The Omnivore's 100 Foods to Try...just for fun

>> Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My extended family has had a food challenge going on for a few years now. One of the biggest wins was when my cousin Sue ate durian in Thailand; I'd love to get to the Far East but eating durian there is not one of my dreams. I countered this move by eating a block of gjetost, a Norwegian brown goat cheese, and the funny food challenge is still on.

Here's a bucket list of foods you might want to try if you're into unusual things, or if you want to be sure you've tasted some of the more common Western-culture items.

I've read the average person has eaten 20-30 of these, but you food-lovers will probably score more. Here are the instructions:

1) Copy this list into your blog, journal, or Facebook wall, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you've eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I've marked ones I really love in red)
4) Comment on your results in the comments section.

The Hungry Lovers Hundred

  1. Venison ( you can't get away from this in the Midwestern U.S.)
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros (Joe likes these better than I do)
  4. Steak tartare (Joe's eaten it, not me)
  5. Crocodile (I've had alligator, does it count? Tastes like catfish)
  6. Black pudding (Yes, I love the fried patties.)
  7. Cheese fondue (OMG yes!)
  8. Carp (meh.)
  9. Borscht (Joe had it on a trip to the former USSR in 1989; maybe someday I'll try it)
  10. Baba ghanoush (I've eaten it, Joe has not)
  11. Calamari (The best calamari ever is at Tufano's Vernon Park Tap in Chicago's University Village neighborhood. We have references, if you want to verify this.)
  12. Pho 
  13. PB&J sandwich 
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart (The Chicago redhot: Vienna Beef hot dogs, steamed poppyseed bun, neon-green relish, yellow mustard, onions, celery salt, dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, hot sport peppers, and NO ketchup. )
  16. Epoisses 
  17. Black truffle (we first tasted these from a vendor in Tuscany who sold us a pound of buffalo mozzarella embedded with thick shavings of truffles. We took this back to our Agritourismo and lunched on it for a week.)
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (When I grew up in the fruit-growing region of southwestern Michigan, I tasted many varieties of fruit wine. Fruit ferments wonderfully, and hard cider is one of my favorites.)
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream (heavenly)
  21. Heirloom tomatoes (again, heavenly)
  22. Fresh wild berries (see our Wild Berry/Lavender Jam recipe, and go forage next summer!)
  23. Foie gras (Oh, yes please!)
  24. Rice and beans (such a great combo)
  25. Brawn, or head cheese 
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (in St. Lucia, USVI)
  27. Dulce de leche 
  28. Oysters (Joe yes; me, maybe never)
  29. Baklava (have mercy!)
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas (my favorite snack in college)
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (we love clam chowder, but bread bowls are annoying)
  33. Salted lassi 
  34. Sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut, but it doesn't love me)
  35. Root beer float (fabulous)
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar (Cognac is wonderful, and Joe likes good cigars on occasion. My one cigar experience was not pleasant. How do we rate this?)
  37. Clotted cream tea (I had the best clotted cream over scones in Edinburgh. God is good.)
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O  (No thanks.)
  39. Gumbo (Joe's is fabulous, but if he insists on a trip to New Orleans, I'm there for him.)
  40. Oxtail (Oxtail soup is ok.)
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects (sweet-salty grasshoppers (tsukudani) and bee larvae (hachi no ko) in Japan)
  43. Phaal
  44. Goat’s milk 
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more.
  46. Fugu 
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel (lovely in sushi)
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (call me, Krispy Kreme? Please?)
  50. Sea urchin (in sushi, with lemon)
  51. Prickly pear (in jam, meh)
  52. Umeboshi 
  53. Abalone 
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (One of my guilty pleasures.)
  56. Spaetzle (yep. Try the Detzner family recipe.)
  57. Dirty gin martini (a passion I share with my daughter's BF)
  58. Beer above 8% ABV (we love the Belgian Delirium Tremens)
  59. Poutine 
  60. Carob chips (YUCK.)
  61. S’mores (meh.)
  62. Sweetbreads
  63. Kaolin 
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian
  66. Frogs’ legs (My mom served this, oddly enough, when I was young. It's a lot of work for a little meat.)
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (Meh...although Joe is in love with beignets. New Orleans trip is in order.)
  68. Haggis (Better than I thought, when I tried it in Inverness, Scotland.)
  69. Fried plantain (Fabulous but a little greasy. I love the Puerto Rican mofongo and sweet fried platanos maduros.
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette 
  71. Gazpacho (Tried it as a kid. Really need to try it again as an adult.)
  72. Caviar and blini (I suggest the full caviar service at the Russian Tea Time Restaurant in Chicago's Loop.)
  73. Louche absinthe
  74. Gjetost, or brunost (Pretty good.)
  75. Roadkill
  76. Baijiu
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie (can someone mail me a cherry glazed one?)
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini (heaven in a glass)
  81. Tom yum 
  82. Eggs Benedict (I will eat this anytime, anywhere, but Joe's low-fat version is amazing and guilt-free)
  83. Pocky 
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant 
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare (One of our most memorable dinners in Tuscany; we'll share the recipe one of these days)
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers (Cheese-stuffed squash blossoms in Rome? I'll go back any day.)
  89. Horse 
  90. Criollo chocolate (My ex-MIL made the best hot chocolate from this. Complicated but lovely.)
  91. Spam (meh.)
  92. Soft shell crab (meh.)
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish (Tastes muddy. Do not like.)
  95. Mole poblano (We have several recipes, including Mole with Pork. Yum.)
  96. Bagel and lox (One of our traditional Christmas Day breakfasts.)
  97. Lobster Thermidor
  98. Polenta (Good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.)
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake

By the way, the Japanese blogger, Just Hungry, posted a list of 100 Japanese Foods to Try. If I find similar lists later on, I'll keep adding them.


Decadent Pasta Carbonara

>> Monday, October 28, 2013

Decadent Pasta Carbonara

Suppose you just had a hard week and you're feeling a little low and you can't seem to warm up because fall suddenly dropped in on you and even fleece isn't doing its job. Here's what will make it better. Take a long hot bubble bath, then whip up a gonzo big bowl of Joe's decadent pasta carbonara, and pig out in front of a good movie with a glass of Chianti.

You probably already know that pasta carbonara is not laden with healthful ingredients. Cream, eggs, pancetta, Parmesan cheese, and truffle oil are a little on the heavy side. But I'm not suggesting you eat this every day of the week, or every month of the year. Save this one when you don't have a cholesterol test scheduled and you can really use some comfort food. Then splurge!

Joe's been perfecting this recipe for a long time, and I've been his faithful taste-tester all along the journey. He's got a winner here.


1 lb linguine or spaghetti
4 tbsp butter, softened
3 eggs at room temperature
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2/3 cup pancetta, diced, or 8 slices of bacon, diced
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or go for heavy cream, if you prefer)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp truffle salt, or 1 tsp truffle oil and 1 tsp salt
Ground pepper to taste


Place the butter in a small bowl and beat it with a fork until fluffy. In another small bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy, then add half the Parmesan cheese. Set the bowls aside.

Heat the oven to just warm and place an ovenproof bowl in there to warm it up. Cook the pasta according to the package directions (usually 8 to 10 minutes). Stir in the butter and toss to be sure the strands are well coated, then add to the bowl warming in the oven.

Heat the oil in a saucepan with the pepper flakes. When the flakes begin the sizzle, add the pancetta or bacon and cook until crisp. Drain. Stir in the cream, nutmeg, truffle oil, and pepper, then bring to a light simmer.

Take the bowl out of the oven and add the cream sauce and toss well. Stir in the eggs, which should cook on contact with the hot pasta. Serve immediately, with the remaining Parmesan passed at the table.

Serves 4.


Hot Reuben Dip

>> Monday, October 21, 2013

Hot Reuben Dip

Last weekend, we gathered at my sister's house in Michigan for a big party, ostensibly for a celebration of the 4 family members who have birthdays in October. Instead, we used the date to also celebrate my mom's birthday, since we weren't able to get together last year for her big 70th birthday.

We didn't really have a theme for the party, just decorations, a taco bar and our festive White Sangria, and this crockpot Reuben dip with pumpernickel bread. Oh, and a couple of surprises for Mom.

When she arrived from the Toledo area, she found this on my sister's front lawn. That's right, the flamingoes are breeding.

My mom is famous for making funny faces and doing silly things. So we cut out a bunch of her most classic faces and hung them all over the house. We since she's also notorious for cutting off peoples' heads in photos, we included a few headless Moms too. Finally, we made a slideshow of her photos and played it to Helen Reddy and Ann Murray songs. Her favorite was "I Am Woman", which is absolutely the best theme song for my mom. If you know her, can I get an "Amen"?

Left to right: Jim, Adair, Joe, Sheryl, Beth, Belle. Front row: Dad and Mom.

In our family, no get-together is complete without games, and my parents are the king and queen of game-playing. They are slightly, um, competitive. Really, I come by my competitiveness honestly! But this time, I asked the birthday people - Mom, my brother-in-law Jim, my niece Kristin, and my sister Beth - questions like "What 3 things are on your bucket list?" and "What is the weirdest food you've ever eaten?" Jim's parents were great at guessing, but the results were hilarious, especially when I threw in some "ringer" answers of my own.

Everyone really loved this corned beef and cheese dip, which I first tried at a friend's Octoberfest party. The appetizer disappeared at the last party as soon they brought it out to the table. That's a good enough recommendation, right?

To make this dip, we bought a corned beef brisket and cooked it for dinner one night, then used the leftovers to make this dip. You don't have to do it this way - we just wanted a corned beef dinner. You can also find corned beef at a deli counter or sometimes in the packaged lunch meat aisle of the grocery store.


1 14-oz can of sauerkraut, drained
1 9-oz package light cream cheese, cubed
10 oz low-fat Swiss cheese, shredded
2 cups corned beef, finely chopped
1/3 cup low-fat Thousand Island Salad Dressing

Pumpernickel or rye cocktail bread, corn chips, and/or crackers for serving.


Place all the ingredients into a crock pot or saucepan. Stir and simmer on medium until the cream cheese and Swiss are melted and bubbly. Serve warm - we served this right from the slow cooker pot kept on low heat.

Serves 12-14.


Ranch Crash Baby Potatoes

>> Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ranch Smashed Baby Potatoes

You might have noticed that Joe and I love potatoes. Really love them! It's a culinary fact that if there's potatoes involved, it's going to be a good dish. And if you add cheese and oil and other good things to the potatoes, it's a guarantee that there will be no leftovers in this house.

Last time I made these cheesy smashed potatoes, I looked for the leftovers that I was SURE were there. I wanted them for breakfast. But it's true that the early bird gets the - well, the potatoes - because Joe had gotten up an hour earlier and they were all gone.

He's notorious for eating odd things for breakfast, so he probably topped them with leftover marinated chicken from the stacks of BBQ chicken pizza I'd made for the homeless shelter. The BBQ chicken was gone too, you see.

Tender new potatoes, or very small ones, are perfect for smashing because they crisp up so well in the last step. If you don't like ranch flavoring, or prefer some other seasoning, add whatever snipped herbs and spices you like.


12-15 baby potatoes (we used 2" round ones from my mom's fall harvest)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 packet powdered Ranch dressing mix
1/4 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp snipped chives (optional)


Scrub potatoes, then put them in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender. Drain and allow to cool slightly.

boiled tiny new potatoes

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle a cookie sheet with half the oil. Place the potatoes on the pan, and smash each one with a potato masher or the bottom of a strong cup. The potatoes should be about 1/2 inch thick when completely crushed.

Stir together the salt, pepper, ranch dressing, cheese, and chives. Sprinkle over the tops of the potatoes, then drizzle with the rest of the oil. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

Serves 4-6.


Kale and Ricotta White Bean Casserole

>> Monday, October 7, 2013

Kale and Ricotta White Bean Casserole

Originally a recipe we found on a Weight Watchers board, we've experimented with this dish to make it more satisfying, filling, and popping with flavor for a meatless Monday. It's also pretty quick to make, but you can make it ahead and freeze or refrigerate it until you're ready to cook it. When we're in a hurry, we use 2 cups of frozen spinach, which does not need to be sauteed before adding it to the casserole.

If you follow Weight Watchers, one 1-cup serving is 4 points plus and counts for 2 vegetable servings and one milk serving. If you don't follow Weight Watchers, just know that it's a low-calorie dish full of veggies and fiber and a healthy dose of fat-free dairy.


1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups kale or spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup white onion, chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
8 oz fresh mushroom(s), sliced
2 15-oz cans Great Northern or Cannellini beans, drained
1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 tsp basil, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups coarse low-fat bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp parsley, minced


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x11 pan with cooking oil.

In a skillet, heat the oil and pepper flakes until the pepper begins to sizzle. Add the kale or spinach, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Saute until slightly tender, then place in a bowl.

Stir together the ricotta, egg,, and basil, and add to the vegetables. Stir in the salt and pepper. Spread this mixture out into the baking pan. Mix together the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and parsley, then sprinkle over the top.

Bake until the topping is golden brown and the casserole is heated through, about 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6.


The Moscow Mule

>> Friday, October 4, 2013

The Moscow Mule cocktail

Last week my photo shoot was in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago, just south of my alma mater, The University of Illinois at Chicago. It was a gorgeous day that still felt like summer - sunny, warm, breezy. Little Italy is an interesting mix of an old Italian-based neighborhood, tony condos and townhomes of the medical professionals at the Illinois Medical District, and cheap student apartments.

After shooting for a few hours, we had lunch and cocktails at Rosebud, one of Chicago's landmark Italian restaurants. The patio seating was lovely for people-watching and soaking up the last of the year's warmth. I ordered my first Moscow Mule, partly because it sounded good and partly because it reminded me of one of the most recent episodes I've watched of "Orange is the New Black". This is the episode where we learn more about the Russian cook Red's criminal history.

Anyway. A Moscow Mule is a classic 1950's cocktail of ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice. It's classified as a "buck" or "mule" drink, which is any cocktail with ginger beer and citrus juice. Aren't you glad I looked that up for you?

It's a really refreshing drink for summertime, or a day when you're not quite ready to let go of the warm weather and settle down into winter. This isn't a strong drink, but if you don't like alcohol, you can get almost the same flavor from our Homemade Ginger Ale recipe.


1 1/2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lime juice
4 oz. ginger beer
1 lime slice
1 sprig peppermint


Fill a highball or rocks glass half-full of ice cubes. Pour the vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer into the glasses and stir gently. Garnish with the lime slice and mint sprig.

Ваше здоровье! - [vashee zda-ró-vye] – Your health! Or, Cin-Cin, when you're at an Italian restaurant.

Makes 1 6-ounce cocktail.

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