Thursday, June 30, 2011

"She Throws A Party When Her Roses Bloom" or "The Garden Made Me Do It"

There's something about the change of the seasons that always romances me. Maybe deep inside me is some pagan blood just burning to frolic in wild celebration four times a year, but it never fails that I get the burning desire to throw a party.

I've always wanted to be that person, the kind that holds a soiree every winter, spring, summer and fall with long tables topped with mismatched plates, wild flowers and depression glass. I'd invite my friends from California, Sweden, New York and Tennessee,(and they would come, by the plane-full).And for the menu, I would let my garden speak to me, and tell me just what tastes the best (because really, who better to know?).

This day of course would be sometime centuries in the future, when I wear nice shoes to work and no longer live in a one bedroom apartment in the not so swanky side of town. Hell, I didn't even have a garden until a few months ago ( let alone a chatty one). No, Solstice\ Equinox parties are definitely a long way off or at the very least they're on the back burner until I make close personal friends with Eugene Hütz and he vows to have his band play each and every party.


This morning as I puttered rubber flip flops around my tiny balcony of potted plants, humming to myself and thinking about the day all these things would happen. The breeze jingled wind chimes and warm dirt and fresh blossoms swirled perfumes in the golden sunshine and I swear, ever so faintly, I heard a gentle whisper 'Mint! Take some mint! And Lemon too!'


Maybe a little practice run?

I didn't really have a plan when I started out, mint and lemon being somewhat loose guidelines but when a garden gives you instructions I think it's best to at least  try and follow through. I kind of winged it with a light handed effort at a Martha Stewart recipe for lunch. A lemon kissed Tabbouleh (say it with me, Tuh -boo-lee) with bits of watermelon, feta cheese and couscous. It's fancy to say, simple to make and it's kind of like a salad dressed in lace, standing shoe-less in the tall grass. If you know what I mean. If I had a fancy outdoor garden party this would probably make the cut.

But what I really fell in love with was the Minty Lemon Iced Tea.  It is simply a revelation. Why on earth I've never tried steeping fresh herbs with black tea I'll never know. I've been kicking myself all day for all the time I've wasted.  And the combination was completely accidental. I was sort of tossing mint in random things to see what worked and this magical brew came about. Southern sweet tea with a chill of mint an a ring or two of lemon, it simply sighs a moonlight skinny dip against your lips. It is divine. When the time comes I finally host my yearly summer parties I will serve this tea by the truckload.  Eugene Hütz will write a song about it I think,( he strikes me as an iced tea man).

And for my last trick, dessert.

 I'm a firm believer in dessert after every meal (what can I say that's just how I roll) and with a dish this easy there's really no excuse to not roll along with me. These lovely almond shortcakes are magical, they are as easy to makes as tarted up pancakes (No really!) only  you bake them in an oven and stuff their lovely centers with citrusy whipped cream and fruit. In fact if you had the mind to serve this at a brunch instead of pancakes you might just start a revolution. Only this isn't brunch, (in fact definitely no) this summertime party is totally planned for the PM. It's summertime in Nashville, lets not even kid ourselves, and what's a summer in the south without fireflies?

After dessert, who knows. Break dancing? Fire juggling? Drunken limbo? The pagans seemed to like a  good old fashioned frolic in the altogether, but... lets just wait and see how we feel.

Mark your calendars for someday soon, when it's finally time I'm inviting you

What would your summer party be like? Would you invite gypsies?

Tabbouleh with Watermelon
adapted from Martha Stewart Living

1 1/4 cups water
course salt
3/4 cup couscous
8 ounces watermelon (about 1/2 small),peeled and coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1. Bring water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous, and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and let stand, uncovered until cooled, 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Transfer couscous to a bowl and toss with watermelon, parsley, scallions, oil, lemon zest and juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently fold in feta cheese.

Serves 4

Minty Lemon Iced Tea

3 cups of boiling water
4 black tea bags ( I used a mix of Luzianne and Tazo Awake)
2 fresh mint sprigs
1 cup granulated sugar or splenda
1/4 cup lemon juice or 1 whole lemon, sliced
5 cups cold water

Fresh mint and sliced lemon for garnish.

Use the boiling water to brew the black tea with the mint sprigs for 5 minutes. Strain or remove tea bags and mint. Add sugar and lemon juice, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in cold water. Serve over ice, garnish with fresh sprigs of mint and a slice of lemon.

Almond Shortcakes with Minted Blueberries and Cream
adapted from Food Network Magazine

For the filling

2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 pint picked-over blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

For the shortcakes
1 Cup flour
1 1/2 cup Almond meal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil

In a very small saucepan simmer water and 1 tablespoon sugar until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute, and in a small bowl toss with blueberries and mint. Chill blueberry mixture, covered, 15 minutes, or until cold.

While the blueberry mixture is chilling start making the shortcakes.

Whisk flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and oil, then stir in the flour mixture being careful not to over mix, the dough will stay loose and wet (almost like pancake batter) . Drop scoops of the dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and bake at 475 degrees F until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool. 

While the shortcakes are cooling, beat heavy cream with remaining tablespoon sugar in a chilled bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks and fold in zest.

Split the shortcakes and fill with whipped cream and blueberries.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Saturday Morning, Who's Gonna Play With Me?"

I've been watching a lot of Adventure Time recently (and if you don't know what that is, you should really get on this) and it's quickly becoming one of my favorite shows and not only because it's a cartoon. The best part about it is how much its' silly wholesome nature reminds me of how I used to think when I was a kid. Fighting bad guys, eating junk food and playing video games were the highlights of my life. And really come to think of it that still sounds pretty good.

It's exactly the kind of show I would have gotten up early to watch on a Saturday morning back when Saturday morning cartoons actually existed. Did you know that's not a thing anymore? I know! Seriously it's like infomercials now. End of an era, right?

Back in the day Saturday morning cartoons were like a weekly no fail party. Doug, Pepper Anne, TMNT?!? Totally rocked my 9 year old socks off. Not to mention it was one of the few unsupervised windows of time where breakfast was of the build your own variety. Usually I'd dive head first into an endless bowl of some super-dyed sugar soaked kid cereal and only come up for air long enough to sing along to the barbie commercial jingles or push my sister off of the couch in a crazed bout of high fructose fury. "COO COO FOR COCOA PUFFS!!!"

You know what so totally lamesauce? Even though we wear our grownup pants, we could all totally still do this every Saturday if we wanted to. The cereal, the cartoons, the good times. But we don't.  This oversight was brought to my attention this week, and you know what? I think we need to fix this. Not only should we bring back the Saturday morning cartoon ritual, we should MAKE IT BETTER!

This week, Adventure Time marathon with a side of Cap'n Crunch Chicken Strips.

Oh yeah, you read that right. It's cereal. For lunch. And it's wrapped around chicken strips. Your 9 year old self would be proud.

What's that, purist? You prefer breakfast and old school cartoons?

Then we're watching Rocky and Bullwinkle on Netflix streaming and pounding some Oreo Pancakes!

That's right, you're a grownup now. And dessert for breakfast is totally cool because you buy your own groceries and you make the rules.

So do yourself a favor, remember what you thought it would be like to be a grownup when you were 9. And on Saturday morning, you be that grownup. And if you can't remember, watch Adventure time. It'll come back to you.

Cap'n Crunch Chicken Strips

2 cups Cap'n Crunch cereal
1 1/2 cups corn flakes
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 lbs chicken breasts, cut in 1-oz tenders

Creole Mustard Sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup creole mustard or Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp green onions, sliced in pieces
1 teaspoon crushed garlic, , packed in oil
1 tbsp finely chopped celery

Coarsely grind or crush the two cereals and set aside.
Beat the egg with milk and set aside.
Stir together the flour, onion and garlic powders and black pepper.
Set aside.
Dip the chicken: pieces in the seasoned flour.
Move around to coat well, then shake off the excess flour.
Dip in the egg wash, coating well, then dip in the cereal mixture, coating well.

Place chicken strips on two foil lined baking sheets and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, flipping them over half way though cooking time to make sure both sides get nice and crispy.

 Let cool slightly and serve immediately with creole mustard sauce.

For sauce: Mix all ingredients together.

Oreo pancakes

Pretty straight forward, use your favorite pancake recipe, then violate it with crushed oreos.
I put about 12 in the food processor and gave it a spin. Whip up the batter like you normally would and portion it out on the hot griddle, spoon some crushed oreos on the bubbly side and truck on as usual till they're done. Serve topped with more crushed Oreos and powdered sugar. Adding syrup was a little too much for me but  party on and add some if you think you can handle it.