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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Military Moves Suck! -- The Real Truth

Admittedly there had to be a more eloquent, graceful or even more pithy way to say it, but frankly there is nothing remotely graceful about moving. Perhaps if you broke it down into a slow-mo segment for YouTube and set it to some Tchaikovsky? Oh, yes, I can see it now the troupe of hot, sweaty and stinky movers (good thing there’s no smell-o-vision), our bedrails aloft (yes, airborne) down the stairwell and a crescendo when the dresser plummets on the grassy knoll at the bottom of the driveway. Ah, yes, no one wants to see this production.
Alas, we made it to Alabama relatively unscathed, very much in denial that we’re leaving good friends and so much that we love about DC. However, like every other family that moves every 1, 2 or 3 years we arranged, rearranged and re-re-arranged furniture once more. Unfortunately, I can’t picture it until it’s actually in place. (Sorry, Honey!) Now, we trip over all of the items and boxes that we have absolutely no idea where they will call home. All of the random coffee cups, squadron memorabilia, kitchen gadgets that I “had to have” and more “talking” kids toys that you can shake a stick at. The clutter and confusion in this house right now closely mimics what I envision the inside of my head to look like. So, I choose to compartmentalize and take one thing at a time and instead of unpacking, re-re-re-rearranging. (Honey is quite happy about this.) Instead, I procrastinate by writing – or as I’ll term it for now -- therapy. Yes, as I say, go with your strengths. Let’s face it, I would medal in procrastination if it were sport – a virtual trophy case filled to the gills rewarding my avoidance. But, in the end, it’s all about finding the happiness in each day, each move and finding a little treasure in each freaking box. Did I mention they packed our recycling? Good times!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold enough for you? Souper! -- Soup Therapy Volume One

Yes, it’s cold! We all know this, we all read the weather reports and are done, done, done with shoveling snow. I’ve come to realize that I don’t like the cold. But, I do like soup. Soup is the only redeeming thing about cold weather – and, for the most part, it’s in line with most of my feeble New Year’s Resolutions – which are hanging on by a thread, mind you. So, I’ve headed out to the store, stocked the pantry and am ready to commit to soup. I’m making one pot of soup each week. Some fancy, some vegetarian, some not so much but all warm,good and hearty.

There’s something that just feels very right about making a pot of soup. First of all, soup is chock full of simple, clean ingredients and Vitamin L (love,of course) in each earthy pot of goodness. Secondly, it smells pretty darn good as it cooks on the stovetop – at least much better than any Lean Cuisine that twirls around on my microwave carousel. Third, it’s the meal that keeps on giving. There’s no sense in making soup for one meal. So, it happily finds its way into lunch bags, passed on to friends and our freezer for a chilly day. Finally, it’s kind soothing -- it’s soup therapy. For me it’s very rewarding – choosing the recipe, the methodical chopping, stirring and of course there’s the eating.

So, I invite you to join me in this week’s session of soup therapy. Here’s what I made last week and, brother, it was darn good. Give it a try, I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Enjoy and have a souper day!

Chicken Chili
Serves 6 – 8

This is adapted from the fabulous Ina Garten’s recipe, but made a little easier for those of us a little short on time and patience.


4 cups yellow onions (3 onions)
¼ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1/8 olive oil
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/8 c. minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and large diced
2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and large diced
1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 – 28 ounce can, diced tomatoes
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ cup minced fresh basil leaves
One meaty, rotisserie chicken, skin discarded, meat removed from the bone or shredded

Suggested Chili Toppings: Chopped onions, avocado, rice, corn chips, grated cheddar, sour cream – or whatever’s kicking around in the pantry.

Cook the onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne and salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Shred the rotisserie chicken or cut it into ¾-inch chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Word from Our First Lady: Eat Your Vegetables!

A big shout out to the divine Ms. O. for taking it to the airwaves and encouraging Americans to eat their veggies. Admittedly, my new year’s resolution #3 is eat more fruit and veg and perhaps why that’s why I keyed in on this. For those who may have missed it, Mrs. O was on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” talking up the White House garden project encouraging Americans to support local farmers and eat better food. (She told Bobby Flay that her fave – sweet potatoes.) Is our First Lady becoming a little too accessible or commonplace for the wife of a sitting President? For goodness sake, she was on cable, right? In addition to her recent appearance on Jay Leno who can forget the big hoo-ha when she bared her gams on vacation this summer. Well, I say bravo and applaud her for keeping it real. What better way to bring the project to life? It’s an absolute demonstration to Americans that she not only walks the talk, by celebrating local food purveyors and setting up a garden in America’s backyard, but she’s talking to Americans where they’re listening...the Food Network.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Done and Done

Nothing energizes me more than making a list. Alright, so perhaps I’m a little bit of a control freak, but there’s nothing so satisfying than getting oneself organized to take on the world…or at least laundry, organizing the pantry, or plotting a new fitness regimen. It’s almost as if I’ve accomplished something by the mere act of making the list. So, at this moment I’m feeling wildly productive as I sit on the couch watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon on cable. Why? I’ve just put pen to paper around my 2010 New Year’s Resolutions. If it’s on paper, then clearly something has been accomplished, right? But, if it’s on paper, does it make me more accountable to achieve my goals? Am I bound and committed to succeed? Ah, yes. This is the best part of the list making obsession – if one doesn’t finish up a pesky, little tasker, then it simply rolls to the next day’s list. Herein lies the beauty of the list -- I’ve already got a list going, so I’m ahead of the game. It can be exhausting spending so much time rationalizing. But, there’s plenty of time between the commercial breaks. Back to Buffy!