July 28, 2014

Summer Gratitude: 2014 Edition

Lately I have been grateful...

 For excesses of food, and a family that breeds them

For heaven in the form of fruit growing in Chilton County,  the wonder of a liquid that transforms into its perfect creamy complement and that not all dairy has 0 percent fat

 For thoughtfulness in the form of paper and confection

Dave's Pizza, Homewood, Alabama
 For a reporting job that is frequently delicious

 For friends who show up with bounty like this for a quick lunch, and friends who gift me with beautiful objects on which to capture them

Caprese Grilled Chicken
 For new beginnings that provide a good excuse to use a new grill

June 10, 2014

Cajun Frittata

Some people welcome friends into their arms with heartfelt hugs. I am not one of them. I will reciprocate hugs, preferably side ones, but I might be the world's most awkward hugger. It just doesn't say love to me.

Instead, when a friend is stressed, I want to love on her (or him) by preparing edible comfort. When big deal things happen in others' lives, I find myself crafting something tasty. That's how I roll.

And that is how I found myself toting frittata ingredients to an old white house in small town, Alabama.

Because, of course, when a bride requests you make a frittata on her wedding morning, you prechop onions, pepper and Conecuh sausage, you preshred you some Monterey jack cheese, and you throw your dishes and your eggs and your olive oil in a bag and take them with you.

And as you relish those moments leading up to the BIG moment, that only-happens-once time that is so precious when spent with close friends, you get those close ones well-nourished in a way that says "this is my hug." And also you put flowers in your hair.

You get bonus point if clearing-rain morning light streams into your kitchen for photo opps, even if the lighting in your steaming skillet shot isn't the greatest.

May 11, 2014

Chocolate Cream Comfort

Friday afternoon I returned home to a mildly chaotic sea of flowers. It was wedding eve for my horticulturist of a roommate, and the clock was ticking for team wedding to finish arrangements, bouquets and boutineers before the rehearsal. Add to that news of a possibility of rain for an outdoor ceremony and that the photographer could be stuck in New York for the ceremony, and yeah, the state of the flowers was indicative of the mood in the space.

Enter pie.

Before I stepped into help with direct wedding matters, I went to the fridge to pull out the previous night's treasure,  Saveur's wonder of a chocolate cream pie recipe, encased in an Oreo crust and topped with real-deal whipping cream.

It was what the bride, remembering its previous iteration as squares, had requested for celebrations in her humble honor.

Slices of decadence were distributed, chocolate was consumed, florals were completed and a beauty of a wedding ensued.

I'd like to say that when the seas of my life turn to chaos that I want to turn to a greater, perfect savior, but the truth is I am drawn to seek comfort in the family of chocolate. Cookies, pies, cakes  they are what I crave to satiate my desire for still waters.

Clearly my priorities get mixed up, but thinking of the richness of creamy chocolate reminds me of words a flower party member I had only met the night before told me, "I like that you are the kind of people who pulled out pie in a time like that."

There's a place for words of greater truth, but there's also a place for wordless love in chocolate form.

April 15, 2014

Carbless, Sugarless Celebration Dinner

How to make a super special dinner with as few carbs possible for a super special friend who just so happens to have dietary restraints:

1. Step a bit out of the ordinary meal routine with a formal menu. Bonus points if your florist of a friend gets involved with setting the table.

2. Plate a simple green salad and serve it before the main course. Revolutionary, right?

3. Stuff cream cheese into chicken breasts for Chicken Diablo with Mustard Sauce.

4. Bacon. It makes anything better, especially when wrapped around something green.

5. Faux carbs a.k.a. cauliflower rolls. It's a real thing. And it tastes pretty good topped with Parmesan.

6. Whip out a sugar-free berry-lemon jello mold straight from 1975.  Do a victory dance if it comes out of your mold in decent form. Warning: do not consume the berries if on sugarless diet. They simple serve as candle holders.

Verdict: Birthday meal success. Throw in some close friends, tell them to share super special things about the super special birthday girl, and it's pretty much the best thing that could happen to an introvert, at least in the introverted hostess' opinion.

March 26, 2014

Lemony Farro Salad

Now that we are exiting soup season, my make-a-dish-I-can-eat-off-of-all-week strategy has shifted to grainy salads. This week's adventure was my first with farro, which is kind of like a thick brown rice. I like how nutty and filling it is, so much so that I wasn't even looking for meat.

It meets the standards my mom taught me from her college home ec classes (those weren't in our catalog)- variety of texture, color and temperature (only if your farro's still kind of warm and your cheese is cold, but still).

However, keep your eaters in mind. This is for the grain-adventurous. My coworkers enjoy talking about how farro salad at a new restaurant near us is "bird seed."

March 13, 2014

Strawberry Baked Doughnuts

Theory: all things small and cute have a positive correlation to requiring hard work. This applies to puppies. This applies to small children. This applies to miniature sugary delicacies.
 Behold, the product of umpteen batches of light and fruity lil' cakes in my miniature doughnut pan (yep, I ordered one of those once upon a time and finally got around to putting it to use).

It's fun to fascinate friends who brunch and who don't have doughnut baking pans on their radar with little cakes in a circular shape. For now, I'll make these and let Krispy Kreme do the frying. Amendment: Maybe I'll invest in a regular-sized doughnut pan so I can cut time of tedium and try again.

February 26, 2014

Caramel-Chocolate Mousse Pie

I allow hostesses say-so in dessert requests, especially if they say something like "chocolate and caramel, preferably" when I offer.
Behold, cool chocolate mousse nestled atop sticky (but not too sticky) sweet caramel with a simple graham cracker crust to balance out all that decadence.

It was declared a winner by those who fully appreciate chocolate among my sphere of influence. In fact, it received the rarely granted "I might need that for my birthday" award from a certain musical member of that sphere for the first time since my Caramel Brownies. That's serious.
Two weeks later, the flowers from ever-thoughtful ladies in my house are still thriving. The pie met its death by consumption within 24 hours.

More Chocolate+Caramel Combos:
Caramel Brownies
Mini Chocolate-Caramel Cupcakes

February 13, 2014

Just Love-ly Heart Brownies

 My favorite decadent, fudgy brownies had made a few appearances as footballs. Now it was time to take them a more girly direction, and time to break my inadvertent post-holiday baking fast.
Don't forget Feb. 15, a.k.a. post-Valentine's chocolate sale day.

The next most exciting day on my food calendar? Whenever I can have my natural light for photos back in the evenings!

Recipe: Outrageous Brownies

Previous Valentine's Week Posts:
Chocolate Cake Balls
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Molten Chocolate Cakes

January 29, 2014

Try-A-New-Green (Fennell, Raddiccio and Endive) Salad

As I exited college, I journaled about a life vision: "Live simply (little "stuff") and naturally (eat local). Be deeply invested in serving my community and pouring into people using my gifts. A home (in the city?) that welcomes guests and friends for homemade food, fellowship, refuge, discipleship and learning..."

What does this have to do with a bowl of funky lettuces? Everything.

Five years later, these hands are a piece of my community, the produce selection a sign of knowing a friend's special diet and her desire to turn it into an adventure.

They are in my home (in the city!), the place of warmth and invitation I once dreamed of.

Texture experimentation: Success!
My ellipsis (fancy word for "...") cut off another part of that vision: some mushy words about a husband and children. Five years ago, that's what I envisioned as the ultimate in home life. What I didn't realize then is the degree to which I could so beautifully realize my hopes of everyday companionship and community through a wider body of people, especially its (insert "Single Ladies" chorus here).

The mushy part is still part of the life vision. But for now, I rest in the gift of the present. This night, it's crisp and colorful with a hint of licorice-tasting fennell. (Oh, and there was salmon to go with it. It was not local. Minor life vision fail.)
Slicing this babe resulted in oooing and ahhing over how beautiful its layers of innards are

January 11, 2014

Mini Frittatas with Feta, Swiss Chard, Mushrooms and Shallots

This is what happens when you fancify eggs for brunch with friends. I have yet to perfect a giant frittata, but making little ones in muffin tins turn out just fine. It was also easy to pull out servings for a few of us and save the rest for fast meals later that week.

Also, what are eggs without bacon?
Why cook spinach when you can get your hands on something as pretty as red-veined Swiss Chard? Like spinach, it also goes from a giant pile of leaves to a small ball of wilted green, and has a similar taste. Cooking is really quite fascinating.

Making these also reminded me I need to purchase silicone cupcake tins. Cleaning eggs out of metal ones is treacherous.

January 1, 2014

Best of 2013

My 2014 kicked off with a round of catch-ups with old friends, one of whom was baking the number one cupcake beauty below for a party tonight (and raved about the cake!). That reminded me to publish this post of my most trafficked (and coincidentally, my personal favorite) kitchen projects from the year.

Cheers to all the tastes of the past and future!

 Not a recipe, but my most-trafficked, most beloved post of the year: