Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Did It!! I Made a TWD Cake...ON TUESDAY. Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake

Well, I made it on Monday in time to actually post on Tuesday. (Disclaimer: I am no longer an official TWD-er as I far too frequently did NOT make/post Tuesdays...so I am officially the renegade TWD-er...but they inspire me...) Partly because I've had my eye on these for a long, long time...

On to the meat of the matter...no, the cake of the matter.
Yesterday I called these rum-soaked, but Dorie calls them so much better: Rum-drenched Vanilla Cakes. I had almost all I needed for these basic-but-delicious cakes...including two vanilla beans that I had to help rehydrate by soaking them....okay, in rum, I admit it..and it worked.

I scraped out the two beans AND I added some vanilla (worried a bit that the beans may have been to old to pack needed punch)...I was a bit shocked, shocked! I tell you by the amount of melted butter added to these..

But...oh. my. These? These are the kinds of cakes I love...dense, full of flavors--both rum and vanilla, both favorites of mine and very straightforward. I really don't like fluffy, whipped cream covered, frosting layered, nut-filled...much of anything. Favorite sweets always tend to be shortbread. Pound cakes...creme brulee...pure, simple flavors...

I had to break out my mini-bundt cake pan, since it doesn't get a lot of use and it is SO CUTE. But I'd also better learn to fill it...fill it less, that is...look at all that wasted cake that overflowed...

Next time I'll know better...this made six overflowing mini-bundts (oh, those crumbs won't go to waste, don't you worry) AND a mini loaf...Simple to soak with rum syrup afterwards and the rewards are fabulous...I HAVE to give these away or I really will eat them all...

Head over to Tuesdays with Dorie to find other results. The chooser of the week and recipe printer is Wendy from Pink Stripes.

Do not ever buy store-made pound cake again. There is no reason to...this goes together in minutes (if you don't have vanilla bean, use the tablespoon and a half of vanilla extract...) and the results will make you want more and more and more...mmm. You know what this would go great with? A scoop of good vanilla ice cream...

I'm hungry...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Coming Soon! A REAL Tuesday with Dorie--5 thoughts to Share

A friend writes about 5 things she thinks about during her morning run. I always (almost) am thinking about food and what I have to cook, and her posts often make me comment back with 5 things I've thought about since waking up:

1. I just checked in at TWD...Tommorow's cake is rum-soaked vanilla cakes...

2. I like rum.

3. I love vanilla.

4. Totally making this today, even if there is no one in the house to eat it.

5.  Spent yesterday evening at Charlotte's Symphony in the Park at SouthPark...absolutely fabulous--musice, weather, company. Thanks for the invite, Lauren.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

5 Things I'd Like to Spend Too Much Money On for My Kitchen...

I have a running list of kitchen things I want. Badly. But they are really really really not in the budget these days...but they remain short-listed for the day I get to celebrate a big check or new writing gig...hey. A girl can dream.

And so, in no particular order, 5 Things I Want for the Kitchen (yes, more than clothes, shoes or a car) (and in case you care):

1. New 6-quart professional KitchenAid. I use my 4-quart tilt-head Kitchenaid to DEATH. And by death, I am very close to the actual truth. These days when I use it to knead dough or paddle a particularly heavy batter, the motor really starts to strain. whirrrWHIRRRwhirrrrWHIRRR. And kneading dough? Practically walks the mixer off the counter. The bigger mixer has a raise/lower bowl, a bigger motor...I am tempted to give this away to a friend so I can justify a new purchase. (About $500)

2. New glasses. Slowly, over the years, we've broken all our matching glasses. What's up with that? You know how you start married life with GREAT STUFF? All those gifts, so appreciated? I think there needs to be another shower...how about a 25-years-of-marriage-you-need-new-stuff-shower? Truth is I really love the French-style marmalade-jar glasses I find that are incredibly inexpensive and I SHOULD just go out and replace them. But I LUST after things like these "Goto Venetian Wine Glasses" I just found on Uncommon Goods--I clicked on them, ready to buy because I just LOVE them. GAK. 6 glasses for $300. I still can't cross that bridge, but these would SO be on the 25-year shower registry (oh, yes, since I'm dreaming of a shower, I get to say I will register for gifts!

3. New food processor. The one I have is 25 years old and I use it more than I ever thought I would. Recently, I decided it should stay on the counter, that is how much I use it (although it's going back in the cupboard. I live in a very small-kitchened apartment...place is big, but I think they don't think apartment dwellers cook that much..)..Now Cuisinart has come out with a lust-worthy model that...frankly, I just want. (For the record, the bowl part of my processor is chipped and broken and to make it work I have to use a knife to depress the little doohickey that turns the thing on--that piece broke years ago..) It would have to be this one (hey, they have one that's $800, so at $300, this is a bargain): Cuisinart Elite Collection 14-cup Processor. Did I say the one I use is 25 years old? Oh, I did. Well, I forgot. Because it is. 25 years old, I mean.

4. All-Clad cookware. I cooked for years with cheap stuff...stuff I bought when I moved into my first apartment. Then I discovered TJ Maxx sells All-Clad pots and pans--minor seconds, I would say. I found a stock pot there for a ridiculously low price, bought it and have been a convert ever since...Now I regularly check the shelves at the discount stores (Marshall's included--aren't they owned by the same company now??)...there are a few that I'd like to add now...I wouldn't buy a set because I am picky about the shapes and sizes of the pots in my cupboards, but here are a few I would like: a saute pan (straight sides) with lid, a saucier (sloped sides so when I whisk, nothing gets stuck in the edges) and a variety of saucepans...maybe even all of them.

5. A really good (READ: GAS!!!!!!!) cooktop and convection oven. Like this range top from Wolf. And this double oven from Wolf. Sigh. Did I ever tell you how we lived in a house with a big but awful kitchen for 9 years, finally remodeled it ...and moved two years later? I still mourn that. Yes, of course, I put a 5-burner gas-cooktop and a convection oven into that kitchen. And have never had gas again. Once, when we thought we were moving to Minnesota (long story), there was this kind of shabby house in an okay neighborhood WITH AN AGA COOKER (as they call them at Aga).  I totally almost made us buy that house for the stove alone...I could SEE myself in that kitchen. We didn't buy it. We didn't move to Minnesota. We moved to Florida, where we couldn't even afford a dirty, torn-up, 3-bedroom hovel (okay, so if we still lived there we could actually afford a pretty nice and big house...too bad the job isn't there any more!) and became renters. Then we moved to NC where  we are renters...and now I think I am gun-shy about BUYING. But really. Renting is FINE. But couldn't we maybe RENT A HOUSE OR APARTMENT WITH A GAS STOVE. Just sayin.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


My week starts (it's Saturday, so you could say it ends, but I like to think of it as Starting) with a planned trip to the Charlotte Farmers' Market. It's open year round, and I first discovered it in February and was happy with what I found...Now that it's June, the crowds are coming in droves...

Here's the take this week:

There are peaches, heirloom tomatoes, fabulous oyster and shiitake mushrooms, Thai basil, pasture-raised beef and chicken, eggs (forgot to get them in the photo) and lard (yes, that's what I said...I want to experiment with pie crusts--only two tablespoons, but I think I want to use that over shortening these days...)

Happily, my Monday with Dorie (all RIGHT! I know it's called Tuesdays with Dorie! Consider me a free spirit!) was Tender Shortcakes. 
Oh, my.

I have said it before, but one of the most important things I've learned about baking along with the TWD crowd and learned because Dorie repeats it in her instructions so often is to not overmix...use a light touch. The lighter the touch, the lighter the result. And that couldn't be truer in this instance..Very lightly sweetened (2 tablespoons of sugar for 12 biscuits, which is how many I got out of this (was supposed to be 10)...I barely pressed the dough together, using my hands to gently scoop and press about 1/3 of the dough into loose mounds on the baking sheet, then ever-so-gently patting it down...

And you KNOW where those berries went, right? Straight onto these biscuits. I prefer my shortcake split so the juice gets to soak into the biscuit...I had no whipped cream and that wasn't missed.

If you want the recipe, either buy the book (Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan) or have a look at The Tortefeasor by Cathy, where she posts the recipe (with permission, btw).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More Blogs I love...

One of the best things to come out of the Blogathon 2010 is that I "met" new blogs--It can be tough work getting around to all the blogs I love, but...well, I love them, so now and then when I want a break, I click through my list. (though truth be told, I took  LONG break this week--the sad news came down that my lovely Florida Table, the hyper-local food magazine where I proudly served as food editor and food stylist until early this year, and then served as consulting food editor, has decided that the current issue will be the last...I think I was in mourning...Oh, and as an aside--I'm available, editors! I photograph, I develop recipes, I can blog for you...love it all...okay, back to the point at hand..)

Anyway, I discovered GREAT new blogs and now in addition to this list of blogs I frequent, I'd like to introduce you to a few more.

KThread--I stumbled my way to this blog, and I wish I could remember how. I don't think she participated in the blogathon, but I think one of the blogathoners mentioned her...and there I was...She fills her blog with lovely photos and short bursts of lyrical writing and ...often, of course: wonderful food. Have a look.

Two Hands and a Roadmap: Funny, normal, funny. Love her. I so get her life.

Cafe Lynnylu. I think I found her because of Tuesdays with Dorie..Great recipes, great read.

Best Food Blog Ever. The guy can write and ...well, face it: what a perfect name for a food blog! (Almost as good as mine!!)

I love love love Tastee Pudding by very funny Amanda Hirsch, but read her current entry--sounds like she's trying something new, Mandy Miracle...all I know is that I will be checking that out, too.
Bike with Jackie. Friend and fellow writer finds a way to inspire and find joy. I love that about her.

Hope you like a few of these, too!

Ps...In fact, I think Amanda Hirsch linked to Kthread...and I'm so glad she did...I just noticed a link to Kthread on her new Mandy Miracle site...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nourishing Our Souls

Nearly 33 years ago, about 10 women—just girls back then—met, at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. We were just 17 or 18 as we entered our freshman year. We were idealists. We were pretty sure we were smart. We were strong personalities, all different, but all finding something in each other that would tie us together. What we didn’t realize is that our friendships would last three decades so far—more to come.

I wonder: Did any of us know, going into this, that we would be friends for this long? My freshman roommate and I stayed roommates throughout college, except for our junior year (she went to Germany, I went to Spain). Another two friends were on the same floor as we were. That accounts for four of us. The other six were in the same building freshman year and housed together in the same hallway sophomore year (we shared a hall just across the basement from them). When we came back senior year (nearly all of us made junior year an adventure abroad), we were scattered across campus, but came together regularly. Something kept drawing us back to each other.

When I tell people now that I regularly get together with these women (and really, all ten of us make it to almost every weekend we plan), most are amazed. Amazed that 10 (10 plus 1--we now happily include one partner who didn't go to D'son, but is one of us..) of us have remained friends over all these years. As far as I know, there have been no fallings-out. As far as I know, no one has ever felt slighted or hurt or shamed or ignored by another. Some of us have had kids, others have chosen careers as their focus. We’ve been to each others' weddings, baby showers, helped out with one thing or another when we could. And now, at 50, we’ve consoled each other through battles with breast cancer. Diabetes. The death of parents and more.

One of us comes (not always) from Alaska. I’ve made the trip from Philadelphia. Then from Kentucky, then Florida and now from North Carolina. The weekends range from occasionally…indulgent, let’s say (my friends reading this will know what is meant by: Stay AWAY from the pool table), to  mellow. We may dance all night or we may talk all night. We don’t usually go out unless it’s to dinner. What we want to do is to BE with each other. Soak each other up. Nourish each other. We gather at beach houses and family homes. Our families make way for us, kids leaving, us leaving them behind.

And the food—oh, the food. We cook. A lot. In fact, just this past weekend at least five recipes are being shot back and forth on email—the fabulous cabbage slaw with toasted cumin seeds, the spice-rubbed pork tenderloin, the honey/lime/cilantro dipping sauce, the salad with lime dressing and the “Jalapeno Lavender Sunrise,” a drink we enjoyed at Volt (whose chef was a Top Chef Finalist), the recipe happily shared with us by the bar manger there. (Trust me, it was fabulous.)

But it’s not about the food, the restaurants, the antiquing, the beach or the pool we lie next to. It is all about, as Joan put it as we left, nourishing our souls.

These weekends fill me up—I think I can safely speak for all of us. The weekends fill us up with kindness. With compassion. With sympathy, empathy, caring. With shared memories that send us into shrieking fits of laughter. With fears for the future that occasionally may reduce some of us to tears. We trash-talked bad boyfriends, which many of us had before we walked the aisle. We share trials, tribulations, successes and failures. And while almost all of us have partners/spouses/friends who we may also share some (or all) of those with, it’s just…different when we share it among ourselves. Even with our partners, none of us have the shared history we do with each other.

Now I can hardly wait for these weekends, although at times the minute I arrive I find myself mourning the coming departure not 48 hours away. I know last weekend I stayed up as late as I possibly could, even saying, “If I go to bed, then it’s Sunday, and we all have to leave,” as if by staying awake I could make my real life stay away—you know that life, the one filled with bills, schedules, maybe some fights with the families, work—or lack of it.

But we keep coming back together. Now it has gotten to the point where it takes an awful lot for any of us to miss the weekends. I wonder if it’s because we wonder how many more of them we will get. Our health scares have…well, they’ve scared us some. The invincible, smart, confident girls we once were have changed. Now we are smart, mellow, worldly, realistic and, at times, frightened. Growing up can hurt.

But every year, if we are lucky even twice a year, we still get together. We still nourish our souls. And of course, we still eat.

Some things we ate or drank this weekend:

  • Pork rubbed with a flank-steak rub and served with a sauce from Best Recipes cookbook
  • Veggie Slaw with Roasted Cumin Seed from Washington Post (recipe by David Hagedorn)
  • Jalapeno Lavender Sunrise from Volt (Muddle one seeded/diced jalapeno and soak in 750 ml. organic vodka. Strain. In tall glass with ice, add 1 1/2 oz. jalapeno vodka, some freshly squeezed pineapple juice and a splash of Chambord. Serve with long lavender sprig and use sprig to stir drink as you sip—you’ll get all the flavors and the scent of the lavender at the same time: AWESOME.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Cherries are Here

Every year, I am thrilled when I see the cherries arrive in the store...No, I don't think they qualify for my locavore obsession, but I can't help myself. I buy them two pounds at a time and we all enjoy them. They sit, washed and waiting, on the counter top and everyone gets to help themselves as much as they want. I keep thinking I'm going to MAKE something with them, and then? Then they are gone.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

White Chocolate and Raspberry "Brownies": It's my unofficial TWD on Thursday

Well. Blogathon 2010 ends and I fall off the earth or something. There was something wonderfully all-consuming about the blogathon that had me thinking about Babette Feasts all the time--but I guess I flagged at the end, there, because although I posted daily (and really did enjoy it), I did feel as though I were taking a deep breath on Day 31...but I've loved all of you coming to read, so please don't stop! I'll get back on track, and hopefully with more interesting blogs than ever (a girl can dream...)

I caught up with some baking over the weekend. Last week, everyone (on Tuesday) made Dorie's White Chocolate Brownies with Raspberries. 

Oh, and they are topped with meringue, which may be gilding this lily a bit. But first on the baking.

The beauty of baking late is that I can read, at my leisure, the comments and problems others had with the recipe (not that there are many problems--these are some well-tested recipes)...People kept saying they didn't finish baking...so I was armed with that knowledge heading into this.

Easy batter and ...unbelievably delicious. I'm not big on raw batter (blech on cookie dough ice cream for me...), but once the butter and melted white chocolate went into this, it was luxurious and indulgent...Oops! There's another "drip" I must lick.

I baked the brownie base alone (sans meringue) for about 25 minutes. Topped it (even hot, I topped it--take that meringue...and it worked fine) and baked another 20 minutes, until the meringue was browned...

I like these...they are a bit over-the-top rich for me, lover of the plainest things (shortbread. Chocolate espresso shortbread...pound cake...see the theme), but they are tasty. The meringue makes them very un-brownie-like (or the white chocolate does)...and in my house, even the eaters have weighed in as this being sweet...

Always glad I've made something--but to me? Brownies will always be chocolate chocolate (and don't get me started on blondies...WTF???)

Anyway, if you are intrigued by everyone else's recipe results and want the recipe (as always, reprinted only on the TWD Chooser's blog with Dorie's consent) visit Tuesdays with Dorie for the comments and blog roll and visit Martha at Culinary Delights (she is the "chooser') for her results and the recipe

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Meet Another Blogger: The Wine Curmudgeon, a.k.a. Jeff Siegel

Jeff Siegel blogs as The Wine Curmudgeon--great name, great info. What 
I especially love is Jeff's ability to find inexpensive wines he loves...and I 
get to hunt those wines down and enjoy them, too--as an ongoing part of 
Babette Feasts,I introduce: The Wine Curmudgeon.   
1. What pushed you to food or wine blogging?  
I lost my regular newspaper wine gig, which was four times a month, when the paper 
eliminated the food section. I had to find a way to keep writing about wine, 
and the blog was the perfect solution. It has worked out much better than I 
had hoped, and my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner a year or two 

2. What do you hope to share with readers through your blog? 
 That wine is not rocket science, that it should be fun, and that the wine 
business makes wine more difficult than it needs to be. There is plenty of 
enjoyable, quality wine for $10, and people who don't think so are the worst
kind of wine snobs.

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?   
One of my great successes was a review of a $10 red wine from Italy, 
 Tormaresca Neprica. It's close to the perfect cheap red wine -- food  
friendly, great balance, low alcohol. But, given the vagaries of the wine 
business, it was not widely distributed. I reviewed it, noted that it was not 
widely distributed, and suggested that readers nage their retailers if the 
retailer didn't carry it. Much to my surprise, when the next vintage came 
out, the PR person told me that so many people had nagged their retailers, 
the wine was much more available. In fact, my annual Tormaresca review 
is always one of the top-read posts each year.

4. Do you cook yourself? Well?  What is your go-to dish? 
Oven Arroz con pollo. Brown four skinned chicken pieces (I use thighs, but 
any piece will do) in olive oil. Remove the chicken, then saute chopped 
onions, bell peppers, carrots, jalapenos, corn kernels, and garlic in olive oil 
in the same pan. Then mix 2 to 3 cups of cooked rice (leftover Chinese 
takeout is perfect) with 1 tablespoon best quality chili powder, 1 1/2 
teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and coriander and salt and pepper 
to taste. Mix the rice with the vegetables in the pan, put the chicken on top, 
cover and bake in a 350 oven until the chicken is cooked, 20-30 minutes. 
I have absolutely no idea why this works, because I'm told it shouldn't. But 
the rice remains moist, and it tastes great.

5. Forget your favorite go-to dish; what is your idea of a perfect
 Not so much the food as the company. But we do talk about "perfect" 
 meals a lot in the wine business, and mine is simple and very bourgeois 
French  -- roast chicken from a bird that was just killed, either crusty 
potatoes or green noodles, a salad with just picked lettuce mixed with 
minced herbs and a vinagrette made with the chicken cooking fat, an apple 
tart for dessert, and gougeres, the French cheese puffs for a first course. 
Serve it with a light, young red wine or a white wine with lots of fruit.

Bonus question if you feel like it: Do you have a dirty little secret
in your kitchen?   Hot dogs, baked beans, and grocery store onion rings. 
In the old days,when Big John's beans were available, I used to use those. 
I love that.