Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lazy Monday

 Taking it easy after the horrifically long black Friday weekend by expressing my independence and doing all the Christmas things I never did growing up.

 Like putting up the white Christmas tree I'd pined for since I was a kid and trimming up my whole house with ridiculously gaudy decorations. Before December 1st!(gasp!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving For Two

Ever since I can remember, my brother, sister and I would all pile in a car with my mom and drive three + hours (usually stopping 6-10 times to pee and 4-5 times to get some toy from the trunk) to Grandma Ella Mae's house for thanksgiving. We'd visit with family, wander around her HUGE yard and of course, eat amazing food. Over the years my tastes grew and changed but the one thing I'll always remember is her cornbread dressing. It is truly a thing of wonder and like anything else wondrously made by a woman of the south it is maddeningly made straight from her mind (read: no recipe) and it relies heavily on the ability to make good cornbread (as Alton says "crap in, crap out"). My mother claims to suck at making cornbread from scratch but I don't know because she's never made any since I've been around. And I have spent many years appreciating cornbread and food in general but up until a few months ago was never heavy into cooking.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Cauliflower-Onion Linguine" or "The Anemic Plate"

This recipe in Food Network Magazine drew my attention because it was two things I had never tried before;
1)Cauliflower as the main event
2)French fried onions

To most people I guess french fried onions are pretty old hat at this point, but I didn't grow up eating green bean casseroles like (at least the Campbell's soup commercials imply) most people did. In fact I'd never even tried a green bean casserole until a couple of years ago and even then I think somebody had rooted through and scooped all the french fried onions off for their own greedy lips. This called for 1/2 cup french fried onions chopped with a 1/4 cup panko and some olive oil and two garlic cloves toasted together in a span on the stove-top, which after several samples during the cooking process, has totally won my heart. It basically tastes like the most amazing topping to the best casserole ever, without actually adding butter or baking it in the oven. I'm convinced I will use this combo for many many more things in the future.

And as for the cauliflower... I just went along with it because that was the recipe. I could sit here and say that I've always had some sort of long lasting love for the most pallid member of the  family cruciferous but I think anybody who says that is probably being sarcastic.Cauliflower... it's not really something you seek out. It's just there. And honestly in this recipe  just like every other  time I've ever tasted cauliflower, just there was really all it was.

But the worst part was, it didn't just hang out in the background not adding to the party. It sort of stuck out, in that terrible way that it seemed all vegetables did when you were a kid eating anything that wasn't mac and cheese or hotdogs.
It was like, "Hey, cauliflower... dude... could you uh... maybe leave some room for something else?"

And to top it all off, if you pick it out (which I almost guarantee you will) the spicy noodle part doesn't even seem worth your time on its' own. It doesn't make sense really, in fact the whole dish pretty much follows a no fail formula of salty/cheesy/carbs and yet it's still ho-hum and borderline unappealing.
And it doesn't even look appetizing! I had a hell of a time trying to photograph this incredibly pale dish with only red pepper flakes and basil to give it any life. Aren't professional chef's always saying "you eat with your eyes first"?!
I kept imagining how much better this would be with some chicken and cream sauce but then I realized I was just wishing for chicken carbonara which is basically the noodles and cheese without everything else. Hm... imagine everything else is gone....

Final thoughts, panko + french fried onions = whole heartedly approve
Everything else = snore

Vince Camillo, I give you a sad face :(

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feta Cheese Turkey Burgers with sweet potato fries on Peter Reinheart's buns

So far November has basically been a wash, it's the later part of Autumn and mostly it's just rainy and crappy during the day.And Really all it's made me want to do is stay inside and eat hearty food that reminds me of summer and good times. So when I discovered this recipe for Turkey burgers over at Erin's Food files I knew this was just the thing to make me feel better. Funny thing is, as soon as I got all ready to make it, the sun came out.

But I had plans to be fancy and make my own hamburger buns from a recipe in Peter Reinheart's Artisan Bread's Every Day ( a book I discovered and had a brief love affair with this summer) and since everything in that book takes at least 8 hours to ferment in the fridge I was pretty much determined to finish what I'd started yesterday and kept on trucking with my burger plans.  And while my little buns were proofing on the kitchen counter I went for a stroll in the five minutes of sunshine and took a few pictures.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Number 51 Maple Blondie

This flavor came out a while ago but I've always ignored it for some reason, maybe because for years I always thought of blondies as the less fun sister of brownies. Brownies were heaven's perfect chocolate square like cake and fudge come together with a decadent flaky layer on top. And blondies were pale baked squares without a ounce of chocolate in sight. It wasn't until I was much older that I even bothered to try a blondie and realized not only how good they were  but  that I even sometimes liked them in place of brownies especially when it comes to added ingredients like butterscotch chips, pecans, etc. 

This however did not taste like a blondie to me, at least not most of the time. What this really reminded me of was pancakes with whipped cream and really good maple syrup. You know, the expensive kind. Which I'll tell you isn't a bad thing. In fact it was amazingly good and not way too sweet either (unlike pancakes with whipped cream). It has just the perfect balance of bits to smooth ice cream so you're not fishing around for the good parts or chewing on too many hunks of pancake...er... blondie.

Despite its' perplexing name (I guess if they called this flavor "Pancakes with Whipped Cream and Syrup" nobody would buy it? Okay, maybe I would but really, would you?)I'm definitely diggin with this one. Love!

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Good Is A Blog With No Pictures?

I've been working on my food photography lately after noticing that most of the food blogs I love the most seem to draw me in with their pictures. But somehow oddly I have been way too lazy to bother learning how to photograph what I cook so it doesn't just look like a pot of slop. The funny thing is, I used to take pictures all the time. Not of food usually but still I once had a reputation for getting the best looking pictures out of a cheap digital camera. 

After some googleing and tutorial reading I felt inspired enough to  noodle around this morning with some unfancy food items I had around the house.  These two pictures are the best out of the bunch so far.

Also yesterday I ran upon some Plantain chips at publix and had to try them, I would post a picture but I ate them all and empty chip bags aren't that photogenic. I loved them to say the least, they are pretty much just like french fry flavored potato chips if that makes any sense. I imagine your average potato chip aficionado wouldn't find them salty enough, however I've never been much for a salt lick so naturally I'm in love. I am now determined to make my own, or some version of it because I'm sure that something so wonderful and obscure will disappear the moment I am pining for it and I'll have no choice anyway. I've seen so many people lately buying plantains lately, and really it's driving me crazy. What do you do with them when you get home?!?!When I was growing up my dad was always trying to make fried plantains ( I guess he'd had some at some point in his youth) but he was never much of a cook so it usually turned into a kitchen filled with burnt grease and a failed experiment in the trash.I suspect I'll need some fancy ethnic techniques to manage whatever it is they are actually doing with those slimy things (ala fried green tomatoes)  luckily I have the internet. TO GOOGLE!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lovely Surprises

mushroom salt shakers: ModCloth.com
Made this chicken soba bowl recipe from fitness magazine today after ages of being way too scared to try Soba noodles. Why? Well for one thing they're brown, not a reassuring color. Generally speaking I think that if a food is brown it needs to be really awesome to make up for it. You know, chocolate, coffee, vanilla beans, cinnamon, all awesome despite the dirty rotten color. And given that it's a buckwheat noodle, I was skeptical. I mean "buckwheat", doesn't the word itself just make you cringe? Makes me think of "health food" items that taste like box. But this, this was lovely. It had that familiar noodle taste with a hint of nutty wheat flavor. So so good. The recipe was good too I thought, just don't make it if you don't like broccoli. Seriously. Broccoli haters stay away, you will be sorry. It called for baby Bok Choy and shitake mushrooms too but I couldn't find any so I just went with  fresh button mushrooms and broccoli.

Also, ALSO, my little local grocery store suddenly, randomly got some D'anjou pears! I walked in today and there they were in a little ruby row, I thought they were pomegranates at first and almost walked right by. I got overexcited and bought a TON even though I've only ever tasted them in that salad I had at Panera. They'll probably taste like every other lovely pear but on top of the fact that I'm pear obsessed right now I'm sucked in by the dreaminess of the name. D'anjou, D'anjou.

Monday, November 8, 2010

By the way : Halloween at the Wildhorse

Halloween was one of the few holidays I was off work for this year (barely) so despite being half awake my boyfriend and I dragged ourselves down to the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville for some good old times. I put barely any effort at all into my Halloween costume and went as a barely recognizable Holly Golightly. We had dinner and watched an 80's cover band play. The Wildhorse is kind of a touristy place with kitschy horse statues everywhere and a gift shop on your way out so I don't really consider it to be a true representation of Nashville cuisine but it does hold a special place in my heart for two reasons 1) they played host to an AMAZING Hives show a couple years ago and 2) they have the best french fries I've ever had bar none. So instead of talking about my uninteresting ham and swiss on a soft pretzel sandwich (too sweet for me, needed some funk I think) I will simply say Wildhorse, well done. Flaky, crispy, just enough softness in the center, perfectly salted and a little bit of that freaky red sweet fry seasoning, not to mention consistency of flavor here two years later. They are a thing of wonder and will haunt my dreams I'm telling you.

Back at home we blew through a bag of Halloween candy, watched The Evil Dead and tried a round of some seasonal beer  which I'm ashamed to say I was drawn to by it's fancy packaging, I'm a sucker for anything pumpkin spice so  when I found Blue Moon Ale's Harvest Moon pumpkin spice beer I had to try it. As you might expect delicious pumpkin spice in booze format with a catchy name was just too good to be true. I have no idea what I was expecting but unless you're one of those boozy super tasters the spices they described it as having were pretty much undetectable. Mostly I found it to have the acidic bite of pale ale with kind of a warm finish which I guess is what they were trying to say was the spiced part. I'm not a huge beer drinker anyway but this wasn't anything special so in the future I think I'd skip it. The Evil Dead however was magnificent. Bruce Campbell and I are getting married. You're all invited.

Spiced applesauce cake or How to eat like a god

I have an intimate relationship with spiced goods. When I eat a really amazing snicker doodle or drink vanilla chai tea, there's a certain unique sensation that washes over me, a strange mix of homey nostalgia and romantic passion. It's the taste of  wild coziness and for some reason to most people it's old hat. But these are unique, exotic, and hard to tame spices from Mexico and Asia and yet we think of them like the petticoats on American housewives. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice by weight (after saffron), it's a pain in the ass to cultivate and almost impossible to grow outside its' indigenous area and yet it's so amazing that it's still the most widely used flavor for baking. And cinnamon was once thought so big and fancy it was considered a suitable gift for god(don't get too big a head now cinnamon). And yet in so many recipes nobody cares enough to let these flavors sing.

The first thing I noticed about this cake when I started to mix it up was that the vanilla and cinnamon measurements were way too small for me. After baking about a million spiced this and that recipes with uninteresting results I've found that this little detail is usually the problem. Maybe it's maybe it's that northern southern divide, the difference between pumpkin and sweet potato pie eaters,but I believe that when you want something spiced, mulled or homey, it's vanilla and cinnamon you're really looking for. Sure cloves and nutmeg like to hang out in there but they're really just part of the entourage.You know, the back up dancers, the Supremes to it's Dianna Ross. Which is why in this little recipe I had to learn from past experience and do two things I never do; taste the batter along the way (gasp!), and let the spices just do what they wanted (double gasp!). I know, I know, in baking you're supposed to be exact but I've found that as far as flavoring goes if I just let my senses tell me what when there's enough of that exotic warmth it just tastes so much better.

 So far it's the first fall spiced dish I've made that marries a lot of my favorite elements into a single cake (Imagine a carrot cake, crossed with an oatmeal cookie and a vanilla chai latte). And doesn't have that bitter Hey there's CLOVES in here! thing happening that I've experienced so many times. One thing I fantasized about whilst slurping away at the frosting knife was how magnificent this would be in muffin form for breakfast with a good cup of coffee. The end result, I think this cake has a lot of that wild let your hair down vibrancy I was looking for. And maybe even a little bit of me in there.

Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
via smitten kitchen/Gourmet.com

The Cake
2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste I'd say)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
a tiny sprinkle ground cloves (or to taste)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1- 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (or to taste)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce ( I just used the publix brand)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional), toasted, cooled, and chopped

The Frosting
5 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
 3/4 cup confectioners sugar ( or more if it seems like it needs it)
1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.  Line the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with parchment and non-stick spray.

For the cake: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy ( I did this by hand but you can use a mixer). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. Stir in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts or pecans (if using). The batter will look weird but it's okay, Deb warned about this on her website and was totally right.

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes depending on your oven. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Re invert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

Make frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Then add confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture,and then beat until incorporated (test for sweetness and flavor and adjust the sugar and cinnamon to taste). Spread frosting over top of cooled cake. Lick knife when nobody's watching.