Thursday, September 22, 2011

"She is Fast, Thorough And Sharp As A Tack. She's Touring The Facility And Picking Up Slack"

Once upon a time there was a wild little girl named Ashley Elise.
She had long curly hair, tall strong legs, and skin the color of sunshine.

She did not like rules or dresses or keeping still, and if she had things her way (as she usually did) she'd spend the day doing cartwheels, singing songs, and dancing, dancing, dancing.

That girl is my sister (and she's having a birthday!).

When I think of my sister I think about cheesecake. Cheesecake and apricots.

I spent a lot of time studying her when I was little, she was two years older and my absolute heroine. The way she laughed and ate and styled her hair were cataloged in my mind, so that when I was old enough I could do things exactly the same in that perfectly effortless way.

The eating part though, it never really stuck. My sister's food habits are weird. While I was always pretty consistent, (delicious food all day every day) she was (and is) a tiny dancer and for the most part all I remember her eating was dried apricots, sushi and iced tea. The quirky part came when it was her birthday,  and instead of continuing the pattern of light, dainty, and healthful she always requested a cheesecake. A cheesecake,  pretty much the densest most decadent dessert you can make. It blew my mind! For ages this confused me, baffled me, since it seemed to be completely out of character. But when I think about it now it makes total sense.

From the day she was born her personality has always been that of go big or go home, it's partly why I studied her so much. She isn't a toe in the water type of girl, with worries and sunscreen and plans, she's a run, and a jump and a CANNONBALL!!!  Blue hair? She had it. Party til dawn? Been there, done that. Charm artists, steal airplanes, command snakes with your parseltongue? All in a day's easy work.

So if we're talking birthdays you sure better believe that we're having the cakiest cake there is out there. We're having a cheesecake. And we're totally eating it.  We are EATING. IT. ALL.

These days I rarely see her. Life gets in the way, or I have to work or she's off on a pirate ship somewhere. But every year around this time I still think about my heroine.  I think about her infectious laugh, her cartwheels and the ferocious way she lives her life and I find myself baking up things for her like she was still close by. Things like cheesecake, and apricots.

Apricot Cheesecake Bars For Ashley

18 graham crackers
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

10 ounces apricots (about 4), halved, pitted, and cut into eighths
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
OR 3/4 cup Apricot jam 

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, process graham crackers, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in melted butter until crumbs are moistened. Wipe processor bowl clean. With a flat-bottomed 1-cup measure or glass, press crumbs evenly into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake until crust is firm, 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce heat to 325 degrees.

If you're not using jam
In a small saucepan, bring apricots, 1/4 cup sugar, and pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is shiny, 10 minutes. In food processor, puree apricot mixture, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water.

2.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sour cream on medium until smooth. Add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla and pinch of salt and beat to combine. Add eggs and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed. Pour cream-cheese mixture into cooled crust and smooth top.

3. Randomly drop small spoonfuls apricot puree or jam on cream-cheese mixture. With a skewer or thin-bladed knife, gently swirl puree. Bake just until set, about 25 - 30 minutes (mixture will still be a little jiggly until it fully chills) Let cool slightly in pan on rack, then refrigerate until chilled and firm before cutting into squares, 2 hours.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello"

It's mid September, nearly autumn, and while most people are busy choking back sobs as they pack away their flip flops, I  personally (strange girl, maverick) am readying myself for my all time favorite season.

My flip flops honestly have been packed for weeks, and already I'm spelunking the depths of the internet scouting out cute boots and winter coats I don't need. I'm blasting the Beatles (cause it's autumn music. It's true. No! Yes! SHUT UP!) and I'm clearing out disk space for all those golden leaf/blue sky pictures I'll be taking just the second Nashville decides to (FINALLY) pick a season. Autumn and I (despite the allergies) are hardcore awesome bffs there is no denying it.

I know it's nothing new or fancy, that every year the earth will move and the leaves will change and the only difference is my mind, my fantasy and the skip in my step, but all the same I will blast the Beatles, spend hours on Zappos and take eight thousand pictures of leaves like this is a one time deal.

My plants at least seem to be on board with this whole "accepting fall" idea, most of them are getting that droopy look, like they want a robe and a pipe and a nice long bath which sounds like a good idea to me. We're saying our goodbyes (for now) in the most delicious of ways, with soups, and seeds and pestos, and I welcome my little break from gardening, until we meet again in the spring.

Goodbye Summer Pesto with Pecans and Orecchiette

2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup pecans toasted and chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese divided
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 cups steamed broccoli florettes
1lb orecchiette

1.Cook the orechiette according the package directions, drain and set aside.

2.Add basil, garlic, olive oil, pecans and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Salt to taste.

3.In a small mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan and the whirled up pesto from the food processor and stir to combine.

4. Add the broccoli florets, and the pesto/ricotta mixture to the hot cooked pasta and gently toss together.
Serve hot topped with an extra little grating of parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Oh Snap It's That Time Again" or "# 62... Schweddy Balls"

Vanilla Ice cream with a hint of rum and loaded with fudge covered rum and malt balls

I was ten in '98 but don't judge me. There's a 90% chance that the night the Schweddy Balls/Delicious Dish sketch (Season 24 Ep 9) originally aired I was fast asleep in a bunk bed, completely unaware of Snl or double entendres or Alec Baldwin. But believe me I caught up. If you fast forward four years you'll find me deep in a Jimmy, Tina, Lorne obsession that dominated my Saturday plans for the duration of my teens. The fact that NBC made the glorious decision to air dusty reruns of SNL late into the wee hours only fueled the fire and eventually I had watched the entire back catalog of SNL episodes all the way to the start in 1975. Weirdo? Me? Totally.

Ben and Jerry's lately has been in my brain, it's almost like they've sent spies out to follow me and suss out just what exactly would be the perfect new flavor to make my heart flip flop. If they come out with a Doctor Who flavor, you'll know for a fact that this is exactly what's going down, until that day this is just a theory.

But back to the Schweddy Balls.

"They're made from a secret Schweddy recipe. No one can resist my Schweddy balls."

Usually when there's a new B&J flavor I have some advance notice, like an email, or a facebook notification, or a ray of light from heaven letting me know that my life's quest may continue. But this time, nothing. In fact I wouldn't have known about this flavor at all if hadn't been standing behind a guy with a fresh icy pint of it sitting in his grocery cart at my job. I totally geeked out. Like full on. I had to stop myself from snaking this guys ice cream as he left by telling myself surely there was more left in the store and p.s. stealing a customer's ice cream is probably a really embarrassing way to get fired. And arrested.

So skip ahead, this ice cream? Delicious. It tastes like a Dairy Queen dipped cone deconstructed, only nix the cone and add malted milk balls. What's that you say? Barftown?  I know. I'm pretty sure the world is divided on whether or not malted milk balls are the most disgusting thing on this planet or the most delicious. But if you think that they're gross I'm totally with you. But don't worry, something about being frozen and surrounded with ice cream and rum infused chocolate globs makes them about a 1000% less grody. In fact they seem a bit more crispy, and almost toffee like. If that still doesn't float your boat,  there's not a ton stuck in there, they're intermixed with these little boozy hunks of chocolate shell that are almost like junior mints or milk duds without the filling inside.

Final words, I dig this flavor.  It might not make my top ten but even with the malted milk balls it passed the test and didn't last more than two days in the freezer.
And P.S. if in the future they come up with a flavor for Schweddy  Wiener they just might win my life long admiration.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Looking For The Campfire Light" or "Eating The Oatmeal"

The savory world is being mean to me. I'm trying to stay true to my word backflip into the healthy, salty, green and leafy but I haven't quite got it down.I miss my comfort zone, I miss baking and I NEED A BROWNIE STAT!

The thing about baking, and doing it well is that once you get cozy you start to really know what does what, and why this is in there and after a point you can just eyeball a recipe and figure out if it's going to be worth your time.

My problem with salty stuff is I have no radar ( at least not yet) for jolopy recipes. Honestly sometimes I think I'm actually a magnet for duds. Like the recipe I tried today from Food Network Magazine, I should have known just from looking at it that even though it said including meat in the soup was optional, it totally wasn't. But instead I was charmed by the idea of a bean-noodle-kale soup and kept on trucking even though
my nose told me that nothing was going on in there.  Always trust the nose.

The upside is that is wasn't nasty or anything, just sort of boring and meh, and it's relatively veggie loaded and healthy so even though I will be eating bison for diner for the next year it shouldn't do too much damage.

Hopefully one day I'll look back on this post a seasoned skillet of a cook and laugh at myself (while eating Coq au Vin).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Gettin' Cozy With Sage"

For the third straight day it is deliciously cold dark and rainy and I am drinking it in. I'm getting nights of that goood rain sleep, I've gone on splishy splashy morning runs in my flowered swim cap and I have taken long slow walks to the grocery store in skirts of impractical lengths just so I can feel the rain on my skin.

The downside? It's too dark to take blog pictures. You know, really really.

But I am cooking. I'm always cooking.

Mushroom Soup with Barley and Sage
Originally Cream of Mushroom Soup
Fitness Magazine

1 small onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
16 oz mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup barley
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp dried thyme
3 tbsp fresh sage, minced
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c 1% milk
 salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in  two tbsp of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat 10 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 cup barley; cook 2 min. Add 6 cups vegetable broth, thyme and sage, and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes or until barley is cooked. Whisk together 1/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup milk. Add to soup; simmer 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with fresh grated parmesan. Makes about 5, 2-cup servings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom"

I'm going vegetarian (temporarily) and no, it's not because I just finished watching the entire first season of Switched At Birth on Netflix (how do you even know about that?!).

Real talk, things have been a little cupcakey around here. Maybe a little baconybuttery and chocolaty too. And that's fine, it's cool, you know, tasty and all that. But I'm getting kind of... sleepy? Sort of coffee all day, take a three hour nap, eh, do it tomorrow kind of sleepy. And a liiittle heavy legged, kinda twice around the block and let's just walk the way back, who's really gonna know when I go out for a run. Honestly this isn't a surprise since it pretty much happens every year about Christmas time, and Halloween... and maybe a little around Easter...

Only this time... it's September. I usually just ride out all the signs of sugar in the gas tank until I run out of candy canes, or reese's cups or whatever tasty delight I have hanging but... there isn't really a holiday to blame.There's only me and my evil clever hands and what is apparently a one track mind stuck on sugar sugar sugar.

So, what's a hungry girl to do?

Jump start my brain (and metabolism) by going vegetarian for a while. It's this cool tricky challenge  that opens up my mind vice to a whole new group of recipes that get me out of my comfort zone. Like this one for crunchy tofu tacos. I'd never actually had the guts to really learn how to deal with tofu before, but once I tried it (and fried it) my boyfriend even cleaned the plate. And I didn't even have to lie and tell him there was bacon in there somewhere. He ate it without explanation. I know, I totally made that face too.

And you know what else new and fancy I tried? Kimchi. Spicy Korean sauerkraut. I'd never tried it before because frankly it sounded gross ( I mean, ferment cabbage, really?) but we're being fearless here, mixing it up, and it is amazing. I am in love in fact. Also, unrelated this is a relationship saver. Pro tip.

And since we're already being so awesome, let's wrap those crunchy kimchi tacos in some rustic homemade tortillas which are totally veg because we swapped out the lard for vegetable oil (oh yes, you can do this no matter what those mean purist guys say.). Homemade tortillas are awesomely easy, it just like making pancakes... if you're Fauna from Sleeping Beauty.

If you're feeling all professional and moneybags you can totally get a tortilla press and make these babies all even and perfectly round but I kind of like the shaggy outcast look these rustic misshapen ones have from being rolled out by hand. Pro tip #2: they will hold your taco fillings either way you go. Count on it.

Crunchy tofu tacos, this is happening. Look out September, we're vegetarian! We're breaking through boundaries, we're mixing it up, we're totally getting our mojo back!

Crunchy Tofu Tacos
Originally by Food and Wine

1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tbsp chile powder
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Kosher salt
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
12 corn or 5-inch flour tortillas, warmed
Hoisin sauce, spicy kimchi, and sliced scallions for serving (maybe a little srirachi i've you're really feeling froggy)

1. Place the tofu on a rack lined with paper towels and drain for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, chile powder, garlic powder and salt.

2. In a medium, deep skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 365°. Add the tofu to the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to a colander to tap out the excess cornstarch. Fry the tofu in one batch, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes; maintain the heat near 360°. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crunchy tofu to a paper towel lined rack and sprinkle with salt. Serve the tofu right away with the tortillas, hoisin sauce, kimchi, and scallions .

Home Made Tortillas
Original Recipe from Just A Rough Draft

3 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 hot water, almost boiling

Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the vegetable oil then the hot water and, with a wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the dry into the wet until the mixture forms a shaggy dough.  Once dough is combined, knead dough until elastic, 2-3 minutes. Cover the dough and set aside for at about 30 minutes.

Roll dough into cylinder, about 1" thick. Cut cylinder in into twelve equal segments. Roll segments into round balls and cover with a towel. Heat large grill or skillet over medium-high heat.

Place a ball in between 2 12" squares of parchment paper and roll balls as thin as possible to form tortillas, 10-12" diameter. Place tortilla on skillet and cook until golden brown, 30 seconds to one minute per side. Remove tortilla when cooked and place in a clean dishtowel to keep warm.

Repeat the last step until all your tortillas are cooked.