November 2009

The Truffle Hunt is On!

Everyone has heard of truffles of course (the mushroom kind, not the chocolate kind).  I have to confess, I have never actually tasted one.  Nevertheless, I always wanted to, because hey, they must be good, right?  Anything that costs $500 per pound must be good!

Last week I learned that I may yet be in luck.  It turns out that there are several species of truffles which are native to the Pacific Northwest, and that they may in fact be a lot more common than anyone originally thought.  The two main native species are the Oregon white truffle and the Oregon black truffle.  Oregon whites are found in springtime, around May and June.  Oregon blacks can be found in - guess what! - the month of November.

Do The Mashed Potato(es)!

Mashed potatoes are an excellent side dish, and can even be a main course if you treat them right.  Growing up, I was led to believe that mashed potatoes were time consuming and difficult to make by hand.  In hindsight, I think my mother just was not a very good cook!  It turns out that few things could be easier than making mashed potatoes.

Your first job is to select the potatoes.  You want some starch in classic mashed potatoes, and the best starch potato is the classic Idaho russet baker.  Yukon gold is also a fine and delicious potato to use as a masher.  Many people do half and half, half russets and half Yukons.

Honestly, I can't be bothered with that level of detail.  I always have a

A Survey of Mac and Cheese Recipes

For many of us, "macaroni and cheese" will always be inextricably tied in our memories with a bright blue box, and fluorescent orange sauce.  But should you choose to venture beyond the world of Kraft, homemade macaroni and cheese can be an absolute revelation.

There are as many different ways to make homemade macaroni and cheese as there are people who make homemade macaroni and cheese.  Some of the most common additions (beyond the basic macaroni and dairy) are bits of bacon, chopped caramelized onion, minced garlic, or minced jalapenos.  If you want to fancy it up, you will want to prepare your additives first (cooking the bacon, caramelizing the onion, whatever).

Thanksgiving Alternatives

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and those of us in the United States (or homesick expats) who are planning our holiday dinners might want to re-think some of the classics. I'm not saying you should skip on the turkey (that would be insane), but there are some Thanksgiving standards that I think deserve to be seen with fresh eyes. Traditions ought to be perpetuated because they're good or necessary, not just because that's the way people have always done things. If we applied the same logic to cars as we do to Thanksgiving, we wouldn't have standard seatbelts or air conditioning in modern models. I have a wishbone to pick with a few side dishes on the Thanksgiving table and some suggestions for how they can be coaxed into a more pleasing complement to the meal.

Why I Avoid The Expired Foods Grocery Store

Today I happened across an article on the BBC website about the thriving trade in out-of-date foods in Britain:

A)    The sell-by and best-before dates are only general indicators.  It's not like the food turns into poison a week after the date printed on the label.

B)    We waste a terrible amount of food.  Without these second chance retailers, the food they sell would otherwise be sent to the dump.  Here in the States at least, food banks do not take past-date foods as a safety (and CYA) precaution.

C)    Save a ton of money!

How To Make Green Bean Casserole, A Thanksgiving Favorite

Green bean casserole is one of those things that you either love or loathe.  It inspires strong feelings.  Personally I love it, but I can understand why people loathe it.  It's often made with canned green beans, which can turn to mush in the hands of an unskilled cook.  The crunchy onion topping can go soggy if the casserole is too wet.  And the casserole goo itself can be awfully… gooey.

I'm alone in my family, in liking green bean casserole.  I usually end up fixing it for myself at the holidays.  (And occasionally throughout the year, when I feel the need for some casserole-y goodness.)  Whenever I attend another family's Thanksgiving, I always keep an eye out for the possibility of green bean casserole.  

Fat Free Half and Half?!

Today at the grocery store I found myself staring into the dairy case with bewilderment.  I needed half and half for a recipe I planned to make.  But the dairy gods wanted me to choose: between half and half and  FAT FREE half and half.

In what kind of world does the phrase "fat free half and half" even make sense?  Not mine, surely, so I bought the regular half and half.  It was a fear-based dairy purchase.  Once I got home, I did some research on "fat free half and half."  

Eat That Halloween Pumpkin!

Now that Halloween has passed and we're headed straight for the holidays, cheap or free pumpkins litter the ground.  Last night at the grocery store they were literally giving away pumpkins for free on your way out the store!  I couldn't pass that up, so I ended up hauling home a medium sized pumpkin, thinking that it was a squash, so surely you can eat it, right?


The kind of pumpkin you carve at Halloween is not exactly the same kind of pumpkin that comes in a can to be used in pies.  Those would be "pie pumpkins" or "sugar pumpkins."  Carving pumpkins are a winter squash, a Cucurbita cultivar just like all the other winter squashes in that big bin at the grocery store.