Monday, December 14, 2009

Budget Friendly Dessert: Warm Rice Pudding with Holiday Spices

Budget Friendly Dessert: Warm Rice Pudding with Holiday Spices

Follow the link above for Jeff's latest write up published on Makes me salivate to read it.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For the Love of Summer

Living in Phoenix makes it tough to really love summer. It's so hot that when I'm out walking my dog at night, after dark, I desperately seek out a sprinkler to give us a little dowsing to cool off. OK, so that's only on days where it is above 110....So there's plenty, right?

Alas, living the seasonal lifestyle has made me actually really enjoy summer for something else...for it's bounty of fruits and vegetables. Lucky for our warm climate, it begins here sometime in March. Elsewhere, the farmer's markets and grocery stores who stock local and organic produce all have fabulous stuff in the midst of summer.

One of my favorite foods of all time is the tomato. This is in spite of most ordinary store-bought tomatoes being terrible. Now is the time to head out and buy something local, heirloom, vine ripened, or organic (or even grow your own--but it's too late now). What are you waiting for?! Seriously these things are phenominal. Try different colors, even. The sad thing is, I've been enjoying this bounty for several months now and have only just now decided to post in honor of the wonderful things. And I'm so sorry for any tomoato-haters out there, it's a pity and well.. I am not even sure I trust you. This is some of the best stuff anywhere, and a simple caprece salad is a wonderful showcase of the tomato's simplicity and deliciosity. (Yes, that can be a word.)

Tomato and Basil; best friends....Voila! Above a yellow tomato slice is topped with a chopped bit of fresh mozzarella and a snip of basil leaf. For the best mozzarella, make your own or buy the kind that comes in water . Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Optionally, balsamic vinegar is a fine touch. Yum. What a great summer snack and extremely easy to throw together.

Makes me temporarily forget about my least favorite weather...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet the Kitchen Staff

Meet Tank, the kitchen floor cleaner. He's great, at our beck and call, he runs around while we're cooking and prepping food just to make sure he can pick up accidental messes. Such a helper, altruistic at that.

Can you sense the sarcasm?

But seriously, the kitchen wouldn't be the same without this 8 pounds of pure food motivation. Though sometimes he finds himself in the way, he's fast to scurry those little legs and listens when it counts. This convenient clean-up system never fails to ultimately put a smile on my face. To see him earnestly look on while I'm slicing carrots is the epitome of pure dedication. Thanks for your service and company, little buddy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fabulous Fresh Food + Wow = France

My last posting ended with a promise to tell about our adventures in France. My equation title pretty much sums it up. Thankfully, my traveling companion, chef aux maison, and fiance loves food more than me. I say thankfully for this because without him, I would likely not have tried socca, pigeon terrine, or a lovely tarte citron in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (see below for one of the many marvels of Veronique Mauclerc) all the way in the 19th arrondisement.

That's right, in the land of glorious wine and a culture that places such an importance on quality food...I would not have even come close to touching these things on my own. Granted, I would have likely enjoyed a delightful cheese, croissant and bread-filled experience, but we wound up taking many side treks simply to seek out the best. From an authentic Nicoise socca stand, to the contrasting sleekness of a Pierre Hermes Parisian bakery, it turned out to be a great way to see some different sights as well as give our palates a holiday like no other. It was so fantastic in fact, that it is truly sad to be back in America, culinarily speaking, that is.

More posts to come on France...but for now, I'll leave you with a few snapshots of the delightful bounty available daily in the outdoor market in charming Old Nice. We saw variations of these offerings everywhere in both Paris and Nice. France is truly a country where food is unquestionably worthy of respect, but not so pretentiously as you might think, it is made available in the freshest way possible to everyone nearly everywhere.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Proof I Did Not Inherit a Green Thumb

Since my prior posting about all the hope and promise of beautiful lush herbs growing in little pots right in our townhouse patio, things have since taken a turn for the worse. I'm not even photo logging this sad news, it's that bad. JTK and I did enjoy fresh lemon thyme for a little over a month, garlic chives were eaten in perhaps 6 different meals, and the mint is hanging on to this day by only a bare thread. The chives have some sense of green left but consists primarily of whispy yellow strands of dearth. Have you ever seen lemon thyme impersonating "burnt to a crisp"?...hmm? No? Because that's what our particular plant is currently doing. The serrano peppers have also bitten the dust, copying the stature of the nearby thyme.

It's not like we did not care for these precious plants, either. They were watered, given light, shade, and love. This is why I know that the "green thumbs" my grandmother and arguably both parents bear somehow skipped a generation. Perhaps this is not even a genetic trait afterall. Even though I don't deny my lack of plant care-taking capablity (I'm sure there's a shorter word for this, if you know it, please tell me, as it describes me to a T); I still harbor some denial by blaming the fact that for all intents and purposes, I live right up against the sun. It doesn't help that we had one of the most blisteringly hot Mays on record either. It was still only May, people...and yep, you read correctly, 14 consecutive days at 100 degrees or greater, breaking the previous record of a mere 13 days. I even threatened JTK that I had once and for all had it with the heat and we should move.

So there you have it. I'm not great with plants, but I may have been successful further into the year if it weren't so darned HOT this time around.

Maybe I'll try my hand at some indoor basil...but I'll leave that for after this summer's vacation, for which I cannot wait! The cities Paris and Nice will soon witness an alarming consumption rate by JTK and me. When we go on a trip, we are sure to try as big of a variety of cuisine as possible at the local cafes, restaurants, and bistros. Stay tuned for some hopefully rousing food tales from our journey.

In the meantime, I hope my little mint plant will pull through. This ironically unseasonably cool June could do the trick.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ode to Spring..and some words about foods I used to not like

Spring has been with us AZ folks for several months now, so it's time I do a food post that's appropriate to the seasonal cooking JTK and I strive to do. When I first learned about seasonal cooking, I thought, who cares? I can get whatever I want most the time at the grocery store, why should I pay attention to seasons? Well, first, and most important is the food TASTES BETTER when it's in season near where you live. Second, it's better for the environment to not be importing things like berries in the middle of the summer that have to be shipped and driven all the way from South America. If you want fresh berries in December, go to the southern hemisphere! They don't even taste as good....sorry to say South American farmers.

I realize that some people live in climates (mine being one, come summer time) that fresh produce is not available year round. I understand some rules need to be bent. But for the most part, I'm all about it. For more on this topic, I suggest Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life . To find out how to eat more regionally and get fresh produce, visit Local Harvest to find a CSA...or if you're lucky enough to live near a farmer's market, support it by going there to buy your produce.

OK, I'll get down off the soap box about eating seasonally and locally for now.

One of my new favorite things to eat in season is roasted beet salad. Yes, beets are something I used to put in the category of "I don't care for that so much, thanks". Suddenly beets are yummy when paired with the right things (or even pickled!). Not to mention they are absolutely beautiful with their striations, visible once you slice into them. They're literally food works of art. As for flavor, the earthiness used to be a bit of a turnoff to my taste buds. Fortunately, that has changed by trying beets in new contexts. Thanks to JTK and one of my favorite places to eat, Essence Bakery in Tempe, I have a springtime crush on beet salad! Include some goat cheese, fresh greens, and other succulent treats like candied walnuts for crunch and sweetness...all of the flavors balance each other out perfectly. Oh and did I mention, this counts as eating your vegetables...Mom would be proud! How did flavor-town get to be healthy too?! Read on to find out how to make your own version.
To make this salad, there's a bit of prep ahead work involved. First, I didn't have any candied nuts on hand, so one Sunday afternoon I decided to make my own. I pretty much followed this recipe from Chow and it worked out great. Next, to get the beets in perfect-for-salad condition, they do need to be roasted and cooled prior to puting them in a salad. To roast fresh beets, simply put trimmed beets on a baking sheet or in a shallow pan in a 250 degree oven for about 45-60 minutes. Pull them out when they're easy to stick a fork in (aka: fork tender). Once cooled, peel the skin off using a towel or rinsing with water. Roasted beets can be stored in a container in the fridge for about a week.

Construct the salad to your preference. My favorite method, encouraged by my wise executive chef de la casa, is to mix the dressing in a large bowl first so you can just add the greens and toss by hand. For the salad shown here I used some red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and just a wee bit o' dijon mustard for the dressing (Dad would also be proud, making my own dressing by hand!). Whisk until the emulsion is formed. Add greens and toss gently. Transfer the greens to your plate and place sliced roasted beets, dabs of goat cheese, and candied nuts to your liking. Isn't it lovely? I think it says spring. I especially like the combination of gold and red beets.

The moral of the story, ok...really there's two morals: 1)eat in-season, it just tastes better!; and 2)keep trying foods you think you don't like. You may just find you like new things when prepared with different ingredients (what I call "the right ingredients"). In fact, just in the last 2 years alone, I have recently converted to loving the following things I previously could hardly stand: arugula, mushrooms, cooked spinach, and beets. What's really funny is that I LOVE these things now. I don't always like them by themselves in their raw form, but pairing these things with the right ingredients makes all the difference in the world of tastebuds.

Enjoy spring and it's great bounty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs while they're here. In the desert we're already seeing over 100 degree heat so I know our spring is already out the window. See you next year, dear beets!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From Blah to Ahhh

A few weeks ago we set out to try our hand at growing some herbs again this season. Last year I only had moderate success in barely keeping alive a basil plant. What a measly plant, at that! I also managed to kill off cilantro, and the "unkillable", (according to several members of my family) mint. Yes I killed a mint plant! And it certainly hasn't been my first. Let it be known that green thumbs are not genetic! Back to my story, this year we started off with some Lemon Thyme, Chives, and a Serrano Pepper plant. See image below. There's something about greenery that livens up a townhouse patio, right? As we stood there trying to figure how to best arrange our new flora, JTK and I got to thinking...what if we rearranged some things? In a moment of mutual shared genius spiked with overtones of "why didn't we think of this before?!", we agreed to relocate the barbeque (to the smaller deck on the patio). This new layout would allow the herbs to get sun and maybe a bistro set to relax in. Voila!
I have to say if it weren't for the herbs we may not find the patio as appealing. Entrance to the house, laundry access, bicycle storage, and the behemoth barbeque have been the only uses our patio has received. Very utilitarian. But why the heck not make it look great? Someone needs to enjoy the company of these precious herb plants. A trip to the local imports stores (always a good excuse for shopping), and I also added some flair.

Note that we did also plant a mint plant in the corner...we'll see how this one prevails. Since the planting of the herbs, we've enjoyed several meals made with these yummy leaves.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Adventures in Cupcake Land

After receiving an invite to a ladies' party, I wasn't even considering what delectable food I'd be bringing. That conundrum lasted all of 5 minutes when I began salivating over a previously unread "Recipe of the Day" from Chow in my inbox. Oh yes...this was serendipity. Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting!!! Who doesn't like a little salty with their sweet? What girl doesn't like a cupcake? Thus, it was decided I would bring cupcakes.

I'm not going to write up the recipe because I essentially followed the Chow recipe with one exception (follow link above for recipes). With my cupcakes I used both half of a vanilla bean and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I wanted the bean flecks for a nice look but I knew I'd get better vanilla flavor out of the extract. The batter turned out very yummy. The smell of these things baking alone could bring quarrelling lovers back into the arms of love. Provocative scents aside, these cupcakes did become somewhat dry once cooled. However, I sampled one while it was still warm and it was a very good cake, even sans frosting. If I made these again I'd either pull them from the oven a minute earlier or add another egg to the batter.

I didn't read the comments on the recipe for the frosting until after I already made the super yummy salted caramel buttercream. Thus, I missed out on a couple of recommendations, one I definitely agree with. The frosting could stand to be slightly more caramelly than the recipe turns out. When making again, I will increase the ratio of caramel to butter. However, the buttercream I ended up with was definitely decadent.

It also proved a fun addition as an internal filling for these slightly dry cakes, per the recommendation of JTK. To perform this twinkie-reminiscent feat, I slaved like a surgeon to carve a small piece off the top of each cupcake, piped in some frosting, and placed the tiny top back on. I will concede, it wasn't as stressful as surgery, but it was definitely above and beyond what I'd planned for my baked treats. To finish them off, I piped more frosting on the top, and adorned with a few delicate silver dragees and a sprinkling of finishing salt. A less-than-perfect baked creation in light of the dryness and the caramel factor...but still mmm-mmm good.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Best Brittle You've Ever Had

This past Christmas I made a batch of the best nut brittle I've ever had. The recipe is courtesy of Chef Chelsea Higgins at Scottsdale Community College, though I've trimmed it down some to fit a regular home-sized sheet pan. Aside from having the perfect balance of sweet and salty, without a hint of being chewy; this is the easiest treat you will ever make. All you need is a sauce pan, a spoon to stir, and some elbow grease. I prefer cashews but peanuts or pecans are also yummy.

How to make it:


1/2 Vanilla bean, scraped -- or 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 3/4 C nuts

Just shy of 1/2 C of granulated sugar

1/8 C Corn Syrup

5/8 C Butter (this is a stick + 1 T)

1/8 C Honey

1 tsp salt

Have a greased sheet pan ready (or you can put on a Silpat and forget about the greasing) Put all ingredients into a big enough saucepot and cook over medium high heat while stirring constantly. It's done when it's just starts to turn a dark caramel color (mahogany). Poor onto sheet pan and spread around as much as you can. Once cooled, you can break it up and give as a gift or hoarde for yourself with a happy sugar high! The picture below shows what my batch looked like when it was cooling in the sheet pan.