Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ode to a Mini Kiwi

Even in our over-sized culture, I still believe that smaller versions of anything are always irresistible. This is true for inedible objects (baby shoes, VW bugs) and edible ones (cupcakes, kumquats). It is for this reason that I believe the mini Kiwi will be the next "in" fruit, charming everyone from innovative chefs to mothers desperate for something new and healthy to put in their kid's lunch. The mini Kiwi is showing up in more and more produce departments, forcing consumers to ask themselves some tough questions, such as: "why am I still buying big, hairy Kiwi fruit that are hard to peel when I can buy cute little bite-sized kiwis that can just be popped right into my mouth?" and " why am I taking the time to slice a big Kiwi fruit into a fruit salad when I can just throw mini Kiwis right into the salad?"

What is there not to love about the mini Kiwi? They taste exactly like regular Kiwis, except maybe a little sweeter. The outside peel is edible and you can easily tear or slice off the tiny stem. They are about the size of a large cherry. The only down side is that miny kiwis don't keep very long, so I don't advise buying and then forgetting about the little guys in the back of your fridge for a week like I did. But if you do, just throw 'em into a smoothie, which adds a healthy dose of Vitamin C.

So cute. So not-furry. Mini Kiwi, you are the fruit of the future.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Move Over White Wine

The scenario is always the same. I'm intrigued by a recipe , I start to read it and imagine making it, and then I come to the ingredient that is always the kiss of death: 1/2 cup white wine. Aargh. When you're only an occasional white wine drinker and the other person in the house won't even touch the stuff, it seems like such a waste of wine and money to buy a bottle for 1/2 cup. I can't just stop making recipes that call for white wine, so I knew I had to find a solution. And like so many problems in life, I found the answer in a bottle of Champagne. Well, not Champagne exactly, but sparkling wine. An eight dollar bottle from Washington State's Domaine St. Michelle to be specific. Brut sparkling wines have the same crisp, dry taste as white wine, so why not use bubbly in a recipe instead of white wine? A dry Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain will work just as well and can often be found for around $10 or less. Buy a Champagne stopper to cork the bottle and your bubbly will last in the fridge for another 1-2 days. Cooking is all about improvising and making a recipe your own. And if you're someone who doesn't always love being in the kitchen, a glass of bubbly always makes it much more fun.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dr. Bragg

So who is this Dr. Bragg, exactly, and why would I want his liquid aminos?
As if the seventies-looking yellow label isn’t already slightly suspicious with its claim of “serving health to America since 1912,” the label also has three words that I dread seeing together: delicious healthy gourmet. Not that gourmet food can’t be delicious and healthy, but when these words are put together on a label it usually means, “not only is this expensive, but it tastes like cardboard!” But I decided to give the mysterious Dr. Bragg a chance anyway, mostly because I’ve been seeing more and more people going through check out lines with his products. Specifically, the Liquid Aminos. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins that help our bodies with growth and maintenance. A balanced diet is the best way to maintain the proper balance of amino acids. Or, it turns out, you can just buy a spray bottle from Braggs.

Not quite sure what to do with this “all purpose seasoning from Soy Protein” I read the label, which recommends it on everything from vegetables to popcorn to jerky (I ended up just spritzing it on some white rice). While the flavor isn’t that bad, (it tastes kind of like soy sauce) products like this make me wonder, “what’s the point?” Do I want to use a liquid seasoning some guy in California with sketchy advertising and ingredients cooked up? Or do I want to use a liquid seasoning that has been used by Asian cultures for two thousand years?

I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with my soy sauce.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Over the years I've made many valiant attempts at making food at home that can easily be found in a restaurant or store. And over the years, I've had to admit defeat more than a few times. Marshmallows, for one. Why would anyone try to make homemade Marshmallows when you can buy a bag of perfectly fluffy, uniformly shaped Marshmallows for a few bucks? This is a good question and one I asked myself after the third time I found myself scraping thin, sticky, spongy homemade "Marshmallows" out of a pan. I have also vowed to The Husband and myself that I will never again attempt to make Thai food. Why go to five stores for fifteen different ingredients that I always manage to turn into an inedible mix of sweet/spicy/fishy flavors when I can simply pick up the phone and have Pad See-Iw delivered in twenty minutes?

But there are some things that never taste as good when they are store-bought and are incredibly easy to make at home. Pita chips, for one. Ricotta,surprisingly, is another. And last week, I added Granola to this list. I love Granola and I have never found a version in any store that I have fallen in love with. And believe me, I've tried them all, spending as much as $10.00 for a mediocre experience. It's usually too sweet or too dry. It usually has too many oats and not enough nuts. The flavor is often bland or artificial tasting. I am so much happier with my own homemade version that I will never buy Granola again. This recipe is easy to make, relatively healthy and can be adjusted to your personal tastes. Like more dried fruit? Add more! Love pecans and hate almonds? No problem! Trying to cut back on sugar? Just add less! The only ingredient I wouldn't tinker with is the oil - if you must cut back, just be warned that your Granola might lean towards something a horse would enjoy eating more than you.

3 cups old fashioned oats
3 cups nuts (I usually use a combination of two or three nuts. My favorites are pistachios, pine nuts, slivered almonds, pecans and pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey (you can also use maple syrup)
1 cup dried fruit (sometimes I use less, especially in the summer when I add fresh berries to a bowl of Granola)

Preheat oven to 300. Mix first 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together all other ingredients (EXCEPT dried fruit). Pour liquid over oats and nuts, mixing really well to completely coat. Pour Granola onto a rimmed cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper.) Bake 1 hour, stirring several times. Take out of the oven and add dried fruit. Let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Half the Bottle, Twice the Fun

More is not always better.

With every birthday I celebrate (as I did last week) this bit of wisdom seems wiser and wiser. This is not to say I follow this advice religiously. Sometimes more of whatever it is you desire is pretty damn great. But recently when I’ve been in wine stores, I find myself drawn to the half-bottle section. Some nights, I don’t really want, or need, to open a full bottle of wine. Maybe because it’s a Tuesday night and I have to be up early the next day; Maybe because The Husband now insists (ahem) on only drinking martinis; Or maybe I just want to try a new wine but not invest in a full bottle.

It’s taken me a long time to take half-bottles seriously. They seemed like a waste of money and a waste of time. But I used to also think this about well-made shoes (money) and flossing (time). I’ve seen the error of my thinking with shoes and flossing (never buy cheap shoes; floss regularly) and I’ve seen it now with wine, too. Half-bottles (for those of us lacking slightly in restraint) are perfect portion control.

Half-bottles are exactly that: 375mL (two generous glasses of wine) to a full-bottle’s 750mL. Half-bottles are half the price, give or take a few dollars sometimes. Shopping the half-bottle shelves does limit your choices somewhat, but look around; some wine stores have a much larger selection than others. Reds, whites and bubblies from all types of grapes, all types of regions, and all prices ranges ($6.00 up into the hundreds) are out there.

Whether you’re eating at home or in a restaurant, half-bottles are also a great way to pair wine with food. Open a bottle of white for the first course (perhaps with a seafood appetizer?) and then a red for the second (steak and potatoes?). In this case, when you’re able to enjoy two wines at one meal, less really is more.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hang On, Little Tomato

Is there anything as precarious as a tiny tomato hanging on the vine?

Taking a wider world view than my front garden, I suppose the answer is yes. But it doesn’t change the fact that I walk out every morning expecting the worst. Maybe a rodent will eat it. Maybe the plant will get sick before the tomato ripens. Maybe one of several thousands types of tiny insects might start nibbling on its leaves. And here’s the thing - I don’t even really like tomatoes (unless they’re part of something, like salsa or pasta sauce, or ketchup). But this is my first foray into gardening and I’m a little nervous.
When I was in culinary school, one of my classmates grew several pots of tomatoes in her bedroom. Sun streamed in from a bay window, ripening the little tomatoes day by day. Her dream was to wake up one morning and pluck a tiny red tomato from the vine, enjoying its sweet flavor without even getting out of bed. Perhaps this was the ultimate foodie fantasy being played out. Or perhaps it was just a girl living in a tiny apartment in a major city and a pot next to her bed was as close to a garden as she was going to get.
For years I’ve been in the same predicament, but now, no more. Although to be fair, I don’t want to overstate the greenness of my thumb. First of all, The Husband has done the lion’s share of the work (numerous trips for soil and seeds, disciplined watering). Secondly, we don’t even have a real garden, we just have pots. But we do have a tiny green tomato trying its
darndest to grow and one box of lettuce seeds that refuses to grow at all and I’m rooting for both of them.
Will the tomato ripen? And if it does, what do we do with it? There’s only one tomato on the plant, so do we cut the tiny thing in half and throw it in a salad, which will conveniently be small too, since one box of lettuce seeds refuses to grow? I don't have the answers to those questions. I'm new at this gardening thing. But I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Celery root

There are more than a few frightening-looking fruits and vegetables that look more like creatures you’d find under your bed than something you’d want in your kitchen.
When I bought celery root recently, I was sure I’d come out for a glass of water during the night and find that the root had sprouted legs and beady eyes or some sort of sticky gremlin-like cocoon. But beneath its scary exterior, is a mild and harmless vegetable.

Celery root, also known as celeriac [sel-LER-ee-ack], is the ugly cousin of celery. It can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes a
little bit like a cross between celery and a potato. To serve the root raw, peel it, shred it on a cheese grater and added a little mayonnaise and shrimp for a light salad. Cooked, you can treat celery root like any other root vegetable: bake or boil; puree or mash.

It supposedly keeps better in the fridge after buying, but I left mine on the counter for week. When left out long enough, the root gives off a savory aroma that smells exactly like Lipton Noodle Soup.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Urban Forager is Busy Writing About Cheese

. . . . check out what I'm up to at and get all your burning questions about cheese answered.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sack Lunches

On my drive home from work in the afternoon I’ve been seeing the same group of five construction workers ending their day. They’re walking to their own cars, all of them still wearing orange vests, and all five carrying small lunch coolers. I always wonder what was packed in their cooler that day. I imagine meatloaf and ketchup sandwiches or maybe ham on white bread with mayonnaise and a bag of chips. Maybe Tupperware filled with leftovers from last night’s dinner or a long, slim piece of cold pizza wrapped in tin foil. I love packed lunches. The anticipation! The joy of seeing a sandwich snug inside a Ziploc bag! I miss the grade school lunch hour when I walked down the hallway tightly holding two dimes that would buy a small carton of milk from the milk wagon. (I know that makes me sound like a pioneer – I wasn’t – but I swear, my grade school did have a milk wagon.)
The Husband is not so big on the packed lunch. He thinks it's sad, and I understand why. A half-squashed paper bag with a flap folded down. The sandwich bread that sometimes gets soggy. Knowing that your freedom from work will be over in 30 short minutes.
But what if you had a shiny, metal lunchbox? Something with a nifty little handle and three different compartments? A friend brought such a thing back from India recently and although I don’t think it’s meant to be a lunch box, that’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it. This little lunchbox would make you the envy of lunch room.
This week, plan ahead one night and pack yourself a lunch. Don’t scrimp - make it hearty. Pack yourself a lunch so good that your co-workers might actually consider negotiating a trade. Your homemade salad with fresh chicken and blue cheese in exchange for the gut-bomb burrito they bought across the street? Or perhaps your large square of leftover lasagna for their boring old bagel?
Yeah, right.
If you really want to make ‘em jealous, take my cue and bring the lunch box back into your life. It feels good to swing a lunchbox by your side. Makes me feel like skipping.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Horseradish Bloody Mary

The way I view the world, today is called "Nacho Sunday" not "Super Bowl Sunday." Watching the game (who are the teams again?) is simply an excuse to eat. I'm not really into the half-time show or the commercials either. But I am definitely into the nachos. Nothing fancy - just chips and cheese garnished with jalepenos, chopped tomatoes and beans. Some guac and salsa on the side. This day is also one of the few times in the year when I indulge in one of the few cocktails that is acceptable to drink for breakfast: The Bloody Mary. I like mine on the spicy side with the earthy flavor of fresh horseradish. You can buy horseradish root at almost any grocery store. I serve the Bloody Marys in a pitcher and let people add their own vodka. Pepper vodka is great, although regular vodka works just fine too. Serve with a celery stalk or pickled asparagus and a wedge of lemon.

Horseradish Bloody Mary
64 oz tomato juice (two large jars)
3 Tbsp grated horseradish root
1 Tbsp Tobasco sauce
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
5 grinds black pepper
1 grind or shake of salt

Friday, January 18, 2008

Smart Grocery Carts

Just when you thought companies had run out of ways to infiltrate your life with their “helpful” technology, you walk into a grocery store and there it is: The Smart Grocery Cart. Equipped with a computer, the cart will let you download the grocery list you wrote at home, map out where products are in the store, suggest sale items it is just sure you will want, and keep a running tally of your bill. Smart Carts aren’t anything new – they’ve been in various stages of development for years – but have never really caught on. The newest version was rolled out by Microsoft recently and will be debuting in ShopRite stores on the East Coast. I ask you: is this really the best use of technology? Couldn’t Microsoft re-focus their efforts on figuring out why the Microsoft Word Help Wizard never helps you with a damn thing? I hate that little wizard, and I hate the idea of shopping with a Smart Cart. If you shop in a store that’s so large you need a GPS to help you find the canned peas, then maybe you need to re-think where you shop. All these carts make me want to do is start shopping with a basket, or better yet, shop at smaller stores and markets. Maybe I’m wrong and this new technology will make our lives easier, but I don’t know. . . I’m already feeling nostalgic for my shopping lists scribbled on the back of an old envelope.