Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Morning glory indeed.

I planted my first garden (well, first without my mother and her green thumb's help) this spring. I was worried when I had to leave it for two weeks and I did have a few casualties: sage, basil, chives, cilantro... we barely knew ye. However, my morning glories and moonflowers thrived in my absence and had even reached the top of the trellis when we returned!

Recently, when I took the puppy on her morning romp in the backyard I found the most wonderful surprise: the first morning glory blossom! More have followed and, although I missed a few while out of town for a very good friend's wedding, I can see from the buds that I will be enjoying these for some time to come.

Inspired by their beauty, I created an Etsy treasury of items:

Click on the image to get inspired to grow some morning glories of your own or add a little of their gorgeous color to your life!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The humble BLT.

I love BLTs. My Dad made them for us all summer long when we were kids and my brother and I would try to outdo one another with towering, Dagwood-size sandwiches. It's all been said before, but the salty bacon, sweet tomato, cool lettuce, creamy mayonnaise, and crunchy toast are an absolutely delicious combination that bring me back to childhood.

That being said, I don't actually make this classic sandwich all that often. I guess other things tempt me and I lose track of time. Before I know it, the delicious summer tomatoes are gone and the pallid, rock-hard specimens that fill grocery stores the rest of the year are back. Those tomatoes don't exactly inspire me to make a sandwich that largely relies on tomato flavor.

However, I was moved to make myself a BLT this week after reading the editor's letter in the new issue of Bon Appetit. I'll first admit that although I read many food magazines I almost never read the editor's letter. It has to really grab me for me to stop flipping through the ads, searching for content. "Best. Sandwich. Ever." followed by a picture of a beautiful sandwich? I was hooked.

The next thing I want to confess is that I was a jilted Gourmet reader. Gourmet was my favorite food magazine ever. When Conde Nast suggested Bon Appetit was a suitable replacement I was not pleased. I subscribed to Bon Appetit at the time but it never really inspired me like Gourmet. However, Bon Appetit recently got a new editor and if you feel like something's been missing since the loss of Gourmet I highly recommend giving Bon Appetit a try (thought I would never say that). The writing is good, the stories are interesting, the pictures are beautiful (more about the food, less about the food sculptures and landscapes of yore), it's a truly inspiring publication. Have you seen the August cover? That pie had me swooning the moment I laid eyes on it.

Just trust me. Before the summer's over, get a ripe tomato, some crisp lettuce, and a great bread and make this sandwich. I'll even give you directions: 1.) Lightly toast 2 pieces of artisan bread, 2.) fry up a few slices of bacon, 3.) spread mayonnaise on the bread and place the bacon, sliced tomato, and lettuce on top, 4.) enjoy thoroughly.

I added some salt and pepper plus a few basil leaves from my garden because I love basil and it looked gorgeous but that's not necessary and definitely not authentic.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A late summer breakfast treat.

Lately, the grocery store has had a steady supply of blueberries. Blueberries are a fantastic late summer fruit (or early summer, if you live farther south) and I love them. Although lately branded a "super fruit" for their nutritional value, their versatility in cooking cannot be denied. From pies and pancakes to muffins, sauces, salads, etc. picking up a couple of containers this time of year when their fresh and inexpensive is never a bad idea.

I found myself with a few containers this week and when I stumbled across a recipe for blueberry cornbread muffins I knew they had to be made. Although we both love muffins, Jared is quite fond of cornbread and with all of my birthday and holiday baking I often overlook making him this favorite treat. However, this recipe had a few problems: 1. It called for pastry rings and making 6 gigantic muffins 2. it did not include salt. The pastry rings, I simply don't have but the salt? Whether you prefer your cornbread from North or South of the Mason-Dixon line, it needs at least a little salt.

These muffins are delicious for breakfast or an afternoon snack. They aren't a dainty, cakey muffin but they are far from dense. Serve them with a cup of coffee or a tall glass of cold milk.

Blueberry Corn Muffins
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Note: If you're like me and sometimes forget to soften the butter until just before you're ready to bake, just put the cold butter in a large zip-lock bag or between 2 big sheets of parchment paper and pound it with your rolling pin until softened. This should take just a few minutes, which is definitely faster than letting it come to room temperature.

Another note: I always sprinkle my baked goods with turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) but you can always use table sugar. Turbinado sugar is crunchier and adds a nice sparkle that I prefer.

Makes 24 muffins

1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries, washed, dried and picked through for stems

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners.

2. Place butter, sugar, and honey in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On medium-high, beat until light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating each until incorporated.

3. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. With the mixer on low, add to the butter mixture and beat until just combined. It will look shaggy for a bit, but comes together soon after. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the milk, beating until just combined. Fold in the blueberries.

4. Divide the batter evenly among 24 muffin cups; they should be almost full. Sprinkle the tops with sugar. Bake until the tops are browned and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 22-25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Let the muffins cool in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan to cool completely on the rack.

To store, place the muffins in a container with a tight-fitting lid.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An ode to Holland.

First, I must confess: I have never been to the Netherlands. I love tulips, chocolate, and good cheese and yet I have never been to the country known for these things. Further, our good friend, M, came all the way from Holland for our wedding. Obviously, we need to make the trip.

In the meantime, we are so blessed to have a friend who spoils us with treats from the land of windmills and Vermeer (not to mention Rembrandt, van Gogh, and many, many more). Above, you can see one of the first Dutch foods my friend introduced us to: the stroopwafel. Stroopwafels are the most delicious cinnamon-scented cookies with a thin layer of gooey caramel. They are fantastic with coffee, tea, or milk, and even better if you heat them slightly before consuming them to let the caramel loosen up and the cookie to soften.

However, on her most recent visit M brought us something new. In Holland, licorice candy is very popular but in the US it seems like hatred of licorice is much more common. To appeal to our American palates, M brought us coffee candies called Hopjes. They are amazing. If you see them, buy them. Their flavor is a combination of coffee and caramel; we are hooked. Jared doesn't even like coffee and he loves these!

To celebrate this wonderful place (and daydream of a future trip) I put together an Etsy treasury of all things Dutch. To view it, click on the image below.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A myriad of tastes and textures.

I bought the ingredients for this sandwich fully intending on making a pizza. However, Pizza Friday Jared had a serious fish and chips craving taking us to the Highlander (which is amazing, if you're in the area... crunchy coating, flaky fish, I could go on...) and putting pizza on the back burner.

I'm still planning on a pizza, but this panini will be hard to beat. Crunchy bread, creamy and tangy goat cheese, sweet fig preserves, and salty prosciutto. Really delicious.

I'll be the first to say that I love Alton Brown and embrace his anti-unitasker stance. My mango pitter is my knife, my quesadilla maker is a pair of cast iron skillets, and I flatten my chicken paillards with my rolling pin. However, Ina Garten mentioned in
Barefoot Contessa at Home that she also eschews unnecessary kitchen gadgetry but purchased a panini press and loves it, noting that nothing beats it for a quick dinner. When we received one as a wedding gift (that doubles as a griddle, so not totally a unitasker) we were thrilled.

Thinking about my pizza that wasn't, I decided to put the panini press to work and I was not disappointed. These ingredients are made for one another, and made to by grilled! See those dark spots on the sandwich?

That's fig prese
rves that escaped through the holes in the bread to become caramelized deliciousness. The goat cheese oozes and the prosciutto poking out on the edges gets a little crispy. It's a fantastic lunch or dinner with a little salad and a glass of rosé out on the patio.

Fig, Prosciutto, and Herbed Goat Cheese Panini
Makes 1 sandwich

Note: I love my panini press but you absolutely don't need one to make this sandwich. Instead, heat one small and one medium cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once they're hot, place the oiled sandwich on the medium skillet and place the small heated skillet on top of it, pressing down. Turn the sandwich over if the bottom is finished toasting before the top.

2 slices rustic bread
Fig preserves
Herbed goat cheese
2 slices prosciutto
Olive oil

1. Preheat your panini press to medium-high. Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of jam. You want both slices to be covered but not slathered. Next, spread each layer with the goat cheese. Again, you want a nice thin layer; I used probably 1-2 oz but you should use whatever suits your taste. Finally, layer the prosciutto onto one slice and put the other on top so all of your fillings are inside.

2. Brush both sides of the outside of your sandwich lightly with olive oil. The goal is to get enough to crisp and brown the bread but not leave it soggy or greasy. Put your sandwich on the panini grill, close the lid and press down. My sandwich took about 5 minutes to get crispy and golden, but yours could take more or less, depending on your particular press so check it after a few minutes.

3. When your sandwich is hot with pretty grill marks, cut it in half and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Regroup and Recoup

Once upon a time, I had the worst job in the world.

Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but I worked in call center for a credit card company as a bill collector. As you can imagine, my days involved a lot of rants from cardholders who couldn't make payments followed up by rants from managers because our customers weren't making payments. Delightful. The only thing that made the day bearable were my coworkers. Collectors are very funny people. I started this job when Jared and I just ended 4 years of long-distance dating by my moving to Delaware. A bachelor's degree in Psychology and years of research experience is not exactly a stunning resume outside of academia, so it was the job I could get.

Anyone who's received calls from telemarketers or bill collectors know that they always seem to call around dinner time or just when you're getting ready for work. I can assure that this is no mistake as our schedules required us to work these hours so we could call people when they would be at home. As a result, we worked really odd hours; I personally worked "split shifts" meaning 8am-1pm and 6pm-11pm Monday through Thursday. It was the only way I could get weekends off to spend with Jared (after all, I moved to spend more time with him) but it was grueling. By Thursday I was a zombie from lack of sleep and the emotionally exhausting nature of the job.

As a result, Fridays became my day to sleep in, relax, and forget about the workweek. I'd cook myself a delicious breakfast, read magazines, take long walks, and plan a couple of elaborate weekend meals to share with Jared. This recipe is something I often cooked myself when I just wanted something comforting and cozy to ease into the weekend and shake off my troubles.

You don't have to have a terrible job to enjoy this breakfast polenta. I actually really like my work now, but we all have one of those days when we just want to curl up on the couch with a warm cup of coffee and get lost in a few daydreams before facing the world. On those days, make yourself a warm bowl of vanilla, brown sugar, milk, and polenta and the day will seem better. I promise.

Breakfast Polenta
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Note: I divided Joy's recipe in half, since I originally starting making it on my Friday mornings off, which is why some of the measurements are a bit weird. However, this polenta doesn't require extreme precision; I put in 3 pinches of salt and just fill my 1/3 cup halfway with brown sugar. A little more, a little less, no big deal. As for the extra serving, you can share it (obviously) or you can stick it in the fridge. The next day, cut up the polenta into sticks, lightly dredge in flour and fry in hot oil. Or, put it back in the saucepan, add a little water, and stir over medium heat until it loosens up again.

Another note: This polenta is even better with just a couple of changes. Swap out the light brown sugar for dark brown sugar, and add a couple of tablespoons of cream to the milk. An absolute dream of a breakfast.

Makes 2 Servings

1/2 cup polenta
1 1/2 cups cold water, divided
1 cup milk
3/8 teaspoons salt
1/6 cup light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Mix together the polenta and 1/2 cup of cold water in a small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1 cup of water and 1 cup of milk. Bring this to a low boil and then add the salt. Slowly add the polenta and water mixture, whisking constantly to remove any lumps.

2. Turn the flame to low and cook until thickened. The amount of time really depends on the polenta you use. I like Bob's Red Mill Polenta, which takes about 7 minutes, but I have used Quaker Yellow Corn Meal in a pinch, which takes 3-4 minutes. Once it's thickened, add the sugar and vanilla.

3. Serve the polenta in a big bowl, sprinkled with more brown sugar and pour on some milk if you feel like it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On puttting the sweet in bittersweet.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of roller coasters, if that makes sense. The high points have been magnificent: love, marriage, honeymoon, piles of blueberry pancakes, miles of walks along rocky beaches, and a new puppy friend added to our little family. The lows have been awful: wedding planning stress, thesis stress, a very long semester, even more wedding planning stress, and a thesis that refuses to end. I'm actually in the process of requesting an extension from the department which is bittersweet. I really need the time, as I seem to have created a study unappealing to all participants, but I also really just to be finished so I can move on mentally and physically.

However, I do not want to dwell upon these low points. The benefit of waiting and waiting for data collection to get off the ground is I have had more afternoons at home which means more afternoons plotting new cooking adventures and cathartic baking. I've even purchased some new cookbooks and flipping through them idly in the late afternoon is a favorite pastime that leaves me feeling refreshed and fills my mind with plans for weekend picnics or leisurely Sunday mornings. During one of these afternoons I was suddenly struck by the memory of a coconut breakfast loaf I had seen in Martha Stewart Living way back when I first started cooking. I remembered bookmarking the recipe for a later date and coming across it every now and again when I was looking for something else (thereby never actually getting around to the coconut loaf). So I went searching for that recipe, knowing that now was the time to have coconut for breakfast.

The problem is, I could not find that recipe. I looked through the copies of MSL I thought it was in (you should know I have a LOT of old issues... another day for that), I searched Martha's website, and I put Google to work with no luck. I just know I'll come across it again when looking for a waffle recipe and my mind will be so set on waffles I will put the recipe aside again and forget where I saw it. This is just the nature of our relationship.

Regardless, in my search I came across a different coconut breakfast loaf recipe and decided it would satisfy my morning craving for coconut. This loaf even has pineapple, which lends some nice acidity to the quick bread.

Coconut-Pineapple Loaf Cake
Adapted from Everyday Food, June 2008

Note: while investigating this recipe, which uses a standard 9x5 pan, I noticed a lot of flat quick breads. I was really worried about this because I inherited my loaf pan from my grandmother and it’s a strange size (9 5/8 x 5 ½). However, my loaf puffed up just fine so be sure to use fresh baking soda and cream the butter and sugar properly.

Makes 1 Loaf

1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for the pan
1 ½ cups all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 20 oz can pineapple chinks in juice, drained well (I used the can, but if I did it again, I might use fresh. The flavor would be more pineappley and you’ll have more control over the size of the pineapple pieces)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 5-10 minutes. Toss occasionally to ensure even browning and check often as there’s a fine line between toasty deliciousness and burnt! Meanwhile, butter and flour a 9x5 loaf pan and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. I used my hand mixer on high, but you could use a stand mixer. Just keep an eye on it to make sure the butter and sugar are incorporated and it’s really pale and fluffy; it’s a lot of sugar and a little butter so it takes a little while. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and alternate adding the flour mixture in three parts and the sour cream in two parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined.

3. Fold the pineapple and 1 cup of the toasted coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing the top (a few gentle tops on the counter can help). Sprinkle the remaining coconut on top. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, approximately 70 minutes, covering with foil halfway through (to prevent burning the coconut). Let the cake cool for 15 minutes before turning the loaf out onto a cooling rack and allowing it to cool completely. It’s best the first day, but can be wrapped and stored for a few days. Delicious toasted, too!