Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Edible Glitter

If this doesn't put you in the Christmas mood, well, I'm not sure what would.  These cupcakes (red velvet, with cream cheese frosting) were looking pretty ho-hum, and I needed to wow the recipients (well, not really.  They were for my husband's classes, and, let's be honest...the kids would have been happy with them being plain.  The glitter was really for ME).  Sparkle on, cupcakes.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Plum Tart

When did fall get here?  While I absolutely dread the coming winter, I do enjoy the slightly cooler temperatures, that smell in the air, the pumpkin lattes.  But I always get a little flustered when a new season starts with regards to my clothes.  Just when I feel like I've mastered my closet for summer (skirts! sandals! flats!), along comes fall to throw everything out of whack.  I am still on the skinny jean phase (which probably means it's long gone out of fashion), but now I'm confused: can I wear other types of shoes with skinny jeans other than my flats?  I know I can wear boots up over the jeans, but what are my other warm options?  Low boots?  Flats with socks?  No.  And sweaters?  Do I need more of them?  I always seem to forget how I made it through the last autumn (and winter) season and so I find myself panicking.  

However.  At least I always know what to bake.  This plum tart is perfect for fall.  Not only is it a cinch to throw together (it only dirties your food processor, and a cutting board for the plums.  That's it.  No, really), it pairs a crispy, just-sweet crust with tart, wrinkly-skinned plums.  Simple enough for a weeknight, but also pretty for a dinner party if you paired it with some sweetened whipped cream.

Plum Tart
(originally found here, but tweaked)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp + scant 1/8 tsp salt (not quite 1/4 tsp salt total)*
1 large egg, lightly whisked
3 Tbsp. diced, unsalted butter
4 to 6 plums

1. Place rack in lower third of oven, and preheat to 375. Butter a 9" springform pan (mine was 10", which meant a little thinner crust, but I was ok with that).
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of your food processor, and pulse it a few times to combine. Add the egg and butter, and pulse until the dough is not quite the texture of cornmeal - it should be slightly clumpy and the butter should be cut up and distributed evenly throughout the dough.
3. Press the dough into the bottom of your greased pan and spread it to cover completely (but not up the sides!), using your fingers to lightly press down. Don't pack it too firmly.
4. Slice your plums either in halves or wedges, removing the pits. I placed my plums skin-side up, but you could place them cut-sides up as well. Arrange them however you please on top of your crust, pressing them slightly down into the dough.
5. Bake until the pastry is a light golden brown with slightly darker edges, about 25-30 minutes. Watch it carefully, as the original recipe called for 50 minutes (!) and I'm so glad I checked mine after 30, or else I would have had a burnt mess.
6. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes or so, then loosen the springform rim portion, and allow to cool completely.

*I prefer my baked goods to have a nice salt presence, so I upped the amount a bit. If you prefer to make it with less, then you can just stick 1/8 tsp salt total.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Saturday was a waste.  Friday night held in store some unexpected guests, delayed dinner plans, lots of imbibing, and staying up way too late (past midnight!  We were crazy!), which led to a pretty useless me on Saturday.  I used to be able to handle that sort of night, but not anymore.  So, my best intentions and plans went out the window for Saturday (vacuuming?  What?).  I did manage to get myself out of the house and meet a dear friend for lunch, and on my lazy drive back home I was struck with the sudden urge to bake some bread.  My headache was finally dissipating, the windows were down, and suddenly I had energy.  

I had bookmarked this recipe last week, for I'm always on the look out for bread recipes that a) don't scare me and b) look like I could handle all of the steps and not screw it up. I was determined to BAKE. SOME. BREAD.  (My desire to do this probably had a little bit to do with the fact that for the past two years, between farmer's market bread and my own baked bread during the winter, we have not had to eat store-bought bread at all, which is pretty impressive seeing as we eat lots of toast and sandwiches.  Well, I neglected to fit baking into my schedule last week and suddenly we were forced to buy bread at the store.  Horrors, I know.  My husband is very, very spoiled.)

As you can see, I almost braided the loaf on the left the correct way; the loaf on the right was my attempt at making up my own braiding technique, which was obviously not the way to go.  You can tell that I was doing this late at night - my energy spiked while I was mixing the dough in the late afternoon, but by evening I sort of took a nap and let the bread rest longer in the refrigerator, hence the less-than stellar nighttime iPhone pictures that I'm forcing you to look at now.

I also had a helper.  He made sure that I did not drop the loaves as I pulled them out of the oven.  Can't you see how hard he's concentrating?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Wedding Cake

I have to take a moment and brag on my sister. While I'm the sister that has the cooking and baking blog, but rarely, if ever, updates it with the things she's making, my sister is the actual one who should be showing off her skills. My little cousin (28!) got married this weekend and my sister was in charge of the cake. Seeing as this is her actual daily job, she accepted it without even blinking, even though it entailed making cake for almost 300 people (!).

To accomplish this, she made a separate "show" cake, which served as a center piece but was actually just a tower of styrofoam and icing, into which she cleverly hid a large slice of real cake for the bride and groom to cut. Waiting in the back room, already cut into serving pieces, were the actual, edible sheet cakes. (I had never heard of this before...am I the last one?)

She made three sheet cakes, each a different flavor: chocolate, white raspberry, and a pina colada/pineapple/tropical combination, since the newlyweds are honeymooning in Hawaii. Truth be told, that last one sounded absolutely terrible to me, but as always, my sister convinced me otherwise, and once I tasted it I knew she was right. Job well done!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Italian Meals, Revisited: Venice, part II

So, third day in Venice. Our daily excursions consisted of the St. Mark's Basilica, Murano Island (which involved a scary water taxi ride), and the Accademia. But, let's get to the food, shall we?

Dinner, Night 3: Trattoria Da Bepi

Our first course: Pasta with olive oil and chili (me), and pasta with clams (my husband):

I ended up getting a small roasted pepper salad for my dinner because I was so full from the pasta, but my husband's meal really blew us away: cuttlefish pasta in ink! Look at it! It was the most beautiful and weird thing I had ever seen. I'm so happy that he ordered it, and even happier when he shared it with me. Amazing!

Dinner, Night 4: Our favorite, Ruga Rialto.

It's probably a sin to eat at the same place that you just visited the night before for appetizers, but guys. This place was so good. We didn't regret it one bit. Look at what we ate:

Appetizer plate consisting of: cud fish cream, calamari (again!), salmon, and squid. Divine.

First course (we split this): Spaghetti with clams (!)

My main: Grilled gilthead (the special that night).

My husband's meal: Grilled squid. Awesome.

Next up: Florence!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mark Bittman's Blackberry Pie

I get really excited when we get invited to our friend's D and T's house for the 4th. Not only do they have a gorgeous house in the middle of Midtown, they also have a swoon-worthy pool with slate deck surround, a lovely sitting area, unlimited wine supply, and a great bunch of friends who, when invited to their house, bring a dazzling array of food to share. This year someone brought crag legs. Someone else made homemade corn salad, homemade guac, and remoulade sauce. The host grilled kielbasa and steak, and whipped up a sweet tea vodka concoction to share. My husband made his famous potato salad and deviled eggs. And I declared, a few days prior, that I was going to make pie.

Now. I have made lots of sweets. Crumbles, grunts, pandowdies, etc. But never have I attempted a double crust pie. And let me tell you...drumroll...it's so easy. Yes, easy. Just roll your pie crust out either on one sheet or between two sheets of wax paper. Really, that's the trick.
(I hope I am convincing you with my confidence to go out and try this for yourself, but I was a little timid!) But really, just go for it! And my real goal (aside from the main goal of wowing everyone with this awesome pie at a party where everyone brings great food) was to get stars cut into the top of my pie crust. Priorities, right? As you can see, I pretty much succeeded. Just cut shapes out of your final pie crust (before you drape it over the fruit, while it's still on a sheet of wax paper), and then pray and mutter under your breath as you carefully position the wax paper (crust side down) over your pie, and then pray again as you sloooooowly peel the wax paper off and hope you don't tear it and have to start over. See? Easy!

I used used the flaky pie crust recipe (doubled), and the blackberry pie recipe (recipe is similar) out of Bittman's How to Cook Everything book. I increase the tapioca by 1 tbsp, as he suggested, and the filling was perfectly juicy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Italian Meals, Revisited: Venice

Someone reminded me that I haven't been posting enough, and she's right. It's just that, well, between the jet lag (goodness, the jet lag!), having to catch up at work, and, really, just being lazy, I haven't made the time.

But no more! I wanted to share what we ate in Italy. I could post the other 700 pictures that I took during our trip, but seeing as this is a food blog, let's start there. Maybe I'll show some other pictures in future posts.

And don't worry, there aren't pictures of every meal. Breakfast usually consisted of a quick cappuccino and some little pastry (standing up of course! We were trying to be cheap), and lunch was sandwiches and, occasionally, Prosecco. However, since we splurged almost every night for a great dinner, I felt that I had to capture each and every one. I'll only show you the highlights of some of our favorite meals, so I can keep it short. I split these posts up by city, in hopes that these don't get too long.

Appetizer: Baby Octopus (seriously, I thought this was going to be calamari but was delighted when they brought this dish out):

First Course: Four Cheese Gnocchi...I'm still thinking about this dish. Gorgonzola, blue cheese, and a little bit of heaven and who knows what, but this was the lightest, most flavorful gnocchi I had ever had.

Other highlights of this meal: Wonderful house wine (which seemed to the case in about 90% of the restaurants that we tried), plus wonderful service. My husband had grilled sea bass for his main course, and I had crispy fried shrimp. Our server spoke minimal English, but we understood each other with hand gestures and pointing. All in all, a great meal.

Venice, Day 2: Cichetto/Pub Crawl

We had the Rick Steve's Italy 2010 book, and in it he suggests doing a "pub crawl", which consists of going to a few different restaurants in Venice where they serve "cichetto", or small snacks, usually between the hours of 5 and 7 pm. A lot of places are stand-up and drink only, which is pretty fun - you just point at what you want in the glass case, and they'll make you a plate of it. Italian small bites? Before we even have dinner? Sign me UP!

First stop: Osteria Bancorigo

Our waiter here didn't speak much English, but after I fumbled my way through saying "cichetto?" he understood. I motioned to just make us a plate of something, so he went to prepare us a plate while we enjoyed another glass of house wine. After only a few minutes, he came back with this:

It consisted of crab salad, crab puff pastry, chicken curry, a salad of octopus and eggplant, shrimp something or other, and something with sardines. Yummm!

Next stop: Al Merca

I didn't take any pictures here; it was a stand-up only place, and Rick Steves was right when he said that it was frequented by hip, young locals. I felt like a nerd already because we were obviously tourists, so I didn't want to make it any worse by taking pictures. We had a glass of house wine here and a few popettes - basically fried balls of spinach and meat. Pretty tasty.

This was, by far, our favorite little place. It's tucked into an alleyway, where old men play cards at tables that are shaded by lush planters overhead. It had a ton of charm and we were impressed from the beginning. It also helped that their cichetto spread looked amazing (calamari! something fried and covered in sesame seeds!). This was our plate that we received:

Wait, we still have to eat dinner? Remember that we started all of this around 5 pm, so it was close to 8:30 and while we had eaten a lot of snacks (plus more than a few glasses of Prosecco), we still wanted to grab a light dinner.
So, we had dinner at Trattoria Pizzeria Nono Risorto, and of course got pizza:

It was wonderful, and the perfect end to a gluttonous evening. Next up...cuttlefish and more pasta!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Trip, and Eggs in Buttery Sorrel Sauce

In 4 days, we leave for Italy. (My heart just leapt out of my chest when I typed that. Seriously). I can't believe I get to say that, but it's true. Italy. For two weeks. Almost 15 days. Wait while I dance around a bit. [ ] Ok, done.

We are in the final stages of vacation planning; we've got everything booked, so now it's down to things like buying travel toiletries and trying to figure out how to pack for a two week trip when normally I try to pack at least ten outfits for a weekend getaway. You know. We have the dog sitter lined up, I think I'm emailed contact numbers to everyone that I know in case something goes wrong while we're away, and I have finally found the perfect leather bag for our daily adventures. We're sort of exhausted with all of this planning. As are the dogs, as you can see.

But last Sunday, after we had thrown a fairly large party the night before, I decided we were going to have an easy, casual, comforting breakfast. The kind that comes together effortlessly, in ten minutes or fewer, and makes a maximum of one dirty dish. I also had to use up a big bag of sorrel that we had from the farmer's market (I know, poor me, right? Who can say that they have access to sorrel? I had never even heard of it until a few weeks ago, and now I'm hooked). I had seen this post, which led me to this recipe, which pretty much led to breakfast nirvana. We both felt like we were eating in some cozy European cafe. Very timely, indeed.

If you don't have sorrel, you could easily swap in spinach. But the sorrel gives the dish a bright note of acidity, which balances oh so well with the creamy eggs.

Eggs Poached in Buttery Sorrel Sauce

2 fat scallion, trimmed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large bunch sorrel, stems removed
1/4 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup of heavy cream
4 large eggs
Chili flakes or crushed red pepper
Flaky salt, for serving
Buttered toast, for serving

1. Thinly slice scallions, separating darker green parts for garnish.

2. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add light green and white parts of scallion and sauté until wilted, 2 minutes. Add sorrel leaves, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until sorrel wilts and starts to break down, turning olive-green in color, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream and let simmer for 1 minute to thicken a bit.

3. Carefully crack eggs into skillet; they should fit in one layer. Lower heat to medium-low and sprinkle eggs with salt and pepper. Cover pan and let cook for 2 minutes, then turn off heat and let eggs rest, covered, until done to taste, about another 30 seconds for very runny yolks (the whites should cook through).

4. Carefully scoop eggs and sorrel sauce into two bowls. Season with chili and flaky salt; garnish with scallion greens. Serve with toast.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

Well, here I go, already going back on my word. This recipe isn't from my Bon Appetit magazines, but rather from the New York Times. However, it is from my huge cache of online recipes that I tend to collect, and I've had this recipe saved for over a year, so I'm proud of myself for that.

So, blood oranges. Have you ever had one? Me neither. I was at my local Kroger a few weeks ago and eureka, they had bags of them! I vaguely remembered that I had kept this recipe, so I snagged a bag immediately.

And I'll have to be honest, I was very unsure of this batter as followed the last step, which is to mix in 2/3 cup of olive oil. It seemed too greasy, too oily to ever bake up into something enjoyable.

But, oh, I was wrong. I'm sure you are familiar with dunking a really good piece of bread into a bowl of really great olive oil, right? And how the oil seems to just infuse the bread with a certain wholesomeness ? Well that's this bread. Add in the slight sweetness sugar, the welcome (but light) bitterness or the oranges, mixed with the zest, orange juice, and the tang from the buttermilk, and you've got yourself an amazing little loaf of cake. I've made it twice this week (!), and if I see any more bags of blood oranges, they are mine.

Go here for the recipe. And you can thank me later.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homemade Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables

For Christmas of 2007, my then-boyfriend's brother (now brother-in-law!) gifted us with a year's subscription to Bon Appetit. Oh, glory days! I poured over every month's magazine, ear-marked recipes that I swore that I'd make omg right now, and then promptly forgot about most of them. If you are a self-prescribed serial recipe collector (ahem, like me) you know how that goes.

Despite turning down my husband's offer to continue the Bon Appetit subscription, my recipe pile, whether gathered from online sources or other cookbooks, continued to grow. And grow. So, I've stopped buying cookbooks. I haven't stopped gathering recipes from online sources, but oh well. We all regress. But what I have done is pledge to go through each of my Bon Appetit magazines for that corresponding month, and work my way through the recipes.

In Bon Appetit's March of 2008 edition, they featured an article on brining and corning your own corned beef. I thought that was the perfect excuse to have people over and throw an Irish party*, even though most of us (ok, all of us) aren't even Irish or of Irish descent. Ah, details. Whatever. It was glorious! I made the Guiness mustard and the horseradish cream, and friends brought over rye bread, cheesecake, and wine. Oh, yeah, and beer, but barely anyone touched that. See, what did I tell you? We're not Irish.

Go here for the recipe. I followed it exactly, except I had no star anise for the bouquet garni, and honestly, I don't think anyone missed it.

*Is it bad that I invite people over so that I can have a great excuse to cook?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shrimp, Spinach and Roasted Potato Omelets

Courtyard of The Frenchmen

When we cook during the weekends, my husband and I like to play a little game. It's just like the segment on Hell's Kitchen where the judges rate the chefs' meals by listing the maximum price that they would pay for that particular meal in a restaurant. Let's play that game right now.

Are you ready? Let's go!

On Saturday night we decided to do Cajun shrimp with remoulade sauce, paired with baked spinach and roasted potatoes topped with horseradish-sour cream and chives. How much would we have paid for this meal in a restaurant? ......lots and lots. (Okay, I don't even want to put a price on it because I'm either going to say a really high number and you will say, "yeah right", and then if I list a low number you'll think, "well why would I want to make that?")

So, while that meal was absolutely fantastic, the best was yet to come. On Sunday, I already knew what to do with our leftovers. I was inspired by a fluffy omelet that I had at Cafe Eclectic a few weeks back, and I knew I had to try it. The description on the menu said it was made with beaten egg whites, so that's exactly what I did. Despite the previous late night and the surprising time change (I just thought winter would last forever. didn't you?), here I was in the kitchen on Sunday using my mixer and waking up the entire house.

But, oh. Was it worth it. The final dish? I'm sure you can guess, but here goes: Fluffy omelets with shrimp, spinach, and pototoes, topped with remoulade sauce and sour cream. How much would we pay for this? We said $12, not including sides. Not bad, eh? I've typed the recipes below so you can create your own meal. Dinner? Breakfast? Either! It all works for both!

Remoulade Sauce (from La Bouche Creole)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Creole mustard
2 tbsp horseradish
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
2 tbsp finely sliced green onions
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 clove garlic, minced

Note: your food processor can make this recipe a LOT easier, trust me.

1) Mix all ingredients well and chill. Makes about 2-1/2 cups. Can be stored, refrigerated, for up to four days.

Roasted Potatoes with Horseradish-Sour Cream
2 lbs red potatoes, sliced 1/4" to 1/2" thick
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped
1-1/2 tbsp chives, chopped

1/2 cup sour cream
1-2 tsp of horseradish (I think we used even more)
additional chopped chives for topping

1) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set your oven to 400 degrees.
2) Combine the olive oil, rosemary, chives, salt and pepper. Drizzle over potatoes and toss to coat.
3) Place the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes until roasted and slightly crispy on the edges.
4) Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Top each slice with a small dollop of sour cream-horseradish mixture, and sprinkle with chives.

Fluffy Omelets (makes 2)
5 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
choice of fillings, coarsely chopped (ideally, your leftovers from the above)

1) Put your egg whites and pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat on medium to medium-high speed until soft peaks begin to form (mine took about 3-5 minutes).
2) Meanwhile, lightly beat your yolks with a fork in separate bowl. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.
3) To keep the eggs from separating, do this for each omelet at a time, instead of all at once: pour half of your yolks in a bowl, and half of the whites in as well. Beat to incorporate, then pour into your hot skillet. Let sit for about a minute, and then tilt the skillet from side to side, slightly lifting or scooting the cooked eggs to the side to allow the uncooked egg to run to the bottom of the hot skillet (does that make sense?) Do this several times until all of the raw egg has solidified.
4) Sprinkle your chopped filling ingredients on one half of your omelet. Cook for a few minutes, and then, moving quickly, slip a spatula under the naked half of your omelet and flip to cover your fillings. Cook for several more minutes. Be patient! If you are brave, and want to make sure that your fillings really get good and hot, you can flip it and cook on the other side for several more minutes.
5) Serve hot, topped with remoulade sauce and sour cream.

P.S. The picture above is from our honeymoon in New Orleans. I thought it was appropriate because a) these meals were very Cajun-influenced, and b) today is our second wedding anniversary. Love!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Almond Butter Biscotti

our snowy home

It's February. Otherwise known as the longest and cruelest month. Look at our house! Memphis has had an unusual amount of snow this year. But, honestly, this winter hasn't been as bad for me as last winter, as far as that whole SAD thing goes. We've been making an effort to run (yes, run!) almost every night of the week, and I really think that has improved my mood 100%.

However, work has gotten really busy this past month; I put in 70 hours last week. 70 hours at work does not a good runner make, let me tell you. I fell off the wagon. While my husband dutifully suited up and took the dogs running in the cold each night, I was at work, bleary-eyed and tired from staring at my computer for 11+ hours. Eventually, everything came together and our team met our deadline, so when I arrived home one night last week (while it was still light outside!), I forced myself to run. It felt great.

But you're not here to read about that. You'd rather hear about what I baked after I ran. I baked biscotti. You see, a friend had me over for drinks the other night, and about half-way through the first bottle, she brought out almond butter and celery. The celery I couldn't have cared less about, but when you smear it with almond butter...now you're talking.

I thought about how I could incorporate almond butter into a recipe. And biscotti seemed to fit the bill. I took Mark Bittman's recipe and tweaked it a bit, replacing some of the butter with the almond butter, and used almond extract in place of vanilla.

Almond Butter Biscotti
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup almond butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (I omitted this, since the almond butter was slightly salted)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Cream together the butters and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt (if using). Gradually add this mixture to the butter mixture until incorporated.
3. Butter and flour two baking sheets. Divide your dough in half, and form each one into a 2" wide log. Place each one on its own baking sheet.
4. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the logs are golden and the top begins to crack slightly. Remove from oven, and reduce temperature to 250.
5. When the logs are cool enough to handle, slice each one on the diagonal into 1/2" wide strips, using a serrated knife. Place back on sheets and return to oven. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the biscotti are dried and golden.
6. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on the pan.

Hope you're staying warm! And P.S. Memphis is supposed to be mid-60's this entire week. Hallelujah.