You know when a song pops into your mind, a random song, and you CAN'T GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD? I mean something profoundly irritating like the Macarena song, or One Hundred Bottles of Beer and you wonder what the heck kind of vibration happened to bring that song to light?
And so it was, in the middle of dinner one night, that I couldn't STOP THINKING OF "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater!"
I'll show Peter.
In less than 40 minutes ( yes, there were #fabin40 ) I had created these delicious Pumpkin Butter Applesauce Muffins with White Chocolate Chips. A beautiful orange-golden color with the decadent pop of creamy chocolate in every bite, they elicited such a sigh of pleasure that Peter is now singing his tune somewhere else. I highly recommend this remedy.
"Let's make a list of all the life events we've experienced while being friends," one of my girl friends exclaimed during our recent Girl's Trip Reunion just outside of Chicago. And it made me think how so much of our life is marked by the moments women spend together. 27 years ago we met, and since then we've done our best to have our Girl's Weekends, even as we scattered to the four corners of the country. Although the trips have been less frequent, we still rendezvous and celebrate friendship as only women can. Now that daughters are being added to the mix, we find a deep sense of satisfaction in having nurtured each other through thick and thin.
That's why I was happy to create a farewell dinner for all of us, with the help from my friend's daughter, and excellent cook on her own.
So, while my daughter and one of our friends spent the day viewing Lakeshore Drive from the top of the Hancock building, Kaitlyn and I were busy chopping apples, slicing pears, and generally furrowing through every ingredient in the pantry as we created our meal. And did we ever have fun! Discovering a jar of Cherry Salsa, we found the sauce to be spicy and perfectly fruity. By pairing it with canned pears, maple syrup, and some sliced onions, the chicken was on its way to being famous. Then we reduced leftover fruit and sugar down into a luxurious and colorful compote to layer over blueberry scones before topping it all with whipped cream. To round out the meal, we simply took a bag of quality frozen vegetable medley, cooked and drained it, and then added an easy apple cider vinaigrette for a warm vegetable salad.
We knew we had done our jobs when, at the end of the meal they all exclaimed, "We need the recipes!"
I remember the small town carnivals that came to town when I was a child. When all the rides were assembled, the dry, dusty alfalfa field, barren that morning was, by nightfall, transformed into an other-wordly place. Glowing orbs, painted carriages that swung through the air, and the food trailers that lit up like UFO's were mesmerizing. Sure the ground was muddy, and the food was trashy but it was fantastic. And the fare included that mascot of all county fairs, the caramel apple on a stick. Although some of those apples were covered in that bright red candy, others were spared the paper skewer and presented as simply sliced up so you could dip them in cheese or marshmallow.
This is the food you eat before being inverted in a cage suspended above the crowds and twirled around at lightning speeds? YES IT IS. It was a race to a sugar coma, and we loved it.
Would you believe it if I told you there are more than 7,000 varieties of apples in the world? It's a staggering number, but a testament to the iconic fruit that America LOVES. Anything that you can consume from your palm, eat sloppily without apologizing, and when you're done feel ABSOLUTELY NO guilt for scarfing it, is a good thing. Really good. Plus, unless you're fond of seeing your Doctor a lot, (Not withstanding those of you married to a physician, we're sure you like seeing your doctor all the time,) the ol' apple promises to keep 'em away if you eat one once a day.
Now remember, I don't know how to do anything plain. I like to take something familiar and amp it up a bit. Which is why I decided to combine my love of billowy, sweet scones with apples, cheese and caramel. When I took a bite of my little squares, I expected to get a distinct snap of the apple acidity, and the familiar sharpness of the cheddar cheese. But a new creature was born and it was addictive. And then, when covered in home made caramel, well, I felt a little other-worldly myself and there wasn't a Tilt-A-Whirl in sight.
The good news is scones are super easy to make. So unless you LIKE to see your doctor and shell out a co-pay, you need to start your day with a GRANNY SMITH APPLE AND CHEDDAR CHEESE SCONE WITH HOMEMADE CARAMEL.
(As a note, the caramel sauce I made was easy and it is a nod to The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Take 1 C packed light brown sugar and put it in a saucepan with half a stick of butter or 1/4 C. Let it slowly melt. Then add 1/2 C heavy cream and a dash of salt. Cook, whisking constantly, (it will reach a boil pretty quickly) on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Take off the stove, add 1 t good vanilla extract, whisk again and let cool. The PW said to cook for 5-7 minutes but when I did that last time, I about had caramel I could wrap in plastic. Too hard. Try only 3-4 minutes for the best sauce!)
How can a dessert be an appropriate segue for this story? I see dessert as a celebration. A reward -- a sweet, beautiful, luxurious one -- for being blessed and full of enough bounty to nourish our bodies. And as I try and celebrate today and the progress I've made no matter how far away my goals seem to be, something sweet rises up as the best way to share this idea with you.
If you can make cookie dough, YOU CAN DO THIS. THEY'RE EASY -- Tiny, sweet, surprising, and oh, so elegant. Try my COOKIE BUTTER MARASCHINO CHERRY FILLED TRUFFLES! And celebrate short journeys, one step, and one perfect BITE!
There's very few things I dislike about Charlotte. The people, the weather, the energy; all are incomparable. However, I'm sad to say, being from the western US, I have been unable to locate a superbly authentic Southwest Mexican restaurant. I'm taking about the kind that make you certain you're sitting in Scottsdale, AZ, or Old Town San Diego. It's that certain taste of the corn in the tortillas, the way the lard underscores the tanginess of a good chile or cheeses that carry you away on a yellow, Mariachi studded cloud. Hmmm. That's a bit overly romantic...maybe its just the cactus growing outside the restaurant window that has me grinning underneath my sombrero? So...as a side bar, I welcome your suggestions to direct me to a place where I can find the southwest here in Charlotte. In the meantime, I enjoy making my own.
Now I don't just cook. I think of the entire meal, the plate even, as a story. I see it as a stage where the players move about in costume, dazzling us with movement, color and choreography. So when planning a Mexican burrito bar last weekend -- a "serve it yourself" carnival of Spanish cuisine --I went WILD!
The first item on my list was of course to make the BEST pork carnitas. CHIPOTLE MUSTARD SLOW COOKED PORK CARNITAS to be exact. Nothing like a slow cooker and the right spices to create the bed on which all other delectable flavors will be built upon. After that, the perfect SPANISH RICE, which must roll around in your mouth and not mush into the other flavors is key. The rice kernels must still be visible, separate, and therefore imperative to the finished dish. You have to have salsa. And since the mangoes were ripe I sliced them and tossed them with the requisite ingredients, substituting red chili flakes instead of the jalapeno for color and an interesting bite. The topping I chose was like the twirling petticoats of the Flamenco dancer as I plopped a helping of my QUICK PICKLED CORIANDER RED CABBAGE SLAW. Oh, it was so good! (Sidenote, this pickled slaw will go great with other meals such as fish, on a sandwich, tossed with other green cabbage, pineapple and cilantro...the choices are endless!)
The meal was acidic, spicy, sweet, meaty yet fresh, southwest in the southeast! Maybe I don't need to look any further than my own kitchen for any further tortilla wanderlust?
My son manages a Japanese restaurant. I'm not even sure what's on the menu because when I walk in, he simply catches my gaze, I nod, and the "mom plate," full of amazing sushi selections made just for me, magically appears. So when I have a chance to cook for my son, I try and target non-Asian, non-rice based comfort food.
Now, if your family is like mine, you have about 20 minutes advance notice as to their arrival time. Personally I know this causes immediate panic for a lot of my friends. Buy my answer to what to make when you have no time to plan is easily something with CHEESE.
Cheating? No, brilliance. It cannot be refuted, and its practically a no-brainer that you will please everyone with this philosophy. And for me, I find every face smiles when I say I'm making Mac-n-Cheese. For color and flavor, I also served it with a delicious side of ROASTED APPLES AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH ONIONS AND OREGANO AND HONEY.
Follow the easy recipe for my ASIAGO AND PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE WITH RIGATONI, BACON AND BASIL is the perfect way to add gooey into the food your family loves.
When I was really little, I was afraid of the dark. For awhile during my twenties, my acrophobia kept me off escalators. And for the longest time, I've been intimidated by the whole homemade pizza thing. I tried it about a year ago and my oven and pizza stone were a menagerie of burnt corn meal, and crusted, black cheese. Not to mention the crust was too thick, and the clean up was torture.
Roll your eyes if you want. Not all of us are born for pizza greatness. However, with the help of an article in Bon Appetit Magazine, which suggested I forgo the stone and the cornmeal and simply spread my dough out on an olive oil primed cookie sheet and cook it at 500 degrees, along with enough practical logic from other doughy-lessons, I am proud to say, I DID IT. Now I still am experimenting with the right dough from scratch, but you will NOT BELIEVE how amazingly good this pizza was using ready-made dough. (Makes it easy and quick to satisfy the hungry mob, too!)
Here's what I did. First, I used the Publix brand pizza dough. I let it rest on the counter for the requisite hour before opening the plastic and rolling it out. Then, after rolling it the first time and feeling like I was working with a rubber band, I let it sit, in the small disc I had started to roll out, for about 15 minutes so it could rest, and then worked it again. And the second time? Pliable! I rolled it a bit more and and then simply picked it up and began to turn it and stretch it, gently but deliberately, round and around until it was the size of my medium sized cookie sheet. (Bear in mind I was using flour to dust the counter-top, the rolling pin, and my shaking hands.) By that time it easily spread out to nearly the edges of the cookie sheet and I was able to add the condiments. Really, it won't break. It wants to be stretched!
I made two pizzas. One with the following: 1 C asiago cheese, 1 C pecorino romano (both freshly grated) a drizzle of good olive oil, a scattering of cut up San Marzano cherry tomatoes, freshly torn basil, half a can of drained and cut up artichoke hearts, about a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a generous amount of chili flakes. Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt finished the creation and into the oven it went for about 6 -7 minutes. OH MY GOODNESS. Salty, rich, chewy yet just the right amount of crunch to the crust. (That thin crust -- but not too thin -- is what has eluded me.) The cheese made it perfect, even WITHOUT any red sauce was so amazing. The sweet tomatoes and basil were perfect. Just enough heat and the fresh dried oregano (Please, throw out your bottle of old oregano after 6 months to a year, okay?) made everyone at the table go nutso with pleasure.
The second pizza was just a fun. For toppings I started again with the olive oil. Then chunks of goat cheese; the Humbolt Fog Blue Goat Cheese made it out of this world. Then chopped dried figs...I guess about 3/4 C, 2 T fig spread, dalloped on, about 1/2 C caramelized sweet onions (which my friend prepared earlier), and really quality proscuitto. The soft, kind. Then salt and pepper and into the oven for the same amount of time. Right before serving I topped it with fresh arugula, and then a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar.
There are others to thank as well. Jules, the consummate cheese monger at the Publix in Ballantyne, (Charlotte, NC) the editors of Bon Appetit for knowing I would need a nudge this month to try pizza again, (How on earth did they read my mind! Hahah!!) my wonderful friends for helping with advice, encouragement and smiles, and of course my husband who never stopped begging me to "keep trying!"