people

birthdays are better with ratatouille

I’m turning 30 on Friday, but this post is about a much more famous birthday.

All you foodie folks probably know that Julia Child, if she were still alive today, would be one of those 100-year-old ladies that Willard Scott always used to introduce on the Today show.

(Does he still do that? Is he even still on the show? I haven’t watched in a decade or two…)

What amazes me about Julia Child?

She wasn’t French, and yet she brought French cooking to America before people could just plop down at a keyboard and Google recipes for beef bourguigneon or ratatouille.

She got people excited about cooking outside their comfort zone.

And she wasn’t pretentious or snooty about French cuisine–her vision was that everyday people could use everyday ingredients to make delicious food. She was down-to-earth, funny, and so charming.

I can’t say Julia’s been a direct influence on my life as a cook, because I don’t own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (though I’ve adapted a recipe from it at least once) and honestly am not sure I’ve ever seen a full episode of her show.

But she has influenced my cooking–and your cooking and everyone else’s cooking–the same way the Beatles forever changed the face of pop music.

Rock and pop bands today, whether they enjoy the Beatles’ music or not (or, for that matter, whether they’ve ever heard of the Beatles or not) have been influenced by Fab Four. Music today is different, and better, because the Beatles existed.

And cooking nowadays is different, and better, because of Julia.

Now, the ratatouille.

Two weeks ago, I was headed to my good friend Amy’s house for a cookout. Her husband was grilling cornish hens, another friend was bringing bread, dessert was covered, and I was supposed to bring some sort of vegetable.

I had only been back from Portland for a couple of days at this point, and Micah and I had picked up a few things from Daily Groceries, but we didn’t have a lot of any one vegetable. That made it kind of hard for me to come up with any single side dish.

What did we have? Garlic, an onion, a few tomatoes. One eggplant. A huge summer squash. Three bell peppers.

Ratatouille, it turned out, was not just a practical solution for combining all those yummy summer vegetables. It was also delicious, and a natural complement to Trey’s perfectly grilled little chickens.

slow-simmered veggie goodness

Julia Child inspired the recipe I used, which was posted by Priya on her lovely blog, quête saveur. Of course, I not only multiplied the recipe by 1-1/2 for our large group, but I also made some changes. My apologies, Julia!

What did I change? I cooked the vegetables slightly out of order and all together instead of in batches to make this a super-easy one-pot dish. And I seasoned my ratatouille differently from how Julia wanted me to, because I didn’t have any parsley but did have some other stuff that seemed like it would work.

I don’t know how my results compared with Julia’s vision, but this ratatouille was darn good.

What’s in it:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 3/4 pound, peeled and diced (salt it and let it sit for ~20 minutes while you prep the other veggies)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, about 3/4 pound, chopped
  • 1 large summer squash, about 3/4 pound, sliced
  • 3 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the oil in your biggest skillet over medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes or until they start to become translucent.
  • Stir in the bell pepper and squash and saute for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Drain off any water your salted eggplant has released and add the eggplant to the pan. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Finally, add your tomatoes, lemon zest, and herbs.
  • At this point, your ratatouille might look a little dry, not stew-y and delicious. Don’t add water or chicken stock–just let it cook for at least 30 minutes. The vegetables will release plenty of liquid, and you’ll end up with a savory, hearty pot of stew that you can easily sop up with a warm slice of homemade bread.
  • Season to your liking with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

The best thing about ratatouille is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

The night I made the ratatouille, we ate it as a side dish with those aforementioned cornish hens.

The next day, I used the leftovers as a salsa for brunch of leftover steak frites and eggs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I made a second batch at the end of last week, which we ate as an entree. First over some steamed brown rice (which was kind of bland) and then over polenta (oh, my goodness! highly recommended!).

The last of the ratatouille and polenta was also my lunch today, chosen over several other lunch options because, of course, I wanted to commemorate the Julia who inspired it. 🙂

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supper tonight – 6.25.12 and 6.28.12 – pork (belly) ‘n’ beans – a guest post from Micah – plus 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes!

I was much too busy with Red Clay to help Micah cook dinner Monday night, so he whipped up an amazing (and very fancy) meal for us all on his own. I snapped some photos and told him his delicious supper would go up on the blog if he would write up a post about it. So he did, and here it is!

*   *   *   *   *

Hi. I’m Tanya’s main squeeze Micah and her very first official guest blogger.

I’m also the resident cook/curer of all things carnivorous in our household and a dabbler in what Tanya has coined “boozy infusions.” These are simply booze that has been infused with something (preferably non-toxic) that you think it should taste more like. But I’ll go into further detail about those adventures in a future guest post.

The reason I’m writing is to tell you about this here dinner:

beauty and substance – a perfect combination

I’ve recently begun to discover my roots. In other words, I’ve become enamored with Southern cooking.

I’ve long had a taste for the tasty. But whenever I’d think about the great food cultures of the world, I’d think about French, Italian, authentic Mexican, Japanese, etc. Never did Southern cross my mind. Only recently have I discovered what has been right in front of my face (and in my mouth) my whole life.

This has a lot to do with the rise of our local celebrity chef, Hugh Acheson. I know Tanya has mentioned him before. He’s the man who has put Athens, Georgia on the culinary map. His specialty is Southern cuisine with a modern twist.

After we visited his restaurants and read his cookbook, A New Turn in the South, a lightbulb went off in my head. The South does have one of the finest food cultures in the world. In bridging the traditional cuisines of three continents (North America, Africa, and Europe), we Southerners have created something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sure, it’s been hijacked and bastardized by the Paula Deens of the world, but trailblazers like Hugh are taking it back. This makes for an exciting time to be a foodie in the South, and it has made me want to incorporate a little Southern charm into almost everything I cook.

Including the meal I’m telling you about here, which fancifies butter beans and quick pickles with a little bit of pork belly. Voila!

Wait, that’s French. Let’s try again.

Here it is, y’all: my Pork (Belly) ‘n’ Beans.

First, there are two things you’ll want to make ahead: pork belly confit (I followed these directions from Belly Love) and pickled beets (made following thismodernwife’s recipe). These’ll keep in the fridge for a while, so make them when you have time and keep ‘em around for this meal.

(As you can probably tell from the preceding recipes, and Tanya can confirm, I prefer to read things with lots of pictures.)

Ingredients:

  • For the butter bean puree (you’ll have extra left over):
    • 2 cups dried butter beans or baby limas
    • 6 cups stock or broth
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • Everything else:
    • two 2- to 3-ounce pieces of pork belly confit
    • 2-4 tablespoons pickled beets, sliced into thin strips
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

What to do:

  • Put beans, stock, onion, and garlic into a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or big pot. Cook until tender (about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker or several hours on the stove/in a slow cooker).
  • Puree with a stick blender or in batches in the regular blender until smooth.
  • Add cream, lemon juice, and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. (Bonus: The solids that are leftover make good bean dip.)
  • Add the liquid back into a saucepan and cook on medium low heat to reduce it until it’s good and thick.
  • The last step is to crisp up the pork belly. Add the pieces to a skillet over medium heat and cook each side until brown.
  • To serve, ladle about ½ cup of butter bean puree onto each plate, add the pork belly, top with slivers of pickled beets, and garnish with parsley.
  • Eat up!

*   *   *   *   *

Tanya here again. I just want to reiterate how good this was! Micah and I usually work together in the kitchen, but this recipe was entirely his creation and entirely, mouthwateringly, perfectly delicious.

The best part? We had enough of all the fixins that, after having this meal Monday night with a tomato cucumber salad, there was still plenty for us to enjoy it again yesterday, this time with the last of my peach tomato gazpacho.

Oh, and for dessert? We made some fantastic 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes, thanks to Stephanie at a {modern} christian woman.

topped at the last minute with the remnants of a pint of
cherry vanilla Häagen-Dazs that we found hiding in the freezer

Gluten-free friends, these are made from egg, powdered sugar, and unsweetened cocoa, so you can enjoy them, too! 🙂

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Dave & Kim’s wedding shower!

I just realized that it has been eleven days since my last post. A week and a half!

How did this happen?

Well, I’ve been busy.

First off, I’m on day sixteen of the eighteen-day Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute, which meets from 8:30am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday. And, as I mentioned before, this thing is intense! I’ve been writing up a storm, pretty much all day every day, even well into the evenings. I’ve written pages and pages and pages of material…just, nothing for the blog.

(I’ll be back with you full time in just a couple more days, so please–stick around! I’ve got a really exciting project to share with you. :))

This past weekend was the AthFest Music & Arts Festival. Micah and I had our very first date at AthFest 2006–we walked around downtown Athens together all night, got drenched in a summer storm, laughed over crispy fried okra and creamy feta dip at The Grill in the late evening, and shared our first kiss in a crowded club to the twangy tunes of an Athens band called the Bearfoot Hookers. It was a magical evening, and we love revisiting that magic every year by going back to AthFest, bar-hopping, hearing awesome local music, and (of course) eating at some of our favorite downtown restaurants.

The weekend before that, Micah and I had his entire family (his parents, his three siblings and their plus-ones, and all eight of their children–whew!) over to our house for a cookout, so we of course went a little crazy cleaning the house and cooking way too much food.

And the weekend before that is what I’m going to share with you today. Like I told you a couple of weeks ago, my brother Dave is marrying his fiance Kim in just a few short weeks! Dress fiasco aside, being a bridesmaid in this wedding has been nothing short of fabulous.

The other three maids are Chelsea, Amanda, and Shannon, none of whom I knew very well until very recently, but the four of us have been working together to plan Dave and Kim’s French-themed shower since April.

The end result was simply lovely! The weather was gorgeous, Memorial Park was a beautiful venue for our summery shindig, the decorations and flowers were simple and pretty, and the food…well, the food was amazing.

I am glad the shower turned out so beautiful. I wouldn’t have wanted anything less for my little brother and his bride-to-be! ♥

*   *   *   *   *

And now…the food!

Amanda brought crackers, a delicious assortment of cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, and an array of yummy dips to go with them. Simple, refreshing, perfect.

Feast your eyes:

the full spread

Besides being in charge of tablecloths and all of the plates, napkins, cups, etc., Shannon also made macaroons and creme puffs, which were lovely, delicate, and tasty:

pretty pastels

Chelsea rocked our tastebuds with these fantastic dishes:

sweet little beignets

fluffy croissants filled with chicken salad

savory, cheesy, perfectly puffed gougères

If any of these wonderful ladies sends me the recipes they used, I will make sure to pass those recipes on to you! Their food was fantastic.

I brought flowers, paper fans and lanterns, and yes, even more food. 🙂

not quite croque-monsieurs

Micah actually constructed these guys from soft white dinner rolls from the Earth Fare bakery, some excellent uncured deli ham (sliced paper-thin), slices of double-creme brie, and my own homemade grainy mustard.

originally, I planned to make a pear tarte tatin, but
these rustic little guys are what I ended up with instead

These were also super easy:

  • Thaw two packages of frozen puff pastry for a couple of hours, then cut the dough into two dozen little rectangles.
  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Roll up the edges of the rectangles so you have a little pastry boat.
  • Pre-bake the boats for about 25 minutes or until they are puffy and just starting to brown. (They’ll deflate a little when you take them out.)
  • Dice six or seven fresh pears. Saute the pears in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of dried marjoram. Cook them until the liquid is reduced to a nice, thick syrup.
  • Pull your pastry boats out of the oven, top each one with some pear filling, and stick them back in to bake for another 15 minutes or so.

Last, but not least:

leek, chanterelle, and chevre mini quiches

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but these little quiches were great.

Here’s the recipe:

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water for 30 minutes (or use 8 ounces fresh)
  • 3-5 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup total)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces shredded parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces crumbled goat cheese

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F and get two 12-cup muffin pans ready with cooking spray or paper liners.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks, salt, pepper, and thyme, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms and leeks are tender.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, and flour.
  • Fill your 24 muffin cups in this order:
    • Cover the bottom of each cup with a layer of shredded parmesan.
    • Add about two tablespoons of leek and mushroom filling.
    • Add about 1-1/2 tablespoons of egg filling.
    • Top with crumbled goat cheese.
  • Bake the quiches for about 15-20 minutes or until the eggs are set and the goat cheese is a little gooey.

These were delicious right out of the oven the night before the shower (yes, Micah and I had to sample one!), but they were also yummy at the shower the next afternoon (where they were served at room temperature), and reheated later in the week (because we were lucky enough to have leftovers).

To sum up: we enjoyed delicious food, a gorgeous day, and a celebration of love with two of my very favorite people.

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quick lunch – 5.29.12 – kimchi fried rice

As soon as I saw the recipe for Kimchi Fried Rice on coolcookstyle, I knew Micah would love it.

Not only is Micah borderline obsessed with kimchi (Korean spicy fermented cabbage), but also, any food description that includes the word “fried” sets his salivary glands a-squirtin’.

Plus, this dish includes one of Micah’s other very favorite foods: hot dogs.

So on Tuesday, when I spied one last lonely frankfurter in the fridge, then spotted a container of kimchi from Fook’s, I knew it was time to try this recipe out.

Of course, I couldn’t follow the instructions exactly because I was missing some ingredients and had the wrong amounts of several others. So, as usual, I improvised.

The first obstacle I had to overcome was not having (or ever having heard of) gochujang, a spicy, fermented chili-and-soybean paste.

I searched Google for alternatives and found a recipe for making your own gochujang substitute, which of course I also modified based on what I had in the pantry and my lazy desire NOT to mince three cloves of garlic.

The gochujang substitute recipe, with my own additional substitutions indicated:

  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 3 tablespoons finely ground red chile pepper sriracha chili garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine tawny port (the only cooking wine I had in the house)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

The resulting mixture was less of a paste and more of a thick sauce, and I have no idea if it tasted anything like it was supposed to, but it was pungent and spicy and garlicky and salty, so it at least captured a pretty accurate flavor profile. 🙂

Once I had some semblance of gochujang, it was time to get cooking!

Here’s the lunch Micah eventually came home to:

please forgive the slightly withered cilantro….
(fresh would’ve been better, but this was what I had to work with)

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil, divided
  • 1 large hot dog, cut longways and then sliced into half-moons
  • 2 cups cooked rice (mine was not a day old as suggested, so when I cooked it, I used less water than usual to keep it a bit dry)
  • 3/4 cup kimchi, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang or gochujang substitute
  • soy sauce to taste (which is what I used instead of salt to season at the end)
  • 2 eggs
  • cilantro (mine was accidentally dried after too long in the fridge–oops!)

Step-by-step:

  • Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Add the hot dogs and cook until lightly browned around the edges.
  • Add the rice, spreading it evenly over the hot dogs, and drizzle it with the rest of the sesame oil. Cook undisturbed for a minute or two.
  • Stir in the kimchi and gochujang (or subsitute). Spread the rice mixture out evenly over the bottom of the pan again, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook undisturbed for 3-4 more minutes or until the rice on the bottom starts to brown and crisp a little.
  • Season to taste with soy sauce.
  • Divide the mixture between two bowls and stick ’em in a low oven or the microwave to stay warm.
  • Return your pan to the stove, adding a little oil or cooking spray if you’d like. Crack the eggs into the skillet. (The original recipe recommended using a separate pan for the eggs, but I didn’t feel like washing two pans, so I didn’t.)
  • Cook the eggs until they reach your preferred level of doneness. (We prefer ours runny-sunny-side-up.)
  • Top each bowl with an egg, then sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.

Micah and I both really enjoyed this lunch. The rice had just the right amount of bite to it, and the flavors were pungent and spicy and tangy. That hot dog gave things a meaty, savory punch, and it also worked with the egg to make this hearty enough to stand alone as a one-dish meal.

Like this recipe? Go visit coolcookstyle for more delicious inspiration! That gal really knows what she’s doing. 🙂

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supper tonight – 5.28.12 – grilled goodies with my dad

One of my fondest childhood memories?

Grilling out with my dad.

When my brother Dave and I were little, we’d play on the swingset or scamper through the sprinkler or clumsily fling frisbees under our backyard pine trees while Dad worked magic on the grill. A meaty, smoky haze surrounded him as he cooked. Beef patties, flawlessly formed in my dad’s hands earlier in the day, would sear on the grill’s metal grates to charcoal-fired perfection. Bite after juicy bite, those burgers brought joy to our taste buds, our bellies, our hearts.

During our teen years, we spent many summer weekends with Dad, tromping through forested mountain trails at campsites in the wilds of North Carolina or Tennessee.

These camp-ins were big events for Volkswagen enthusiasts, who would pilot their Beetles and Buses up the winding mountain roads to compare pop-up campers, show off restored Karmann Ghias, troubleshoot engine problems….and (mostly) sit around campfires roasting marshmallows, drinking beer (or sometimes moonshine), strumming guitars, and beating bongos. My dad doesn’t really go to these events anymore, but now he’s made a career out of working on his favorite cars, so I think it’s worked out okay for him. 🙂

These summer weekends always included a feast of grilled foods: burgers and hot dogs, chicken and steaks, summer squash and corn on the cob. Even breakfast, because there were always cast-iron skillets around, just right for crisping up bacon or scrambling eggs over a fire.

When we weren’t camping with the VW hippies, we soaked up sunshine on the red-clay shores of Lake Hartwell, where the scents of sweat and sunscreen mingled with the delicious, smoky smell of whatever Dad had decided to grill that day.

Now that Dave and I are grown and Dad lives alone, he doesn’t fire up the charcoal as often as he used to.

But, just like riding a bicycle, grilling sticks with you.

On Memorial Day, Micah and I wrapped up a lovely long weekend with friends in Asheville by stopping at Dad’s for dinner.

And what a dinner it was.

Kebabs of shrimp, barbecue-marinated steak, and fresh mushrooms were cooked to moist, tender perfection on Dad’s new grill, while the skewered bell peppers retained just a bit of juicy crunch. A package of sweet Hawaiian rolls warmed nicely on the top grill rack, and our meal was rounded out by a rainbow of cool, crisp fresh veggies with dip.

pretty AND delicious!

Another childhood favorite–Drumstick sundae cones–made for a fittingly nostalgic dessert.

Not all dads cook, but I sure am glad mine does.

Of course, as much as we enjoyed the food Monday night, the company was infinitely better. 🙂

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muffins for….uh, Thursday – 5.24.12 – Lilly’s strawberry nectarine

Who’s Lilly, you ask?

My smart, silly, beautiful six-year-old niece!

Lilly and I have a lot in common. We both love to read. We both love school. We’re both, well, not super coordinated. And we both like to cook!

So when my brother Dave asked if Lilly could hang out with me this morning for a couple of hours, of course that was fine by me.

For most of Lilly’s visit, I was a pretty boring hostess. I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. I washed, dried, and folded two loads of clothes. I scooped out the litter box.

Lilly had more fun. She decorated a bookmark with scented markers (which I didn’t even know I had!), and she read a few chapters of Charlotte’s Web (one of my very favorite children’s books), and she snuck up on me a few times while I was working and yelled, “Boo!” This was funny while I was folding clothes. Less funny when I was hand-washing our three sharpest knives–but I didn’t get cut, so I guess it’s okay. 🙂

Anyway, the other thing I needed to get done today involved nectarines. Three pretty little nectarines from Daily Grocery that I saw the other day and couldn’t pass up. Three not-as-pretty little nectarines once they sat in the fridge for a week. (Yes, they got a little mushy, just like my bananas and pears seem to do most of the time.)

I showed Lilly the wrinkly nectarines. “These aren’t really good for snacking on anymore, but they’ll be great if we smoosh them up and put them in some muffins. Wanna help?”

Of course she did!

Once I cut the mushy fruit away from the pits, it was Lilly’s job to press the button on the food processor to whir those faded beauties (peel and all) into a red-flecked golden puree. Standing on a step-stool, of course.

“Can we have strawberries, too?” she asked.

So I cut up some strawberries while Lilly cracked two eggs into the fruit, then stirred it all up with some Greek yogurt.

While Lilly worked the wet ingredients (singing “Muffins, muffins, muffins” the whole time), I measured most of the dry stuff. Lilly did the salt, baking soda, and baking powder. (Her Granny, my mom, has taught her well–she knows to scoop with the measuring spoon, then level it off before adding it to the bowl.)

One of Lilly’s charming quirks is that she wants to taste everything, even stuff you wouldn’t think a kid would like. I’ve seen her grind fresh black pepper into her palm and lick it up, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon directly onto her tongue, eat a piece of raw lemon (including the rind), and now–lick baking powder straight from a measuring spoon.

“It tastes salty,” she informed me.

“I’ll bet!” I said.

Lilly mixed all of the dry ingredients, dumped them into the bowl of wet ingredients, added the strawberries, then stirred it all together. (I helped with this because the batter was pretty thick.)

I started to let Lilly spoon the batter into the muffin tin, but since it was almost time for her dad to pick her up, I asked her if she would mind my doing it instead. (“That way, they’ll be ready before you leave!”) She agreed that this would be the best course of action. 🙂

The finished muffins were too hot for Lilly to eat one before she left, but I did send a few home with her so she could have one after it cooled.

I ate one just a few minutes ago, and it was fabulous.

of course I couldn’t resist brightening up the picture with a few of
the fresh strawberries (from a little farm stand near Anderson, SC)

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 ounces raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2-3 nectarines, pureed (with the peel is fine)
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • about 3/4 cup diced fresh strawberries

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready. (“Now you’ve got to use the non-stick spray,” Lilly told me. I showed her my rubbery red silicone muffin pan and told her it didn’t need any. “What if it was made of tin?” she asked. “Well,” I said, “then I guess I’d need some non-stick spray.”)
  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, sunflower seeds, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Let your niece lick the measuring spoon if she really wants to. 🙂
  • In a larger bowl, stir together the pureed nectarines, yogurt, and eggs.
  • Add the dry ingredients and strawberries to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Don’t forget to take turns!
  • Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, then bake for about 20 minutes. Visit the oven every few minutes to peek through the window and see how your muffins are doing. Comment on how good they smell!
  • Remove the muffins to a rack to cool.
  • Make sure you share these sweet treats with someone you really love. ♥

 

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guest photo: Micah’s Paula Deen-inspired burger

Okay, so Paula Deen makes a burger topped with bacon and a fried egg, then sandwiched between Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Except for meatloaf, I tend to avoid Paula Deen’s recipes since they’re often outrageously unhealthy (aforementioned burger included).

But my best friend Jessica got married over the weekend, and instead of hiring caterers for a traditional reception, she got her brand new hubby Brent to grill us all burgers and hot dogs. Besides the usual ketchup, mustard, and pickles, we also had a batch of my pimiento cheese to slather on our burgers (Jessica’s special request). Once you throw in beer, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookie cake…well, it was a delicious and fun post-wedding feast!

Here’s where it get’s weird.

See, we’d gotten a few dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast (also the bride’s request!), and there were a few left over.

So my ever-experimenting husband decided he wanted to use one as a hamburger bun. Micah sliced that doughnut in half (rather than using two whole doughnuts–probably a good call), and Brent obligingly added it to his stack of stuff to char.

But since we had no bacon and eggs in the cabin, Micah topped his burger patty with pimiento cheese (gooey), slivers of cut-up grilled hot dog (smoky), and dill pickle chips (crunchy).

And then he snapped this photo:

creepy mutant burger....

You’re probably thinking, “Hmm….not sure that’s the best idea…?”

Or, if you’re a parent who’s used to your kids putting together weird stuff and then turning up their little noses, you might be thinking, “You made it, now you gotta eat it.”

Or, if you’re a frequent viewer of Man Vs. Food, you might be thinking, “Food won.”

You’re probably not thinking, “Damn! That looks tasty!”

With good reason.

Micah ate the whole thing. Not because he liked it, but because he didn’t want to waste it. He said he wouldn’t make a burger like this again.

I tried a bite, and honestly, although the hot dog and pimiento cheese were strange additions, it was definitely the Krispy Kreme doughnut that transformed this strange concoction into a kind of gross one.

Experiment complete. Lesson learned.

(At least until the next time Micah’s confronted with burgers and a buffet of unlikely toppings. :))

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Jessica’s Bridal Shower!

My beautiful best friend, Jessica, and her man, Brent.

My mom says I’m the only person she knows who would blindly try out new recipes for my best friend’s bridal shower.

Mom also said I was the only person she knew who would attack her own wedding dress with scissors and a needle to make last-minute adjustments the week before the big day.

Apparently, I’ve got a thing for high-stakes wedding roulette. And the odds, so far, have been ever in my favor, as both my dress and the food for Jessica’s shower turned out pretty darn good.

My goal in altering my wedding dress was to pare down the extravagance. Originally, the gorgeous gown had boasted a glamorous, but cumbersome, cathedral train. Our wedding was much too informal for this fanciness, so I gathered up the dress and gauzy overlay, snipped off a boatload of extra fabric, and created my own permanent bustle to make the train a short sweep instead.

Not perfectly professional-looking, but pretty (and much easier to dance in).

Planning the food for Jessica was kind of the same. Her one request for the shower (not to mention for the wedding in the mountains this weekend) was a batch of my pimiento cheese, which she loves, so of course I had to oblige. 🙂

And once I knew I was making that Southern staple, the tone was set for the rest of the menu. My goal was to serve the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a rural Georgia wedding shower, but with some unexpected twists here and there. I didn’t want to be snooty or pretentious, so I tried to keep it simple.

The shower spread, in my lovely mother's lovely kitchen.

The menu:

* * * * *

French onion dip from scratch? But everyone knows that French onion dip is made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s soup mix!

The thing is, I don’t keep either of those things around my house…and I kind of wanted to tackle the challenge of creating this processed potluck party item using real ingredients. A web search provided several recipes to use as models, and my finished dip most closely followed this one from The Craving Chronicles.

Check out my mom's fancy-schmancy chip bowl! And my cute labels.

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (I used one yellow and one red)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and salt, and cook until the onions are nice and golden brown.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  • Allow the onion mixture to cool.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the Greek yogurt and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (I think keeping mine in the fridge overnight really helped the flavors mesh!)
  • Serve with some thick, ridged potato chips (perfect for picking up chunky dip without breaking).
  • Yield: about 2-1/2 to 3 cups

The verdict: Wow! I enjoy the sour cream + powdered Lipton variety, too, and this wasn’t quite the same (as at least one of Jessica’s family members pointed out), but the flavor was rich, salty, creamy, and tangy, just as I hoped it would be.

* * * * *

Another made-from-a-mix store-bought staple is the sausage ball, traditionally made with breakfast sausage, Bisquik, and cheese. I had some yummy, spicy sausage in the freezer from Moonshine Meats, but Bisquik is another convenience item that I’m too stubborn to keep around. You can make your own Bisquik, but I ran out of flour after making the biscuits and the cake (recipes coming up shortly!). So, I decided to basically follow this recipe, but substitute cornmeal for the flour.

Sausage balls!

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter or bacon/sausage grease (I had leftover sausage grease in the fridge, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
  • 4 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
  • Whisk together the cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • Use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to incorporate the butter/grease until your mixture looks coarse and kind of crumbly.
  • Mix in the sausage and shredded cheddar. (You’ll probably need to use your fingers!)
  • Pull off 1″ round balls of dough, roll between your palms, and place on the baking pan in a single layer.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until your sausage balls are nicely browned.
  • Yield: about 4 dozen

The verdict: These were super spicy, but delicious! I didn’t miss the Bisquik flavor at all and got a lot of compliments, especially from my mom and Jessica’s Granny Cilla. (And if Granny Cilla’s happy, everyone’s happy! :)) You could easily cut down the spice by using mild or medium sausage instead of hot.

Bonus: Using cornmeal instead of flour made these almost taste like a hush puppy, one of my very favorite Southern sides.

* * * * *

Now y’all know how much I love biscuits, right? Well, I knew that regular-sized biscuits wouldn’t be the right size for a finger-food afternoon shower, but I have a cute little 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter that I thought might make perfect bite-sized mini biscuits.

Aww, look at the little baby biscuits!

And when I found a biscuit recipe on Ezra Pound Cake that also included toasted pecans, I knew I had to make them. Of course, since I don’t keep sour cream around (which seems to be a common problem in this post), I made some substitutions.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 5 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sounds a lot like the beginning of the sausage balls, huh?)
  • Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, and toasted pecans in the bowl of your food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.
  • Add the butter and process until your mixture is coarse and crumbly. (Deja vu all over again….)
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until your dough comes together.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to a 1/2″ thickness.
  • Cut out with a biscuit cutter, a lightly floured drinking glass, or, in this case, a cute little cookie cutter.
  • Arrange biscuits on your baking sheet. Sides touching if you want them soft around the edges, space between if you want crispier edges.
  • Lightly press together dough scraps to cut the rest of your biscuits out.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown.
  • Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.
  • Yield: about 3 dozen

The verdict: These little biscuits were adorable and tasty! I served them with FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) at the shower, but Micah and I discovered the next morning that the leftovers were also delicious with butter (because, let’s face it, what isn’t delicious with butter?) and with pimiento cheese.

* * * * *

Of course, a bridal shower isn’t complete without cake. And I really, truly thought about ordering a cake from one of Athens’ own excellent local bakeries. But, glutton for culinary punishment that I am, I decided I had to bake dessert from scratch instead. The recipe had four basic parts: yellow cake, strawberries, pastry cream, and whipped cream. On my way to the shower, I felt pretty confident that the cake would taste good…but I worried a lot about it falling apart. Fortunately, it managed to (mostly) stay together, at least until we cut into it.

See the spare tire around the middle? That's pastry cream and strawberries, just waiting to burst out the seams. A delicious disaster!

For the cake: I followed Crummb’s recipe for The Ultimate Butter Cake, which I doubled to make two 9-inch layers. I also substituted buttermilk for half of the milk in the recipe because I had some that needed using. The resulting cake was just as moist, buttery, and delicious as I hoped it would be!

For the berry filling: I washed, hulled, and sliced about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, sprinkled a little sugar on them, and let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. This got them nice and sweet and juicy.

For the pastry cream: I used a fantastic recipe from Sauce Boss, subbing extra vanilla extract for the balsamic vinegar and throwing in an extra egg yolk for added body.

For the icing: I made vanilla whipped cream by whipping 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract until it was nice and stiff.

All of the components can be made a day ahead, though you might have to re-whip your whipped cream if it sits too long, and you have to make sure you press some plastic wrap into your pastry cream or it’ll form a yucky skin on top.

To assemble:

  • Make sure all of your finished components are cold! This will keep your pastry cream and whipped cream from running too much and making a drippy mess (which would taste fine, but won’t look too pretty).
  • Start with one 9″ cake layer. Poke lots of holes in it with a fork or skewer. Why? You’ll see…
  • Pipe a ring of pastry cream around the edge of the cake. This will help keep your strawberries from sliding out.
  • Add a generous layer of the macerated strawberries, reserving a few for decorating the top of the cake. Pour all those yummy strawberry juices over the strawberries. The holes you poked a minute ago will soak up all this deliciousness quite nicely.
  • Top the strawberries with a layer of pastry cream.
  • Add your other cake layer and smooth a little more pastry cream around the seam, just to help hold things in a little better.
  • Frost the cake with the whipped cream and decorate with more strawberries.
  • Yield: one very tall, gooey, delicious cake!

The verdict: this cake took a lot of steps, but the finished product was both beautiful and tasty! The combination of the buttery cake, rich pastry cream, sweet strawberries, and fluffy whipped cream was pretty much perfect. The only downside was that once I started cutting the cake, it pretty well fell apart, mostly because my middle layer was too thick and slippery. If When I make this cake again, I might split each layer into two (for a total of four layers) so that I can fill it with several thin layers of pastry cream and strawberries instead of one thick one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing!

* * * * *

Jessica has been my best friend since 5th grade–it’ll be 21 years in August!–and I love her dearly. She was the maid of honor at my wedding back in 2009…

Eric, me, Micah, and Jessica
July 18, 2009

…and I feel so fortunate to be matron of honor at her wedding in just a few days!

Just like with my last-minute alterations, the menu I made for Jessica’s shower wasn’t quite perfect, and if I could do it over again, I might make a few minor changes. But while my cooking is far from professional, with plenty of technical imperfections, the most important thing to me was to pour my heart into making delicious food for someone I love.

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

whoa, thanks!

Assia’s Kaleidoscope is one of my favorite blogs, and one of the first I started following when I entered the blogosphere back in March. This gal makes beautiful baked goods, scrumptious-looking savory dishes, and the prettiest Easter eggs I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but her photos are simply gorgeous. Visit her blog and I guarantee you’ll be impressed. It’s the kind of blog I hope this one might become, one day when I’m better at both cooking and photography. 🙂

So, I’m both honored and flattered that Assia nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award!

It’s surely not deserved, but I’ll accept it humbly and say thanks to Assia.

(Thanks, Assia!)

Now, there are three parts of accepting this award: thanking and linking to the nominating blogger (done), sharing seven interesting things about myself, and nominating seven more blogs for the award. So, here goes!

Seven things about me:

  1. I’ve been to Europe and South America, but never to the west coast.
  2. I have two cats. Both fluffy. One ginormous ginger named Cheesepuff, and one tiny tabby named Magellan.
  3. Micah and I got married at one of our favorite restaurants in Athens, Farm 255.
  4. We plan our vacations around where we want to eat.
  5. I can’t ride a bicycle. Seriously. (I own one, though, and Micah keeps saying he’ll teach me!)
  6. My mom is an undefeated (6-0) amateur kickboxer.
  7. I’m kind of a slob, a terrible driver, and habitually late for most things (but have lately been improving on all fronts).

Seven blogs I’d like to nominate:

  1. Sauce Boss – a self-proclaimed “Culinary Dark Genius”–need I say more? (an amazing pastry cream recipe, too!)
  2. Boozed + Infused – infusing booze with carrots? oatmeal? mushrooms? fascinating!
  3. Memoirs of an Amateur Chef – lots of great recipes, and she grows her own mushrooms! (could they go in Boozed + Infused’s vodka…?)
  4. Throve – makes beautiful juices, and shares my love of fruits, veggies, global flavors, and kitty cats 🙂
  5. Life, in recipes – read the latest post, The Return of the Prodigal Blogger, and you’ll love her, too
  6. Growandcook – someone who shares my taste in food and my sense of humor
  7. The Ranting Chef – great recipes, fun guest posts, and product reviews

I was planning to end this post here, but then…

Throve nominated me for a 7×7 Link Award!

I feel honored and flattered to be getting all this attention. I hope I can live up to the hype. 🙂 Thank you, Throve, for so kindly thinking of me!

For this award, my job is to thank and link to the nominating blogger (yep), list seven random facts about myself, list seven of my posts in the seven different categories (see below), and nominate seven more bloggers. So, let the lists of seven items continue!

Seven (more) random facts about me:

  1. I used to have a bad clothes shopping habit. Now, I have a bad borrowing-too-many-books-from-the-public-library-at-once-and-not-having-time-to-read-them-all habit. (And I haven’t bought a single brand new clothing item since December, unless you count bridesmaid dresses.)
  2. I do not have, and have never had, any wisdom teeth. Does this make me a freak of nature or more highly evolved…?
  3. I can wiggle my pinkie toe independently of my other toes. A guy in high school called me an ape for this.
  4. Foods I dislike: mayonnaise, raw onions, raw mushrooms, coleslaw (unless it’s made with vinegar instead of mayo)
  5. Foods I love: chocolate hazelnut spread, cheese, good pizza, more cheese, handmade pasta, and cheese
  6. I like board games, but I really, really suck at video games.
  7. I once baked a pie on Georgia Public Television.

Seven posts in seven different categories:

  1. Most beautifulbacon, mushrooms, and asparagus (with an egg)
  2. Most surprisingly successfula series of unfortunate events (long night, long post…)
  3. Most controversial – I got a lot of flack from my flesh-and-blood friends and family about the not too offal post 🙂
  4. Most pride-worthy – an Ethiopian feast!
  5. Most underrated – the beef stew we made the other night – so yummy, but not very popular with the clickers…
  6. Most helpful – my first whole wheat oatmeal muffins post–you can put anything in these and they’ll be good!
  7. Most popular – it’s a tie between Paula Deen married Alton Brown and they made a meatloaf baby and not my Mammaw’s pimiento cheese

Seven more nominations:

  1. Frozen Moments – amazing recipes, plus breathtaking photos of Alaska!
  2. The Postmodern Housepartner – someone who shares my love of avocados, asparagus, and deviled eggs
  3. Going Dutch – visit for gorgeous tulips, an adorable little girl, and some great recipes
  4. domestic diva, M.D. – funny stories plus good, simple, yummy recipes (and Fiesta dishes like mine)
  5. glutenvygirl – great recipes whether you’re gluten free or not!
  6. Kitty’s Dolceforno – some delicious baking going on here….
  7. feed the piglet… – so many cool burgers and fritters, both meaty and meat-free

And now, for a taste of things to come….

…my best friend is getting married in 8 days!

Jessica and I have been friends since 5th grade (it’ll be 21 years in August), she was maid of honor at my wedding, and now I’m matron of honor in hers. We’re looking forward to traveling to a cabin in the mountains for a small, intimate ceremony on the 28th, but before that….her bridal shower is Saturday (tomorrow!), and since I love this gal so much, I’ve been cooking up all sorts of Southern delicacies for her and her guests. What tasty morsels are in store? Stay tuned for a full report this weekend. 🙂

Congrats to Jessica and Brent!

Categories: links, people, recipes | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

Liebster!

So, I’m new at this whole blogging thing, and I didn’t know until recently that one of the cool things bloggers like to do is nominate other bloggers for awesome awards. And I just got picked for a Liebster Award by the Ranting Chef (whose blog rocks the socks off of this one, let me tell you!).

Thank you, Ranting Chef! Your blog is only one of my favorites, so let me nominate some more:

  1. coolcookstyle: everything this woman cooks makes me want to lick my computer screen
  2. FrugalFeeding: because this guy has simple, delicious food down to an art form
  3. trialsinfood: beautiful blog, and she even makes her own chocolates!
  4. Assia’s Kaleidoscope: Assia shares my love of fruits and veggies, and her photography is gorgeous
  5. Snotting black: great food + great pictures + funny as hell

It was hard to just choose five, but if you like my blog, you’ll surely like all of these even more. 🙂

Categories: links, people | Tags: , | 7 Comments

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