Saturday, October 27, 2012

What's it about the hyphen anyhow?

I am an old school, command line geeky kind of girl. Back in the day when choosing my blog name and finding the domain to match I was hoping for, but it was not available. Then I was torn, do I change the name (which I decided I loved) or add hyphens? is easy to read with the hyphen but hard to remember when you tell someone the URL, spaces between the words would be just so readable, but just not workable. In technical parlance, it is about character strings on the server and how a space separates the arguments or the syntax of the command. Something like diagramming a sentence into actions, operatives and variables.

The domain became available this summer, so I bought it. Then came the intense discussion with my darling son whether to move my site over to the new domain, remain on Blogger or do a complete change to WordPress. And truth be known, I have been two-timing this original site. Taking time to learn about the architecture, options and design and putting my new posts there as I get a feel for the environment. There is lots to learn, but I do want you to see some of the preliminary work and of course the posts you've been missing out on here.  I have also been updating Facebook with images and links along the way. In time I will be transitioning all the posts and have a redirect to make sure no matter which URL you type in or have bookmarked you can find me.  Do you like the new little Robin on the logo?

Table Hopping -- Alma Cocina, Atlanta

I'll take the heat -- Cantaloupe-Harbanero Gazpacho

Salmon with Compound Butter and Chives 

Shades of White (Popovers)

Pepperjack Cornbread Muffins

Autumn Peaches - An orchard of one

Sesame Honey Sable Fish

Joy of Bread (Pane Pugliese)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Divided Attention

I know it's been ages since I've posted here. So much going on, making transitions, changes and general distractedness.  I have setup a new Facebook page for posting snippets and photos . Let me know if you "Like" it !  I have been cooking, writing and photosnapping and until I get a chance to tell you more, here's a sample of what I've been up to since my last post.

While shopping my son and I took in a cooking demo at Queen Anne's Farmers Market, Seattle with Chef Becky Selengut, author of Good Fish, an NPR-notable cookbook on Pacific Coast sustainable seafood

Seared Albacore and Farmer's Market Ratatouille

Becky Selengut

Behaving like a recipe detective, I finally achieve success in recreating an incredible 
Andalusian style Gazpacho first tasted at Alma Cocina, Atlanta.

Cantaloupe-Harbanero Gazpacho

On the home front a special weeknight dinner 
of fresh Coho Salmon baked with compound butter and chives.

Baked Coho Salmon with Compound Butter and Chives

Cross rib roast braised with Shiitake Mushrooms and served with mashed parsnips. 
Gravy so deeply beefy rich, wine infused and complex my darling dear asked me, "Why?" 
"Why what?" I replied.
"Why can't we have this every night?"

Can pot roast be elegant? Yes it can!

The fall quarter begins next week and distractions will be thrown into hyperdrive. 
But don't worry, food will be served.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Street Food, Spicy Tunisian Chicken Kebabs

Something wonderful happens when we eat food on a stick.

It is my last day in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia and the smallest country in northern Africa. Tunisia sits on the coast of the Mediterranean with influences of the Ottoman, Christians, Arabs and French. I have done my sight seeing. Visited the Unesco World Heritage sites, the Mediana with the narrow streets that create cooling shade from the African sun, the Zaytouna Mosque and the different medina markets (souqs) which are  organized into different commercial areas. Today is mine as I return to the Central Market.

It is nearly September and the morning temperatures are a comfortable 73 degrees as I slip on my gauze skirt and top, knowing that the heat will climb into the nineties before the day is done.  Grabbing my market bag, camera and purse I walk through the hotel's iron gates and heading down the few blocks of the Avenue de France and toward Rue Charles de Gualle. Finally turning on to Avenue de Paris. The sun is bright against the white stucco walls and the wailing traffic. But today is mine as I am determined to bring home the taste of Tunisa. The peppers, harissa and spice that epitomizes the cuisine of this North African country. 

The covered market looms large in front of me as I enter the arched pathway.  A market that dates from the nineteenth century, colorful, resplendant with an incredible selection of cheeses, fresh bread, spices--especially peppers and harissa, olives and pickles.  The space is abuzz with merchants selling fresh produce, fish and wares while locals make their daily purchases. An old market that dates back in history, this was named Fondouk El Ghalla, the Central Market, known as the largest food and vegetable market in Tunisia. Not only am I shopping for spices. I know I will want a last chance to savour the market foods, kebabs, and scented waters with dark rose or blossom petals, so similar to agua fresca with flowers. Leaving room for a dessert of my favorite Baklawa, layers of thin pastry interspersed with ground pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios.

Perhaps I will have time to visit the Souz el-Berka to find a gold bangle as a treasure from my visit. From a dark past this market specializes in the goldsmiths trade. We shall see what can be found and negotiated.

After a day at the market, rest and quiet back at the hotel. The fan spinning rhythmlically as it cools. A leisurely nap and lie-in before my darling one and I head to the marina. One last grilled fish, sunset, and a toast to Northern Africa.

Or so I would have imagined.

A celebration of adventure in far-a-way places, foreign cuisines and cultures. A musing until made real. A part of Street Foods Monthly Mingle.

Tunisian Spicy Chicken Kebabs
Serves 4-6
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes

1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
½ cup Peppedew Peppers
¼ cup Peppadew Pepper Juice from Jar
½ cup Raisins
¼ teaspoon ground Cayenne Pepper
¼ cup Olive Oil
¼ cup Pomegranate Molasses
4-5 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” chunks

Place all marinade ingredients in food processor blender and puree until smooth.
Pour ½ of the marinade over cut up chicken thighs, turn and rub all over.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes or longer (up to overnight.) Reserve other half of marinade for dipping. Soak your bamboo skewers in water while the meat is marinading. This will help prevent burning on the grill.

After marinating chicken, place on bamboo or metal skewers. Grill over high heat until done about 5 minutes per side. Serve with couscous or rice and for a special treat and heat add harissa on the side for dipping.

A little adventure, a little spice. What are you waiting for ?
Inspiration: Susan Feniger's Street Food

 A virtual potluck since 2006 from Meeta K. Wolff What's for Lunch Honey? and an August theme from Zizi's Adventures. 

And, as luck would have it, my friend Jeanne at is having a Braai (South Aftrican Grilling over hot coals) contest and this is my entry. See Braai, the Beloved Country for all the information.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Table Hopping -- Alma Cocina, Atlanta

Alma Cocina is part of a rebirth of downtown dining as an alternative to chains like Planet Hollywood and Hooters and an easy choice for me as one who is looking for something more in a dining experience.  Open less than a year, the Fifth Group with Chef Clevenger at the helm has created a modern Latin escape in the middle of the south where the city population is less than six percent Hispanic. While the current audience may be conventioneers like myself, office workers, a few tourists, this is a destination that Atlantans may want to put on their must try list.

Latin Elegance. Warm woods, sleek and modern and a decor that reflect "Latin" without yet another stucco and tiled environment. Friendly southern hospitality exudes from the staff who are knowledgeable about the menu and make even a solo diner feel comfortable. Even I felt hip sipping my vanilla hinted mojito while waiting for the Salsa Sampler (fire-roasted tomato, tomatillo-avocado, salsa negra and roasted mango-charred with chicharrones, plantain, malanga coco, corn chips.) Honey, this is today and bold flavors with a counterpoint of textures take us out of all that is ordinary.

Alma Cocina, Salsa Sampler
What lengths you would take to get the recipe you wanted? I often wonder about those who write in to Bon App├ętit requesting recipes for favorites or dishes so special they are compelled to write in.  Let's just say I am a little more impatient. Why not just ask the Chef directly, "would you share this recipe?" With that I scheduled a phone call.

I've learned long ago, that to ask the question is to be willing to hear no, but hope for yes. With such a mindset, there is little risk in asking. After all, it is just a question. My travels may take me near or far, but the human element remains the same. If you are interested enough, polite, enthused and sincere, people will respond in a like manner. Or not. My current record favors the former rather than the latter and my darling dear just chalks it up to his perception that, "people just like to do things for you."

And so, I engaged in a conversation with Chef Chad Clevenger, Executive Chef of Alma Cocina in Atlanta about cantaloupe soup -- gazpacho rather, with lump crab and cilantro micro greens. Earning the best taste award at the annual A Taste of the Highlands,  a favorite food festival of the area. By popular request Clevenger's concoction made the summer seasonal menu. It may be that "Every one's palate is different," according to Chef Chad but this dish is a runaway winner. Creamy texture, surprisingly savory and a touch of fruity heat. The tender crab plays well with the bright cilantro microgreens and the drizzle of avocado oil brings in a bit of butteriness.

Cantaloupe-Harbanero Gazpacho from Alma Cocina, Atlanta

Chef Chad is surprisingly humble and modest considering the bold and textured dishes that make up the menu of Alma Cocina and attributes his success with constantly learning and searching out what the industry has to offer. "After culinary school, I pushed myself to learn as much as possible, read a lot of cookbooks, cook at home, working to better my technique and palate. I eat out to see why chefs are doing different things." His efforts are playing off too, with an invitation to be the Host Chef of 2012 Atlanta Rising Stars, scoring high on flavors and plating at this event put on by StarChef's, an online magazine for culinary insiders. Not bad for the new guy in town with less than a year in Atlanta.

From wacky combinations to micro gastronomy, he's watching it all and blending up his own inventive fusion of modern Mexican in Atlanta.  Chef Chad is inviting patrons to experience the depth and differences of Latin cuisine beyond the burrito and enchiladas they might be used to, all the while incorporating fresh seasonal locally sourced ingredients. Which brings us to the gazpacho.

Originally created for the Taste of the Highlands, an annual food festival held in April and knowing it would be hot (it is Atlanta after all) he devised an easy to prepare dish that could be served to hundreds of festival attendees. I asked him about featuring habanero chilies and if he finds people more accepting of this pepper or scared of it?

"I  think a lot of people are timid about peppers, when tasting chili or trying them. They think it is all heat based.  It is flavor-based too, harbanaros have quite a bit of fruity flavor which tends to blend well. In this gazpacho there is just enough. We don’t want to blow out your palate, you need to be able to finish eight ounces of soup."

Chef Chad specializes in Andalusian style gazpacho, pureed versus chunky and throughout the summer will make up fresh batches of watermelon, red or yellow tomato and tomatillo versions along with this crowd pleasing cantaloupe version. He makes a base which takes it cue from the colors of the primary ingredient, then by adding a variety of garnishes he increases the complexity of the flavors and textures in the creamy base. Even though he did not give me the exact recipe (which would have meant converting restaurant quantities down to 4-6 servings) he did give me these tips.

Yellow Onion
A little bit of Garlic
Yellow Bell Peppers
A little bit of Sherry Vinegar
Orange Juice
Olive Oil
Lots of Cantaloupe

Directions: Blend it all together.
Tip: Start out with just a little bit off the side of the harbanero, without the seeds. Taste and adjust if you need more. "Try to make it as savory as possible and still have a little of the sweet cantaloupe in it.” Chef Chad said one of the most important thinks he learned from Chef Mark Miller was the importance of tasting the food before it is served. This is the best of habits a cook can have.

When I asked him if he was always this creative, he said,  “My dad was a guitar player. I don’t know if that rubbed off on me any at all." My guess, when guests taste Chef Chad's creations the music comes from the "hmmms and awwws." Vocal notes of appreciation for this symphony of flavors.

I will do my best to recreate this fabulous dish and will share my efforts in a future post.

Alma Cocina
Pros: Bold, Fresh and Modern Latin Flavors, Excellent Service, Affordable Pricing, Gluten-free and Kid's Menu available.
Cons: Sorry, I didn't have any on my Thursday night visit. I heard it gets busy on game days and it is a downtown location.
One Ninety One Peachtree Tower (adjacent to downtown Ritz-Carlton)
191 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Prices: Small Plates $6-$10, Large Plates $19-$28. Full Bar.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

International Food Bloggers Conference 2012

I'm off!

What will I discover?

Lots to experience, learn, network and connect. And with a side bonus of visiting my darling nephew and wife in Portland, Oregon. More to come my friends!


Conferences have a natural rhythm. Registration, name badges and coffee. Lightweight mingling and eye contact as we slowly connect with those sitting at the round table covered in white cloth  and exchanging business cards. Sessions to be attended and immersion into the topics at hand. A full agenda with PR, Branding, Niche, Voice, SEO, Photography all the while intermingled with coffee, gift bags, gourmet taste treats, exquisite dinner, wine receptions and after parties. All of which were artfully choreographed by Zepher Adventures and Foodista. These were the best of times.  Each of the sessions were informative, pertinent and often entertaining.

Highlights from this year's conference include:

Book Fair - where I met the incredible Kathleen Flinn (The Sharper the Knife the Less you Cry) and gracious Lynne Curry (Pure Beef) ) securing autographed copies of their books. Kathleen would later hold a writer's workshop, "Hungry for Words: The Devil is in the Details, God is in the Framework," that would challenge a room full of bloggers to go beyond cliches. "You can do better!" Kathleen would repeat, over and over.

SEO for Recipe and Food Blogs - Rand Fiskin ran us through the technical and cultural impact of how to best position our content for the world of social networking and search engine optimization. Geeky stuff for sure, but priceless information for those who are both seeking audience and traffic to entice publishers and PR firms to monetize their sites. Highly candid and entertaining. Rand pulled no punches.  Likewise was the incredibly personable Marissa Brassfield who made us look playfully at blog titles.

Meeting a friend of a friend - Somehow with Twitter, Facebook and such I managed to capitalized on having my friend's friends to become suddenly approachable. There is nothing better than a little name dropping in the world of personal networking to get your foot in to door, or an opportunity to be more than just a fan to persons of note. Case in point, meeting the lovely Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie who happens to be a friend of Jamie Schler of Life's a Feast on the very day that USA Today featured her Pie Camp on National Pie Day. Talk about celebrity gold dust emanating from her whole being. She was just so thrilled and it was wonderful to see her bask in her notoriety.

Similarly meeting Chef John @foodwishes during the Cooking and Photography Demo on our last day.  A perfect pairing with Andrew Scrivani as they bantied wisecracks and tidbits during the action packed session. Very entertaining, enlightening and incredibly warm and approachable.

Andrew Scrivani and Chef John at IFBC 2012 Portland
 Meeting Chefs - Getting to know Chef Gregory Gourdet and the incredible food at Departure.
 After the conference I was able to take some extra time and visit with my nephew Ryan and his lovely bride Jackie while dining alfresco on the 15th Floor of Departure. I am still trying to figure out some of the taste combinations, they were that wonderful and different.

Watermelon, radish, grilled citrus, dill
 Making New Friends - So many new friends and blogs to be inspired by. The casual art of exchanging cards become so much more as I jot down notes that make each meeting something special. Social networking, in the flesh. Yea, you just can't beat it.

Next year:  IFBC Seattle!
Can't wait to attend!

IFBC 2012 International Food Blogger Conference

Friday, August 3, 2012

Israeli Couscous with Golden Beet Greens and Crisps

Sometimes, the side is the star.

Rosemary, garlic lambchop with Isreali Couscous

Do you discard the tops of beets and turnips without a thought? If so, you just might be missing something. I know many people shy away from greens, or just don't quite know what do do with them. In spite of that, if you are comfortable with spinach or swiss chard you might just like this less bitter relative from their plant family. I know we often only see beets in the market with the tops are trimmed to serve the root, but in season at farmer's markets and even grocery chains like Raley's and Whole Foods, you an see these beautiful full bunches of greens perched on top of the itty-bitty golden orbs with the gangly root tail. Why not give them a whirl in your next meal?  Easily switched up with bok choy or kale, the taste and health benefits are worth the effort. (See link at the bottom for nutritional information on beet greens.)

Golden Beets with Greens.

With this in mind, challenged myself to use the whole of the beet in one meal. A simple marinated and grilled lamb chop and a side that was clearly the star.  What was a creative challenge resulted in a winning idea that will be repeated.   I say, have fun with your vegetables!

Fried Beet Crisps

Israeli Couscous with Golden Beet Greens and Crisps
Serves 4
Prep Time 25 minutes (estimated)
Cook Time 30 minutes (estimated)

1 bunch golden beet greens, rough chopped (from 3-4 golden beets, equals about 4 cups)
3 golden beets, thin juliennes
3-4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup pine nuts
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 ½ cups Israeli couscous
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 ¾ cup low salt chicken broth
½ tsp fine ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
1 tsp lemon zest

Wash beet greens thoroughly, remove center ribs and rough chop. It will look like a huge mound, but relax. It will reduce significantly when you cook it down.
Peel and slice beets wafer thin, then julienne. Pat dry with paper towels. Heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottom pot so that the oil is shimmery (about 350 degrees). Cook beets in small batches until crispy all the way through (time depends on batch quantities) about 2-3 minutes.
Remove from oil and transfer to paper towel to drain off excess oil, sprinkle with a little fine sea salt. Reserve crisps.

  1. heat 1 tbs olive oil over medium high In a large saucepan, add pine nuts and toast until fragrant and golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside in a small bowl
  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil to pan and cook chopped shallot until translucent, add beet greens and a pinch of salt. Continue cooking until completely wilted and reduced down. Stir often during this process.
  3. Add couscous, bay leaf and cinnamon to pan, stir to combine and tan couscous.
  4. Add low salt chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you prefer) bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender.
  5. Remove bay leaf and take pot off heat.
  6. Add lemon zest, pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste, stir to combine thoroughly.
  7. Serve with beet crisps on top.

Cook’s Tips
I used a box of Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous, but you can purchase Israeli couscous in the bulk bins at many grocery stores.

Nutritional Information about beet greens - because, of course you would like to know! From Self Nutrition Data. 

What wine would you pair with this meal?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ratatouille Tart and Crazy Days of Summer

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer"
-- Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer, Songwriters: Tobias, Bradtke, Carste 

How long has it been since summer was carefree. Forever it seems. Those long sunny days of heading to the beach, camping in the mountains or just stepping out to the garden. A quiet meditation just watering the growing bounty of our vegetable patch. By August the garden was bursting and  heavily laden requiring a daily harvest before the sun hit it's pinnacle. The taste of sunshine in each bite of lemon cucumber, tomato or green bean. I still have a few plants in raised beds, nothing like Dad's huge spread but enough to give me fresh herbs, tomatoes and such. Simple pleasures. Farmer's markets provide local produce to satisfy the void and hassle of growing it all on your own.

When the zucchini, tomatoes and peppers come on nothing tastes better than a ratatouille. I tested a recipe from Kelsey Nixon, Cooking Channel that was a nice change up to the traditional vegetable stew. A puff pastry tart enhanced with a base layer of caramelized onion and tomato jam. The jam was a bit worky, but well worth the effort -- and I got to play with my new De Buyer mandoline. Slicing heaven!

De Buyer Swing Mandoline makes quick work of slicing onions!

I made the jam on a Sunday afternoon when I had plenty of time to caramelized the onions and let the mixture thicken nicely. Overall I noticed that the timing indicated in the recipe was off by half and I reduced the salt to one teaspoon. Next time I'll also peel the fresh Roma tomatoes before adding to the pot. The remnants of the peels just doesn't work for me. Patience is required when you want your onions to have that sweetened bit of dark caramelization that just takes time. I couldn't wait to do a taste test, so a quick bruchetta with goat cheese and a sprinkle of chives and lemon basil was enough to test this recipe was a winner. Reminiscent of a chunky barbecue sauce with a brown sugar molasses tomato base and added punch of chipotle powder. The creamy goat cheese offered a nice counterpoint. The rich mahogany color is just plain ole pretty to look at.

Caramelized onion and tomato jam.
On Monday, while I defrosted my sheet of puff pastry, my mandoline sliced up the eggplant and squashes into beautiful perfect 1/4" width slices. Not something easily done with my food processor, that's for sure.

Summer Vegetables and Herbs
The finale of this adventure -- Ratatouille Tart with Carmelized Onion and Tomato Jam was delectable. Tender not soggy vegetables, layers of fresh sunshine flavors with the underlying sweet smokey jam on a flaky, buttery pastry. My darling dear said this easily satisfies our two to three servings of vegetables a day all in one meal and a welcome addition to our standard rotation.

Ratatouille Tart with Caramelized Onion and Tomato Jam
Adapted from Original Recipe
Ratatouille Tart with Caramelized Onion-Tomato Jam by Kelsey Nixon
This made one 12" x 10" tart with leftover jam.
Serves 4-6  (I can't see serving 6-8 for dinner with just this... but that could just me)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Vidalia onions, thinly sliced (I used 3 Walla Walla onions)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (reduced to 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 Roma tomatoes, cored, seeded and roughly chopped (about 2 1/2 pounds) (I will peel next time)
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup Caramelized Onion-Tomato Jam
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, sliced 1/4-inch thick on a mandoline
  • 1 yellow squash, sliced 1/4-inch thick on a mandoline
  • 1 zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick on a mandoline
  • 5 thin slices yellow onion
  • 1 to 2 roasted red peppers, julienned (I used fresh peppers, yellow and red)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano, divided (I used a combination of fresh basil, chives, and oregano)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese


In a high-sided saute pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season with the salt, cover and cook until they are wilted and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook the onions until they are golden and caramelized, stirring often, about 20 minutes more. (I cooked the onions for about 20 minutes more so they were well browned and caramelized but not crispy. This is dependent on how thin your onions are sliced.)

Stir in the garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Stirring consistently, cook until the tomatoes breakdown and the jam becomes thick, about 20 minutes. (The jam thickness was still too runny for my tastes at this point so I cooked another 20 minutes until a teaspoon cooled on a plate does not run at all.)
Yield: approx 3 cups
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.Roll the puff pastry out on a floured surface to a rectangular shape, about 12 by 10 1/2 inches. Transfer the pastry sheet to a parchment-lined baking sheet. With the tines of a fork, dock a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the sheet and dock the center of the sheet a few times as well. This will prevent the dough from rising as it cooks.

Spread the Caramelized Onion-Tomato Jam evenly over the pastry, leaving a small border around the edge of the pastry. Layer the tomatoes, eggplant, yellow squash and zucchini in overlapping rows, or in whatever pattern you like. Sprinkle the roasted red peppers around the tart. Drizzle the assembled tart with a little olive oil, making sure to brush a little on the edges, season with salt and pepper and top with half of the fresh (herb mixture) plus oregano.

Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed, 20 to 25 minutes. (It took another 20 minutes for the pastry to be brown and the vegetables softened sufficiently) I also drizzled a bit more olive oil half way through the cooking process so the squash and eggplant wouldn't dry out. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the goat cheese and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons (herb mixture) plus oregano before serving.

What will you do with summer's vegetable bounty?

Did you know this year celebrate's Julia Child's 100th Birthday. Follow the celebration on Facebook
and check out the Recipe of the Week! (Hint: can you say ratatouille?)

Julia Child - Recipe of the Week #11 Ratatouille

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Monthly Mingle - A Taste of Yellow for Barbara

Pickled Golden Beets, Cucumber and Zucchini Salad
Cancer is indiscriminate, the deadly tendrils snake it's way into the fabric of our lives without care. Those stricken are left to suffer and decide how to live the rest of their lives. That is, if they are fortunate enough to have a choice. Loved ones are heart struck and numb in their efforts to be supportive and desperate make it all better, easier. As if will power alone could make it so.

I lost my grandfather, "Smokey Joe" before I got to know him. What a loss to never know his love and feel that special connection. There are vague memories of visiting him in the Sister's Hospital, facing the ocean. I can't say now if they are real or imagined. I was so small. Mom says he carried a lock of my red hair in his wallet. My heart says he loved me.

Cancer, so pervasive, it has touched all of us. A grandfather, uncle, aunt, sister, mother, or friend or even pet. There is no escape. With outreached heart I have witnessed dear friends struggle to get through the treatments. Each with a bravery and spirit I don't know if I could muster given the same circumstances. Helpless on the sidelines. Whether a world away or next door we wait, praying and hoping it will all get better. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.

We have learned much about cancer through research and science. Treatments have improved and in some areas the survival rate has increased. But the heartache of the journey is never made easy. That is why the true courage and personal fortitude of someone like Barbara Harris of provides inspiration and awe as a life well lived. Diagnosed in 2004, she fought the good fight with honesty, grace, humor and compassion as a human, and blogger.  She inaugurated a Taste of Yellow across the blog-o-sphere in 2007 to raise cancer awareness in conjunction with Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong Foundation. Regardless how you might feel about Lance, the ubiquitous yellow bracelets urge us all to LiveStrong. Year after year bloggers joined in with inspiring memories, recipes and images. Dear Barbara lost her battle this June.

To honor her memory, this month friends Meeta (What's for Lunch Honey) and Jeanne (Cooksister) have rallied for an ultimate Taste of Yellow, Monthly Mingle as a tribute. You still have time to participate if you want to!

Make or bake something yellow (sweet or savory), or something using yellow ingredients. Let your imagination run wild: lemons, yellow peppers, yellow plums, yellow carrots, yellow squash - the possibilities are endless! Participant directions at the above link to Cooksister.

Whether you blog or not why not celebrate and participate in the remaining days of the month? Take a moment and have a taste of yellow, say their names aloud. Barbara, Beth, Andrea, Mimi, Fawn, John, Frank, David and Christopher.

A call to remember, raise awareness and honor those we've lost but to also cheer on our loves that are fighting through it, and a celebration for survivors who have won a reprieve.

My Taste of Yellow tribute starts with golden beets, fresh from the earth.

Farmer's Market Fresh Golden Beets

They almost look orange don't they? But wait for their transformation. Pickled Beets were a favorite my Dad whipped up from time to time. Only enough for a quart jar in the 'fridge, but oh, so tasty. Spoiled me forevermore. At the salad bars or grocery store, my disappointment finds mushy, spice challenged and bland offerings. Bleh, really? Granted, Dad prepared the traditional red beets, but the cloves, cinnamon pickling spice flavors were embedded in my taste buds. Why not with golden beets? Something yellow.

Spiced and pickled golden beets

Once pickled, what better compliment to your salad?
The one below is simple napa cabbage leaves, zucchini wrapped in wafer thin cucumber, pecans and dried cranberries. A drizzle of white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Wouldn't a sprinkle of goat cheese be lovely too?

Recipe for Pickled Beets
Makes about one 8 oz Jar.

4 whole fresh golden beets, tops trimmed, roots on
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup reserved beet juice
1/3 cup white vinegar, plus 1 tablespoon
Pickling Spices
4 whole Cloves
2 whole Allspice
1 Star Anise
1 stick Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole Mustard Seeds
6 Tasmanian Peppercorns (or black peppercorns)
2 Lemon Zest strips (1/2" x 4")

  1. Wrap pickling spices in cheesecloth, tie with butcher's string to make a bundle.
  2. Scrub and trim tops of beets, but leave roots and peels on (they will peel very easily once cooked.)
  3. Cook beets covered in water with 1 tablespoon white vinegar (which will help retain the color) and spice bundle. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium. Cook for 30-40 minutes until tender. 
  4. Drain liquid, reserving at least 1/3 cup. Cool beets so you can peel and cut in quarters or smaller wedges.
  5. Put sugar, beet juice and vinegar in a medium saucepan with the cut beets and I reused my spice bundle. Bring liquid up to a boil then turn off. Cool, remove bundle and place in a sterile jar. 
  6. I added more spices to my jar because I like intense flavors. That is up to you. Keep pickled beets in the refrigerator for several weeks (if you don't eat them up right away!)

In Barbara's Words:

A Taste of Yellow - LiveStrong

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cucumber Mint Soup with Lemon

What is it about hot humid summer heat? Forget the sugary soft drinks and beer, give me something like sun tea and cold soup to break the sweat on my brow. Are my southern roots showing?

Cold Cucumber Soup with Mint and Lemon

Inspired by a recent trip to Decatur, Georgia (by way of Atlanta) I am paying homage to a delectable soup tasted at Cakes and Ale.

What fun it is, to try and let your taste-bud detective reveal the herbs, subtleties, and nuance of taste that make up a finely crafted recipe. I know you have done this, to try to recreate something you've had in a restaurant or a friend's house. Going blind, without a recipe. Just diving right in and start cooking with your vision and taste as a guide. How successful have you been? Do you search out like recipes on the 'net to guide you? Do you invent on a whim? Well, I do. And, for those following, this recipe is not certified, culinarily tested by banks of trained recipe writers or staff. It is my creation, eaten by my family and heck, we just enjoyed it.

The debate about the value of food blog posts such as mine, without verification, validation and test kitchen results versus the cookbooks and professional sites is currently a hot topic. Don't each have value as a creative outlet?

Let not the buyer beware? I have had my own failures based on recipes from published cookbooks and successes from delightful posts on the Internet and vise versa. Aren't we all on this journey together? Although at different places and experiences on the timeline, growth as a cook means that you can learn to read a recipe and discern whether it is viable or not and whether you have enough experience to carry it out. Are  the directions clear and followable enough for you to be successful?  Does the cake have leavening, does it call for salt? Are the flavors, herbs and spices complimentary? I check each of these things and compare before I dive in, don't you? We each "read" a recipe from a different lens based on our own experience.

I am so sorry that "home economics" is not mandatory in schools to prepare kids with cooking basics in a world of take-away family dining. However, those who have the inclination and the cooking bug are lucky enough to learn from TV (PBS rocks,) study videos, search and find fine examples. And, what is even better, the world has developed crowd sourcing for the testing process. Reading reviews, comments and compare similar recipes. If we do the research our confidence grows in our choices.

It is about how you learn, isn't it. Do you trust the author? Do they have like sensibilities to yours? We have a choice before going head-long into a dish that we hope will be spectacular.  Heaven forbid you do not practice that "oh-so-important-spectacular-end-all-be-all" dish before the event of a lifetime. Do you think success comes without practice or as a one-off? This journey, is not about perfection based on a single corporate tested recipe, vetted by professionals, but our own practice and adventures that makes each of us better cooks and culinary citizens. Failures teach as much as our successes.

I honor the trained culinary professional. But, I also honor the inventive home cook with heritage and craft as their guide. Like neighbors across the fence, sharing recipes is what we do.

In the kitchen, I'm yours.

Cold Cucumber Mint Soup with Lemon (and a little pepper)

Cold Cucumber Mint Soup with Lemon
Serves: 6-8 as a starter
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Chill Time:  Minimum 1 hour before serving

1 English Cucumber, seeded, skin on
2 Cucumbers, peeled and seeded
½ - 1 whole Anaheim Chile Pepper (adjust to taste)
3 each Green Onions (scallions) white and light green parts
4 tablespoons fresh Spearmint  (8 large leaves)
1 cup fresh Spinach leaves
2 tablespoons fresh Cilantro
½ to ¾ cup water
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon Lemon juice
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 cups plain Greek Yogurt
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
Pinch White Pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Chives or
2 tablespoons micro Lemon Basil Leaves

Peel and seed regular cucumbers, seed chile and English cucumber cut into chunks.
Rough chop spinach leaves, green onions and herbs.

Add cucumbers, chile, onions, mint and spinach leaves in a blender or bowl of food processor,  pour over ½ cup water and puree very well to produce a smoothish green liquid. Add minced garlic, lemon juice, zest and olive oil. Pulse to blend. Add plain yogurt, sea salt and white pepper. Puree for 2 minutes to thoroughly blend and finely mince all ingredients. Check consistency and add ¼ cup more water to thin if desired.

Place fine mesh sieve over 6 cup bowl, pour cucumber mixture in batches working soup through the sieve with the back of a wooden spoon. This will produce a creamier soup. Chilled soup for at least an hour before serving. Divide into small bowls, sprinkle finely chopped chives on top or lemon basil micro greens. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil and serve cold.

Cook’s Tips
Inspired by a cucumber yogurt soup at Cakes and Ale, Decatur, Georgia.

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