Saturday, June 25, 2011

Did You Know?

I just spent about ten minutes at QFC looking at pickles and relish, and I walked away not only empty handed, but also baffled and perturbed. Not ONE jar/brand of pickles was without high fructose corn syrup AND/OR yellow #5 and other chemically derived flavors and colors.
Why are we adding unnatural color to PICKLED CUCUMBERS? What is the need to add high fructose corn syrup to EVERYTHING?
Eric and I have made it a rule that nothing lands in our shopping cart if it contains high fructose corn syrup. It has become a habit to look at the ingredients of everything before we buy it; we heard someone say once, "if it contains an ingredient you have never heard of or can't pronounce, you probably shouldn't be eating it." I agree this a fabulous rule of thumb for trying to eat natural, healthy foods that haven't been processed or concocted by a chemist in a laboratory. I am definitely going to try making my own pickles at some point. Emeril (who has yet to let me down) has a tasty recipe on that I might try: Emeril's Homemade Sweet & Spicy Pickles.

Anyway, I had an absolutely atrocious day of work and stopped by the library to pick up a new book and the grocery store to spoil myself with food. I had an avocado and onion waiting for me at home, so my first instincts were to get the rest of the items for the makings of guacamole and pico de gallo. I picked those up, as well as an loaf of olive bread, stuffed olives, goat cheese...need I say more? After I got home and put the groceries away, I got out my knife and cutting board and sliced the avocado in half, only to find it completely rotten. And there goes my guacamole.
Oh well. I whipped up some beautiful pico de gallo, opened a new bag of Food Should Taste Good Jalapeno Chips, and scooped a heaping bite onto one of those triangular morsels. I about died afterward of burning tongue and mouth syndrome. I made my pico waaaayyyy too spicy, again.
It's just one of those days.
Damn it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcakes

When I was in third grade, my parents announced to my brother and I that we were moving for the first time. I don't remember this news being very tragic to me at the time; although when it comes to my younger years my memory is a bit blurry. Sioux Falls, South Dakota would become our new home for only about 18 short months. If it weren't for the extreme weather, I'd say Sioux Falls truly had it going on: great neighbors, amazing friends, community swimming pool, bike paths, and most importantly, an epic big blue house.

Justin and I had our own unique rooms, with different colored carpet, built in cabinetry with space for a television, window seats, etc. Our bathroom was big and had TWO sinks, so we didn't have to share; we were in heaven. We were thrilled about all of us, but I can honestly say we were probably most excited over the laundry shoot. I don't know why a nine and ten year old thought a laundry shoot was so enthralling, but we truly did find it fantastic!
While the inside of the house was something to write home about, the backyard looked like something out of a Better Homes & Gardens magazine: a patio, flowers upon flowers upon flowers, trees, a huge open grassy area, and a cute little garden. What more could you ask for, really?
If my memory serves me correctly, the two vegetables we yielded the most from were green beans (of course I would remember those) and rhubarb. This is where my love and appreciation for rhubarb all started. Mom would use it from the garden and make strawberry rhubarb pies, and still to this day that it my favorite kind of pie.
After eating Cupcake Royale's cupcake of the month, I felt inspired to use rhubarb, and knew I could find it local and organic at the Ballard Farmer's market. Low and behold, I found some amazing looking "strawberry rhubarb" and I also bought a pint of fresh strawberries then went to work to find the perfect recipe.

I decided on a Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcake recipe from Bon Appetit, which consists of baking homemade sweet biscuits and a strawberry rhubarb compote. I also bought whipping cream and whipped it up myself, sweetening it using pure vanilla extract for topping.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcakes:

4 cups 3/4-inch-thick slices fresh rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
1 teaspoon minced orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1-pint basket strawberries, hulled, thickly sliced

Combine first 5 ingredients in heavy large saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until rhubarb is tender but some pieces remain intact, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add allspice. Cool completely. Stir in strawberries. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or overnight.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons minced orange peel (orange part only)
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons chilled whipping cream

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter and cut in using pastry blender or rub with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons cream and stir until dough comes together.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 6 turns. Flatten dough to 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut out rounds using 2 3/4-inch-diameter plain or scalloped cookie cutter. Gather dough scraps and shape into 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut out additional dough rounds.

Transfer rounds to heavy large ungreased baking sheet. Bake until biscuits are puffed and golden, about 23 minutes. Transfer biscuits to rack and cool slightly.

I cut the biscuits in half and warmed them in the microwave for 25 seconds, then spooned the cold compote on top and a dollop of whipped cream.
This truly is an incredible dessert.

PS. Please resist the urge right now to laugh/judge/scoff at my "whipped" cream. I know it looks pathetic, but this was after it sat a day in my fridge AND I only whipped for like 5 hours BY HAND in the first place. Sheesh.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes

I love reading books that evoke true emotion; I love a book that's so funny I laugh out loud, so endearing that I smile, so intense that I lose track of everything that is going on around me, or so powerful and inspiring that I want to get up right then and there and make a change.
This past week I finished reading The Help, a book that takes place in 1960's Jackson Mississippi. The story is narrated by the three principal characters, two black maids and a young white woman who is genuinely concerned about the plight of the maids working for every white family in town, including her own. It was one of those books that I was torn between not wanting to put down, and not wanting to end. It was funny, endearing, sad and powerful. But it was inspiring in a different way; after finishing it I wanted to get up right then and there and cook a southern-style meal. Throughout the book the maids talk of mouth-watering soul food: caramel cakes, grits, pork chops, butter beans and fried green tomatoes. Southern cuisine is just so comforting and hearty, you can't help but feel warm when eating it, or even just reading and thinking about it.
I have been dying to try fried green tomatoes. Finishing The Help, and just having made grandma's potato salad called for a southern celebration!
On the menu: Fried Green Tomatoes, Potato Salad and Sweet Tea.
Unfortunately, the first and probably the biggest misstep was not being able to find green, or unripe, tomatoes. We searched three different grocery stores to no avail. Not wanting to give up on the main entree, we decided to buy the hardest red beefsteak tomatoes we could find. Between that problem, and the stone-ground cornmeal that was far too course and crunchy, the tomatoes just did not turn out. However, our southern-themed night was too much fun to not remember. It's also a good reminder that not all my recipes will be perfect the first time around!

We soaked the tomatoes in buttermilk, then dredged them in a cornmeal, flour, seasoning mixture.

All loaded up and frying in vegetable oil over the stove.

Fried up to a crispy, golden brown!

I will definitely be on the lookout for true green tomatoes and a better recipe. And so it goes - the wait continues until I sink my teeth into this truly soulful southern delicacy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grandma's Potato Salad

I love hearing stories from dad and mom about what their parents would cook and what they would eat as families. From these stories, I can picture in my head the vast array of produce dad has told me his family used to grow, and I can imagine him sitting at the dinner table demolishing a half dozen or so ears of corn, like he sometimes likes to talk about. I can picture mom at the dinner table eating bizarre things like frog legs, and squirrel and other unconventional game. Yuuuuum, she says, as I would cringe with uncertainty.
I relish the idea of passing down a family recipe through generations; an uncustomary heirloom. I think because I never had the opportunity of knowing any of my grandparents, taking a recipe and creating a dish I know they used to prepare in their own kitchens and eat at their tables, makes me feel connected to them. How special that food is able to create a bond between two people who have never even met.
Growing up, grandma McCoy's potato salad was either the first or one of the first potato salads I had ever tasted. All my life, when mom would make her own potato salad, she would make grandma's. I remember always liking it, but sometimes I would have a problem with the onions in it. Even though mom always chopped them up nice and fine, for awhile there, I would ask her to make a small batch without onions. Now that I'm older and have a more refined palate, I understand what the onion brings to the salad, and never again will they be omitted.
Grandma's potato salad is simple and addicting. Besides the "secret" ingredient, the binding is mostly Miracle Whip. I've come to realize that people either love the stuff, or absolutely detest it. I grew up on Miracle Whip, as I'm sure mom did, since that's what grandma used. I remember eating (and loving) bologna and Miracle Whip sandwiches. (What was wrong with me?!) Even if someone is one of those MW haters, I don't think they'd be able to deny grannie's salad.

Grandma's Potato Salad:
(measurements are approximate - this is for a smaller batch)

6 medium russet potatoes
5 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped sweet onion
Approx. 1 cup Miracle Whip
Approx. 1/3 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
Top with Paprika

Start by peeling potatoes and boiling until soft and hard boiling the eggs. Let potatoes and eggs cool, then chop and put into medium mixing bowl. Add onion, mayonaise, sour cream, and salt and mix until combined. Sprinkle with paprika.

Eat by the heaping spoonful, and enjoy every last morsel of it.

THIS ONE'S FOR YOU, GRANDMA! (I know you're watching me somewhere, and smiling)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ballard stole my heart

I love Ballard for many, many reasons, but one of the main reasons this old Scandinavian fishing town stole my heart is the food. Plain and simple.
It seems as if the entire community is in agreement that there needs to be a food revolution in our country, and this massive movement is already well underway, and thriving here. Whether it's community kitchens and gardens, a booming local/organic farmers market, restaurant rooftop and backyard gardens, local beekeeping/honey making, name it, Ballard has it! I am so unbelievably fortunate to be a part of all it. I am constantly discovering and on the lookout for new restaurants, stores and activities weekly; at times its hard to keep up! Thus, it's safe to say I will be blogging about Ballard continually.
One of the very first places I spotted upon moving here was a cute cafe called Verite Coffee/Cupcake Royale. As if a cafe selling endless amazingly delicious-sounding cupcakes wasn't enough(Salted Caramel! Lemon Drop! Lavender!), what drew me in even more was the fact that these are "cupcakes with a conscience!" The flour comes from local Shepherds Grain no-till co-op, fruit from local farmers, local eggs, hormone free milk and butter from Medowsweet Dairy, AND organic sugar! AAAAAND each month they come out with a new flavor made with local, seasonal ingredients. SOLD!
Today is June 1, and I just walked down to get the new cupcake of the month: RASPBERRY RHUBARB! A 'tart n sweet' combination made with rhubarb cake and and raspberry cream cheese frosting.
Now that's what I call a cupcake! Raspberry? Rhubarb? Cream cheese? Why, those are three of my favorite things. Thank you Jesus!
Excuse me while I go stuff my face with a piece of heaven...

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