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.



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



Strawberry Fields Forever.
26 May, 2007, 4:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It all had to come to an end I suppose, getting on a plane, back to the United States, and then being immediately thrown back in the influx of Americans, whose language I could annoyingly understand. Do not get me wrong, I love my country, but after a very quiet and sound nine hour flight, there is nothing comfortable about being in the mix of hundreds of Americans trying to get through passport control, customs and baggage re-check in order to make a connecting flight. When you live in a country whose language is predominantly German, and others whose are French and Italian, you come to love the fact that you cannot understand what anyone is saying. It was like having peace and quiet for almost three months. Perhaps, now I better understand the phrase “reverse culture shock” that my professors had so carefully warned about.

But all travel annoyances aside, I have been careful to remember and jot down the details of my two and a half month excursion across the pond, if you will. There is something, many things in fact, that are decidedly sexy, relaxed and calming about life in Switzerland. I no longer live on a lake surrounded by the Alps, or have the opportunity to lunch for an hour (and more) with vino or bier, if I so choose. All places have their trade offs. In return for coming home, I now have a full kitchen in which I can utilize, but little time to do it, as serving tables full-time, sucks any minute I might dream of boiling water for canning, away.

Before fully committing my life back to the workforce I was fortunate to get a mini-readjust-relax-get-my-head-on-straight-and-back-on-EST vacation. J and I traveled by car (what? No SBB train!?!) to the Crystal Coast, North Carolina to visit my family for a just a few short days.

On Sunday, after making blueberry pancakes and sausage for brunch, we loaded up the car and headed to Wilmington to eat at one of my favorite restaurants in the state, Deluxe. I couldn’t press the issue enough on having the calamari for an appetizer (which is a funny word to use, instead of entrée). Yes, I know, it is quite ubiquitous, and every restaurant’s is “the best”, but I love this version too. Soaked in buttermilk and battered lightly, it is served beside sweet and sour apricot preserves, and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Call me old-fashion, but when I dine at Deluxe, I always have the N.C. Grouper. I find that few places know how to handle this delicate and flaky fish, and Scott’s place is certainly one of them. Perched on top of well-cooked wasabi potatoes and asparagus, the grouper is pan roasted and finished with just a smidgen of béarnaise sauce. You can’t help but to appreciate the innovation of flavors in a small and culinarily underdeveloped town like Wilmington.

After a few mishaps on the road, road closings, etc, we finally made it to Mom’s house and fell asleep amidst the cool breezes coming off the ocean. The next day we slept in and I woke to a pot of fresh Alto Grande coffee.This is K’s all time favorite coffee, coming from the Lares Mountains in Puerto Rico. He was reminded of it when we had dinner this past winter at Gramercy Tavern in NYC, and I recently sought it out for him by the five pound bag. Known to many as the “Coffee of the Popes and Kings”, the coffee lends a very smooth yet intense flavor with no bitterness. It has a very dominant flavor that should not be missed.
In an effort to see as much of the small nearby beach towns in the limited amount of time that we had, J and I set off. We had NY style pizza in one of the few places in NC that I am able to find it. It’s a place called Luigi’s that is tucked in an old shopping center that even only few locals know about. It’s a classic little place that offers a cool place to sit and enjoy large, thin-crust slices with select toppings, of which I always opt for plain cheese. If you find yourself here, please be aware of the cash only policy.

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To counter the savory we had indulged in, we pressed forward down a little dirt road to Garner Farms to pick strawberries. It has been quite dry this year, and the berries were a bit more sparse and smaller than last year, but it didn’t stop us from grabbing red buckets and heading down the rows of bountiful plants. We picked until we were sure we had gotten the best we could find and then proceeded to cash in on our deal. 2.5 pounds, $5.

We took the long way home, stopping at Bogue Pier and walked amongst the fisherman and the cool ocean breeze guided us along. This is why I love my home. There is nothing quite like the ocean, so overwhelming and yet so calming at the same time. But wait! The strawberries are still in the car and must be tended to.

So home we went, where the rest of the family was preparing for the cookout to be had later on. We made one last stop at Winberry Farms to buy more strawberries so that I had enough to make both fresh strawberry shortcakes and jam.

I used Christine Ferber’s Strawberry Jam recipe, but condensed it down to a four hour process instead of the recommended 3 days, as well as adding vanilla beans and their seeds. Two and a half pounded yielded about three small ball jars, but it was so rich and sweet, that more may have given me a cavity looking at it. My grandfather, who says he is eating it out of the jar, certainly seems to think it’s good.

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Our final stop for food on the way back to the city was at a NC institution, Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ. There is something that must be understood about BBQ in North Carolina. It is no laughing matter, as the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest that is held each year is a true testament to its seriousness. It was started in 1978 to raise money for a local school and fifteen pigs were cooked. Today, as many as fifty pigs are cooked every year, with recipes kept top secret and varying greatly from contestant to contestant.

Smithfield’s only has locations on the eastern side of Raleigh, for the main reason that their BBQ is vinegar based. After you cross into Durham it becomes mustard-based country. At over thirty locations, you can purchase sandwiches that have a light and tangy vinegar flavor and all the “fixins”, including fresh (no frozen stuff here!) hushpuppies, and baked beans, flavored with the barbeque. One of the best parts is that it is difficult to spend more than 10$ on two people, and that is leaving very full.

Black Book:

Deluxe
114 Market Street
Wilmington, NC 28401-4442
Open Daily, as well as Sunday brunch

Luigi’s Pizza
5167 Hwy 70 W Ste 12
Morehead City, NC
(252) 240-3125

Garner Farms
HWY 24 E, 5-7 miles West of Luigi’s

Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ
Various Eastern NC Locations



Eighteen Hours In Paris.
15 May, 2007, 11:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Some things, no matter how small, can make you laugh at the drop of a dime. After spending the weekend in Paris and Brussels, I’ve found that conversations with Jessica only require a few phrases to make us both double over from laughter. These are taken completely out of context, and any reader will certainly not find them funny, but to me, they are priceless and to be missed when I leave: “Can we talk about that?”, “Uh-ohs!”, “Please hold.”, and finally, “Just kidding!”.

All of the background info aside, Jessica and I hoped on a train for our last weekend away in Europe before we depart Switzerland on Thursday. There are some things that one must note when taking a train to any destination more than a few hours away:
It might not have a dining car, but more than likely a dining-cart.
Ipods and other means of entertainment are crucial if you got up at 4:30 am.
Nothing that leaves you or your company’s mouth is valid if you got up at 4:30 am, for at least an hour.

We arrived in Paris in the afternoon, absolutely famished (i.e. no dining car), but had to make a pit stop at a little shop recommended by David Lebovitz called A l’Etoile d’Or.
Inside, with list in hand, we met with the little Heidi-braided hair lady who was very eager to show us her supreme supply of chocolates and caramels. Though we struggled to communicate in French, all I had to do was say the name of the chocolatier, and I was in business.

Four bars of Bernachon chocolate, a handful of truffles, which I hand picked while wearing a white glove (talk about service!), and a fine selection of Le Roux caramels later, we were on our way to eat lunch.

We arrived at Le Castiglione, a restaurant on Rue St. Honore that I was eager to get back to after just going a couple of weekends ago. Their menu has several offerings, but I come here only for their burger (for which they are “known” for, and the price accurately reflects), fries and a Kronenburg 1964 on tap. The burger, served at a suggested medium temperature, has shredded lettuce, cheese, and a yummy sauce that a frequent McDonald’s-go-er might call a “special” sauce, but far exceeds it. The flavor is rich (no well-done here) and thought it might not be intended, should be eaten with a fork and knife to cut down on the messy-factor.

After re-fueling, we jetted off across the river in search of more sweets. We were on a tight time schedule, so I decided that I should go to a shop that I hadn’t had time to pay my monetary respects to during my last visit, Patrick Rodger. As if the chocolate isn’t enough to make you swoon the design of the store and their packaging will seal the deal. I rounded up another handful of chocolates, truffles and caramels, all of which were modestly priced. After paying, the lady who had assisted me, insisted I try a chocolate, which she called “lima” and lent a sweet citrusy flavor.

That evening we dined at Janou. Our native friend told us that it was always packed, and believe you me, if it’s packed with diners at 11 pm, something must be good. I had a great goat cheese and spinach salad followed by a spring risotto with sumptuous scallops. I finished my meal with a Mariage hot tea, and the four of us shared a very rich chocolate mousse. I highly recommend the mousse, as the waiter will come to your table with a dish in which to put it and scoop it out of a large bowl until you stay stop. A few words of advice here: don’t let your eyes exceed the expectations of your stomach; a couple (well maybe a few…) spoonfuls will do you fine.

All in all, I had a fabulous time, but as with each time I find myself departing the city of lights, any amount time never seems like enough.

Black Book:

Le Castiglione
Known for its cheeseburgers.
235 Rue St.-Honoré

Patrick Rodger
108, Boulevard St. Germain

A l’Etoile d’Or
30 rue Fontaine (9th)

Métro: Blanche

Closed Sundays.

Janou
2, Rue Roger Verlomme

The Five Hotel (in the Latin District)
3, rue Flatters
75005 Paris