Monday, January 31, 2011

The Texas Girl Finally Makes Something Texan!

For me this blog is an exercise in self control. You see, as a Texan it's just way too easy for me to break out some corn tortillas, cheese, a meat of some sort, a tomato, poblano and some chili powder, and I'll have enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, or chile rellenos, hell even some nachos if I really feel like deep frying. These are the foods I grew up surrounded by and which epitomize "home" to me. But I wanted to showcase recipes here that weren't all necessarily part of my go to repertoire, because there's just something more exciting about doing something new and succeeding.

But there are days, like Sundays, when you've had too much fun the night before and the only thing that will make you happy is comfort, something that tastes like home. And so I can't help but break out my favorite Tex Mex recipe, chili.
You see what I just did there... chili brunch. Just serve with some tortillas

Sweets for the Anti Sweet

Did I ever mention that my mother is a baker? Nothing too crazy like pastries or cupcakes or even pies (although she could make the most delicious, flaky and flavorful crust while sleepwalking). Nope, just plain old cakes. Nothing special really, just those things that people shell out hundreds of dollars for to have at major special events. She's been doing it since I was little, so you could say I grew up surrounded by sugar and you'd think it would be childhood heaven but it was quite the opposite actually.
See, nothing fancy. Just some  Italian Cream wedding cakes my mom made
I vaguely remember when I liked cake, and had fun licking the french buttercream frosting off of spoons or dipping my fingers into the leftovers from a bowl of chocolate mocha filling but that faded fast. Yes, I was the kid that would have the giant birthday cookie at my parties, I think I even had a birthday flan once. No cake for me, please. And I think that just gradually blossomed to an aversion to sweets. Not completely turned off by sugar but I definitely get more excited about the appetizer course as opposed to dessert.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

As Long As I Live In New York...

I will probably never make this dish from scratch. Yes I own the cookbook, and yes I have the culinary knowledge, the accessibility to all ingredients, and the required cookware, but why... when I can just go to the restaurant?

Lazy? Perhaps, but let me just say, the broth alone takes 8+ hours to make. The pork belly takes over 24. The whole dish requires things like nori, fish cake, konbu, as well as about 40 other slightly more recognizable items. So would you make this when you could just grab a friend, settle down to the counter and have a bowl in front of you in less than 15 minutes? That's right, I thought not.

Seriously. This is page 1 of more than 20.
Did I also mention that it's my go to when I'm sick? During the height of the holiday shopping, naturally I came down with the worst cold. But presents won't buy themselves, so I dragged myself out. When it came time to re-energize, my first thought was ramen and I came here. Today with a friend, also suffering from a bad cold, here we came again. It's the broth, it's the egg-y protein, it's the chewy noodles, the salty fish cake, the melting pork belly. It's that combination of so many delicious things all in one hot bowl of ramen. Chicken soup has nothing on this.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thank Goodness for My Day Job!

I would describe myself as a fairly typical girl. I like to look pretty, I like to be social, I like typical girly things like flowers and manicures and dressing up, and naturally I love to shop. Before I knew how to cook, or at least cook like I do now, shopping for me consisted of Marc Jacobs, Botkier, Alice+Olivia, etc. I'd stop off at Bloomingdale's or Bergdorf's on a weekly basis and it didn't help that both were directly on my way home. But now that I have a closet full of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc, I've turned my shopaholic eye to food. And shopping now consists of splurging on terribly expensive mushrooms, creamy Burrata and other exotic cheese, and yes, ridiculously priced balsamic vinegar. Like the bottle I bought last night.
So little and innocent looking, this bottle is. And I'm definitely not telling you how much it cost.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who's Excited for the Superbowl?

Not me. And neither is this guy. But he is drinking Tuthilltown Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey which I see a lot at liquor stores, probably owing to the fact that I live in the New York area where it's distilled. I've never bought it as it's pretty expensive ($40-50+ for a 375ml bottle), and have never seen it out at restaurants, so I have yet to taste. In polite conversation at my nearby wine stores I've been told that it's just ok which has always discouraged me from purchasing.

But it's made with 4 grains (corn- of course, rye, wheat and malted barley) while most bourbon only contains 3 in the mash bill. It's said to have vanilla, persimmon and orange on the nose and taste like caramel and toasted pecans; smooth and creamy to drink which sounds pretty excellent as far as bourbons go. So maybe I should give it a shot. This unfortunate gentleman seems to be enjoying it quite a bit.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sauteed Collard Greens and Garlic

Have you heard the new album from The Decemberists, The King is Dead? It's a lovely compilation, very free flowing and bluegrass-y instrumental, that doesn't require the same depth of thought as The Hazards of Love did, which is neither a good or bad thing... simply different. Perfect for cooking to, and especially cooking a dish fitting to the folksy music. And how much more folksy could you get than collard greens?

I love those beautiful big, bright leafy greens. Kale, chard, mustard and collard greens... bring it on. They're usually available year round, but are best between January and April, which makes them a colorful addition to any winter meal. Rich in vitamin A and C, they also contain a high amount of calcium and other antioxidents.  

So pretty and green

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Supper

Happiness is a lot of things for me. Hearing a great song I'd forgotten come on my ipod, visiting a friend I hadn't seen in ages and feeling like no time had passed, remembering a kiss from a tall, dark and handsome man while trekking home through the snow. And naturally food.

When I was little one of my least favorite meals was pot roast. Usually stringy, somewhat dry and filled with my most abhorred childhood vegetable, cooked carrots. But the next day my mom would take the (usually plentiful) leftovers and turn them into pot roast tacos. Toasted hard corn shells, the roast reheated to an almost crunchy quality, the carrots boiled into an indistinguishable spicy mash. Top with some salsa, guacamole and cheese and it was heaven. But you can't have the pot roast tacos without having the pot roast first, so tonight I decided to make the first step to delicious tacos- the roast.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Case You Feel Like Stabbing Something this Weekend

No no. It hasn't been one of those weeks. It's actually been a pretty good one as far as weeks go and especially recent weeks.

For no reason other than working in a pretty cool industry I was invited to the premiere of Portlandia, a new show on IFC. (It was hilarious! Watch it!). I was also able to get to the gym enough times to at least wonder how many hours working out during the week equals gym rat (it helps if you have a long weekend with nothing planned). And last night I went on a pretty nice dinner and movie date with an ok guy. We went to my local Italian place, then to my local sketchy movie theater, and then he walked me home... yes, that's right... walked me home; once again reaffirming that my neighborhood, including the people in it, is sometimes very much like a small 1950's town that somehow got time warped into the middle of New York City. It was nice and sweet and that's all I'm going to say for now.

And today I'm heading to Philadelphia for a weekend of R&R with one of my relocated NYC friends. A good finale to a good week, although you may notice with all the activities the overarching theme was that there were very few home-cooked food opportunities. To not leave you hanging, especially after putting up with my "dear diary" segment above, I'm posting this old gem of a recipe my mom found in a Texarkana cookbook (her hometown- don't get me started on that place). So break out your ice pick (?!?), an eye dropper and that bottle of bourbon, it's Whiskey Cake time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Corner Creek

I'm a believer that things happen for a reason. Sometimes it's good, sometimes bad, and there are the occasions where it could be years before the end result of the chain reaction of the initial thing happening reveals itself. Somewhat complicated, I know but in this case it's good. It's bourbon, and that's always good.
Corner Creek Bourbon to be exact. I was originally drawn to the fact that it was from Bardstown, KY- the same area where Old Pogue is distilled and being a girl, I found the label appealing. It reminded me of Charlottesville, one of my favorite places on earth and never a bad thing to think about when enjoying a glass. The store manager was also helpful in recommending it, for the price range ($25-30) I was torn between this and another but wanted a good contrast from Old Pogue and settled on this one, which he described as rustic and a bit more harsh.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Little Luxuries

Luxuries can be flashy, big, bright stars that burn hard and fast. A thing that provides immediate gratification and then leaves you with that empty feeling, wanting more. But they can also be simple. A small gesture of kindness, a beautiful flower, making something wonderful from nothing. Those are my luxuries of choice, so for this weekend I give you a few of my favorites, the ones that are still bringing a smile to my lips, even after they are gone.
Yellow Roses of Texas
I made some Saffron Honey Bread this weekend. Deciding to be a little creative I broke the dough into 2 loaves, rolled them out, topped one with Spicy Za'atar and the other with the Premium and then braided them together. To recreate this on your own, just use the Pizza Bianca recipe, but substitute the sugar with honey, and add a pinch of crushed saffron to the dough.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Something a Little Different

I am normally a wine and bourbon girl. Wine for dinner, for parties, for after those long work days. Bourbon for special occasions, special dinners and those really long work days. But it's always good to keep an open mind, so when the situation arises I'm open to trying something different.

Now I wasn't always this way. In college I was that really annoying picky girl drinker, the one that would go to the frat party and refuse to drink the keg beer. I'm still unapologetic of my behaviour, it was just gross. Like carbonated water that had gone slightly off, I was more of a wine cooler type of girl. Until I discovered The Ginger Man and their Tuesday special, drink the beer of the day and keep the glass. And being in college and on a limited budget this was a great way to get some pretty unique glassware, and also turned me on to the fact that beer could be good.

Za'atar Spiced Flatbread

There's something wonderful about having family and friends over for a Friday night dinner in the dead of winter. The work week done, the last forced journey into the cold over, a long relaxing weekend to look forward to and the people you love gathering around your table, talking and laughing with not a care in the world. It was extra special because my sister had just returned from Jordan so we were all regaled with stories and pictures and as she is my sister and my blogging mentor, all kinds of goodies of the culinary sort.
My Jordanian presents: 2 za'atars, tea, thyme, sage and saffron
 One of the many goodies came in the form of Za'atar- a Mediterranean spice mixture that can vary in ingredients but most commonly contains sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, oregano, etc. Other herbs can be added or spices, to make it sweet or spicy. I was given 2 different kinds, the Jordanian "premium" za'atar (not sure what was in it to make it distinctively premium) which was very delicious and then a "spicy" za'atar, which was actually not that spicy in terms of heat but did contain a smokey kick that reminded me of a smoked paprika or mild chili powder.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Ideas

Like a Snuggie for your stomach, is the title of the email. I love that!

Do you subscribe to Tasting Table? If not you should. I love the (mostly) daily emails of recipes and tips they send out and it is definitely an inspiration, especially for those work days when it's 5:30pm, my stomach is grumbling, I haven't managed to have a minute to plan out dinner and am about to resign myself to mediocre takeout. Then I check my email and like a godsend there is a daily recipe, complete with the story behind it as well as a beautiful picture.

But they also have these occasional seasonal menus they'll send out and I just got the winter one. 3 different unique and delicious meals that all basically require a pot and a lot of time to let it simmer. Listen to this: Ribollita with Sausage and Kale, Coconut Curry Braised Short Ribs and Southwestern Chicken and Dumplings. All sound delicious! Check it out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Year of Good Luck with Black Eyed Peas

This Friday my sister returns from Jordan. That's right. Jordan as in Middle East Jordan. She's been there since right after Christmas, just under 3 weeks and I'm excited to see her, to look over her pictures and have her share her tales. And excited also to think up what to feed her, as she will have been traveling for many many hours with airplane food as her only option and I'm sure we can all agree the thought of airplane food, even on an international trip, can turn our stomachs a bit. What I came up with was a lovely recipe for a southwestern chorizo chili with black eyed peas I had recently read about. Being in a foreign country, unsure if they were available or even exist there, I'm sure she hasn't had her requisite New Years black eyed peas. And if there's anything you must have to guarantee good luck in a new year, it's that.

Every year my mother makes them and her recipe is undeniably the best, with peas and beans and a giant ham hock marinating away for over 24 hours, all coming together into a soupy stew of good luck. Last year, being back in the Northeast already, I didn't have them and thought I was fine, my year going along pretty hunky dory and then something very sad happened  in November that affected not only the rest of my year but a lot of my memories of the good times in 2010 as well. Was it the lack of black eyed peas? Probably not, but you can bet I was first in line this year for my serving, not willing to take any chances regardless.

A Moment of Zen Amidst the Hustle and Bustle

I've had this blog up for a little over a week and feel that I should put up one of the recipes I originally had in mind when long ago the seed for the idea that is this blog began to sprout. Technically there are 2 recipes that fed the flames to where we are today, but as I'm making something similar to one later this week already I'll focus on the other for now. Besides, this recipe is award winning, like giant Le Creuset award winning. And one of my good friends and faithful followers has been bugging me to send this to her and I've continuously procrastinated. But finally, a small little something happened pretty recently (and we're talking less than 24 hours recently) that made me think that it might be a good time to break this out. That's right. I'm sharing my short rib recipe.
We all have those recipes. The ones you know by heart and can make from scratch, blindfolded and hands tied behind your back (ok, well maybe not that extreme but you know what I mean). At one point there may have been a physical copy, most likely something torn from a magazine or written on a well worn recipe card, but now it's all in your head. And when you make it you can just zone out, let your hands do all the work and when it's done and plated it's almost like you're coming out of a trance, feeling refreshed and accomplished. It's your zen recipe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Different Kind of Dough

Last Christmas I received Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread Book from my wonderful little sister and went a little crazy for a while testing out some recipes. My favorites were the classic basic bread, the pizza bianca,  the stecca and stirato but the one I had the most use for was the basic pizza, as it was something that didn't require a lengthy rise. So when my sister introduced me to this article I was intrigued with possible other pizza dough options.

According to the article beer is supposed to make the dough a little more supple and I had a little leftover beer from the beer braised spiced pork. After looking at a few different recipes for pizza dough with beer, I decided to go with the one I knew best, and just see what happened. So I took Jim Lahey's pizza recipe and instead of the whole portion of water did half water and half beer.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Simplicity at it's Best: Roasted Brussel Sprouts

This past Thanksgiving was one of the first I spent at home in Texas in years. Usually my sister, who is my Northeast partner in crime, and I get together in one of our respective cities to celebrate since it's so close to Christmas, the holiday we'd rather spend traveling the distance to Texas. But this year was a little different. She was spending turkey day meeting her boyfriend's family in Atlanta and for me it had been a little over 6 months since I'd been home, which was too long. After being in NYC for that amount of time I was craving space and fresh air and  needed to see an open horizon desperately.

My mom called me a few days before I was set to come home while she was making her grocery list. What would I make? In my family you have to contribute something, usually more than 1 thing and we all have our personal fan favorites. So for me it's usually one dish that's complicated (chopping and sauteing and tempering and baking and yes I'll give you the recipe for that one of these days), and one thing that's easy. No brainer for the easy one. "Brussel sprouts," I said.

Beer Braised Spiced Pork

This is one of those recipes that I kind of just made up, my first foray into culinary independence. I had been feeling confident enough in my cooking to basically make something by scratch- usually I'm just making tweaks to someone else's recipe. And while the technique is familiar and there are plenty of recipes out there for beer braised pork- or beer braised anything for that matter because the beer makes it GOOD- this one is more a fly by the seat of your pants concoction by yours truly.

Let me assure you it was delicious. Braised in a spiced beer mixture for over 4 hours and what came out was so tender and juicy, the chard and the pork all melting together, perfect over some herbed polenta with homemade bread as a weekend meal. Unfortunately I was so hungry by the time it was done that I snapped one hasty picture, scarfed down everything on my plate and didn't bother to look at the picture until I was done. And what came out looks, well... not very appetising, definitely not good enough to do this recipe justice.
So instead I've included a picture of the very unique label from the beer I used, Jack D' Or, a Belgian Saison style from the Pretty Things brewery in Massachusetts. Isn't that cute? Great beer that supports a small, somewhat local Mom and Pop brewery. But back to the food, I will swear by this recipe, so please don't let the lack of a food porn shot deter you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Mushroom Worth it's Weight in Gold: The Chanterelle

One of the best and most frustrating things about my neighborhood is my grocery store. I tend to refer to it as a fancy market... it's expensive, not very large, always full of the typical Park Slope parents and their overly large strollers or hyperactive toddlers wandering at random. But it's also full of some truly amazing things, cases of cheese, attentive butchers, every combination of spice and vinegar flavor you can imagine... and naturally it's pretty expensive ($30 olive oil anyone?). So for staples I go to my corner deli, for the ingredients that make a meal special I go to the fancy market.And one of those special ingredients I'm always willing to splurge on are mushrooms. They have your typical ones- button, portabella, crimini, but they also have those mushrooms you see only on shows like The Barefoot Contessa, or that really fancy restaurant. Maitake (hen of the woods), oyster, morel, lobster, chanterelle, etc. I like to try them all whenever I can afford them and this week it was chanterelles.

Chanterelle's are very high in Vitamin C and D as well as potassium. The golden chanterelles have a light apricot color. Meaty, chewy and eggy in texture, they work best sauteed, simply or with some cream, cooking alcohol, and chicken broth. Historically they were considered a culinary delicacy, typically served to nobility. They have also been called Queen of the Forest and Golden Chanterelle.

Friday, January 7, 2011

African Peanut Soup

I figured I should follow up the roasted chicken post with not just any old chicken soup, but an amazing chicken soup that represents not simply comfort but a spirit of adventure mixed in as well. A soup full of forward thinking combinations, a melting pot of both familiar tastes as well as an uncharted territory of flavors for a new year. I'm not trying to sound like an Amy Tan novel, just trying to say in so many words that I was craving a combination of both old and new.
When I was 9, we took a family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg and naturally some of my fondest memories of this trip revolved around the food. We went in November, the air crisp, the smell of fall and fires and frying bacon all making me realize that autumn in other places is more than just the fleeting moment it is in South Texas. More importantly I discovered how wonderful soup can be, especially coming in from the cold. Complex chowders, bread bowls, soup that didn't have that tinny, too salty Campbell's taste. All amazement's I'd never experienced before. Here's also where I tasted my favorite, Peanut Soup.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roasted Chicken for the Soul

It's been a long night. Actually no, it's been a long month, a long winter in fact. But tonight has just been especially long. I talked for 30 minutes with a guy I realized in the first 5 I had absolutely no chemistry with, but was too polite to get off the phone. And all I kept thinking of was the Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry make up a fake Chinese delivery so they can get off the phone with people. And then I'd feel like a terrible person for even thinking that.They say life hands you lemons and expects you to make lemonade. But I think also lemons are sometimes too easy and life may hand you other completely random things and expect you to make something just as genius, just as refreshing and delicious as lemonade. Right now that's where I am... figuring out what in the world to do with these various random things. I feel I can make something wonderful with what I've been given, actually know what the end result I want is... just can't figure out for the life of me how to get from having these things in my possession to the final product. Bear with my rant, I promise a delicious recipe at the end of it.

Old Pogue

Oh yes. We're starting with the best.

Old Pogue Master's Select is a small batch Kentucky bourbon with a rich history dating back to the years following the Civil War, starting in 1869. Family run from the start in Maysville, KY, they briefly shut down for Prohibition and then again closed their doors during World War II when the factory was sold. Over a decade ago though the Pogue family began again, this time in Bardstown, KY using the original family recipe. Their bourbon requires 9 years in the barrel (as opposed to 2-5 years for mass marketed bourbons) and it certainly shows.
The scent of vanilla, maple and brown sugar on your nose makes it most easily imagined drizzled over a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or better yet as the liquor of choice in a flaming bananas foster. It is a luxurious, smokey, and delicious bourbon that envelopes you in a daydream of sitting around a campfire, surrounded by your friends and family, your belly full, your heart happy, your life content. It tastes like caramel and burning wood, bold but smooth with an intense depth. And while it's on the more expensive side, if you can find it, buy it! It's worth every drop.

This is what great bourbon is made of.

Inexpensive Luxury: Mussels Cooked in a Tomato Anchovy Sauce

The first restaurant I ever ate at in New York was Balthazar. I had just landed in the city, was using the weekend to get my bearings and to heavily weigh the possibility of becoming a "city" girl. And I'm not talking about city as in living in a heavily populated area, I'd spent the past 5 years in the Metroplex, which is nothing to sneeze at. No, I'm talking about THE CITY. New York City. So I got all dolled up and went out on the town to the chicest place I'd heard of and what did I order? Why the seafood tower of course! With a side of frites. (And yes, I was with a friend and we shared).My love of shellfish started at a very young age. My parents have tales (tall or not) of me gulping down raw oysters at the tender age of 3. My family tradition was to ring in New Years every year with a steamed lobster. And crab... oh crab was a rustic delicacy in my household. I have memories of spreading out old newspapers, heating up butter and dumping freshly boiled crab claws with a liberal sprinkling of Old Bay on the table and then it was every man for himself. No one in my family is shy about their love of shellfish.

Paximathakia Portokaliou

Try saying that 10 times fast. Or even pronouncing it at all. Bear with me though, this is a great recipe, especially if you love sesame seeds, adore biscotti and/or are vegan. It was the former 2 reasons that drew me to this recipe though.
In college, being on a very strict budget and also still having that lingering teenage metabolism that allowed me to eat and drink whatever I liked, one of my greatest pleasures was stopping by the coffee shop, grabbing a mocha and a vanilla biscotti and plunking down to study, all the while slowly dunking the crunchy cookie into the coffee and nibbling away. It was a luxury, a treat and something I knew I couldn't indulge in every day, or even every week but when I did it was wonderful. Sesame seeds I just plain enjoy. They're tasty, and versatile. Can be added to both savory or sweet items and are just that finishing touch that can make a dish stand out. Also excellent on bagels, as a shout out to my adopted city.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Brioche & Bourbon Bread Pudding Cupffin

Cupcake or muffin? No matter so long as it's delicious right?

Figured I'd kick off this blog with a namesake recipe to showcase 2 very different ingredients and how they come together to make something so delectable that even I, the anti-sweet girl, am tempted. I find this recipe works best when you have a Tupperware container handy to pack them in as soon as they're out of the oven, for grateful friends or co-workers to enjoy instead of my hips.
I tend to go a little crazy with the bourbon. I have a friend that does work with Jack Daniels (technically not a Bourbon but Tennessee is close enough) and he's always mentioning lovely bourbon tips and tricks. Did you know that September is Jack Daniels Month? That bourbon is the official drink of the United States, by act of Congress? Or that bourbon can be substituted for vanilla in any recipe (though you probably don't want to do it the other way around)? This last bit of trivia I tend to take to heart when it comes to cooking (baking of course can be trickier but for this recipe it's not about exact measurements).


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