Monday, August 24, 2009

Entertainment in St. Louis- Herbaria Soaps (WINNER UPDATED)

Okay, so soap making may not be the first thing that comes to mind for entertainment in St. Louis. Afterall, there are plenty of pro-sports teams, cool jazz joints, and other rambunctious activties. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you check out Herbaria, a little soap company on The Hill where scents of lavender and peppermint win the sensory battle of a ten foot section of the charming streets, leaving you clammering to get into the door for a better whiff. And, whiff you may...

There are plenty of sniffs to go 'round like those of Lycopene Tomato, Indonesian Safflower, and Patchouli Hemp ( to name a few.) You can even pick up some incredible handmade soap dishes to hold it all in.

The cool thing is, they give tours of how everything is made and are completely welcoming.

I love that every product is made independently and free of chemicals- we're talking pure vegetable goodness here. I also love that Herbaria granted me my first "paid" photography gig- trade photos for their website for free soap and THAT, friends, is a gift I'm passing along to you.
All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what recipe you'd like me try and make next and you're entered to win a bar of Avocado Lemon soap!
"What? You're giving away a bar of soap??" This isn't just any soap, people. Husby will attest to the quality and let me just say, he doesn't give a flip about soap...usually. The Herbaria Licorice Bar has him won over for good. I really wish I liked black licorice because it makes the entire bathroom smell like it. That's some good soap.
They were slicing up freshly made Avocado Lemon bars while we were there so this is your chance to get a piece of it.
Winner will be randomly drawn using and announced on Thursday morning ( 8.27.09) I'll accept entries until the very moment I get up on Thursday morning ( around 7:00ish, give or take a snooze.)
Now go come up with something good for me to make!
UPDATE: April!- You are the lucky winner of a bar of Avocado Lemon Soap! had the harrowing job of randomly picking 1-4 entries and you got it. Congrats. Now, go take a shower.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eating in St. Louis- Guido's Pizza and Tapas

When we weren't risking rash and arrest in St. Louis last weekend, we went on a normal bike ride through one of my favorite neighborhoods of St. Louis known as The Hill District. The Hill is a predominantly Italian community populating roughly 50 square blocks south of downtown where Italian immigrants began to settle as early as the mid-1800s.

I love the character of the streets from the green bricked buildings and uniquely painted doors to the prideful fire hydrants and people walking around with bread. And, oh yeah... that's pizza you're smelling in the air...
Never come to The Hill on a full stomach. I mean, that's just crazyness. In fact, you might want to skip breakfast to make some more room for the tasty deliciousness to be had all around. We decided to try out Guido's Pizza and Tapas as it's rated one of St. Louis Magazine's Best 35 restaurants. Oh, and because it's perfect for the person who can't make up their mind ( like, me, for instance.)

The menu is extensive and decidedly diverse, ranging from albondigas to calamari, homemade lasagna to mediterranean mussels. Though I'm sure the tapas are great, you don't go to a mexican place to order a cheeseburger and you don't go to The Hill to eat anything other than Italian. That's as far as my decision making got us, though.
We started with drinks and a salad to share with the house vinagrette and provel cheese while we studied our options. Mmmmm....

Ultimately, when I was about to order a cheese pizza and some lasagna, we saw this massive plate of pasta go by and had to have it to share.

The tortellini was filled with a blend of veal and pork served in a buttery cream sauce and topped with peas, pruscutto, and freshly grated parmesean. You know how sometimes Italian restaurants shoot for rich and just end up salty? This was spot on rich. We were in Italian heaven. And, don't be fooled by all the sharing... we left fully stuffed and satisfied with food left on the plate all for under $25.00. Seriously, it's worth a trip to St. Louis just for this.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zucchini Bread

My heightened awareness and possession of zucchini this season has led me to seek out many ways to make it. Zucchini and squash stir fry can only take me so far and, after the massive chicken and zucchini failure, I was on a hunt for something new and different that I could master. So, of course, I had to set out trying zucchini bread when a friend suggested I make it with this giant zucchini I'd acquired. (I should have taken a picture of it next to my head for perspective...)

I wasn't immediately sold on the idea...I mean, banana and pumpkin, yes, but whoever heard of zucchini bread? I entertained visions of providing my bread to unsuspecting receptacles... "Oh, wow, that's delicious" they would say. "What is that making my taste buds swoon?" Then I would squeal out, "It's...It's... Z-Z-ZUCCHINI!!!" and all would herald me as a creative extraordinaire. MUhahahaha.

Very quickly, my dreams were crushed. Sadly, everyone and their mother has had zucchini bread in my town except for me. Even MY MOTHER said she used to make it all the time and she's not even from my town. Oh, and, the above scenario is based on a very optimistic view that I wouldn't burn the thing. Yet, I was still set on making it depite the fact that my bud bailed on providing the recipe. Plus, I was pretty determined to find someone who hadn't had it before.

I came across this foundational piece at and modified it resulting in less fat and full deliciousness. I reduced the sugar and used half white and half brown. I swapped half the oil for applesauce and to make up for what I feared would be a loss in moistness, I added an additional cup of grated zucchini. Hey, I had to get my tricks in there somewhere and, guess what? It was a winning combo by all accounts - even from experienced zucchini bread eaters. I'll definitely be making this again ( especially since the zucchini supply hasn't diminished at all)

Zucchini Bread ( adapted from Mom's Zucchini Bread and Makes 2 loaves ( one to eat- one to share!)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup white sugar 1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Butter 2 8x 4 inch loaf pans.

2.Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
Beat eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla, brown and white sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.

4. Deliver second loaf to the neighbor but don't tell them it's zucchini bread, just in case they haven't had it before.

Score! They hadn't had it. Mission complete.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Aubrey

Aubrey has managed to drag his birthday celebrations out as long as humanly possible. He had a week's worth of festivities and well wishes. Last night marked the end when I finally was able to make him his favorite Irishy birthday dish...Horseradish Shepherd's Pie. Oh yes, you've seen this recipe before. But THIS time, the flames on the pie were intentional.

We listened to very Irishy music and slammed pints of Guinness. It was all very authentic, mmm hmm, definitely. To round out Aub's current obsession with all things Irish, I gifted him a couple tickets to see the legendary Shane MacGowan of The Pogues in Kansas City on October 25th. Did you know Shane MacGowan once ate Volume 3 of a Beach Boys album because he thought he was convincing the Russian Ambassador of the worthlessness of American Imperialism. Huh? What? That's what I said. But, the dude's got something. He really does.

And you can find out what it is! If you can't get to Ireland for a pub crawl, this might be the next best thing. Tickets are still on sale here for their American Tour dates near you. If you go to the one in KC, look for the horribly out of place short mexican girl... that'll be me.

Happy Birthday, darling!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Julia Child's Ratatouille

I'm not a huge TV watcher. When I do watch, I'm usually drawn to the food network and those weird food shows on the public station. Despite this, I only recall catching a Julia Child show twice in my whole life. Strangely, I could recognize her voice anywhere. Julia Child is a culinary fixture, the literal voice of a movement, the Chuck Norris of the kitchen. To many, her recipes are timeless classics. To others, her dishes are antiquated and reminiscent of a time long before I was wielding a spatula, that's for sure. The Julia of my mind leans toward the latter...a person you know through the collective filters of popular culture, certainly not accessible. Definitely not an inspiration to me.

When I read Julie & Julia, (a book inspired by the true story of a pioneering food blogger who randomly decides to make all 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days) I expected to be alienated, punished for not knowing a thing about Julia Child- a no-no in the food world. Instead I found something I could relate to... a real life Julia seen through the eyes of someone like me- a complete and utter non-pro. Did you know Julia Child started cooking when she was 32? If that's not an inspiration to try new things, I don't know what is.

In celebration of the triump of two 30ish women with the cajones to try something new, I decided to get all Julie/Julia and make a recipe from MTAOFC myself. I chose Ratatouille because it looked the EASIEST! Guess what? Not Easy! Am I a convert to Julia's ways? Absolutley not. Do I respect them? Completely. Just be prepared to do a lot of dishes because one dish wonders are not Julia's forte. And remember, do as Julia says!

Ratatouille- From Mastering the Art of French Cooking ( sourced from Bon Apetit August 2009)

6 Servings

1/2 pound eggplant
1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 8-ounce onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound firm but ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 3/8- to 1/4-inch-thick strips
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1. Promptly freak out about eggplant looking like a Conehead. Impersonate Coneheads for 3 minutes while watching the eggplant impersonate James Dean in the fridge.

Peel eggplant; cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut into 3-inch-long, 1-inch-wide strips. Cut zucchini into same size strips. Place vegetables in large bowl; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain; dry with paper towels.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and zucchini to skillet; sauté until light golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to plate; reserve.

Add 3 tablespoons oil to skillet; heat over medium heat. Add onion and peppers; sauté until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Place tomato strips atop onion-pepper mixture in skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover skillet; cook over low heat until tomatoes begin to juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover; baste vegetables in skillet with juices. Boil until juices are almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of onion-pepper-tomato mixture to 2 1/2-quart pot; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley. Top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini, then remaining onion-pepper-tomato mixture; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley. Layer remaining eggplant and zucchini over; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley. Cover; simmer over low heat 10 minutes.

Uncover; tilt pot and baste with accumulated juices. Increase heat to medium; simmer uncovered, basting several times with pan juices until only 2 to 3 tablespoons juices remain in pot, watching closely to avoid scorching, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.

You get all that? Makes Rachel Ray seem downright concise.

When you get all the dishes done, be sure to see Julia go to the masses when Julie & Julia, the movie, opens on August 7th.