Wednesday, February 29, 2012

North Carolina Culinary Tourism

I’ve become one of…those people. One of those people who looks for opportunities to foodgeek over every damn thing.  

Luckily, my recent trip back to North Carolina to see my folks provided just the opportunity to do some serious foodgeeking, vacation-style. Returning to one’s hometown for vacation is hardly the most exciting opportunity for culinary tourism, but I’ve been freezing my bits off up here in the frozen north for long enough that a few new things have popped up. 

Also, my mama baked muffins for me. 

Check after the jump for my recap of the week – no recipe today, but I can give you the lowdown on Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill, Town and Country Meat and Produce in Greensboro, and Saxapahaw General Store, Cup 22 and Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw. 

Stay tuned for that last one. No, really. If you’re from NC, you want to hear this. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Apple Walnut Cake

I’ve spent a lot of time lately filtering my complaints about life through the lens of so-called ‘first-world problems.’ You know? A first-world problem, for those of you who aren’t up on the trend, is a problem that would only occur to someone living in the affluence and comfort of first-world countries.
For example, spilling wet coffee grounds all over the floor and the kitchen and into the open dishwasher is a problem, until you put it into the perspective of ‘I have a floor…and a roof…and coffee…and a dishwasher.’

And an owl mug, by the way. How bad can life be?

I’m also dipping my toes into the local blogging community and have been stricken by shyness like never before, and that’s a first-world problem if I’ve ever heard of one. After all, I sit around worrying if my tweets are dumb while eating goldfish crackers, as opposed to…oh, I don’t know. Bearing eight million children. Engaging in back-breaking labor. Living in a world where there are no goldfish crackers. 

Truth be told, most of my ‘problems’ are pretty dumb.

Besides. Peeling and chopping three pounds of apples gives a girl a lot of time to ponder and sip coffee and decide that things are probably going to be okay.

This cake is adapted from my thea* Chrysanthi’s recipe, and represents my first foray into blogging my maternal family’s wealth of food history. Most of it is Greek food with names that have too many vowels and therefore sound more complicated than they are, but this apple cake is as simple and straightforward as it gets.

I’ve followed Thea Chrysanthi’s recipe exactly in the past, and it makes a fantastic moist, tart-sweet cake that does double duty as breakfast or dessert. This time, though, I altered the recipe a little to include walnuts, wheat flour and less oil, and the adapted recipe is what I’m sharing with you. 

The lovely blushing apples pictured above are the Pink Lady variety, which are my favorite both for eating and for cooking. Most apples will suit this recipe fine, but avoid Granny Smith or Red Delicious, which don’t fare well in this application.  

Baking is great for beating out grouchy, sad, and disillusioned…but most of all, it’s best for conquering hungry. Check after the jump for the recipe!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Biscuits for two, and Sparky's new trick

Monday things that make me happy: 

1. Alberta. Sunshine in the winter.

 2. This dang cat, brother to my princesses.

3. Cats on fence posts. Also this dang cat, the other brother to my princesses.

If my princesses don’t stop meowing at pigeons at 7AM they’re going to be demoted to duchesses, though.

4. These candies from Planet Organic and their ridiculous rhizome-man logo. Actually, rhizomes in general. Like ginger. And hops! Not poison oak, though. Sorry, poison oak.

Monday things that make me unhappy:

How the hell did my flour jar get so empty?!

Okay. Maybe I have some idea. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Broccoli, Bacon, and Cheddar Salad

Don’t be alarmed. No need to adjust your monitor. I’m here to share some very exciting news with you. This past December over the Christmas holiday, I discovered a new species of…aquatic algae.

Let me put my best National Geographic voice on… Ahem. Aaah, how gracefully its blunt-tipped tentacles wave in the gentle ebb and flow of the tide! 

Okay, I’m already really sorry for using the word ‘tentacle’ on a food blog, and so I’m going to give up this charade and let you in the actual news. This past Christmas, I was lucky enough to receive a new Canon DSLR – or in other words, a really shiny camera! But then, tragedy struck.

I became stricken with macro-itis, the irresistible compulsion to shove your lens as close to the food as humanly possible and take a series of artistic photos that are later completely unidentifiable.

Sigh. Luckily…

 Hello, broccoli! Sorry for calling you algae, but up close you look kinda freaky…you know, in a really cool way. 

This is a perfect scenario for those of you playing along at home. You’re going to want to run right out and buy a head of broccoli to scrutinize it under a microscope, right? Alright, but when you’re done with that, you should make this salad.

This is easily one of the most-requested recipes in my arsenal – as in, when you feed it to someone, you might as well have a recipe card already written out to give to them. And it’s not something magical I do, because I can tell you the way I acquired this recipe was that someone (Sparky’s lovely aunt, Lana) fed it to me, and after I finished consuming my weight in broccoli, I’m pretty sure I cornered her and made her give me the recipe. 

The ingredient list is pretty short: broccoli, sharp red onion, a sturdy cheddar…and bacon. Broccoli is one of those miracle foods that will basically give you super powers if you eat enough. It’s packed with Vitamin C, calcium, and eight million other nutrients that will strengthen your bones and make your skin glow, and like other cruciferous vegetables, it’s associated with reducing risk of developing of cancer

Bacon, on the other hand, is bacon, and if baconing is wrong, I don’t want to not bacon.   

 But if you’re questioning the health benefits of a ‘salad’ that’s made with bacon and cheddar cheese, maybe I can convince you of its other benefits. For example, unlike a salad composed of leafy greens, this salad is even better if you can leave it in the fridge overnight. It won’t get wilty or mushy, and that makes it fantastic to make ahead for a dinner party, or to bring with you to someone else’s event.

And if there’s someone in your life who thinks green things and broccoli are made of poison and hate (hi Dad!), I find this salad is generally the exception that can make your beloved greens-hater eat broccoli, and maybe even ask for seconds. 

On a side note, I know things have been pretty quiet around here, and to those of you who have kept on top of me to get back blogging: thank you. My new camera and I have made friends in the weeks since Christmas, and my crippling case of macro-itis has almost cleared up.

 Um…almost. I'll keep you posted. Recipe is after the jump! 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Church Lady Peach Pie

My pie timeline is totally off. 

Since it’s November, I should be telling you about pies made with pecans or sweet potatoes or pumpkins, and hey, all those things have fantastic pie-making potential. But the snowier it gets outside, let me tell you, the more we all miss the fresh fruit pies of summer. 

Luckily, I have a secret.

This fantastic, gorgeous, glorious peach pie is not a fresh fruit pie. It’s a jarred fruit pie. 

Okay, look, I know. I know that our food culture has placed supreme importance on using fresh, seasonal and local produce, and that’s definitely a good philosophy to preach. But if it’s November, and you can’t get the thought of juicy ripe peaches out of your head? Please don’t go to the grocery store and buy those baseballs they’re trying to pass off as fruit. All you need is a jar of sliced peaches packed in light syrup and you are well on your way to fruit pie bliss. 

True to the title, I found this recipe buried in an old church charity collection of recipes that I picked up at a thrift store a while back, and maybe that’s why it’s so shameless in using jarred (or canned) peaches. But just ask a grandma – canning is a way to preserve fruit at the height of its ripeness, and that’s why a lot of our grandmas did it themselves.   

So I made up some sweet, golden peach pie filling (which, trust me, you will have to fight to not just eat warm over ice cream. . . or maybe just with a spoon) and then used it to fill some pate brisee (which is just a fancy French way of saying ‘pie crust made with butter’) and baked it until it was flaky and fantastic. 

It’s not quite the same as biting into a ripe peach and letting the juice run down your chin… But you know what? It may just be the next best thing. 

Go on, put your prejudice against canned fruit aside and check out the recipe after the jump for a taste of summer that’ll brighten any snowy day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shaved Zucchini Salad with pine nuts and parmesan

This is a summer recipe, I'll admit. And I don't know about for you guys, but man, here, I'm a little late to the party. All the other blogs are posting pictures of pumpkin-y things and cinnamon and chai, and here I am, hung up on zucchini... But I couldn't not share this recipe with you guys just because it's almost October. Seriously. It's good.

There's a certain point in the summer where the internet blows up with recipes using zucchini, because anyone who's ever tried to grow this hardy plant in their garden knows that zucchini is the sort of home-grown vegetable that just keeps giving...and giving...and giving. But even if you're not the home-growing type (like me - I've only ever managed herbs), I bet you there's still some nice zucchini squash at the grocery.

So do yourself a favor, the next nice day you have! Throw something on the grill and make this quick and easy salad, and appreciate the sunshine and the flavors of summer.

 This is one of those things that comes together in the blink of an eye, and the flavors are spectacular, the kind of combination that always tastes sunny. Refreshing green zucchini serves as a delivery device for a dressing made of bright citrus and sharp garlic. Top it off with the crunch of toasted pine nuts and a little bit of parmesan, and you've got yourself a winning side dish.

And the biggest sell of this recipe for me (at the time) was that it didn't involve turning my kitchen into an inferno. Okay, most salads don't involve turning your kitchen into an inferno, but don't you get tired of romaine tossed in vinaigrette? I do! This use of zucchini is a great alternative, and it pairs beautifully with lighter dishes such as chicken, fish, or (as I served it) honey-mustard-lime rubbed pork loin and some corn on the cob off the grill.

I could see the look in Sparky's eyes - he didn't think he'd like it. But one bite in, he was ready to wipe out the whole bowl.

Check after the jump for the recipe - and if it's a sunny day today, get out there and enjoy it while you still can!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Miniature Pear Upside-Down Cakes

Okay. Elephant in the room. I abandoned you for a whole month. There. I said it. It’s out. 

If I said I was sorry, would you believe me? That things just kept coming up, and it totally wasn’t you, it was all me, me and my desire to read cookbooks and to watch cooking shows but not to actually cook. Which is a problem, for a cooking blog. 

But look, I’m back now, and I’m ready to go. Okay? Forgive me? 

If it helps, I brought cake.

Not just any cake, either. I brought a delicious, caramel-y, fruity layer of golden goodness over top some of the most silky, supple vanilla cake I have ever had. Pear Upside-Down Cake, with warm caramel still running down the sides. 

And I didn’t bring you one cake. I brought you four. Miniatures, yes.  But you get one all to yourself. 

And you know what else? I get one all to myself, too! And that’s exciting for all of us, because that means when I blow out my birthday candle, you don’t only have to worry about me spraying saliva all over your serving. That would be pretty rude of me. 

I turned older this past weekend, and while this wasn’t my proper birthday cake, it was the cake I baked on my birthday. It seemed like the right thing to do.  I couldn’t be happier than to be simmering thick slices of ripe pears in caramel and folding whipped egg whites into a delicate batter, so that’s what I did. I’m pretty sure it’d make you happy, too.

This past weekend, we also lay to rest the ashes of Sparky’s grandfather, who succumbed to his battle with cancer last November. In the weeks leading up to his passing, the family was fortunate enough to be able to come together one last time for a meal with him. This was the cake I made for dessert. 

I don’t mean to get all heavy on you. Maybe I’m just getting a little more circumspect in my old age, but it seemed fitting to bake this cake to again celebrate life. My life, this time – another year past, and a new one to come.  Here’s to the wild ride. 

And here’s to you. Go make this cake. Celebrate something, or someone, or someplace. Share it with friends. Make memories. 

Check after the jump for the recipe, and an adaptation to produce one 10 ½ inch cake, rather than four miniatures - and check out the new poll in the sidebar to give me your opinion on cake vs pie!