Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wine Review: Gazela - Vinho Verde

In my continuing quest to find a decent Vinho Verde, I decided to try one called Gazela (Figure 1). I previously tried the Twin Vines 2009 Vinho Verde paired with Tofu Pad Thai. The Twin Vines is 10% alcohol, but the Gazela is only 9%. Gazela's label states that it is "a fresh, young and floral, light and smooth wine." It also says that it should be served "chilled at 6-8C, as an aperitif, with salads, fish or seafood."

I would agree that this wine would pair well with fish or salads, and it was light and smooth. I also thought it was slightly sweeter than other Vinho Verde's I have tried. At $8/bottle, it is definitely good quality for the price. I also like that it has a screw cap, making it easier to recap and store in the fridge. This way I don't have to be an alcoholic and finish the bottle in one go.
Figure 1: Gazela Vinho Verde (Portugal, 2009)

Final recommendations: Would recommend and will probably buy again.

When life gives you lemons, make Lemon Drizzle Cake!

I'd been promising Rob a lemon cake since his birthday, and I found some yummy Meyer lemons at Whole Foods. I decided that Jamie Oliver's Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe would be a nice choice, and after perusing the recipe, Rob approved. However, I didn't have any poppy seeds, self-rising flour or an 8" spring form pan, all of which were called for in the recipe. I decided to nix the poppy seeds, and use my 9" spring form pan and hope for the best. The internet also informed me that I could substitute 1 cup of self rising flour with 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. The results were a delicious treat that was thoroughly enjoyed by Rob and even me, despite my less than enthusiastic opinion of things lemon flavored.
Figure 1: Drizzling the lemon glaze over the cake.
Figure 2: Bon appetit!

Pancake Day 2011

Pancake Day celebrations made their way across the Atlantic this past week. Americans reading this post are probably more familiar with Mardi Gras celebrations, but in our apartment, we celebrate Pancake Day. For those new to this holiday, it doesn't refer to typical pancakes made with the likes of Bisquik, but instead pancakes that are more of a crepe like consistency. I used the classic recipe Delia's Basic Pancakes with Sugar and Lemon from my copy of Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course. Enjoy the pictures and a movie of our pancakes. Happy Pancake Day!

Frying up some pancakes in butter!
Rob helped with the pancake flipping. He's quite good.

Then we sprinkled the pancakes with sugar and lemon juice, rolled them up and enjoyed!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Bechamel

Amongst the many food blogs I read on a regular basis, one that never lets me down is The Kitchn. In its semi-recent "Best Healthy Casserole" contest, the winner was this Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Bechamel. With it's use of healthy colorful vegetables in a creative way, I had to give it a try. The result received mixed review from me and Rob: I loved it, but Rob just thought it was okay. As a bonus, since Rob didn't like it as much, I got to eat all the leftovers! I would definitely recommend it and would love to make it again. The only changes I would make to my initial preparation are that I think I would have liked it better if i made the butternut bechamel a bit thinner, and I miscalculated the spacing of my lasagna sheets, so there were a few "holes" in the layers. I've posted the recipe below. I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as I did.

Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Bechamel (from The Kitchn's Best Healthy Casserole contest)
serves 6 to 8
1 pound (about 16) lasagna noodles
2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash (or 2 pounds chopped squash)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large bunch (about 5 large leaves) chard, well-washed
1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup water or white wine
1 cup milk, plus additional if needed
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 lemon, zested
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for the top of the lasagna
1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese mix
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as directed on the package. When cooked, drain and lay out on clean kitchen towels to dry.
While the pasta is cooking, peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until extremely soft.
Remove the stems and ribs from the chard leaves by folding each leaf in half lengthwise and using the tip of a chef's knife to slit away the main rib. Chop each rib and stem into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each leaf up into a cigar shape, cut it in half lengthwise, and then crosswise into thin ribbons.
Heat a thin drizzle of oil oil in a 10-inch sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms. Cook without stirring until quite brown — about 5 to 7 minutes. Flip them over and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the garlic and chard stems to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant — about 3 minutes. Add the chopped chard leaves and 1/4 cup water or white wine and cook until the leaves are tender and wilted. Turn off the heat and season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper.
At this point the butternut squash should be quite soft. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Scrape all the squash into a bowl and add 1/2 cup milk, the nutmeg, lemon zest and thyme. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture, adding the remaining milk as you go (this can also be done in a traditional blender). Add extra milk if necessary to make the sauce smooth and creamy, but not too thin. (Think thin fruit smoothie.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the lasagna, spoon about 1/4 of the butternut sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and spread to thinly coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the noodles on top (four noodles) and then spread 1/3 of remaining sauce on noodles. Top with 1/2 of the cooked vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Add another layer of noodles, then sauce, then the rest of the vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Place the final layer of noodles over the vegetables and spread the last 1/3 of the sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and a pinch of thyme leaves.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is gooey. Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with a good green salad and some bread.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Swiss Chard & Baby Spinach Spanikopita

Don't be afraid of phyllo dough. I stocked up on some when it was on sale at Giant Eagle a few months ago. In my current quest to cook more seasonal recipes, I bought some rainbow Swiss chard. I've also been looking for recipes that I can make one day and will leave leftovers that reheat well the next day. I found this recipe for Swiss Chard Spanikopita at I adapted it to use what I had in my fridge at the time; the recipe is listed below. I really liked this dish and so did Rob. It was really easy to prepare and only used 2 pans, one to saute the ingredients and one to bake it in the oven. We ate this as a main dish one night, then I brought some into work for lunch the next day, and the day after I served the rest as a side dish alongside some fish. The recipe is definitely a keeper.

Swiss Chard & Baby Spinach Spanikopita

1 shallot minced
2.75 cp vidallia onion minced, about 1.5 onions
about 3 scallions minced
1 clove garlic minced
1 bunch Swiss chard (6 big leaves rainbow), rough chop
3 good handfuls baby spinach, rough chop
6 tbsp fresh parsley (approximately, I just grabbed a handful or 2 of leaves and chopped them)
3 tbsp fresh mint (approximately, I just grabbed a few leaves and chopped them)
1/2 cp freshly grated Parmesan
6 oz container crumbled feta
salt and pepper
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1/2 package phyllo dough, defrosted (I used Athens Foods brand, thawed in my fridge for 24 hours)
cooking spray (canola flavor)
butter topping spray (I used Olivio's)

Preheat oven to 375F (was probably closer to 350F, but my oven temp is off so I usually turn if up about 25 degrees higher than listed on recipes).

Heat a large nonstick skillet drizzled with EVOO over medium-high heat. Add vidallia and shallots; saute 7 minutes or until golden. Add scallions and garlic, and saute 1 minute. Stir in chard and baby spinach; cook 2 minutes or until chard and spinach wilts. Stir in parsley and mint, and cook 1 minute. Place in a large bowl; cool slightly. Stir in cheeses, salt, pepper, and egg plus egg white.

Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place 1 phyllo sheet in the bottom of the pan. Spray sheet with cooking spray. Top with another sheet of phyllo, coat with cooking spray, repeat. Continue layers until you have layered 5 sheets of phyllo in total.

Note: Don't worry if the sheets rip as you're layering them, no one will notice, just try to piece them together to make a full layer if you have to. Trust me, it will still taste delicious :) As an alternative, you can use the butter topping spray instead of cooking spray between the layers, or if you want something a bit richer, you can brush the sheets with melted butter. I like the ease of using cooking spray and don't miss the extra calories using melted butter adds.

Now, take the Swiss chard and spinach mixture and pour it on top of the phyllo layers in the baking dish. Spread the mixture evenly around the baking dish. Top the mixture with 1 sheet of phyllo, coat the sheet with cooking spray and continue layering phyllo sheets and cooking spray until you've used up the remaining phyllo sheets.

Note: I forgot to cover my remaining to prevent them from drying, so a few sheets didn't make it into the dish, but it still turned out fine.

Once you've layered all the remaining phyllo sheets, spray the top of the spanikopita with butter topping spray and score the phyllo with a sharp knife to make 12 rectangles (3 x 4). Place the baking dish in your preheated oven and cook for 30-40 min until the top is golden. Distribute rectangles to eagerly waiting friends and family.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I think my guinea pig is auditioning for ANTM

Look at my guinea pig Ginny, she just does these poses like she's a model.
and since I love both my piggies equally, here's some of Cuddy:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Butter Poached Scallops and Sleek

"This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop" ~Fabio Viviani

Well, this isn't Top Chef, it's just my blog, and a couple weeks ago, I decided to buy some scallops that were "Eco-OK". I've been trying to incorporate fish into my diet more frequently to increase my protein intake and have a more balanced diet, but I've also been interested in understanding the idea of sustainable fishing. I won't go off on a rant about sustainable fishing right now (I'll be writing an article on that for my Science Writing class later in the semester, so you can hear about it then), but for now, let's just say that I decided to buy the scallops.

Having purchased the scallops from my trusty local Whole Foods, I needed to find a good way to prepare them, so I turned to my favorite Top Chef Master, Rick Moonen's cookbook Fish Without a Doubt. Since I purchased the scallops spur of the moment, I didn't have a recipe in mind so I looked for one that took advantage of items I already had in my cupboard. I settled on Rick's recipe for "Butter-poached Bay Scallops" using his "Garlic Butter Sauce." Since I don't want to violate any copyright laws, I'm not going to post the recipes, but I'll give you the gist. I made a butter sauce on the stovetop using shallots, thyme, garlic and of course, butter. I then cleaned the "feet" off the scallops and dumped them in the sauce. I let them poach over low heat for several minutes until they looked opaque. Since, I didn't really have any experience cooking scallops, I sort of just guessed when I thought they were "done." Neither Rob nor I got sick and they tasted yummy, so I think I did okay.

To accompany my buttery shellfish, I made some sleek. I happened to have some kale on hand since my seasonal food calendar told me it was in season so I had bought some. I found this recipe for sleek online. The recipe called for 1 1/2 lb kale, but I just used the bundle I had in the fridge. Also, I didn't measure out the onion, instead I just chopped up 1 average size vidalia onion. If you've never tried sleek before, you must do as soon as possible, and it is fairly easy to make at home and doesn't require many ingredients. I always use Rob as my gauge for how appealing veggie dishes are to the general populous as he can be quite picky, and he enjoyed this recipe. It may not have been a Top Chef worthy meal, but it just may be a dish worthy of Top Scallop.

First Interview Article Re-write

Well here's the final draft of my interview article. I ended up getting a B-, and I must admit that I didn't put in much effort in the re-write. Not my proudest moment, but I'm getting better. We have mid-semester check-ups in a week, so we'll see if my teacher thinks I'm getting any better as well. Here's the article. Up next, another interview article, but of a more personal nature. I'll post the draft when I have one.

A woman drops her daughter off in the morning at day care. The daughter happens to spill some paint on her clothes during playtime, so the teacher tells her to change her shirt. At the end of the day, the woman returns to pick up her daughter but cannot find her among the children. She patiently waits for the teacher to bring her daughter over to her.

Her problem? The woman has a condition known as prosopagnosia, meaning she cannot recognize faces. It isn’t that she can’t see faces, there’s nothing wrong with her vision. She just can’t tell if she’s seen that face before or who it belongs to. People with prosopagnosia rely on non-facial cues to identify people, such as clothing or voice. When the daughter changed her clothes, her mother no longer had a visual clue to identify her daughter.

While the simple act of recognizing a face is something most people take for granted, up to two percent of the general population suffers from face-blindness also known as prosopagnosia.
Most of us get a lot of information from faces—age, gender, identity, even emotional states. And until recently, studies seemed to show that “there is this dedicated part of the brain that is necessary for face recognition,” says Dr. Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University, a prosopagnosia researcher. This dedicated region of the brain is known as the fusiform face area (FFA).
Since it isn’t feasible to probe a living human brain with electrodes, primates have traditionally served as the model system for studying face recognition in the brain. Because humans and primates are so closely related, the primate visual system is very similar to the human visual system. These studies on primates have shown that the FFA is specifically activated when a monkey is shown a face, supporting the idea that the FFA is a dedicated brain region for face recognition.

However, the development of a new technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows researchers to study prosopagnosia and face recognition in humans. Using fMRI, Dr. Behrmann can scan the brains of individuals as they look at different images and record which areas have the highest metabolism.

Initially, Dr. Behrmann had predicted that prosopagnosia patients would have lower metabolism in their FFA when viewing images of faces. Surprisingly, the fMRI scans revealed that the patients had normal metabolism levels in their FFA. This lead Dr. Behrmann to create a new hypothesis; perhaps it was the connections between the FFA and other brain regions that were defective in prosopagnosia patients. Instead of just one brain region being dedicated to face recognition, there could be a dedicated circuitry of brain regions for face recognition.

In fact, when Dr. Behrmann scanned the brains of her prosopagnosia patients she found that they had little to no neural connections between the FFA and other brain regions. Interestingly, she only found this defect in patients that had been born with prosopagnosia. In contrast, patients that had acquired prosopagnosia through brain trauma had normal neural connections  but reduced metabolism in their FFA.
Although these studies are providing new and important insights into the inner working of prosopagnosia, a cure is still far on the horizon. In the meantime, Dr. Behrmann is collaborating with computer scientists to develop ways to help prosopagnosia patients.

One idea she is helping develop would take advantage of facial recognition software. Ideally, a patient could carry around a camera that snaps photos of faces. The software would then compare the photos to a database of faces the patient should know, such as friends and family members.  If the photo matched a face in the database, the software could then relay the identity of the person to the patient. Unfortunately there are some obstacles that still need to be overcome before this becomes a viable treatment option for patients. For example, there are privacy issues that come into play when taking images of random people walking down the street.
Despite the hurdles she faces, Dr. Behrmann continues to find new and inventive ways to study prosopagnosia. And she is the first to admit that “this literature is burning hot in controversy . . .people are tearing their hair out . . . trying to understand what is the relationship between brain and behavior, [and] what is the best way to think about this mapping between stimuli and the underlying neural circuit.”

Hopefully new advances in technology and continued study of prosopagnosia patients will provide more information and make the idea of a cure into a reality.