Saturday, May 31, 2008

a light salad

I feel kind of silly posting a recipe for such a simple salad. It’s just that I wasn’t sure what i wanted to do with the fennel bulb that Mrs. B gave me last week, and I didn’t want to indecently heat up the house with the oven running for a gratin or whatever, as the temperatures have been soaring in Atlanta.

I also don’t feel like eating anything overly heavy at lunch during the week. The last couple of months or so, I’ve been eating fish of some sort with a couple of light sides for lunch (I cook the fish the night before and bring it to room temperature before eating it – I cannot eat fish that has been reheated in the microwave, but also don’t want to stink up the office breakroom, as it already is infused with odors of questionable provenance).

So I had this fennel bulb, and I thought of making a fennel and orange salad, but we were out of oranges at the time. The boy suggested I pair it with romaine and parmesan, which we have an abundance of in the fridge, so I did. I dressed it with vinaigrette once I was about to eat, and it made a curiously light but luxurious salad, probably because of the big curls of parmesan that I’d shaved into it. The amount of romaine/fennel/parmesan that you use is really up to the eater. I did half romaine, half fennel (sliced ridiculously paper-thin on our new Benriner mandolin), and several lavishly long strips of parmesan intermixed.

In regards to vinaigrette, I always keep a Lock & Lock ** container of it available in my desk drawer. Everyone has their own recipe for vinaigrette; mine vary depending on what I’m using it for. If I’m not going to use it right away (like when I bring it to work), I don’t put garlic in it, because I don’t want to run the risk of it going rancid. I also like mine a hell of a lot more acidic than most people do. It’s not like you really need a recipe for this; it’s more of a guideline, and then you can run amok with it. Add fresh herbs if you feel like it. There are no rules. Just please don’t buy that bottled crap.

For everyday salads, I use a mix of red wine and sherry vinegars (for the fennel romaine salad I just used red wine). Mix a couple of tablespoons of this in a bowl with a teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard. Add a good pinch of salt and some black pepper. Stir or whisk like crazy. Add minced garlic if you want; the amount is up to you and depends on how much you like garlic. You could substitute this for shallot, but I prefer garlic in my dressing. Slowly whisk or fork in some good olive oil, tasting every now and then until you’ve reached the balance of acid and oil that you prefer, and adjust the seasoning. I like mine just like this; the boy adds a drizzle of honey, because he prefers his dressings a bit sweeter, and sometimes adds some minced herbs. See? How long did that take you to make? about twice as long as it did to reach into the fridge and root around for a bottle of store-bought dressing and gloop it onto your salad.

** Mrs. B and I call these Lock Locks. We found some at the Super H last year and they are the best storage containers ever; and recently we noticed that QVC is schlepping them.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

more or less unrelated to food

this is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read all week.

When I was 8, we took a family trip to Normandy. There are several things I remember vividly about this trip. It was during this trip that my brother, sister and I ate mussels for the first time. It was pouring down rain, really raining hard; we parked the car and ran into a deserted restaurant. Totally drenched from the rain, we sat down and demolished an enormous bowl of mussels. This is where I learned how to use an empty shell, still attached at the “hinge”, to use as a tweezer of sorts and pull the mussel out of another shell.

It was also during this trip that we visited all of the major WWII points of interest, including the cemetery in the article above. I remember walking with my family on a path towards the infamous bluff at Omaha, and I stopped. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t want to see it anymore. I’d heard stories all morning from my Dad about how many Americans died trying to climb up the bluff and suddenly my legs shut down. I told my parents I had to go to the bathroom and to go on ahead and I’d wait for them there. They complied, and I stood there on the path and waited. I just couldn’t face the bluff. I was an impressionable 8 year old, and the whole of the war just hit me at once; I couldn’t handle it. I know that’s kind of a poor excuse, but how else is an 8 year old supposed to deal with this idea of horror? I stood there and waited and felt horrible.

Later, after visiting the American cemetery, we stopped by the less visited German one as well. And after that, we saw the church at Sainte Mere Eglise, with the famed stained glass window. I remember pictures of us three kids hanging off of large cannons inside the bunkers along the coast. Back in 1977, the cannons and bunkers were already gouged out with graffiti, and I think I’ve since heard that the cannons have been removed. I’ll have to ask my Dad about those pictures; I can vividly see my brother and I straddling a cannon with my sister standing below us.

On the way back to Paris, we stopped in Rouen so that my mom could point out the very spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake**. I tell ya, that was one sobering family vacation.

At any rate, this has little to do with food. But while we’re still recovering from the effects of cookouts everywhere across America, lets not forget what Memorial Day really stands for. It was nice to have the day off from work, but I continue to be surprised by how many people and kids have no earthly idea what we should be honoring, instead of the almighty beer and hot dog.

** A leetle trivia: Saint Joan was killed on May 30, 1431, which, hey, is this Friday. May 30th is also the original date for Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

so what did you eat this past weekend?

we had:

Mrs. B’s Low Country boil

Our friend Ken’s smoked rack of ribs and pork butt

The boy’s fried turkey

We did our celebrating on Sunday at Ken and M.A.’s house, some new friends of ours. They live one neighborhood over and have a great back deck area. Food preparation started the night before, with the boy using his new injector kit to “marinate” his 12-pound turkey. He didn’t bother to use the jar of marinade that came with the kit (first ingredient: water. Second ingredient: corn syrup. I don’t think so), so opted to use an Emeril recipe instead, which worked out well. He patted the turkey all over with a mix of salt, cayenne, and black pepper, put it into a food-grade bag then an ice-filled cooler overnight.

turkey injecting liquid (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup apple cider
3/4 cup honey
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer (we used a can of Miller Lite)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1/2 cup Creole Seasoning **
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch ground cloves

** make your own! No need to spend 4 bucks at the store for a can of Emeril’s bammage.

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

The next morning, I crawled out of bed miserable with a hangover (I ain’t got no one to blame but myself) because I had some prep to do. First off, I needed to make the rub for Ken’s ribs (Ken and M.A. don’t cook, don’t have a lot of spices handy in their kitchen, and were grateful for any help we could provide).

The rub (this was for a small amount of ribs, so adapt accordingly)

¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon (or so, I have a heavy hand) cayenne pepper

(I’m going off of memory here, so I’ll probably revise this later today when I am on the home computer)

The boy ran this down to Ken’s house so that he could season his ribs before placing in the smoker, while I went back to bed for a short while. Later, I made French onion dip and a dill cream sauce for smoked salmon. I know I know, smoked salmon you say? It has no place in Memorial Day food, you say? I made these recently and M.A. loved them, so I figured I’d make them again. They’re easy and crowd pleasing (we had these at our wedding, so I know this for a fact).

One package of smoked salmon (you may not use the whole thing, depending on how many people show up to your shindig)
a couple of thin baguettes
½ cup sour cream
1 cucumber
1 lemon
White pepper

Peel and seed the cucumber and cut into chunks. Toss in the food processor or blender until thoroughly blitzed. Dunk this into a fine sieve and let the extra cucumber liquid drain away. Add a spoonful at a time to a half cup or so of sour cream, ensuring that the mixture stays creamy and not too thin. Squeeze in some lemon juice, add a lot of chopped dill (about a ¼ cup) and some white pepper. Taste as you go – does it have enough dill? Enough tang from the lemon juice? Cover and chill until ready to use.

Slice the baguette into really thin rounds and toast the rounds on both sides. Top with a piece of smoked salmon and a dollop of the dill cream sauce, and serve on a big platter.

Later, when we got to Ken’s house, the boy stood and marveled at Ken’s electric smoker, then decided he wanted one. I told him to do some homework on it and “then we’ll talk”. anyone have any advice on smokers?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

on local butter

So I just got back from picking up my share at the farm. This week, I’ve plenty of greens, radishes, turnips, and strawberries to keep me eating well. I’m supplementing this with some produce and dairy Mrs. B got for me from Moore Farms and Friends, which she recently joined. She gave me some enormous fennel and swiss chard. I shall eat well this week.

From Moore Farms, I also got a brick of butter (it’s literally a brick) from Sparkman's Cream Valley; and when Mrs B brought it over to me, I was both excited and apprehensive. I don’t want to use this butter up in ways that would not let me appreciate it. When I mentioned to the boy that I didn’t want to use it for baking or frying eggs, he said, “But wouldn’t those be the best damn fried eggs you’ve ever had?” , and I have to agree that they probably would be. The butter has been sitting in the fridge all week, and every time I open the door to root around, it stares back at me, daring me to use it.
The first thing I did when I got back from the CSA today was to clean the veg. the radishes needed a thorough wash and trim of their greens. I was standing at the sink looking at them, all nicely variegated red, and decided that I needed a taste. That’s when I realized I could use the butter without any guilt of using it up for something unworthy. A dab of butter, a sprinkle of salt, and I had a really great breakfast.

So what does the butter taste like? I’m going to try to describe this, but I’ll probably to a piss poor job at that. I took a wine tasting class a couple of years ago, and was probably the worst student (although I will admit I was a damn entertaining student, especially during the South African wine class – I don’t know if it was me or what, but I really disliked each S.A. wine we sampled, and was not afraid of expressing my opinion, much to the amusement of the entire class). The whole class would go on about nose and bouquet and terroir and berries and fruitiness, and my own descriptions were pretty dismal. Anyway – back to the butter – I opened the package and if I’d been blindfolded, I would swear I was smelling cheese. It smells not unlike an unripe camembert, left to sit out for a few days until it would get more pungent and yummarific, ready to slap onto some good crusty bread. But it doesn’t taste anything like unripe cheese. In fact, let me go shave off a piece and let it melt in my mouth for inspiration.

Okay, back. It definitely has a cheese-like taste, and is unbelievably creamy. It tastes happy, and it makes me happy. I know I know, very poor description. But I can almost sense that this came from a happy cow who was left out to lollygag her way across a field, slowly munching on greenery. I can almost taste fresh grass; but that could also be a figment of my imagination, since I can literally see the cow’s face in front of me, while her tail swats at the flies and gnats on her backside.

So to make a long ridiculous unworthy description short, if you live around Atlanta, get yourself to the Moore site or drive down to South Georgia to pick yourself up some Happy Cow Butter. I might just have to make myself some hot buttered toast here in a minute, before Mrs B comes over and we rush off to buy the fixin’s for tomorrow’s Low Country boil.

if you're in Atlanta yet don't feel like ordering the butter from Moore Farms, you're in luck. you can find it at:

Whole Foods / Briarcliff
Whole Foods / Ponce de Leon
Whole Foods / West Paces Ferry
Whole Foods / Sandy Springs
Whole Foods / Duluth

and if you're not in Atlanta yet live in the South, there are still a few places this can be found. Look here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

taste of alpharetta: come rain or shine!

people of atlanta!

taste of alpharetta is tonight!

okay, so i know that the weather is particularly craptastic today, but do come out! the boy is working it! should be a good time.

more info on the event can be found here

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

how do you crab cake?

So we went for dinner last night to a new place in Alpharetta. Some friends of ours did the interior decoration: paint, new table tops, bar top (all gorgeously done in copper). It’s really quite nice.

The place definitely has potential. But my one beef with it is the crab cake.

Long time readers and friends know that the boy is from Maryland and that we lived there for 5 years. A real Maryland crab cake is a gem. So what’s the main ingredient? Blue crab, of the lump variety. The other ingredients should be scarce and should support the main ingredient. When you bite into a crab cake, you should taste moist delicious crab. You shouldn’t have to fight your way through gobs of breadcrumbs/panko/crackers, or, God forbid, green pepper. It should have a little mayo, an egg, a dash of Worcestershire, a hint of Old Bay seasoning, a little panko (my sister-in-law uses crushed Ritz crackers), and properly seasoned with salt and pepper. This is the Maryland way, and as I’ve stated before, it’s the only way that I think crab cakes ought to be prepared.

When I first moved to Maryland, I was on a quest to find the best crab cake in Baltimore. I had some lousy, some good, some great. Whenever we went out to eat and crab cakes were on the menu, it’s what I ordered. I narrowed down the two best crab cakes (in sandwich form) to a restaurant called Friends in Fells Point, and (of all unlikely places) Camden Yards (this was back in 2001, so there are probably more good crab cakes to be had by now). It is a little strange to be holding a crab cake sandwich in one hand and a 7 dollar cup of beer in the other while watching a ball game, but you get used to it pretty quickly.

I watch, with great interest, cooking shows where crab cakes are featured. I recently watched an Ina Garten episode from a couple of years ago which featured the aforementioned green pepper, including other veg. Crab took a backseat to the rest of the ingredients.

Since we moved back to Atlanta, whenever we go out to eat and there are crab cakes on the menu, the boy feels compelled to order them, even though he knows they will probably not live up to his expectations. They rarely do. In fact, the only place that had a really great crab cake was the now-defunct Rainwater, which was one of the reasons why he wanted to work there (he said that if the chef could make a perfect Maryland-style crab cake, than that chef was worth working for). Another annoyance for him is when menus feature a “jumbo lump crab cake”, and what you end up getting is not jumbo lump at all, and not worth the high price that is charged.

So last night while we were sitting at the gorgeous bar of this new place, he decided to order mini crab cakes off of the appetizer menu, and out came two deep fried pucks. I watched as he drew in his breath and scrutinized them.

The verdict? Not his favorite at all, not by a long shot. For one, deep fried? I agree with him that a crab cake needs to be pan-seared, and then finished in the oven. This one also had chopped celery, and was really under-seasoned. A little salt and pepper would have gone a long way.

Like I said, I like the place, and it has great potential; and God knows we need more good places to eat in Alpharetta, especially when you have friends working behind the bar.

I guess I just kind of opened this up for debate since the boy and I are so damn opinionated about crab cakes; so tell me: what’s your favorite style of crab cake? What do you put in yours?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

so what did i get in my share?

Some mighty fine radishes
Sugar snap peas
A good amount of salad mix (all kinds of tasty greens in there)
Green onions
Green garlic
Dock (I had to look this one up – it is edible, but in small quantities. Is good for detoxing the liver)

I was also able to cut my own herbs from the herb garden, and I came home with huge handfuls of rosemary and tarragon. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with all that tarragon! I don’t have that much experience with it. I used some in tomato salads all weekend. I might turn it into a compound butter and freeze it. Who knows.

The radishes are really good with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of salt (yum!). I love that peppery taste.

On the way to and from the farm, I had three cats cross the road in front of my car. One grey and white, one black and white, and the last one was all black. Being the superstitious fool that I am, I started to panic. But soon after the black cat crossed the road, I saw an eagle perched on the tippytop of an electrical pole, sternly surveying the road. Somehow, that made me feel better. And then, geese in V-formation, flying so low I could almost touch them. If there is one thing I love in nature more than anything, it’s geese flying in V-formation. Seeing them makes me instantly happy. They’re always squawking away about something or other (I always wonder what it is they’re talking about. Do geese gossip?). We seem to have a lot of geese in our area. I see them sometimes in the median on Mansell Road on the way to GA400 in the mornings, just pecking away at the grass and utterly ignoring all the hustle and bustle of traffic around them.

On Sunday morning, while making coffee, I realized that we were out of milk, so I dashed over to my local Publix grocery and ran into my friend Rich whom i haven’t seen since i left Old Big Corporate (we worked together). Then I ran into a coworker of Mrs. B’s, someone I’ve had drinks with a couple of times. I’ve never run into anyone I know in the year and a half I’ve shopped there, so that was interesting. Later, after securing my quart of milk and other tasty things, I was pulling out of my parking spot and suddenly I turned into an old nosy lady. It was just a switch inside of me that instantly flipped. I yelled, "LAZY!" out the car window to a teenager, who, as her mom and sister were laughing at her, was trying to jam her cart between two other cars instead of walking the 15 feet to the cart hub thing in the parking lot. The kid stopped what she was doing and looked at me, all astonished.

A little background on this. My biggest pet peeve ever is when people don’t return carts to either the store or the cart hub (cart corral, or whatever it’s called). People exert so much energy trying to wedge the front wheels of their carts up on the curb instead of walking 20 feet to return their cart, or just lazily thrust their cart between two other cars. It drives me up the wall. I’ve sometimes expressed my disgust loudly enough for others to hear; but this was the first time that I shouted out the car window at a lazy kid whose mom was enabling this bad habit. After all, as I’ve been told by others, “They have people who come get the carts”. Yeah? Who are these people? They're usually the cashiers and baggers. So when you’re waiting in a big ass long line wondering why there is only one cashier, it’s because the others are scrambling to go get the damn carts out from the middle of the road.

End rant.

Hmm. I think I need some coffee.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

gotta love Spring

a woodpecker is using the metal flashing on the top of our chimney as his mating call.

good thing i was already awake....

Thursday, May 8, 2008

i've got blockage

about two weeks ago, in the middle of the week, "they" started doing some severe internet blockage across the company. "They" are probably two dudes locked in a room tanked on Monster energy drinks, monitoring every site we go to.

so day before yesterday during lunch i tried to go to Food and Wine magazine's website. it's blocked. do you know why? because Food and Wine promotes alcohol. okay, fine. i can see New Big Corporate's point. whatever.

the reason i wanted to go to the Food and Wine website is because we recently received next month's issue (which i'd left at home), and there was an interesting article about raw food. i'm no advocate of a strict raw food diet because i like bacon too much, but i do like the idea. and in spring and summer, i tend to eat a lot more raw food than the rest of the year. so i used some Googlefoo to do a search because i couldn't remember the woman's name who wrote the article (for the record, it's Ani Phyo). i found a link, clicked on it, and i got blocked for looking at p o r n (and apparently my immediate supervisor was being alerted to my goings-on).

because Googling "Raw Food" and having a woman's name in the search engine automatically makes me think of p o r n. not you?

i wasn't frustrated until i clicked on a flickr link on the seriouseats site and then my entire internet access was shut down. hosting sites are also a big no-no. i'd reached my quota for the day of blocked sites, all in the space of 5 minutes.

nothing a little rebooting of the 'puter couldn't handle. a quick reboot, and the internet was back up. just at that moment, my buddy Mr. H walked by. I am currently without boss at New Big Corporate due to the last re-org (i've been through 5 in the last 7 months! that beats Old Big Corporate's record), and Mr. H is sort of acting as my boss; he's also a good friend of mine. So anyway, i told Mr. H (while giggling a bit and unwillingly turning red) about my predicament, and about how he's probably going to get some nastygram email about what i do in my free time, and he chuckled a bit and said it happens to everyone.


makes me wonder though, if i'm getting blocked for looking at food sites, what are they getting blocked for?

maybe i don't really want to know.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

all about spring

I’m in kind of a good mood today for several little reasons, one being that I had a ridiculously good conversation with my mother yesterday. I know, right? Unheard of normally. The reason I called her is because she’s due back in France soon and I needed to know on which continent she’d be so that she would actually receive whatever I sent her for Mother’s Day. Turns out she’s going to be in SF with my Dad, but after that will be going to Phoenix for a few days to baby-sit my brother’s kids (another unheard of – the woman is mellowing like a good aged wine). I decided that flowers were out of the question, since she won’t be around to enjoy them – and frankly, I can’t top the enormous bouquet of orchids I sent her a few years back. I spent a lot of money on them through some now-defunct organization, but it was worth it: I was the Golden Child for a few weeks.

So I’m sending her a ham, via the good folks at HoneyBaked Ham® (and if you order Right! Now! and use promo code “MOTHER” you will get free shipping and half off your dee-lightful ham). This is actually a pretty strange gift to be sending to my mom, but I figured that both my parents would like it. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone. I was already on their site buying a ham for the boy’s grandmother, so it seemed fitting.

Back in January, I joined a CSA; and this Saturday will be my first share pickup. I’m very excited about it. I am so excited about it that I waxed poetic about it to my mom for at least 10 minutes (this pleased her because seasonal shopping is how one shops in France). I’m probably going to wax poetic about my share and the farm to everyone I see all day Saturday after I go there. The farm is about 20- 30 minutes north of where we live and it will do me some good to get out and smell the country.

Making the decision to join the CSA was kind of a big one for me. Normally, I have a somewhat functional kitchen garden; mostly herbs but also some peppers and other stuff. This is when we lived in Maryland and could water freely all of the time. Fast forward to last year and the first summer in our new house, and I spent a lot of time, effort, and money to have a decently sized kitchen garden, only to watch it totally shrivel up and die because of the watering bans. There was a time in late summer 2007 all the way up to just recently where there was a total water ban – not even one lousy hour a week was allowed. I was pretty upset about it. These people down here take their watering bans seriously too – you can get a hefty fine if caught watering lawn, garden, car, etc... (and you have to watch out for nosy neighbors who will call the cops on you if they see you watering). So last year’s garden is kaputt. The only things that survived were the rosemary plant, a couple of salvias, the lavender, and the blackberry bush – which has now totally mutated and grown to epic proportions. I couldn’t live with the heartbreak of watching yet another kitchen garden die miserably.

If I allow myself room to breathe on Saturday, I’ll take a few minutes to post about the contents of my share and any plans I have for them.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

another version of spatchcocked chicken

Ah, May. Glorious May. It just popped out of the woodwork, didn’t it? I don’t remember April anymore; it passed by with a blur, at full speed. To me, May means a lot more outdoor time, whether it’s yardwork or grilling. There will be a lot of that this month. The blackberry bush I planted last year, which miraculously survived the winter, has totally erupted these past two weeks and is about to get unmanageable. Normally, I’d prefer to let it do its own thing and let it run wild and free, with brambles going everywhere. I like an organized mess. However, I will have to force myself to tame it and create a trellis for it before it gets too crazy. This is because I planted it along the fence that we share with the neighbor, whose house was unoccupied for the entire time we’ve lived here (well over a year), so I deemed it safe to plant there. But recently, a new family moved in, and hey, i’ll be honest. I don’t want them to pick all my berries off of the bush before I can even get to them myself. Call me selfish. I won’t say you’re not wrong.

May means that most of our meals will be grilled outdoors. We started grilling back in March and throughout April when it wasn’t raining or too cold. I’m all about grilling. For one, you don’t have to indecently heat up the house by turning on the oven full blast; and secondly, I love the flavor of grilled food, especially vegetables and fruit. I can hardly wait for peach season to be here, because there is no better dessert than a grilled peach, sometimes drizzled with a little honey, or served with a scoop of ice cream.

Not that I eat dessert very often. I just make it and give it away usually.

Last week, after a particularly long and exhausting day at work, I came home and walked into the kitchen to be greeted with the delicious aroma of citrus hitting me full in the face. The boy decided to make this recipe from the May issue of Bon Appetit magazine. We are no strangers to spatchcocked chicken, but this one seemed just a wee bit different, with the citrus slices under the chicken skin.

The chicken was incredibly moist and the citrus flavors penetrated the meat so thoroughly. I really urge you to try this.

We were having particularly good weather that day, so the boy instructed me to sit in the hammock with a mesa fresca while the chicken marinated. There were some grapefruit and limes lying about, so I juiced a grapefruit half and one lime; put those juices in a drink shaker along with some ice and a couple of glugs of white tequila (around two jiggers worth). Pour over ice and top with another good splash of 7-Up or Sprite. There was no better way to unwind from my day. This is definitely my new go-to hot weather drink. It’s so refreshing.