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Archive for April, 2010

Help! I’m going to Jazz Fest for the first time ever in two days. This is my second trip to New Orleans and the only destination eating I did last time was beignets at Cafe DuMonde – this was pre-Katrina, a long time ago. Dan has never been. While the point of the trip is to go to Jazz Fest and in particular to see Simon and Garfunkel (I am so excited, I cannot tell you!!!), of course I can’t help but already be thinking about we will eat. A colleague who lived there for more than a decade said that we have to go to Mother’s. My dad says that the soft-shell crab Po Boys at Jazz Fest are not to be missed. I’m sort of leaning in that direction, but then there’s muffuletta…and million other things. What do you think? What should we do?

Photo by Ray Devlin

We’ll also be stopping on Mobile, AL on the way there, so if you know of anywhere fabulous in Mobile, let me know that too. Take the poll and/or answer in the comments – and, laissez les bon temps rouler!

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I’ve been on a diet.

I hate diets and I kind of really hate talking about them because I don’t like body-snarking, even when I do it to myself – and especially in front of others.  I never want my words about myself to inadvertently hurt someone else.


Like many people, I have complicated relationship to my own body and I’m always trying to be more at peace with it.  Happy, healthy, not hung-up.  I’ve always loved food, loved to cook and eat and try new things, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that food was not just nourishment or fun but, well, it’s my thing.  Some of my friends are beautiful knitters, others are photographers, marathon runners, amateur musicians, or weekend motorcyclists.  One of my cousins is sky-diver with his own plane!  As I’ve settled into my adult self, I’ve realized I’m not the adventurous wanderer I once thought I would be – I’m a nester.  I like to take care of my home and I love to spend time in my home cooking, eating, and sharing delicious homemade food with friends and loved ones.

Of course somewhere in there, I went from a person who bought heavy cream a couple of times a year to someone who has a carton of heavy cream in her fridge at all times – and I’m not a coffee drinker!  Learning more about food brought all kinds of complicated thoughts and ideas about what was “good” food.  Like many people, I have struggled to re-define my relationship to food – rather than low-fat being good for me, I now want to eat cleaner, more natural and unprocessed whole foods.  Beyond pursuing the most exotic imported foreign goods I can find, I am interested in mining the depths of local food items.  But somewhere in there things got complex and heavy.  And my pants got tighter and tighter.  Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and not just sort of generally think about “eating healthier” – but to commit to the dreaded thing, a diet.

In the end of course I chose one that worked for me.  It’s based on simple whole foods and emphasizes eating “super-foods” like nuts and olive oil at every meal.  The program starts with a “jump-start” where you eat whole vegetables and fruits and lean proteins with no salt – this is the most gimmicky part of the whole thing.  Going salt-free and keeping foods very simple and clean is meant to reduce bloating and boost your confidence by immediately helping reduce your waistline.  It worked!  However, it was very boring.

What was fascinating was that as I began to eat normally after those days of no salt and very simple, clean (dull) food, I starting tasting things anew.  I needed less salt to really taste what I was eating.  I could enjoy the richness of a small amount of chocolate without having to have the whole piece of cake.  I remembered the difference between feeling “full” and “ridiculously overstuffed” (and didn’t feel cheated).  This was a revelation!

The very boring part is over and I’m back to thinking about food, cooking with luxurious, fabulous, amazing salt (it’s so important, y’all!), and eating the kinds of foods that satisfy not just my physical needs but my senses as well.  I’m just doing it a little leaner and lighter these days.

Back to cooking means – back to blogging!  A dear couple of friends hosted us for shabbat this week and I brought this to share with our Mediterranean meal.  It’s adapted from the fabulous Deborah Madison, of course.  She calls it yogurt and cucumber salad – to me, it’s just tzaziki.

One tool that I use for this dish is a yogurt strainer.  This is the kind of device I would not have bought for myself – I have cheesecloth and a bowl, and I’d always figured I could strain my own yogurt.  But somehow this little tool makes the whole process a snap (thanks Aunt Julie and Uncle Nick for the awesome Christmas gift!).  It fits nicely in your refrigerator for overnight straining, which produces a gorgeously thick almost cheese-like substance.  For this tzaziki, I strained the yogurt only for a few hours which thickened it up but still left it quite liquid and lovely.  I’ve also eaten yogurt cheese on toast with za’atar and salt or on a biscuit with Mimi’s homemade strawberry preserves.  The tzaziki below is amazing with lamb burgers and pretty fab with felafel, too.

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

2 cups plain whole or low-fat yogurt, strained for several hours or overnight
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, white and part of green parts chopped
Fresh mint and dill chopped, to taste (about 2 tbsp each)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Good-quality olive oil

Mix together ingredients.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.  Let stand for at least 15 minutes or several hours.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve.  Makes 3 cups.

Tip: To keep your tzaziki creamy and not watery, toss your chopped cucumbers with a little salt and let them sit in a strainer in the sink while you prep the rest of the ingredients.  This draws out some of their water and leaves you with a luxuriously thick dip.

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I had the pleasure of spending my last Spring Break as an MBA student (hip-hip-hooray!) facilitating a merger and acquisition.  What?  How did I accomplish that during Spring Break?  I spent it by merging part of my family with part of Mike’s family and acquiring some food, drink, and fun!

What’s the recipe?  Take 13 people in a mountain house full of taxidermied animal heads, and add the a few random houseguests, beautiful weather, and great food and drink and you’ve got a successful vacation!

Each night had a “theme” that fueled the inspiration for food – from Southern to Eastern European to Italian.  The Italian-themed night was particularly fun.  My brother (born in Florence, where his dad is from) and his new bride made pasta carbonara, while my aunt made delicious eggplant stacks.

Aunt Julie's Eggplant Stacks

Ingredients
Eggplant (try for eggplants that are more uniform in shape as opposed to bulbous because they are easier to stack)
Mozzarella cheese (fresh is best)
Parmesan or Romano cheese
Fresh basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram or sage (obviously you can use dried herbs in a pinch)
Your favorite jarred tomato/marinara sauce
Olive oil

My aunt says that she has made many variations of these to include other vegetables like artichoke bottoms, zucchini, roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms or fresh tomatoes.  She has also used jarred or homemade pesto sauce in place of the herbs.

Directions
Slice eggplant and lightly coat with olive oil.  Broil, roast or grill eggplant until just tender – in this case we roasted them for a few minutes.  Stack with marinara sauce, herbs, and mozzarella cheese.  Repeat this process twice and then top the stack with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes – just until the cheese melts.  Drizzle with olive before serving.

It wouldn’t be family cooking without a little inspiration from Mimi.  Apparently, my aunt’s inspiration came from a similar recipe that Mimi cooked – only she didn’t actually stack the eggplant.  I thought the stacks made this a perfect party food idea and they also provide a great presentation!

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Here’s another Southern baked good that is easy, cheap, and delicious!  I learned this recipe from a high school classmate’s mom who was all about packet gravy and instant mashed potatoes.  While I generally shun those things, I actually like these biscuits.  I also remember Granddaddy just salivating over them when I made them for family gatherings.

Raw biscuits

Butter Biscuits
2 sticks of unsalted melted butter
2 cups of self-rising flour
1 cup of sour cream

Add the melted butter and sour cream to the flour and mix together.  The mix can be lumpy.  This recipe will make enough dough to fill one large muffin tin if you fill each tile about ¾ full (see photo above).  Bake for 30ish minutes at 350 degrees and voila!  Pack these in a basket lined with a cloth napkin and take them to a tea, a picnic or a dinner.  They are so easy and devilishly delicious.  Plus – there’s no need to put butter on them, since they are already buttery enough!  My favorite condiment is Mimi’s strawberry preserves – recipe to come later.

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A couple of Sundays ago I visited a dear friend.  She’s special to me for many reasons – the first of which was quite obvious at the outset: we both love food.  And what makes her even more special? She’s a Southern girl!  At any rate, on Sunday we celebrated her latest achievement in life – pregnancy!  I made her some simply delicious and comforting cornbread sticks (I think baby was happy).  Folks, this recipe is not for the faint hearted (or for vegetarians for that matter).  This is not the sweet “cornbread” that Boston Market (or something of the sort) serves.  Rather, these are Mimi’s cornbread sticks, also known as authentic cornbread.  Simple, savory, and sacred.

Recipe
1 cup of white water ground corn meal
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/8 teaspoon of baking soda
2 Tablespoons of fat (bacon fat!!!)
1 Cup of Buttermilk
1 Egg 

Instructions:

I preface these instructions with the statement that you can use either use cast-iron corn bread pans or a cast-iron skillet.  I personally love making them in my cornbread stick pans just like Mimi did (thanks to my love for the pans).  You can make a slit right down the middle of the long stick which is perfect for inserting the condiment of your choice (butter for some, but for me it’s homemade hot pepper jelly).  But either type of pan is fine!

Preheat your oven at 425 with the cast-iron skillet (be it corn bread pans, or skillet) in the over.  Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients.

Then add the buttermilk and egg and mix – but don’t over mix.  It’s OK if the mixture has a few clumps.  Once the pans are HOT, pull them out of the oven and pour a half of a spoonful of hot bacon grease in the pan and spread around.  Spoon the batter into hot greased pan.  In fact, it should be hot enough that you hear the batter sizzle in the pan as if its frying in the bacon grease.  Then put the pan (s) in the oven to cook for 10-15 minutes.  The bread tends to cook fast on the bottom.  If you feel like it’s not quite done, but getting too dark on the bottom, you can flip it over.  This recipe should fill two corn bread stick pans, or one skillet.  Remember, these are not supposed to taste sweet.  They are very plain and very delicious!

Cooked bacon, in order to use bacon grease

Dry ingredients

Dry and wet ingredients

Raw batter in HOT pan, greased with bacon grease

Baked cornbread sticks still in the hot pan

Cooked cornbread sticks

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