December 20, 2012

Mini Chocolate Chip-Toffee Cookies

Hello, holiday baking.
Hello, cute little cookies.
Hello, mini chocolate chips and toffee bits, all of you that fit into teensy teaspoon-sized balls of buttery dough.
And hello,  Evil Empire (what we call Walmart at my house). Maybe you do bring good things, like tree-shaped jars for gifting, along with your treacherous lines and "customer service."
Like all things cute and little, these took way longer to form into balls, flatten and bake in many, many batches.
But cuteness+sugar+butter in a jar to gift to coworkers, that was totally worth my Sunday afternoon.
Merry Christmas!

December 15, 2012

Enchiladas [with Scratch-Made Sauce]

Dear Saveur, Thank you for styling your enchiladas with onion rings so that my enchiladas could be purdy too. Dear Cooking Light, props on setting the precedent with a recipe for from-scratch enchilada sauce that was much simpler than Saveur's uber authentic one. Dear cream cheese and cheddar cheese, You make everything better. Queen of examples: extra proportions on casseroles.

Dear Teacher Friend C., Even though you were tired and recovering from lingering sickness, you came for Blonder Than She Pays to Be on Monday. You said you came "for the food" after I sent my menu email. That makes my (prideful) heart happy.
Dear Joy the Baker, Your Orange and Avocado Salad paired perfectly with my enchiladas for wintertime. Thanks for your recipe brilliance.
Dear creative inspiration, why do you come so late at night as I type this post? I want to be a better morning person! Dear Today's Letters, I love the honest intentionality with which you express yourself in the blogosphere and with which you seem to live your life. Hopefully you will be okay that I copycatted your style in this post.

December 4, 2012

Advent's arrival: Chocolate Cookies with (Christmas!) Mint M&Ms

It's like 70 degrees for some reason, but Santa music and commercialized holiday, to put it frankly, vomit invaded a while ago. Despite all that confusion and disgust, I have slowed my life in an attempt to reclaim the anticipation and hope of a Savior that our culture slandered somewhere along the way.

And the season got much sweeter (pardon the cheesy pun) when I walked into Publix on Advent Eve to find the holiday baking display highlight: red, green and white M&Ms. So naturally, they were in the cart and, upon arrival back home, studded in cookie dough filled with melted chocolate chips.

And then off they went to roommates, in baggies to share with family members I saw, to a plate to serve with dinner with my Monday night girls (who need a name), to the office (where I ate 5 in one afternoon-there is a reason for individual apportioned servings), back to roommates, to spread the cheer of chocolate and mint.

All that cheer paired perfectly with studying the sin in Christ's lineage in Matthew, singing hymns of Christmas, and hearing the whole story in 44 minutes courtesy of the artistry of Andrew Peterson... that and writing a heart-warming "community supports kid with cancer" story and touches of holiday at home, with cranberries on our table and words of hope (this week's Advent "word") to start our "Advent cabinet" tradition.

 Come, Lord Jesus.

November 19, 2012

Carrot Souffle

I am thankful to the Lord for sides dishes that are better than turkey.
I am thankful for friends who tried the funky orange dish — is it sweet potatoes? is it carrots? — at PreThanksgiving Thanksgiving and  got word of the discovery of its tastiness to me down the 28-person table. --> -->

I am thankful for friends down the street who open their home, and for the gloriousness of blue sky and autumn leaves and sunshine I got to joyously embrace as I walked to and from said home. 
I am thankful that crunchy, dense carrots can be cooked and then rid of their pungent carrot-i-ness and fluffed up into a dessert-like souffle.

I am thankful to have the gift of solitary time to think as I washed, peeled, chopped and boiled two pounds of carrots.
And on a slightly unrelated note, I am thankful for roommate humor in my kitchen.

November 11, 2012

Loaded Potato Salad+Tailgate

What I Learned about Tailgating this Weekend

What I get excited about:
Loaded  Potato Salad
(a cold version of sour cream+green onion+cheddar+bacon!bacon!bacon! goodness, with some roasted red potatoes hidden in there somewhere)
 recipe at bottom of post
 Football-Style Outrageous Brownies
What my mom gets excited about:
decor, team colors, team-colored jelly beans, orange "spa" water, tablecloths and flowers

All of the above is periphery to what my dad and his friends do when they tailgate sans females most of the season.

This is what the guys got excited about:
Meat! Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

Pork Tenderloin
(And more meat not pictured! Ahi tuna bites, burgers, ham sandwiches, deer sausage, brats.)

 Most eaten non-meat item: 
Grilled red onions, bell pepper and baby portabella mushrooms
 The plate for one of like 15 continous meals: 
Sliced Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with Barbecue Sauce and Grilled Onions/Peppers/Shrooms
(a combo to definitely be repeated)
Morale of the story: We all like to eat good food, so it works out well, especially on a gorgeously 70-degree sunny autumn day. Oh, and everyone else watched and talked about football.

October 31, 2012

Southwestern Chicken Mac and Cheese

Y'all, nothing says comfort like

And cheese is only made better by
Mexicany things,
(like peppers and onions and cumin and chile powder)

Here's the math I did to get this pot of gold*:

-Some butter
-Cream of Chicken Soup Yuck
-Velveeta Double Yuck
+Lighter Dairy
+More (Not Light) Cheese
Creamy Comfort with Flair and Just Enough Richness
Worth Making Once for Monday Night Girls with Leftovers for Roommates
And then again for Family with Twin Newborns
With Enough for Weeknight Surprise for My Parents

*I really think most Southern Living recipes need to be lighted up and rid of processed junk Cooking Light style and most Cooking Light recipes need to simplified and given a little more sinfuless Southern Living style so that you end up with beauties like this.

October 25, 2012

Arugula-Sweet Potato Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette

October for me meant stopping, a reprieve from travels or otherwise packing a weekend full of activity. It meant going into Saturday with no agenda, which for a planner is kind of scary for some odd reason, and discovering the riches of down time and spontaneity: going for an impromptu Saturday hike, listening to my roommate animate the characters of a children's novel as she read it aloud,  actually sitting down and watching a movie I have been meaning to see since I got it for Christmas last year, creating invitations for a neighbor potluck, reading (oh reading books!), returning to the simple pleasures of cooking for fun.

One particular weekend, this meal evolved with fall favorites sweet potatoes and pork tenderloin, with a lingering taste of summer (frozen blackberries) in a balsamic vinaigrette and bitter arugula, which I paired with my first experimentation with the fig (Sourdough Toasts with Goat Cheese, Figs and Honey --> delightful).

Best of all, it was shared on the porch with a friend, and then continued as fancy food leftovers for yours truly later in the week.

October 15, 2012

Why to amend a chef's recipe [Citrus Beet Salad]

To the rest of the food world who turns on cable television more than once every six months, Chris Hastings is a big deal. Key words: Iron Chef.

To the world of critical food snobbery, he is also a big deal. Key words: James Beard.

And while I am certain he lives up to his fame as Best Chef in the South, I do know one thing: he crafts restaurant recipes, not so much friendly-for-the-home kitchen recipes. Or such was the case in my experience.

The "Chef's Garden Beet Salad" trouble started at the grocery store when I was executing the first step of Project Make-a-Recipe-to-in-the-Name-of-Needing-a-Photo-for-the-Paper. Three kinds of beets? Surely one will do. Arugula and frisee? I see mixed baby greens!

Photos for Village Living
And then when I got to the kitchen, it was two kids of olive oil? Why in the world when you can just have one? Fresh orange juice? I have carton of oj in the fridge that surely will do just fine. Fresh thyme? Umm, let's do dried. Lemon and lime juice? I have lemons; they'll do. Individually plate each salad with all ingredients? Salads taste pretty swell tossed en mass in my book.

And then came the necessary evil: reducing 1 cup of orange juice to 3 tablespoons. Is this what chefs do all day --> wait for-e-ver for juice to reduce to a tiny fraction of its volume?  I just roasted beets for more than an hour, and I thought that was my time splurge. I did in fact wait and wait and wait for the oj to reduce to a thick, dark and delicious syrup. I do not know that I would have the patience for it again when surely just juice would taste good enough for a citrus dressing.

I don't mind spending time in the kitchen on a special project, but this project required cutting corners to avoid spending literally all night to make a salad. Power to chefs, but on this here blog you will find home kitchen recipes. And that is why I dumbed down poor Chris Hastings' recipe.

Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to belittle the awesome work of Chef Hastings and Hot and Hot. I just felt the need to simplify his recipe when I was making it for personal consumption. His recipe is indeed tasty my way and would probably be all the more so with his much more complex method.

October 8, 2012

Killer Salty-Expresso-Chocolate Blondies

Other blondie dough tastes like butter and sugar with a touch of saltiness good but in my book is better eaten with chocolate chips.

This blondie batter is a candy bar in itself. You cook together butter and brown sugar, ergo caramel, and then add instant expresso powder. It's salty like caramel with a hint of coffee, and then of course you must add chocolate chips to complete the soft, thick bar of decadence.

So if you are feeling lugubrious and torpid, bringing down your physiognomy to those around you, these will make you jocose, a reprieve from the phantasmagoria of life.* And you might not be able to resist eating a huge chunk straight out of the oven; evidence of why I should not be allowed to engage in late night baking alone is pictured. (That missing chunk? All eaten by yours truly.)

The recipe I based it off of also calls for adding more chocolate and caramel on top of the cooked blondies. I skipped that step the second time I made these; it wasn't worth the effort for that much more uber-richness but it does add flair to the top.

*Remember in school when you had to write sentences with vocab words? The nerd in me just took over, because that happened with the words I looked from reading Les Miserables, getting ready for the movie (!!).

September 30, 2012

Citrus-Avocado Salsa

Avocado anything is bliss.
Fresh salsa of any kind is bliss.
Citrus in the fall and winter is bliss.

Hence, this is an irresistible combo.

We used "game day" as an excuse to run this recipe in print because this is Alabama, land of living and breathing and eating Roll Tide/War Eagle/anything and everything football.

But in my "counter culture," we ate our fresh and fruity salsa amongst three people, miles from a game,  with no thought of turning on a television. That's the icing to my true food bliss.

September 12, 2012

Ratatouille: A last summer veggie hoorah

According to Slate, the movie had it wrong. Ratatouille is not fancy French fare but rather a stew that originated with peasants who were trying to get a less-work meal out of as many late summer veggies as possible.
And indeed it was quite doable and, better yet, delivered delish summer freshness in a warm hint-of-fall package, all the more glorious when shared with crusty bread on a late summer evening filled with crisply cool air. Even my friend on a quirky diet for health reasons could fully enjoy it in all its strictly vegetableness. And we topped it with some chicken and Parmesan for a little added flair and protein,
So what was the ratatouille inspiration? None other than result number four of a Google search for "eggplant zucchini tomato" (my local food booty for the week). 

Slate also noted that the key to the dish is that all the veggies have to cook for different amounts of time, so I made sure to study up on some recipes and their order.

Bonus: Buy Ratatouille ingredients, plus grab pizza dough (love me some Publix bakery!) and mozzarella (and goat if you like) cheese, and you can have this pizza. I topped the dough with (in this order) olive oil, chopped garlic, sliced fresh mozzarella, a sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese, tomato and zucchini slices, a drizzle of olive oil and dried basil.

September 8, 2012

A new (old) kind of farm life

So lately summertime busyness happened. Cakes happened, cookies happened, party planning happened, trying new foods happened. Blogging did not happen. But now I am back, with the caveat that face-to-face relationship time can always gets prioritized above my self-imposed weekly blogging schedule (thanks to thinking on the role of technology inspired by this talk).

As of late I have been hearing about farms and how they ain't around the state of Alabama like they used to be. Farmers' kids grew up and moved to the suburbs. Farming got more commercialized, and the the lifestyle and profession became less popular and less profitable. So said Nick Pihakis, founder of the Jim 'N Nick's empire (below on right), when I walked around a farm with him. And so said Andrew Grace in Eating Alabama, his new documentary about the year he and his wife exclusively ate food farmed in our fair state.
Photos taken for 280 Living. 
Nick doesn't dream small. He has a vision for family farm that can be sustained by selling produce to restaurants like his, and where the family who lives on that farm eats off the land. He's testing out this idea on a plot in Mt Laurel in the Birmingham suburbs, as pictured. With this model, he has hopes to rebuild the agricultural structure of the South. Learning all this on a farm tour with the equivalent of a movie star in the Southern food world (and sharing the story with the community around the farm) made every drop of sweat on that day so worth it.
As for Andrew, he get major points for lengths to which he traveled to keep his eat local goal, but he didn't end things as optimistic as he began. Times have changed. The farm system is really messed up.  We can't live in a seemingly more idyllic time when we ate off our land. His conclusion, or at least the version of it that stuck with me, is that we can do little things to reclaim that ideal though. 
Andrew maintained much of his new local eating lifestyle: keeping up gardens in his front and back yards, buying farm shares, hanging out with farmers. It's the image he captures of a long table of farmers and friends outside at sunset passing dinner dishes, presumably made from locally grown foods a glossy magazine image that we can in fact practice on a smaller scale with friends and food and the land around us, whatever it might look like.
Photo from
Evidence I am prideful: I got pretty excited when in Eating Alabama (trailer below) Andrew visits the Mt Laurel farm I wrote about. Only when he filmed it, it was just a teaching farm and Nick's experimental working farm had not been started, so in some ways I felt like I wrote an addendum to the film.

July 25, 2012

Hannah's Homewood Summer Yummies

My friend Hannah and I are slowly figuring out this food styling photography business, at least enough to be slightly better than we were when we first started blogs. We were always in charge of words and the intranets, not photos, when we somehow got food magazines on our resumes. So now we are trying to tap just how the magic works in food photo shoots.

Here is a very rough formula:
Natural light all the way
Plus fancy camera
Plus garnishes where needed
Plus different colored cloths
Plus lots and lots of playing with your food
Equals a million photos from which you might pick a couple that look kind of cool

Somehow I managed to take advantage of Hannah's expertise as culinary student and knowledgable foodie to get her develop some summer recipes for the newspaper in the community where she grew up, a.k.a. #2 best area in Birmingham after where I live, a.ka. Homewood. (I happen to be partially responsible for filling pages of said paper, how convenient).

Check out her creations and the results of our afternoon of food play in her backyard.

July 19, 2012

Caramel Brownies

Let me start with a confession: I judge blog posts that start like this one does, with a picture of a collection of baking goods that includes a box cake mix and candy.

I  hesitated to make these brownies for the first time in years, since my baking philosophy has evolved to make me turn up my nose up when I know caramel and cake such as these add that slight chemical taste I now find in packaged foods. They are not pure. Not pure!
BUT then I remembered how a thick, buttery German chocolate dough encases melted caramel and chocolate chips, and remembered how its gooey chocolateness is richer than a chocolate bar.

Most of all, I remembered my time was somewhat limited, and with this recipe I wouldn't have to experiment with a caramel sauce and chance a brownie recipe that was too dry or too over-the-top rich. Convenience products are just so convenient (imagine that).

These convenience-baking-with-a-twist morsels of sweentess garnered many compliments at a large group function, and also prompted this conversation:

Roommate in our House of Sweets: I want you to make these for my birthday.
Me: I think we can find an excuse to make these again before your birthday.
Roommate: No, you don't understand. I want the entire pan to myself.
(Roommate got them for her birthday, and she even shared them.)

July 5, 2012

Flag Fruit Tart for the Fourth

The Fourth of July started with a flurry of butter, sugar, butter, cream and butter: a White Texas Sheet Cake; a vanilla custard base for ice cream; and most festively, a shortbread cookie topped with thick, vanilla pastry cream and carefully placed blueberries and strawberries.
And then I had to take advantage of the greenery around me on the lake and play with my brother's fish eye lens. It makes everything a little funky.

July 3, 2012

Peach Salsa, Summer Squash with Cheese and Panko: A market-inspired dinner

Roommate-I-Got-To-Keep-from-Last-Year: I feel like we just ate a restaurant dinner.
: This is better than a restaurant dinner.

This, my friends, is how we welcomed new roommates 3 and 4 to our home of calm and inspiration (and dream kitchen!), to the land of Pepper Place market and Chilton County peaches, to a new season as ladies of the Court on which we live.

My dinner scheming partner and I also had inspiration from the quinoa salad from Shindigs (her) and the light-yet-cheesy squash casserole on the veggie plate at Urban Standard (me).
Over our summertime fare, we chatted about our "home dreams" and plotted for how this would be the first of many house fellowship dinners and the first of many hospitable welcomes to the home of R+A+H+M. Backyard movie night next, anyone?

A Market-Inspired Menu
 Grilled Chicken Breasts with Chilton County Peach Salsa (recipe below)
Red Quinoa with Pesto and Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes over Mixed Greens (roommate creation)
Zucchini and Zyphr Squash with Cheese and Panko (recipe below)
Butterscotch Chip Cookies

June 22, 2012

Super Simple Fruit Cobbler

Picking blackberries involves nasty gross summer heat and prickly bushes. It was not my favorite way to spend summer Saturdays at the lake as a kid. But my mom loves to dress head-to-toe and slave away amongst thorns for tart berries. That's where you'll find her these days while I am a lazy bum at the house or dock. She'd rather pick her blackberries, and I'd rather buy them, even frozen; but for the record, she'd rather buy her bakery cake and I'd rather bake one myself.

What mother and daughter do have in common is that we both make this shortbread-crumble-top cobbler and have been since I was first forced to pick blackberries.

It's super simple:
Sprinkle berries with cinnamon in a pie crust. Use a pastry cutter (or two knives) to cut together flour, butter and sugar.
Sprinkle shortbread topping over berries. I like to sneak some of this mixture to snack on, mmm, buttery, sugary yum.
 Bake it. And boom, you have a crumbly crust-topped gooey warm berries to delight.

And some vanilla ice cream, and it's golden (really cheesy pun intended).

June 14, 2012

A theology of cooking creativity

Sometimes creativity, even culinary creativity, feels selfish. Sometimes it is selfish for me.

But Wayne Grudem, in his giant volume of Systematic Theology, helped reorient my thinking last year: we delight in creativity because it comes from God, and we should be worshipful in it.
I have amazing, culinary-creative friends who turn out potluck feasts like this beauty of a backyard barbecue, complete with homemade iced brownies and whiskey sours made with homemade sour mix.
"God has so made us to enjoy imitating, in a creaturely way, his creative activity. And one of the amazing aspects of humanity—in distinction from the rest of creation—is our ability to create new things. This also explains why we take delight in other kinds of 'creative' activity: many people enjoy cooking, or decorating their home, or working with wood or other materials, or producing scientific inventions, or devising new solutions to problems in industrial production. Even children enjoy coloring pictures or building houses out of blocks. In all these activities, we reflect in a small measure the creative activity of God, and we should delight in it and thank him for it." -Grudem, page 272

Like all things in life, I want each moment of my creation to be intentionally done out of gratitude and delight in the ultimate Creator, to glorify him and make him known.  That is why I cook, or why I want to want to cook.

June 6, 2012

Crostini with Lima Bean Hummus and Simple Corn Relish

I bought corn and lima beans on a farmer's market hopping trip with the intention of boiling them and eating them, a nice simple summery side dish for the week.

And then I went for a bike ride and somehow came up with a different idea, because when I have free time I tend to busy myself with random projects instead of doing whatever else I meant to do.
These babes were more dainty looking, outside-the-box, blog-worthy, entertaining-worthy, and therefore worth more of my free weekend time where I was actually in town.

Corn Relish: sweet and vinegary condiment; way to cook corn that stretches it to many uses over many weeks; the best part of this fancifying my food idea. 

Lima Bean Hummus is good, but the texture is coarse and hard to get to spreadable consistency, much more so than other beans I usually use for hummus. It is a pretty color for summertime, fresh, and in season though.