Sunday, October 31, 2010

apple and cheddar scones

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I've always wondered about the popular pairing of apple and cheddar. I haven't shied away from it for any particular reason; in fact, I've thought it sounded quite tasty. I just never landed on that exact recipe, the one fit for my first effort.

Enter Deb, the talented wit behind my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. Of course she would find a way to entice me to head into the kitchen immediately with a bag of apples and hunk of cheddar. How did she do it, you ask? By combining those infamously paired ingredients into a scone. I can't imagine a being who doesn't like a scone-those crumbly, buttery, bits of breakfast and tea deliciousness, always enhanced by the inclusion of cream, usually more hearty than a muffin...I love 'em.

I knew I would love Deb's apple and cheddar scones. She was exactly right, they are like "October on a parchment-lined baking sheet." The tart apples become mellow with the roasting, and the cheddar is a savory partner within the scone, which is as golden and decadent as any scone you've ever seen. It's an excellent choice for the beginning of fall, the perfect seasonally appropriate dish to whip up for breakfast on a lazy weekend or take to a gathering with friends.

As I suspected, my first outing with apple and cheddar was wildly successful. I'm not sure i can imagine topping it.

Portobello-Prosciutto Burgers

I'm fairly passionate about mushrooms. Shiitake, portobello, even plain white buttons. A big pile of them, sauteed in butter and garlic and mixed with a bit of cream of fresh thyme blends in beautifully with pasta. They're the perfect accompaniment to a good bolognese sauce, adding a nice depth of flavor to the other traditional ingredients. I love seeing them floating around with sauteed veggies and soba noodles. To put it simply, they're a dreamy ingredient. And not as a supporting player, either-mushrooms sing their tune pretty loudly in any dish.

Needless to say, when I was perusing the impeccably beautiful blog of Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, and my eyes lit upon her entry for Portobello burgers, I decided I had to try them. I've had plenty of portobello sandwiches before, some that I've made myself (a la a delicious Nigella Lawson recipe that I'll have to share some time), some in cozy little coffee shops that sell savory treats for lunch. They've all been pretty good, but nothing that comes close to this recipe.

It's quite simple, really. Just grilling wine-soaked portobellos until they're juicy and tender, topping them with flavorful sharp provolone until it's gooey slightly browning on the edges, slapping them on a soft roll, then adding a layer of fresh basil and salty prosciutto. Ree's recipe calls for a basil-infused mayo, but it's me we're talking about! My sandwich won't be defiled by the tiniest drop of that wretched condiment! Even mayonnaise aficionados wouldn't mind the Katie version, I must say, because this is one amazingly delicious "burger." The prosciutto adds just the right touch, blending beautifully with the tang of the cheese, and the basil literally pushes the whole thing right over the top, crossing the line from ordinary to unforgettable.

As I usually do with blogger recipes, I'll just include the link here. I would imagine that you've been hiding under a rock if you haven't checked out Pioneer Woman before, but be sure to stop by! It's an incredible, diverse blog, with everything from funny stories to photography tips to homeschooling strategies. Before you go though, make this sandwich. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

When we first met...

Friday, October 29, 2010

I can remember the very first time I saw Rachael Ray. It's like it was yesterday. Yes, I'm beginning the post in which I share my first Rachael Ray recipe the same way some people begin their stories of how they met and fell in love.

My first glimpse of Rachael came whilst flipping through the channels one afternoon on what must have been a holiday at home during my first year in New York, 2003 to be exact. I've officially been cooking with RR before I was married! Anyway, good ol' Rach was making a comforting pasta dish, which involved bright green peas and creamy ricotta, stirred into the pasta and sprinkled with a healthy grinding of coarse black pepper. It's not so much that I loved either peas or ricotta that intrigued me, but Rachael's genial nature and the haphazard way which she stirred. What she was doing didn't look complicated or fussy, and I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to try this." My SH (then SB) loved cooking, and I was inspired to get a bit better at it myself, so when I returned to New York, the first thing I did was purchase 30 Minute Meals 2, Rachael's second book. I also ordered a few DVD's of 30 Minute Meals from the Food Network website, and watched them religiously.

It was from that first DVD that I found the recipe for Three-Bean Chili, or as Rachael cutely names it, Chili for Veg-Heads (the name she coined for vegetarians). Like the pea and ricotta pasta dish, the chili seemed straightforward and risk-free. There was only a bit of chopping involved, no major chef skills were involved, and it had the spicy Mexican flare I loved. I decided that this chili would be my first Rachael Ray endeavor.

As has been the case with literally EVERY RECIPE of Rachael's I've tried (only one slightly less than stellar result has occurred, when a recipe called for a bit too much cornbread), the chili was amazing. To this day, more than seven years later, I've never even attempted to make chili with meat, because this recipe is that good. Plus, I have a freakish loyalty to things I love (Coldplay, Jack Bauer and 24, Lindt 70% dark chocolate bars), and have serious trouble abandoning them in any way. Not to say I won't eventually make chili with meat-I am a red meat loving girl!!-I just don't have the need with this recipe in my repertoire.

There are so many huge bonuses to the chili. Most importantly, it's spicy and flavorful, with quite a bit of kick as is, though you can easily increase or decrease the amount of jalepeno you add. My SH and I like it hot! To add to its impressive deliciousness, you'll be glad to know it's actually quite good for you! I use fat free refried beans, and only the tiny bit of oil I need to saute the veggies, which there are a lot of! On top of those qualities, add convenience. Almost all of the ingredients are things you can keep on hand, so if you're exhausted at the end of the day and want something comforting and tasty, you can whip it right up without having to go to the store. Finally, it keeps well-we usually eat it for at least two more days. To mix it up a bit, I'll serve it with chips and guacamole on the first night and with rice and grated cheese on the next.

This was the beginning, but won't be the end. Seven years, sixteen cookbooks, one book signing, and many recipes later, I'm still loving Rachael Ray. She's never let me down :)

Chili for "Veg-Heads", adapted from Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals: The All-Occasion Cookbook, by Rachael Ray

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, red or green, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup beer or vegetable broth (I use beer-I think it adds a depth of flavor to the chili)
1 can (32 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin (1/2 palmful)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (1/2 palmful)
6 dashes cayenne sauce, such as Tabasco (I use Cholula)
A few good pinches coarse salt
1 cup spicy vegetarian refried beans
Shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish (optional)
Chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
Tortilla chips (optional)

1. Heat oil in a deep pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add onion and peppers and saute, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.
2. Add beer or broth and scrape up any good stuff from the bottom of the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid by half, 2 or 3 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and beans and season with cumin, chili powder, cayenne sauce, and salt. Thicken by stirring in refried beans.
4. Serve in bowls topped with shredded cheese or scallions with plenty of tortilla chips for dipping.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A weekend with Joey.

Monday, October 25, 2010

As I have shared on more than one occasion, my SH and I are occasionally blessed with the presence of his childhood best friend J, whom I fondly refer to as Joey for all intensive purposes. Those of you who were faithful and loyal Friends fans will understand quite a bit about our Joey-in the stucklikeglue to Chandler and Monica way, NOT in the intelligence arena! During our three years in New York, we were able to see him all the time, practically on a daily basis. In fact, one of my fave stories is the night we woke to strange noises, only to find J in our bathroom-he had a long road home to Brooklyn that night, and was in the neighborhood...why not? The fact that we weren't at all surprised should tell you a lot about him.

One of our favorite things to do together is cook, huge dinners that are more comfort food than fancy, employing the freshest and best ingredients we can find. There has been roasted chicken, with golden crackling skin enhanced by fresh herbs, accompanied by rosemary-garlic mashed potatoes, skins on. Pulled pork doused in chili and bbq sauce and piled into soft corn tortillas. Huge green salads with tiny sliced cherry tomatoes, diced celery and red peppers, roasted corn, pine nuts, and tangy crumbles of goat cheese...agh, come back already, J!

In all of our cooking lessons/adventures, nothing could possibly beat our roast pork evenings. I use the plural because we went through a stage (rather, J went through a stage) in NY when chutney became an obsession. We tried all kinds, pear, apple...each time, miraculously, our chutney was delicious, the perfect accompaniment to a roast pork loin. J would sear the pork on all sides, use twine to attach fresh sage or rosemary for flavor, let it roast for a while, and as a decadent step, would wrap the pork in bacon for its final minutes of cooking. As if roasted pork could get any better, right? We'd serve the pork with a slew of roasted vegetables, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms... usually we'd toss them right in the roasting pan with the pork towards the end of cooking. Our side dish was one of my beloveds, Brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon. J or my SH would tend to the pork, slicing off thick, steaming pieces fragrant with herbs. We'd slather our pork with spicy chutney, take generous scoops of roasted vegetables, and fight over who got the most Brussels sprouts (me, always me). The meal usually took hours, and eventually we'd retire from the table to the living room, sprawling out on the couch or chairs for a movie or game of Monopoly. Pure heaven, I tell you. You can imagine my happiness when we were able to recreate our roasted pork night last weekend, heralding the (finally!) fall-ish weather with the perfectly autumnal meal.

Pretty much everything J has come up from the top of his head (he's one of those, who doesn't need recipes) has been divine, a delicious combination of pure, fresh flavor. I'm so glad that I can occasionally be his sous-chef, a position I found myself in again just last weekend when we were the recipients of an impromptu visit. J is now residing in LA, only a quick flight away. Not quite the same distance as a quick subway ride, but it's definitely the next best thing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"I am?"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I would like to start this final recap by stating that it is a RARE occasion when my favorite competitor on a reality show manages to win. I suppose that's a reflection on me. I just don't know how to pick 'em...MOST OF THE TIME.

Opening Scenes:
After a reel featuring Angelo's greatest hits, Kevin's teddy-bear like furies, and Ed's inexplicable sweating, we're transplanted immediately back to Singapore. Ed gloats while the others bid Kelly adieu. The chefs are called back to judge's table, though Ed acts as though there must be some mistake. As they stare at the ominous knife block that now hides a bit of Padma and Gail, they hear the details of the final challenge: a four-course meal that is to be the most amazing, incredible dinner of their lives. Always love hearing that description!

It isn't entirely up to them, as Padma and Tom begin to bring the hammer down by specifying what each course will be.

First course: veggie
Second course: fish, purchased at the crack of dawn at the Singapore market by Tom and my darling cherished Eric Ripert
Third course: meat
Fourth course: of course, dessert!

Padma informs the chef that additional help has been flown in, and I am not at all surprised to see Mike Voltaggio, Hung, and Ilan being ushered through the greenery. Everyone wants Mike, and pretty much no one wants Ilan. I don't know why, even though there is a skeezy quality about him that I find shamefully appealing. Ed draws his knife, while Kevin picks Mike and Angelo is luckily paired with Hung.

I say luckily because the moment the chefs arrive back at the hotel, Angelo is struck with the Singaporean version of Montezuma's revenge. He is basically incapacitated the next morning, leaving Hung to do all of his shopping. Kevin expresses remorse about his illness, while Ed cheerfully downs his orange juice and secretly relishes the fact that he might not have to worry about his greatest competition.

Dr. Gary Chee comes to check on Angelo and pretends to diagnose what is obviously Montezuma's revenge. I do feel for the greasy-haired, uber-talented chef. At least he's got Hung.

The next morning, Tom meets the chefs in the kitchen and gives them the 411 about Angelo's participation for the day. Eric Ripert shows off the absolutely beeyooteeful rouget (red mullet), cuttlefish, cockles, and slipper lobsters that were purchased at the morning market. Tom passes around pork belly and a nice whole duck. Officially, the fish course is the rouget and the meat course is the duck, but the rest of the proteins have to be incorporated somehow.

Shopping goes well for everyone but Ed and Ilan. They are not having an especially collaborative relationship, though I feel that Ilan is giving fairly good advice about not going overboard. Hung calmly listens to Angelo's weakened voice and speeds about the store picking up duck and fois gras for a marshmallow. How Angelo envisioned that after puking all night is beyond me. Props, buddy!

Hung continues to be fierce in the kitchen, swiping the entire amount of fois gras available and refusing to share. Kevin and Mike knew each other previously, so they work together seamlessly. Kevin is making a terrine (yikes!) for his first dish, but a very cool-sounding cuttlefish noodle for his second dish. Ed continues to be arrogant and obnoxious, teasing Hung and bossing Ilan around. Yes, we all know what happened when Carla allowed Casey to take over two seasons ago! Not going to happen to you, Ed!

*Side note: Dr. Chee returns to the hotel room to give Angelo a miracle shot in the buttocks. Just thought you'd like to know.

The day of the finale arrives. Ed spends a little extra time on his 'do while adorable Kevin sips his morning coffee. Angelo is fully clothed and on top of the covers, but is clearly not 100%. He's looking rough. It helps that he finds his black journal on his desk and is able to spend a few minutes crafting some new diagrams.

He's back to his old bossy self in the kitchen, but is clearly grateful for the incredible amount of work Hung completed in preparation for the final dinner. Ed continues to terrorize Ilan and remains unappreciative. Kevin and Mike are like the textbook definition of chef and sous-chef working together.

First course goes out with much fanfare. The room is full of foodies and culinary hot shots, as usual. It's quite difficult to figure out which are the weaker dishes, because for the most part, they seem to get good reviews. Same goes with second dish, though it does seem that Kevin's cuttlefish and Angelo's memorable seafood broth have a leg up on Ed. Protein course, always a biggie, also seems quite successful, with the exception of Angelo's strange sour cherry shooter. The judges loved Kevin's caramelized bok choy and duck ravioli and adored Ed's stuffed duck neck.

That troubling course, the infamous dessert, arrives. Angelo's icy "Thai Jewel" and Ed's sticky toffee pudding appear to fall slightly below Kevin's Singapore Sling 2010, a delicious-sounding mixture of Singapore Sling components frozen on top of coconut panna cotta and tropical fruits.

Like the previous episode, it came down to the little details in the end. Ed was praised for his duck course but criticized for a lackluster dessert. Angelo's broth was wonderful, but the cherry shooter accompanying his duck was little short of disgusting. Kevin was nailed for the plain terrine, but his duck dish and dessert were spectacular.

Though the editing was typically tricky, it apparently wasn't all that difficult for the judges to come to a decision (I've been reading Tom's blog, stalkerish fan that I am). The winner of Top Chef: Hail to the Chef?


Finally, I picked a winner! And a likable one at that! Congrats, Kevin, on a well-deserved win.

Don't feel sorry for Angelo, folks. To my great pleasure and excitement, I recently learned that he and seventeen other former contestants will be returning to New York for Top Chef: All Stars! I LOVE All-Stars seasons! Of course, I've already picked my favorite, Tre from Season 3, ousted all too soon after a dreadful showing at Restaurant Wars. For those of you who have followed this season, you'll be happy to learn that Tiffany will also be returning for a second shot at winning.

I aspire to recap All-Stars in a much more timely manner! Can't wait!

"I'm in trouble, I don't wok."

Well, it appears that a sufficient amount of time has elapsed since the finale of Top Chef: Hail to the Chef. Thirty-four days to be exact. Clearly, it's just about time for my recap! It is exceedingly difficult for me to not boldly display a photo of the winner at the top of this post, but I'll refrain.

Opening Scenes:
As is usual with Top Chef, there is always a length of actual time between the penultimate episode and the finale. Invariably, one or more of the chefs have changed their hair style. Occasionally, a chef will have a new outlook on life. Without fail, the three or four final chefs are all chomping at the bit to create the best meal of their lives.

This time, the finale takes place in the exotic locale of Singapore. Ed and Kelly meet up first, while casually wandering through the market. Kelly's hair is dark, and Ed's eyebrows are even more artfully sculpted than usual (see above points). They stumble into Kevin, looking adorable in a fishing hat. Of course slick-haired Angelo is the last to arrive. He looks exactly the same.

My beloved Tom, accompanied by famed Singapore food expert Seetoh, meets the chefs at the market. After a brief introduction, Tom leaves Seetoh to lead the chef around the markets. There are lots of fried noodles, sprouts, black cockles, and Chinese sausage. Apparently, Singapore's food culture is a diverse mixture of various Asian foods, from Malaysian to Chinese. The national dish is roast chicken. Seetoh calls it the Singapore hamburger.

Why the chefs expressed any surprise at seeing Padma in all her bejeweled glory waiting for them with a Singapore street food challenge is beyond me. Kevin freaks out when he learns that they'll be creating their own version of Singaporean street food using a wok, because he doesn't wok.

The chefs attack the piles of ingredients waiting for them, but are stymied by the Cantonese labels. Padma and Seetoh knock back a beer or two while the chefs are literally sweating it out nearby under a tarp. Almost everyone is sure that Angelo is the one to beat, and Ed in particular is obsessed with wresting the "Best Asian Chef" title from him. Angelo is confused with all the ingredients, and decides to change his chile crab idea to a "bangin'" chile frog leg.

After expressing dramatic and extreme displeasure with Kevin for not owning a wok, Padma and Seetoh declare that Ed's stir-fry noodles are the winning dish. In a huge boon for Ed, he achieves immunity for the elimination challenge, guaranteeing a spot in the final three. Angelo can barely contain his displeasure.

Apparently, Dana Cowin of Food and Wine has arrived in Singapore, and would like a delicious, cohesive menu for a fancy dinner. The four chefs are going to have to work as a team to contribute dishes. The chefs head back to the obligatory luxury hotel suite, where they share champagne and spend time poring over thick black journals full of lists of proteins. They decide to each complete one dish.

After quibbling with a complacent Ed over morning coffee, the chefs head out to shop for spices and proteins. Unbeknownst to the rest of the team, Ed decides to make a second dish, even though he'd been the biggest proponent of only one dish the evening before. Wow, Ed. I'm a bit surprised by your dastardly side.

Prep time is stressful. Angelo and Ed split snide remarks while Kelly tries to remember all of the different Singaporean veggies. Angelo attempts to follow a ridiculously complicated diagram of his dish that he drew in his handy black journal. The tense mood worsens after Tom's visit, where he chides the chefs for only planning one dish each. I had to rewind that scene a few times-love it when Tom gets upset. Teacher's pet Ed pipes up that he has two dishes already planned, making an enemy out of the rest of the competitors.

While Angelo and Kevin seethe Ed's behavior, I simply worry about the amount of sweat that will be going into both of Ed's dishes. Kelly struggles with an ethnic can opener and displays visible frustration at the language barrier when it comes to reading ingredients. Ed sweats and joyfully runs about the kitchen saying things like "Downtown!" and "Right behind you!" and "I'm better than you!" Kelly eventually concedes to the can opener and bleeds copiously into plastic gloves whilst shucking oysters. Eww.

After a day of stressful prepping, the chefs take a little detour to a prawn-fishing pond. Inexplicably, Kevin isn't wearing his hat, and is afraid of touching the prawns. I don't blame him-the water looked suspiciously murky. No offense, Singapore!

Final prep is slightly calmer. My main concern is Kevin's 63 degree egg. I'm fairly certain it's a gigantic risk to make something that can be ruined in an instant. Ed decides to do a "pre-meal" with the striped-shirted wait staff, who look completely disinterested and apathetic, with the exception of one chirpy go-getter. He also attempts to redeem himself by helping the rest of the chefs out at the last minute.

Service does not go smoothly, to say the least. The wait staff floats in and out of the kitchen and write indecipherable orders. Thankfully, the orders for the judges' table arrive unscathed. Tom orders five of everything for himself, Padma, Gail, Seetoh, and Dana Cowin in all her green glory.

First course is a resounding success for all of the chefs, which is a nice thing to see at this point in the competition. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to see that Kevin's egg and tapioca were successful. Kelly's seared prawns and guava-enhanced salad and Angelo's lamb tartare were pleasing, but it was Ed's banana fritters that the judges could not stop talking about.

Back at judge's table it came down to tiny imperfections and plates that were simply better than others. In the end, Kelly came in last, while Ed sailed to a fritter-fueled victory.

One down, one more to go!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

latest movie recommendations

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

As I am wont to do when it strikes my fancy, I've decided to gather a list of the up and coming films that I've decided to see. They're of course the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the talk of the town. I've already mentioned one or two of them, but fall tends to be a time for awards-potential releases. Clearly, I'm going to be very busy.

the king's speech. The true story of King George VI and his nervous stammer has already made a big splash in the festival circuit (seriously, I sound like a professional here-Entertainment Weekly, hire me!). Colin Firth is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination, and considering the Best Picture field has broadened to 10, it may have a shot. I think it looks great, and not because of my admittedly strong preference for anything British. You must confess, the trailer is quite moving!

127 hours. Another true story here, though far removed from the simple fear of a stutter in the shadowy rooms of an English castle. Instead, imagine your greatest problem is that despite your considerable skill as a mountain climber and outdoorsman, you've managed to wedge yourself in a canyon, arm pinned beneath a boulder, and the only way to survive is to CUT IT OFF. I don't mean to make light with this description, or trivialize-the story of Aron Ralston is truly incredible. James Franco is said to put forth an astounding performance, which is impressive given that it's likely he carries the majority of the movie alone. I'm a big fan of director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) too, and the cinematography looks excellent. I will warn you that there were multiple reports of people falling ill at the theaters during the various early showings. It's a lot to take watching a man cut off his own arm!

due date. I don't care if you think Zach Galifianakis is the same in every movie. That is, as Ross would say, "FINE BY ME!" I find him to be ridiculously funny, and I LOVE the pairing with RDJ, who rarely makes a bad move this days. I was of course laughing throughout most of this trailer. P.S. This addition to my list is for fun, of course. I'm not trying to pass out Oscars here!

the fighter. This must be the year of the biopic/true story. "Irish" Micky Ward and his down and out brother Dickie Eklund were both welterweight professional boxers in the 80's. Dickie, famous for almost taking down Sugar Ray Leonard, did indeed become his brother's trainer when he returned to boxing after a few rough years. The project was simmering for quite a while, which isn't always the best sign for a film, but Mark Walhberg reportedly poured a lot of passion and energy into the project, which has switched directors and was originally slated for Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. Thank goodness for the change! I feel that Mark Walhberg is one of the most underrated actors around-he recognizes roles that are good for him, he works consistently, and as a bonus, he's a big family man. Also, for the love of Pete, let Christian Bale finally be recognized for his fine, fine work (I say this completely objectively, choosing to ignore his maniacal outburst during the filming of Terminator Salvation).

blue valentine. I am dismayed to report that on the day the much-anticipated trailer was finally released, Blue Valentine was slapped with an NC-17 rating. I am no fan of gratuitous sex and violence in my movies, but I'm going to go ahead and jump out on a limb now and say that giving this movie, an admittedly painful and realistic look at a relationship/marriage and its ups and downs, such a rating is incomprehensible. I've read multiple articles both before and after the news of the rating that express shock and disappointment, and Harvey Weinstein is negotiating with attorneys now in hopes to make a change. I just cannot believe that movies like the Saw franchise and Hostel can escape the MPAA with an R rating. It's an atrocity. I am confident that Ryan Gosling's amazing skills will shine through, ratings snafu or not, and Michelle Williams is reported to be equally great, but it would be a terrible shame if their potential for recognition is marred by the rating.

I cannot in good conscience make my latest movie list without including the final full trailer for HP 7! Rereading the last book has left me beside myself with excitement for the premiere date. In fact, I'm already having movie theater anxiety. I really have a problem...

Friday, October 8, 2010

excuses, excuses

Friday, October 8, 2010

To my dismay, I have heralded this most favorite of seasons, the time I look forward to every year, with a pathetic lack of posting. As I've shared many times, blogging regularly gives me a feeling that's simultaneously comforting and satisfying. As though all is right with the world. Whether I'm writing about a good plate of food or the sappy moment that made me cry on television the night before or my altogether inappropriate obsession with the Twilight saga, it's just a joy, a real pleasure to send my words out there.

You must have known that a big HOWEVER was coming. Meet my nemesis:

That's right, I'm taking an online course, via the University of Phoenix, to satisfy the ridiculous requirements for my California teaching credential. Let me tell you, it is no walk in the park, but rather an absolutely obnoxious amount of work, and has been draining me of time and energy. While I would truly love to spend my time reveling in the perfectly adorable little round pumpkins at every store, planning my Halloween party, and joyfully wrapping myself in warm blankets at night for the now cool evenings, I instead must spend my hours responding to various other teachers in my position (at least 2 times a day for at least 4 days out of the week), completing individual assignments, and attempting to collaborate with a group that I can neither see nor call. Lovely.

A few things have managed to brighten my days, however, reminding me of the exciting things I can do when I emerge out of this dark raincloud of schooling. Molly of Orangette recommended a red lentil soup from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, and I was pretty convinced I should add it to my voluminous cookbook collection. I could not have made a better decision. One of the chapter titles is "Things with Cheese." Be still my stomach.

My Kings have kindly amassed a collection of daily videos in preparation for their album release on October 19th. This particular one is a favorite. I love Caleb describing his angst about Nathan's nuptials, and how the spelling is "Mary" but really it's "marry." Can't wait to hear the song, boys.

Fall television, or new television, rather, is back. My top 3 (at least until Friday Night Lights returns) have yet to disappoint. The Office has been equal parts hilarious, clever, and touching. Bones has managed to maintain a subtle, but painful tension in Booth and Brennan's relationship, but keeps it interesting with gross-out cases, witty repartee, and plenty of socially inept behavior. Fringe is keeping me on the edge of my seat! When will Peter realize that he's romancing faux-livia? Does our Olivia KNOW she's our Olivia? What's happening in the other world?! Yes, I know my questions won't make sense to anyone who doesn't watch the delightfully fascinating Fringe. Listen to my ringing endorsement!

There WILL be more to come, during my favorite time of year, on the dear old blog. I won't let the U of P keep me down!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

summer harvest

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Clearly, this has been a day of belated seasonal recipe postings. I am something of a repeat offender, so you shouldn't suspect that this most busy of all summers has been the only time I've neglected to share a delicious plate or two. There's my favorite minestrone waiting to be written about, Jamie Oliver's wonderful spaghetti and meatballs, steak and bacon-flecked German potato salad...

It's just that all of those are so profoundly NOT for the hazy, sun-soaked days of summer, when my SH and I spent the vast majority of our time in the backyard, trying various combinations of spice rubs and sauces on ribs, grilling fish, and relaxing in our lounge chairs (On a side note, though I previously held a prejudice against ribs (I don't like gnawing into bones that are so frequently laced with fat, thank you very much), my SH's ability to grill them has made me a proper convert). Summer is all about sparklingly sweet hunks of melon, creamy slices of fresh mozzarella sandwiched between thick tomato slices and sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, sizzling hamburgers topped with blue cheese and pepper jack, hot dogs and a dazzling variety of sausages tucked into Ozery Bakery's One Buns (I'm fairly certain we'll never go back to standard buns, these are SO very good).

To my intense delight and satisfaction, I was able to use my very own produce to celebrate summer appropriately this year with a recipe that I've longed, literally for years, to make. When I purchased Fresh Every Day almost five years ago, one of the dishes that jumped out at me immediately was the delectably titled Fried Green Tomato and Ripe Red Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sweet Basil Vinaigrette-whew, that's a mouthful! As I've documented more times than I could possibly link, I have a strong affinity for anything crusted, especially if the crusting agent is cornmeal. A favorite childhood dish, in fact, was one my best friend's mother frequently made, a simple platter of lightly fried, cornmeal-crusted zucchini. I've been intrigued by the notion of fried green tomatoes since, well, I first watched the movie of the same name. I was sure that those thick, golden slices passed around the Whistlestop Cafe by Izzy and Ruth would be incredible in real life.

Unfortunately, I was stymied by the seeming impossibility of acquiring a green tomato. It seemed such a rarity, and the few times I ever encountered them in the grocery I completely forgot about the recipe languishing in my beloved cookbook. Fast forward five years later, to my second, incredibly fruitful year of tomato planting. Though my repeated absences over the summer prevented me from staking properly (leading to a jungle-like mass of tomato vines that has completely taken over one corner of the garden), I had quite the crop, including loads of thick, heirloom-shaped green tomatoes, which I promptly took inside, some to ripen, some to finally use for my salad.

It was worth the wait.

Fried Green Tomato and Ripe Red Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sweet Basil Vinaigrette, adapted from Fresh Every Day, by Sara Foster

serves 6-8
2 large ripe beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Canola oil for frying (about 1/2 cup) *I cannot, for the life of me, do anything that resembles deep frying. I lightly pan-fried my tomatoes. This probably means they don't taste quite as good, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make!
4 large green tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 pint grape or small heirloom tomatoes (such as Sungolds or Sweet 100's), halved lengthwise
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Sweet Basil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
8 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

1. Preheat the oven to 200. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
2. Arrange the tomato slices in one layer on a large platter or individual plates. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Stir the flour, cornmeal, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
4. Whisk the egg and buttermilk together in a separate small bowl.
5. Pour enough oil in a large skillet to fill to 1/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to about 375, or until the oil sizzles when you drop a small amount of flour into the skillet.
6. Dip a green tomato slice in the egg-buttermilk mixture to coat both sides, dredge it in the flour mixture to coat both sides, and place it in the hot oil. Repeat with enough tomato slices to fill the skillet without crowding and fry until the under sides are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and fry the other side to golden brown. Use tongs or a slotted spatula to transfer the fried tomato slices to the prepared baking sheet to drain; place the sheet in the oven while you fry the remaining green tomatoes.
7. Arrange the fried tomato slices on top of the fresh tomato slices. Scatter the small tomatoes over the slices and sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and top with the basil strips. Season with additional salt and pepper and add more vinaigrette to taste. Serve immediately.

Sweet Basil Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
5-7 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

Whisk the vinegar, lime juice, basil, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking until the oil is incorporated. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

lime yogurt cake with blackberry sauce

As you may have guessed from the preview that I posted an inexcusable amount of days months ago, another crop to add to my considerable backyard bounty is was my extremely productive blackberry bush. Blackberry plants don't typically produce fruit in the first year they're planted, so last year, I dutifully put up a lovely wooden trellis for the plant to eventually wind through. Of course, I showered the thorny plant with love and water, completely confident that I would be the beneficiary of the "fruits" of my labor. That's just the kind of attitude you learn to adopt whilst living in California. "If you plant it, it will grow!" should be the mantra hanging over the signs at the plant nursery. In fact, one should be wary about frivolity and whimsical desires to lay out your own plots of corn or to plant a banana tree-if you're not sure you want a giant tree or a field of grain in your backyard, think twice!

Besides my main ambition to douse my freshly picked blackberries in cream, with the tiniest sprinkle of sugar on top, I had my eye on a few recipes that sounded particularly delectable. It should not be at all surprising that the ever-reliable, delightful Deb of Smitten Kitchen would have a tempting blackberry recipe up her sleeve. When I saw her April (yes, it's been THAT long since I've seen the recipe, I shan't confess when I actually made it myself!) posting about lime yogurt cake with blackberry sauce, I knew I must make it themomentmyblackberriescametofruition. I've made a citrus-tinted yogurt cake several times by now, though my favorite is the Molly Wizenburg version. I think it's going to be my answer to my mom's pound cake, which has always been her go-to dessert. Deb's yogurt cake follows an extremely similar formula, but has the added bonus of the too-die-for blackberry sauce.

The cake (and the lemon version linked above) couldn't be simpler, and the end result is light, almost spongy, without feeling too dense. It stands up well to a healthy pouring drizzle of sauce, and the delicate lime flavor mixed with tart, barely sweet blackberries is a positively divine combination. You could easily use the blackberry sauce, as Deb suggests, swirled into ice cream or yogurt. My beloved Trader Joe's has recently been selling a lowfat vanilla Greek yogurt, and it proved to be magical when spruced up with the sauce.

Now, I realize it's been close to three months since I made this extremely seasonal recipe, but I could not help but pass it along. If you're like me, looking longingly at a sad mess of vines shorn of their fruit, you might want to sneak into the freezer section for a bag of frozen blackberries, run right home, and make this cake, imagining that it's summer again.

*recipe is linked above. You have been forewarned about my lack of photography skills compared with Deb's!