Friday, March 25, 2011

eat your wheat germ

I think everyone has a laundry list of foods they vow to never eat. I had an aversion to wheat germ that stems from watching 'Rock & Roll High School' where the evil record exec. tries to force Joey Ramone to eat his wheat germ when all he wants is pizza. So what are the chances after buying wheat germ for the first time I managed to bang out in 2 recipes this week that included this once perceived 'icky' ingredient?
The first was Healthy Banana-Blueberry Muffins. I don't like the idea that this recipe tells you these are healthy. It's like in Rock n' Roll High School, being told something is good for you can sometimes take the wind right out of your sails and leave you wanting something better (i.e. not healthy). Well, although these are deemed healthy (as far as muffins are concerned), I give credit that these muffins taste incredible! I think I've justified eating these daily mostly based on the fact that you don't quite feel as though your indulging in cake for breakfast (which is how I view muffins in general). But everyone who's tasted one loves them! The recipe calls for brown sugar which is a flavour that works beautifully and really comes through in these.

The second in my wheat germ spree are these Peanut Butter Granola Bars. I stumbled upon this recipe in this month's What's Cooking Kraft magazine and adapted the recipe to suit my taste. This free magazine is a treasure if you substitute all their product placed ingredients and tinker to your own whims.
Peanut Butter Granola Bars
12 servings, 1 bar (73 g) each
1 cup Light Smooth Peanut Butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup oil
2 cups large flake rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 cups of combined dried fruit (my choices are golden raisins, chopped dried cherries & chopped dried apricots)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend first 3 ingredients in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients.Press into 9-inch square pan and bake until golden (approx. 25 min). Cool completely before slicing.
Since these are basically a homemade granola bar, wrap cooled bars individually in plastic wrap or foil. 

I can't overstate how underrated dried cherries are. If you don't use them in your baking, please try them. They are so fantastic, albeit expensive, but so worth it. Also, I must pass along the good word on golden raisins. I never use those yucky dark Sun Maid raisins, golden raisins are sweeter and more delicious.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

holiday surprise - an Elephant 6 Orchestra Reunion!

Throughout the 90's there was a collective of musicians all creating music in a number of different bands that fell under the self proclaimed title of "Elephant 6". This became a genre of music inspired by the 60's, ranging all across the spectrum of psychedelic. Musicians from each band played and filled in on each other's records so it was quite an easy genre to get into because one band blended into the next. Some of the bands under this title are/were The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Essex Green, Dressy Bessy, Of Montreal... I could go on, but there are probably 20 different off-shoots from there. My sister Katie and I were just at the right age to get into these bands because we were in our 20's and had enough disposable income to buy hoards of CD's and make it out to see all these bands when they came to town. Us and 20 others went to these shows. At the time, this genre wasn't all that popular but we loved it.

Although these bands still release music, they aren't quite the barrage of music they once were. It was almost impossible to keep up with the new emerging E6 bands, but Katie was in university with a radio show at a time when Olivia Tremor Control broke up and formed The Sunshine Fix and The Circulatory System. She was also really into The Gerbils, Elf Power, Music Tapes, Late B.P. Helium - all of which members are currently touring as the Holiday Surprise and came to Buffalo last night. This particular incarnation of E6 was a great handful of musicians because, if you are familiar with E6, there are a lot of sounds in their music that you can't quite grasp how it was created. Seeing them live last night filled in all those mysterious gaps in my mind from years of listening to these records and wondering how exactly this music was created. There were 4 guitars, 1 bass, 2 sets of drums, 1 Moog, 2 trumpets, 1 tuba, 1 banjo, 1 violin, 1 clarinet and Julian on saw. Yes, I don't know what it's called when a musician uses the bow of a violin on a bent saw to produce a warbly sound effect (kinda like Halloween spooky records), but it was amazing to see live. Especially since Julian pretty much stole the show not only with his odd musicianship and passionate squeal of a voice, but also with his fairytale stories of his Romanian ancestors who were circus performers. Judging by his presence last night I might actually believe that tale was true. 
The set consisted of a collection of the aforementioned bands songs. Olivia Tremor Control is one of my favourite bands of all time and I never had a chance to see them live when they were together, so since most of the members reunited for this tour I could not believe I got to see "Opera House" live. Ah, sooo good. The set also included 3 covers including The Minutemen and The Tall Dwarfs. The grand finale, which really was the E6 version of The Last Waltz's 'Forever Young', was a cover of Sun Ra's 'Enlightenment'. The group took their most portable instruments into the crowd and played. Yep, they stopped right in front of me. I felt like I was jammin' right with the band. It was so fun and I really hope that tours like Holiday Surprise continue in different incarnations down the road.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

st. patrick's day dinner

Growing up my family always celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a dinner of corned beef, carrots, potatoes and cabbage. We decided to make a St. Patrick's Day Pizza for dinner this past Thursday. For some reason, potatoes didn't seem like a good idea for a pizza, so we altered the idea slightly and eventually decided to make a Reuben Pizza.
This pizza had a base of homemade Russian dressing, then smoked meat, Swiss cheese and a topping of sauerkraut. This final result really doesn't speak of St. Patrick's Day in the slightest, but the initial intention was there. I'm sure this pizza sounds a little strange, but it was so delicious.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

fish po'boys

I had to take a break from blogging. The only reason I stopped blogging was because I couldn't eat! I was sick with a flu that left me 10 days without the ability to taste any food. I ate mostly peanut butter on toast until last night when Nuno made the most delicious Spaghetti Puttanesca, miraculously, the sensation of tasting food returned! It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten, not only because of this circumstance, but also because he nailed the recipe spot-on. 

Last week on Fat Tuesday, our original plan was to eat a dinner inspired by Mardi Gras (which really meant any New Orleans-style dinner). But since I was sick we had to wait until today to make our Fish Po'Boys. This recipe originally appeared in the first Everyday Food book, Great Food Fast. 
We used tilapia instead of flounder and we also decided to bake the fish instead of frying. Our variation on the recipe was a total success. We toasted the cornmeal in the oven first for 15 minutes and then, after dredging the fish in egg whites, coated in the cornmeal and then baked in the oven. There was a remoulade (of sorts) as the main condiment in this recipe which was particularly good. We have lots leftover and I might just use it again with other fish recipes. 

Baguettes are very tough & chewy, so we made a side of Cheddar-Corn Spoon Bread so that Owen could eat the fish and cornbread. He totally loved both. The Cheddar-Corn Spoon Bread is a particularly good recipe for little ones because of how light, soft and naturally sweet it is. I wish we'd made for this for him 6 months ago because Owen now eats just about everything we do unless it's hard to bite through or too chewy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

our little artist

This weekend I was writing a menu plan for the week when our ever curious 15 month old grabbed my ball point pen and scratched his own addition to the list. My first reaction was "not near the light lime green couch", but then I realized he's showing us that he has a little creative streak happening. We took him down to his playroom with his crayons and paper to see what he would do. 
He sat himself on his chair and scribbled to his hearts content. That afternoon we purchased a couple colouring books and Nuno illustrated a few drawings to inspire Owen. For people like us who love all creative endeavours, seeing the beginnings of a budding artist is so thrilling.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

donut stand-off – a regional comparison

The Everyday Food blog recently wrote about the most amazing donut shop in Manhattan called the Doughnut Plant. It was a great entry and provided an escape from my life, which is worlds away from anything even remotely close to the novelty of a place like the Doughnut Plant. And I'm OK with that because I'm no donut aficiando. I rarely eat them and choose just about every other possible baked good over one. I don't even know the difference between a cruller to a fritter. But what I do know and love are two cross-border regional donut delights that must be tasted to be believed.

Let's begin with Buffalo's own Peanut Stick. I haven't seen this type of donut anywhere outside of WNY. I picked up my peanut sticks at DiCarmello's Bakery (which I'd love to devote an entire blog entry to this amazing and full of history WNY bakery).
Yeah, B-lo is known for many things like wings, stuffed banana peppers and beef on weck, but the lesser praised Peanut Stick is well deserved of attention. The photo may not quite show what a monster this dense donut is. We slice off servings over the span of 2 days for the whole family. There isn't an overwhelming peanut flavour with these, the crushed nuts are the strongest peanut flavour. This donut tastes like biting onto a perfectly balanced powered sugar dessert. Again, must be tasted to be believed.

On the Canadian side we have the Long John! Only one place can make these as fantastic as they are - the St. Catharines landmark Homestead Donuts Drive-In. People who have lived in the city for most of their lives know all about the Long John and have fond memories of Homestead Donuts Drive-In and their locations which have since shut down. They now operate in a run-down strip plaza in the industrial end near Westchester. Most of their business is through distribution to other donut chains, but if you have the opportunity to drop by their location and buy a fresh Long John, well, it's worth the time and effort. I've treated coworkers to them on many occasions and they never last past noon.
It may appear as if they are skimpy on the chocolate glaze, but they've mastered the perfect ratio of chocolate to donut to cream filling. They really are absolute donut perfection.

Donuts around here are very unpretentious and seem so well suited to the blue collar lifestyle in St. Catharines and WNY. Deep fried, inexpensive to make and go well on coffee breaks. These two masterful regional creations are miles away from The Doughnut Plant but I'm willing to bet they could stand toe-to-toe with anything coming from the Manhattan store.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the real deal cubano!

Having blogged recently about the Cuban Sandwich I started reading a little bit about the history of this sandwich and realized that while Buffalo has their Beef on Weck, Philadelphia has their Cheesesteak, Boston/Maine has their Lobster Roll - Tampa is renowned for their Cuban Sandwich. It was neat to discover that the top rated Cuban Sandwich as voted by Tampa Bay area locals was from The Floridan, the very place I tried my first while staying in Treasure Island.

When my dad recently asked if I wanted anything brought back from Florida I asked him to bring back a Floridan Cuban Sandwich. So he purchased a cooler and ice packs and returned home with one today. So I now present to you the infamous Floridian Cuban Sandwich.
Having a sandwich with 2,000 km on it reminds me of the Cosby Show episodes where Cliff Huxtable brought his Philly Cheesesteaks back to NYC. Some sandwiches are worth that kind of effort!