Travellust.


A New Pair of Shoes.
16 November, 2008, 10:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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One year, one city and one job later I have arrived. Someone reminded me that I had a blog a few days ago, and I thought yes, I also have a kitchen aid that is collecting more dust than I’d like to admit.

So you see my point. I’m still making random batches of brownies and oatmeal raisin cookies, sometimes with a twist. But, being in a new home with a brand new schedule has made baking a little less appealing, especially since I don’t have the audience and test buddies that I use to have in Charlotte.

But, now that it’s Fall and warmth breeds contempt for an empty kitchen, I’m breaking out the butter, sugar and flour. Let us start with this.

THE NOW:

What’s on your to-do list today?

My secret love: grocery shopping, My 2nd Secret Love: Stationary Store Shopping, followed by cooking, baking and undefeated football.

Favorite Snack of the Moment:

Unsulfured Dried Prunes & Dry Roasted/Unsalted Almonds from Trader Joes.

What are you looking forward to in the next month?

Getting my mixer going, final projects, first events, traveling to see my family and maybe a great DJ or two in the mix.

Things you would like to be looking forward to next month?

Traveling to a beach, no itinerary, with good people and warm weather. For a week.

 

THE FOODIE UPDATE:

Who had the most recent influence on your cooking? 

I actually learned how to cook all on my own with many thanks to Martha & Ina. Eventually I was able to go into a grocery store, pick out what I thought looked good and concocted something at home. I owe that to working as a server in a restaurant where I was able to watch the cooks in our open kitchen. One specifically comes to mind. He taught me three valuable techniques in cooking: 

1. Bottom Set & Top Set: This is imperative especially with fish. It has more to do with presentation, but it makes sense to have your starch and veg on the bottom, and maybe a small salad or garnish on top. There isn’t much beauty in the meat and three look anymore.

2. Protien, Starch, Veg, Sauce: The way a meal should be. 

3. Beans, beans, beans: Beans to me have always mean kidney or black. I also fondly remember butter beans that my mother made on cold nights in North Carolina. However, when J started to cook for me, he taught me first how to make veg stock (a pillar in my cooking) and then fresh beans. 

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets? 

My Kitchen Aid mixer and my sheet pans. No brownies, cakes or cookies can be made without them.

What are food can you not live without?

Coffee isn’t food, and caffeine aside, I love my big brown bag of Bella Donovan coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee Company. Some people take showers to wake up, I just add coffee. Bananas, almonds, prunes, lettuces and other vegetables and fruits are staples in my daily meals. 

You will probably never eat avocado again. I ate it once and got really sick. While I won’t say I’m “allergic”, the memory is lucid enough to remind me when I see it.

Someone would say your flawless dish is not a dish at all. Just simple brownies. 

Most memorable things you have recently eaten

Cupcake trio with brown sugar ice cream, Butternut & Apple Soup, Fruity Pebble Ice Cream, General Tsao Sweetbreads, and apple butter. Like a black dress, it never goes out of style.

 



A VACATION I WISH WERE SUCH
20 August, 2007, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A sure sign that your blog has been stagnant is when it doesn’t come up in the address bar after the first few letters. But, I assure you it is not because I haven’t been thinking about it. Frankly, I haven’t been cooking much. I’ve taken on a management position in my company as well as continuing to wait tables at night. It’s an equation that yields very little free time to make it to the farmer’s market, and even less to cook.

I am happy to say that the fruits of my labor are coming, as I have an article in the upcoming issue of Uptown magazine. It is small publication here in Charlotte, and the piece showcases one of the most important products to the security of jobs and economy here in North Carolina: Pork. However, it’s shown in a different light: Pork, it’s what’s for breakfast! I’ll post a link when the issue comes out.

Once I get into the routine of my new job, and figure out what 30-minute meals are I will continue regular posting. Until then I am going to kick up my feet and indulge in current issues of Food and Wine and Gourmet, which I have been saving for this day OFF.



Tried and True.
1 August, 2007, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Sweets

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I’ve reached a point in my personal studies with food and recipe experimentation, still very elementary, to where I like to pick an outcome, but try different ways of getting there, in search of the “best” if you will. The outcome of this labor is in a great deal of invested product and time, especially when most recipes are of a baking method, which we all know takes time and patience.

When I came across fresh, local and very modestly priced blueberries at the farmer’s market a few weeks back, I decided that I didn’t want to go the usual muffin route, but I didn’t want to get to technical either. So, I settled on an area of baked goods that I hadn’t visited since I first put my hands on the degree button of the oven: quick breads.

To my credit, I have very little experience with making them, so I always turn to a professional who has tried their own recipes at least a dozen times, of which many are favorites at their local shops. This time I chose Ina Garten. Although she is a Food Network “star” and personality, I’ve had great success with many of her treats, so when I came across her sour cream coffee cake, I knew that it would be a great avenue in which to showcase the blueberries’ intense flavor.

The result was exactly as I wanted it to be, excellent. But, for some reason, as metioned before, I was curious to see if there was someone who could do it better, and so I turned to Martha Stewart, whose recipe was just slightly different, and in the end I came out unhappy. I guess it just goes to show you that sometimes, you shouldn’t try to fix it if it isn’t broken.

I’ve adapted this recipe for my own tastes, and because I do not have a tube pan, like most all coffee cake recipes call for, I tried it first in two loaf pans, and then again in one loaf pan and a standard 12-muffin pan. Both resulted in a very moist, dense, but incredibly light and not too-sweet cake.

Again, with most recipes like quick breads, they are flexible after the standard measurements of flour, butter, eggs, and the various powders in which backbone the recipes. I urge you to try this recipe with different fruits, flavors and wet ingredients. Not a big fan of sour cream, I opted for low-fat Greek yogurt the second time, and I was just as pleased if not more than the first.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten at Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream ** (I used non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt here)
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
** I added 2 cups of blueberries to the batter before it went into the pans

Method

For the streusel: 
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces 
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional
For the glaze: 
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar 
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.
Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate.

Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.



Something old, something new.
9 July, 2007, 10:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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A perk of each day for me is checking the mail, hoping that when I turn the key to my small box that it will contain a new issue of Gourmet, Food Arts, Food and Wine, Saveur, etc. Even though they may all come within days of one another, each with a hard focus on what’s in season, there is usually very little overlap.

However, this month proved to be different. Through Gourmet magazine, the online newsletter that Ruth Reichl sends out each week and Food and Wine, there was hot talk of sour cherries, and for good reason. These ornaments of summer are only in season for a mere six weeks of the year, so utilization and preservation is critical.

My journey started with the simple and seductive cherry pie on the cover of my beloved Gourmet, followed by sour cherry syrup called sharbat-e albalu for a drink in Iran in the New York Ties. It came to an end with a firm decision to bake when I came across the last page of Food and Wine this month: Sour Cherry Turnovers.

Confession: I am a sucker for all things new. In this case I was going to be able to use a new ingredient: sour cherries, and a new recipe altogether that I had never given a moment’s consideration: the turnover.

My focus this summer has been on canning, desperate to preserve the flavors of warm fruits fresh off their vines and limbs. The thought of (almost) instant gratification nearly escaped me.

I found this preparation to be quite timely; in fact I didn’t even start until late Sunday evening when most people are laying their head down. I, on the other hand decided to satisfy my weeklong urge to bake. Fresh sour cherries are not that easy to find, so if you get into a fix, utilize frozen ones, sans sugar or other very tart cherries.

I used organic Rainer cherries, whose flavor is much more tart than Washington reds, but still not as sour as the recommended ones. In turn, I reduced the sugar by a tablespoon. Taste your cherries and decided what is sweet to you. For the puff pastry I used pre-made frozen, 1.1 lbs, when the recipe calls for 1.25 lbs. I still cut it into 5” squares, but it only yielded 8 turnovers.

I finished baking these around 1 a.m. and J was anxiously awaiting their departure from the oven. Knowing that he had burned himself one too many times before because he doesn’t like to wait, he yielded to his better judgment. The results: Very chewy, and not too sweet of a filling. The lemon “curd” pairs very nicely with the cherries, but I think that next time I may cut the lemon zest in half, as I thought it wasn’t exactly mellow as intended.

In the end, I found that this a great base recipe, especially when you don’t want to bake a whole pie or want the same flavors with easier transport. I can’t wait to make strawberry turnovers, or blueberry, or apple!

SOUR CHERRY TURNOVERS

Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine at FoodandWine.com

Yields 12 turnovers
**This recipe yielded 8 for me because of the difference in weight of the puff pastry that I used

Ingredients

2 cups pitted sour cherries (10 ounces), fresh or thawed frozen (I used organic rainer cherries)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I also used vanilla bean seeds from one bean for a more pronounced flavor; you can then put the split bean in sugar to scent)
Salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 1/4 pounds all-butter puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Pearl sugar or granulated sugar, for sprinkling (Vanilla or cinnamon scented sugar would work especially well here too)

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°. In an 8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish, mix the cherries with the cornstarch, granulated sugar, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the juices are thickened and bubbling. Drain the cherries, reserving the juices for another use. Chill the cherries.

In a medium bowl, whisk the butter with the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Whisk in the egg, then whisk in the 2 tablespoons of flour, the remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla; whisk in a pinch of salt. Chill until firm.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry to a 15-by-20-inch rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the puff pastry into twelve 5-inch squares and transfer them to a plate. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Arrange 3 pastry squares at a time on a work surface, keeping the rest chilled. Brush 2 adjoining edges of each square with the egg wash. Dollop a tablespoon of the lemon filling in the center of each square and top with 7 cherries. Fold the pastry over the filling to form a triangle, pressing out the air as you go. Press the edges firmly and crimp with a fork. Transfer the turnovers to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pastry, lemon filling and sour cherries. Refrigerate the turnovers for about 15 minutes, or until firm.
Heat the oven to 400°. Using a sharp knife, trim the edges of the turnovers slightly. Brush the top of each turnover with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Cut 2 or 3 small slashes in the tops to allow steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the pastry is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling out of the vents.

** I found that mine were ready at around 30 minutes so keep a close eye on them.

These can be made-ahead and stored at room temperature.



Relaxing in the kitchen.
24 June, 2007, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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It’s summertime, so that means that the food and beverage industry is making its way down into a sales valley. It doesn’t mean we go broke, it just means that it’s a little slower than say, the fourth quarter. But, lets be honest, down time is never a bad thing is it?

Tonight I had the opportunity to take off. So what did I do? Bake of course. After last week’s four-course dinner party for eight, I’ve been avoiding the stove at all costs. It’s not that it was labor intensive, but cooking in the heat, in the heat has lost it’s appeal (no matter how good your A.C. is). However, when I left work tonight, I realized it had almost been a week since I had turned the oven on and the itch was becoming more and more persistent.

I consulted a friend who has access to great semi-sweet chocolate chips, so I called in for a favor in return for a finished product and got on my merry way. “Favorite” chocolate chip cookie recipes remind me of a question that I get asked at work all the time by guests: “What is the best steak on the menu?” In response, I sincerely explain to them that “the best steak” is a truly “personal preference”, much like how they like that steak cooked. Truth be told, by the age of sixteen, ok maybe 20, most people have figured out what kind of steak they like, whether it’s a well-marbled rib eye, or a petite filet mignon. On that note, I also think that by the same age people have the same understanding of what kind of chocolate chip cookie they like. Chewy, crunch, thick or thin?

For me, the most important quality of a cookie, regardless of its shape, size or the kind of chocolate that it contains (because good quality chocolate should always be a given), is that it stay chewy after completely cooling. Now I know that certain name brands come out of the oven oozing and gooeing chocolate, but give it twenty minutes and I promise they will harden like rocks.

I cannot recall how I found this recipe, but it lit up my taste buds and many others at an “upscale” tailgating party. I won’t tell you that they will be especially chewy after a couple of days, as moisture is a hard variable to control. But, I am sure that if you follow the directions the chips will stay chewy and gooey until they’ve all disappeared. My best advice with these cookies as with all things baked is to store them in a cool and dry place.

*Note: This is a great base recipe, so go wild with the sweet stuff; you can certainly substitute for M&Ms, white chocolate, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Saveur Magazine at Saveur.com

Ingredients

2 1/8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon table salt

12 tbsp. unsalted butter (1.5 sticks), melted and cooled slightly

1 c. brown sugar (light or dark, I’ve always used light)

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (be sure to use the good stuff; remember: garbage in – garbage out)

1-2 c. chocolate chips (semi or bitter; I usually lean more towards two cups; please see the note on vanilla extract)

Method

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in chips.

Form scant ¼ cup dough into ball. (*you can change the size here depending on how big or small you want the cookies; my experience shows that these turn into very big cookies, so if you’re thinking about ice-cream sandwiches, I would go smaller)

Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Rotate halves ninety degrees and, with jagged surfaces exposed, join halves together at their base, again forming a single cookie, being careful not to smooth dough’s uneven surface. Place formed dough onto one of two parchment paper-lined 20-by-14-inch lipless cookie sheets, about nine dough balls per sheet. Smaller cookie sheets can be used, but fewer cookies can be baked at one time and baking time may need to be adjusted.

(Dough can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month—shaped or not.)

Bake, reversing cookie sheets’ positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes).

(Frozen dough requires an extra 1 to 2 minutes baking time.) Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.



Childhood Treats For Grownups
7 June, 2007, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized



Sometimes a day off has to be a day off, and I am specifically referring to cooking. I asked J all afternoon what he’d like and neither of us could come up with something to cook. Then, he made a suggestion that we get take out from Town. SOLD!

I adore this restaurant not only because of the design, décor and ambiance, but also mainly for the small plates and ‘do-it-yourself’ menu. Moderately priced, Town is a restaurant conveniently located across from my school, and only a few blocks away from our home. Everything is a la carte, so one is able to make the main course a first, the salad a main, and cheese as dessert, etc. You can basically order anything off of the menu in the order in which you would like it to be brought. Another perk is that the dishes are very small, so you are inclined to order several plates, which allows you to try the menu on for size.

I opted for grilled shrimp, caramelized carrots and wonderful potato gnocchi (of which I am obviously a fan) . J ordered the surf + turf bento box, which is served appropriately so when you dine in.

All were great choices in my opinion, but together they could not have topped what we ordered for dessert: Cotton-Candy. Granted, this is something that you will usually only find at county-fairs, festivals and the like. However, when you ask why a restaurant would have it on its dessert menu, I pose this question: ‘Who doesn’t like cotton-candy?.’ You get three flavors, strawberry, lemon and blueberry, and they are served to you at table on the signature paper cones that we all cherished as children. If you decided to get them for take out, they will nicely wrap all of your cones in a plastic bag for safe travel.

Town is open:

Monday-Thursday: lunch, 1130 a.m. – 2 p.m., dinner 530 pm – 10 p.m.
Friday, lunch, 1130 a.m. – 2 p.m., dinner 530 pm – 11 pm
Saturday, dinner 530 p.m. – 11 p.m.

710 w trade st
charlotte, nc 28202
t 704.379.7555



Gnocchi A La Niçoise, what’s not to love? (..And a note on eating in the industry)
1 June, 2007, 2:03 am
Filed under: Savory

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I love a day off from work. While some people, more than others, have the time to cook dinner after work, permitting you have a 9-5, I am only able to do so when I have a day off. Being a server in a restaurant requires that I work as many as eight shifts a week, three days of which are typically doubles. This means that typical eating pattern such as three times a day doesn’t really work. My first shift starts at eleven, breakfast is usually at nine, with lunch following at a very late 3 p.m. The dinner shift is only an hour later, so lunch is a shared two-parter with dinner, typically the other half of sandwich or salad. This is why I am so fond of European “time”, and the concrete fact that shops close and lunch is at least an hour affair. It allows not only for downtime, but also for relaxation and the ability to sit and enjoy your food (insert very nice park scene and book here). But, this is the way of American “time” and certainly that of the food and beverage industry. Perhaps the one perk of it all is that on my days off, cooking is not only an event, but also sheer luxury, and today was one of those days.

While it seems odd to want to labor over a hot stove in the hot city-center heat, it is exactly what I wanted to do. It also served a dual purpose: relaxation for me, and dinner for J, who was working at the restaurant.

There are several reasons why I love this dish. One, it’s from Thomas Keller, who has a dear appreciation for all food, bistro. Second, because it is simple and clean. But, the reason that I find myself taking the time, and yes it requires at least a couple of hours, to make this dish is that it is so versatile. The ingredients are easily found, inexpensive, and interchangeable with what is in season or readily available (please see the bottom vegetable and herb bins in your fridge).

This much loved pasta dates back to the 1300s, with much of its history rooted in Italy. While it is customarily made from potatoes, flour and eggs, it does vary depending on the country. This particular recipe is Parisienne, which leaves out the potatoes and utilizes rich and nutty hard cheese such as Gruyère, Emmentaler, or Comté.

Thomas Keller’s take on this pasta is expectedly simple, using fresh herbs and vegetables, butter, oil, and lemon. This recipe yields about 250 gnocchi, which means what you don’t prepare that day can be frozen for up to six weeks and used to prepare a simple meal when you don’t have want or time for the fuss and muss of something from scratch.

After making this once before I realized how I could make small changes to the recipe, depending on the vegetables in season and what herbs I had readily available. Any combination I have found still yields the same simple, clean and flavorful dish.

In Thomas Keller’s book, Bouchon there are two recipes, the first being Gnocchi A La Parisienne, or herb gnocchi. The second is the dish where the gnocchi makes its premier, Gnocchi A La Niçoise, or Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables. He also uses the base recipe for gnocchi in another dish in the book with sage and butternut squash.




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