Lucky Peach

First and foremost, let me apologize for the long delay in new posts. Visiting family for Thanksgiving left me sniffling and feverish for about two solid weeks; when I finally recovered, I got so wrapped up in my long reading list that I am only now convincing myself to part from my books long enough to get back to writing.

That being said, I have been reading a lot of awesome books and quarterly magazines which means I will have many excellent recommendations in the very near future. First up on my list, is McSweeney’s newest publication, Lucky Peach. I happened across issue two in my local grocery store by pure chance, and am incredibly happy that I bought it based purely on the magazine’s subtitle: “A Quarterly Journal of Food and Writing.” I rushed home and barely finished putting the groceries away before sitting down and reading the magazine from cover to cover. However, I will say this: the cover of issue two was definitely a little discouraging, but not enough to deter me from buying the issue anyway.

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The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

I rarely trust people who urge me to run out and by a whole series of books because I’ll not only be unable to put them down once I start reading, but I’ll be desperate to keep reading as soon as I finish these books. Today, however, I am going to be that person. Suzanne Collins has created one of the most engaging and though-provoking worlds that I have ever encountered. Add to this the incredibly interesting, somewhat unlikeable, and at times tragic characters that react so believably and yet often unexpectedly to the plot and the The Hunger Games series is among literary giants in the top tier of fiction that I have read.

Suzanne Collins has said repeatedly in interviews that the concept for these novels was born out of flipping channels between reality shows and news reports of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add in a dash of mythology (Theseus) and viola, we have a spark that rekindled my ability to and love of getting completely absorbed in a series. I think the idea of merging and/or juxtaposing reality tv and war reports, two very socially complicated things, would create an interesting and challenging discussion in and of itself, but Collins takes it to a new level. She has created this dystopian future in which there are, essentially, twelve towns (districts) completely isolated from each other and one all-powerful capitol that create the country of Panem. Once a year, during the harvest festivals, the capitol unites the country by collecting two “tributes” from each town to compete in the Hunger Games which are televised and required viewing for every citizen. I will not explain the many questions that the above sentence probably raises, because to say more is to detract from the phenomenal, moving experience of reading the novels.

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Poached Pears

You have got to try this super decadent, melt-in-your-mouth, super sweet treat! It is finally starting to get chilly in South Carolina, and I decided to pull out all of the stops with the desert for the dinner party. You can make these in a variety of different ways, but there are some pretty standard approaches.

First, wine is a must. However, there is an on-going debate about whether you should use red or white. I do not suggest sitting on the fence for this one, decide and move on. I however, decided that I really wanted the red coloring offered by the red wine, but not the flavor, so instead I used Relax, a Riesling (it’s amazing and sweet!) and some red sparkling grape juice. I would suggest trying out a few whites before deciding on what to use, especially if you are going to add sparkling grape juice to the mix. Seriously, taste the combination first. On a slightly different topic, if you go with just a white wine, throwing in some dried cranberries and/or cherries a couple minutes before the syrup is finished reducing is a colorful, tasty touch; they will re-hydrate a little and add nice texture to the dish too. I suppose you could add these to the red wine/grape juice version of this dish too, but they won’t be a visible addition to the dish.

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Stuffed Shells

I am a big fan of stuffed pastas, especially when there is more than cheese involved. This is a version of a recipe that I grew up with and really love. It involves spinach, so if that is not something you’re worth trying, skip ahead to the desert part of the meal (poached pears!). These are delicious, and don’t feel like your eating something particularly healthy, but they are still very light and refreshing. In my opinion, this is one of those super meals because it is really easy to make, fairly healthy, and delicious!


1 box of shell pasta

Cheese – a mix of Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmasean

Spinach – 1 package of frozen chopped spinach

1/2 onion diced*

2 tsp minced garlic (left overs from the Garlic Knots are perfect)

Salt and Pepper (to taste)

3 c tomato based sauce (Marinara or meat sauce works well)

*If you are not a fan of firm onions, you can sauté them lightly before adding them to the mixture.


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Garlic Knots

I grew up making bread. As I’ve been told, the first recipe I ever knew by heart was a cornbread recipe. But as I’m getting older, the sad reality is dawning on me that a diet entirely dominated by delicious bread and baked goods is not going to be very waistline-friendly. That being said, I still make bread all the time; now I just make smaller amounts of it, but that is not always an easy task given that bread recipes often do not scale easily/evenly. So this is a simple bread recipe that only makes 12 (albeit a fairly large 12) garlic knots. If you have a significant other, great, now you can split it evenly and distribute the consumption. If you have a significant other and kids/niece(s)/nephew(s)/neighbors/friends, even better. But I should warn you, you might not give these up so easily once you’ve tried them!


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One of the first things I do upon moving to a new town is try to find my go-to Chinese take out restaurant. Sadly, it has proved more difficult than usual in Columbia, but I have found nicer sit-down Asian places to visit. So far my favorite is Tsunami, which is in the Vista. On my first visit I tried warm, kiwi-flavored Sake (something that I strongly recommend sharing with friends if you want any chance of getting home safely. (Don’t worry, my friend ordered it and I just had a sip because, goodness knows, I can’t hold my liquor.) During that visit I also decided to order a couple sushi rolls rather than a main course while everyone else ordered more filling meals. One of our friends is Jain and cannot eat anything requiring the death of another organism and he ordered fried cheese and spinach rolls of which I was quite envious.

One a side note, the atmosphere of Tsunami is pretty cool. I am a big fan of using bold colors on walls and decorating with art that ads motion to the room. The picture to the right is kind of dark, but from what I could tell it was pieces of wood painted the same dark red of the wall over a semi-opaque white background that was back lit to create shadows and emphasis. Either way, I was really impressed with it, especially with the blue-ish lights hung in contrast to them.

Having seen a variety of the foods on the menu during my first visit, this time I knew better than to order two rolls of sushi. This time I wised up and ordered the Fired Cheese and Spinach roles as an appetizer and the Teriyaki Chicken Hibachi grill as my main course. Normally I don’t order meat at restaurants if I can help it, especially if it is covered in sauce because I have a sneaking suspicion that the meat is pretty low quality in such dishes. My boyfriend vouched for the quality of the meat, however, so my concern diminished slightly and I decided to order it anyway.

So we started with very light, bust still satisfyingly greasy fried cheese and spinach rolls. Rather than being breaded, they were wrapped in wonton wrappers, and they are the best cheese sticks I’ve ever had. The spinach makes them an even less-guilty guilty pleasure. I would highly recommend splurging on this appetizer. Also, I bet I could replicate these at home since wonton wrappers are widely available at grocery stores in the produce section. I’ll go out on a limb here and say if you just steam some spinach (or even thaw some frozen spinach, I suppose) and place a thing layer of it in with the mozzarella cheese, roll them up, cover with an egg wash or just oil (I’ll have to try both and see what works) and bake at a high temperature for a few minutes on each side, you’d probably have a pretty tasty and fairly healthy version of this delectable treat. Check back soon for a full post on an attempt at this make-at-home recipe.

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Bella Bolle' Moscato D'Asti

I am definitely not big on drinking, but I do enjoy trying new drinks once in a while. Not too long ago, I was picking up a few groceries and found a whole shelf of this wine on sale (admittedly not the best sign when it comes to wines), and decided to buy a bottle. I am so decidedly not a wine connoisseur that I might even come off as ignorant here, but I was so impressed by the fruitiness and lightness of this Moscato that I had to share.

Bella Bolle’ Moscato D’Asti claims to have “vibrant flavors and aromas of stone fruit, tangerines, and honey,” and it definitely lives up to this. The honey is subtle, more a consistent sweetness than a specific honey flavor, but the tangerine/citrus flavor is surprising, refreshing, and delightful! Rather than a tangerine flavor though, I was more reminded of a sweetened grapefruit, one of my favorite fruits, and was really impressed by the vibrancy of the citrus. However, I’ve heard from others that they thought it tasted like a more sophisticated sparkling grape juice. Either way, what’s not to love?!

So, when you are preparing for holiday parties, in-laws, and/or are stressed out about all of the cooking you have yet to do, pick up a bottle of this. I’m always up for a break from dry reds!

NOTE: If you invite me to a dinner party, I will probably show up with a bottle of this. You might want to save it for later so you don’t have to share it. This wine is definitely that good.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I have long enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, and was thrilled to finally sit down with his book: Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.). Admittedly, there are plenty of moments that caused me to cringe, but there was also a lot of interesting information to be gleaned about the insides of the restaurant business (at least as he portrays it).

The book is hilariously outspoken and treads a line between conversational and a series of stories thoughtfully strung together. I loved that so much value was placed on the sanctity of a chef’s personal organization of his station/workspace. When I was in college one of my biggest pet peeves was roommates changing the way the kitchen was organized. The ability to cook efficiently is certainly not as important at home, but on a tight schedule it certainly helps; even more than that, however, knowing where things are without needing to search through drawers and cabinets to find what ingredient or utensil that you need makes cooking a much more enjoyable experience!

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Between the Folds

Between the Folds is a PBS documentary exploring the history, math, art, beauty, and future of origami. I have a deep appreciation for “oriental” themed artwork, but I tend to lead heavily towards contemporary art that utilizes older art forms, theories, and styles rather than art that strictly follows history of the form. That said, however, I am very much in awe of the skill that is required to complete the most basic of figures in origami. I think it is soothing to fold, unfold, re-fold, and shape a 2-D piece of paper in to a stand-alone 3-D object.

I found myself watching this film while wrapping a double batch of bite-sized caramels for Halloween, and although I was just wrapping and twisting the ends of hand-cut pieces of parchment paper, I felt strangely connected to the topic of paper folding. This film documented extremely well-educated people who have given up everything in order to fully devote themselves to origami, or to put it simply, folding paper. For people with graduate degrees and successful careers, this may seem like <fill in negative adjective here> choice, but paper and the things that can be accomplished with it are amazing! I am definitely not going to quit my day job to follow their lead, but since I was a little kid I have loved making paper (though often decorated with pressed flowers rather than intended for intricate folding) because I just think it is the bee’s knees.These people are, with the exception of the one-fold guy (you’ll know who I’m talking about if you watch it), craftsmen of the highest order and I love the sincerity and skill demonstrated throughout the documentary.

My favorite part of the documentary was the interview with the man that makes his own paper in order to achieve the perfect color combinations, and then, born out of impatience, began folding with paper that was still damp in order to create a combination of softer folds (almost indentations rather than folds) and more traditional folding techniques. Other people interviewed created unbelievably complex designs and the “short-hand” blue prints for such designs are fascinating. The notebook shots are the most insightful, in my opinion, because it really drives the point home that these beautiful figures that come to life are truly composed of many many layers of straight lines/folds. And here folks, is where they really got me interested: they spent a long time discussing the math and science behind and explored through certain types of origami.

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Chili, Part 1

While everyone else is busy thinking about a menu for Thanksgiving, or if they are not the cooks this year, their travel plans for Thanksgiving, I am focused intently on coming up with a new chili recipe for the annual chili cook off that happens in my boyfriend’s family. It works out well because there are three main teams (by couple) and there are always a few people nearby that stop by to eat and prevent any tie that might have occurred otherwise. Last year, Karl and I were the champs. We worked off of heavily modified version of my mother’s recipe—a chunky tomato-based, lean ground beef, kidney beans (soaked over night with Anaheim chili peppers), and lots of spices—and won, as we heard it, because it was a chili that was the most traditional in a lot of ways. I am definitely a fan of this type of chili recipe, but due to an unfortunate mishap while moving the acclaimed recipe has been lost. Fear not, however, because I just started planning early for this years new recipe.

About four months ago, I came across a spicy tomato bisque recipe and decided to give it a try. I followed the directions fairly closely and the end result was a soup that was almost inedible because it was so heavily spiced. I definitely did not want to throw it out, so I figured I could try it out as the liquid and spice for a new chili. I had little hope of it being a game changing decision, but low and behold it was delicious! I have since tweaked the recipe and changed around the balance of ingredients a little bit, but I think we’ve got another winning chili recipe on our hands. Until the results are in, I will give you the modified version of the soup recipe and I would strongly recommend trying it out as a new way to add spice and bold flavor to chili.

Spicy Tomato Base for Chili

1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 c Chopped Onion
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 c Celery
56 oz Tomatoes, crushed
3 c Vegetable Broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tbsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Pepper, cracked
8-10 drops Tabasco
1/4 tsp Ground Cayenne

1. Heat a large pot over Medium-High heat.

2. Sauté the onion, garlic and celery until tender.

3. Stop cooking and puree the onion, garlic and celery mixture. Then move it back to the pan.

4. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt, thyme, pepper, Tabasco, and cayenne.

5. Reduce to low heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes stirring frequently.

Once the primary ingredients for the chili are cooked and combined, add several cups of the tomato soup. Additional chili powder should be added to taste. This makes enough soup for several batches of chili, so after using it, I recommend dividing the remainder in to 2-4 cup servings and freezing them.

I like to serve my chili over cooked macaroni noodles and top it with diced onions and a little bit of Colby Jack cheese. Enjoy!

NOTE: For those of you involved in the contest of which I speak, I am taking it on good faith that this will not be used against me.