Thursday, August 19, 2010

God Bless Betty White

I’ve always been of the philosophy that once you reach a certain age, you’ve outlived and outlearned so many of us that you’re entitled to your opinion and to scream it from the rooftops. Who would’ve ever thought that this Golden Girl would become the new It Girl? She’s even got a new, self help book, “Listen Up!” on the way this fall, Whether its booty shaking with Sandra Bullock or a crazy death metal video on SNL, Betty White’s got it going on. This prompts me to realize that as our family moves from place to place, PCS to PCS, the most memorable people are often the unsuspecting, older folks who enter our lives. Sure, I’ve made some great friends along the way, who are my age or younger, but the ones that burn in my memory most are those who have been there, done that and know exactly who they are and happy to be there. One that comes to mind is Miss Minnie our beloved Arts Council of Wilson cleaning lady. She would come into the office with a song, laugh and tell stories that would make you smile even if you had no idea what they were about at the end of the tale – perhaps the overwhelming amount of bleach wafting through the hallways had some effect on that. So, with all of these moves, making new friends, finding new schools and hairdressers, I realize that it’s important to remember that it’s the people you wouldn’t suspect often make the biggest impact. So, Betty, I’m with you sister, bring it on and lead the way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When in Rome….Let Them Eat Cake

Ok, so I’m mixing metaphors. Of course the response is. ..”do as the Romans do.” Now, I couldn’t be further from Rome, residing in the heart of Alabama, so I feel this permits me some room for interpretation. However, I’m ready to embrace the spirit of this famous quote. And where better to start? Clearly, and I believe the SFA would agree with me, southern food could be no better place for me to begin my journey. And, I’m embracing it wholeheartedly. (Admittedly, according to the scale, I could probably do with a little less acceptance.) That aside, I was thrilled to receive my September issue of Food and Wine magazine that celebrates the new culinary focus on Southern cooking – and my latest food d’amour – caramel cake. (The photo is a little slice of heaven from this morning’s brunch.)

After doing a quick bit of research on this quintessentially southern delight, it dates back to the mid-1800’s. Which leads me to question, how have southerners managed to keep this cake a secret? Why does this gorgeous gateau rarely see a menu or bakery case above the Mason-Dixon line? A thin, but satisfying, layer of salty, sweet frosting is balanced with a perfectly light cake. An adept baker, I am not. In fact, I am the culprit behind many a baking disaster that would make the Barefoot Contessa throw up her arms in exasperation. But, for this cake I will overcome.

For those looking to partake in my cause caramel, the following is a recipe from one of my favorite chefs Ann Cashion, as printed in Food and Wine....

1 cup whole milk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.

2. In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.

3. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.

4. In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.

5. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235° on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.

6. Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes.

7. Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second cake layer and cover it with icing. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake.
Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Finally…Me Time at 35,000 Feet

So, I travel a fair amount for business and it’s rarely pretty. While I do have the opportunity to visit great cities, I rarely have time to enjoy the city outside of a windowless meeting room and overpriced hotel rooms -- save for the occasional dinner out with a friend, colleague, etc. However, one thing that this game of planes, trains and automobile affords is about three hours of solitude. It’s a pocket of time completely free of telephones, email, the temptation to check Twitter. Even in a crowded airport or oversold airplane, no one asks me to do anything. For example, to date, no flight attendant has ever asked me to open a juice box or told me it’s time to go potty. It’s my time. Now do I work on airplanes, sure. But, when you’re squeezed into the window seat in 22A with the passenger in 21 in full recline mode and your seat mate is not even thinking of giving up the coveted armrest, laptops are a physical impossibility. It’s as though I’ve been given license to indulge in a little reading material or some music. With many travel plans in front of me this week, including BlogHer (hooray), I am bound and determined to finish Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” after it has graced my nightstand, purse and bookshelf for about two years now. When did we get so over programmed that reading a 200 page book becomes a triumph of space and time? Just once, I want to be the smug book clubber saying, “Oh sure, the book was SOOO much better than the movie. But, Julia Roberts was the perfect fit.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Peach of a Market

In order to take in a little local flavor and get to know the neighborhood, the family three headed to our new farmer’s market. I feel like you can always tell a lot about your town by the farmer’s market it keeps. For example, when we lived over the river from DC, there was abundant choice of organics, everything was pretty spendy and a foodie vibe was in the air. In fact, each week there was a former Food Network chef on hand sampling food from her resto – more great tips from her later. Montgomery is a different kind of sister, city that is. Choice is more abundant around the variety of peaches or peanuts and there was a nary a single, delicate squash blossom to be found. Organic, well, there was one, lonesome lady selling organic milk -- bless her heart. But, it was a collection of the most gregarious group of growers that I’ve ever met. The nice man selling peaches (5 types of peaches, mind you) gave my daughter a “cute kid discount.” What mother doesn’t like that, right? Hence, we went back to his booth this week to buy more of his delicious peaches…actually, lots of peaches. Turns out we’ve got some savvy marketers here in town, to boot.
If you find yourself looking for a snappy way to use up a few extra peaches that won’t make it into your lunch bag in time. Give this a whirl with grilled fish, chicken or atop some grainy goodness like couscous or quinoa.

Peach Relish
Courtesy of Martha Stewart Everyday Food
Serves 4
1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 ripe peaches (4 1/2 ounces each), quartered and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and ground pepper In a small bowl of ice water, soak onion for 10 minutes; drain, blot dry, and return to bowl. Add peaches, honey, lemon juice, and cayenne; season with salt and pepper.

Let stand 15 minutes. If storing, cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.