Monday, May 31, 2010

We Made It--Blogathon 2010 is officially Over

I didn't really think I'd keep it up. Not sure why, but...well, I am surprised. First I want to thank everyone who came, even if you only stopped by once. I sure hope a few of you will become regular visitors, and I hope I can always keep improving my blog.

More than a few of us are doing what we learned, and I think it's the most appropriate finishing post for the month.

  • I learned that I could blog every day. Sounds simplistic, but as I said, I think I doubted myself.
  • I learned I like writing every day. Some days freelance writing can get too...well, let's say some days I find myself far too easily distracted. I let everything else take the priority list. Writing is good for me. It's good for my soul, even if no one reads the particular post I make that day. And the blog is more of a creative outlet than anything else in my world right now, and for that I am grateful.
  • I learned that the more I blogged, the more ideas I had to blog about. As with all things, the ideas are all around us. It just takes us to pause a  moment in this whirlwind called life and notice those ideas.
  • I especially learned of a few new blogs that I intend to visit regularly. No names now, but in days to come, I'll definitely be mentioning them one place or another. They are too good not to share with the world.
  • I hope I find myself--now that I don't feel I MUST post--taking time to write more essays inspired or not. That's writing I love to read, and that's writing I would love to write.
  • I learned that most bloggers are incredibly giving of their time--I asked a group of food writers if they would answer a few questions for my Thursday posts, and I was overwhelmed with the contributions my fellow writers, writers I consider friends even if we've never met, made to Babette Feasts just by answering those questions. 

Thanks again, everyone for visiting day after day. I appreciate you all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Photo Sunday: The Curious Bees

 I had the immense pleasure of spending some time with the Mecklenburg (NC) Beekeepers Association recently. I was invited to field day at Bee School, a winter time course where experienced beekeepers teach and mentor wannbe beekeepers...when spring comes, the course ends with field day they get to work the hives of their mentors...

Jimmy Odom let me tag along and watch as he examined each frame in his supers (the boxes where bees actually make the hone). I helped by being the one to find the queen bee (they like to keep track of the queen in each hive)...Jimmy "works" his bees often and says they know him. They certainly were one point, all these bees just lined up and were watching Jimmy. He was tickled and pointed it out to me--I crouched down and got this shot of the bees watching Jimmy, who was, by this point, watching them...

This may have been enough for me to want to try my hand at beekeeping. I've become quite the honey lover as I've written stories, including this one for The next story about bees comes out in Edible Piedmont sometime (I believe) in June...

In the meantime? I love this photo...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Picnic Plans...or not..

A picnic always sounds nice on Memorial Day weekend, right? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Me? I've never been a huge fan of eating out of doors unless the weather is perfect--65 degrees. Zero humidity. A light ants. I don't mind a hike and sitting down for a sandwich and water on the way--but for me that's about the hike and not the meal.

So I don't think we'll be picnicking this weekend. But we might be headed to a street fair...where I declare fried foods good for one day. Real french fries...maybe a bite of a funnel cakes (those don't do it for me..)...those real lemonades? Those are so good I make real lemonade at home...who needs fake?

I think I don't have much to say today, Saturday, the final Saturday of the blogathon. I guess I'm worn out..Tomorrow, it's another Photo Sunday...and Monday will be my wrap-up--things I've learned by blogging every day.

And if you've read this far, tell me: do you picnic? Why? Don't those ants bug you?

Friday, May 28, 2010

MY Secrets...

As the blogathon winds down (how can that be?), I've decided to share some dirty secrets with you, my dear readers, that mark me as occasionally having extremely, and I do mean extremely, pedestrian tastes in some, in no particular order, things that I choose to share with you...

1. For a few years, one of the staples in my 3-kid, 20-activities household was a Banquet Chicken and Dumplings slow-cooker meal (from the freezer case). I put the stuff in. Maybe I added milk? (can't remember) and turned it was simple. And beyond lazy. And my kids LOVED it...

2. I harbor fantasies of moving to some other country to work, cook, write, cook, have friends over, cook for friends, eat, shop for food, cook more. A lot of countries qualify for this...No one has done a food book from Argentina, right? Sign me up.

3. I like hot dogs. But I like GOOD hot dogs (Bests. Nathan's.)..and if you are worried about cooking for me, fear not...most cooks/chefs I know just LOVE it when someone cooks for them.

4. I like Rachael Ray. I wish I WERE Rachael Ray. There, I said it. At least she's not faking it.

5. If Martha Stewart offered me a job tomorrow (hint hint, Ms S.), I would chuck it all and be on the next plane to NYC...

6. Ditto Gourmet. Oh, wait. Someone thought that wasn't worthy...WTF?

7. I have some happy places. Dean and Deluca. Sur La Table. Wms. Sonoma. Okay, any kitchen goods store, even the commercial ones...HARDWARE STORES--amazing things found there!

8. I think I could eat eggs for breakfast every day of the week.

9. I am always on the lookout for great CHEAP bottles of wine. And I'm not offended by the screwtop (although I prefer the romance of the REAL cork...)

10. My family is made up of a few picky eaters, Mr. Babette especially, and it drives. me. nuts. Bones in chicken? Hard work, getting that chicken off those bones... Anything but white meat? No thanks, I'm not hungry...Grass fed beef? Tastes weird, says he...

11. I, love, love McD's hash browns. There. I said it. Starch. Grease. Salt. Crunch. (what's a trifecta with four things? A quadfecta? Then that is what this is for me...)...No, I don't get them, but if someone offers me a bite? I'm not saying no.

12. I hate fake flavors--grape? Blech. Fake banana? Double blech. But. I LOVE Jolly Ranchers Fake Watermelon-Flavored hard candies..

Okay, I've asked my visiting bloggers about their secrets...some love candy. Some didn't share...but now it's your turn...go on, I'll keep it between you and me...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 27/May 27: TWD Make Up: Banana Coconut Ice Cream Pie

See why I got kicked out of TWD? (Oh, okay, they don't "kick" anyone out, but you just quietly roll off the list if you don't make the 2x per month posts...I wasn't even close!)...Anyway, welcome to Thursday with Dorie!

There is quite sad news about the Banana Coconut Ice Cream Pie. I didn't like it. I think I should have thought harder about making this, because I'm the one who doesn't like banana splits. I love love LOVE the crust--melt butter, add coconut and crushed shortbread cookies then freeze. Trust me, you'll see that somewhere soon.

But the overwhelming banana flavor (umm. What did I THINK it would taste like?) just smacked me in the face...I love banana straight up. I love it in a peanut butter/honey/banana sandwich. I love half of a banana blended up with fruit and yogurt if I'm making a smoothie, but this just didn't ...go.

That said, I think there are legions who would LOVE this pie...can you come over? I've got some leftovers.

Head over to Tuesdays With Dorie to check out the blog roll and see how others felt about the pie; you can find the recipe reprinted (with Dorie's permission!!) at Spike Bakes. She agrees that the crust is the star and she did amazing things with her pie (maybe I would have liked it better with chocolate/peanut butter cup ice cream)...and points out that there's no baking involved here, making this THE perfect hot-weather dessert. And to top it all off? She got GREAT photos, and you know how I love a food photo!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday: 5 Second Rule Answers Penetrating Questions from Babette

I met Cheryl Sternman Rule at the Greenbrier Writers' Symposium two years ago (can that be?!) She is funny, witty, smart. Everything I could want in a blogging friend. She's also worked hard at her photography and has succeeded in posting lovely photos with every post. I love checking out what she has to write. Her posts make me laugh and sometimes are poignant. 5 Second Rule, Cheryl's blog, is a regular stop for me as I catch up on blog reading. It should be a regular stop for you too.

1. What pushed you to food or wine blogging?
Not what, in my case, but who.  My husband had been pushing me to start a blog for a long time before I finally bit the bullet, two years ago.  I loved writing for magazines and other websites (and still do), but I also wanted desperately to drive my own content -- highlighting people, stories, and recipes I felt a connection to -- and to do it in my own authentic (quirky?) voice.  I also wanted an excuse to spend more time stroking my camera.

2. What do you hope to share with readers through your blog?  

Hmm, how much time do you have?  I'll break it down: I hope to share 1)  my love for cooking, storytelling, and photography; 2) my interest in parsing out and discussing complicated and controversial food issues; and 3) my network of fellow food professionals, who have their fingers on the pulse of the industry, whether they're journalists, cookbook authors, policymakers, or academics.

3. Is there one post that stands out from others as one that generated a lot of commentary or maybe made you wish you hadn't posted it?
Um, crazypants?  I'm not highlighting the ones I wish I hadn't posted!  BUT one that generated a lot of commentary was this one, which discussed my struggles with a recent NYT article by Peggy Orenstein, in which she wrote about The Femivore's Dilemma.  I often wonder if I practice what I preach, and with this one, I threw it all out there and really valued the discussion that ensued.

4. Do you cook yourself? Well?  What is your go-to dish?
Yes, I do.  I cook all the time.  If it's just for me, my go-to dish is probably this: saute onions and too much garlic in a thick slick of evoo,  add cumin, sea salt, and pepper, then dump in a can of drained and rinsed black beans.  I shmoosh the beans with a potato masher until they're kind of pathetic looking, then eat the whole mess over brown rice.  Hot, quick, comforting.  In warm weather, maybe a romaine salad with red onion, cherry tomatoes (in season, please), white beans, olive-oil packed tuna, and a shocking amount of lemon juice.  (I have a lemon tree and am not afraid to denude it.)

5. Forget your favorite go-to dish; what is your idea of a perfect meal?
Something light, simple, and colorful.  If you'd asked me 20 years ago the answer would have been something with a lot of cheese (lasagna, macaroni and cheese, etc.)  Now, though, I crave food that makes me feel energized, and this generally means a ton of fresh produce, beans, and something sharp, like a highly acidic vinaigrette.  And dessert.  Because what you really need after a salad is a cookie chaser.
Bonus question if you feel like it: Do you have a dirty little secret
in your kitchen?

Secret?  This is the internet, Barb!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 25, May 25...Can We Make It? Yes, We Can...Today is Daughter Day..

Well, the ingredients for my Tuesdays with Dorie are ready to I have to mix and freeze--It's Coconut Banana Ice Cream Pie, and I'll be back to blog it, but here's an interim post.

One of the results of me cooking professionally has been that my kids have been exposed to a lot more ...unusual, shall we say, foods than many of their friends. That's not to say we don't have some scrounging nights, when Cheerios seem to be the best choice of all. But there's always something new to think about.

And they've been curious. My daughter has sat with me for meals at bars in NYC (Oh, do check out this post about lunch at The Modern at MoMA in NYC. I confess to letting her be mildly mislead about sweetbreads. This year when we visited she thoroughly enjoyed wild mushroom soup...) and she's been to some disastrous PR dinners as my date, too (those shall go unnamed)...My son made a video for Bobby Flay's Grill It (I was so certain he'd get on! He's adorable--but I can't find the link. Rats..)..and now and then my daughter takes over the kitchen.

Her skills have produced wild onion soup from my (organic) back yard when we lived in Kentucky--she pulled up every chive she could find, added water, heated it the microwave and...I ate it...Mmmmm. Then when I became food editor at Florida Table,  getting home after she did now and then, I once came home to a full dinner, elegantly plated (she had been to a food photo shoot or two by then), table set, water poured into a lovely wine glass AND homemade chocolate ice cream (she made chocolate milk and froze it in the Cuisinart Ice cream maker, the insert of which is always ready to go in the freezer).

So it was no surprise when she got home yesterday determined to make churros for her Spanish class at school. She found the recipe. She mixed it up, scalding the milk, adding butter, eggs, flour. Getting out the little Fry Daddy I have, heating it, experimenting with the pastry bag and star tips (we didn't have one big enough), finally deciding to spoon the batter into the oil. She even decided simple cinnamon sugar wasn't enough. She had cinnamon nutmeg sugar...And off to school she went. (She even cleaned up pretty well...Not great, but she's getting there..)

So Bryn? If she doesn't make it big as a singer? Her fallback plan is to be a chef. Not a bad plan.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 24, May 24: My coffee haiku

It's my coffee in
early morning that makes the
rest of my day fine.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 23: Photo Sunday: Consider The Oyster

This is a shot of an oyster starter that was part of a luncheon at Mandarin Oriental's Azul in Miami. Chef Clay Connelly was the genius behind this beauty, which was just the right amount of...of everything. If I recall correctly, it was a kumamoto, topped with a slice of cucumber for a bit of crunch, the creme fraiche, the caviar and a touch of mignonette, I think...the oyster nestled on that bed of salt...

I took this shot with my point and shoot--a Canon. I used the macro setting, set the camera on the table so it didn't shake and got this fabulous shot.

Well, I like it, at any rate.

Mm. That oyster went great with the champagne I enjoyed that day...

I often miss Miami. These were some of the little things that made life there lovely.

And if you need further reading? Have a quick go at MFK Fisher's Consider the Oyster. It's a lovely little thing...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Five Food Movies...

Food movies are a recurring theme with food-loving people--which do we like, dislike, what affected us the most? So here, in no particular order, are five food movies I think food lovers will....LOVE.

1. Babette's Feast. I loved the movie enough to twist it slightly for the name of my blog. Babette cooks a bang up meal for a few of the townspeople who she's lived near/with for years. This she does after inheriting money--all of which gets spent on said feast. In the course of the meal more than one puritan realizes that good food can be a revelation all on its own and lead to other epiphanies.

2. Food, Inc. This isn't so much a lovely movie at all as a movie about why we need to understand where our food comes from. I hope everyone sees this and just pays more attention to it all...buys from local farmers...learns what it means to eat in season...appreciate the real flavors of real food.

3. Chocolat...a little bit of magic, a lot of chocolate. This is a sweet (ha) movie that stayed with me.

4. Big Night. Of all movies where food is an integral part of the plot, this one is my all time favorite. Food brings people together, it tears them apart...the final scene of Big Night--wordless--is a masterpiece that wraps up food, love, family.

5. Tampopo: The noodle Japan, a woman seeks to make the perfect noodle. This is another movie that stayed with me over the years, one I re-watch on a semi-regular basis. Funny and touching...worth the watch.

Bonus movie (because I can't not list this one)--Julie and Julia. Of course we've all heard about it. This blog and movie introduced a new generation to Julia Child. While I've always thought her fabulous, I NEVER owned Mastering the Art of French Cooking...until I was following the blog. Streep is incredible here. I watched this movie twice last summer, both times alone, because I just wanted to SEE it....

Okay. Your turn. Tell me what food movies you love..

Friday, May 21, 2010

5 Rules NOT to Break in The Kitchen...

Okay, so last week I wrote about things you should feel free to do in the kitchen, even if your mom or your chef said DON'T. It's all about not sweating it too much in the kitchen.

Of course there's a counterpoint. Some rules really are there for a good reason and are worth paying attention to--CLOSE attention...

1. Keep it cold or keep it hot, but nowhere in between. At a certain temperature as hot food cools down or cold food warms, bacteria decide it's party time. A good rule of thumb is to get something back into the fridge before two hours...if you can keep it hot, do; if you can keep it cold, do. Most bacteria that develop this way are tasteless and don't affect the look of a dish AT ALL. Want my story? There was this delicious pulled pork. Had it for dinner one night. Must have put it away after that two hour mark...didn't think twice. Had it another night or two later as leftovers. Tasted GREAT. Was sick all night. Food poisoning comes on like a freight train. One second you feel great. The next you're puking your guts out. Sorry for the visual. That time I was so thankful my young kids had NOT had the leftovers. I have never again played the game of is-it-good-is-it-bad. If it's been left out? Out it goes.

2. Don't cross contaminate. Same concept--you can do yourself some damage if you cut your veggies with the same unwashed knife you just used for your beef/chicken/poultry. I use color coded cutting boards that go straight into the dishwasher. Or you could cut strategically--do all your veg first, THEN do you protein. Raw carrot poses no threat to that raw steak you're going to grill. Wash your hands--often--too prevent cross-contamination.

3. Don't drink raw milk. I diverge from many of my foodie friends on this one. I think pasteurization is a good thing. I think--think--if I knew the farmer who was milking the cow? I might drink raw milk then. Until I'm on the farm there, though, I'm not drinking anything but pasteurized milk.

4. If you're baking? Measure and weigh it...It's been said before, I'll say it again: baking is a science. You know the tiny lettering they put on commercials where cars speed around hairpin turns? Do not try this at home. You have to understand how leavening works, what fat, liquid, too much flour and more do to your bread or cookies or pies or cakes. I have been reduced to tears doing recipe development of desserts. I overcame the problems, but not without pain. So in baking? Follow that recipe!

5. Use an oven thermometer. This one cheap way of helping you find some big success in the baking category. You would be shocked, shocked, I say, to discover how inaccurate your oven dial/digital pad can be...Buy one of these, leave it on the rack (um, don't leave on the rack when you auto clean your oven...just sayin') and check it every time you set your'll learn if you have to adjust up or down...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tuesdays With Dorie on Thursday: Apple Apple Bread Pudding...

I know. But I was booted from TWD (rightly so!) when I couldn't keep up my Tuesday end of the Bargain...and Corbin Evans so kindly agreed to guest post for me on Tuesday, the official Blogathon share day, there was no way I was booting THAT post...So if my TWD is really TWD on T(hursday), it's's onofficial...(I could have gone on Monday before all the others, but that just didn't seem right, official or not...I still love those bloggers!!)

So. Does the family like bread pudding? Don't know, don't care. I'm making it...Oh, okay, here's what I know...Mr. Babette THINKS he doesn't like it, but that's because he grew up eating something called bread and butter pudding--toss some stale bread with some butter (it was likely margarine) and sugar, a couple of raisins and call it dessert. Blech, too!

But real bread pudding? I KNOW he liked Laura's bread pudding at Union Square Cafe when I worked there and Laura was pastry chef. She used day-old Tomcat Bakery bread...she added enough custard that the bread cubes would float and there would be a silken custardy layer beneath those bread cubes, shot through with custard themselves, a bit crunchy and crusty on top with sugar. Sigh. What a good memory.

So they will like this. You will all be happy to know I didn't screw one thing up--didn't miss out any ingredients, didn't use seven tablespoons of butter when Dorie called for, indeed, this was pretty simple (except: No brioche at the local Harris Teeter??? Say WHAT???)...I used nice bread, slathered it up with most delicious apple butter (a very funny discussion about what is apple butter took place on TWD--funny to ME because I grew up with it...just think how many people learned about lovely apple butter because of this TWD recipe!) And in the aisles, my hand reached for the peach butter, too--but my fridge is laden...over laden, I'd say...let's work our way through the apple butter (and orange marmalade and strawberry jam and ginger jam) and then we can try the pĂȘche butter. It's not going anywhere.

For me, the caramelized apples make this--they give the bread pudding a bit of extra oomph and texture (I love me some texture in's why I don't like pudding or texture but....smooooth...) and the caramelized notes come through...I even brought the milk/cream to a near boil in the skillet I used to caramelize the apples so I could soak up every ounce of caramel-y flavor.
I sprinkled sugar on top (going for more texture and thinking of Laura's creation--wish I'd had turbinado.. ...this house..NO ONE ever tells me when they've finished something...they just put the carton back empty except for a few crystals (or drops of milk) and say: Well it wasn't REALLY done...but I digress)..

This is so nice. It's pretty, with its mosaic of cut apple, apple butter slathered bread slices and custard...But of course, it is fabulous, too--I think boiling the milk in that skillet really made a difference because you really DO get incredible notes of caramel in each bite.

I made Ian compare it to the apple bread pudding he ate out on Sunday night at Mac's Speed Shop...there, the dessert was covered with an admittedly FABULOUS caramel sauce...which I may just add to this because I can. Decadence, thy name is Babette...Anyway. Ian hasn't weighed in yet, but I am sure I'm at the top...right, Ian? Right? (Update: Ian HAS weighed in. He likes mine better--he loves the texture the apples bring.)

Bread pudding? You either love it or hate, I think, but if you love this...I could see this as a lovely fall dessert, especially...someone suggested whiskey sauce, too...only the Kentucky girl in me would have to go with bourbon...Nice...very nice...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19: Wednesday Q and A With Queen of the Quick Meal, Christine Gable

Today I introduce Christine Gable, who blogs at Queen of the Quick Meal, her website/business, where she provides answers to harried cooks looking for kitchen answers.

1. What pushed you to food or wine blogging?

Lol, pushed. Good word choice. That's the state of having a successful business on the internet today--if you don't have a strong presence in today's online and social media world, your business is going to feel it. I joined the fray when I launched a new biz earlier this year called Queen of the Quick Meal. It's a site where folks can come and find answers to last-minute mealtime dilemmas. It's help for when you don't know what to make for dinner, don't have time to go to the store, and need dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less. I blog to share quick meal ideas and recipes with everyone--to help spread ideas of what to make that's quick and delicious (and usually healthy).

2. What do you hope to share with readers through your blog?

Quick recipes, quick meal ideas, suggestions for how to use seasonal foods, and humorous or entertaining anecdotes that relate to my life and my work in helping find mealtime solutions.

3. Is there one post that stands out from others as one that generated a lot of commentary or maybe made you wish you hadn't posted it?

Contests seem to be very popular and I've received the most comments when I'm giving away Adobo or simple seasoning kits.  I received the most comments on a post that asked people to share which food they could use some help with -- it's a reference list that can keep me busy for the rest of the year!

4. Do you cook yourself? Well?  What is your go-to dish?

I do cook--most days it goes very well, other times, well, it could be better. But that's life, eh?  Most of the time cooking 'centers me' and makes me feel better -- I find it's best to be in the kitchen between 5-5:30 when my kids arrive home after school/work and everyone reconvenes for the day. It's the hub of family activity and when I'm busy at the stove the kids seem to find it easier to chat about what's happened all day.

My go-to dish is Chicken Fajitas (or Bean Fajitas--using canned, drained beans--for the vegetarians), an easy 2 skillet dinner: in skillet #1 saute sliced chicken breast in some olive oil, sprinkling with soy sauce when almost done. Meanwhile in skillet #2 warm soft tortillas til they're lightly golden brown. Using this warm pan, saute sliced onions and peppers in oil until tender. Fill tortillas with chicken (or beans), sauteed onions and peppers, and top with lettuce, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc.  Yum!

Here's a link with a picture:

5. Forget your favorite go-to dish; what is your idea of a perfect meal?

Delicious homecooking that takes 20 minutes or less start-to-finish. Kids home, digging in with relish, and telling me about their day. Dishwasher in working order.
Bonus question if you feel like it: Do you have a dirty little secret in your kitchen?
Sounds awesome (Christine is referring to my secret fondness for Banquet Frozen Chicken and Dumplings for the Crock-pot) -- will have to keep my eyes open for that one (especially since I write the Savvy Slowcooker column for CDKitchen -- folks would luv that fast and easy slowcooker meal!).

Dirty little dessert secret: when there's not a single 'prepared' sweet or dessert in the house, we grab the jar of peanut butter and bag of chocolate chips. Spoonful of peanut butter dipped in chocolate chips does the trick. Divine. Easy. Quick.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Poster: Corbin Evans

I met Corbin in Philadelphia when we both started to work for Jack McDavid at Jack's Firehouse. Kitchen work has a way of bringing people close together and you make fast friends because you're in the trenches doing some demanding work, but it's work you love. 

I left Philadelphia (but only after working for Corbin when he was chef at BLT Cobblefish) and then left professional kitchens to raise kids and then to raise kids while writing about food. Corbin's path took him to New Orleans before AND after Katrina, where he helped put Savvy Gourmet on the map, and where Savvy Gourmet helped New Orleans right back. But he came back to the Northeast. Thanks to Facebook and email, I haven't lost touch. I've even interviewed him about favorite kitchen tools that chefs should also have at home (Corbin loved the fish spatuala, wide, flat, flexible and good for a lot of things in the kitchen)...

I remember Corbin as tall, soft-spoken (even in a ..."loud" kitchen, if we would like to use that word for Jack's) and an incredible cook--someone who is thoughtful about food. Here's what he wrote about the food in his life today--as in today, Tuesday, May 18, 2010--and about what is uppermost in his mind in the food world...

As I write this I am eating lunch. A lunch I made from things I bought locally. I am eating a sardine, avocado and sweet onion sandwich on toasted whole grain bread with balsamic-shallot mustard and a side of Kara Kara Orange wedges. Very healthy, very high in the "good fats" we all need more of these days. I finished it off with a piece of really good organic-free trade chocolate. Total cost was maybe $3.25. I love food and I love to cook and I really love to eat. But I am lucky because I have a choice in what I eat. I am capable of buying what is good for me and preparing it in a way that is healthy and flavorful. I know that not everyone is as lucky as me. I know, from experience, that not everyone has the ability to buy, prepare and consume wholesome, fresh and healthy foods. I think the #1 issue we should all be concerned with at the moment, other than being aware of the "man-made" disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the devastating long-term after effects of the region and the amazing people of that area, is making sure ALL people have access to the things so many of us take for granted. A handful of issues prevent many people from eating right and, even more importantly, from feeding our children a nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a country, if we waste as much food as we consume then the issue is not quantity. The issue is quality, affordability and getting it to the people who need it most. I wish kids didn't "have" to eat fast food because it was easier for their Moms and Dads. As a kid, I remember when a trip to Wendy's was a special treat! I think we all know what needs to be how do we do it?

Me again: Okay. So. How DO we do it? Let us know what you think about the challenge of getting quality affordable food to the people in our country who need it most. I will be sure to pass your comments on to Corbin.

Plant a Garden--Even a Small One...

That line is from Food, Inc.

Here is my small garden...fresh herbs make me happy. That is Gia surveying her domain over the garden. She leaves the garden alone. Good thing. Good dog.

Check back later today, too--my friend Corbin is guest blogging for me. I cooked with Corbin at Jack's Firehouse in Philadelphia and again at Cobblefish in Philadelphia, too, where he was head chef. He's a great chef and was a fun person to work with. I can't wait to hear his blog topic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17, Day 17 aaaaannnd....Tools to Use!

Monday mornings are difficult for me to blog...weekend is over, I baked, but that's for my TWD...Barefoot bloggers are not inspiring me...I was lazy in the cooking category...wanted to test a recipe, Mr. Babette wanted to eat out (Mac's Speed Shop in Charlotte bbq. brisket. ever.)...

But I have to go back to talking about tools. This week, I'll sing the praises of the stick blender/immersion blender like this one by Kitchenaid. Here's the photo of mine:

I first saw these in home kitchens in Spain, when I lived in Sevilla for a year...Seemed smart, but I wasn't cooking much then and didn't think much of it...then when I started working in professional kitchens, we used the burr stick...don't ask me if that's an official name, but that's what we called it--I would pureed 5 gallons of avocado gazpacho at a time with one of those came nearly to my waist, it was that big and that powerful.

So then you started seeing them on the market and I snapped a plastic one up for about $20...but I'm like my friend Celia--I pretty much only cook on HIGH. So when I pureed a hot soup, I kind of melted the business end of the stick was also hard to clean, what with poking around that little blender blade (made harder by my mis-shaping of it in the hot liquid, too...)

Then Kitchenaid came out with the blender with a detachable, all metal stick (it goes into the dishwasher, no problem--thanks, Celia for asking for clarification...) AND varying speeds --(I remind you: no, I have no business dealings with Kitchenaid. I just happen to love the mixer AND this blender). I don't worry about hot, I don't worry about cleaning...this stays in a cabinet right next to the stove top and it gets used. Often.

Makes great soups, sauces, dressings and yes, even mayo...(you MUST try homemade mayo if you never have...yum...)
(There are some neat little attachments these days, too--I may NEED the whisk!)

Here. Try that homemade mayo:

2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk yolks with mustard using stick blender. Slowly slowly SLOWLY start dribbling (very technical culinary term: dribbling) in the oil. Be will come together and look like mayo all on its own. When you like the consistency, stop. Whisk in lemon juice, salt and pepper...

Best use? Dip homemade french fries in this, the way they do in FRANCE! BELGIUM! COOL PLACES! This is a decadent, lovely use of mayo. Of course, homemade mayo is great ANYWHERE you use it...

Note: Some of you may balk at using raw egg yolks. Should you choose to, you can poach an egg and use that yolk. I have NOT tried this. I buy my eggs from someone I know and use them up quickly. I would probably NOT give raw egg mayo to small children (in fact, I didn't give it to my kids when they were, say 8 and younger...)...Use caution, know that a lot of places warn against raw eggs. Also, use this mayo up quickly, too--you can half the quantity and make less...this is not a long shelf life item. As with any mayo-based dish, keep it COLD. Don't take this on a summer know, just to be safe (safer)...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16: Photo Sunday...Sour Oranges at Cross Creek

I took this shot of sour oranges one warm Florida November day as I wandered the gardens at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' home in Central Florida (now Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park). The home where she wrote is preserved much as it was when she lived there. Her idea was to write and supplement her income with the proceeds from the harvest of sour oranges on the property.

Although I'm not so sure how well she did with the oranges, the trees are lovely, as are the grounds of her home. The oranges have a starring role on the menu at The Yearling, the restaurant just up the road a ways, where they make a sour orange pie, with a sour orange curd (like lemon or key lime curd in those pies)...I love it. I loved my day at Cross Creek. I love this photo.

A quote from MKR:

“Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in a geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic.” 

I felt a bit of that magic the day I took this photo.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 15, Day 15 of the Blogathon: 10 Food Blogs I Love...

This was a blogthon topic this past week, but since my email has been screwed up, I didn't see it until I solved (halfway--at least now I can find all missing emails) my problems...But it seems a perfect time to list the blogs I love.

1. 5 Second Rule. I met Cheryl Sternman Rule at Greenbrier. She was funny, she'd won a scholarship for the event (that is a very big deal) and she went home and started writing her blog...I love it--she is STILL funny, often touching, she writes killer recipes and takes killer photos of the food to match. Visit!

2. Cafe Lynnylu. I just discovered Lynnylu when she commented on one of my posts...I always try to reciprocate by commenting back...when I went to Cafe L. I found good writing and great photos (you will find photos to be a recurring theme of the blogs I love best.) Lynnylu has a Thirsty Thursday post that I love...a new cocktail for every week. Now there's a woman I could kick back with.

3. I visit Dorie Greenspan's page often. She recounts her travels,  and I remain hopeful that someday (SOON) I will change my life to live part of the year here, part of the year there (there can be France, Italy, Spain...or probably a whole bunch of other places--Buenos Aires? Okay. Japan? Okay, too. India? Distinct possibility....)

4. Orangette. I am a huge fan of Orangette, who wrote A Homemade Life, which I wrote about here..her blogging got very light when she and her husband (who she met through her blog!) opened a restaurant--but she's coming back, and I look forward to more frequent posts. Her book is filled with recipes that I feel I need to try almost the minute I put the book down. Her creamed cabbage is on regular rotation in this house.

5. I love Fig Jam and Lime Cordial by my friend, Celia, who is a frequent commenter here. I met her through a food lovers' forum, which I don't visit often enough these days, but her blog introduces me to new ideas (the cottage loaf! I may have to try this) AND she took the time to get some welder's gloves into the mail to me...umm, did I say SHE LIVES DOWN UNDER??? We've never met, but she made sure someone heading back to the States dropped these into the mail for me. And today? Today there's the lovliest poem there. It made me misty. I love seeing what Celia is up to. Celia? It has been lovely getting to know you this way. One day we will meet!

6. La Tartine Gourmande Again, I love the photos here...There's something so special about good photography, and she gets it right..

7. Perhaps not a blog, but another site I visit often is Cook's Illustrated. I pay for the subscription as well--the techniques they talk about, the reasons behind why food acts the way it does--all that is valuable to me as a recipe developer..

8. This one is grudging admiration..because I wish *I* had developed it. food52, by (skinny) Amanda Hesser of NYT and Merrill.  It's good. And they care about the stuff I care about. Love the current post: Showdown with Cook's Illustrated, where dueling recipe testing methods take place.

9. Ack! Only two spots left...but I read so many more!..I'll give a nod to Chocolate and Zucchini, one of the original blog-to-book blogs...I dream big. But here, I do love the essay quality of all her posts...again, something I aspire to (oh, that and a book...and living abroad...)

10. I cannot decide, therefore, I direct you to a non-food blog I won't live without: Some hate her, but I think she is funny as shit, thoughtful, sometimes poignant, raunchy, she loves her family fiercely and has come to terms with having been raised in a religion she thinks is whacko. I can totally relate. She also loves photography. (Told you that would be a recurring theme!) Go. Read Dooce. Love Dooce.

Friday, May 14, 2010

6 Kitchen Rules I Routinely Break--You Should Too

There are some absolutes in a professional kitchen, some from home kitchens--things we do just because...well, we do... And some of them are great...and some simply don't work for me. So here you go...things that might make my first chef (Hi, Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy in Tribeca!!) or my mom or my nana shudder...

1. I wash my black cast iron pan. Look, I get it--layers of flavor settle into the very being of the pan. Romantic. Flavors down the centuries. Blah blah blah.

No. Just no. Here's why. I might be cooking up onions and garlic one day...and then making biscuits for shortbread (sweetISH if not sweet sweet) the next. I don't WANT the flavors to be there.

So while I may not scrub with Dawn and a scrub brush, water always hits the pan after use. Mind you, so does a coating of oil and then I pop it into a still warm oven. It is pretty damn nonstick at this point and I love it. (Buy Lodge: Made in America....) But really? Wash it.

2. While we are on the subject of washing, I give my mushrooms a rinse. I was taught to patiently wipe the shrooms with a damp paper towel...washing them would make them act like sponges, I was told. Well...I'm not that patient. Now I toss them into a colander and give 'em a quick shower, shaking off excess water before popping them into a hot pan. Me? I don't think they suffer.

3. I cook ALMOST exclusively with extra virgin olive oil. I'm told it's a waste of money, but...hmm. I like the flavor...(sometimes, I know, I really DO want the non-flavor of vegetable oil and that is in the house..)...and it's what is at the side of the stove. And I like the flavor, did I say that already?

4. I don't buy expensive nonstick pans. Don't put your money into nonstick pans if that coating is on the inside of a $100+ pan. Heck, don't do it if the pan is $30+...I haven't come across a nonstick surface that lasts forever--not the way I cook, at least. And no, I don't use metal, I wash them by hand...but ultimately, I toss them and buy a new set of nonstick pans...once a year. And I don't spend a lot (check out Ikea)...(or do what I  plan to do and replace them all with cast iron eventually...cast iron that I WASH...)

5. I use skim milk almost every time they say milk, no matter what--yes, even in baking. This is another form of lazy, because unless I plan, skim is what's in the fridge. I've never had it not work...I think some things may lack some depth of flavor, but...not enough that the family notices.

6. I keep butter and some eggs always at room temperature. I have never used margarine, only butter--and I do not like rock hard butter...not at home, not in a restaurant (it's always a mark against a place if they bring be bread and rock hard butter...) Now this doesn't mean there's a pound of butter on the counter...At most, there's one stick in a covered glass butter dish. I guess if you don't have A/C, this wouldn't work in the height of summer, but other than that? Always there. Same goes for some eggs. I go through eggs relatively quickly, so this isn't a problem for me (although if my mom visits, we play the she-puts-the-eggs-into-the-fridge, I-take-them-out-of-the-fridge dance...until I snap and say: LEAVE THEM ON THE COUNTER. IT'S WHERE I WANT THEM..) Again, I used them up quickly and if I'm baking, I want eggs at room temperature...So if half a dozen are on the counter for a few days? No. Harm. (Again, YMMV if you live in a hot climate with no A/C)....

Bonus Item: SUBSTITUTE, PEOPLE, SUBSTITUTE!!! I have experienced cook friends and family call me now and then and ask: Can I substitute red onions for yellow? Can I use white wine if I don't have sherry? Can I use sherry if I don't have white wine? Chicken thighs instead of breast? Will bourbon work for whiskey? YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN AND OF COURSE IT WILL.
Again, these are some experienced cooks asking. No, of course sherry doesn't taste like white wine. (But onions DO taste like onions)--I can't begin to tell you the recipes I make...when I at times only have half the ingredients. Be bold. You really can't ruin it by subbing one veg for another or one wine for another. (Okay, so there's the time DH wanted a whiskey sour and subbed Scotch for the whiskey? That? THAT didn't work...) (Caveat: The same doesn't hold true in baking, as I bear witness to time and again in my rough attempts at baking...Baking is for is not!)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Potluck Thursday: Babette Bakes Brioche

I've decided to use Thursday to introduce you to some of my old, favorite posts, posts I made long before anyone was reading. I still think I was particularly clever and funny in this ode to brioche, Dorie Greenspan's brioche, to be exact...It's long because I'm putting three posts together...but then again, making brioche was a long process, too. If you make it to the end, you might notice I froze a part of the cinnamon roll...that my daughter discovered and thought was BAD (it was unbaked!) and she PITCHED. It took me a long time to get over that... (Originally posted April, 2008)

Day 1: The Marathon Begins...
Dorie Greenspan is a delight. I had the incredible good fortune of meeting her recently at The Greenbrier. In fact, I had the funny and near-silly experience of sharing a bar of Vosges Chocolate Bacon bar with her. Picture about 10 avid food writers, food literature readers, food magazine editors...I think it was Dorie who did the honors of breaking it into pieces for everyone to experience. It was passed around the table like a communion plate. We all took a shard of chocolate...Then someone read the near zen-like instructions from Vosges on how to enjoy the chocolate...At one point we all had our eyes sounds were being made...and then you couldn't keep us quiet...because of COURSE we all had opinions. (For the record, we didn't like the chewy texture of the bacon left in our mouths when we let the chocolate melt first...some of us liked it more when we chewed right into it, releasing salty, smoky, sweet all at once...)

But this post isn't about the chocolate. It's about my discovery: Dorie's Brioche. I got the lowdown from the insiders: The Brioche is to die for. And the sticky pecan buns--to die for a second time...So when my signed copy of Dorie's Baking: From My Home to Yours arrived in the mail (no way I was dragging those pounds and pounds of books home on the plane...), I had to get started on the brioche.

I knew enough that the process would be easier if I made the dough the day before...Clever me: I'll throw it together at 10 PM and get it right into the fridge. Mmmhmmm.

Like any bread, the ingredient list is short. Yeast, water, milk, flour, salt, sugar, eggs and butter. Lots of butter. But it is lovely. Once again, Kitchenaid comes to the rescue. When discussing this with Dorie, her first question was: Do you have a mixer? Apparently her first experience was with this dough, a wooden spoon and her aching shoulders. At any rate, it starts as an ugly, mealy dough.

Then the eggs go in and it looks a bit better. And then you start beating the butter in, about 2 tablespoons at a time. Here's me holding the mixer to keep it from walking itself off the counter as it works that dough...
When all is said and done, you are left with a glossy, silken mass of dough.
It is gorgeous (I happily had about 1/2 pound of lovely, yellow Irish butter on my counter to use here...)

Oh, back to my cleverness...First punch down: after one hour. Then every 30 minutes or so FOR THE NEXT TWO HOURS. Until it stops rising. And THEN you get to go to bed...I mean and THEN you get to put it in the fridge (and go to bed...)

It will be a late night...This last shot is of the dough rising on the back porch, where it's warmer.
Just did the first punch down..The dough is just so nice to touch...Do you think anyone else is out on her balcony punching down brioche dough? Now it's 12.43 a.m. Do you know where your brioche is? 

 Day 2
I woke at 7.15. Visions of brioche and pecan sticky buns by way of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours invaded my mind...I knew I had a lunch to go to with a food professional, and I have a feeling she's bringing me some farm-fresh eggs. I don't want to show up empty handed. Brioche will be my gift.(What? What diet?)
So, I was anticipating a sticky mess--but I forgot what butter does in the hardens. So the dough was extraordinarily easy to handle. I divided it. Half is for a loaf, the other half for sticky bunAnd I divided the sticky bun dough in half again, making 8 today, then rolling the other half for the freezer. One day I'll be able to take that little spiral out of the freezer at 10 p.m. and wake up to bake fresh brioche sticky buns. I am wonder woman, I am Supermom.

Let's see. The sticky buns go in about an hour and 45 minutes after prepping. The loaf, about 2 hours later...Look at my results...

And I will vouch for the taste (hey, it's in the job description: eat). A big complaint I had with a batch of sticky buns I made relatively recently was that the bread part itself was leaden. Why bother with that gooey goodness if the bread is like a rock? Well, this brioche sticky bun recipe absolutely knocks that problem out of the park. They are melt-in-your-mouth, buttery lightness. I've eaten half of one bun. 7 1/2 brioche pecan sticky buns are now staring me in the face. I'm watching out the window for my neighbor to come home so I can give her some (my town is such a pain. All the women are on "social x-ray" diets, to borrow that phrase from Tom Wolfe. But at least my neighbor has two little girls...)..then I'll be able to take a couple to the woman I'm meeting for lunch...then if I'm really inspired, I'm going to drive to Boca to deliver the remaining few to the great people at JES Publishing/Florida Table offices. They'll help me salvage my own nutritional crisis...

On to the brioche loaf...
Day 3. The Loaf

Wow. It was one baking morning. As noted below, after an early start, I had the loaf rising and the sticky buns rolled, cut and rising by about 7.45 a.m. The sticky buns were a definite success.

I did as I was told--egg wash, baked at 400. I cannot believe how lovely this turned out. As I said elsewhere, every time I make bread--even something that sounds as daunting as brioche--I wonder why I don't do it more often. Sure, this brioche recipe has 12 ounces of butter in it (that means the little loaf has half that--6 ounces..I started slicing very thin slices once I realized that...), but that's the only expensive ingredient in it...even a plain, Publix baguette costs me $1. I'd say the extra bit of money for this particular loaf? Worth it.

The bread is so rich--you SO taste the butter--I am happy eating it all by itself. A brioche purist, that's me. I could picture it with some bitter orange marmalade, though...Or I'd like to try the bostock Dorie mentions...spread stale brioche (who gets a loaf to last til it's stale?) slices with almond cream, sprinkle with sliced almonds, bake until the almond cream is puffy and hot.

But I don't think it will last long enough.

Day 4: Definition of Brioche
Brioche, noun. (bree-osh) Butter held together by bits of flour, yeast and egg.
When I toasted a slice this morning, it sizzled all on its own.
That's all. Just an observation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meet Carolyn Jung: The Food Gal

It's Wednesday, which means it's time to meet some of my food world friends, even those I haven't actually met face to face. Carolyn Jung, The Food Gal, blogs about her life in the food world. She knows a good empanada when she sees one and her Mother's Day tribute last weekend was a lovely tribute to an era when moms all wore dresses all the time. Head over to The Food Gal for food, photos and good stories.

1. What pushed you to food or wine blogging?

When I was laid off from my former newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, in March 2008, I didn't really have a Plan B lined up for what to do next. Back then, in addition to all my other writing duties at the paper, I also oversaw the paper's food & wine blog. My last day at the paper, I posted that I would no longer be doing that blog, that it had been my first experience blogging, and how I wanted to thank everyone for coming along for the ride. Now, that blog normally was lucky to get two or three comments. But when that post went up, the comments poured in. I was actually surprised that the paper left the blog going as long as it did, considering no one took up the reins, and my good-bye post was the only thing on it for months. In that time, an amazing thing happened -- about 30 or so comments poured in. Most were from long-time readers, who wrote that they would miss my stories and hoped that they would still be able to read my writing somewhere else.

I can't tell you how touching that was. So right then and there, I thought, "I'm not sure what the future holds for me yet. But one thing I can do easily right now is just start a blog.'' And so, I did. It's been so incredible to reconnect with so many folks who used to read me in the newspaper, and to develop new relationships with folks all over the world via cyberspace.

2. What do you hope to share with readers through your blog?
I think of my blog as my own little food section. It has a variety of content -- from newsy pieces to Q&A's with celebrity chefs to my family's recipes to my outings at local restaurants. With so many local newspaper food sections a shadow of themselves and so many food magazines shrinking or folding, this blog is a way to fill a bit of the void that's developed by providing useful, entertaining, and educational information about all the things we love to eat and drink.

3. Is there one post that stands out from others as one that generated a lot of commentary or maybe made you wish you hadn't posted it?

The post that I wrote about the cafe at Facebook ( generated a lot of buzz. Facebook is such a hot company right now, and one that so many people can identify with because, hey, who isn't on Facebook these days, right? Silicon Valley has long been justly famous for the perks that exist on its high-tech campuses -- from on-site pharmacies and gyms to free dry-cleaning or childcare services. Those of us who don't work in high-tech, though, are rarely privy to seeing any of this. Indeed, only employees or their guests can dine at the Facebook cafe, which is headed by a chef who used to work at some very well regarded restaurants. He invited me to come take a look, and so I was able to give sort of an insider's view of just what he does there, including the incredible gourmet meals he serves to employees, who eat for free. The post allowed readers to live -- or taste -- vicariously, which I think is why it struck such a chord.

4. Do you cook yourself? Well?  What is your go-to dish (share the recipe in a few sentences)?
Now that I work from home, I cook even more. So, I'm probably cooking and baking about four or five times a week. My go-to dish would probably have to be an Asian stir-fry with black bean sauce. It works with shrimp, as well as pork, beef or chicken that's been cut into bite-sized pieces, and most any veggies. I marinated the protein in a little bit of sesame oil, soy sauce and mirin (Japanese rice wine). Then I slice up an onion, mince some fresh ginger and a couple cloves of garlic. I heat up a wok with some peanut oil, and throw in my protein till it's browned, then I remove it to a plate to set aside. Then I add a little more oil to the wok, and throw in my onions, ginger, garlic and whatever veggies are on hand (broccoli florets, cut-up long beans, red peppers, green beans, zucchini, etc.). I splash in a little more mirin, then stir in a tablespoon or so of jarred fermented black bean sauce. Then, I add back in my protein, give it a stir, and it's done. Serve with steamed rice, and it's a meal.

5. Forget your favorite go-to dish; what is your idea of a perfect meal?
It varies according to my mood. It can be something as decadent as the tasting menu with wine pairings at the French Laundry or as simple as my husband boiling a couple of fresh Dungeness crabs to go with sourdough bread and a Caesar salad at home.

Bonus question if you feel like it: Do you have a dirty little secret in your kitchen? 
I admit that I have my share of gourmet products in my kitchen. But there's one thing I try not to keep in my house whatsoever because it's just too much temptation for me. And that's gummi bears. I once bought a huge bag of individual servings of gummi bears a week before Halloween, intending to hand them out to trick-or-treaters. Guess where they all ended up? Yup, inside my stomach. How sad is that? I have loved these chewy, colorful, little candies ever since I was a kid, and I guess I still do. I don't care what anyone says about them all tasting exactly the same. I know in my heart that the clear ones are the best.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Unofficial Tuesday with Dorie Baking: Quick Classic Berry Tart...

Truth: My Tuesdays with Dorie should just be retitled Babette's Big Bad Adventures in Baking, because if there is a way to screw things Up? Oh, I can, dear readers. I can.

Case in point, this week's tart. Day 1. Made pastry cream and did a pheNOmenal job. If I do say so myself. Into the fridge with it.

Day 2, Mother's Day (wouldn't this tart be delightful as dessert for Mother's Day dinner, thought Babette to herself...). Make crust. I know Dorie's crust. We've met before. We've  had good times before, so I was ready-bring it. Pulsed the flour, sugar, salt. Added butter. Man, it was NOT sticking together, not even a little bit, but I was trying SO HARD to be gentle..I remember to press gently so I don't lose that very crumbly, very short quality of this crust...It was a struggle, frankly, but I persevered, pressing harder than I thought I should, musing to myself about why doesn't Dorie weigh her flour...surely I measured out too much flour, that HAD to be the reason it wasn't sticking together...I re-read the recipe, know I measured right, sighed and slid the tart crust into the freezer. Turned the oven on...and started to clean up, reaching first for the very expensive butter I'd decided to use for this recipe..

But wait. Why is this chunk of butter unwrapped? It looks SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE THE NINE TABLESPOONS OF BUTTER I SO CAREFULLY MEASURED OUT USING THE WRAPPER MARKS...I look to the crumble of wrapper on the counter, the one from the butter I'd chopped up and added...the one with only SEVEN TABLESPOONS OF BUTTER LEFT AFTER I MEASURED OUT THE NINE. The chunk of butter still on the counter? That? THAT was the nine...

So. Sigh. The crust? She's not so short...Onward.

I froze the crust for 30 minutes...baked it with foil on top, shiny side down (really? Does that really make a difference?) and then baked it some more...Like Dorie, I like a fully baked crust to be FULLY I was going for golden...and got it...

I filled the shell with pastry may think I was a bit generous, but that stuff is GOOD. Then I topped it with a BUNCH of the fresh berries I got from the Farmers' Market on Saturday and some big old fat blackberries...I was in too much of a rush to drizzle on the additional red currant jam.

This was a treat to eat...even without the extra two tablespoons butter, the crust is a lovely shortbread base for the tart...(it was, perhaps, a bit firmer than it should have been since I really DID have to press it hard to get it to stick together, what with it missing that extra butter and all)..

I'd love to make this in individual tart pans in the pretty. I WILL remember the extra butter in the future...but if I can offer any advice? Just make this. My daughter decided it was the best berry tart she'd ever tried...high praise indeed.

Head over to Tuesdays with Dorie to check out the other versions of this tart and read the recipe (posted with Dorie's permission) over at Cooking with Cristine, who chose this week's TWD recipe

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday's Tools To Use

I know you don't care one bit about five things I ate over the weekend, so Monday? She's no longer about that...instead, I'm making Monday an ode to things I really can't--won't--live without in the kitchen.

Here's the scoop. I could be called frugal. And I've spent a lot of money, I bet, buying stuff that was...subpar for the kitchen. Until I finally discovered some good quality pots and pans, a real mixer, etc. Now? Now if someone asks my opinion, I don't hold back: If you cook a lot--or even a little, but if you are serious about what you are doing in the kitchen, buy the best you can afford. (Of course, shop the deals--you would not believe what you can find in TJ Maxx, for example...can anyone say All-Clad??? Tune in for that post next Monday.)

I have been cooking professionally for decades now (koff koff!..Decades? Can it be? Ssshhhh)...I gamely struggled through el cheapo hand mixers...less than good stand mixers...and none of them ever made the grade...All I could think of? The great mixers I'd used when I worked in restaurants...Now I wonder why I didn't just get that from the start. It is, after all, much needed equipment with which to do my work (if you don't know by now, when I'm not blogging I am developing recipes for fabulous clients or testing recipes for fabulous clients...or writing about said development and said testing...).

So I finally succumbed about...7? 8? years ago to the lure of the Kitchenaid mixer, and I've got only two things to say about it: Why didn't I do it sooner? and Why didn't I get the bigger mixer (the one with the lift handle as opposed to the tilt head..)--because truth be told, I am overtaxing even this sweet machine.

I have made myriad cookies, batters, tart doughs (sweet and savory), mashed any number of potatoes and rutabagas in the bowls, mixed pasta dough and, with the hook, kneaded some of the best bread this side of the Atlantic (I brag, but it wasn't my recipe; it's Carol Field's from The Italian Baker...)...and and pizza dough after pizza dough after pizza dough (hmm...I think this reminds me of dinner tonight...let's have homemade pizza...)

Just this weekend I had a Costco coupon in my hot little hands...$30 off (I think) a bigger version, the "pro 450" version. Remember Tim Allen in Home Improvement? That was me in Costco, gazing at the shelves: More power!!!!!

But I put the bigger mixer back. Because even though I really want that bigger machine, the "little" one is still doing its job (if I could sell it, that money would go to my "big" machine...maybe that's the route to take...) and...well, you know... the economy and all.. Sigh.

Anyway, this post is all about the Kitchenaid stand mixer, my ode to something I would not do without. Ever. Again. Big or small version...get the best tool for the job. This is the one. (No, I am NOT paid to say anything good OR bad about Kitchenaid...)

(Bonus round: I found the BEST thing at Sur La Table--a scrapper/paddle that cleans the sides of the bowl AS YOU MIX...brilliant!) (note: my link isn't to the one I bought, but I couldn't find one...this one, called the SideSwipe, gets a lot of great online reviews...)

Ps. Late note that I remembered..oh, I dunno, around 5 a.m. when I couldn't sleep today--buy an extra bowl for yourself. Not for every recipe, but for MANY, you will be so glad of an extra bowl!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 9: Photo Sunday....Popovers

 I cannot help myself when it comes to popovers. They are incredibly simple to make. They are beautiful to this foodie's eye. Oh, yeah: and they taste delicious.

No matter how you slice it, the ratios are the same the world over for popovers:
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 ounces grated gruyere (optional and delicious)
--place rack about 2/3 down in oven. Remove any racks above your baking rack.

1. heat oven to 350. Place popover pan in oven while you prep batter. Warm 2 cups milk in microwave for about 2 minutes. Stir salt into warm milk. In separate bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Slowly drizzle in warm milk, whisking all the time. When milk is all in, slowly stir in flour. Mix until smooth.

2. Take pan from oven and spray with nonstick spray. Pour batter into each form, dividing evenly among the 6 forms. Top each with about 1 tablespoon grated cheese. Return pan to oven and bake, never peeking, for 55 minutes until popovers are dark golden brown. (You almost have to overcook these or they deflate.) Serve piping hot with butter and sea salt or butter and jam.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday Treats...Milkshakes.

One of the things I like to do in my new hometown of Charlotte is to find great spots to eat (I hear it. I hear that collective, "well, DUH." Hush now.) I recently read about Pike's, an old-fashioned diner/soda fountain--and the scoop was they serve up some mean milkshakes.

I did what any food-loving blogger would do. I decided it was time for a milkshake. NOW. Grabbed the keys, got the car, picked my DD up from school and set off for Pikes, about 10 minutes from home.

The GPS got me there no problem, and we hit the place in the middle of the very dead afternoon. Trust me, you won't find it like this very often. We sidled up to the old-time bar, hopped up and ordered a milkshake. I swear to you I ordered a chocolate malted milkshake, but the server heard only the chocolate. I'm not complaining.

It comes in one of the classic metal cups, tall and frosty, which then gets poured into a tall glass. You get to finish anything that doesn't make into the glass on that first pass. I couldn't do it justice, but I tried...
This is a simple pleasure that should definitely stay on the treats list. It's worth an extra walk (or 10..0r 20) around the block. Heck, I'll even let you make it with skim milk. Just don't skimp on the ice cream.

That was a fond memory, but today's farmer's market had gallons of strawberries for sale...I had to have a big old gallon of I'm thinking a strawberry milkshake is in order for my Saturday treat. That and a 4-mile walk...

Strawberry Milkshake: Serves 1

1 cup milk
2 scoops strawberry ice cream (best quality)
1 cup fresh strawberries, rinsed and drained.

Place all ingredients into blender. Blend until thick and smooth. If you want some chunks of strawberry, blend the milk and ice cream first and add the strawberries at the end, pulsing just a few times to break up and blend a bit.

Share with your favorite person for extra special feelings of contentment.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Feature: Barefoot Blogging with The Contessa

One of the other blogs I've joined (and been booted from) in the past is the Ina Garten Barefoot Bloggers...they were working their ways through the Barefoot Contessa's books (any of 'em)--Barefoot Contessa is, of course, Food Network's Ina Garten. She sure can cook, but I think I tune in for her kitchen (I am convinced it's the kitchen used for the movie Something's Gotta Give with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. VERY funny movie in which Keaton plays a playwright who spends the summer in the Hamptons where love and chaos ensue. But I fell in love with the kitchen, too...

Want it.

I digress.

My point is about cooking along with the Barefoot Bloggers. I don't. But I did peruse the list of recipes already cooked and found Ina's Cream of Wild Mushroom soup. YUM. One of my daughter's favorites and it fits into the at least once a week vegetarian goal I have.

You can find the full recipe here, although I greatly modified it by cutting the butter down to next to nothing and only making it creamy by one glug of cream. (Serves six; one glug divided by 6 is not much cream at all...)

Here's MY version (plenty creamy--see that photo at the top). Check Ina's out, too.

Wild Mushroom Soup..
8 ounces Shiitakes
10 ounces sliced white mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, choped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
5 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups water
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1. Clean the mushrooms and remove and discard the shiitake stems, which are tough. Slice the shiitakes and combine with the white mushrooms. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a stockpot over medium high heat. Add onions, thyme, scallions, salt and pepper and cook until veg is soft. Add water. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook uncovered for 10 min.
3. In a large cast-iron skillet heat remaining olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Add mushrooms to this and cook until very soft, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle flour over all and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Deglaze pan with white wine, scraping up anything left on the bottom. Add the contents of the skillet to the stockpot. Cook another 15 minutes. Add cream and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Serve hot with toasted slices of baguette.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Potluck Thursday: Language of Baklava

I am unexpectedly caught on the road today, so I do what I do at home: open the fridge and see what leftovers appeal. This is one of my earliest posts. I read Diana Abu Jaber's Language of Baklava and loved it. Here's why:

From December 2007

Why didn't I hear about this book sooner? Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber is a must read for anyone who loves food or cooking and who understands how you feed the soul when you feed other people, how food helps you have roots and how food helps you wander among other cultures. (Of course now you should read all her other books, too. She has her own wonderful website here.)

I just finished reading it, and I find myself craving Middle Eastern food. She has sprinkled her favorite recipes throughout the book. Yesterday, I came home from our Publix with dried chick peas, which are soaking now (will I make hummus or falafel? I don't know yet); bulgur (cracked wheat for Subsistence Tabbouleh) and long grain rice. I think today I'll seek out ground lamb and use the wheat for kibbeh the way she describes it ("Cowboy Kibbeh" in the Bad American Girl chapter).

I would pass this book on to everyone I want to read it, which is what I normally do with books I love, but I can't. It's a cookbook, too, and I must have it in my cupboard.

Her novels include Arabian Jazz, Crescent and Original. I've got Crescent (Oooh! I just read that it is banned in Texas. I will have to make all my children read it.), which I will plunge into today, since it is New Year's Eve and I'll take the day and indulge myself, perhaps at the beach here in South Florida.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday: Meet My Blogging World Food Friends

Above: Lemon Lovers' Lemon Bar from Julie O'Hara at A Mingling of Tastes

As part of my blogathon effort, I decided to ask a few friends if they would be willing to talk about why they blog--MORE than a few answered (thank you all!!!), so this will be an ongoing, long-term part of my blog. I love reading their answers here.

And so, with no further ado, I introduce you to Julie O'hara blogs at A Mingling of Tastes, where she develops recipes, takes lovely photos and shares it all.
Here she answers the Babette Feasts burning questions:

1. What pushed you to food or wine blogging?
About 4 years ago, I discovered food blogs and wanted to do my own. At the time, I really needed a creative outlet. It's led to a career as a recipe developer and freelance writer for magazines, so I'm glad I did.

2. What do you hope to share with readers through your blog? My definition of healthy food: it's GOOD food that's delicious and satisfying. But you also feel good about eating it.

3. Is there one post that stands out from others as one that generated a lot of commentary or maybe made you wish you hadn't posted it?
This recipe that I call "lemon lover's lemon bars" still gets comments and emails telling me how good it is. This is gratifying because I am always nervous about people liking my recipes. Plus, I created it to satisfy my craving for the ultimate lemon bar, and I love it! 

4. Do you cook yourself? Well?  What is your go-to dish (share the recipe in a few sentences?
Something might be my go-to dish for months and then it will change and cycle back around eventually. Right now I think it's my take on shrimp and grits: Cook Quaker 5-minute grits with plenty of salt and pepper. Meanwhile saute a bunch of sliced green onions, garlic and a pint of halved grape tomatoes in a little olive oil. Then season some shrimp with salt, pepper and chile powder; saute in olive oil and add to veggies. Serve over grits and sprinkle with Feta cheese. It's also good if you stir some herb-flavor Boursin cheese into the grits when they're done (skip the Feta; or not).

5. Forget your favorite go-to dish; what is your idea of a perfect meal? As long as it involves really great red wine, and I'm eating with my husband, it can be a perfect meal. But probably some variation on steak with a pan sauce, a vegetable and popovers with butter on the side. 

Bonus question if you feel like it: Do you have a dirty little secret in your kitchen?
 This isn't really a secret, but it may be surprising: one shelf of my refrigerator consists mostly of candy. And generally not the fancy stuff. I'm talking about mini reese's peanut butter cups (the ones with dark chocolate are ridiculous); Hershey's miniatures; peanut butter twix; Reese's "Whips." I eat a little bit of candy (like around 100 calories worth) just about every day.