Thursday, April 30, 2009

A little trip to the islands

The Jamaican/Caribbean restaurant is now open! I happened to drive past it today on my way back from the pediatrician and saw the OPEN sign; karma decreed it would be jerk chicken for dinner!

The place is actually called Curry World, and has a few tables to eat in, but seems to mostly cater to the take-out croud. We tried to get a take-out menu, but they've only been open three days and the menus aren't printed yet. Much of the menu seems to be on the outside sign, along with the phone number. Curry goat, curry chicken, jamaican jerk chicken, beef patties and more.

Once they're established with a menu and all, I don't know if they will keep the same setup. For now, though, they have the dishes pre-made and waiting on a warming table; think food court chinese food. The menu was written on a chalkboard, but I was disappointed that they didn't actually have everything that was on it. They were out of the curry goat, for example. I've never had goat, and I'm not sure what I think about it, but it seemed like the thing to try. Apparently they are hoping to get a shipment of goat in tomorrow.

Choosing from what was available, we tried jerk chicken, oxtail, and meat patties. The jerk chicken was in pieces, skinless, and our portion was mostly the drumstick portion of wings. The seasoning was wonderful and quite spicy! The oxtail was obviously slow braised in a mild curry type sauce, with potatoes and butter beans. These items came with rice with red beans (quite a bit more rice than beans) that the nice lady told me was made with coconut milk. I wouldn't have guessed this, though, as the flavor was very mild. They also came with a choice of veggies: eggplant or squash. We chose eggplant.

Meat patties were not what I expected, but more what might, in another culture, be called a meat pasty. It's a finely ground beef and spice mixture (ground very, very finely, like a puree, which made it taste creamy) encased in a surprisingly flaky but yet dense dough. They offer both mild and spicy, though they were out of the mild. The spicy were pleasantly flavorful but not overwhelming and, to me, not very spicy.

I am excited they are open, and look forward to trying them again once they get their feet under them. They seemed to be doing a good business this evening, and I certainly wish them well. They're open Thursday through Sunday, and the woman I talked to there said they've had a very positive response. Good luck, Curry World!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My hotdog has a first name, it's S-M-I-T-H

I'll be perfectly frank (please forgive the pun); I don't want to know how hotdogs are made. I know the jokes, and I choose to believe they are urban legends and hyperbole. Worse than that, I know some of the fact and I choose to believe that hotdogs are spontaneous objects, not creations, with no genesis. Magic wands are surely involved. I can only hope this subject will not again be broached in this post.

However. When it comes to hotdogs, the wiener for me is a Smith's Natural Casing, grilled until the natural casing splits and a slight char gilds the hotdog. Biting into it and hearing that snap of the "natural casing," mmmh, there's nothing better. Until you stop to ponder what the natural casing is. And have to plug your ears and say "lalalalalalalala!!!" and go to your happy place.

People in Erie get a bit dogmatic (sorry again) about their Smith's hotdogs, with "natural casing" vs "skinless" debate carrying on in friendly but firm tones. Local restaurants proudly announce that they serve only Smith's, and who can blame them? I don't know how far outside of Erie you can still get Smith's hotdogs, but it's de rigueur at cookouts and picnics in these parts.

When I grew up, I didn't really eat Smith's. Which is strange, if you think about it, because I live five minutes from the hospital I was born in and am a "born and raised" Erieite. My parents, however, moved here from Pittsburgh and so presumably didn't drink the Smith's kool-aide and become followers from toddlerhood. My mom bought what was on sale, or what she liked, or what we liked, but I know it wasn't usually Smith's. I don't remember when I started to feel strongly about it myself, but I'm pretty sure I was an adult living on my own. I still don't mind the other hotdogs (not at all, really) but there's something very summery about the snap of a Smith's.

This year we grilled hotdogs and corn for the first hot day of the year, and it seemed to hint at better days to come. It has taken very little time for the weather to return to more seasonable temperatures (in the 50's as opposed to the 80's), but soon enough turning on our oven will be but a distant memory and we will cook almost exclusively on our propane grill on the back deck. I like seasonally cooking, making hearty cold weather casseroles and breezy hot weather salads, using what's in season and, when I can, what's local. It's ethically responsible, plus a good way to eat fresh, tasty food.

On a completely unrelated note, NPR today did a story where they gave chefs $10 and instructed them to create a simple, quick meal for four. Sounds like it's to be part one of several. They gave this challenge to Ming Tsai and he made chicken and corn stir fry over spinach salad with lemon. The idea is that the fried rice will wilt the spinach slightly, and that the whole thing experiments with different textures and temperatures. It's an interesting challenge... Darling Husband and I might take it on when Chopped gets bored. Considering the economic climate, it's maybe not a bad idea to practice creative economizing. Hmmm, if only I could get my victory garden in the ground before June...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

For Jeremy: Pork, Jicama and Wasabi

A few posts back, I challenged my readers to take control of this blog and suggest three ingredients that Darling Husband and I would use to create Chopped-style appetizers in head to head showdown. Two of you took on that mission; the first was Jeremy, who suggested pork steak, jicama and wasabi. Thank you, Jeremy! I don't know you but I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in!

Tonight we tried our first head to head challenge. Since we don't have his&hers stoves, we took turns using the kitchen in a very democratic way. I had a little bit of prep time, but then my bit needed to rest a little and so did I. Darling Husband used the kitchen for a bit then. We tagged back and I finished up mine and prepped his pork, too. Then I plated while he grilled (more on this later). Finally, he finished plating and we ate. Phew!

Pork steaks, jicama and wasabi. To start with, I should mention that we were unable to find "pork steaks," so we got a loin roast and cut it into steaks. This may or may not be a suitable substitution, but it was as close as we could get. The jicama was easy to find. (It's a large vegetable that looks like a cross between a potato and a giant white raddish. The flavor is mild but there is a definite starchiness to it. It's not as moist as a potato, but I wouldn't call it dry, either. It's a bit hard to explain, if you're not familiar.) We debated what form the wasabi should take; we had access to paste and powder. In the interest of conformity and accessibility, we chose paste.

For my appetizer, when I heard the three ingredients, the wasabi immediately swung me to the asian influences. I imagined the jicama in a water chestnut kind of way: crunchy but without much flavor on its own. Several options ran through my head, but I decided fairly quickly on an edamame and jicama salad with wasabi vinaigrette, soy marinated pork and a wasabi cream sauce. (One idea I had, then forgot, then remembered just now was to shred and fry some bok choy for crunchy interest on top of the dish. Darn it. Must remember that for later.)

I cut my pork into... well, I like to think of it as octopus, but Darling Husband referred to it as a hand. Point being, I sort of cut slits like a fringe for 3/4 of my pork steak, leaving it connected at the top. I made a marinade with soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic.

The edamame I buy comes frozen in the pod. I just defrosted in some cool water, removed from the pod and was ready to eat. Mmmmmm, edamame... I could (okay, I have) eat a meal of just edamame and some sea salt. But I digress. To add interest to my edamame salad, I found dried seaweed and reconstituted it in water, per the directions on the package. Dry, it looked like black loose leaf tea. It must've quadrupled in volume with the water, because I ended up with a huge mug of seaweed that tasted distressingly like seaweed. (I know, right? What did I expect?) As a remedy, I gave it a quick pickle in rice wine vinegar and sugar.

To achieve my water chestnut vision, I had considered cutting my jicama into little disks. Time and energy constraints led me to just do a small dice. My vinaigrette was just some wasabi, olive oil, pepper and some of the pickling liquid from the seaweed. Combine with the edamame, seaweed and jicama and voila, salad.

Only, I felt like it wouldn't tie in to the pork so I quick grilled two pieces of bacon that I brushed in maple syrup, chopped and mixed in to the salad. I also grilled the pork (or, more accurately, Darling Husband did) and then added it on the plate next to my salad. I finished the plate with some heavy cream that I had mixed with wasabi and grated ginger, then whisked until thickened but not at all whipped cream, then dabbed on the plate. It was creamy and yet flavorful, a subtle softener for the saltiness of the soy pork (in retrospect, I would have added something sweet to balance the salt in the marinade). The edamame was meaty, in its way, and paired nicely with the crunchy jicama; the seaweed added black color contrast, its own somewhat crunchy texture and sweet/sour interest. Wasabi was a subtle flavor in the dish, but was certainly present. I'm pleased with the way my dish turned out.

Presentation wise, however, it was nothing compared to Darling Husband's dish. He made beautiful pork nigiri, complete with nori belts and a wasabi dipping oil. Instead of sushi rice, he grated (for probably an hour) a surprising amount of jicama, then pressed the moisture out of it before combining with sushi rice vinegar and forming into the customary little pillows. His pork was flavored with a pineapple juice and szechuan peppercorn marinade which he made in a small sauce pan. It sounds simple, but it was a really labor intensive dish. The result was absolutely stunning visually, and the jicama was a real trompe d'oiel. It looked just like rice. It tasted a bit like rice, but also like a slaw in many ways. Darling Husband had also sprinkled a little black sesame seeds on top of his nigiri, and they added a subtle counter crunch and nutty flavor. The biggest thing I remember about this dish was how balanced the flavors were. Considering the assertiveness of the ingredients, it should've jumped up and hit me over the head, but it all harmonized and came together much like dancers on a stage. I'm surprised by how effortlessly he seems to put these complex dishes together... and pleased that I get to eat them.

Since we were doing appetizers, we had soup, cheese, crusty bread and little crudite type nibbles to round out the meal. Tapas, if you will. Of course we had underestimated how much food this was, so we only actually added on some cheese and bread to our prepared appetizers. We have soup and tapas for another night's dinner, I guess!

I would like to point out that my wonderful mother, when we were discussing how dinner went, was moved to muse and ponder the ingredients. She suggested wasabi honey would maybe taste good, possibly brushed on pork chops. Realizing she had inadvertently started playing the game, I urged her to come up with something for the jicama, too. "A slaw, I think. With a remoulade dressing." YAY! See how easy it is? Her idea sounded good, too. We're planning on trying it out soon.

First, though, we have to complete our other reader-submitted idea: clams, brie and avocado. Hmmm, better get thinking!

Thank you, Jeremy, for your suggestions. I hope you like what we made, and I'd love to hear what you think!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stir fra-jitas

I have a theory on growing up. When you're a kid, the way your mom makes something is the right way. If you eat dinner at your friend's house and her mom puts mushrooms in her chili, then that's wrong, because that's not how your mom's chili tastes. When you get a little older, you start to realize that people make things differently, but you're still sure your mom's is the best and most logical. So when you start cooking on your own, you try to make it taste right, just like your mom's. Then you get a little older yet, and you evolve your own cooking style; you make things different from your mom's, and that's okay. Neither is wrong, but just different. Finally, you go home one day and have your mom's chili and you are struck with a sense of wrongness because you obviously make chili the right way.

I'm not sure where I fit in this.

When I was growing up, my mom made chicken fajitas that were fantastic. I loved them; it was easily one of my favorite meals. She cut chicken breast into cubes, marinated in soy sauce, stir fried onions and green peppers, flavored with chicken broth, cooked the chicken, and served it all with flour tortillas and a side of sour cream. (At least, this is the closest I can come to remembering her method, considering the taint of my own cooking and memory. She is free to comment and correct me.)

Then I got married and realized that everyone didn't make them this way. Oh, sure, I knew in restaurants they were different, but that's the whole point of restaurants, right? They try to put their own spin on things. Not that I thought about it, because I never questioned it. Darling Husband, however, had grown up thinking fajitas were a southwestern sort of thing, and to have soy instead of cumin was a very strange thing, indeed. I liked the fajitas he made, but they weren't really fajitas to me... they were wrong. Or, maybe not wrong, but different and when I needed the comfort of that familiar taste, they didn't cut it. He was pretty sure I was crazy calling this stir fry on tortilla creation a fajita, and in fact made a rather hurtful remark, as I recall, which was spoken entirely from the "but the way my mom makes it is right" sort of camp. (Although, come to think of it, I'm not sure his mom made fajitas because I can't imagine my father in law eating fajitas. Hmmm... Must ask him about this.) It was a momentary disagreement, or, rather, we decided to agree to disagree and make it a non-issue.

As time went on, we have made fajitas both ways. My stir fra-jitas, as we've dubbed them, might have broccoli or zucchini in them, might be made with beef, might have a little ginger and red pepper flakes, or they might not. The flavor profile remains asian and understated. Darling Husband's southwestern-jitas are usually made with the help of Wegman's fajita marinade. They might contain any of the above additions/substitutions, but also might include okra or jalapenos. I can make both kinds, and so can he. When it comes to making fajitas, we just clarify which we're in the mood for.

Last night we used a different marinade, the Wegman's Santa Fe. I was surprised how light the marinade was (not as thick or assertive as the fajita marinade) and also how strong the lime flavor. Frankly, I was surprised how different it was from the fajita marinade (though that seems silly). I was vaguely put off by the smell, and it was a while before I realized why. Years ago Darling Husband worked as a supervisor for a company that made salad dressings and marinades. They didn't make this one, but he came home smelling like... well, I guess like this marinade! Like pepper and oil, maybe? I'm not sure, but the smell permanently embedded itself into his clothes, shoes, the leather of his wallet and even his cell phone. He worked 2nd shift and often had to work until after 1 am, even though his shift should have been over at 11. It was a hard schedule and a tiring job, and he'd come and collapse into bed, this scent rising up as if in a puff. We didn't see each other very much, except late night, early morning and weekends--when he wasn't called in to work, that is.

Truthfully, I'm not sure which part of the marinade reminded me of that smell, because I realize it wasn't the whole of the smell. It is certainly a reminder, though, how strongly our memories are tied to our senses.

The fajitas were good, but different. I had used chicken, vidalia onion, red and green peppers, garlic and chayote squash. I ended up needing hot sauce on mine, but I believe Darling Husband tried his straight.

They were good... not right or wrong.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Embracing my inner college student

Once and a while, Darling Husband and I have to drop whatever foodie pretension might have accumulated on us and hunker down in the trenches, embracing our inner college students and reveling in the wrongness of it all. Our mothers would sigh and cluck their tongues, and the grown up parts of us do, too. But the inner college student puts up with a lot of fru fru crap, and doesn't say a whole lot. Every once and a while, we've got to give that inner college student a little freedom, so we hand the grown ups a Starbucks and point them to a comfortable recliner, where they take a quick nap in the afternoon sun. (This can be college student behavior, too, but in this instance, the grown ups are going to claim it as their own.) With the grown ups safely tucked away, the college students pull on their wind pants and t-shirts and get to work.

What does it mean to embrace our inner college student? I'm sure it means different things to different people, but for us, it's reverting back to the kind of scavenger-style food prep at which 20 year-olds are adept. Cold pizza for breakfast. Microwaved left over mac & cheese. Rice and peas. Toast with spaghetti sauce and processed cheese. Canned corn next to canned tuna. Rice with A-1 sauce (my sister's vice). Hot pockets. Think microwaves and toaster ovens. And pint sized fridges.

When Darling Husband and I got together, we happily realized we could meal plan on a basic level with one simple rule: two side dishes make a meal.

Cut up cucumbers with dippy sauce? Not a meal. Cut up cucumbers with dippy sauce and mashed potatoes? Sure!

If all of this sounds vulgar and wrong, think for a moment to your leftovers. Might you have half a rotisserie chicken, some steamed asparagus and fixin's for a fresh salad? Then you are my mother, and you sigh and cluck your tongue at my leftovers. Might you instead have some mac & cheese with a little too much nutmeg, a small serving of lasagna left over from what your mother in law sent with you and a container of leftover curry that's mostly sauce? Now you're closer to me. Might you also have a 9 month old and a pile of clean laundry to fold and a floor to vacuum and all the will for housekeeping on this particular day as a concussed cockroach? Ah, now this is familiar. You might even have a few frozen pepperoni balls.

Does the inner college student always eat a balanced meal? Of course not. Even if that college student left the lasagna for another day. But he or she clears out some much needed fridge space without creating extra dishes to clean, if possible (college students rarely use plates) and goes to bed full. In the morning, she'll be a grown up again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oatmeal and Guinness and pies we once knew

Please forgive my laxness in posting lately, but our lives have been very busy with the start of warm weather! Between holidays and my 9 month old becoming truly crawl-mobile, my energy is running low. This weekend we visited Darling Husband's parents and our little girl had a chance to spend time with her uncle from Miami. It was a fantastic visit with beautiful weather and a thrilling trip to the zoo and aquarium--Baby Girl loved the jellyfish!

Before I get off topic, please remember to submit ideas for our appetizer challenge, detailed in the previous post. We're excited for the idea already there and hope more come in! Darling Husband suggested we do all of them, but not on the same night. So submit a list of three ingredients and we're likely to make stuff and post about it!

Getting back to this weekend. We also had a fantastic cake that, as my father-in-law joked, I just have to blog about. When it was announced that desert was "oatmeal cake," I was admittedly a little wary. I'm not a huge oatmeal fan, and I tend not to like oatmeal cookies. Although, now that I think of it, it's not that I don't so much like oatmeal cookies as the fact that they so often have raisins in them. I like raisins on their own okay, but not in baked goods.

I just realized I spend an awful lot of time on this blog saying things I don't like! I don't think of myself as a picky eater, and I eat a wide variety of things. Hmmm... I wonder what that means? But back to the cake. It was a wonderful cross between regular cake and coffee cake, as it had a brown sugar crumble topping on it that gave a great crunch and mouth feel. The cake was moist but not doughy or chewy, the way oatmeal things can be. My mother-in-law served it with Cool Whip (or "licky-dab," as the family sometimes calls it) and I really looked forward to leftovers the second night. She gave me the recipe and I will be making it the next time I have occasion. It's really a pretty straightforward recipe--even baking-challenged me could probably make it okay!

Of course, I looked at the recipe and immediately started thinking of ways to change it. I wonder if I could make it into cupcakes, or put a layer of crunch topping in the middle for a little extra texture. She said you can add cocoa to make a chocolate oatmeal cake, and so I wondered about chocolate chips. Hazelnuts instead of walnuts? I don't have quick oats, but I do have steel cut oats (leftover from a challenge) so can I just make a few substitutions and alter it? Do I really need all that butter? This seemed like the start of a story that would end up in me throwing away inedible cake-like substance, so I stopped my train of thought. I'll try to be good and make it as directed. No promises as to when that will be, though!

Tonight was Steak and Guinness pie, a recipe we got from Jamie Oliver. Remember? The "naked chef?" Who was never naked (more's the pity) and cooked with a weird frenetic energy, bobbing and weaving like an amateur boxer while he clipped away in his working class English accent. Essentially, it's a pot pie. We seared cubes of stew beef and stirred in small leeks (usually we'd use onion), garlic, mushroom, parsnip, carrot and frozen peas. Add one Guinness, minus a sip or two, and let come to a boil. Thicken with a few spoons of flour, flavor with salt, pepper and rosemary, and you have a wonderful looking instant stew. We lined a casserole dish with a sheet of puff pastry, added the stew, topped with a generous mound of grated white cheddar, then covered with a second sheet of puff pastry that had been rolled lightly and scored in a diamond pattern. The edges of the pastry are not perfect, and that's just fine. Jamie Oliver just flopped the edges up and crimped the best he could, and we follow suit. Then we popped it in the oven for 40 minutes or so, until the puff pastry was golden and, well, puffed. If you cut and serve immediately, you'll have a big mess. We've found it's best to let it rest 20 minutes or so first, to allow the insides to settle and not lose all the wonderful gravy. It won't get cold, but it will cool down to a temperature that will not blister all of the skin on the roof of your mouth, which I appreciate.

It's warm and comforty, good for a wind stormy, rainy day like today. (I should mention that I saw a rainbow today, though.) Darling Husband thought today's pie might have been the best we've made it yet. I agree. That's what comes from cooking without recipe or measurement--it's never quite the same dish twice. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes just different. I seem to recall my father lamenting about this when I was growing up... I wonder if my daughter will be the same?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You have the power! You choose!

Gentle readers, I have appreciated the feedback I get from you. It has brought insight and color to the conversation, and I ask that you keep it coming!

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to choose the next ingredients for our Chopped experiment. Darling Husband and I have decided to each use the same ingredients and create appetizers on the same night. It will be a true head to head battle, and you get to choose our mystery ingredients!

We usually do a protein, a produce (veg or fruit) and then a wild card. That can be an herb, another produce, a condiment... really, whatever!

I'm asking for THREE ingredients to be used to create ONE DISH, an appetizer. So please keep in mind, if you give me chocolate, salmon and kiwi, I'll have to make and eat chocolate covered salmon skewers with a kiwi puree. In other words, make it challenging but be nice, please... :o)

As many as would like can submit their ideas. If only one of you does, I guess that's what we'll do. If we have several to choose from, we'll probably draw the number out of a hat (unless it doesn't seem like cheating to actually choose...)

Thanks, everyone!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Currying favor

I confess to being intimidated by curry. First of all, it's really an undefined term, referring essentially to a spice blend of no specific make-up. Different regions have their own flavors, and every household has its own twist. Thai curry has prominent lemongrass flavors and often has coconut milk, which I'm okay with, although I don't like coconut. Indian curry is...uh... Okay. The truth is I don't know much about curry. I know there are curry pastes in red, green and yellow, although there are probably many more. Plus curry powder. Then there are the cool Indian ladies who I overheard talking at a store one day who make weekly trips to some spice market in a neighboring city to make their curry. And knowing that "curry" probably comes from a word originally meaning "sauce," only lets me know that what's in one jar probably isn't much like what's in another.

Interesting side note: my father recently tried the Raj Mahal, our only Indian restaurant in town, and wasn't as impressed as I am with it. One of the things he didn't like was that the dishes seemed to be mostly sauce, with the chicken or veggies or whatever as a secondary feature. I saw his point, although I'd be happy with a bowl full of awesome sauce and some good naan. Seeing the etymology of the word "curry" reminded me of this conversation. It is all about the sauce, actually!

All of this rambling just to say I made curry shrimp last night! We had a jar of red curry paste sitting in the fridge, menacing me. In order to overcome my fear, I plunged on in and boldly used it. I took for inspiration some of the flavors I had at the Indian restaurant (previously blogged about), Raj Mahal. I did a large chop of a spanish onion, zucchini and some long green hot peppers (unfortunately, that's their name). I also finely diced a few serrano chilies. I got some oil in a pan and added the chilies, onion and some grated garlic, moving things around until the onions started to turn translucent. I then added several heaping spoons of curry paste and the serrano chili. I had planned on adding the chillies before this point, but forgot them. Better late than never! The curry paste began getting very fragrant in the oil, which was cool. I mixed to coat the onions and then added in the rest of the veggies. Oh, and some sugar snap peas, too! I added some water and covered, simmering.

Meanwhile, I made jasmine rice. The secret to good rice, I think, is to flavor it. One of the easiest ways is to drop a few boullion cubes into the pan while the water and rice is coming to a boil. It makes the most savory, wonderfully not-bland rice! Thanks, Mom, for the tip all those years ago! I've also added lemon juice and zest, (or orange, lime or grapefruit) red pepper flakes, spice blends like lemon pepper, or actual rice seasoning blends found in the Asian section. Rice can be fun! For this rice, the curry was going to be such a strong flavor, I didn't want to compete. A little chicken boullion added just the right about of pizazz.

Back to the curry, though. Once the veg were the appropriate level of done-ness, I stirred in some cream, and Darling Husband thickened with a little cornstarch. I threw in the shrimp close to the last minute to avoid overcooking. Served over the rice, it was a little slice of heaven. The heat of the spice was there, and built while you ate the dish, but wasn't overpowering. I did notice the zucchini absorbed more spice than the other parts of the dish.

If only we had naan. The stuff in the store that you get with the pita breads just isn't really naan. It's naanish, but nothing spectacular. I'd make my own but... well, to be honest, I tried it about a year back and it didn't come out. I can't get things made with yeast to work for me. I think I may have mentioned this before. It doesn't even have to have yeast, actually, but if it involves something with flour made from scratch, chances are I will end up throwing away ruined dough.

Lots of other veggies would've worked in this dish, as would tofu or chicken as alternate protein. I wonder how carrots or parsnips would've tasted, and if chick peas would be overkill. We'll make it (or something like it) again, because I am no longer afraid. I will hold my head up high and say, "Yes! I can!" Mostly I'm excited to have bridged the curry gap!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Edible awesomeness for Easter

Have you heard of Edible Arrangements? They are cut up fruit on skewers made to look like flower bouquets. Some have pineapple daises with cantaloupe centers, some just have strawberries. They look fantastic and they taste awesome, too; a girl at my office had one delivered on Valentine's Day and we all got to share. The only drawbacks I see are 1, they take up a lot of fridge space, 2, they need to be eaten quickly, and 3, they are damned expensive. The smallest/cheapest one I found in their brochure is $40.
So for Easter dinner at my mom's house, I made my own and brought it as a centerpiece/desert/snack. I used pineapple cut into wedges and also stars (using cookie cutter), white honeydew, green grapes, strawberries (some dipped in chocolate) and granny smith apple wedges that I covered in chocolate as well. Each fruit bit was impaled on a bamboo skewer and stuck into a potato I had down in the vessel. (Full disclosure: I made the vessel in a pottery class in college) For greenery, I added pineapple leaves yanked from the top of the pineapple and stuck between the skewers willy-nilly. It looked pretty great and tasted even better. We didn't even feel we needed the chocolate bunt cake my mom had--that is, until my brother in law stepped in and cast his vote for cake.
Why can Edible Arrangements get away with charging this much? Mostly because people won't spend the time to do it themselves (didn't really take me all that long). And I don't really blame them; I did it because it seemed like fun for me. I also appreciate that not everyone is as interested as I am in arts and crafts or food, and this is both. If I were having a fruit basket sent to someone, I might consider sending something like this instead. If I were having a dinner party, though, I'd do it myself.
But that's just me. I'm actually a little proud of myself, particularly since the thing I paid the most for was the pineapple, and that was $2.88. Sure beats forty bucks...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bringing home the bacon (cheeseburger)

I'm not really a big bacon person, but I found a way to make it that I just love. Brown sugar bacon. I'll get into that in a minute. First, I have to say, I have historically been intimidated by bacon. It's mostly fat and often either chewy or crunchy. I'm just never sure how to approach it. I remember my mom making BLT sandwiches for lunch sometimes, and I'd have toast, tomatoes, and a little lettuce salad all separate, but not the bacon. The smokiness is just a bit much for me, so it's not even just the texture and the look. If something tastes like bacon, I'm usually not all that enthused.

(Apparently you can blanch bacon in boiling water for a few minutes and that will mellow out the flavor. But then you have boiled bacon, and come on, that's pretty darned unappealing.)

I'm coming around to bacon, although I tend to like it by itself, not lurking in dishes. Similarly to the way I feel about raisins, actually. I don't like to be surprised by them. I want to see them coming. I'm therefore okay with my bacon sitting next to my french toast, for example, but not buried in a salad, lurking behind the tomato.

The best bacon-by-itself I can think of we had at Darling Husband's Aunt Carol's house. They live in the fingerlakes and we spent a lovely weekend at their house this winter. For brunch on Sunday, they made wonderful bacon, thick cut and baked, which tasted phenomenal. They got it from a local man who makes it himself. I believe they actually bought a whole pig from him, and bacon is part of the package. It made me truly believe what those farm-raised people have always said, that meat from the grocery store doesn't have any real taste. It was enough to make me consider finding someone to go in with me on a pig. And then I forgot about it until just now, but still the point remains. It was some pretty rockin' bacon.

The key to bacon prep, in my opinion, is baking it. I saw this on the Food Network and it made so much sense to me. Everyone on Food Network seems to be doing it now, from Alton Brown to Paula Dean (and that's saying something). Frying bacon is time consuming and I always feel like I'm playing chicken with it, trying to figure out when to get it out of the pan. Too soon and it's laughing at me, all limp like a protester in the 60's being dragged off campus by the cops. Too late and it's brittle and dry, shattering under the fork like glass. Plus it seems to change after you take it from the pan, the tricky little buggers, so of course I can't judge it right. Besides that, the bacon releases so much fat! It spatters and generally freaks me out. I prefer to bake it.

You can bake flat on a cookie type sheet, but I like to drape it over a rack set on a rimmed cookie sheet which has been lined in foil, for easier clean-up. That way the rendered fat just drips down and away from the meat. I just pop the whole contraption into the oven until ruffly and right-looking, and amazingly those silly little strips turn out just right. Ha. Then I let the pan sit and cool down, so all I have to do is fold the foil in on itself to corral the congealed bacon grease. Some people probably save this. I'm sure my grandmother would. But I am not she and I haven't the foggiest what I would do with it, nor the fortitude to do it if I did, so I throw it away.

Still not a huge fan of the bacon flavor, though, although it has its uses. But for my money, you can't go wrong with Brown Sugar Bacon. I start with thick cut bacon, and put as many slices as I'm going to use into a large zip top bag, one by one so they don't stick to each other. Then I shake in some A-1 steak sauce, and mush the bag around a bit until each strip is coated. Next, I add brown sugar to the bag and really mush it around. The brown sugar melts a bit and clings to the strips of bacon. Lay each strip on the rack and bake until dark brown and yummy looking.

When I was pregnant, I thought we should make this every day and that it was a perfectly acceptable meal. Or side dish. Or desert. Or snack. Whatever. Fortunately for my heart, Darling husband didn't agree, and it had to actually fit into the meal. This greatly reduced its uses.

Now, I really only make it when we're making bacon cheese burgers. A strip or two of brown sugar bacon sitting on top of monterey jack, itself lovingly melted over avocado to hold it onto the burger... mmmmh. Heaven. And for the record, this is the only bacon cheeseburger that even remotely appeals to me. It's brown sugar or nothing, baby.

Burgers themselves could be an entirely separate post, and they will be someday, as I'll be submitting recipes to Sutter Home's Build A Better Burger competition. More to come. In the meantime, keep thinking springtime thoughts and eating springtime food and we might just get there one of these days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Grits, pollenta, say po-tato, I say po-tahto

Question: is it unbearably low class to open a can of pop, take a few swigs, then pour rum directly into the can to make an instant cocktail? Yeah, I think so, too. But perhaps it's also ecologically friendly. I'm already going to recycle the can, so why dirty a glass and waste the water/add detergent guilt to wash it? Shouldn't Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio send me congratulatory emails? Plus, it's just quick and convenient. It's not lazy or trashy, it's thrifty and resourceful. Refreshingly unassuming, even. Until one's husband takes a sip of one's altered beverage and almost does a spit take of surprise, that is.

So my fresh ingredient dinner I had so been craving featured a lovely organic sweet baby greens salad with sea salt and cracked pepper croutons. Makes it sound posh, doesn't it? The rest of the meal just wasn't as fresh, because by the time dinner came around I had already enjoyed two meals beefed up (pardon the pun) with fruit and veg and no longer felt so vitamin-deprived. We made Spicy Shrimp with Cheesy Grits.

Shrimp and Grits is one of those recipes where no matter what you put in it, you can hardly go wrong, but everyone will tell you that you did. It's a southern dish, which I believe is particularly known in Charleston, South Carolina. Travelers will have different memories of it, some of which will be accurate and some will not, but will argue vehemently that the version they had didn't have parsley in it so yours is inauthentic sludge. People will trot out genealogy charts to show that their second cousin married a man whose sister once lived in Charleston, and she made it with white grits, not yellow, and she should know. So there.

(This phenomenon, of course, isn't unique to this dish. People get weirdly self-righteous when it comes to certain recipes. Chili, for example.)

I don't pretend that our version is authentic anything. For one thing, I've only ever had shrimp and grits at TGI Friday's here in Erie, which gives me zero authority... particularly since I actually only had a taste of Darling Husband's plate. We were originally going to share--I got dish A, he got the shrimp and grits, and we would split both--but when his came he no longer was interested much in sharing. As consolation, we came home and tried to remake it a few days later. That was several months ago, so our memories were even fuzzier.

Our shrimp and grits started with grits, of course. Grits, polenta, mush... it's all basically the same, which is cornmeal. We put water and milk in a pan with a little pat of butter, brought to a boil, added the cornmeal and cooked until it was thick and didn't taste like crunchy dried corn. We added a bunch of cheddar, salt and pepper, and a splash of buttermilk (still trying to use it up!) to keep it from hardening into cement.

In a large skillet, I browned some andouille I had cut into coins, then removed from the pan. In the renderings I cooked several large cloves of garlic, chopped, about half of an onion, also chopped, and three hungarian peppers, sliced into rings. We let it all soften and the flavors married nicely, particularly after the addition of some hot sauce. Pushing the veggies to the sides of the pan, we slid the shrimp in and let them start to get pink and happy. The andouille was next to join the party and everything was stirred together to come to temperature. We only added a touch of salt and pepper, since the andouille had so much flavor. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I added any pepper. It didn't need it. We tasted the shrimp mixture, and it was grand.

Have you ever had one of those times, however, where your dish is finished but you just keep playing with it anyway? You start throwing extra stuff in somewhat willy-nilly, not because the dish truly needs it but because you can't quite stop yourself? I had put in jarred piquillo peppers and talked my husband into a little cream for the sauce before he stopped me and took away my wooden spoon.

We served the shrimp mixture over the grits and my oh my, it was good. A bit spicy, but with different kinds of spice, and great flavor all over it. The grits were lose but not runny, thick but not gluey. It may or may not have been anything like what you'd get in the south, but here in PA it was yummy.

Is that the key? The further away from the epicenter you are, the less anyone can call you out? If you served me something and told me it was authentic Aboriginal stew just like they make in Australia, I'd take your word for it. On the other hand, I'm an hour and a half away from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. I know what a wing is and isn't supposed to look and taste like. Don't you dare put a breading on your chicken wing and call it buffalo! (Gina and Pat Neely, as well as Bobby Flay who should know better...)

But I'm 12 hours and 17 minutes (722 miles by Google Maps) away from Charleston and I say I made shrimp and grits and I do declare them to have been tasty.

Dessert will be featured in a guest blog, as Darling Husband used his dried cherries, fresh ginger and chestnut puree to make--well, I'll let him tell you. It was awesome, though.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gestalt and the zen of potage

I can't wait for dinner tomorrow night.

Why, you ask? What are we making? Cornish game hen? Escargot? Sundried pesto chicken roulade? Well, that's a good question. I have no idea what we're making.

What I do know is I have a real hankering for a home cooked meal. Fish tacos was my last one. Sunday night I had a migraine and couldn't even keep down water, so dinner was right out of the question. (It was hard enough feeding my precious daughter her bananas.) Darling Husband made do with Taco Bell in between taking care of me and our little girl. What a miserable time. Monday night was a mish mash evening, and my solo dinner consisted of a bowl of lovely potage my sister made and a yogurt parfait from Wegman's. Technically, I guess this counts as home cooked, but I didn't home cook it.

Tonight I had a drawing class through the art museum, so we got take-out wings from Odis 21, a bar that reputably has the best wings in Erie. Numerous wing places say this, but I presume Odis 21 has some sort of wing competition win to back it up. I don't know if they're the very best in town, but they were pretty good and the flavors were interesting and bold. We got hot honey, buffalo mesquite, and hot blue cheese. We were both too stuffed to do more than sample the hot honey, having finished off the other two (which, frankly, we were too stuffed to do, too, but they just tasted so good...). I feel like I won't be hungry again for a long long time, but when I do eat, it had better have fresh veggies or fruit in it.

My sister's potage, I should mention, was homey, warm, comforting and just right. It's a soup made with leeks, potato and carrots. It's something my mom makes, and I've never actually paid too much attention to what goes in it. I seem to recall celery in my mom's, and now that I'm writing it, I think my sister might have put something else in, too. But the point is, you combine the veggies with water and you have soup, but then you puree it all together and you get this wonderful, velvety bowl of goodness. A little pat of butter, or perhaps a dollop of sour cream, or just some good sea salt and freshly ground pepper finish it off nicely.

I am not a big soup fan (although I'm coming around) but I've always loved this soup. Mom made it when we were sick, but also as a first course for dinner parties. It's versatile, which is just one of the things to love about it. It's a good thing to have on hand, because it's just as good heated up as it was when you made it... in fact, it's not bad cold, either. It's also one of those awesome dishes that are so much more than the sum of its parts. (It's all very Gestalt). I also love that my sister refers to it as potage. Which it is, but coming from her, it sounds even better. There's just something about the way she says it that lets you know she put a lot of love into it, and nostalgia, too. There's a tenderness to her voice. Anyway, she and I each had a bowl with just a pinch of fleur de sel. My daughter had a (much smaller) bowl with no seasoning. We were lucky that my sister forgot to salt and pepper the pot of soup itself, so my little one could share in the meal.

You know what? After blogging, I don't crave home made food so much. I realize I had it yesterday. I'm still going to look forward to cooking, although right now some potage sounds pretty darn good to me. I wonder if my sister has any left overs...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Here, fishy fishy fishy

I work for a crisis agency, and one of the parts of my job is to occasionally take a shift as the on-call person for our hotline. This used to involve carrying a pager, until recently when our answering service informed us we were the last people using such devices and made us switch to cell phones. The long and short of this is on occasion, for a 12 hour block of time, I must remain sober and accessible, in town and ready to talk on the phone or, as the case may be, respond to a hospital or other such place. Whatever I do during this time, therefore, is with the understanding that I may have to drop what I'm doing and leave for hours at a time. In other words, I can't call and order pizza, because I may not be there when it arrives. Nor should I pop a quiche in the oven. Of course, sometimes the phone never rings, and so I get paid only for my accessibility. Over the years I've tended to relish the things I can get "paid" to do, like watch a movie and sleep in, or go to the zoo, or various other marital pursuits.

Saturday night, I got paid to eat fish tacos and make a "chopped" type desert, cuddle my daughter and play on the floor with her, and fall asleep watching tv. Not a bad job, I have to say.

Fish tacos sound strange, but it's a west coast thing that has caught on in the past few years. If you're not familiar, please erase from your mind any reference to the El Paso packet of taco seasoning. There's a time and a place, but it is not with fish tacos.

We made ours with catfish that we soaked in buttermilk, both to cut down on the fishiness of the catfish and to use up the buttermilk we had in our fridge. (I mean, what the hell else are we going to do with buttermilk?) We then coated it in cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper and cayenne and let it get good and crispy in a pan with some oil. A smear of homemade guacamole, a few diced tomatoes and onion, and some fresh chopped parsley and cilantro finished the taco, served in a tortilla, of course.

Oh, but I forgot the remoulade! My Darling Husband suggested it, which I thought was very brave of him. I combined light mayo (about half a cup) with the juice of most of a lime, along with a healthy pinch of salt, a few cranks of pepper, a few dashes of cayenne and about 1/4 tsp each finely minced cilantro and parsley. It was tangy and creamy and the perfect accompaniment. We both enjoyed it. :o)

We had felt the hankering of a Chopped sort of challenge, but it was my turn and, being that I was on-call, it seemed ill advised. As a sort of compromise, we settled on a Chopped desert. Darling Husband presented me with steel cut oats, guava paste and creme fraiche.

I'm not big on making deserts. As I think I've mentioned, I don't actually enjoy baking. I'm not adverse to eating desert, mind you, but I'm well aware of my limitations. I was pleased that he was so gentle on me in choosing my ingredients.

I started off by making oatmeal, as I didn't know what else to do. I followed the directions, combining 3 cups of water with 1 cup of oats, bring to a boil with a pinch of salt, reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes. Then I microplaned in some brown sugar, as mine had clumped beyond salvage, and some tamari glazed almonds. I also chopped some of the almonds and added them in for crunch. I stirred in an egg yolk and about a cup or maybe more of flour. I spread this gluey mixture in the bottom of a pan, approximately 1/3 inch deep and baked until crusty on top, with a tanned appearance.

The guava paste was much more solid than I expected, almost rubbery. It resembled canned cranberry sauce that had somehow gelled much more than it should have. I cut it with a knife, and found it to be very sticky. I hacked off a wedge, chopped it and tried to melt it in a small sauce pan. I only succeeded in sizzling it. Apparently, there's not enough liquid in it to melt. I added some water and that helped, but I ended up using a stick blender to puree it.

When the oatmeal cookie/cake had cooled, I used cookie cutters to cut some out and arrange on a plate, which I topped with vanilla ice cream. I smeared the guava around the plate and topped with chopped tamari almonds. The creme fraiche I whipped and added, unaltered, to the side of the plate. Mmmmmmh. The oatmeal was chewy and not too sweet, but hearty and good. The almonds gave a nice crunch and also a tartness to add dimension. The guava was rather sweet, but also tart, too. All and all, a nice balance with the ice cream.

I've chosen three ingredients for Darling Husband to use to make desert. Dried cherries, fresh ginger and chestnut puree. I really don't know what I would do with them, but I'm looking forward to what he'll come up with!

Oh, and my phone never did ring Saturday night. That's good for me, and I like to think that it was good for our community, too, that no one needed me that night.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The taste of creme fraiche

A short post tonight, as we are all pretty tired... the kind of happy tired you get at the end of a long, productive but restful day.

I opened up a container of creme fraiche while fixing dinner and was happy, because we had found creme fraiche at Wegman's. They don't always carry it. I was pleased in the abstract, but then I dipped my finger in to taste.

Suddenly, it's as if I was catapulted back almost nine months.

After we brought our daughter home from the hospital, one of the things my mother brought to us was a pre-made meal of chicken breasts, green beans and creme fraiche. It was July, and very hot. Cooking was so far down on the priority list, I really wasn't sure I'd cook again--or, at least, not until my daughter was old enough to sit down and read a book while I did. I won't try to explain my state of mind, except to say that I, myself, forgot just what it was like until tonight.

The taste of that creme fraiche on the hot July night was a balm to my soul. It was the taste of good food, not complicated, but fresh and with quality ingredients. It was the taste of my mom taking care of me in one of the ways she does best. I remember being surprised at the tang and creaminess of the creme fraiche at the time, and how perfectly it complimented the chicken.

Tonight may have been a chilly, damp April night, but for all I noticed, it may as well have been 95 degrees. Thanks, mom.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plantain a Go-Go, a quick meal

Preparing plantains is not hard, but it does take a teeny bit of know-how.

First, choosing your plantain: If your plantain looks like a perfect banana, let it sit a week. Forget about it. When you finally remember, you'll see this yucky black and blemished skin and say to yourself, "Damn, there's 99 cents down the drain." Ah, but this is the perfect moment! The trick to plantains is to use them only when they look just about ready to be composted. Before that, they're tasteless and overly starchy. After that, well, it's hard to scrape off the coffee grounds and potato peels.

Prepping: Peeling them isn't like peeling a banana. You'll need to chop off the hard ends and then score the peel down the length in a few places. An unripe plantain will be a bear to peel, with the peel itself sticking to the flesh of the plantain like, well, like unripe plantain. A ripe one will roll out of its skin much the way a banana can.

There are many ways to use a plantain, but here's how we like them. It's a variation on a Latin dish, but we only fry them once (more in a minute).

Cooking: Cut the plantains into 1 1/2 to 2 inch slices Using a flat bottomed bowl or other similar utensil, apply even downward pressure to squash the plantain slice. Don't mash it completely onto the cutting board, but get them good and flat. (there is a sort of hinge that does this specifically, but who really needs it unless you're making this all the time? Besides, squishing is fun!)

Bring equal parts canola and olive oil to hot temperature in a skillet. You don't need a ton, just enough to come half way up your squished plantains. (FYI, the traditional latin dish fries the plantains once in their sliced form, then squishes, then fries a second time in squashed form.) Fry to a lovely brown crisp, flip and allow to color on the other side; drain on a paper towel. Salt immediately with kosher or sea salt. Yummmmmm.

We served them with roasted asparagus and carrots, baked at 375 for 20 minutes or so with a drizzle of olive oil and a few shakes of citrus basil rub. You could just as easily use salt and pepper, but I happen to have this on hand.

For protein we made Sizzle Shrimp, one of my favorite quick night meals. Since I was spending more time on the plantains, it was an easy way to make the meal still get to the table in a little amount of time. Put about 2 Tbsp sambol olek in a large skillet and fry in about a teaspoon of olive oil until fragrant and yummy, about a minute. Add the fresh juice of about half a lime. Quickly arrange a pound of shelled, raw shrimp in the pan, making sure the shrimp do not overlap. When the pink color comes half way up the shrimp, flip them over and immediately add a healthy few grinds of black pepper and about a teaspoon of splenda. One could use sugar, but would probably want to add it in differently so that it dissolved. Toss the shrimp in the pan, coating with the oil and sauce, and add the rest of the lime juice. Serve immediately, making sure not to overcook the shrimp. You might want to have crusty bread to sop up the sauce.
Too spicy? Try reducing the sambol olek and increasing the lime. You could also put a splash of white wine or even stock to flesh out the sauce a bit.

Is it the quickest meal I've ever made? Of course not. But it comes in well under 30 minutes, and packs a lot of flavor. The shrimp are sweet from the natural sweetness of the shellfish, and spicy and bright, too. The splenda in them only offsets the sourness of the lime, but doesn't make it actually sweet. The asparagus are crispy and soft all at once, and melt in your mouth. The plantains are crunchy on the outside, soft inside, with a banana sweetness but also a starchy backbone. Try one of these components, or the whole meal, the next time you are wandering the produce aisle and get inspired.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's that smell?

I heard the greatest story on NPR today, one that I had to tell a number of people because it tickled my fancy and brought happiness to my world. The link to the story is here, but I'll sum it up for you. This Harvard scientist was researching the way ants communicate through chemical signals, and found that when an ant dies, the other ants ignore it until two days after it's dead. At this time, the ant carcass gives off a certain scent. The very next ant who happens by grabs the corpse and takes it to the ant graveyard, throwing it on the other dead ants. He spent ages testing out various chemicals (the essence of rotting fish, feces and sweat, to name a few) until he discovered what the chemical was. Well, in the wacky world of academia, the next logical step is to see if you can screw with some ants. First, he made dummy ants, sprayed them with this stuff, and watched the ants react as if it were a real corpse. Then the fun started. He sprayed a live ant with the chemical. The very next ant to happen by grabbed the struggling (and, presumably, baffled) ant, hauled it to the graveyard, and threw it in. You can picture it, can't you? "Hey! Hey! I'm not dead! Tiffany, wait! It's me, Beth! Heeeeeyyyyy! Ewwwwww!" The poor ant cleaned herself off as best as she could, returned to the colony, and was promptly picked up by another ant and carted back off to the graveyard. It took her about an hour to clean herself off well enough to be accepted as alive and not some strange zombie ant.

I was listening to this while driving. I started laughing so hard I nearly missed the road to my sister's house.

I was reflecting on this story while I was making dinner tonight, and I had a revelation. Bear with me as I ponderously explain.

When I was pregnant, I would occasionally get a whiff of fishiness from my food. Now, I'm talking about not-at-all-containing-fish, haven't-cooked-fish-all-week sort of food... and not necessarily strong, but just a touch. Enough to make me turn up my nose. Sometimes I couldn't finish the dish, sometimes I just had to take a few deep breaths and then could go back to eating. I'm pretty sure Darling Husband thought I was pretty insane, asking him to please smell the grilled cheese and see if it smelled fishy to him. Because it never did.

I haven't really given it much thought outside of that. Until tonight, when I started thinking about smells in general. I often find I get the strangest smells when I'm doing making a roux, for example. (I should explain that a roux is made by melting butter, oil or another fat in a pan, adding in flour and cooking them together. The raw flour taste cooks out quickly. This is the basis for creamy white sauces like bechamel, too. When doing a white sauce, you leave the roux really rather blonde. When making gumbo, you're aiming for more of a coffee, nut brown color. The flavor this adds is indescribable.) At first, it just smells like butter. Then, after a few minutes, there's a distinct banana smell. It's truly strange. After a while, there's a strong popcorn aroma to the roux. This, too, is just a phase. Then it just smells like awesome roux, particularly when you throw in onions and oh, I'm getting off topic.

Once when I mentioned the banana phase of roux making to Darling Husband, he (who has a degree in chemical engineering) explained that the "banana" smell is a chemical that bananas release. It's the same thing they use to ripen fruit, which is why if you put a banana in a brown paper bag with some peaches or whatever, they will ripen faster. Somewhere in the building of the roux, then, this chemical compound must form.

Cooking is, after all, an elaborate chemistry experiment.

Back to the ants. And dinner. So I'm frying up plantains tonight, and I get that old, familiar wisp of fishiness. Suddenly it all clicks. I'm not crazy, I just smell well! There must be a chemical that, to me, smells of fish. And it must be present in the cooking process of some foods. When I was pregnant, I was very sensitive to smells, and so it makes sense that I would smell them more strongly then. Ah-HAH!

I have a super sniffer!

Tonight the fishiness passed quickly, and the plantains were fantastic. I'll blog about them later, because I have quite a lot to say on the proper selection and preparation of plantains. But for now, gentle readers, I bid you adieu and bonne nuit. May your worlds smell sweet.