Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"This is the story of America"

For the last couple of days it has been brutally cold here in Iowa City. I have spent the walks to the bus stop bundled up in long-underwear, an ankle-length down coat, and moonboots. Meanwhile, my husband has spent his mornings driving into work with the window down and his head sticking out because his windshield is covered in ice.

Funny, because just the other night I read this quote In Jack Kerouac's famous novel, "On the Road":

"Dean, Marylou, and Ed Dunkel roared east along Colfax and out to the Kansas plains. Great snowstorms overtook them. In Missouri, at night, Dean had to drive with his scarf-wrapped head stuck out the window, with snowglasses that made him look like a monk peering into the manuscripts of the snow, because the windshield was covered with an inch of ice."

Seeing as we're not of the Beat Generation, it seems likely that we're just nutty Americans living in the midwest.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Tragedy strikes twice...

Despite it's popularity and excellent reputation, small town restaurant, Taste on Melrose, has closed it's doors as of February 14th, 2010. Had I known the place was shutting down I would have made every effort to stop in for lunch and/or dinner. How sad! I reviewed this adorable place back in November. Not only was Taste on Melrose the closest neighborhood restaurant to our home in Iowa City, it was also one of my favorites in town. :^(

As if that tragedy were not enough, my one and only favorite chocolate shop in Iowa City has ALSO shut down with hardly any notice. Chocolate Block is no more.

Now the only option for high quality chocolates is Bochner. The chocolates at Bochner are certainly very pretty to look at. The chocolate covered nuts are tasty, but also quite expensive. Likewise, the perfectly formed shiny mounds of chocolates behind the glass case taste very nice. The chocolates are smooth and chocolate-y, the fillings are smooth and creamy. Some flavors are more potent than others. The Sea Salt Caramel is excellent as is the Frangelico and Amaretto. However, the more subtle flavors such as Lavender and Pistachio leave much to be desired. I am not sure these pretty treats are worth the steep price. ESPECIALLY given that Chocolate Block sold the same chocolate for a fraction of the price! Yes, Chocolate Block and Bochner were one and the same. So I suppose it makes perfect sense why Bochner would close its low-priced bulk sales shop. Sad to say, I'm not sure I can bring myself to spend the cash on chocolates I could once buy for $5 per pound...

R.I.P. Taste on Melrose and Chocolate Block. You will be sorely missed...


Monday, February 8, 2010

Homemade Bouillon

One of the drawbacks of following a near all-vegetarian diet these days is the lack of a good chicken or beef stock replacement. Vegetable stock in a carton is decent, but cumbersome and expensive. Purchased vegetable bouillon is often not particularly good and filled with weird-sounding preservatives and MSG. I've tried making my own vegetable stock by boiling a variety of vegetables. I even tried slow-cooking a veggie stock once (it was ok, but not great.) Then I found this recipe on the 101 Cookbooks website. The original recipe was inspired by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin.

Homemade bouillon is incredibly easy to make. Basically you just blend together a bunch of vegetables with a decent amount of salt. I used what I had on hand (leeks, fennel, carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley and cilantro), but you could probably add whatever vegetables you like depending on your flavor profile. The end product was a rich, vibrant paste of flavor that seriously enhances just about any dish requiring "broth." I've made soups and sauces with the stuff and it improves everything at least 10-fold. Dare I say that a spoonful of this homemade vegetable bouillon will top most purchased meat-based stocks?


Yes, it's true. I suppose it doesn't quite stack up to a good homemade chicken stock, but considering veggie bouillon takes all of 5 minutes to make (vs hours of simmering a decent meat stock) I'm more likely to keep the veggie stuff around for just about any quick (and delicious!) meal.


p.s. Vegetable bouillon also freezes very easily!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Midnight munchies

Well, it isn't midnight here in Iowa, but when it gets cold and dark by 7pm, I get a craving for midnight munchies no matter what the time. I wanted something fast, easy and preferably toasted. After a little thought I decided to grab the graham crackers sitting in my cabinet, smeared on some peanut butter and topped them with mini marshmallows. The concoction went under the broiler for a minute or two (until the marshmallows got nice and toasty brown!) A glass of milk and I was ready to munch! SUCH a great combo - why haven't I thought of this before?

I suppose if you were going the more traditional route you could make this snack with regular hershey's chocolate (I didn't happen to have any in the cupboard.) Peanut butter was a fantastic substitute (dare I say, I hardly missed the chocolate!)

Happy munching!