Monday, May 30, 2011

Wild and Wacky Food Adventurers

This past week, I went on an expedition with my dear friend Cristy. Our husbands graciously accepted our invitation to drive us around and carry things for us. Destination: Dekalb Farmer's Market. I would have photos for you but there was a big sign on the door prohibiting photography...right next to the sign prohibiting firearms. I've been to the market many times but not in a long long time. Cristy, my world adventuring friend, had never been, so clutching our bottles of hand sanitizer we closed our eyes and stepped into the International World of Food. It's an amazing place filled with beautiful colorful people and produce, items from all over the globe and stuff you can't find anywhere else. We made our way through, oooh-ing and "look at this!" until the men asked if we could move on to the next aisle. Anyway, the most exciting part came in the seafood department where a murderous trout leapt out of the tank and tried to bite Cristy's and my face off. We both screamed and jumped about 3 feet back. We watched as a tiny old lady wrestled a blue crab into her bag. He put up a furious fight but really, there was never any question who would win that battle. Cristy attempted to hypnotize a crawfish with her finger and all he could do was stand up and stare at her as if you say "You lookin at me?"  By the way, I read that our Federal Government spent a ton of taxpayer money on a study to analyze shrimp running on treadmills. It's true. (I was going to put the link but I can't find it.) Anyway, we eventually dragged all of our bags out to the truck, ate some bread with our hands in the parking lot, and laughed all the way home.

Emboldened by that adventure, I decided it was time for WSH and I to finally go to Bell Street Burritos and see if we could experience something we cherished years ago.  It's a complicated story but I'll try to make it short. Tortillas was restaurant on Ponce de Leon. We loved their food. We and our coworkers ate lunch there at least once a week. Eventually Tortillas closed when a Moe's and a Chipotle opened nearby, but there remained devoted followers all over the city. So many, in fact that a man made a business recreating Tortilla's beloved burritos and delivering them once a week. Finally he had enough customers to open a brick and mortar, thus Bell Street Burritos was born. On Saturday afternoon, I decided it was time to give it a try.  My timing is impeccable and I always have the best adventure ideas! As we drove down 85 South into the heart of Atlanta....OOPs the Auburn Ave. exit was blocked by police. Hmmm.. I noticed a HUGE crowd of people in the street. Jim said, we haven't come this far to be discouraged! And since he knows every single street and alley in the city I said OK! After 40 minutes of wrangling through traffic with side streets closed, we made it to the Auburn Avenue Curb Market which is a seriously funky place.  And because my timing is so good, we landed there right in the middle of the Atlanta Caribbean Carnival (23rd annual -- who knew?)  By grace alone we found a parking space and marched inside the market. Looking this way and that searching every stall, we found it! We made it to the great Emerald City!! And it was closed. Yes. a little note on the counter Sorry Closed.  Now before you look at their site and say Duh Sally, it says Mon-Fri... I am listed on their facebook and Matt had said he was opening on Saturdays and always sent a message when his schedule dictated otherwise. So there! I R not Stoopid.  Well, we had to buy something and show a receipt to get out of the parking lot so we stopped at a produce stand and bought some absolutely beautiful Silver Queen corn. It was gorgeous. We were hungry and stopped for a burger at Grindhouse Killer Burgers, which I'd read about , and they were really really good. The onion rings were perfection.  The proprietors were friendly, it was a very pleasant meal after such a big letdown.

Back to the corn:

It was so tender and delicate I had to take extra care not to smash the kernels as I pulled off the silk. We cooked some ribs to go with it and they were good, but as Garrison Keiller once said, "Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn."  Ooooh Baby this was the best corn ever.  Back to basics... it all comes down the best ingredients. Summer has begun. Eat some corn....soon!

See you soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas

Once upon a time, I was in a conversation with someone I love dearly and the subject of Cinqo de Mayo came up. She wondered aloud, "I wonder when Cinqo de Mayo is this year?" I couldn't help myself.... "probably on the 5th of May" I chortled. Of course she was wondering which day of the week it fell on but I've never let her live it down. I'm a good friend like that!  And because she loves and needs easy delicious dinners, (she's a LOT busier than I am) this one's for her 

How far this recipe has fallen from the lofty heights of The French Laundry, but I must say, it IS a tasty bite. And while I normally use very few processed products, sometimes you can get as good or better ingredients pre-made and save yourself a great deal of time. Alton Brown said he buys Teriyaki sauce for that reason, and that's good enough for me. This is a quick way to make a really delicious and satisfying meal.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
chicken stock
chili powder
garlic or garlic powder
corn tortillas
monterey jack cheese
green enchilada sauce

The corn torillas I use are from La Tortilla Factory which I buy at Publix. They are actually corn and wheat tortillas and are thicker and moister than most packaged corn tortillas available.  The salsa is my favorite Jack's Special Salsa (mild because I'm wimpy like that) which I've found in a number of stores locally. Be aware though, there are no artificial preservatives used so once opened, the refrigerator shelf life is much shorter than say, something that comes in a jar. The only Monterey Jack cheese I ever use is Whole Foods 365 brand. I used to hate MJ cheese because I thought it had no flavor, 365 does, and it is wonderful and resonably priced. Finally, the green enchilada sauce I used was  Ingle's Laura Lynn brand (Foodies- "Don't hate! Celebrate!"). You can use anything made primarily with green chiles and tomatillos, or make your own. I like this brand because it tastes remarkably like my favorite Taqueria's Pork and green chile sauce, without the pork of course.

It's Cinco de Mayo and I know this isn't "authentic" Mexican food but hola! to my mexican amigos if you are still following. One day I'll do what it takes to make the perfect dark mole... that could be a lifetime goal and actually more complex than some French Laundry dishes. But for now, back to the Enchiladas!!

First you season a mix of water and chicken stock with the cumin, chili powder, garlic powder (or minced garlic) taste it before you put the chicken in and adjust to taste. Add the chicken breasts whole and SLOWLY bring them to a simmer, then turn the heat down. The idea is to cook them through to 180 without boiling, which makes them tough and dry. This can easily be done a day or two before then refrigerated or, you can use left over roast chicken for this.  Once the chicken is cooked through, remove from the poaching liquid and when cooled enough, take two forks (or your clean fingers)  and shred the meat into ... shreds. (Sorry no pictures of that part.)  Add back to the pan (sautee some onions first if your initials aren't CMA or if you aren't in a hurry). Add the meat and add salsa to taste, season with salt and pepper. My chicken was a little dry so I added some wonderfully good schmaltz, which I had on hand from making chicken stock, and fixed it right up.  While all that's going on, bring the tortillas to room temperature.

Shredded chicken with salsa and seasoning

Spray a baking dish with non stick spray. With clean hands take a tortilla and fill it with a bit less than 1/2 c of chicken.

Then wrap it up so it's like a cigar, careful not to break the tortilla.

Place it in the baking dish with the "seam" side down. It looks so lonely doesn't it? : (

I'm so lonely... No enchilada friends to play with...

That's better!
Then comes the dousing with green enchilada sauce. This stuff is mild and has just the right about of tang to liven things up a little.

Spread the freshly grated Monterey Jack on top. Pop into a 350 oven until it's a little browned and bubbly

Could have browned a bit more. We were hungry!
Serve 1 or 2 and top with your choice of goodies. I used the salsa and a bit of creme fraiche which is the super sexy silky gorgeous sister of sour cream. Sloppy plating but as I said, we were hungry!

To stretch this out, you could serve with rice and black beans (yum!) or a salad. It's one of our favorite dishes and is super easy to make, reheats well and is just all round yummy.

Happy Cinqo de Mayo

See you soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Resurrection, New Life and Pasta

My Mom always loved Lamb at Easter, a full leg of lamb (which was more like mutton).  Not for me. Too umm.. intense? gamey? whatever. She loved it with Mint Jelly. She even wrote about it in her ponderings about heaven as she was dying. She came from a long line of Lamb eaters. I was a black sheep (har har).

Recently I re-connected with 2 friends from 30+ years ago. I LOVE these women. I don't know their stance on lamb but they are strong, they are unique, they are special to me in a way that no one else is, they are beautiful,  creative, expressive and both of them have a piece of my soul in their heart, as I do theirs.  We met and it was if we had seen each other last week. The only thing different was the size of our butts! (For those of you who have not seen my FB page.)  It's impossible to catch up on 30 years of life over lunch even as fast as we talk, so I'm hoping to have Cristy and Larry over for dinner soon. Cindy lives farther away so we'll have to make a plan for that.

What shall I cook? Cristy  loves so much. And she doesn't eat much meat and hates onions. Can you imagine? Hating onions? She's feisty like that. So here's an attempt at a satisfying veggie meal, that hopefully we will share together soon. Minus onions of course. This was our Easter dinner.
Anyway, I wrote about a dish before, roasted veggies with pasta, and all I had pictures of was the pasta. Here's the real deal. Cut up a bunch of fresh vegetables, anything you like. Here are Zucchini, Asparagus, Grape Tomatoes, Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Shallots, and Roasted Peppers. But you can use anything you want...eggplant even..

After that I cleaned a BUNCH of wild mushrooms and added to the mix. Cristy do you like mushrooms?  Toss with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper and spread out on a baking sheet.

Roast in a 400 oven for about 15 minutes or until the veggies are roasty!

Meanwhile bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil for your pasta. Then, because I like details, I feel the need to tell you to add the pasta to the boiling water. Thank You for listening reading. I used the brand of pasta I showed in that other post about Strozzapreti. You know... the priest choker pasta made by monks.

Water lol

Why did I add this horrible photo?

In a large skillet pour in 2 T Olive Oil 2 T butter and melt together, then whisk in some white wine and reduce. The wine is optional. Throw the roasted veggies and juices from the baking sheet into the skillet and toss it around.

When your pasta is done (I like Capellini *Angel Hair* with this) save a cup or so of the pasta water and then drain the pasta. Add however  much pasta you want to the skillet and toss it around with the veggies. Add some pasta water if it's too tight. Let the pasta and veggies get to know each other for just a couple of minutes.

Serve with a topping of your favorite cheese and/or chopped parsley, add garlic bread and you have a meal.

Re-connecting with Cindy and Cristy has awakened a part of my soul that I thought was long dead. I haven't laughed the way we laughed together in decades. I felt loved and a sense of belonging that has long been missing from my life. (WSH love is always there but different). It was a resurrection of sorts and made the Holy Days  beautiful and full of awe and wonder at the Greatness and Goodness of God. Thanks be to God for friends, laughter, love, memories and pasta!

See you soon!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Strawberry Cream Pie

Edit : so cool!   What Pi sounds like

It all started on Pi day. You know, 3.14. I was walking around the park, enjoying the beautiful weather and noticing the signs of a returning Spring, like 8 turtles lined up on a log, sunning themselves, and the new, fresh and tender foliage on the trees and in herb pots. It was gosh darn inspirational!

So I went in search of Spring at the market, and guess what? There were berries berries everywhere-y.  (Sorry). After sending the scientist son his annual Happy Pi day greeting, I began my search for a pastry cream recipe. This took longer than I thought it would and before you could calculate Pi out to the 8th decimal place, the day had passed.

Anyway, I intended to make a strawberry cream pie like they used to serve at a tiny little restaurant where I grew up named the Char House. If memory serves me well, it was a family run business. They made a really good burger, but the thing that anyone who ever tasted it remembers about the Char House was their strawberry pie. It was housed in a regular (but super flaky delicious) pie crust, had a layer of pastry cream (like custard or pudding) and gorgeous sliced strawberries. However, I was already late on my Pi Pie so I took a few shortcuts. I intended to make a graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust but I couldn't find the cookies I needed (and I refuse to dismantle that many Oreos) so I bought pre-made crusts. Let's just pretend I made them.

The pastry cream recipe was really easy.

Scald (warm) 3 c milk with the seeds from a vanilla bean.

Vanilla Bean -- split lengthwise and scrape out seeds

All the little tiny vanilla seeds float to the top of the milk

Meanwhile whisk 8 egg yolks and 3/4 c sugar together until light in color.

Stir in 6 T cornstarch into the egg mixture.
Pour 1/3 of the heated milk mixture into the egg mixture and stir it up to temper the eggs. Then pour the egg mixture into the milk pot and cook on medium heat until it comes to a slow boil stirring gently with a whisk the whole time.

Strain your custard mix into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface. Refrigerate. This can be done 3 days ahead.
I had expected my yummy pastry cream to set up overnight like a pudding. I was was a bit more liquid than I'd expected  BUT it still tasted wonderful, so I made the Spring Pi Pies anyway. I cleaned the berries and shaved a little dark chocolate and tried my best to make them pretty. (I need a food styling class to go along with a camera and phtography class). Anyway here's how they turned out. The smaller ones are in graham cracker crust and the larger in a chocolate coookie crust. The larger pie was the one presenting a challenge. I decided to freeze it for a bit and then cut it. That worked perfectly.

Thanks so much to my neighbors who helped eat these! I think I got a seal of approval:

Happy Spring!

See you soon

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meatballs ... and some pasta

We used to travel to New Jersey once or twice a year to visit my adoptive Mother. It wasn't Trenton or Newark, it was the beautiful rolling hills and streams and trees in Hunterdon County very close to Pennsylvania. The dirt there is different. It is gorgeous! That's why it's called the Garden State... but I digress.

Every now and then we had a chance to get out and sample some local cuisine. In a strip shopping center we found a jewel: Frank's. I hear there are places like Frank's all over New Jersey, Italian-American restaurants that are not what experts would call AUTHENTIC Italian but rather, a cuisine that has evolved over time from Italian immigrants using the ingredients available in America.  Frank's had everything you could want, but most impressive on the menu was anything involving Meatballs. During the past 10 years or so any time we sampled a meatball dish anywhere, it was judged as follows: "Are they as good as Frank's?"  So when I watched Ina Garten making spaghetti and meatballs on Barefoot Contessa with the simplest of ingredients, I had to try it.  By the way, I have made a resolution to try to be more like Ina Garten, she is ALWAYS smiling, frequently laughing and seems to genuinely appreciate the people and wonders around her.

Back to the meatballs Adapted from Ina Garten Back to Basics (this recipe makes 16 good sized meatballs)
1 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1c fresh bread crumbs
1/4 c dried bread crumbs
2T Italian parsley minced
1 egg beaten
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 tsp salt
1/2 t ground pepper
3/4 c warm water
Ina throws in 1/4 tsp nutmeg... WSH has issues with nutmeg.. that's all I'm sayin.

Mix it together with clean hands but handle it gently. Don't squish it through your fingers, just gently mix and fluff it. Form the meatballs and heat 1/4 in oil in a skillet. I used half olive oil and half canola for a higher smoke point. Cook them about ten minutes flipping over about halfway through. You want to brown the outside.,, not cook them through. When browned remove to a platter. Depending on the size of your skillet you most likely will need to do this in 2 batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.
Once all meatballs are browned, pour off the excess oil but leave the brown bits in the pan. Add a little fresh olive oil to the pan and scrape up the bits. Then add the following:

1c onion diced (cook ten minutes) then add
1 1/2 tsp garlic minced (cook one minute do not brown)
1/2 c red wine (I used veal stock instead)
28 oz can of chopped, diced or pureed tomatoes
1 T chopped Italian parsley
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t pepper
* I added about 2 T tomato paste for body and a little sweetness

Place the browned meatballs in the sauce and cook for 25-30 minutes.

Heat water in a large pot and add salt, then cook your pasta of choice as the meatballs reach the end of cooking.
 I like to marry the pasta with the sauce in the sauce pan for a few minutes before serving. Reserve a cup of pasta cooking water in case you need to thin things out. I used Montebello Linguine and plated with a little extra parsley and some chopped basil leaves, also a sprinkling of parmesan.

Kind of a messy plating but we were hungry!  And the verdict? Are they as good as Franks? I am happy to say they are even better! That's a very good thing because as far as I know, there's nothing like Franks in the Atlanta area.
Happy Meatballing!
See you soon.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I was going to title this post Pancake Porn as a little inside joke but having had some random conversations with a SERIOUSLY amateur psychologist and his take on various strange sexual  fetishes...well, let's just say my better judgment won out. There's no telling where my little blog might have been linked to!!

Jim loves pancakes. I couldn't make pancakes or biscuits for the first ten years of our marriage. Well, I could... but they were like rocks or hockey pucks. Fortunately for Jim, there is Alton Brown. On his show "Good Eats" Mr. Brown shines the light into the mysterious world of fluffy pancakes on an episode in which he wears his bathrobe most of the time. The recipe/short video can be found here.  And as with most things he does, Alton makes this pancake recipe SOUND tedious, when in fact it isn't. It's really pretty easy. The key is to make the "instant pancake mix" ahead and use it instead of say, Bisquick or some other shelf mix.
For four large pancakes I use: 1 c. "pancake mix" 1 egg, separated, 1 c buttermilk, 2 T butter plus a little more butter to grease the griddle.

The egg white is mixed in with the buttermilk. The egg yolk is mixed in with melted butter...something about protein molecules will combine better and fat molecules will combine better if combined separately. While you are melting the butter, why not heat up your real maple syrup... from vermont..not maple flavored PLEASE!  I don't own a microwave so this is my work around solution:

Once you have mixed the egg whites with the buttermilk, and the butter with the egg yolk, combine those liquid ingredients together. Now is the time to butter your griddle or cooking surface and heat it to 350.

Add the liquid to the dry flour mixture and stir just to incorporate. It is important not to overwork the batter. Lumps are ok!

Pour and spread with a spoon or spatula your 4 pancakes. They will puff up so just a little spreading helps them cook more evenly.

Kinda sloppy on the front one! Who Cares? They're pancakes!
Cook until bubbles start to form all over the pancake; you can barely lift one up to see that the underside has browned. If you are adding fruit such as blueberries, sprinkle them on the top of the pancakes before flipping. 

Carefully lift each pancake up and as gently as possible turn it over to the other side. The less "splat" the better.

See how fluffy they are ?

Ummm fluffy light flavorful pancakes. I even like them and I'm not a pancake fan.

Serve with bacon (or not) and warmed maple syrup.

 Try  it sometime! The pancake lover(s) in your home will be very grateful.

See you soon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Improvisation - Osso Bucco (Bone with a hole)

It's raining....still. We've been in the low 30's with rain / sleet for days now. I'm not complaining! I happen to like rainy days, and especially compared with the rest of the country, we are very lucky. But hey, that's one of the great things about living in the South.

Anyway, I've been pestering  asking nicely for some veal shanks or meaty veal bones to make some more veal stock. Once you've lived with it, it's difficult to substitute. Besides, Michael Ruhlman, whose books have been my reading list for the past few months, says, " Stock is the first lesson taught in the kitchens of the best cooking schools for a reason. ... Ultimately, well-made stock is the ingredient that definitively separates home cooking from the cooking of a professional". (The Elements of Cooking pg. 3). He goes on to say how fine dining establishments make stock daily, but the home cook hasn't the resources to do that. (No Kidding.) BUT, since it freezes well, there is no good reason a home cook can't have veal stock on hand. Lord knows I do not aspire to be a professional cook but I'd like to be the best home cook I can be (and not just because I thought I was a Leo (arrogant and competitive) most of my life...only to find that I am truly a Cancer).  I don't want my new favorite author Mr. Ruhlman to think less of me in case he ever shows up at my house wanting a meal, so I need veal stock...Pronto!

As is the case with many accomodating people, WSH Jim thinks if 1 is good 5 is probably a lot better. In this case, the last time I asked for veal bones, he brought me ten pounds of lovely bones, but they had no meat on them to speak of. Via The French Laundry recipe I made a lovely veal stock but it uses a huge amount of tomato paste and is ridiculously hard and time consuming. This time I asked for "meaty bones" and here's what he brought:

Isn't that gorgeous? Ten pounds which was what I asked for, of what would you say? Bony Meat? In any case, while veal stock is truly a worthwhile endeavor, I couldn't bring myself to dedicate all ten pounds of this beautiful veal shank to stock. Hence, we are improvising Osso Bucco; and there isn't much better food for a cold rainy day than a slow braised meat.  Usually, Osso Bucco is made from shanks where the bone is 3-4 inches thick. These are cut thinner, but as I said, it's improv!

Start by making a bouquet garni, which is some aromatic herbs wrapped in cheesecloth to flavor the sauce and not incorporate pieces in to it. When it's done just pull the cheesecloth bundle out. This is 1 bay leaf, some rosemary and thyme, 1 clove and few peppercorns.

Next heat some canola oil in a cast iron or heavy skillet until it shimmers. While it's heating, salt and pepper the shanks and dredge them in flour, shaking off the excess.

Put them in the skillet and brown both sides, around 4-5 minutes each.

When that's done remove the shanks to a platter and throw in chopped celery, onion and carrot and cook until translucent, just a few minutes. Then throw in a clove of minced garlic to cook for about 1 minute. longer.

After the veggies have cooked a few minutes, add 2/3 cup of white wine and let it cook down. Remember to remove the skillet from the heat before you do this. In making my most recent pot roast I remembered this rule and chose to ignore it... at my own peril. We almost ended up with Sally Flambe!  Anyway, let the wine cook down and add 2 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade but low sodium if store bought) also add 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste. I buy the paste in a tube, because I think that's one of the coolest inventions ever... I never use more than a T or 2 of tomato paste and anything left over in the can goes to waste.  Let all this simmer together a few minutes before adding the meat back into the pot - taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Once in, cover and simmer low and slow for about 2 hours. By this time your house will smell heavenly. Check the meat frequently and turn it over as needed. Add chicken stock as needed, liquid should always be a level in which 2/3 of the meat is submerged. When the meat is tender and falling off the bones, remove it from the pan and cut it into bitesized pieces. Meanwhile strain the liquid (or if you are lazy like me just remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon). Let it reduce a bit until flavors are concentrated.

Add the pieces of veal back in the pan for a few minutes to heat through and get married with the new concentrated pan sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Oops missed a carrot I see.

This magical stew is often served on Polenta. Being born and raised in the south, Jim prefers grits, and they are almost the same thing. I cooked up some stone ground grits and added just a touch of extra sharp cheddar cheese. To plate, spoon some grits into a shallow bowl, add the stew and garnish with chopped Italian parsley and a bit of lemon zest.

That's a bowl of goodness right there. The tenderness of the veal and it's delicate flavor are divine. The sauce has a good bit of veal flavor, kicked up by the bouquet garni. I actually liked the grits better than a polenta base for this. This is the first time I've made Osso Bucco, I really liked it. This recipe is a mix of several I found, all had roughly the same ingredients, all used this technique.

I can't post a Veal recipe without adding a note about Veal.  I know a lot of people won't eat veal. I understand that, I used to be one of you. But ask yourself this: Do you eat Lamb? Do you know that the Chicken you eat  lived just a few short weeks?  When I heard John Mackay interviewed once (founder of Whole Foods and a vegan himself) he was asked if he had misgivings about selling meat in his stores. He said he didn't buy the animal death argument, because everything alive will one day die.  It's the treatment of the animals during life and at the end that matters. I've often pondered that eternal paradox: that life requires death. OK too philsophical for a food blog but it's a worthwhile reflection. Bottomline on veal is, if you want to try it. Just buy it from a responsible and humane source. It costs more but to me, it's worth it.

I'll be doing more "other tasty bites" and less French Laundry because quite frankly it became boring. Thomas Keller is a genius, an artist and an inspiration, but I am not Thomas Keller. I'll still post things from Bouchon and Ad Hoc because they are more my style.  I'll be busy making veal stock the next day or two, hopefully I'll find an inspiring recipe to share while it simmers on the stove. OH! and Jim gave me a fancy shmancy skimmer which makes my stock making so much easier!  Thank you Jim!

See you soon.