August 05, 2013

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

Just a reminder, the blog has moved!

July 24, 2013

Cookies for Muffin

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July 08, 2013

Corn Fritters

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  As we drive back from the beach, our skin tight from laying in the sun all day, hair still damp from salty ocean water and sand clinging between sunscreen-slicked fingers and toes we pull off the Belt Parkway and drive along Emmons Avenue.  The smell of salt water still fills my head.
Driving along the bay, restaurant after restaurant, across from the fishing boats that take you on day trips is Roll 'N' Roaster.

The place looks like it hasn't changed a single thing since the day it opened.  I love places like that.  To some they may look tattered and old, but to me there is history in those places... Stories to be told.
Every person I've ever talked to about this particular place has stories of going there as a child and the first thing they say is "It looks like it did when I was young".

The plastic bench seats, the Formica tabletops, the dangling heat lamps.  All the same.

There is comfort in that, in things not changing.  So many things in the world change at such a rapid pace we can barely keep up.  You buy a new cell phone and six months later, there is a new, better version of it hitting the market with lines of people wrapped around city blocks camping out to get it.
I like my old things.  They are worn and weathered, but there is history there.
There are memories attached to those old things, those old places. 

Stories of going there with parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles...
Maybe that is partly why I loved going there so much.  There was a story with every visit,  it was part of a ritual and it was almost always, after the beach. 
The order, however, never changes:  roast beef sandwich, corn fritters and orangeade. 

Corn Fritters

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
oil for frying (canola or peanut suggested; roughly 2 quarts, depending on size of pot)

In a deep, heavy pot, heat oil to 350 - 360 degrees.   In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk and melted butter together.  Pour egg mixture into flour mixture and whisk to combine.

Stir in corn kernels.

Carefully drop batter into hot oil by the spoonful or using a small cookie scoop.  Drop as close to the surface of the oil as possible to avoid a splash.  The corn will "pop" a bit causing the oil to spatter, so be careful when turning fritters in the oil.

Let fritters cook until golden brown, turning them every so often so they brown all over.   Remove from oil with a slotted spoon (or spider) and set on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil.

Serve immediately, preferably with an ice cold beer and a sweet & spicy dipping sauce.

I made them plain here, but here is a short list of suggested mix-ins:
- crumbled bacon
- crab
- bell peppers
- cheese
- lobster
- hot peppers

July 02, 2013

Cherry Hand Pies

Do you remember your favorite childhood treat?  Mine was Hostess Cherry Pies.  Cloyingly sweet cherry pie filling encased in a lackluster pastry shell coated with a cavity-inducing glaze of white icing.  To think of eating one now does absolutely nothing for me, but the 10 year old version of me would slap me right across the face for such condescension.

It was my favorite of all the pies we had growing up, and believe me, there was no shortage.  On holidays there was the obligatory pumpkin, but once in awhile we were allowed to weigh in on this topic and when the opportunity presented itself, I always chimed in "CHERRY"!
(as I got older, and still to this day... it is peach)

Whenever stone fruit season rolls around, I, like most people, buy pounds of cherries, peaches, plums and nectarines...  and then am in a frenzy to use them up before they go bad.   It's like my Mom has always told me "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach".  I guess they still are. 

So, I find myself with a few pounds of cherries and I had a flashback to walking into Floyd's.
It was a little store on the walk home from school, almost more of a lean-to it was so small.

There was a creaky, old, wooden screen door that would slap shut with a "thwack" every time you walked in, paint barely clinging to it.
The floors resembled a patchwork quilt, tiles being replaced as needed, never all at once.
The cooler near the front hummed loudly as the compressor kicked on and off,  a reminder of where he kept the frozen treats.
Rows of cans and boxes lined up, fluorescent lighting sputtering and buzzing above me.  Being greeted by a gentle smile, always a smile.  My grandmother knew him and therefore, he knew us.  I remember buying bazooka gum for a nickel in that little store.  And Hostess cherry pies.

These portable packages would also be a perfect addition to a picnic basket or say a 4th of July gathering?   Just stack them up on a plate and let people help themselves.  No need for utensils, plates or clean-up, which in my opinion is the best thing about these.  They are little pockets of goodness.

Cherry Hand Pies
makes 18 -20 pies

For the Crust:
(crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen, just barely fussed with)

3 3/4 cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 1/2  tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2  teaspoons fine sea salt
12 ounces unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk

Whisk together flour, zest, sugar and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of tiny peas. 
Gently stir in 3/4 cup buttermilk with a rubber spatula, mixing it until a bit of a mass forms, then knead it two or three times to form a ball.
If it doesn’t come together, add remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does, then gently knead again. (I had to add all of the remaining 1/4 cup)
Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten into a disc. Chill in fridge for at least an hour or up to two days.  (Life got in the way & mine was in there for 3 days... It was fine)

Egg Wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water.  If you want to dust the top with sugar, you will also need sanding sugar or any coarse sugar.
-prepare egg wash, get out the pastry brush & set aside.

Cherry Filling:
3 cups pitted cherries, roughly chopped (about 1 1/2 pounds whole cherries)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
juice of half a lemon

Combine the cherries, sugar and salt in a medium pot over medium heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
Increase heat slightly to bring to a simmer for 5 more minutes. 
In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in a few teaspoons of the cherry juice from the pot and stir until smooth.
Pour the cornstarch mixture back into the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 6 to 8 more minutes). Turn off heat and add lemon juice.  Stir to combine.
Transfer to a non-metal bowl and allow to cool.

Assembly line:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Generously flour the counter top, then unwrap one of your disks of dough.  Gently begin rolling it out, starting from the center and pushing outward.  The dough will be pretty firm when you begin, so be patient, but it will warm quickly, so not too patient!
Keep rolling from the center out, turning the dough as you go, until it is about 1/8 inch thick.  If the butter in the dough begins to get too warm and it starts to stick to the pin or gets goopy, slide it onto a baking sheet and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up again.
Once dough is rolled out, cut out with a 2 1/2 - 3 inch cutter, whatever shape you have, or use a knife and cut into squares.  I only had a round cutter of the appropriate size, so that's what I used.
Lightly brush half of your circles or squares with the egg wash, taking care to get the edges, cut vents in the center of the other half of your circles/squares.  Place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of the egg washed halves and top with the vented pieces. (don't overfill!)  Seal with your fingertips or press with a fork along the edges.
Brush with the egg wash on top and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Chill in refrigerator before baking if dough begins to get mushy.  Repeat with remaining disk of dough, filling, etc.
Place on baking sheet 1 - 2 inches apart and bake for 15 - 18 minutes until golden and puffed.

Eat. Repeat.

June 25, 2013

You say tomAto, I say tomAHto...

I was home visiting my family and was freshly out of culinary school.  I mean green. I hadn't really worked in kitchens yet other than as a stagiaire or "stage", which is an intern (read: free labor).

I'm not really sure where the brilliant idea came from, but I had it in my head to make fried green tomatoes.  Keep in mind, I'd never eaten them nor made them but off I went to gather green tomatoes and make them.  I had no reference point, so I didn't know how thick or thin to cut the slices.

So, I took to the kitchen with my tomatoes in hand and proceeded to make what one could only technically  classify as fried green tomatoes.  They were tomatoes.  They were green. And they had been fried.  Looking back at the first attempt to reach beyond my comfort zone, so full of enthusiasm, as all new culinary grads are, I wince at what I made.  Thankfully, I've gotten a handle on it now.

I still struggle with failure as I'm sure we all do.  I don't want to look stupid or fail at something. 
But, isn't that how we learn and grow?  Our failures tend to teach us more than our successes in my experience.
I'm learning to let go of that a little, although I'll be the first to admit that my competitive spirit will never disappear and the fear of embarrassing myself in front of people is still quite real. 
With that, I give you the following recipe... southerners need not correct me.  I'm sure you make it better.

Fried Green Tomatoes
4 - 5 green tomatoes, cut into 1/4" rounds
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 - 2 cups breadcrumbs (any kind you have on hand)
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch paprika
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
oil for frying
optional: dried herbs

Combine flour, garlic powder, cayenne and paprika in a shallow dish and whisk together. Set aside.

In a separate dish, whisk eggs and buttermilk together.

In a third dish (it will be worth the dirty dishes, I promise) combine breadcrumbs with a little salt and pepper and any dried herbs if you are using.  I throw in about a tablespoon of dried oregano or thyme if I don't have seasoned breadcrumbs.

Lightly season tomatoes on both sides with salt and pepper.  Dredge through flour mixture, shaking off any excess.  Then dip into egg mixture and coat with seasoned breadcrumbs.

This next step most people find annoying, but I have found it essential.  Place on a cooling rack and let it rest for about 15 - 20 minutes.  This allows your coating to adhere to the tomatoes.  I do this when coating anything I am going to fry.  You know how disappointing it is when your breading falls off in the pan or as soon as you cut into it?  Let it rest beforehand and that will be a thing of the past.

After the tomatoes have hung out and gotten acquainted with each other, it's time to fry.
Heat a large skillet with enough oil to go about 1/4 inch up the side.   Heat oil on medium high heat (350 degrees with a thermometer) and carefully slide tomatoes slices into the oil, dropping them in away from you, not toward you.  If the oil splashes, it will not splatter you, but the back of the stove.

Fry until GBD (Golden Brown Delicious), remove and place on a bed of paper towels to absorb excess oil.    
Serve immediately.

June 17, 2013

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

My banana pepper plants have been rather prolific and for this I am grateful.  As most of you who are regular visitors to this little space already know,  I went a little overboard in planting.  I have a tendency to overdo things and this was no exception.

Spending so many years living in an apartment with zero outdoor space, I may have gone a little crazy when I realized that I could grow some of my own food.  This had been a goal of mine for a very long time (growing food, not going crazy... that ship has sailed).  
I am fascinated by the entire process of planting a seed, taking care of it and watching it grow into something that will actually feed you. 

The very first time I had a banana pepper was on a pizza, my Freshman year in college.  A small group of us had descended on the pizza place next to campus.  We were there under the pretense of "studying", I'm sure.  There were pool tables, dart boards (which I became quite skillful at playing), air hockey tables; all the things one thinks of when looking for an appropriate place to "study".
Anyhow, there we were and one of the guys went to order our pizza and when the waitress came to the table to set it down in front of us, I noticed that it had peppers on it.  Not wanting to draw any attention to myself, I dug right in but in my head was this little voice shouting "are you nuts?!".

I was under the impression back then, and I'm not sure why, that banana peppers were so hot they would peel the skin off of the roof of your mouth.  Happily surprised that my mouth did not ignite into a ball of flames, there was no turning back.  Thus began the love of banana peppers. Of course, I rarely ate a pizza without them after that.  They were on sandwiches, mixed into tuna fish,  often plucked right from the jar and popped into my mouth.  However, having crossed the threshold into my 40's, my stomach will not always tolerate such shenanigans these days.

I still eat them on pizza. An Italian cold cut sandwich is nothing without them, chop them up into a good bowl of pasta to transform it into something even better.  Charred on the grill, they are a smoky side to any grilled meat. Banana peppers even give egg salad a kick on the days you need a little something extra. 

Pickled peppers are the perfect balance of sweet, tangy, just barely there heat and the right amount of crunch.  They are one of the easiest things to pickle, as you can see from the recipe below.  It takes very little time and the peppers can go from plant to jar in well under an hour at the languid pace that comes with steamy summer days.

Pickled Banana Peppers

6 medium banana peppers, sliced into rings (roughly 1/2 pound)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup tarragon vinegar (or white vinegar)
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
pinch turmeric

Sterilize 4 half-pint jars, lids and rings by immersing them in a large pot of simmering water.  Leave in hot water until ready to assemble.

In a medium sauce pot, combine all ingredients, except banana peppers, and bring to a boil.

Remove jars from water and place banana peppers inside.

Pour pickling brine over peppers, leaving 1/4- 1/2 inch space from top of jar.  Wipe off any brine that may have spilled on rim or side of jar.  Place lid on and tighten ring.  Set on counter to cool.  Jars should "pop" as they cool, sealing themselves.  One of mine did not, so I lowered it into simmering water for about 6 - 8 minutes until it did.  If you need to do this, make sure water level is 1 inch above top of jar for it to seal properly.

You can test them by pressing on the lid.  It should not make a "popping" sound when you press it.  If it does, you can either seal it by processing it in a water bath, or keep it in the refrigerator and use first.

May 27, 2013

Food Blog Forum

Remember when you used to wait for concert tickets to go on sale?
Dialing over & over desperately trying to get through?
(Here's where my age shows) Back then, we didn't have redial and all I could imagine was ticket after ticket being sold & my seat would go to someone who CLEARLY didn't love Van Halen as much as I did. 

Snagging a spot for this conference was kinda like that...  These tickets were a hot item.  Apparently it sold out in 10 minutes flat.   My ticket had been hanging on the front of my refrigerator (an appropriate place) for the past 3 months.   I was anxiously awaiting for the day to arrive and this past weekend it finally had.

The Food Blog Forum was here! 

I left early in the morning to drive up to Orlando because registration started at 10am and I had already planned to say hello face to face with a few blogger buddies I only knew online.  We also had passes to the parks, and we were free until the evening to play!  Hello Epcot!

Friday evening was our "Welcome Reception".   I only knew one person going in and although I'm generally not very shy, walking into a room of over a hundred people who all do what you do is a little intimidating.
I just kept telling myself  "pretend you're not scared, it will be ok".

This was my first food blogger conference, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  Walking into that room of bloggers was overwhelming.  I'll be honest, it was a little scary.

I'm sure that I am not the only one who thought to themselves "will they like me?"  "is my blog good enough?"

There were people there that are a very big deal and have huge followings on their blogs.
Some of them have been doing this for well over a decade and they really know their stuff.
So, yes...  I was scared walking into that room, but I didn't need to be. 
I met some great people, some of whom were just as nervous as I was!

Lobster Salad with Avocado

After a few hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine, chatting with some new friends the reception came to an end and it was time to get ready for a full day of presentations on Saturday.

Day 2:

Jaden & Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen  started the day with their presentation "Redefining Success & Setting Goals"

The points made during this presentation were applicable to real life and not just blogging life.

- You need to clearly define your goal.  If you can't define it, how will you be able to achieve it?
- When I achieve _______, then I'll feel _________.
- How do you define success? For some of us it is financial, for others it is a sense of freedom to do more of what they'd like to do.  For example, being able to spend time at home with their families.
-Life changes when you change your focus.

Next up was Diane Cu & Todd Porter of White on Rice Couple.  This presentation was titled
"Taking your Visual Ideas to Flight" and I could've listened to them for hours. 
They spoke about finding your visual voice, telling a story and finding inspiration.  The best camera? It's you.  Your eyes are your lens, your heart is your shutter.  That really resonated with me, because sometimes I am so busy taking photos that I feel like I'm missing the experience.
One of the best little nuggets of info from their presentation was learning about Animoto, a website that helps create video from your still images.

The day ended with a Grassroots Community Building talk with panelists and organizers of FBF Julie Deily and Lindsay Landis, Jeff Houck and one of my favorite guys David Leite.

This group led a discussion on community and the various communities that surround us.  From our closest friends and family to colleagues, fellow bloggers and blog readers everyone is critical to the growth and success of what we do. 
My big takeaway from this was that to someone out there, you are a star.  This again, I feel goes beyond blog life and into real life.  Each one of us is special to someone out there in the world and each person we interact with is a potential member of our community.  Be authentic and engage your community.
I have always been fairly open, but there will be a few changes coming in this little space of the blogosphere.  I want to connect with my community, my readers in a way that perhaps I haven't before.  It is daunting to really put yourself out there, but that is exactly what I'm going to do because it's worth it.  You guys are worth it.  Without you, there is no blog and I am so very appreciative for the time you take out of your day to be here.

Sunday, our final day, was a brunch at Whole Foods. It was our last chance to see a few of our new friends before everyone went back home.  It was a great time, yummy food and more canoodling with like minded people who also need to photograph their food before they eat it.

Here is the entire group!
photo courtesy of: Jennifer Holt

Lastly, a big thank you to the wonderful sponsors of Food Blog Forum:
Walt Disney World
OXO (I won a gorgeous steel mandolin from OXO in one of the giveaways! YAY!)
Kitchen Aid
Whole Foods
Florida Dairy Farmers