July 29, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Garlic-Edamame Spread

This cool hummus-cousin spread is both refreshing at the end of a summer day and packed with flavor.

I could make multiple meals off eating the spread on buttery crostini, and it's not too bad on veggies either. I served it with Fresh Market's prepackaged crostini and red pepper and cucumber slices.
Roasted garlic is its namesake, but I think the basil flavor stands out the most and, along with lemon juice, gives it a super-fresh flavor. Ricotta cheese makes the dip extra creamy, too.
Actually, I am not sure how the dip would hold together without the ricotta. Because edamame has a more coarse texture than other beans, it morphs into tiny grainy pieces in the food processor that are not smooth and creamy.

I don't recommend buying frozen edamame in the shell. I learned that it would have been less time-consuming to make a run to a second grocery store to find the unshelled variety than to tediously pop them from their pods. It was, however, fun for snacking along the way.

It was my first time to experiment with chopping off the top of the garlic bulb and roasting it in olive oil, which makes a kitchen smell delightfully garlicy. Then, once it cools, you squeeze the fragrant paste-like garlic out of each clove. I felt like a kid playing with mushy play dough, only it tasted much better.

July 26, 2010

Monday Sweets: Banana Pudding Pie

This recipe convinced me I had to make it based on its title alone. How can you go wrong with banana pudding, especially when you put it atop a vanilla wafer crust and top it with meringue? 

The unbelievable taste made its slightly runny presentation irrelevant.

You start with some crumbled vanilla wafers mixed with butter and then top the crust with bananers. 
But what really makes banana pudding divine is the homemade pudding. The powdered mix, while not bad tasting, has nothing on pure eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. And once the pudding melds with wafers and bananas, it's even more irresistible.
 The only step that might seem scary about this recipe is the meringue topping, as forming stiff peaks with egg white and sugar is legitimately intimidating. Not to fear; just keep whipping and whipping, and they will come eventually, I promise. I think humidity slows down the peak formation, so be prepared for it to take a while in the South in the summer.

The fluffy white topping is the perfect seal for the pie. Don't expect leftovers if you have more than a few people around.

July 23, 2010

Recipe: Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad

When I told a friend I had written an article on heirloom gardening [July/August Cooking with Paula Deen — check it out on newsstands, friends], she guessed that it meant "inheriting a garden and keeping it up." She was close on the inheriting idea. An heirloom plant is one whose seeds have been passed on for more than 50 years. 

Each fruit or veggies had a unique color, shape, and taste, which are typically more complex than your standard grocery store variety, and it likewise comes with its own story (and anything with a story gains cool points in my book). I had no idea just how big heirloom gardening was until I saw firsthand an heirloom gardening festival last spring where hundreds of people trekked to middle-of-nowhere Missouri (near Laura Ingalls Wilder's house) in the rain to buy seeds and plants of hundreds of varieties.

While the endless varieties of melons, tomatoes, squash, and more inspired me to plant my own, I have excused it off for now with the uncertainty of long-term housing and resorted paying a little extra for tomatoes available for sale. Those above actually came from Fresh Market; ideally, I would have shopped for some at the farmer's market but leaving town literally every weekend tragically makes that task a little cumbersome.

Anyway, I showed off the colorful fruit in a caprese salad layered with mozzarella and topped with fresh basil, olive oil, and vinegar. The simple combo dressed up the flavor profile of tomatoes so that my usual sliced-tomatoes-are-ok stance became an I-should-eat-this-as-a-whole-meal-not-a-side-dish. It made such a purdy presentation with little hassle. 

I would have preferred super-soft white fresh mozzarella to the more dense yellow variety, but I was trying to use up what was in the fridge. I learned that my dad, who usually goes more gourmet in preference, prefers the more flavorful basic kind; plus, it is cheaper.

July 21, 2010

Food Thoughts: Are women who love to eat more attractive?

My latest beach read, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, engaged me with the author's narrative of falling in love with a Parisian and French food, but it was this gem of a paragraph stood out most to me: 

"The French have always known what I have long suspected; there is nothing sexier than watching a woman eat. Men love this. I'm positive I owe many a second date in New York to a chocolate cannoli or a late-night coupe of rice pudding with whipped cream." 
As a female who more than enjoys the art of eating, of course this line makes me smile, especially because most media seems to say that being attractive is all about being skinny and fit. 

Women seem to think that men think the opposite and that they must eat fewer calories in front of them to signal that they take care of their bodies, or so research in Canada and the UK found. But what do men really think? Google wouldn't give me a legit answer (yahoo answers don't count).

So, blog readers, where do you weigh in? (Don't be comment shy!) Are women who love food more attractive than those that think only about calories and eat mostly salad? Do you women eat differently around guys in general and/or on a first few dates?

July 19, 2010

Monday Sweets: Strawberry-Cream Cupcakes

The occasion: Bachelorette party.

The honoree: A bride who loves all things pink and girly.

The concoction: Magnolia's vanilla cupcakes (to which I added almond flavoring) with cream filling and topped with extra-pink strawberry buttercream frosting.

Verdict: They were oh-so festively pink and pleased the female party-goers... and the guys who munched on them after the girls-only festivities.

Component analysis:
Cake: the lightest, most pleasing texture of any cupcakes I've tried; will for sure make again.
Icing: too sweet and almost-fakey strawberry flavor for me, but the spreading consistency was perfect. (Fresh strawberries tend to give me liquidy icing.)
Cream filling: Easy to prepare but time-consuming to stuff. (I attempted piping but resorted to cutting a portion of the top off, filling the middle, and replacing top.) It looks pretty but didn't add much flavor to the cakes. It would probably have more spotlight in a chocolate Hostess-imitation cupcake.
Decor: I need to stick with sprinkles like these light pink pearls from Michael's until I really learn how to pipe icing. Attempts at creative hearts, swirls, and letters did not make the photo.

Mmm, surgary pink delights!

July 13, 2010

Mango Salsa

I first ate mango in a sailboat in the Caribbean, so the juicy reward of chopping it off its strange-shaped core always feels like summer. This four-ingredient salsa is filled with the sweet fruit and just enough red onion and cilantro to add a Southwestern flair, albeit not a spicy one.

The peach salsa atop fish on Cooking Light's cover a few months ago inspired me to try a mango variety on my favorite fish, salmon. It adds a refreshing, flavorful spin to moist, flavorful grilled salmon, which I seasoned with lemon pepper. Both times I've served it on fish there haven't been leftovers, but a friend more than pleased her soon-to-be inlaws by serving it with tortilla chips.

July 12, 2010

Monday Sweets: Fresh Blackberry Pie

Blackberries are at their prime right now. This year's local crop at a fruit stand might have yielded the fattest, juiciest, sweetest ones I've ever had. Usually I like the tart berry sweetened, but it wasn't even necessary with these. Really, unlike the tiny, sour wild berries I picked as a kid, these are dessert in and of themselves.

But for the Fourth of July I felt the urge to boost their decadence up a notch. I'd already deemed a cool blackberry pie worthy of the holiday on SouthernLiving.com, so I wanted to see how it presented itself in real life.

Success! The pie is basically sweetened blackberries steeped in a raspberry Jello mixture, all in a crisp pie crust. No, it's not all-natural (shame on me), but my extended family devoured it and inquired about how I created the such a refreshing, fruit-filled dessert.

July 10, 2010

New Recipe Index

I made an index of all Maple Macaroni recipes that I will update as I post new things. Simply click "Index" at the top of any page to see everything on the blog in one easy-shop spot. I tend to get hungry looking at it and to realize just how baking happy I've been in the past year, wow.

July 8, 2010

Recipe: Chicken Salad with Piquant Sauce

Like a good Southerner who frequents ladies' lunch places, I love chicken salad, and this version is one of my favorite summer meals. Its signature is a Piquant Sauce, whose taste is best described by defining piquant: "pleasantly pungent or tart in taste; spicy." It is sweet at the same time and very similar to polynesian sauce, my favorite for dipping nuggets at Chick-fil-A.

I like the sauce atop simple chicken-mayo-celery salad and lots of cool, creamy avocado with a side of sliced tomatoes. It's even better when I have leftover smoked chickens with which to make the salad. It's super refreshing at the end of a nasty hot day. The recipe came from my great aunt, and I first came to appreciate it whenever my taste buds matured to fully appreciate the wonder of avocados.

July 5, 2010

Monday Sweets: Lofthouse Frosted Sugar Cookies

You know those super-soft sugar cookies with gobs of icing from the grocery store that everyone loves? Yeah, they are one grocery store cookie I can get seriously addicted to. After racking my brain for a new festive Fourth of July after-lunch dessert idea, I thought of them, or a homemade version of them, and Google found me a recipe that looked delectable.

The cookies puffed up while they baked to a nice cake-like consistency. They're just barely sweet, which provides excuse to load them up with icing and sprinkles.

Warning: These are way more work than your standard drop cookies. The dough has to sit overnight. And then you have to roll them out and cut them into shape, and after baking, there's icing and decorating. But they are worth it for taste and presentation if you have the time.

Also, the four dozen or so it yielded was enough for a huge crowd, and at the end of a late-night baking session, I only had the energy to ice half of them with my buttercream frosting (a.k.a. best icing ever). I suggest halving the recipe.

I like to use a jar as a cookie cutter because it has a built-in handle. I didn't have a star-shaped cutter (only the whole alphabet and any Christmas shape imaginable), which would have stepped up the festive element.

July 2, 2010

Recipe: Parsley Pesto

Because parsley has a less pungent flavor than basil, its pesto allows the nuts and garlic mixed in the spread to shine more in the flavor combo. Parsley was cheaper for me to buy a whole bunch than basil, too.

I tossed the pesto with bow tie pasta to go with lemony grilled artichokes and asparagus. It was an ideal combination for a refreshing summer meal outdoors with a friends who came to visit, perfected by a little wine and strawberry cake for dessert.

I love to make pesto because you can put it on anything and everything. We spread it on goat cheese and tomato sandwiches the next day. And if I had made more, it would have gone on a pizza or creamy pasta salad.