April 28, 2010

Food Thoughts: Cooking as Gift-Giving

The Last Chinese Barbecue from Gourmet (before it died, RIP) tells many stories in one passionate man prepares food with care, cook maintains artisanal ethnic food craft, immigrant makes better life for his children, to name a few. But what stood out most to me was the universal story of using food skills and talents as a service, a gift, to those you love.
He says, “When I retire, I can just relax and cook for myself and my friends. Cooking for them is the most satisfying thing I can think of to do.” Then, I understood why he cut me good pieces from the pig all day long, why he hands out the tofu. His work is hard, but he also gets to give.

April 26, 2010

Three Things: Grilled Cheese

The powers that be declared April National Grilled Cheese Month, presumably so bloggers would have an occasion to talk about gooey cheesey sandwiches. Here are my three takes on the good ole grilled cheese. They're a bit more exciting than the Velveeta between Nature's Own bread I learned to make growing up but were made with the same basic stuff-butter-grill technique.

1. Goat Cheese, Sweet Goat Cheese
What: Goat cheese mixed with honey and lemon rind between raisin bread
Inspiration: A more sinful, more complex version from Cooking Light
Verdict: Honey and lemon enhance the uber-creamy, mild cheese with just enough sweetness that complements the grainy raisin bread. It was perfect for lunch with tomato basil soup .
Bias: I highly prize goat cheese.

2. Veggilicious
What: Sharp cheddar, avocado, and tomato between sourdough bread
Inspiration: The countless number of avocado and cheddar [cold] sandwiches and tuna melts I have made
Verdict: Crisp, buttery sourdough bookended the excellent summery flavor combo. Really, you could put any cheese and farmer's market bounty together for an equally good hot sandwich.
Bias: I love sharp cheddar. I love avocados. I love sourdough.

3. Fruit Tart
What: Brie, apple, and turkey between honey wheat bread
Inspiration: Fresh Market's Apple-Brie-Turkey Wrap + Upper Crust's Brie and Apple on Wheat + Brie and Bacon Baguette from some place in Oxford, England
Verdict: Buttery, creamy brie and tart Granny Smith apples marry well together, but white bread would have showcased their flavors more. The turkey was unnecessary but only made an appearance to start with to please my carnivorous father. Sweet potato fries made up for what was lacking in the color department.
Bias: I like Brie way more than turkey.

April 21, 2010

Recipe: Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread

What's better than good ole banana bread? Banana bread swirled with chocolate banana bread, because in my book almost anything tastes better with chocolate. There were rotten bananas in the fruit basket yet again, and I had been good and made super-healthy banana bread the previous time. Thus, it was time splurge a little and try this Cooking Light recipe that doesn't taste so light. A little bit of chocolate mixed in with classic, sweet, moist banana bread was the perfect choice.

Marbling sounds scary, but it wasn't that tricky. You just take out a cup of basic banana bread batter and mix it with melted chocolate chips. Then you layer one batter with another in a bread pan and swirl it with a knife. And voila, pretty bread!

April 16, 2010

Tastecation: Florida Eggs Benedict & Alabama Peach Ice Cream

Tastecation=new posts about extraordinary dining experiences

Lying in the sun and doing nothing are essential to a girls' beach weekend, but dining out makes it all the more glorious. Travel buddy Laura and I were pretty impressed by mojitos and calamari (and excellent people watching) at Hemingway's in Pensacola Beach and by Greek food from Aegian Breeze just over the bridge in Gulf Breeze, Florida, but we saved the best for last on Sunday over yet another bridge in Pensacola (the city).

Meet Atlas Oyster Bar's Emerald Coast Eggs Benedict. There are many a restaurants that serve excellent poached eggs and hollandaise, but placing these delicacies over crab cakes (and good, meaty, not bready, crab cakes at that), fried green tomatoes, and sauteed fresh spinach-- now that Southern, costal flavor combo made my taste buds more than a little excited. The only thing that could make it more perfect? Eating it on a deck overlooking a bay while soaking in sun and watching ducks. Oh, and a side of cheese grits.
Just when my stomach became slightly unfull after venturing north on I-65, we just had to make a pit stop in Clanton, Alabama, home of the most amazing peaches I've ever tasted. The peaches weren't quite ripe yet, but we were able to eat the next best thing peach ice cream. Laura had visited all the ice cream venues at the peachy Clanton exit and declared Peach Park's the best. I took her word for it. The creamy ice cream was clearly flavored by fruit, not fake stuff, and showcased small chunks of peaches.
An excellent culinary end to a weekend retreat!

April 14, 2010

Recipe: Black Bean Burgers

I have always opted for the juicy beef burger over the veggie burger when eating out, but this recipe provides tons of flavor in a grilled patty that fills you up without weighing you down like cheese-laden beef. A cool dill-spiced relish of red pepper, red onion, and cucumber meets the hot-off-the-grill, savory burger between the bun. It makes the perfect summer lunch and is best eaten while sitting in sunshine with good company.

I cut up the veggies and let them relishify the morning of. The burgers just required smashing black beans together with egg, bread crumbs, and spices and then getting your fingers a little gooey to form patties. The guy in the picture got a little extra char but still tasted just fine.

April 10, 2010

Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Shortcake Tart

The strawberry dessert on the cover of the the April Southern Living had been staring me down for three weeks before I gave in and made it for a friend's birthday potluck. The hint of sweetness in the thick, sturdy shortcake tart is the perfect complement to (real!) whipped cream and strawberries. And that hint of orange you might see on the berries is orange marmalade, making for a refreshing fruit combo. The other secret ingredient was cornmeal in the tart that gave it more texture.

Unlike the fancy, shmancy cover photo, I added some practicality in my shot. I scattered the strawberries all over the whipped cream so that you could have a more even shortcake-cream-berry mix in each bite. I also didn't take the tart out of the pan so that it would transport easier. My black countertop does take away from the spring-like flair of the dessert, dang. Maybe next time I'll play with greenery.

I think this babe will have to make at least one other appearance this summer. It seems like a perfect dessert for lake weekends.
Strawberry-Orange Tart
1 3/4  cups  all-purpose flour
1/4  cup  plain yellow cornmeal
2  tablespoons  sugar
3/4  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  salt
6  tablespoons  cold butter, cut into pieces
1  large egg, lightly beaten
2/3  cup  buttermilk
1  tablespoon  orange marmalade
1  (16-oz.) container fresh strawberries, cut in half
1/2  cup  orange marmalade
2  cups  heavy cream
2  tablespoons  sugar
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Place first 6 ingredients (in order of ingredient list) in a food processor. Process 20 seconds or until mixture resembles coarse sand. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Whisk together egg and buttermilk; add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened and a dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 3 to 4 times. Press dough on bottom and up sides of a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan.
3. Bake at 425° for 20 to 22 minutes or until golden and firm to touch.
4. Microwave 1 Tbsp. marmalade at HIGH 10 seconds; brush over crust. Cool 45 minutes.
5. Stir together strawberries and 1/2 cup marmalade.
6. Beat heavy cream with 2 Tbsp. sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Spoon onto cornmeal crust; top with strawberry mixture. Garnish, if desired.

April 7, 2010

How-To: Savory Palmiers

Palmiers, or elephant ears (or glutus maximi--what we thought they looked most like), are pastries typically filled with powdered sugar, but this Barefoot Contessa recipe is Mediterranean savory. Basically, it's pesto, feta, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts in puffed pastry.

There were lots of folding steps that the recipe made a little unclear, so my friend Laura (who makes a lovely hand model!) and I documented our experimentation with recipe. The result: crispy, delicious, fancy-looking hors d'oeuvres.
(Transparency statement: This was the pretty picture from our second batch; the first batch I baked at 350 degrees instead of 400, which made them not-so-crispy. Whoops.)

First, roll out a sheet of puff pastry into anapproximately 9x11-inch rectangle. If you don't have a rolling pin (as was the case at our cabin in the woods), use a wine bottle. We didn't even take the label off, and it worked fine. Just beware of the skinnier neck making your rolling slightly uneven.
Then, spread onto the pastry dough tastiness--pesto then feta, toasted pine nuts, and chopped sundried tomatoes-- 1/8 cup of each.
Now the folding fun begins.

Fold 1: Starting with the short ends, fold each side toward the center until the folded edges almost touch.
Fold 2: Again, fold each side toward the center until the edges almost touch.
And fold some more.

Fold 3: Fold one side over the other and press lightly.
Then, what you don't see in the picture is that you must wrap the the roll in parchment paper and chill it for 45 minutes. Preparing a night in advance when you are not starving would be a good idea. THEN, you slice them like cinnamon rolls into 1/4-inch -thick slices (translation: very thin).
Finally, stick them in the oven to get crisp-- 14 minutes at 400 degrees. We lined our pan with foil to make for easy cleanup.
The End. See top of post for a reminder of the beauty of the final product.

April 4, 2010

Easter Cupcakes

Happy Easter! I celebrated in part by baking, of course-- Devil's food cupcakes topped with different shades of buttercream frosting and Whoppers robin eggs.

I decided to get color happy with the cupcakes because they simply feel so cheery and Easter-y. But now that I think about it, Easter's bright colors and the new life symbolism of eggs are representative of Christ's Resurrection. So there, cupcakes can be a religious experience beyond the decadent sugary taste.