wheat germ to the bread maker (make sure the paddle(s) are in place first). Then add the water/yeast mixture and start the machine on a medium crust/wheat setting. After a few minutes, check the dough to see if it needs to be adjusted. If you touch it and dough sticks to your finger, add a little flour. If you touch it and it seems really dry (usually having a hard time moving around) add a little water. If you touch it and you don't get any dough on your finger and it looks like real bread dough, it's perfect!
Meanwhile, heat up the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic. I have a cast iron pan that I like to use to help flavor the pan. Stir for about 1 minute, and add the thyme and rosemary. Let it cook another 1-2 minutes until it's lightly browned. When the fruit/nut beeper goes off, add the garlic & herb mixture. When the bread starts to bake, it will smell extra nice with this addition.

This bread works great as a side to almost any meal, or as sandwich bread for almost any sandwich. To make it last longer, keep it in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Preserving Pears

Sometimes we joke that we bought our yard and the house came with it. That's because in the warm months, there are times when the house gets neglected because we are focusing our energy on the backyard, which includes mature fruit trees- 1 pear and 1 apple, 3 raised bed gardens, a 200 square ft. rain garden, 2 compost bins, and-most recently-aronia berry bushes and 2 paw paws! The fall is filled with lots of preserving, and in the past we couldn't go through the pears fast enough- even dehydrating them (which is excellent) only uses a few at a time, and the thing with pears is that they are ripe for about a week, so the window to do something with all that tasty fruit is small!
So, I wanted to share what I did this year.

First, I boiled some water and got a big bowl of ice water ready. I had the idea that I was going to hold the pear by the stem and dip it in the water, then put it in the ice water to cool (to make it easier to remove the skin, like you do with tomatoes). This didn't end up working, because it takes pears much longer to soften their skins than tomatoes. I ended up dropping a couple of pears into the boiling water and removing them with a slotted spoon after a few minutes. Still, the skins did not just rub off.

I ended up using a paring (pear-ing) knife to peel off the peal, but it was worth using the boiling water method first, because peeling off a softened skin is much easier than a hard one.
Once the skin and core were removed, I sliced the pear and put it in a bowl with a little water and lemon juice in it.

When I was done, I put the pear slices in quart ziplocks with some of the acidic water, tried to squeeze as much air out as possible, and stuck them in the freezer for use in desserts this winter!

Don't forget to compost!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Best (Super) Foods!

Lately, I have been finding a lot of lists compiling SUPER foods- the best for your health. Do they agree? Let's look at 3 sources. (* means it shows up on more than one list)

1st, from Environmental Nutrition:
Brazil Nuts
Butternut Squash

Next, it's from Forbes (here's the link)
Raw chocolate
Black tea
Tomato paste*

Advice from Dr. Terry Wahls:
Mustard greens
Romaine lettuce
Leaf lettuce
Bell peppers

And here is a great food pyramid!
In conclusion, for a nutrition-boost, make a meal that includes avocado, blueberries, tomatoes and kale. Now you know what to put on the grocery list!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have been attempting to make homemade tofu lately, with local organic Iowa soybeans. The first try was pretty successful, despite the amount of time it took and the difficulty of the clean-up afterward. The second time, I tried to triple the batch and I wasn't as successful. I didn't have proper equipment for that quantity and in the end, it didn't turn out as firm as I would have liked. But when you make homemade tofu or soy milk, you get a lot of okara, which is the by-product of making tofu/soy milk. Literally, in Japanese, it translates to "honorable shell". It is high in fiber, protein and nutrients. Some Japanese farmers use it for livestock feed, it also can be an ingredient in high-protein cat and dog food, and it can be good for us humans to eat too!
First, I'll give you a rough outline of how tofu is made. You mix soybeans and water, blend it into a milky substance, and bring it to a boil. Then you pour that into a multiple-folded cheesecloth or a fine-woven towel in a strainer, and the part that strains out is the soy milk. After squeezing as much milk out as possible, you have dried-out pulpy stuff left, which is the okara. (You can then go on to heat up the soy milk and add nigari salt, which coagulates it, and pour it back into the cheesecloth- "tofu stock" will strain out and what's left in the cheesecloth is the curdled soy milk, or tofu).
In my experience of making tofu twice, I ended up with more okara than tofu. It can be composted, or frozen for future use, but I'm the adventurous type, so I did some research and found this blog- all about okara! I also got some ideas from The Book of Tofu and I have made chicken-less (or un-chicken) nuggets, okara muffins, okara cookies, okara granola, and okara english muffin bread. The baked goods don't necessarily taste much different, but they are much more filling, and good for you!
On the off-chance that someone out there on the world wide web is looking for something to do with their okara, I will be posting some of these recipes for you soon.
Above: less then half of the okara from 3 lbs. of soybeans used in chocolate-banana muffins, carrot-almond muffins, chocolate chip cookies, english muffin bread and granola!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Maple Apple Crisp

I had a bunch of apples to do something with, so I searched on but didn't find much there, but while browsing recipes on the all recipes website, I found this recipe among the "apple desserts" category. I changed it a bit, see my recipe below.
*6 apples- a good mix of red, green, reddish yellow and reddish green (peeled, cored, sliced)
*3/4 c pure maple syrup^
*1/2 c flour
*1/2 c rolled oats
*1/2 c brown sugar
*pinch of salt
*1/2 t cinnamon
*1/2 t nutmeg
*1/4 c butter, softened
Preheat oven to 375.
Butter a baking dish. Put apples in it, pour in syrup and mix it all up.
In a small bowl, mix flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the soft butter and mix it up with your fingers until it's crumbly. Then pour the crumbly mixture on top of the apples and get it all covered up.
Bake for 35 minutes.
I have a glass baking dish, so when I peaked inside to see how it was coming along, I noticed that the liquidy bottom (mostly syrup with some juice from the apples) was boiling up through the entire dish. I took that as a good sign.

^A note on syrup: someone on all recipes commented that you should use real pure maple syrup and not regular maple syrup. I recently went to the store to buy some cheaper maple syrup for cooking with, and found out that most of the "maple syrup" on the shelf is something like high fructose corn syrup with artificial maple flavor. I found one that boasted on the label "no high fructose corn syrup!" so I looked at the ingredients and the 1st ingredient was light corn syrup. Yeah, I guess that's not high fructose, is it? I bought Hy-Vee's Grand Brand pure maple syrup. It wasn't organic but it was affordable, and the ingredient list said: pure maple syrup. I have organic pure maple syrup at home, but at $15 a bottle, that stuff is only going on pancakes- not in baked food.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magazine Recipe: Tortellini with Eggplant & Peppers

From Real Simple Magazine.

Occasionally I’m at the grocery store and I see one of those frozen packages of ravioli or tortellini and I think “that would make a quick and easy meal”. Then I mix it with regular ol’ pasta sauce and it’s eh, okay. But alas! I have found something you can do with that boring old bag of frozen tortellini sitting at the back of your freezer!

Get together these:

Olive oil

4 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2” pieces (why don’t they just say “bite sized pieces”?)

3 bell peppers, whatever colors you like, chopped up however thick you like

Because it is from the Real Simple magazine, you will want to add salt & pepper, of course

6 cloves of garlic, because no matter what the recipe calls for, I always up the amount of garlic, minced

¼ t red pepper flakes (or I would do a couple of shakes rather than try to measure it)

3 cups vegetable broth. I have those little boullion cubes, and I heat them up w/ 3 cups of water to make the broth. And if you have an open container of free range chicken broth in the fridge, you might as well use it up before it goes bad. I think you basically just want to use something w/ more flavor than water here.

1 pound package of frozen cheese tortellini

½ c fresh basil (the original recipe called for parsley, so use that if it sounds better to you. It just seems to me that basil+pasta=yum.

½ c grated asiago cheese, or however much you want.

Take out a large skillet. I use a wok, that was sold as a wok because it has that shape, but really it’s just a large pan. Whatever, I use it for almost everything. I bought it at Sunrise Asian Grocery in Eugene, Oregon. That place is awesome, it used to be the post office.

Heat the oil in the pan over med-hi heat. Add the eggplant, bell peppers, salt & pepper. Stir occasionally, the vegetables should begin to soften, around 8 minutes.

Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Add the broth & tortellini. Cover & simmer over medium heat, stir it occasionally, about 12-15 minutes. Add the basil (or parsley) and ½ of the asiago. Stir it up well, then dish it into bowls & sprinkle with more asiago.

This is an easy one pot meal, which means not much clean up! Goes good w/ homemade bread or a good crusty artisan bread.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Magazine Recipe: Roasted Chicken, Apples & Leeks

See the original recipe here.

5-6 chicken legs

3 small crisp apples, like Braeburn

4-5 leeks, according to the original recipe, “halved crosswise and lengthwise”. In other words, quartered, I would think.

Sprigs of fresh rosemary

Olive oil

Hey, hey! Salt & pepper, and my addition- garlic salt in addition to, or instead of regular salt.

Okay, this is going to seem strange at first. But follow the directions, and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Preheat the oven to 400. Take out a large baking sheet with rims, or edges, or something to keep stuff from sliding off. The original recipe called for the apples to be “quartered”. But I disagreed, so I cut the apples in half, and then each half into thirds. In other words, or in another word, the apples should be sixthed rather than quartered. Or would it be sexed? No, we don’t want to go there. Sixthed. I may have just coined a new term because Word is giving it the old squiggly red underline. Also, it is good to have an apple corer for this. Apple corer is one of the top 10 items everyone should have in their kitchen. #1 being a large fork. I should make a blog of my top 10 necessary kitchen items. But that’s in the future, and right now, you are trying to make this damn recipe and the oven is preheating and you didn’t come here to read a novel, so back to the recipe….

Once your 3 apples are sixthed into 18 pieces, put them on the baking sheet with the chicken legs, leeks, rosemary and spices. Oh, did you cut off the tops of the leeks? You should have. Remove the tops if you forgot that part.

If you have one of those olive oil dispensers that you pump and spray with, spray a bunch of oil all over your dish. But you probably don’t have one, because I only just recently found out they existed, and then I had to search for awhile to find one. So, slowly pour a little oil over the food and carefully toss it around until it all seems coated. Your hands will become quite oily and you’ll want to wash them, with soap. Do not, by any means use Pam or any other kind of artificial cooking spray. Because I said so.

Put the baking sheet in the oven and set the timer for about 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn the chicken to the other side. Drool over the dinner you’re about to enjoy. Don’t drool into the pan, especially if you’re sharing the meal with anyone. Put the dish back in the oven and set the timer for 20-25 more minutes. When the timer goes off, check the fattest leg to make sure it’s done, and if it is, take it out of the oven, turn the oven off and let it cool for at least 5 minutes.

This dish should feed 3 people, but if you have 3 people eating it, you might use 6 legs instead of 5 to avoid fist fights. Serve with bread and wine, if you want to. You will be surprised at how good it is. I was.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Magazine Recipe: Indian Goulash

The original recipe is here.
*2 cups dry brown rice w/ 5 cups water, if using my rice cooker
*olive oil
*1 onion, chopped
*3-4 cloves garlic
*several chopped tomatoes from the farmer’s market or your garden, if it’s July or August in Iowa, if not, a large can of diced tomatoes should do the trick.
*1 lb. eggplant. This would be about 3 normal sized eggplants, but since they come in such a variety of sizes, it’s good to weigh them. Of course, you can have more or less, I don’t think it will alter the recipe too much. Cut them into 1/2” pieces, but please, don’t get out the ruler.
*1-2 jalapeno peppers, or something to make it spicy
*1 ½ or maybe 2 ½ T curry powder. If you live, or visit, Iowa City, or you want to support a spice guru online, check out Cocina del Mundo’s Authentic Curry Spice.
(Hey, wait a minute! Real Simple just went beyond salt & pepper! Hooray!)
Oh, wait… the next thing on the list is:
*salt & black pepper
*And my spice additions: garlic salt, cayenne (to taste)
*1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed
*fresh basil
*¼ c plain yogurt

Cook the rice.
Meanwhile, sautee the onion & garlic. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, spices and cook, stirring occasionally, the original recipe says “until fragrant”, but I cooked it longer than that. Add 1-2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the eggplant is tender, 12-15 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and cook about 3 min. more. Remove from the heat, stir in the basil.
Serve over the rice with a dollop of yogurt.

I renamed this recipe, because it has an Indian flavor, but it reminded me of the goulash I make, but with rice instead of macaroni noodles, Indian spices instead of chili spices, chickpeas instead of kidney beans, eggplants instead of whatever veggies/meat/tempeh go in goulash, and yogurt instead of sour cream. See the connection?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Magazine Recipe: Chicken & Bok Choy Stir-fry

The original recipe from Real Simple is here.

This is a good thing to make when the farmer’s market is full of bok choy and you don’t know what to do with it all.
4 chicken breasts from the local organic farm
Lots of bok choy, quartered lengthwise
¼ c bragg
¼ c bbq sauce
6-8 green onions, thinly sliced
basmati rice

I cooked the basmati rice in the rice cooker, 1 ½ c dry, and I had more than enough. Next time I would probably use 1 cup, and I didn’t write down how much water I used. Oops.
I cooked the chicken in water and flavored it with salt & pepper until browned on the outside. When it was cool enough to handle, I cut it up into bite-sized chunks to add to the meal. In doing this, I cut off all of the salt & pepper flavor. So, next time I would remove the skin before seasoning and browning the chicken. You might be saying “well, duh!” but I bet you’ve made dumb cooking mistakes in the past, too, right? So, thanks to me, you just avoided making a dumb mistake (or maybe you went to the store and bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts like the original recipe called for, in which case, you’re cheating!) Now, the chicken pan is sitting there with chicken flavor in it, and you can add the bok choy and ¼ cup water to the pan. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the bragg, bbq sauce and green onions in a bowl. Add to the pan and bring it to a boil. Then add the cut up chicken pieces and toss until heated through. Serve on the rice.

But wait! It could be better.

We ate this and it seemed strange to mix BBQ sauce with rice. Next time I want to make this recipe with apricot preserves and ginger instead of BBQ sauce. It also seems like it could use more spice, it was kind of bland. Which reminds, me: how come all of these magazine recipes call for the following spices:



Seriously, that’s it! I admit, I own just about every damn spice and spice combination you can imagine, but I know I’m not the only one. I’ve been to other people’s kitchens and snooped in their spice racks. They, too, own more than SALT & PEPPER! Are the Real Simple readers so uncreative that they can’t go beyond salt & pepper when making a home cooked meal?!? There, I’ve said it. I feel better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Magazine Recipe: Healthy Vegan Tangy & Spicy Chickenless Chicken

Here is a link to the original recipe in Real Simple magazine.
2 c brown rice dry, with 5 c water in rice cooker
1 box quorn chickenless chicken nuggets (frozen)
½ c apricot preserves
2 T cider vinegar
2 T bragg (amino acids, healthier than soy sauce)
2 t grated fresh ginger (but how can you measure fresh ginger? Just eye it)
olive oil
6 stalks celery, thinly sliced
25 snow peas, ends removed
2 jalapenos
4 cloves garlic, sliced
6 green onions, thinly sliced

Cook the rice however you usually cook rice. The notes above work for my rice cooker, but I assume, like all kitchen appliances, that they all have their own quirks, so you can use the notes above if you are cooking the rice at my house.
Meanwhile, bake the chickenless nuggets, 10 minutes on each side. If you are using Quorn, there will be 14 nuggets. There always are. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat chickenless nuggets. They just seem a bit healthier, or maybe just less cruel than supporting the companies that inhumanely raise the chickens whose chicken parts end up in other brands of frozen chicken nuggets. And yes, this section of the meal does call for some processed food, but that’s what makes this meal easy and achievable on a weeknight, rather than spending a bunch of time cutting up the meat from a local free-range organic chicken, making homemade bread crumbs, and creating your own chicken nuggets. I have done that, by the way, and believe me, when you go to that much work you end up creating something very delicious that you don’t want to taint with rice and cider vinegar and soy sauce. But I digress…..
In a bowl, whisk together the apricot preserves, bragg, vinegar and ginger. This is fun when you have a cool colorful whisk with curly cue ends on it, like I’ve got. Also, I have been cooking a lot lately with apricot preserves. The Quorn chickenless chicken nuggets, for example, have a recipe for a dipping sauce on the back, which is ½ apricot preserves, ½ bbq sauce (I’ve been using Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet & Spicy lately) and some fresh ginger. I’ll use ginger powder if I’m out of fresh ginger. It makes a great sauce.
Anyway, Heat the oil in a large skillet over med-hi heat. Add the celery & carrots and stir it up. After a couple of minutes, add the snow peas, jalapeno, green onions and garlic.
Note- I got some snow peas from the farmer’s market and rinsed them and tossed them in the dish, and then I learned that you’re supposed to remove the ends. So, I learned something, and if you didn’t know you were supposed to do that either, than you just learned something too!
Another note- I always put a non-latex glove on my left hand when I cut up jalapenos. Because I hold the peppers with my left hand while holding the knife with my right hand. Because the first time I cut jalapenos I didn’t wear a glove and I felt a constant flame coming out of my palm for the rest of the evening, no matter how many times I washed my hand. It was an invisible flame, and I couldn’t light a candle with it, but it was there, I’m telling you.
When the garlic starts to brown (you might need to turn the heat up), add the cooked chickenless nugs, the sauce, and toss it all together well. You don’t want to add the nugs too soon or the breading layer will come off of them.
Now, your choice- you can serve it scooped on top of the rice, or you can dump the rice into the skillet and mix it all up.

Eat it, like it, and then comment on by blog how much you liked it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Magazine Recipes

I’m one of those people who will browse through a magazine, find the recipe section, and tear out the recipe if I think there is a slight chance I might make it someday. So after I did this for awhile, I found a growing pile of torn out magazine pages, and in a rare moment of free time, I organized them in a binder, by category. They stayed there until recently, when my husband and I realized we were going out to eat practically every night while fresh food from the local farmer’s market was rotting away in the fridge and going straight to the compost pile. So, I pulled out my binder of magazine recipes and made a list of what to buy at the farmer’s market and grocery store, and ended up making a new recipe about every other night of the week. Being me, of course, I altered all of the recipes. And a few of the recipe titles. I will be posting these recipes to this blog, along with the link to the original recipe and my notes, and you may do what you want with this information. You’re welcome.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Be Organized in the Kitchen?

Do you ever make a great recipe and say things like “wow, that turned out awesome, I should make it again!” and then you relax on the couch all night with a satisfied belly full of food and you never actually write down what you did or how you altered the recipe, and then you try to make it again later and you dig through your recipes and cookbooks and say “I must’ve written notes down somewhere!”? Yeah? Then, you and I have something in common! So, it has been suggested lately that I start a cooking journal.
I have mixed feelings on such a thing, and here are a few reasons why:

1. I have a camp journal. If you’ve ever camped with me, you know all about the camp journal.
2. I have a travel journal. For notes while traveling.
3. I have a dream journal. It’s really pretty interesting, to me anyway.
4. I have a miscellaneous journal full of many things, including random lists, like good band names and bumper sticker ideas.
5. I have a garden journal with notes on all the food planted in the yard, and ideas for the future.
6. I have numerous sketch journals, in various sizes, for fun.
7. I have a few cookbooks that I’ve written notes all over.
8. I have a binder full of magazine clippings of recipes (see the next blog).
9. I have a dang recipe box!
10. I have a journal of beer recipes.
11. I have a blog with recipes!

So, I’ve managed to come up with 11 reasons, but I’m still debating internally:

a. Wouldn’t another journal add to my clutter of numerous journals and recipe books? or….
b. Would a cooking journal keep me from searching through all those cookbooks, recipe books, and binders only to say: “I must’ve written notes down somewhere!”

The Brown Bottle (IC)

On Washington St., across from MC Ginsberg

On Fridays in the summer, MC Ginsberg sponsors live music from about 12-1 pm in front of their store. The only 2 places to eat outside and enjoy the music are Panchero's and the Brown Bottle. So, on a sunny Friday afternoon, my date and I decided to try the Brown Bottle outdoors.

The menu we were given must have been a lunch menu, because the entree's didn't seem like what one would expect from an "Italian" restaurant.

My date ordered the French onion soup and I got a veggie sandwich. After a really long wait, the waitress informed us that the cooks had dropped the last French onion soup, so he had to order something else from the menu. He got the tuna melt, which had way too much mayo, shredded carrots, and maybe velveeta inside. It was much better after adding a tomato slice to it.

Right before we got our food, the table next to us, who came in & ordered after us got served 2 bowls of French onion soup. Hmmm, do you have to know people in this town or what?

My Veggie sandwich was super greasy. I'm one of those people who always assumes that ordering the "veggie" something is going to be the healthy choice, but instead I got a gut full of grease, and I if I had a paper towel, I would have used it well.

My date got the fruit bowl- in which the watermelon was going bad. In Iowa. In August. The one time of the year that watermelon is fresh & local & cheap. But this seemed to be out of a big batch of pre-cut fruit. Wouldn’t it be great if they cut the fruit fresh?

So, in conclusion, the service was slow, there was no price break despite having to make a menu change. I don't think we'll go back, unless a really good band is playing on Washington St. and we aren't in the mood for Panchero's.

Environmentally: reusable dishes, cloth napkins (which don't soak up grease very well) and nearby bike parking.


227 E. 1st St., Iowa City

The address might be confusing, especially since several places online call it 1st Avenue, but it is basically on Gilbert St., next to Aero Rental. Only open Monday-Saturday, 11-2, it took us a few years before we actually made it to Guido’s for lunch. That was a mistake. Waiting, I mean. The place was fantastic. It had the feel of eating in a very fancy, eloquent restaurant with the prices of Panchero’s. Almost everything on the menu was $7 or less. I got a ½ salad (greek) and ½ sandwich (smoked turkey & smoked gouda panini) for $6.50. Both were great, but especially the salad. Hubby got the special, a meatball and potato dish, which he could barely finish, that cost $6-7. Their ice tea is excellent. They do not have a liquor license, but you can bring your own. They have a wine bar, mainly because they rent the place out for special occasions. I wonder how much that would cost. It would be a great place to have a private gathering. The colorful walls, clean and nicely decorated bathrooms, unique tablecloths and glittery look to the walls and ceiling make the whole place a piece of art. Did I mention the food is great, too? If you haven’t been frequenting Guido’s for lunch, you should probably change your ways.

Environmentally: disposable napkins, some meals served on wax paper in nice baskets. But you could do what I did and take the napkins & wax paper home to compost.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Blogs

After trying to put all the pieces together about our Easter meal, I finally just published the darn blog. But, the way this blogspot thing works, it publishes it to the first date you saved the draft, under April in this case. To make it easier, if you want to read about Easter, click here!
Meanwhile, I'm on a break from cakes- something about summer heat and hot ovens not pairing up very well. But I have been experimenting on a lot of new recipes, so they will be posted in the next week or two, one at a time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Homemade Vanilla Extract

We use real vanilla extract (as in, not imitation) for a lot of things. Homemade kahlua, homemade ice cream and much more. The stuff is expensive! So I was excited to hear that you can make your own. The first thing I heard was to stick a vanilla bean in a bottle of vodka. I went online to do some research and found a little more to it than that:
After searching several sites looking at quality and prices, I was happy to find that the best deal was also organic! I bought some bourbon vanilla beans from this site.
I then looked at 2 recipes online: the first recipe
and the second recipe.
The first seemed stronger, so I made mine closer to that one.
I mixed the ingredients all together on April 25th.
8 vanilla beans sliced down the middle, scraped and chopped, all added to a sterilized quart jar.
I did this by taking each bean half and running the knife (sharp side up) along the inside to scrape out the "caviar" of the vanilla bean, before chopping up the bean skin.
I poured 2 cups vodka on top (40% alcohol), sealed tightly and shook vigorously.
Here's the plan:
Week 1: Shake daily
Week 2-4: Shake every other day.
Week 5: Let it age, check taste.
2nd recipe says you can add 1 t per cup of dark rum to sweeten.

I came up with 8 beans because the first recipe called for 1 oz. of beans per cup of vodka.
1 oz=4.5 beans. That would be 9 beans for 2 cups. The 2nd recipe called for 6 beans/2 cups. I met them in the middle with 8. Plus, scraping out the caviar and chopping up the beans will probably make it stronger.

Above: What the vanilla extract looked like with everything in it, before being shaken.
I'll add more photos to update the progress.

Cake #8: Argroves Manor Coffee Cake

Remember back on 2/28 when I made The Barefoot Contessa's Sour Cream Coffee Cake? I made a double streusel recipe because I looked ahead and noticed that the next recipe in the book called for the same streusel. I was expecting to make the next coffee cake within a week or two. Then March and April happened and turned out to be some of the busiest weeks I've had in a long time. Busy as in: Something planned every single night after work! Easter, the German Chocolate cake butting in, and finally, April 25th (almost 2 MONTHS later) I got around to the next cake. Guess what? The streusel was still fine. Moral of the story- make some streusel ahead of time and refrigerate it. It will make the cake-making process that much easier.
I decided (after the POUND of butter the German Chocolate cake called for) to do this cake with applesauce instead of butter, and it turned out great! And healthy! Woo-hoo! Don't worry, health-phobes, that streusel has a good solid 3 T (3/8 stick) of butter in it.
First, you make stewed fruit by mixing sugar and water. I used raw sugar because I do that sort of thing, which might be the reason it took forever to get thick. (In case you're wondering, forever is much longer than the 20 minutes the book said it would take.) Add blueberries and a peeled, chopped apple to the sugar water.

Above: stewed fruit- in motion!
The cake calls for (applesauce), sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup of vanilla yogurt. I used Brown Cow yogurt with the cream on top. The stuff is thick and tasty and again, for the the health-phobes, NOT non or even low-fat. Is health-phobes even a word, or did I invent it just now? Am I going to go down in history as the inventor of the term health-phobe? Wouldn't that be something.

The book says something confusing: add 1 cup of the dry ingredients, followed by 1/2 of the flour mixture. Unless I'm missing something, I'm pretty sure the flour mixture is the dry ingredients. That got an arrow and a question mark on the page from me.
So, now you've got your stewed fruit, streusel and cake batter. Pour half the batter into the tube pan, then all the fruit, then some of the streusel, then the rest of the batter and the rest of the streusel on top.

Above: The top of the cake.
Above: The bottom of the cake.
Next time, I would put about 3/4 of the batter in first- the stewed fruit seemed to fall to the bottom, maybe because it was heavier than the batter or it wasn't thick and syrupy enough. It seemed to be more of a bottom layer than a middle layer when I ate it. Anyway, this cake is really good and, um, great with coffee! Imagine that!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Short's Burger and Shine

Downtown Iowa City, on Clinton St.
April 2010

This is the restaurant that took over Baldy’s old spot (see Baldy’s review from Dec. 2007). It took me a long while to go back there, since I was bitter about losing one of my favorite lunch places, but it was worth it.

They completely changed the interior- moving the bar side to the opposite wall and putting in a wall on the north side that goes in front of the brick, but with glass squares along it, lighting up various objects (including a mouse trap) against the brick wall.

Unfortunately for us who want to go out and enjoy a quaint little dinner, there are tvs everywhere with the volume up REALLY loud (which is especially annoying during those six-minute-long commercial breaks) but the place was also full of college kids paying attention to those damn tvs, so I guess not everyone shares my opinion….

The menu gives you a choice of beef burgers ($9) or black bean (veggie) burgers ($8.50). All of the meat is grown locally near Riverside, corn-fed (I would prefer grass-fed, but that’s me) and each burger is named after a random Iowa town. (The menu also shows a map of where each of those little towns are- I have been to at least two: Cylinder and Jamaica!) I got the Center Junction black bean burger with onions, peppers, jack cheese and red pepper mayo. It was good but it had a bit of a soft consistency for a veggie burger, causing the bean mixture to squish out onto the plate a few times. Hubby got a beef burger which was very good.

Despite the fact that the buns were toasted (horray!) they were not very good. We were wondering why the beef is local but the buns are not, they tasted a bit stale, and they were on the small side for the size of the veggie burger. The fries were nothing special.

All the beer on tap is from Iowa- so there is a pretty good selection to sample! I got a Rye Porter and we had a Hop Wrangler and a Dopplebock. They were $4-5 per pint.

The napkins, silverware, ketchup, mustard and some kind of mesquite sauce were in a tray attached to the brick wall, which is a great idea in a small space- and it clears up more room to spread your elbows on the table while you eat your burger!

They kept the mirror theme- which works great in this narrow brick walled space- but instead of the large mirrors Baldy’s had, they have small mirrors hanging at each table, high enough so you don’t have to stare at your reflection all night.

Also, be sure to check out the black porcelain in the bathroom!

Environmentally- disposable napkins but reusable plates & silverware.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cake #7: German's Chocolate Cake

I finally had to do it. I skipped ahead in the book from page 54 to page 182 only because a good friend was having a birthday party and I offered to make the cake. Then he requested German Chocolate Cake, which is almost at the very end of the book! But I assumed I would be able to tackle it, and in the end, I did. But it wasn't smooth. Which is why it's a darn good thing I have a blog....
First of all, I learned that German's Chocolate Cake is not German at all! It's named after an English dude with the last name "German". And most people think of the coconut/pecan frosting when they think of this cake, which is funny- because its the only one (of 3) parts to the cake that doesn't contain any German's baker's chocolate. It's also the most difficult part of baking this cake from scratch. But, it's probably way better than the stuff you buy in the can.
So, I started on April 15th- making the cake, then the coconut/pecan frosting, then the chocolate frosting.
Luckily, the pecan/coconut frosting calls for 3 egg yolks. Because the cake calls for 4 eggs separated, and I gave it 3 attempts (saving the ruined yolks for the frosting) before I had my husband break the eggs and separate them nicely. He said I wasn't graceful enough. I think I need to learn how to break an egg without a bunch of shell pieces getting into it before I can tackle the separating task.
Other than the separating, the cake part wasn't too bad. I melted the chocolate by breaking it up and adding 1/2 c. boiling water, and stirring until smooth.
The cake called for buttermilk, and I had some dried buttermilk powder which I mixed with water, 1/4 c dry milk to 10 oz water. It seemed to work pretty well- there were just a few small buttermilk powder chunks in the milk.
For every cake recipe this year so far, I have put the butter out to get it to room temp. before starting the cake. Well, it's officially hot enough now that I need to reduce the amount of time I let the butter warm up- they were getting pretty liquidy when I opened each stick!
The cookbook says to use 2 Kitchen Aid bowls for the recipe- one for the cake ingredients and the other for the egg whites. i only have one bowl, so I scraped the cake batter out, cleaned the bowl and whisked the egg whites until they showed peaks. Eggs are amazing things. Then I added the cake batter to the peaky whites and poof! The whites came to the top anyway so that method worked pretty well. Then I folded them in gently, about 20 times. I poured the batter into my well-greased cake pans and baked the cakes for about 30 min.
But the darn things didn't stay together. They came out of those pans pretty messy, and I reconstructed them hoping the frosting would cover it all up:

The recipe called for a double boiler, so we constructed one out of a cast iron pan with soy sauce holders and a sauce pan on top:
The double boiler was used for the coconut/pecan frosting, which was not very fun to make because:
You add water, sweetened condensed milk (super thick stuff) and egg yolks to the sauce pan over the simmering water in the double boiler and stir it forever until it "has thickened" I maybe misread that or got impatient because I stirred it until it just started to thicken, so I probably should have waited a little longer. Then you add butter and vanilla extract and whisk. Meanwhile, with your other hand or maybe your feet, the book suggests putting pecans and coconut in a food processor. Maybe because the sink was already full of dishes, or because I was out of counter space, I decided to use a small chopper instead, and that worked just as well, it just took a little extra energy on my part. And I had that energy to spare since I was maybe angry at the cake at this point.
Above: chopped pecans and coconut.

Then I made the "optional" chocolate frosting for the sides of the cake. This should NOT be optional because it was awesome. In fact, I think I'm going to make this frosting for other cakes, it was AWESOME. So awesome, I'm going to tell you how to make it!

First, take a 1/2 pkg (or 2 oz.) of German's Baker's Chocolate and melt it in the double boiler. You can't really tell when it's melted, it stays together. You'll have to poke it and watch it go "aaaaah". Or wait, maybe that was me going "aaaaah". Meanwhile, after you've washed your Kitchen Aid bowl for the 2nd time, throw in a stick of butter and the melted chocolate (see photo above) and beat it on medium speed. Add 1 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar slowly. Then add 1 t. vanilla extract (you can make your own! I will post a blog in a few days!) Then gradually add 1 1/2 T milk and beat it until the frosting has a "spreadable consistency". Stick your finger in there and taste it. You will go "aaaaah". Or, maybe, "damn! that's good!"
Now, learn from my mistakes, and DO NOT REFRIGERATE! I did, and when I took it out to spread it on April 17th (2 days later) it was hard. Too hard to spread on anything. So I added some milk and stirred it well, so that it was spreadable, but it wasn't exactly frosting consistency and it didn't exactly look pretty. But, I had just gotten some decorating squeeze tubes from a Pampered Chef party and I really wanted to try them out. So I brought the cake and the frostings to the party, resuscitated the chocolate frosting, and put it in the squeeze tube. After spreading the coconut/pecan frosting between the two cake layers and on top of the cake, I attempted making little star patterns around the top edge to give it a WOW effect. After a few "stars" squirted out (which didn't really resemble anything like a star) I gave it a little squeeze-and---- the entire tube of frosting squirted out at the speed of light all over the top of the cake, all over the counter top, all over the toaster and all the other stuff on the counter, and I got to hear sounds of laughter behind me from the host of the party. Although it made her day and she told EVERYONE at the party about my cake decorating disaster, I decided to use something with an actual "spreadable consistency" next time I attempt to use those decorating tubes. Or else I'll decide that just because I can bake a cake, that doesn't mean I can decorate it.

Santa Ana

Columbus Junction, IA
April 2010

We stopped at this little panaderia and taqueria while traveling through town, looking for a place to eat. Knowing there were a few great Mexican restaurants in this little town, we chose a great place.

First of all, their menu is written across the far wall, all in Spanish except at the bottom where it says "Whatever you need, ask in English." So we asked the one man there what he recommended, and ended up with chicken burritos which were excellent and filling. He brought out chips with 3 hot sauces (salsa picantes) and spoons to pour the sauce over the chips. 2 of the sauces (the red and green) were very good. The 3rd (a brownish color) was a chipotle sauce, and neither of us are big fans of chipotle.

The man working there asked if we like hot stuff, and brought out a habenero salsa warning us to just take a drop. It was pretty hot (I could tolerate more than just a drop) and very flavorful- we both poured a mixture of the habenero and the other 2 sauces on our burritos. We washed down the tasty food with glass bottles of Coke & Pepsi. We were the only ones in the little restaurant/bakery, and when the man wasn't cooking or bringing us our food, he was watching soccer on a tv, all in Spanish, with the volume up pretty loud. Somehow, that just added to the atmosphere- and we were pleased to leave with stuffed bellies after only paying $16.50 with the tip. (They don't take cards)

We will be back.

The Hideaway

On Prentiss St.
Iowa City

This is a new bar (formerly Fitzpatrick's) behind the (new) Old Capitol Brew Works. If you haven't lived in IC for the past few years, that means this area has changed a lot.
With a few tvs, it can get pretty loud if a sports game is happening.
The women's bathroom has a bunch of specials printed out and taped to the stall door, so you can grab it and take it home to stick on your fridge! Gotta love that marketing strategy!
They have high tables with stools along one wall, with hooks on the wall for you to hang your purses, bags, coats, etc. Smart thinking!
I have been there 3 times and the service has been great. Although, when I ordered a Wild Ride IPA, the waitress came back to tell me they were out, and then she tried suggesting a pilsner as a substitute. I politely tried to explain to her that no, a pilsner is NOT a good substitute for an IPA but I had difficulty, being a beer snob, doing so politely. She explained that they are both dark beers, to which I kept my mouth shut knowing I would say something pretty offensive if I commented on her ignorance of beer. To sum it up, I wouldn't trust their suggestions on beers to try if they happen to be out. And they have a great selection of beers on tap, but they are likely to be out of one or two, especially if that's the one or two that I happen to be ordering. The beer on their menu consists of: Sand Creek Wild Ride IPA, Peace Tree Hefeweisen, Anchor Steam, John's White, Bells Two Hearted Ale and a seasonal which has been Bigfoot, a Belgian and Lagunita's IPA. Normal prices of beer range from $4.50-$5.50 for the good stuff, EXCEPT WEDNESDAYS! All beer on tap (even the Lagunitas IPA) is $2.50 on Wednesdays! No shit! Or, as our waitress put it: "All draft beer is $2.50 today, EVEN DOMESTICS!" Wow! So I can get what's normally $5.50 for $3 off or I can get what's normally $3 for $2.50!
Also, on Wednesdays, all wraps are only $5, and they come with fries. They have sweet potato fries too, but I recommend the regular fries. They are just salty & crispy enough. They remind me of the fries I was dipping in chocolate malts when I was a kid. However, if you pay an extra $1 for some guacamole, you might get shorted on some fries. They fill up the plate with fries, and with a container sitting there in the middle, precious fry space is taken up with your guac. But, since guacamole is pretty filling, you probably don't need those extra fries anyway.
On Fridays all appetizers are $5. We splurged and got 3 appetizers- the nachos, bruchetta and quesadillas. All were great and filling. On Tuesdays they have 1/2 price wine and the seasonal beer is only $3. They have good burgers, and some vegetarian options- a black bean burger and a portobella mushroom burger. I haven't tried either, but I will be back. Especially on Wednesdays. My husband and I got 2 filling meals and 5 beers for under $23.
Environmentally: reusable plates, disposable napkins and NO BIKE PARKING! Booooo! You need bike parking if you're going to have 5 beers (between 2 people). We locked ours up to the outdoor seating area.

Red Avocado

521 E. Washington St.
Iowa City

It's not as easy to write a review about a place you've been to several times- it's much more easy to write about your first experience. But this is a restaurant I've been frequenting for the last 4 years, so obviously I like it a lot.
I recommend the Iowa Barley & Black Bean Salad. It's great for the price. They have a rotating variety of beer, right now it's the Brau Bros. Scotch Ale that I always order. The Sierra Nevada Pale and Porter are also both good. If you go on 2nd Thursdays, the local Green Drinks gathering of environmentalists are there- join them for specials, like $3 bottles of beer!
They also have specialty drinks which are excellent- smoothies with fresh fruit and soy milk, tisanes with hibiscus, rosehips or nettles, and fresh squeezed carrot or orange juice. They sell loose tea blends in bulk, priced per ounce.
The specials rotate, but are usually about $15-18 per plate. Most of the entrees come in small or large servings, around $7 for the small and $12 for the large. Remember that a smoothie might fill you up, so a small plate could be plenty!
The atmosphere is great- it has an artsy basement feel, the walls are painted brick with artwork and photos hung everywhere. The candlelight and mood lighting makes it feel cozy. There is also an outdoor area inside- the rooftop is open with vines crawling across it.
Environmentally- excellent. The napkins are cloth, everything is reusable, the food is local, organic and vegan.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter Meal

With a 16 lb. organic turkey in the freezer (thanks to our amazing neighbors) we decided to invite a bunch of people over for Easter dinner. Having never made an actual turkey (just the tofu-kind), we got some advice and ingredients and set to work.
First of all, I had at least 3 different people recommend the Reynold's Oven bag to cook the turkey in. My husband and I are both anti-cooking-anything-in-plastic so we said no. We wanted to learn the old-fashioned way.
On Tuesday, I took the turkey out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to start thawing. I never would have taken it out 4 days before, but by golly- it still wasn't completely thawed by Saturday morning! (We had Easter dinner on Saturday so that we could cook all day). That morning, we put the turkey in a sink full of cold water for an hour or so. Reason #1 of how necessary our kitchen remodel was- the turkey filled the sink and we never would have been able to do that in our old sink, which was half as tall!
After a few hours and the removing of the nasty stuff in the plastic bag that I guess all turkeys come with, I chopped up some onion, garlic, celery and carrots and stuffed them up in that turkey (after taking it out of it's bath). I was told to use paper towels and dry the turkey off. We use about one roll of paper towels every 2-3 years, so I had to go looking for them. I used to be one of those people who grabbed a 6 pack of bleached paper towels every time I went to Target- but in the last few years, I've learned they really aren't as necessary as you would think! It doesn't take much to cut back on the bad habit of paper towel usage. Anyway, by the time I returned to the turkey with my 2 paper towels, it was already dry! So: use a few paper towels to pat the thing dry, or wait 5 minutes and let it air-dry.
I used butter and rubbed it all over the turkey. This is the part that might be gross to some people. You are getting a little intimate with a dead and de-feathered bird, rubbing slimy stuff up under the armpits and all, but it wasn't too bad. At this point, if your house is anything like mine, and you've got raw poultry sitting out, your cats and dog might start to drive you nuts due to the tempting smell. It's a good time to remind them that it's Easter, not Thanksgiving, and they should be enjoying the beautiful spring weather.
By the way, you should have had your mom bring a large pan if you do not own one yourself, and now it's time to put the turkey in that pan and stick it in the oven! Meanwhile, make a zillion side dishes.

I started with deviled eggs the night before. Because it was Easter, I decided to dye them. I used a beet that had been in the fridge a little too long and cut it up, then cooked in in a little water. After slicing up the hard boiled eggs and separating the yolks out, I put the whites in a bowl with the beet juice and let it sit in the fridge overnight, resulting in some very dark pink eggs.
That part was pretty cool, and the beets don't affect the taste of the egg much. The part I messed up was the yolks. I should have just left them yellow, but I decided to experiment and I added some turmeric (which did affect the taste) and maybe too much paprika. The yolks looked more like a skin-tone and didn't match the pink part too well, but they still got eaten. And they made for some good conversation.
Recipe for Dyed Deviled Eggs:
Hard boil a dozen free range eggs by bringing a pot of water (with some salt if you want) to a full boil, carefully adding the eggs to it (it helps to have a designated large wooden spoon for this. I do.) Once the last egg is in, set the timer for 11 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat (remove from the burner if you have an electric stove) and set the timer for another 11 minutes. When the timer goes off, rinse the pot with cold water until it feels cool to the touch.
Then crack the egg shells off and compost them. Rinse the eggs. Cut in half the long way. Remove the yellow yolk part and put in a bowl. Dye as you wish.
Add to the yolks: 1 T mayonnaise or nayonnaise if you like the vegan stuff, 1 T vinegar, and one squirt of mustard. Dye as you wish. Mash it all together and scoop the yellow stuff into the white (or formerly white if you dyed it) stuff and top with paprika! Eat any of the ones that fell apart or don't look as pretty before putting them on an attractive platter.

As you can see above, I had the eggs out as an appetizer with a nicely decorated table- with tulip confetti and a bunny cut-out. I was trying to Martha Stewart-out the table!

While my mom and I cooked several sides, I put my dad in charge of the relish tray. My rules: it has to be colorful and on an attractive ceramic platter. His rules: It has to include olives and radishes. (He made a trip to the store).

Mom had recently made a Russian meal using Buckwheat, so she wanted to do a buckwheat side dish. We added lots of mushrooms and it looked good, but the buckwheat has a taste and smell somewhat similar to burning plastic. She wanted to pitch the leftovers, but I said no- let me experiment, and with the leftovers, I came up with a pretty darn good tasting dish!

Here's my experiment:
Buckwheat/Rice dish recipe (to be added as soon as I locate it!)

After all that dreading of facing the daunting task of cooking a real turkey (without a plastic bag!) it really wasn't that hard! The secret was calibrating the thermometer with a scientific thermometer. As homebrewers, we happen to have that stuff laying around the house. We knew our thermometer was off, but we found out it was 30 degrees off! We got it to be accurate, and the turkey came out of the oven at just the right temperature! (180 degrees).

Reason #2 of why our kitchen remodel was necessary- we could have 5 or 6 people actively involved in the meal preparation/table setting all at one time!
Other side dishes included a large mixed-green lettuce salad, homemade bread, green bean casserole (my secret recipe- involving sauteed onions, mushrooms and white pepper!) and a few more. Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers despite the 8 people eating all this food.
With everyone gone and just two of us to tackle all the leftovers, we got all the meat off the turkey we could, and despite a few turkey sandwiches made with some homemade chevre from a friend of ours- excellent combination!- we couldn't tackle it all, so we froze some chunks of turkey meat. I then took the carcass and loosely followed directions from "Joy of Cooking". I put it in our very large Cuisinart Slow Cooker with some water and veggies and let it cook slow for a day. I tried skimming the fat off the top, but since it never really boiled, not much came to the top. I ended up refrigerating it before going though it, and that worked pretty well. For one thing, it was cool enough to handle. I pulled the meat off and saved the non-bony-fatty stuff and when I got it all out, I poured the rest into pint mason jars and froze them for later. The frozen meat will go in a future pot pie. We do own a deep freeze, which makes all of this a bit more possible!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Orchard Green

Gilbert St., just north of Prentiss
Iowa City

The Old Capitol Brew Works used to have a restaurant attached (with the worst service in the world) and the brewery was downstairs. We used to go down there and get yeast from Paul, the brewer. It is interesting now to be in that same space, that was filled with brewing equipment, offices and bathrooms which are now a fancy bar, seating area with a fireplace and (the same) bathrooms. The restaurant part is upstairs, which I have not been to but I have heard it is pretty expensive. I've been to the bar area twice now.

They have a decent selection of beer on tap, and apparently there is a connection to John's Grocery, but it's the same decent beer that other decent bars have in town. We were hoping for something a little more unique, especially with the John's connection.
The beer on tap is also ridiculously expensive. $6 for a pint of Millstream IPA. Come on, you can get Millstream all over town and the brewery is local! John's White is the cheapest thing on tap, at $5. Oh, I'm wrong about that. PBR is the cheapest thing on tap. I did get a really good beer for $6, from an old brewery in Germany. I can't remember what it was called. I think it's pretty funny that they have a neon sign hanging on the wall that says "Budweiser" on top and has their logo underneath it (which happens to look like a majorly wind-blown tree with a pair of balls hanging from the crotch of the tree). If you are going to pride yourself on having great beer, don't hang up a big sign with your logo and a domestic beer. That's my advice.

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and they didn't have any specials on anything. When we went after work awhile back, they had the Millstream IPA on special for $2 a pint. Now that's something worth coming back for!
We had cheeseburgers- mine with swiss, his with cheddar. The waitress brought us a bottle of ketchup with some old ketchup smears all over the lid. The salt shaker she brought to the table had what looked like miniature pubic hairs all over the top. The burgers came with a lot of meat- I remember when a quarter pounder was a big hamburger. Then everyone started offering 1/3 lb. burgers. Now, I have seen 1/2 lb. burgers almost everywhere I go. This gradual change in serving size is starting to get ridiculous- I don't know how much meat was in my burger, but I couldn't eat it all. I don't eat meat often enough to be able to eat that much in one sitting. That being said, the burger came with about 11 french fries. You shouldn't finish eating your french fries before you aren't even half done with your burger! The burger also came with tomato, red onion and sprouts, and instead of a bun there was a sort of focaccia bread with black olives in it. It tasted pretty strange with the other ingredients of the burger and it really soaked up the grease from the meat which was kind of nasty.

After bringing us some fancy glasses of water with lemon wedges with stripes across the rinds, our waitress asked us if we wanted anything else, and we said no. We then waited for about 10 minutes and when she didn't come back, we started counting up the bill- $11 for the 2 beers and $9.50 for each burger=$30+tax+tip. We had enough cash, so we left it on the table and walked out, without ever seeing the waitress again.

Environmentally- reusable plates, cloth napkins. Paper napkins for use as coasters, which always sucks. The bathroom had a paper towel dispenser and an air dryer, but I couldn't get the paper towel dispenser to work so I used the old wipe 'em on the jeans method.

Rye Wheat Stout

On March 28, I changed up an Oatmeal Stout recipe to see how it would taste with flaked rye instead of oatmeal, and using 1/2 wheat DME.
Here is the recipe, for a 5 gallon extract:
3 lb. light DME
3 lb. wheat DME
3/4 lb. roasted barley
1/4 lb. Crystal 60
1/4 lb. Caramunich
1/4 lb. Chocolate Malt
1/2 lb. rye flakes
1 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60
1 oz. Fuggle @ 30
1 oz. Cascade @ 5
Yeast: Piggy-backed Cal 001 from Vernal Black IPA.
Above: making sense of my brewing notes.

10:30ish- attempted to weigh grains and calculate the grams to ounces despite the after-effects of the wine tasting show I went to last night, where I tasted approx. 40 different wines, 5 beers and a little gin and lemon cello. Followed by a couple bottles of wine (shared w/ others).
Not a good time to do math. Made a few mistakes that were fixed. After 3 cups of coffee, functioning much better and ready to brew....
10:55 am- grains & water in kettle on high heat.
11:20 am- temp. at 155, took off heat.
12:20 pm- checked temp, 152. Hooray- perfect! Then calobrated with new scientific thermometer... it was actually about 10 degrees off. Sad.
Turned burner back on, scooped out and strained grains.
Composted grains. This would have been excellent for spent grain bread, but I wasn't in the bread-baking mood.
1:00 added DME to wort, temp around 180.
1:30 boil! Added NB Hops.
2:00- added Fuggle Hops. From 2007. Looking more brown than green.
2:15- added Irish Moss & Yeast Nutrient. Sanitized the wort chiller.
2:25- added Cascade Hops. (All hops are leaf, not pellet. I'm anti-pellet.)
2:30- started wort chillin'.
3:00- wort chill temp. at 98. Poured wort into carboy through a strainer, added filtered water. Shook it. Temp: about 77. Will add yeast when I rack IPA tonight.
3:30- cleaning up. It didn't boil over, but the stove top is still covered in brown sticky stuff.
OG: 1.058

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fair Grounds

345 S. Dubuque St.
Iowa City

My spouse and I go to this place almost every weekend. It is our favorite place for breakfast, they have the best coffee in town, and they are awesome. They are located in the Court St. Parking Ramp, at the corner of Court & Dubuque, next to the Greyhound Station.

On the breakfast menu, you can get either waffles or french toast. It doesn't sound like much of a choice, but there are several kinds of each. We almost always go for the waffles- and my top 3 favorite choices are the Texas Omelet Waffle with regular (non-vegan) cheese and warmed salsa. You have to ask for it that way, otherwise they'll give you cold salsa and it will make the whole waffle cold, which isn't pleasant. The Cheesy Apple Walnut Waffle is as good as it sounds, a great balance of cheese, chopped apples and chopped walnuts mixed in with the waffle batter and cooked to perfection. And there is the Apple Sage Waffle that is amazing. My sister-in-law called the amount of food "perfect". Just check out their website to view their menu!

The coffee, like I said, is the best in town. It is all the things coffee should be: shade grown, organic, fair trade (hence the name of the place) and TASTY! Coffee snobs will be satisfied.
The atmosphere is also excellent. They not only have plants everywhere, they have signs to tell you that if you have any extra plants, or if you are moving- they will be happy to take them off your hands! There is just something about being surrounded by the smell of coffee, lots of live plants and sunshine, and all the hippest people of Iowa City (except for a few that might be over at Lou Henri's or hiking in Hickory Hills).

The tile work on the floor is interesting, there are two comfy couches to sit on while waiting for your coffee & food, lots of board games and magazines to browse, and artwork on the walls to enjoy. Also, the color of the women's bathroom is a really amazing shade of blue.
The one negative thing is the wait. If you go often enough you know when to avoid the crowd (10-11 on Saturday, for example). But if you don't mind waiting, or expect it- bring a book and enjoy the lovely atmosphere while having patience for the busy workers.

Environmentally- all the plates and cups are reusable. They are an environmentally-friendly place for sure- If they had a compost bin for the disposable napkins and the paper towels in the bathroom, they would get an A+ from me.

Fair Grounds used to be owned by a woman named Christine and now it's owned by a man named Steve. The menu has changed a bit, in addition to the amazing waffles and french toast, they have expanded the menu to include tasty breakfast burritos and more, even with meat! They are also featuring more specialty limited types of coffee to keep the local coffee snobs satisfied, and they got their liquor license in 2012 and will be serving Irish coffee in the morning and craft brews in the evening. There still can be a wait, mainly because everything is made after it's ordered, they aren't reheating frozen crap in this place! One time they messed up our order and were very apologetic, and to make up for our wait, they gave us a biscotti and several tiny cupcakes of various flavors:
It's places like Fair Grounds that make Iowa City stand out as one of the awesomest cities in the USA. If you are traveling through, stopping here will leave a tasteful memory of our hip little portion of the midwest. If you live here, and you aren't going to Fair Grounds every weekend, you obviously have issues and should seek help.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mia Za's

122 E. Washington St.
Downtown Iowa City

I really liked the restaurant that used to be in this spot, Java Juice, so it took me awhile to go to the new place. After my co-workers raved, I gave it a try. It's not bad, and pretty cheap, with a decent atmosphere. There is always plenty of comfy seating.
You order your food (pizza, pasta, salad, etc.) on a piece of paper, checking off all the appropriate boxes (kind of like Which Wich). Then you order at the counter and they call your name when it's ready.

You'll want to check the chalkboard when you come in to see what the special of the day is. This week, it was whole wheat pizza for $3.99 (Usually $4.59) I got mine with shrooms, red onions, green peppers and pesto. The veggies were chopped up pretty small, and there weren't many covering the pizza- most pieces didn't have all, or even much of any veggie. There was plenty of pesto, but no tomato sauce. The crust was very thin. Still. It was 4 bucks, and it filled me up.
I have seen their salads and they don't look too good. I've had the pasta before, and it's okay. For the price, again, it's cheap and filling. Unfortunately, they don't have ANY hot sauce, and they give you a crazy look when you ask for some. They offer the red pepper flake container, as if that even compares.

If you have a sweet tooth, check out the desserts when you're in line to pay. Sometimes they have specials like a $2 cheesecake slice with entree. I have also heard the red velvet cake is excellent, though I have not tried any of their desserts.

Environmentally- if you eat there, the food comes on nice big reusable plates. Yay. They have a pile of styrofoam to-go containers. Boo. Regular old bleached white disposable napkins. Eh.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spent Grain Bread

I made this bread while brewing the Vernal Black IPA on the equinox, 3/20/10. The spent grains consisted of crystal 60, black malt and roasted barley. I have made this bread several times while my partner or I are brewing, and I have tweaked the recipe to get this result. Since almost all of the sugars from the grains have steeped into the beer (wort), the bread isn't very sweet. I have 6 T of sugar going into it, but next time I think I'll try adding honey or maple syrup and see if that makes it better. The rest of the recipe is great, though- and I think the best results involve using spent chocolate malt. (To the non-brewers, it's a grain, not a drink)
Here is the recipe for a 2 lb. loaf using a breadmaker:
2.5 t active dry yeast
5 oz luke warm water (not too warm)
6 T sugar
2 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c barley flour
1.5 t poppy seeds
2.5 t sunflower seeds
2.5 t sesame seeds
2 1/2 c spent grains, pushed down into the cup and possibly heaping over the top
2 T gluten
2 t garlic salt
1 1/3 T dry milk
2 T butter

Add the yeast to the water and let it sit while you add all the other ingredients to the bread pan. Then stir up the cup of yeasty water and pour it in. Turn on the bread machine- for a medium crust, white bread setting, and go back to brewing beer.
If you time it right, you will have the smell of baking bread right when you are finishing up the tasks of brewing, and you will start to daydream about kicking back with a homebrew (from the last batch) and a freshly baked slice of bread!

Vernal Black IPA

When we went to Oregon last month, Black IPA was the new hot thing for all the west coast breweries! So I decided to give it a try.
We found a Black IPA in Minneapolis after our Oregon trip, but it was falsely labeled- it was dark and roasty and not hoppy at all. As a knowledgeable traveler, I felt obliged to present my friends and fellow homebrew club members with what I believe is a true west-coast Black IPA.
Northern Brewer has a Black IPA kit for sale, so I looked at their recipe and combined it with one of mine, making a few substitutions to what I had at home.
Here is the recipe (extract, 5 gallons)
6 lbs. light DME
1 lb. crystal 60
2 oz. Roasted Barley
4 oz. Black Malt
1 oz. Zeus @ 60
1 oz. Simcoe @ 30
1 oz. Centennial @ 15
1 oz. Cascade @ 5
1 oz. Simcoe @ 0
1 oz. Simcoe (I'm pretty sure) to dry hop.
Yeast- white labs california 001

The hops were pretty much based on Northern Brewer's hop schedule, with one or two substitutions. The Northern Brewer recipe called for chocolate malt instead of roasted barley and black malt. I wanted to do the black malt for sure, with a hint of roastiness, so I based my grains off my "Hoppin' Sweet Color" ale which calls for roasted barley.
This was brewed on the vernal equinox, hence the name, and the OG was 1.057. The taste seemed right on, so I'm excited for the end result!

Update: This brew was racked to the secondary and dry hopped (I'm pretty sure with Simcoe, although I failed to write it down) on 3/28. We kegged it on 4/29 at a final gravity of 1014. The color was too brown and the flavor was too roasty. It's not bad, it just doesn't taste like a black IPA should. I will definitely be altering the recipe for attempt #2, and I'm open to suggestions!

Coach’s Corner

Mormon Trek, Iowa City
March 2010

This is the place where Monica’s and Bob’s Your Uncle used to be. I never made it to Monica’s but it has more of a sports bar feel/less of a restaurant atmosphere than Bob’s did. Hence the name.
First of all, I sat there for almost 10 minutes by myself, waiting for friends, and no one waited on me. After my friends showed up, a waitress came and asked if we wanted drinks. We ordered beer and I asked for menus. The water came. 5 minutes later, the drinks came, 5 minutes later, silverware came, and finally we got some menus! The service continued on like that for the rest of the meal.
I ordered a veggie wrap that ended up being mostly lettuce with not much else for vegetables. The fries were large and not very seasoned- with not much flavor.
They had an appetizer of French fries coated with melted cheese and bacon that you are supposed to dip in ranch. It’s about as good as it sounds, which resulted in the fact that it didn’t all get eaten. Also, they put large chunks of lettuce and some really red stuff that resembled ground meat on the nachos. Those didn’t even get half- eaten.
I don’t think I’ll go there again.
Environmentally: They use paper napkins and you eat on reusable trays with a disposable paper/wax thing inside.
Cost: About $9/plate. The Guinness is ridiculously expensive.

Lou Henri

Iowa and Dodge, Iowa City
August 2008

It took me awhile to find this place, because they are on the corner of Iowa and Dodge (a one-way street)- so if you miss your turn, you might have to drive a few blocks to get there.
Their food is fresh, local & organic when possible. The ambiance is lovely with lots of plants and art and a friendly, carefree staff that will notice if you have alcohol on your breath and bring you lots of water (not me, the table next to me).
I have been there a few times for breakfast and lunch, and the food has always been great. The fries are excellent. They have lots of cheese choices and lots of tempeh options, if you are a fan of tempeh like I am, you will appreciate the quality! The coffee is good too, and I’m a coffee snob.
My first visit, I got a “Triple Stacker” with portabella mushrooms on sourdough. It was very good, but it could have used more spinach and been spaced out across the bread more evenly. I have also had their omelets and French toast, all satisfying.
The woman’s bathroom is small but decorated very well, with crushed plates and cups used as tile work.
Environmentally: They use disposable napkins, AND you get a 10% discount if you ride your bike.
Cost: About $7-8 per plate.