Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Guy's Green Thumb

My husband has many talents - not the least of which is his ability to grow just about anything.  Like many of his talents, this is one I really don't share, but I sure do benefit from! Every year he turns our small yard into a meticulously tended thing of beauty and sustenance, managing to grow not only flowers, but a surprisingly large amount of fruit and veggies in a relatively small space.  Well, it's that time of the year again, and all of his hard work is beginning to pay off.

Let's start with the pretty stuff first.  One of the newest additions to our yard is the jasmine that he planted a few years ago on a trellis on our chimney.  It took a few years for this climber to fill in, but this year it has peaked - it is full and lush, pretty much covering our entire chimney.  Its beautiful white blossoms and dark green leaves are a delightful addition to the front of our house - but, the absolute best part is the sweet and lovely fragrance that bathes our entire front yard and envelopes you the minute you walk out of the front door.  What a great way to start and end our day!

In addition to all the pretty, blooming things (azaleas, roses, rhododendren, gardenia and jasmine - just to name a few) he has begun planting all sorts of tasty things as well - tomatos, cucumbers, peppers and herbs.  Even though our back yard is quite small and gets almost no sun, because of Guy's hard work and green thumb, we somehow manage to harvest bowls of veggies throughout the summer and really enjoy our version of "living off the land".  Along with the veggies in the back yard, he's planted some strawberries and blueberries in our small side yard - and, we're already enjoying the fruit of those labors.  While this first harvest hasn't been a large one, it's certainly been a sweet and colorful one. 

Not quite enough of berries to make strawberry shortcake yet - I can't wait for that.  Oh well - guess we'll just have to enjoy these lovely red treats "au natural" - one at a time, just the way they are, straight from the garden.  How sweet is that?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Do I smell something burning?

Did you ever have one of those days?  I did -- last Saturday -- but, I'll get to that in a minute.

Most of you here in ATL are familiar with The Cooks Warehouse - the amazing cookware store and cooking school that has been a home-away-from-home for me and a pivotal part of my culinary journey.  Cooks is a great place - I started taking classes there several years ago, then began assisting as a volunteer in cooking classes about 3 years ago.  I have met so many friends and fellow foodies through Cooks - and many of these folks have been a big part of my inspiration to embark upon this culinary path.

Well - I'm excited to say I am now officially a member of the Cooks Warehouse family - I got a part-time job (1-2 evenings a week) as one of the Principal Assistants for the cooking school.  As a Principal Assistant it is my job to make sure everything goes smoothly during cooking classes - working with the chef and the volunteer assistants to pull off a fun, educational and delicious evening for everyone involved.  I just started training this month and am really excited (and a little nervous) for my first "solo flight" this week.

There are many great benefits to being associated with Cooks - first, it's just a super great group of people; second, there's a sweet little discount on store merchandise; and, third, you get to take any class you want for free.  By far, however, the really great part of this gig is that you get to interact directly with some amazing chefs - many of them true giants in "the foodie world".  This perk is especially important to me since I am trying to network and meet as many chefs as possible to help me along my culinary journey. 

So - back to last Saturday.  Gena Berry is a pretty important player on the Atlanta culinary scene - she runs Culinary Works - and has her hands on most of the imporant culinary events in Altanta and even throughout the US.  One of my friends (someone else I had met through Cooks) happens to know Gena pretty well - and she had been nice enough to introduce me to her at another event and to mention my culinary aspirations to her.  When I found out that Gena was teaching a class last weekend  I quickly raised my hand to be a volunteer assistant (I was still in training as a Principal Assistant - hadn't yet received my "all clear" - so I was simply serving as one of the volunteer assistants).    My goal in this class was to get to know Gena better and, of course, impress her with my exceptional organizational skills and vast culinary knowledge.  So - imagine my complete and utter devastation when one of the other assistants uttered the damning phrase "Do I smell something burning" - and I look over to see that the dish I was responsible for was turning a deep and unappetizing color under the broiler.  SERIOUSLY???  I have melted cheese on nachos dozens of times - and THIS is the time I burn it - good grief!  Needless to say I was mortified - but I just kept on working and tried to smile, even though I was dying inside.  I must say, Gena was very calm about it and didn't even flinch - she simply trimmed off the burnt parts and served it up with a yummy black bean salsa and guacomole - and, actually it didn't taste too bad..   

Oh well - just have to shake it off, I guess.  I'm sure it won't be the last thing I burn - and I'm not going to let it keep me from reaching out to Gena again - perhaps I can impress her with my plucky "pick-yourself-up, dust-yourself-off" attitude, even if she may have her doubts about my culinary ability!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

17 days and counting

How can something you've been planning for and anticipating for over two years suddenly seem to sneak up on you?  It's hard to believe, but I only have 17 more "real working days" left at KC.  I remember when I first started the countdown - it was "only 23 months to go" - and now I'm down to less than a month - incredible.  I am happy to report that things are actually going pretty smoothly - I'm finishing up a few last project items, but most of my work has been transitioned to my incredibly-competent replacement and I'm actually starting to settle into a less frantic routine.  As a matter of fact - I actually left work at 4:30 the other day - can't remember the last time I did that!  Life is still very busy with planning for a month in Europe this summer and sorting through choices related to culinary school - but, my stress level has seen a dramatic decrease, thankfully.

One of the things I wanted to take the opportunity to do before I left KC was actually bake for my team.  I know it sounds crazy that someone who professes to "have a passion for baking" was actually too busy to do it, but that is the sad reality.  In the past two years, I haven't managed to bring in a single home-made treat for my team - even though I hosted "Monthly Team Breakfast Meetings".  I am somewhat chagrined to admit I was a regular customer of Alon's to supply the requisite carbohydrates for these forums.  (Here's the real dirty-little-secret - there was even an occasional stop at Duncan Donuts when time was really tight.) 

But - no more - I want to take advantage of this waning level of responsibility and stress to roll up my sleeves and "bake someone happy".  Today's team breakfast featured one of my favorite scone recipes - Ina Garten's Maple-Oatmeal Scones.  These easy-to-make scones feature a light and tender inside and a crisp,  maple-glazed outside.  It worked out great - got them all prepped the night before and simply took them out of the fridge in the am and popped them into a hot oven.  I have found that even folks who "don't like scones" find this recipe hard to resist because the scones are so moist and flavorful.  I've included the recipe below, along with a pic of my ever-cheeful and uber-efficient admin assitant Deborah taking a break to enjoy one of my home-made treats.  Now this is my idea of a productive morning! 

I'm already thumbing through recipes trying to decide what to bring in for next week's breakfast...muffins or coffee cake?

Deborah and I enjoy a morning break - nothing better than a home-made treat!

Maple-Oatmeal Scones

For the scones:
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water, for egg wash
For the glaze:
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Blend the cold butter in at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs and add quickly to the flour-and-butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough may be sticky.
Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and be sure it is combined. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4 to 1 inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are crisp and the insides are done.
To make the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. When the scones are done, cool for 5 minutes and drizzle each scone with 1 tablespoon of the glaze. I like to sprinkle some uncooked oats on the top, for garnish. The warmer the scones are when you glaze them, the thinner the glaze will be.

Recipe from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Incredible Edible Egg

Most of you who know me know that I have a chicken fantasy -- no, nothing like that -- I would love it if we were able to have chickens in our back yard.  I love the thought of stepping off of my back porch and gathering up a handful of fresh eggs.  Until that happens, however, I must content myself with getting eggs from my friends with coops or picking them up at the neighborhood farmer's market.  The egg is certainly a glorious little food that deserves to be admired any day of the year - but, at Easter it seems only right to spend a few extra minutes singing the praises of these ovoid wonders.

A dozen beautiful brown eggs from my friend Henry's happy hens

Eggs of all shapes, sizes and colors form the base for several of my Easter dishes
So, while there's nothing quite like the beautiful orange-yellow color and and rich, luxurious taste of fresh eggs, I must confess that there's another "egg" that has become an Easter tradition for me - and it's anything but natural.  Guy and I are lucky enough to spend most holidays with our friends Matt and Jennifer McClish and their lovely children - Madeline, Ian, and Aidan.  When the kids were much younger I began a tradition of making Jello Egg Jigglers as part of our Easter feast - and, much to my chagrin (perhaps secret delight?), a bowl of  these non-natural, anti-organic, artificially dyed and flavored spheres of wiggling fun has graced our table every year since.  As you can see from the pictures below, these "eggs" are enjoyed by kids of all ages!

The makings of "Jello Egg Jigglers" - nothing natural to be found here!
Ian takes a minute to admire the "natural beauty" of the Jello Jigglers
It appears that the Jiggler is irresistable to kids of all ages.
Matt and Guy get caught sneaking one of these bright Easter treats.
In addition to the Jello treats, I did make a few other Easter dishes - and one that I wanted to share with you was my dessert - Martha Stewart's Easter Cheesecake.  This smooth, luscious treat was pretty simple to make and turned out to be a big hit with both adults and kids alike.  I have to believe that the fresh eggs were a big contributor to this cake's creamy texture and light yellow color.  It was a yummy end to a great Easter lunch - with a second piece making a great treat after an afternoon bike ride. 

Martha's Easter Cheesecake served with Betsy's Fresh Berry Sauce 

Easter Cheesecake (adapted slightly from Martha Stewart's website)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 pound finely ground blanched almonds
  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 9"springform pan and dust with ground almonds; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, cream, and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, and beat until incorporated. Beat in zests and vanilla.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and transfer to oven rack.  Additionally, place a roasting pan full of boiling water in the oven to keep cheesecake moist while cooking.  
  4. Bake until firm, about 2 hours, adding more boiling water if necessary. Turn off the oven; keep the oven door ajar using a wooden spoon. Let cake cool completely in the oven.
  5. Transfer to refrigerator and chill overnight.

I was going to top the cheesecake with some simple, sliced berries - but my husband reminded me of a great fruit sauce that was a staple of our dear friend and great Southern cook, Betsy Farnsworth.  While we didn't have Betsy's recipe, Guy had watched her make it often enough that we felt pretty confident we could re-create it.  This simple fruit sauce can be used to top just about anything - cheesecake, pound cake, ice cream.

Betsy's Fresh Berry Sauce
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp Cassis (or other liquer such as Chambord or Kirsh)
Place berries, sugar and water in medium saucepan.  Heat over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes, then add in lemon and liquer.  Cook for a few minutes more, then turn off heat and let cool.  Once sauce is cool, puree in blender until smooth.  If desired, pass sauce through medium sieve/strainer to remove raspberry seeds.  Can be stored in refrigerator for several days to a week.