Thursday, August 26, 2010

Faceface Bookbook

I'm not sure how I feel about this, other than to give me another reason to be glad I deleted my Facebook account.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Note

To all food producers, promoters, and marketers:

When I see the terms "Natural" or "All Natural" on a package, I always put it down and walk away.


Because it always makes me wonder what ingredients are in there that you can't or won't name.

photo taken from Shatterlimits

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Bit of Nostalgia: Pimp Your Bookcart

My bookselling days are long over, but I well remember the lavishly decorated book carts we used to unload new books, shelve them, and then pull them off for returns. Publishers sent copious amounts of promos to the store - postcards, gadgets, stickers and all kinds of bells and whistles - all of which eventually made their way onto those all-purpose carts, most often in ways never intended by their creators.

So it was with a pleasant jolt of nostalgia that I read the following from today's Shelf Awareness:

Happy but sad news: Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, our good friends at Unshelved, have begun the Ultimate Pimp My Bookcart contest "to see who can best pimp, trick out, or otherwise improve a standard book cart." But this is the ultimate contest in more ways than one: it will be the last.

Any library, school or bookstore or other organization with a book cart is eligible to enter. The first, second and third prizes are provided by Smith System. Runners up receive gift certificates to the Unshelved store. And for the best cart made just by kids middle-school age and under, each participant receives an Unshelved book and T-shirt.

Deadline for submissions is November 15. Bill and Gene will judge the winners. For more information, go to
Makes me wish I still had access to one.

photo from Shelf Awareness

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Skirt Steak with Corn and Black Bean Salad

There are a few things I do enjoy about summer. As much as I grouse and complain about the heat and humidity (and it has been a particularly hot and humid summer this year), I do enjoy some of the side effects - especially the edible ones. Actually, it's only the edible side-effects that I like about summer.

Thanks to all that heat, the corn and tomatoes are beautiful right now. And nothing goes better with corn and tomatoes than black beans, lime and cilantro. Corn and Black Bean salad embodies what is good about summer - fresh, cool and full of flavor.

And it's the perfect foil for my other summer favorite - skirt steak.

I didn't think far enough ahead when I decided to make this to grab a fresh serrano pepper while I was at the grocery store, which I regret. Luckily, I always have pickled jalapenos on hand, so that worked out. While pickled always has its place, fresh is best in this case.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 main or 6 side servings

1-1/2 cups black beans, cooked and drained (or 1 14.5-oz can, rinsed and drained)
2 ears of corn, blanched and cut from the cob (or 2 cups canned or frozen)
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 fresh serrano pepper, minced (or any small hot pepper to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the black beans, corn, onion, tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir gently to combine.

Add the cilantro, lime juice and olive oil and fold into the vegetables, being careful not to mash the beans. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Can be served immediately, or refrigerated if being used later. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before serving.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, August 09, 2010

A New Use for Pizza Dough

Either it's been a little cooler lately or I've gotten used to the heat or a little bit of both, because I've been able to do some cooking lately. One of the few good things to come up with this unseasonably hot weather we are having is that I have been inspired to create meals that require little cooking, or minimal stove top cooking at most. Luckily, most of the vegetables that are in season right now don't require much cooking to make them tender and delicious. Salads come in handy, and this time of year I will buy bread rather than making it myself. Sandwiches are a great no-cook meal.

But I do miss baking. Specifically, I miss making pizza. When it's this hot outside the last thing I feel like doing is turning on the oven, especially to the high heat required for pizza. In all honesty, I don't really feel like eating pizza when it's this hot. I just miss making pizza dough. How lame is that?

Last weekend I was looking through the latest issue of Vegetarian Times and saw a recipe for skillet pita bread. That sounded promising so I marked the recipe
(I know, I know, I said I was through with VT recipes, but I just can't seem to help myself) . But when I looked more closely I discovered that it called for several risings and it looked like it would be an all-day project. Not what I would call a light summer project. I am still interested, but will wait until one of those lazy Sundays when I have all day to make bread.

It did get me thinking, though. If you can grill a pizza, why can't you make it on the stove top? A quick surf through the internet told me that you can indeed. I looked at several of the methods described and decided on the one that seemed the easiest, with the best possibility of success.

It did feel good to get my hands deep into the dough. I made my usual pizza dough, divided it in half like I usually do, and left it to rise in the refrigerator for several hours. Come dinnertime, I pulled one of the balls out and left it on the counter to come to room temperature.

I didn't have my usual pizza ingredients on hand since it's been so long since I've made a pizza, but I did have some fresh tomatoes and one of my current favorite cheeses - Swiss Gruyere. I did have some freshly-grated Parmagiano Reggiano as well, along with my usual pizza mixture of thyme, oregano and basil.

The thing about cooking pizza on the stove is that you have to cook each side. So the toppings don't go on until after you have cooked one side and turned the dough. In order to get the toppings to melt, you have to cover the pan, and the toppings don't really brown.

Which is my way of saying that, as a pizza, the result was less than spectacular. But the cooked dough was enough of a success that I started considering for what other purposes it could be used. The first thing I tried, after I made two small pizzas and had run out of pizza-style toppings, was that little bit of leftover chocolate frosting I had almost forgotten about hiding in the back of my freezer. Result? Unbelievably delicious. I'm not usually a fan of dessert pizzas, but this was something else entirely.

I wasn't ready to give up on the pizza yet. I was the lucky recipient of tomatoes, Swiss chard, and fresh basil from a friend's garden, which I supplemented with fresh mozzarella to use with the second ball of pizza dough. It was an improvement over the previous night, but it still didn't thrill me.

But I was thrilled to be kneading dough again, so I thought I might work on the dough and forget the pizza. The result was quite nice. The dough turned out soft and chewy and worked really well with the baba ganouj I made with a beautiful local eggplant I found on sale at Treasure Island. I am eager to see what other things I can find that would go well with it.

The beauty of this recipe is that it takes about 20 minutes to make the dough, and then it just sits in the refrigerator for up to two days before you have to use it. Since I have been trying avoid as much processed food as possible, it is nice to have found something that I can make quickly and easily, without having to heat up my apartment in the process.

So far, I have used my pizza dough recipe just as it is, but it could use some tweaking. If it turns into anything, I'll post a recipe. Or maybe I'll find some actual flat bread recipes. If there are any out there that are easier than this.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Book List: Growing Roots

Here's a book that's going on my To-Read List:

Growing Roots from Wheelhouse Creative on Vimeo.

Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks and Activists focuses on who's growing our food these days. With consumers turning their attentions from the manufactured to the local and organic, Katherine Leiner goes in search of how growing food in America is changing. What she finds is surprising: a highly educated generation—many of whom were not born into that life—are redefining agriculture.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Curried Chana Dal

I first encountered chana dal on a takeout menu from an Indian restaurant in University Village near the South Loop. It turned out to be a kind of barbecued chickpea dish, and it was quite delicious. From that, I assumed chana dal was the Indian word for chickpea.

And then I saw a bag of chana dal in the Indian grocery store on Devon Avenue. They were much smaller than chickpeas, and they were split in half like lentils. They did have that little bump that chickpeas have, and the same color. Needless to say, a big old four-pound bag of those ended up coming home with me.

I soaked about a cup of them for a couple of hours and then cooked them in water. When they were tender, I took a taste. They were delicious - nutty, toasty, and a little sweet. They are more tender and have more depth of flavor than yellow lentils, and they have more substance than red lentils. Red lentils have a place in my culinary cupboard, and I still have more to learn about yellow lentils, I think, but chana dal has become an instant star.

I've been watching the new Cooking Channel since it launched last month. Among the many recycled early Food TV shows are some Canadian and British shows, including two that highlight Indian cuisine. I have been watching these shows with great interest, and they have re-sparked my interest in cooking Indian food. I decided it was long past time I pulled out some seeds and spices and whipped me up a dal.

This would work with yellow lentils if you don't have or can't find chana dal. But they are definitely worth finding.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


1 cup dried chana dal (can substitute yellow or red lentils)
7 cups water, total
2 Tbsp ghee or grapeseed oil
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp ginger, minced
1/4 tsp asaefetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp turmeric
1 medium tomato, chopped (or 1/2 cup canned)
3/4 cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Sort the chana dal and put in a bowl with 4 cups of water. Cover and
let soak for 2 to 3 hours. Drain and rinse well. Put in a 3-quart
saucepan with the 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat,
cover, and let simmer until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.

While the chana dal is cooking, heat the ghee in a large skillet over
medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until it turns translucent.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook another minute.

Add the spices in order given and continue cooking, stirring
constantly, for another 2 minutes, until the spices are sizziling and
aromatic, but not burning.

Add the tomatoes and stir to de-glaze the pan. Add a little water if
necessary, preferably from the chana dal pan. Continue to cook,
stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down and
thickened. Add coconut milk and cook until warmed through.

Drain the chana dal (the liquid can be frozen for use in soups and
stews) and add it to the onion tomato mixture. Serve over cilantro or
dill rice.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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