Friday, June 25, 2010



Before coming to Iowa, my only experience with Twisters revolved around wacked out Judy Garland movies or embarrassing party games. I guess there was also that mid-90's movie with Helen Hunt and another actor. In any case, my knowledge was, at best, limited.

My very first day in Iowa City (interview day) happened to be the first Monday of the month (when they test the weather siren). Around 9am the siren went off - a deafening scary-movie sound. My interviewer went on talking as if nothing was going on. I tried to chat for a little while but could barely hear the guy. Finally I just asked about the sound.

Me: "What is that deafening noise?"

Interviewer: "Oh that's just the tornado siren."

Me (trying not to sound panicky): "Uh, should we be concerned about this?"

Interviewer: "It's probably just a test."

Right. Probably just a test.

I believe I was assured that we're not in Kansas so "twisters" really aren't too much of an issue out here. Then again, here is Iowa City in April of 2006:

What I find funny about this video is that a number of the people featured are smiling - they seem excited more than anything else. I love how in the midst of the storm people came out into the streets to see what was going on. There's the frat guy who talks about the cars piled on top of each other, and describes the dumpster "...which is, like, not normally here."


There is at least one home video of the twister itself as it blows through the downtown area. I ask you, who in their right mind would be out on the street holding a video camera?

People have a way of adapting to just about any situation. Earlier this week there was a tornado "warning" (ie a tornado was spotted in a neighboring county). I happen to work in a bunker of a building so everyone just carried on as normal, including myself. I just hoped the warning would go away in time for me to head home for dinner.

I'm no idiot, but I do agree, life goes on.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sprüngli: I want to go to there

If you haven't already seen 30 Rock, just know that it's brilliant. One of my favorite lines was coined by Tina Fey's three-year old daughter. It sums up a lot of my thoughts (about food) perfectly:

"I want to go to there."

Sprüngli is a fantastic-looking Swiss pastry shop located in Zurich. They serve Luxemburgerli (aka French style macaroons, one of my all time favorite sweets) along with some **amazing** looking Swiss chocolates. Sprüngli may be one of Switzerland's best (or so I hear). It must be heaven if the website displays raining Luxemburgerli. Any doubt and just check out the shop images on the Passionate Eater. Oh my.

"I want to go to there."


Confiserie Sprüngli AG
Bahnhofstrasse 21
CH-8022 Zürich

Tel. +41 44 224 46 46
Fax.+41 44 224 47 35

Friday, June 18, 2010


While at the Farmer's Market the other day, I noticed a strange looking vegetable at several of the produce stalls. It came in both green and purple and seemed somewhat like a fennel bulb with multiple branching leaves. Seeing as it (whatever "it" might be) was in season, I decided to give it a try.

Kohlrabi, as it turns out, is a cultivar of the cabbage. The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rübe ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip") (according to Wikipedia). Interesting.

I first sliced it and tasted it raw (recommended by a friend). It had a distinctive turnip-like bitterness, the texture of a crisp apple, and the flavor of a watered down broccoli stem. Hm. Not my favorite.

When it comes to recipes for strange vegetables I turn to Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love cookbook, a veritable encyclopedia of random non-meat foods. Only one recipe was devoted to the kohlrabi (Kafka states her husband hates it and she can only "abide" it.) Apprehensive, but curious, I read on.

The recipe called for a little water, a simple stuffing, and then microwave.


Given that I couldn't see myself eating the rest of the bulb raw, I figured, what the heck. I peeled off the tough outer layer, added a little water and into the microwave it went. Minutes later the kohlrabi came out a pleasant pale jade green, steamy and smelling surprisingly mild and fresh. I added a little olive oil, salt and pepper then gave it a taste.


Steamed kohlrabi has a delicate flavor, somewhere between a cauliflower and a turnip. If you like those two things (I happen to love cauliflower and will occasionally enjoy turnip if cooked properly), then kohlrabi is a worthy early summer vegetable to add to your plate. Who knew that microwaved food could turn out so well?

So the next time you are at the Farmers Market and see something strange, why not give it a try? You never know what you're going to get.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Julia Child's Chicken Fricassee

Despite being a foodie and lover of chicken dishes, I have never made a fricassee. In fact, until I read Julia Child's detailed description in one of her cookbooks I wasn't too sure what a fricassee involved exactly (it's basically chicken in a mushroom cream sauce.)

I had picked up some Kalona chicken at the New Pi the other day and figured this would be a good starting point. The recipe itself was fairly straightforward - a little pan saute with butter and olive oil, then poaching in white wine and chicken broth. I added onions, mushrooms then half-and-half just as Julia suggested. Sadly, my chicken came out on the stringy side (but it was flavorful!) I'm not sure if this was due to my lack of chicken cooking talent (I can roast an entire chicken fairly well, but maybe fricassee takes more finesse?) or to the fact that Kalona chickens probably spend their days roaming the Iowan hillsides rather than cooped up in cramped quarters with the rest of their mass-produced brethren. My guess is that in my efforts to avoid any risk of Salmonella I probably over-cooked the meat. The sauce also had a few gliches. Julia claims one simply cooks the mushrooms a few minutes before stirring in the cream. This resulted in a very thin, but high volume cooking liquid that wasn't very saucy at all. I ended up simmering the sauce down to thicken it up (the end product was very good.)

The upside to this dish is that it reheats very nicely (unlike the shrimp pasta dish I had made the night before). The chicken flavor was intensified and the sauce was a bit thicker - perfect for a quick lunch (or in my case, a second dinner.) I recommend putting the sauce on some pasta (ravioli works really well!)



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marcella Hazan's Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream

Seeing as the Vegetarian is out of town for the next two weeks, I decided to take this opportunity to cook up some of the many meat, fish, and poultry dishes I've always wanted to try. I had just seen Food, Inc, so mass-produced food was out, and organic, humanely raised, or wild caught was in. Fortunately there is a New Pi in town.

I picked up some frozen wild caught Gulf shrimp for my first meal of the week. In retrospect, "Gulf" shrimp may not have been the way to go, but trace amounts of petroleum never hurt anyone, right? And maybe these shrimp were frozen before the last 3 months... any case, the shrimp were bought and all I had to do was find the right recipe . One of my favorite dishes is Marcella Hazan's Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream. This is a heavenly dish made with surprisingly few ingredients: olive oil, garlic, shrimp, tomato paste, white wine, cream, and some parsley garnish. You basically just cook up the first few items in a pan (2 minutes), blend up 2/3 of the cooked shrimp, add that back to the pan along with the rest of the sauce and you're good to go. SO easy. SO delicious. I could probably eat this dish every night this week.

Of course, cooking for one isn't always the best thing in the world. As it turns out, Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream doesn't reheat so well. The once creamy, luscious sauce starts to separate when microwaved. Le sigh...I suppose it's still better than cafeteria food so I really shouldn't complain.

Tomorrow's menu: Julia Child's Chicken Fricassee!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cheese or Font

Cheese or Font - this is no easy task!

Burrowing Owl Bakery

My favorite bakery in all of Iowa City isn't exactly a bakery in the traditional sense. There's no shop that you can visit; no glass case filled with pastries. Instead, the Burrowing Owl Bakery is a little wooden stand at the Saturday Farmers Market manned by Allie Gnade (the baker) and her boyfriend. I had heard about the amazing baking talents of Allie from a friend of mine who used to work at Grinnell (Allie is a former Grinnellian). And after tasting one of her delectable lemon tarts, I was an immediate convert.

The Lemon Tart consists of a bright, flavorful lemon filling inside a crisp, buttery shortbread pastry shell. Shortbread doesn't really do this crust justice - more than a shortbread, this pastry shell is light, flaky and absolutely delicious. The filling is also something I can't even begin to describe. It's got an intense lemon flavor and a smooth, creamy texture. Amazing. I have also tried Allie's Chocolate Caramel Tart. This is seriously heavenly. The chocolate is rich, with a wonderful sweetness (but like the lemon tart, not too overly-sweet). It pairs well with the fantastic shortbread crust. While the sweets are my favorite, the onion rosemary tart was also delicious (more of a quiche-type filling) - I basically inhaled one of these for lunch the other day.

Allie bakes all of her pastries and breads in her mother's oven the night before the Farmers Market (so supplies are often limited). Get to the market early if you want the best selection!


Burrowing Owl Bakery
Allie Gnade
Iowa City, IA

Optus Training Camp

Optus Secret Training Camp from Paranoid US on Vimeo.