Thursday, July 29, 2010

France on 10,000 Calories A Day Without Gaining Weight

The advantage of being middle-aged is that you are more likely to risk stepping out of your comfort zone.  That is what we did.  We agreed to take a vacation with friends where our mode of transportation was a bicycle, a set of travel maps, and a hotel with good food at the end of the day.

I would hardly be described as a romantic but, I admit I had some pretty romantic notions of traveling through the Loire Valley of France on my bicycle.  That was a good thing.  If we had understood the reality completely, we would have said no.  Instead, we said yes and we embarked on a travel journey that at least for me was life changing.  My romantic notions were not fulfilled.  I experienced something very different than I was expecting.  My confidence, the capacity to endure, the determination to finish, the friendship that sustained us, made finishing this adventure possible.

Let me just say the food was fabulous, the people friendly, and the mishap of being pick-pocketed on a busy subway in Paris made for an amazing vacation.

I won't bore you with all the details.  I don't like reading long blog posts and I suspect that you don't either.  Instead, I will bore you with photos.  Indulge me.

We cycled past endless miles of wheat fields and poppies

My youngest son who was amazing on this trip and was my "BTB" Best talking buddy.
He talked me up more hills than I could count. Did I mention that France is not flat?

Here is proof

More proof

My husband who passed me more than once on his bicycle and said "Woman, what the hell were you thinking?" He is still my best friend and remains a willing partner in all my crazy escapades.

Our friends who kept us laughing and eating.

Does it count as stealing if the ripe Rainier cherries are hanging over the fence?

Oh my God, the food and wine.

At the end of the day, sunburned, windburned, swollen from the heat with fatigued muscles there was always room to share in the evening.

Cheers to France!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Plum Cobbler

My past Wordless Wednesday was a photo of the plums that were ripening on my trees. The plums are not your grocery store variety. They are small, sweet and perfect for canning or baking. Since I do not know how to can fruits or vegetables properly, I tend to use freezing as my way to preserve my bounty or like this recipe below, ask my husband if he can bake a cobbler. If you have not realized by reading my posts, that it is my husband who is the baker in our family.

This plum cobbler was served up with ice cream at our Sunday Supper gathering. This is a summer delight, and serves a crowd.

Plum Cobbler
Serves 12
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

5 pounds plums, peeled, pitted, and quartered (note: we did not peel our plums)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1-1/2 cups, plus 1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
Cooking spray
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
6 ounces chilled 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2.  Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl.  Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1-1/2 tablespoons flour; toss.  Arrange mixture in a 13x9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

3.   Lightly spoon 1-1/2 cups of flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.  Combine flour, remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 3 times.  Add butter, rind, and cheese; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add buttermilk; pulse until blended.

4.  Drop dough by spoonfuls over plum mixture; sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees F. for 55 minutes or until golden.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blended Golden Mojito

It's Summer, it's hot.  I can manage the Summer heat when it includes the flavors of mint and lime blended into a slushy, refreshing, easy to drink cocktail.

Blended Golden Mojito
Serves 4
Recipe from Bon Appetit

Sugar for coating rims of glasses
1 lime wedge
1 cup gold (not dark) rum
1/2 cup (generous) fresh lime juice
1/3 cup  sugar or light agave nectar
4 to 5 cups ice cubes
12 fresh mint leaves plus 4 mint sprigs for garnish

Place enough sugar on a small plate to reach depth of 1/4 inch.  Run lime wedge around rim of 4 martini glasses to moisten.  Dip rims into sugar on plate.  Blend rum, lime juice, and 1/3 cup sugar in blender until sugar dissolves.  Add 4 cups ice; blend until slushy and almost smooth, adding up to 1 cup more ice, if desired.  Add 12 mint leaves and blend until small green flecks appear.  Pour into prepared glasses.  Garnish with mint sprigs.

Note: For a crowd, you can triple the recipe and pour into a pitcher to store in your freezer for up to an hour.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blueberry-Lemonade Iced Tea

A relaxing and delicious way to finish your weekend. 

Blueberry-Lemonade Iced Tea
Makes 9 cups
Recipe from Tallahassee Farm Tours, Green Meadow Farms

3 cups water
2 family size tea bags
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups cold water
1 (6-ounces) can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 sliced lemon
1/2 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and pureed (or mashed well with a fork)

Boil 3 cups water.  Add tea bags, cover and steep for 10 minutes.  Remove and discard tea bags.  Add sugar and blueberries, stirring well.  Add lemonade concentrate, stir until blended.  Add cold water and sliced lemon.  Chill and serve over ice.

Note:  This recipe is easily doubled.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mixed-Berry Shortcakes with Vanilla Whipped Cream

This is one of my favorite summer desserts. I cannot resist fresh fruit and biscuit style shortcakes. My husband knows it, and each year he prepares a version of this wonderful berry dessert just for me.

Summer berries are abundant right now, stock up, and don't hesitate to shake-up this recipe by adding a variety of different berries that are in season.

Mixed-Berry Shortcakes with Vanilla Whipped Cream
Makes 12
Recipe from Bon Appetit
Ingredients for Biscuits:
3 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter,cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup chilled buttermilk

Ingredients for Whipped Cream and Berries:
2-1/4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons powdered sugar
1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces strawberries, quartered
2 -1/2 pint containers raspberries 
2-1/2 pint containers blueberries
3 tablespoons sugar
Note: Use what berries that you have available. We included blackberries.

Directions for Biscuits:
Preheat oven to 400 F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl.  Add butter.  Cut in until coarse meal forms.  Whisk 1/2 cup cream, 1 egg, and extracts in small bowl; mix into dry ingredients.  Gradually add buttermilk; toss until moist clumps form.  Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk.

Press dough out on floured surface to 9-inch round.  Cut out 2-1/2- inch-diameter rounds.  Gather scraps and repeat, cutting total of 12 rounds.  Place on prepared sheet.  Whisk 1 egg and 2 tablespoons cream in small bowl for glaze.  Brush some on rounds.

Bake biscuits until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Transfer to rack and cool.

Directions for Whipped Cream and Berries:
Beat cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in large bowl until peaks form.  Toss berries and 3 tablespoons sugar in another large bowl; let stand until juices form.

Halve biscuits.  Place bottoms in bowls.  Top with berries, then cream and tops.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I am a Thomas Keller fan.  Although, his recipes can involve a number of steps and are considered time consuming, which are the two things that I avoid most in cooking, I always seem to make an exception for a Thomas Keller recipe.

Last Sunday, was the 4th of July and lucky for us, it was also our Sunday Supper gathering. This was a perfect time to serve up a great American tradition that has not graced our family table in a long time.

Thomas Keller brines his chicken for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine which seasons the meat and helps it stay juicy. I would never have thought to brine chicken before frying.  Now, I could not imagine not doing it.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Thomas Keller

Chicken Brine:
5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup clover honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup peppercorns
2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water

Note: the key ingredient here is the lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken, as do the herbs: bay leaf, parsley, and thyme.  This amount of brine will be enough for 10 pounds.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover and bring to boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt.  Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using.  The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

For Dredging and Frying:
Peanut or canola oil
1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Ground fleur de sel or fne sea salt
Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings.  Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin.  Pat dry with paper towels, or let air dry.  Let rest at room temperature for 
1-1/12 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark meat and white meat.  No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot.  Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320 degrees F.  Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl.  Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl.  Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into a second bowl of coating.  Transfer to the parchment lined-lined pan.

Carefully lower the highs into the hot oil.  Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature.  Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the pieces around in the oil and continue to fry monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through and very crisp.  meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken.  Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks.  When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat side up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine se salt.

Turn the heat and heat he oil to 340 degrees F.  Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings.  Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp.  Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up.  Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.  Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter.  Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.

Note: This may be the best fried chicken that you have ever tasted. However, cooking the chicken pieces  throughly was a bit of a challenge for me. Thomas Keller suggests purchasing chicken from a farmers market to get small chicken as they are easier to cook properly. I will be making this fried chicken many more times and honing my skills at perfecting it.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Insalata Caprese

A reminder of the abundance of vine-ripened summer tomatoes and what a few simple fresh ingredients can create for your garden to table meal.

Insalata Caprese
Serves 4

2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
3-4 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

On a large platter, arrange tomatoes and mozzarella alternating and overlapping them. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Add chopped basil. Drizzle with olive oil.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Watermelon Margarita

A long tall version of a summer margarita; with only 105 calories.

Happy 4th of July!

Watermelon Margarita
Serves 6
Recipe from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons sugar
1 lime wedge
3-1/2 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1/2 cup tequila
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Triple Sec or other orange flavored liqueur
Lime wedges or watermelon balls (optional)

1. Place 2 teaspoons sugar in a saucer.  Rub the rims of 6 glasses with 1 lime wedge; spin rim of each glass in sugar to coat.  Set prepared glasses aside.

2. Combine watermelon and next 4 ingredients (through Triple Sec) in a blender; process until smooth.  Fill each prepared glass with 1/2 cup crushed ice.  Add 1/2 cup margarita to each glass.  Garnish with lime wedges or melon balls, if desired.

Note:  I added an additional  1/4 cup of tequila to the mix.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grilled Bruschetta with Harvarti, Honey and Figs

The party starts here with this fresh and easy appetizer. Be careful this appetizer is sinfully delicious and can be prepared in under 6 minutes.  The Harvarti cheese is great with the sweet figs and the honey.

Grilled Bruschetta with Harvarti, Honey and Figs
Makes 32 appetizers

8 5x3x 1/2 inch slices crusty country-style bread
Olive oil
1 8-ounce piece of Harvarti cheese cut into 8 slices
8 ripe fresh figs, stemmed, quartered lengthwise
Dark full-flavored honey

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat).

Brush both sides of bread with oil.  Place bread slices directly on 1 side of grill rack; place sheet of foil large enough to hold bread slices on other side of grill rack.  Grill bread until grill marks appear on bottom, about 3 minutes.  Turn bread slices over and place bread, grilled side down, on foil.  Place 1 cheese slice atop each bread slice; close barbecue and grill bread until cheese melts, about 3 minutes.

Transfer bread to work surface; cut each slice into 4 pieces.  Top each piece with fig slice.  Drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle lightly with fresh ground black pepper.  

Transfer to a platter and serve.