Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Savoring the Seasons: Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze

"Dear Self, this going to be your year. So dust off your sh*tkickers and let's get started"
~ All my love, Me

We are not big fans of the New Year's Eve hype and I don't know about you, but I certainly don't feel renewed on the first of January.  Still January 1 is the beginning of the new 365 day cycle and like all beginnings it should be embraced.  And we are also embracing dessert! Yes. More desserts in 2019.  Why? Because we can.

We started off the new year with a show stopper. A Sticky Toffee Date Cake with a Bourbon Glaze.

This decadent cake is surprisingly not difficult to prepare and is incredibly moist. Served at room temperature with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and it is simply divine.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Makes One 9-inch Cake
Recipe from Ina Garten


For the cake:
3/4 pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 tablespoons baking powder

For the sauce:
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker's Mark
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9x2-inch round cake pan.

Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1-3/4 cups of water.  Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates.  Allow to simmer for 1 minute.  Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!).  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl.  (The mixture may look curdled.)  Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter.  With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl.  The batter will be runny but don't worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up.  Pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes clean.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute.  Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup.  Set aside.

As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick.  Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes.  Turn cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour remaining sauce on top.  Cool completely.

Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.

Note: To make sweetened whipped cream, beat together 1 cup cold heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until it makes soft peaks.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Weekend in Charleston and a Low-Country Feast

"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul" ~ Dorothy Day

We embarked on a long weekend to the low-country's epicenter Charleston, South Carolina.  A trip to be made slowly, not rushed, southern style.

With just a click, we signed up to enjoy a meal in a talented but unknown chef's home and break bread with random people we had never met.  

We set out to the outskirts of town with the address provided in our email.  We drove passed the nondescript building except for the ground floor coin-operated laundromat in full swing with dryers humming, and washers swishing.  We looked at each other and asked  "Is this the place?" We back tracked and with a quick u-turn pulled into a small gravel parking lot.  My husband volunteered to run up the back stairs to ensure the legitimacy of what we were doing.  He came back to announce  "This is the place!" with hesitant glances we stepped up and out into the unknown.  A friendly face met us at the door as we entered a small cramped apartment which for the evening was turned into a make shift restaurant.  Jazz music permeated the apartment with sound.  A strong fruity cocktail was served in mason jars. Several guests had already arrived and were chatting uncomfortably on the couch as strangers often do. 

The moment guests were called for dinner with our forks tapping, glasses clinking, plates being passed and wine being poured-we became family for the evening. We laughed, we told stories and communed together.  The meal was good. The company was better.  The meal and the conversation continued to almost midnight, even though, it was only scheduled to last two hours.

Think of the stories we can tell with food. Our chef prepared a traditional low-country Perlo ( A southern version of chicken and rice).  The dish is simple and straight forward but its roots run deep in West African cooking which is the foundation of modern southern cuisine today.  Now, depending on where you hail from you could easily refer to this dish as a "Bog" or "Pilau" The dish is a communal meal best when it is prepared to serve a crowd. 

My belly was full and my head a buzzed. It was clear this evening would leave an indelible impression on me.  A reminder that my best experiences have been those moments when I embraced the unpredictability of stepping out of my comfort zone.  While anyone can eat in a restaurant, when is the last time you stepped into a strangers home and ate a meal together?

How do you pay respect to a food experience that has provided a lasting impression?  I try to recreate it. With the research of many You Tube videos I set out to learn how to make a proper Perlo.

There are a myriad of ways to prepare Perlo.  If you should decide to prepare it, you will include your own touches to make this dish speak for you. This is the beauty of this dish it can be revised endless ways to reflect your tastes or what ingredients you may have readily available.

A shared moment with Chef Christopher 

 Perlo Low-Country Style for Sunday Supper

Southern Low-Country Perlo
Serves a crowd


For the stock:
1 whole chicken, cut-up
2 smoked ham hocks
1 carrot peeled
1 medium onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into extra-large pieces, including leaves
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs
Handful of peppercorns

For the Perlo:
8-10 cups homemade stock
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into thick slices
Chicken with skin and bones removed
Ham hocks with fat and bone removed.
2 pounds long grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell peppers (red, yellow and or green), chopped
3 carrots peeled, washed and cut into chunks 
2 stalks celery, washed and sliced
1-(14.5) can of undrained petite diced tomatoes
1-(10-ounces) frozen green peas
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste


To prepare stock:
In a 8-10 quart stock pot, add whole chicken including neck bone, and giblet.  Add ham hocks, carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Fill pot about 2-inches from the top.

Bring ingredients to a boil on a medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer for about two hours until chicken and ham hocks are tender.

Remove from heat.  Remove chicken, giblet and ham hocks, and set aside.  Discard neck bone, carrots, onion, celery bay leaves, thyme sprigs and peppercorns. Strain the stock through a meal sieve. Put aside.

To prepare Dish:
When chicken is cooled.  Remove skin and bones. Coarsely chop chicken.  Chop giblets.  Remove fat  and discard from ham hock, and only use the meat.  Set aside.

In the same stock pot or large Dutch oven, on medium-high heat, add vegetable oil. When oil is hot add onion, carrots, bell peppers and celery.  Cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add sausage. Cook until lightly brown.  Add rice and cook for about 5 minutes frequently stirring the rice.  Add stock to cover about 2-inches above mixture line.  Return chicken and ham hock meat to mixture. Add diced tomatoes and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Cover 20-25 minutes until rice is tender.

Serve family style.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Savoring the Season: Spicy Watermelon Margaritas

The sun is blazing, and its late afternoon on a Sunday.  We retreat to our patio to escape the sweltering heat.  The ceiling fans are humming overhead, and the wind down begins.  Warm weather appetizers are a must and we start with crispy polenta rounds, with creamy burrata, sliced watermelon wedges, and a arugula tossed in a light vinaigrette.  Summer wines are enjoyed too, maybe a Grenache or a cool Sangria.

On this particular summer day we decided on a summer cocktail to help us chill out.  This is where spicy meets cool watermelon. You can't beat this watermelon and jalapeño combination.  This easy to prepare, delicious cocktail is the perfect summer drink.

Spicy Watermelon Margarita 
Makes one cocktail
Recipe from Allrecipes

Puree 2 cups cubed seedless watermelon in a blender.  Wipe the rim of a margarita glass with a lime wedge; dip rim into kosher salt or coarse white decorating sugar.  In a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, add 2-ounces of watermelon puree.  1-1/2 ounces silver tequila, 3/4-ounce Cointreau, 3/4 ounce lime juice, and 1 slice jalapeño.  Shake until very cold.  Strain into prepared glass.  Garnish with a watermelon wedge or melon balls and a jalapeño slice-or simply float a jalapeño slice on top.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Huevos Rotos: Spanish Broken Eggs

"If  I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move, as far as you can, across the ocean, or simply across the river.  Walk in someone's else's shoes or at least eat their food.  It's a plus for everybody"~Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018

Traveling both inspires me and engages me in a way that can be difficult to explain.  There is a simple message conveyed while traveling, we are far more similar than different.

The Spanish love their country and culture, but more importantly, their food.  It is impossible to understand Spain until you understand their food culture, which is a central part of their identity.  In Spain, meals are to be enjoyed, not rushed, and are a important part of family life.  The concept of "eating on the go" is unacceptable.  We spent many hours experiencing food around a family table, cafe or restaurant.  Hours seem to pass as we spoke about current events or family life, combined with story telling, and a joke or two, followed by laughter and grand gestures of body language.  Another bottle of wine, and another round of small plates (Tapas) and we continued into the night.

There was so much beauty and history experienced during our journey to Spain. What was it about this country that stood out the most for me? It was simplicity. Don't measure simplicity by American terms, it will limit your imagination.  Spanish simplicity is having a deep rooted understanding in the real life practice that relaxing and enjoying life are worthy activities.

On this particular trip my youngest son, on break from college, and never one to pass up an opportunity to travel agreed to be my travel companion.   I was feeling pretty lucky, its not often you have a captive audience with your youngest son which includes none of the normal daily distractions.  We toured with our Spanish friends through southern Spain from its coastline in Cadiz, its Roman history, stunning cathedrals and architecture, The annual Patio of Flowers in Cordoba, and urban life in Seville and Madrid.  There was so much beauty and history we experienced and enjoyed. 

There was a small plate dish my son ordered often in cafés called Huevos Rotos (Broken Eggs).  It was a simple delicious family style dish prepared often in Spanish homes. 

Our friend offered to demonstrate this dish for him on our last evening.  Her version was even more delicious.  It was just a few quality ingredients and it was damn near perfect. 

 I did my best to capture the recipe and the demonstration for you below. 

Side note:  our last journey to Spain in our host demonstrated how to correctly prepare a family style paella Adoracions Spanish Family Style Paella
Wash, peel and slice your potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold potatoes)
After generous amount of olive oil add your potatoes and onions.  Breaking up your potatoes with a wooden spoon, as you stir frequently to avoid browning your potatoes and onions.
Ooooops! One Yolk broke
Add your eggs one at a time.
Add your chopped jamón, pancetta or chorizo. Wait no more than a minute and remove from the heat.

Place on a plate. With a knife and fork break through the yolks, and potatoes, and serve.

Huevos Rotos: Spanish Broken Eggs

2 large potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold), washed, peeled, and thinly sliced
Salt to taste
Enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of a 10-inch skillet
1 medium onion, halved, then sliced thinly
2-3 large eggs
small package of chopped jamón (Spanish ham) pancetta, or chorizo

In a medium bowl, add the sliced potatoes and salt. Mix the potatoes and salt with your hands.  Set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet, on medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Add the potatoes and onions together.  Stir frequently to keep from browning the potatoes (approximately 20 minutes) As the potatoes become soft, break up the potatoes with a wooden spoon. When the potatoes are cooked, its important to taste the potatoes to ensure flavor, and doneness.

In separate bowls for each egg, crack the egg and set aside. 

After the potatoes are cooked add eggs one at a time.   Add salt to the yolks, and shake the pan. Cook until eggs are considered "over easy".

Add meat for just a minute and remove from heat.  

On a plate, or in the pan use a knife and fork to break the eggs with the yolk including the potatoes until the dish appears chopped.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mascarpone Tart with honey, oranges and pistachios

Our Supper Club gathered recently to enjoy a good meal, friendship, plenty of laughter, and of course, good wine.  We are a diverse group of friends with varying backgrounds that move across the personal, religious and, political spectrum which makes for spirited conversations, while breaking bread.  If only we could all solve our differences while enjoying a good meal.  No doubt the world would be a kinder, gentler place.

We have dinner themes but mostly its a formality.  This month's theme was Greek which sent us out searching for a Greek inspired dessert.  Something delicious but, not complicated.  Making dessert at our house usually means my husband will take the helm and he knocked this one out of the park.

This recipe comes from Bon Appetit's Fast, Easy, and Fresh Cookbook and it delivers on its promise.  Most importantly, it can be put together in short order.  The tart turned out stunning.  The flavors, colors, and textures popped.  Proof with a few fresh quality ingredients simple is best.

Mascarpone Tart with Honey, Oranges and Pistachios
Makes one 9-inch tart
Recipe from Bon Appetit

1 Refrigerated pie crust (half of a 15-ounce package)
2 large navel oranges
1 8 to 8.8-ounce container chilled mascarpone
1/2 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey, divided
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cardamom
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Press pie crust onto bottom and up sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom: fold sides in and press to extend sides 1/4-inch above rim of pan.  Pierce crust all over with fork.  Bake until golden brown, about 24 minutes.  Cool completely on rack.

Meanwhile, grate enough orange peel to measure 1-1/4 teaspoons.  Cut off remaining peel and pith from oranges.  Slice oranges into thin rounds, then cut rounds crosswise in half.  Place orange slices on paper towels to drain slightly.

Combine mascarpone, cream, sugar, 1-tablespoon honey, cardamom, and orange peel in medium bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat just until blended and peaks form (do not over beat or mixture will curdle).  Spread filling evenly in cooled crust.  Arrange orange slices atop tart in concentric circles, sprinkle with pistachios.  Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon honey.

D.I.Y. Mascarpone If you cannot find mascarpone cheese, you can make a delicious substitute at home.  Mix 8-ounces cream cheese with 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream and 2-1/2 tablespoons sour cream.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Scenes from My Pantry: Turkey Lentil Sloppy Joes

Loved "sloppy Joes" as a kid.  Messy by design and delicious.  These days the aim is still delicious but, lighter more healthy choices.

Using lean ground turkey and the hearty lentil beans, is a great alternative to preparing this traditional meat-centric meal that still feels substantial and comforting without sacrificing the flavor.

This recipe makes enough for twelve servings. You can easily freeze extra servings in freezer bags for a fast, healthy weeknight meal.... or skip the bun, and enjoy it as chili.

Turkey Lentil Joe's
Serves 12
Adapted from allrecipes

1 (32-ounce) carton reduced-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups brown lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 pound ground turkey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Hamburger buns

Optional: Thinly sliced red onion and Kosher pickles

Bring broth to a boil in a Dutch oven.  Stir in lentils; return to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.  Drain in a colander.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot; cook until tender, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add turkey and garlic; cook, stirring to break up lumps, until turkey is browned. Drain any oil.

Stir in tomatoes, olives, chili powder, tomato paste, and vinegar.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.  Stir in cooked lentils; cook until heated through, about 2 minutes more.  Serve on buns with red onion and pickles, if using.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When you are serious about your cocktail.... A Maiden's Prayer

The Maiden Prayer has all the elements which allows you to create this cocktail anyplace, anywhere with a few quality ingredients  which include gin, orange liqueur, and fresh orange and lemon juices.

A slightly sour but refreshing palate opener. A perfect lead to a good meal anytime of year.

A Maiden's Prayer Cocktail
Makes two 4-1/4-ounce drinks
Adapted from Raising the Bar

3 ounces good quality gin 
3 ounces fresh orange juice (approximately one orange) 
1-1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
1 ounce Cointreau or other good quality orange liquor
2 orange twists

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all the ingredients except the orange twists.  Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosted and beaded with sweat.

Strain in cocktail glasses, garnish with the orange twists, and serve.