Monday, October 31, 2005

Pass Me Another Slice of Seared Patrimony

Just when I was beginning to think there was nothing positive to be said for the government of France (distinct from its people, its art, and its cuisine, you understand) they went and did something good. Behold: Foie gras will soon officially be "part of the cultural and gastronomic patrimony, protected in France."

(Hat tip: Amuse-Bouche)

UPDATE: A Chicago chef gets his restaurant trashed for serving part of France's cultural and gastronomic patrimony. Read about it:"Say Non to Foie Gras Ban, Get Your Restaurant Trashed"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 11

On the eleventh day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Eleven caramels crunching,
Ten nuts a-roasting,
Nine apples bobbing,
Eight misshapen Milk Duds,
Seven s'mores a-melting,
Six Resse's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Last night we hosted an All Hallows Eve dinner pary. We made cheese fondue, and for dessert there were caramel apples and roasted nuts. A word to the wise, Werther's chewy caramels are very, very chewy. They managed to achieve a state of simultaneous cruchiness and chewiness when melted and slathered on apples slices. Conversation at dinner ground to a halt as we labored to deal with the filling-removing horror. In the future, leave these things to the experts, I say.

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 10

On the tenth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Ten nuts a-roasting,
Nine apples bobbing,
Eight misshapen Milk Duds,
Seven s'mores a-melting,
Six Resse's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

This week I was up in New York for a couple of days. As I zipped around the city, I was reminded of another one of the joys of the season--the smell of sugared, roasted nuts being sold from carts in the street. I bought a bunch of bags and stuffed them in my suitcase to bring home, ostensibly to serve with dessert at a mini-dinner party tomorrow. The real reason I was compelled to buy them, I think, was because my dad used to ask me to bring them back for him whenever I went up to The City. I'm going to rewarm them in the oven, and think fondly of New York--and my dad.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 9

On the ninth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Nine apples bobbing,
Eight misshapen Milk Duds,
Seven s'mores a-melting,
Six Resse's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

When I was a child, I always combined my birthday with a Halloween party. And, for several years in a row, an (indoor) pool party. I think this seasonally-inappropriate decision may have had something to do with the fact that my sister had a summer birthday and she got a pool party. So I wanted one too. Naturally, the Halloween/large-body-of-water combo called for...bobbing for apples. I had a natural edge as a kid, because I had an enormous overbite. And while the overbite didn't serve me terribly well when it came time for school pictures, I was an apple bobbing rock star.

I have since learned that apple bobbing was the ancient Celtic equivalent of catching the bouquet at a wedding. Apparently there are some very elaborate explanations involving pentagrams, fertility symbols, and harvest myths. Who knew that my buck teeth made me more marriageable?

Since we don't all have access to an enormous washtub and a dozen apples, why not bob for apples online?
* For a charming and simple version of the game, go here.
* For a much better animated and strictly adults-only iteration, go here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 8

On the eighth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Eight misshapen Milk Duds,
Seven s'mores a-melting,
Six Resse's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Milk Duds have a strange appeal. There are better ways to consume chocolate and caramel together, certainly. And unlike M&Ms, Milk Duds do melt in your hand. Or, if you are gripping one of those tiny Trick-or-Treat boxes in a sweaty palm, they melt in the box, thus forming a solid, unbiteable, undigestable lump. But when there are Milk Duds around, I have to eat them. When someone buys a box at the movies, I always dip in. I know they will stick in my teeth. I know they will be sickeningly sweet. As usual, my problem is too much "know" and not enough "no."

From The Straight Dope, we learn the origin of the name Milk Duds: "The Milk Duds name came about because the original idea was to have a perfectly round piece. Since this was found to be impossible, the word 'duds' was used."

The Dope muses on that questionable PR decision:
On the one hand you have to wonder what kind of marketing department sits around and thinks, "Hm. How can we call attention to the defects of our product?" On the other hand, there's a sort of heroism in this approach. Here's the product development team, contemplating a bunch of nonspherical chocolate covered caramels lying forlornly on the lab bench. Their leader speaks: "You know, boys, if this were New York or Los Angeles, we'd go nuts trying to put a positive spin on this, like here's the alternative candy for those who aren't afraid to be a little off-center and blah blah blah. But this is Chicago. I say we just call a spade a spade."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 7

On the seventh day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Seven s'mores a-melting,
Six Resse's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Strictly speaking, s'mores are fall food (occasionally summer food), and not just for Halloween, but the "seven s'mores" preserved the spirit of the alliteration of "seven swans a-swimming." Also, there's something in the headache-inducing sweetness of seven (!) s'mores that fits utterly with the Halloweeny feeling of I-just-got-back-from-trick-or-treating-and (pause to breathe and insert candy into mouth) I'm-going-to-eat-as-much-candy-as-I-possibly-can!

Get illustrated directions on s'more assembly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 6

On the sixth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Six Reese's pieces,
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,

And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

E.T. liked 'em. What more do you want from me?

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 5

On the fifth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Mere words would be inadequate to describe the joys of candy corn in October. Let us bow our heads for a moment of silence in honor of this Halloween treat.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Gingered Oatmeal Apricot Souffle: IMBB #20

Man is fallen. Thus, by extension, woman is fallen. Certainly, by extension, my souffle is fallen.

But would life in the Garden of Eden have really been that much fun? Dull, I'd think. Likewise, I've often munched my way through a perfect, sky-high souffle, but found the flavor rather eggily dull. My souffle, while attaining less-than-impressive altitutes, was damn tasty--gooey with brown sugar, sweet with apricots, kickey with ginger.

For those who might like to copy, or perhaps improve upon my contribution to Kitchen Chick's souffle challenge for the 20th IMBB, see below. I started with this recipe for oatmeal souffle, but changed it significantly.

Gingered Oatmeal Apricot Souffle

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, In a saucepan, just barely boil:
1 cup milk
2 Tbls butter

Add and cook until thickened:
3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Stir in and blend:
1/3 cup yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dried apricot, diced
1/4 cup crystalized ginger, diced

Beat until stiff, but not dry:
3 egg whites

Fold in the egg whites, spoon into a buttered and sugared casserole or ramekins (I love the word "ramekin," don't you?) Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream. I used Chunky Monkey because that was all I had on hand, and it was surprisingly good. But vanilla would be safer and delicious.

For an incredibly bizzare archaic souffle recipe (which I was briefly tempted to try) check out the Souffle of Small Fishes at Roman Recipes.


The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 4

On the fourth day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
Four gummi worms,
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

For those of you who have not yet indulged in the world of Halloween novelty drinks, now is the time. After four Creepy Crawly Jello Shots, I am a convert. What other holiday combines Jello shooters and gummi worms, I ask you? None.

Creepy Crawly Jello Shots
recipe for an unconscionably huge batch from

2 Cups Vodka
3 Cups Water
3 Packages Jello
Gummi Worms

In a sauce pan, bring the water to a boil. Once boiling add in the Jello and stir until it is completely dissolved, then stir 2 more minutes. Add in the vodka and stir. Pour mixture into clear plastic shot glasses and chill. Before they get firm, add a gummy worm to each glass. Then let them firm up.

Check out another great (well-photographed) Halloween Jello option: Vampire Shots

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 3

On the third day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
3 Musketeers,
Two deviled eggs,
And a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Clearly, 3 Musketeers is (are?) the best of the mini "fun size" bars. When my sister and I were small, the highlight of Halloween was not the costumes, or even the Trick-or-Treating itself. It was the candy trading afterwards. Since I was older, I was just a smidge smarter, so somehow she always ended up with all the Bit 'o Honeys. But, due to my longstanding aversion to chocolate with peanuts, she could take consolation from her immense stash of Snickers "fun size" bars. I was, and remain, loyal to the pure chocolately goodness of the 3 Musketeers.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Toasts with Chocolate and Fleur de Sel: SHF #13 (with bonus cookbook review!)

Meet Amanda Hesser's Toasts with Chocolate and Fleur de Sel. I chose the recipe because it embodies everything that I loved and hated about Cooking for Mr. Latte. Amanda Hesser is basically the anti-Nigella. In this single recipe--which is not really even a recipe, but a paragraph--she admonishes us to use "the best bittersweet chocolate you can find" and "the best extra virgin olive oil you own" and fleur de sel. She does note that, in absolutely desperate circumstances, you could probably make do with coarse sea salt.

Here's the thing: basically any combination of top of the line, best-available baguette, chocolate, olive oil, and fleur de sel is going to turn out tasty. But you don't do your reader much of a service if you imply that each of the ingredients must be absolute top quality. Of course, we'll all use the best we can, but what about when "the best extra virgin olive oil you own" is actually the store brand from Safeway, and (like your humble correspondent) it makes no claims about its virginity? Is it still worth making the recipe? Would these toasts perhaps be a fun novelty food if made with a Hershey's bar? No such information is forthcoming from Amanda. The fact that the book is filled with whimsical chick-lit drawings that depict Ms. Hesser as a fashion sketch do nothing to endear her to me either.

But here's where you have to give the book credit: The woman knows her food. And loves it. She readily admits to dreaming about beets. You've got to respect that. And the recipes that she included in the book are good. Really good. Every single one I've tried has been excellent and eye-opening. (I'll blog about the stellar "Single-girl salmon" later.)

The chocolate toasts were no exception. All the joy of a chocolate-covered pretzel, and ten times the class. And easy! Here's the "recipe":

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice a baguette into 1/4 inch slices. Put one little square of chocolate on each slice, arrange on a baking sheet, and pop it into your hot oven. When the chocolate is soft, but still holding its shape, remove from the oven, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on a tiny bit of salt. As Amanda reminds us, "the salt should enliven the flavor of the chocolate, not make it salty."

In the spirit of fairness (and Sugar High Friday experimentation), I also tried them with Hershey's Special Dark, defiled olive oil, and sea salt:

The Human Vacuum graciously performed a blind taste test. The results: One out of one eaters agreed that the Hershey's toasts were superior. (Actually, I prefered the snobby toasts, but the point is--Do whatever you want. They'll still be good.)

Happy Sugar High Friday!

Tagged with:

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Twelve Days of Halloween: Day 1

On the first day of Halloween, my true love gave to me:
A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Coffee

October 20th is a tremendously significant day, because:
1) It's my birthday, and
2) It kicks off the Twelve Days of Halloween.
In celebration, I'll be blogging a seasonal treat every day until the end of the month. And, in keeping with the spirit of the song, I will consume those treats in increasingly large numbers as the days pass.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte (changed to "coffee" with the use of my poetic license), is "the warm union of... caramelly-sweet Espresso Roast" and "seasonal tastes from the pumpkin patch." Because Halloween is a time of sugary indulgence, I recommend that you do not look here for the nutrition information about this delicious seasonal beverage.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Clinging to Summer: The Last of the Peaches

Summer is clearly over, but I couldn't resist one last try at peaches. My good friend Johann was headed to Wegmans (where I'd bought the only really good peaches I consumed this year), so I asked him to pick me up a half-dozen. As I ought to have anticipated, the peaches were fine, but not great. So they had to be baked.

I cut each peach in half, placed them face down in a baking dish, and added a splash of rosewater, about half a cup of leftover Portuguese white wine, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. After 15 minutes at 400 degrees they became appropriately mushy. I dumped the peaches into a bowl, and then poured the leftover juices into a very hot skillet. I boiled and stirred until I got bored of waiting for the "sauce" to thicken any further--reductions have never been my strong point. The Human Vacuum (pictured above) and I ate the peaches and their juices poured over yogurt.

My dessert wound up tasting like a classier version of canned cling peaches in heavy syrup. Which is a good thing, I think. Depending on who your dinner companions are, though, you may not want to point this out to them.

Oddly Nutritious Pasta

I found this recipe in a place where I would ordinarily not dare to tread: The webpage of the Friedman School for Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

There was a sweet potato lurking in my veggie drawer (is that where one ought to store sweet potatoes, I wonder?) and not much else in the house besides the usual stockpile of dried pasta. A google revealed an excruciatingly large number of sweet potato recipes that begin "Start four hours ago...", but then this one popped up and saved the day.

I tweaked the recipe (surprise!) and doubled it, since the Human Vacuum believes that pasta should never be prepared in quantities of less than one pound. See my play-by-play below:

Oddly Nutritious Pasta

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and cut into 1/4 inch slices:
2 large sweet potatoes
(This is the fastest way to cook 'em, and it maximizes the crunchy roasted outside surface area.)

Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet with:
6-8 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1 red onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons olive oil, drizzled
A few sprigs of whatever fresh herb you've got on hand (I used rosemary), or 1 Tablespoon dried sage (optional)

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes soften and start to brown.

Meanwhile, boil:
1 pound pasta (I used bowties, but any compact pasta would do)

Right before the pasta is done, toss into the boiling water:
2 cups frozen peas

This is the major innovation gleanable from this recipe. Throwing the peas into the water right before draining ensures that the peas get cooked, without dirtying an extra pot. Those wacky Friedman School nutritionists --what will they think of next?

Drain the pasta and dump it back into the pot. Scrape the potato combo in after it, making sure to squish the now-soft garlic cloves. Add a little more olive oil if the pasta seems dry.

Serve with lots of cheese crumbled on top. The nutritionists say you can use a half cup of bleu cheese for a half pound of pasta. So you have carte blanche to go really cheesy as far as I am concerned.

I had mine with Roquefort, and the Human Vacuum had goat cheese. Mine was better.


For a bizarre and probably never-to-be-repeated treat, here are the nutrition facts for the recipe above, per serving: Calories: 280, Protein: 11.5 g, Carbohydrate: 36 g, Total Fat: 10 g, Sat. Fat: 4.3 g, Cholesterol: 14.2 mg, Fiber: 3.9 g.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Swallowing a Cloud

Various unreliable Internet sources translate the word "wonton" as "swallowing a cloud." I have no idea whether this is accurate, but I like it. If eating an ordinary wonton-wrapped dumpling qualifies as cloud consumption, though, crab rangoons merit the title twice-over.

Like the similarly bastardized Philadelphia roll (or bagel roll) of Japanese cuisine, these lovely fried wontons feature cream cheese. Occasionally scallions are involved. But it is an unbreakable rule that crab may be present only in microscopic portions. And, truth be told, there is usually no real crab meat at all.

The Chinese Restaurant Project has found rangoons everywhere, despite the fact that (as far as I can tell) no self-respecting Chinese home cook would consider whipping up a batch of these Frankenstein dumplings. They certainly are the red-headed stepchild of the Chinese takeout world. Still, I prefer to think of crab rangoons more kindly. To me, they're fusion cuisine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Fresher Under Pressure"

My boyfriend, who shall hereafter be known as the Human Vacuum, believes that this blog should provide food-related public service whenever possible.

In that spirit, I would like to introduce you to Costco pre-made guacamole. Before going all food snobby on me--"I would never eat vacuum-sealed avocado products"--hear me out. AvoClassic Guacamole is better than whole fresh avocados. Seriously. At my house, avocados invariably transform from expensive rock-hard paperweights to rotten public health risks in a matter of hours. And those hours never occur when I am (a) at home, (b) awake, or (c) in the mood for some avocado.

At Costco you can get four nifty freezable pouches (containing a total of "15 Haas avocados"!) for a few bucks. AvoClassic boasts that they employ the "Fresher Under Pressure" technique, which uses pressure instead of heat to pasturize. It's amazing. H.V., who is a food snob, certifies the guacamole as undetectably processed. Just avocados and spices, baby.

Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I usually fancify the guac. Sometimes I add tomato and chiles. Sometimes I go for just a squeeze of lime and some smoked paprika. The picture above shows red onion, cilantro, and lemon.

Read more about the economic and culinary miracles made possible by "Fresher Under Pressure" at one of my favorite non-food blogs.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Just a Spoonful of Sugar...

This morning I stopped in at Starbucks. As usual, I asked for a "small coffee," because I am irritated by the use of the term "tall." And because I enjoy being a pain in the ass.

I walked over to the fixins bar, where I discovered that they were out of sugar. That's right: a coffee shop with no sugar. There was Splenda, Sweet'N Low, and Equal. But no actual pure byproducts of a sugar beets or sugar cane.

Dear unsweetened Jesus, what is this world coming to?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Squashing Culinary Dissent

Seasonal meals are overrated. If I hear one more person sing the praises of "seasonal, local ingredients, simply prepared" I might go ballistic and toss an organically-grown local cantaloupe at her head. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed many meals with the specter of Alice Waters hovering overhead. But c'mon people, celebrate the fact that--thanks to the miracle of heavier-than-air flight--you can get bananas in February and plums in November. Have Icelandic salmon in Virginia. Eat! Enjoy!

Ranting aside, though, there's something nice about squash and apples in the fall. And when my friend Otto came over for dinner last night, I did want to do something a bit upscale. So here's my version, inspired by the purchase of two mystery squash (later identified as Red Kuri):

Seasonal Local Squash and Apples, Simply Prepared

Cut in half crossways and remove the seeds and gooey insides from:
2 red kuri, or other winter squash

Place the squash cut side down in a baking dish with half and inch of water in the bottom. Like this:

Bake at 425 degrees until tender (approx. 30 minutes)

While the squash are baking, saute on high heat until softened and slightly browned:
2 red apples (I used Macoun, because they were fresh and locally grown)
1 Tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons dried sage leaves

When the squash is done, scoop out the now-soft flesh and combine with the apple mixture. Serve.

I presented this dish with goat cheese crumbled on top. The heat from the cooked squash and apples melted the cheese a bit, which was nice. If you've let your squash cool, you could stick the whole thing under a broiler for a minute or two to achieve the desired effect.

The goat cheese, by the way, was from France. Ha!

Red Velvet (Elvis) Cake

Velvet, despite having historically clothed kings and princesses, has always seemed a little declasse to me. Perhaps it's the sad reputation of velvet Elvises. Or it could be memories of the raspberry-colored crushed velvet Lycra top I favored during my trashy phase in high school.

So there's something about seeing red velvet cake on the menus of classy restaurants that amuses me. Loaded with red food coloring, topped with cream cheese icing, and stealthily chocolatey, the cake only seems truly at home as a Valentine's Day novelty dessert. But after ordering it as a lark at Red Sage (hey, I'm nothing if not color-coordinated), I decided that my first real foray into traditional cake making would have to be velvety, red, and cream-cheesy. But unlike the offerings at chichi dining establishments, my red velvet cake would embrace its trashy side--it would Red Velvet Elvis Cake.

The icing must be made with Philadelphia cream cheese. The required use of a specific brand is, of course, in keeping with Nigella's rules for proper trashy food, which, "in its platonic ideal, should contain at least one brand-name product." She also writes that trashy food "should use one low-rent ingredient." Hello McCormick's red food coloring!

I started with this recipe, but discovered halfway though the baking that the recipe was rather incomplete. So, I'll give you my recipe and the made-up icing I painstakingly (and only semi-successfully) smeared on top:

Red Velvet Elvis Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour whatever pan(s) you have on hand. The recipe called for two 9 inch round cake pans. I didn't have two, so I used a 9x13 (see below for explanation of this insanity).

In a large bowl, cream:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs (add one eggs at a time)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon McCormick's red food coloring

In a separate bowl, blend:
2 1/2 cups flour (the recipe says cake flour, I used all-purpose)
1/4 cup cocoa (I used a mix of Hershey's baking cocoa and some Ghirardelli hot chocolate I had lying around--though the Ghirardelli may have violate my rules of engagement)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed butter and sugar, alternating with:
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk

Dissolve together:
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 Tablespoon white vinegar

They'll fizz like the fake eruption in the volcano you had to build in fourth grade science. Fold the fizzy mess into the cake batter. Don't beat it, just stir until everything's more or less uniform.

Pour into pan(s) and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is springy. Cool. When my 9x13 was cool, I cut it in half and made a rectangular layer cake.

For the frosting I used:
3 (8 oz.) packages of Philadelphia cream cheese
1-2 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 Tablespoons butter

The Joy of Cooking says that the key to successful cream cheese frosting is to keep everything at the proper temperature. When using an electric mixer, the cream cheese must be cold, the butter room temperature. Also, don't beat it too much. Just run the mixer until the stuff in the bowl completes the mysterious metaphysical transition from cream cheese to frosting.

Incidentally, some googling reveals that red velvet cake actually has a pretty decent pedigree. For a history of red velvet cake, go here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Grape Leaves of Wrath: October Food Club

...or What to Do When You Get the Dolma Doldrums

Grape leaves and I do not get along. I am hopeful that with a lot of hard work, and possibly some help from a counselor, we will be able to mend our relationship. But things are pretty rocky right now.

Some background:

My mom and I recently started an intergenerational cooking club. We hosted the first real meeting at her house last night. It was a purring success—we’re working our way up to a roar. We stuffed and rolled grape leaves. To tide over the (too?) many cooks while the leaves cooked, we had quasi-Moroccan lamb stew and mezzes. For dessert, we had cardamom and cinnamon tea and halva bought from the excellent Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria.

(Multi-culti boobs that we are, my mom and I were unaware that we were coincidentally planning a Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern feast on the first day of Ramadan. We didn’t eat until after sundown, though, so I suppose we were marginally OK.)

We used several recipes for fillings, culled from online sources. Before the rest of the clubgoers arrived, we laid out grape leaves, white rice (soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, but otherwise raw), ground lamb (also raw), scallions, pine nuts, almonds, mint, parsley, chives, dates, apricots, onions, and lemons. My mom and I had to fight for the lamb—we tried four grocery stores, and in the end we had to settle for lamb sausage with feta and pine nuts, cut from its casings. We also planned to make sweet stuffed grape leaves featuring chevre and fresh figs. Alas, fresh figs were similarly hard to find (could it have been a Ramadan/Rosh Hashanna run on relevant ingredients?), so we settled for supplying a variety of dried fruits. Let the food clubbers do the mixing and matching themselves, I say.

And they did. Dramatic readings of the directions guided us through the first few leaves, and soon everyone got the hang of the wrapping. Except me. At the time, I thought I was doing OK. But when the leaves were cooked, mine became oddly bloated and misshapen. Pine nuts fled from my dolmas like rats from a sinking ship.

We steamed one batch and baked another, using these directions. The consensus was that the baked leaves were slightly better. Everyone agreed that the canned stuffed grape leaves we'd bought for comparison and dissection were put to shame. Ours were a different beast altogether--not at all mushy or vinegar-y. The chevre, despite being somewhat unconventional, was a hit.

And in the end, it mattered little that my final products were so ugly that only a mother could love them. After all, it was intergenerational cooking club, so my mom was right there.

Watch for more cooking club blogging in the future, with action photos from the more dramatic dishes we prepare/consume. If you’re in the DC area and want to join, drop me an email.