Tag Archives: Wood Grains

Cardamom Browned Butter (I’m Really Proud of This One!!!)

January 2013

I usually don’t boast when sharing recipes, but when it comes to this butter experiment, I feel entitled to brag!

Cardamom Browned Butter

I searched a few combinations of “browned butter” and “honey” and “cardamom,” and the most immediate results were recipes for cookies, streusels, cakes, etc, but what I wanted was that flavor combination in a butter. Just butter. I left Google momentarily, and I experimented. Once you try this flavor packed butter, you will understand why I feel entitled to boast about this experiment! After making enough for yourself, this simple, flavorful butter would make a great gift in a little jam jar for someone who deserves a little jam jar of heaven.

Browned Butter with Honey & Cardamom

Ingredients

1 stick organic, unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 Tablespoon clover honey

Directions

Heat a skillet or saucepan on medium heat. Add the sliced butter, whisking frequently.

Continue to cook the butter.

Once melted, the butter will foam up a bit, then subside. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat and place on a cool surface to help stop the butter from cooking further (and to prevent from burning).

Pour the browned butter into a small container.

Add the honey and cardamom and stir to combine.

Set the butter aside to cool and set.

Voila!

Cardamom Muffin Tin Rolls

January 2013

When menu planning, I often like to have a pervading ingredient. For this dinner gathering, the curry of the entrée inspired notes of cardamom in all the accompanying dishes. Rather than make a traditional flatbread, I spiced these whole-wheat, muffin-tin rolls with cardamom.

Cardamom Roll

I sprinkled the tops with Himalayan pink sea salt for a dash of color to channel the colorful and flavorful experience of walking through an Indian street scene. The final touch was a browned butter with honey and cardamom (recipe to come), making this roll ideal for dinner or breakfast or any snacking point in between the two!

Cardamom Rolls in Muffin Tin

Cardamom Muffin Tin Rolls
Adapted from Muffin Tin Mania

Ingredients

2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (1 package)
1 cup warm milk, not boiling

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, plus more for kneading
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 large egg

Garnish

browned butter
Himalayan pink sea salt
poppy seeds

Directions 

Dissolve yeast in milk in a large bowl and let stand 5 minutes.

Add 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons olive oil, sugar, salt, cardamom and egg. Mix until combined.

Add 2 cups flour and mix until all the flour is moist.

Turn batter out onto a floured work surface and knead for 3 to 4 minutes, or until smooth and elastic, adding more flour to the work surface and hands as needed.

Place dough in a large greased bowl, turning to coat.

Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Punch dough down dough which means pushing down the centre of the dough with your fist and then pushing the edges of the dough into the centre using your fingertips.

Form dough into 36 equal sized balls and place 3 balls in each of 12 greased muffin cups.

Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush tops of dough with browned butter. Sprinkle with salt and poppy seeds.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until browned.

Elephants Were Hungry

Here’s to cardamom spiced luck & longevity!

My Birthday Dinner- Guess Where?

January 2013

This is an example of the dialogue that ensued on January 22, 2013 (ie: the day after my birthday)

Coworker: How was your birthday? Did you do anything fun?
Me: Great! Yeah, my Special One and I went out to dinner.
Coworker: Oh? Where did you go?
Me: I’ll give you two guesses…
Coworker: Meat and Potatoes?

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

MP Bar

T
hat beautiful bar! It gets me every time! The dark wood, the marble top, the fancy absinthe container, the way the rest of the restaurant wraps around it. The chef’s eye seems to be as talented as his palate because the food gets me every time too!

MP Branded Tables

Sgt. Pepper’s Old Fashioned
bulleit bourbon, black pepper & thyme syrup, whiskey barrel bitters, lemon

There always seems to be some new improvement at Meat and Potatoes too. This time around, I was pleasantly surprised by the branded tables! Branded tables! Then there’s my favorite cocktail the Sgt. Pepper’s, which is a shining example of the restaurant’s consistency in the areas where consistency counts. That Sergeant could make an alcoholic out of an honest woman.

MP Fried Brussels Sprouts

What may look like a mysterious mash was actually a heap of fried Brussels sprouts. Upon eating this amazing heap, cravings for another heap will ensue within three days maximum.

MP Moules

Mussels of the Day w/ Garlic Bread
fennel, tomato, dill, salmon roe and bacon

This was the gift of mussels that kept giving, which is a perfect concept for a birthday meal! After eating every single mussel, we clung fiercely to the sauce, denying every table busser who tried to remove the flavor laden sauce from our grasp. This seemed to earn us extra cred with our waiter who snagged us some extra garlic bread to reward our sauce loyalty. Why were we so adamant? The poutine was on its way, and that poutine meant one more delicious vehicle for a complex sauce!

Tartare and Poutine

Beef Tartare
Dry aged strip, smoked egg, chili, seaweed aioli

Poutine
Gravy & local cheese curd

MP Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank
White beans, broccolini, kale, gremolata

If by this photo, you have visually consumed more food than seems appropriate for two people, know that by the lamb course, we had the same feeling. After a few quality control bites of this lamb shank, we had to throw in our rustic napkins, and call it “to go!” This meant my birthday dinner stretched over three nights. After lamb leftovers the following night, I made a poutine omelette with a side of kale sauteed in the mussels sauce.

It was the birthday meal that kept on giving!

Returning Home: The Local

December 2012

Like many a young suburban girl with eyes on city living, my plan was always to leave my hometown. As a little girl, the suburban backdrop was ideal. I had a big yard, where my imagination ran as wild as I did, and I had neighbors who were extensions of my family. I had softball games in big parks, and dinners from my parents’ garden. It was ideal, but as I filled my time with more than games of tag, I saw a city as a better fit for my personality, so I moved.

The Local Train Station

When I would return home for the holidays, the acres of new cul-de-sacs and chain stores would taint my nostalgia. The character of the town was on the decline with each new development, but on this holiday trip home, I found a resurgence of character in thoughtful redevelopment. Very simply, I found The Local!

The Local

Through partnerships with local food purveyors within very specific mile ranges from their kitchen, the restaurant’s commitment to their community is apparent, “Our mission is to show people how good local food can be. Our target customers are those who care about what they eat and are motivated like we are to keep money in the local economy as well as anybody just looking for a good meal….”  [= me!!!]

The Local Mural

What adds even more uniqueness to the menu is the venue! The Local serves the flavors of its community in a symbol of the town- a former train station. One can imagine the hustle and bustle f commuters, maybe even railcars filled with the local produce bound for Philadelphia markets. The antique elements (dark wood grains, radiators, mason jars, etc) come alive with the accents of red and the personality of the mural above the kitchen.

The Orchard Sandwich

The Orchard Sandwich
Fresh local turkey breast, crisp apple slices, hardwood smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and honey Dijon mustard on a *French round roll

The Local buys their breads from Bakers on Broad, another newer place I was hoping to hit on this trip, but I’ll have to visit next time I am home. Unfortunately, all the early bird lunchers ate the place out of sweet potato fries, but the regular ol’ spuds did the trick in their stead. The sandwich was delightful, and there are still so many more menu items I’d like to try!

From the Back Room

Though the window views revealed white, wintry skies, there were a few signs of lingering greens, and I could imagine the summer garden beds brimming with lettuces, herbs and fresh vegetables.

Places for Growing

Though a big part of me wishes such places had been around when I began to forge my own food philosophies, I couldn’t have found this reclamation at a better time in my own development. This holiday I found myself seeking to understand my roots more than ever as a woman, as a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend.

Quiet Local Window

I came home to unearth buried memories, forage for deeper conversation and plants seeds for more growth. As the restaurant nurtured its community, I finally reconnected with mine.

Returning Home: Down to Earth Cafe

December 2012

There are many reasons to support local businesses. Numbers and statistics might be your motivators. For every $100 you spend in locally owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spent that same $100 in a national chain, only $43 would return to your community. If you care about the longevity of your community, your $100 will probably reflect that.  Maybe you’re less driven by numbers, and the notion of people and community is enough. Maybe your motivator is supporting an effort that values people at every level.

Down To Earth Cafe

My recent trip home reaffirmed my belief in local community. Finding a lunch spot became a game of connect-the-dots. My starting dot was One Village Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster whose stance on community is evidenced by its name. Tracing the routes of coffee locations led me to Down To Earth Cafe, which incidentally led me to one very large and colorful rooster and a meal the whole family enjoyed together (the coffee dot also led me to The Local).

Rooster Art

In their own words, “Down to Earth is a casual Café located in the heart of Upper Bucks County. Our mission is two-fold. We want to create the most flavorful food using fresh ingredients and we also want to create a warm friendly place for you to enjoy our food. To ensure freshness, we will use organic and local products whenever possible…. We feel that local and organic foods are not only healthier to us and the environment, but simply taste better too.”

DTE Smoothies and Specials

There was only one troubling detail to be seen, and it’s a detail that would only matter to some. When a cafe claims to use organic when local is not a viable source, I find it objectionable to see very conventional brands of chocolate syrup and peanut butter being blended into a smoothie, knowing those brands use corn syrup unnecessarily and a laundry list of other preservatives. This isn’t an end all criticism. This is a challenge. These ingredient details matter if your mission states they matter (and if I was somehow wrong in my observations, I will gladly stand corrected).

DTE Quesadilla Special

Quesadilla Special
Boarshead roast beef, caramelized onions and American cheese w/ marinara sauce

Vegetable Sandwich

The Anti-Salerno
Zucchini, asparagus, eggplant, red peppers and other seasonal veggies grilled to perfection and tossed in a light olive oil. Topped with melted goat cheese on a warm ciabatta.

DTE Fish Taco Plate

Fish Tacos
Seasonal fish, beer battered and fried, in a soft taco shell smothered with house made cole slaw, tomatoes and avocado

DTE Crab Cake Sandwich

Housemade Crab Cake Sandwich*
Tartar sauce, organic mixed greens, tomato on a brioche bun
*Forever I will think of this as the sandwich that coerced my dad into both pronouncing and trying Quinoa!

From the large rooster painting, to the art on the walls, to the reclaimed wood of the tables… Down to Earth was just what I sought to support! It was healthy, flavorful food set against a unique backdrop. I may challenge the details, but overall, I was pleased my community connect-the-dots game led me Down to Earth!

Pumpkin Without Chocolate is Just Pumpkin

November 2012

There are some bakers and eaters and general complainers who begin to grumble early in November and say, “I am over pumpkin!” To which I reply, “but what about pumpkin and CHOCOLATE?!?!” By that point, I am too consumed by the thought of pumpkin and chocolate to listen to the complainers anymore. I’m a baking super heroine with a chocolate force field!

Pumpkin without chocolate is just pumpkin, BUT pumpkin WITH chocolate is…

Whip The Kraken Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons Kraken Rum

Directions

Chill the heavy cream in a bowl in the freezer until it just starts to freeze.

Remove from the freezer. Add the maple syrup and vanilla.

Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat until peaks begin to form.

Release the Kraken, and add the rum. Mix until combined.

Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake

Ingredients

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
2 cups organic raw sugar
4 eggs (local/free-range)
1 can pumpkin puree
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons instant espresso powder

Directions

Makes approximately one 9-inch cake for taking to a friend’s and extra cupcakes for you to keep!

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Oil the springform pan, and line cupcake pan with parchment liners (about 6-12 cupcakes, depending on size).

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, vanilla and espresso powder.

Whisk flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until well combined then transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Set aside to let cool then cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar, if you like.

… divine!

Embracing Failure: An Apple Crisp Of Sorts

October 2012

Want to talk about failure?

No? You’re probably not alone. Most people don’t want to talk about failure. I happen to be a person who fears failure quite a bit, maybe even runs away from it, maybe even runs quite fast and quite far away from it. BUT the beauty of this big, wide world is that it is FULL of people and examples and conversations that have taught me failure isn’t the end. The beauty of this big, wide world is we are capable of changing how we fit in it. I am learning failure is just the brink of decision making; it teeters between settling and determining, between defeat and discipline.

A failed body image can transform into a culinary embrace. A failed marriage can become a display of strength and a fresh start. A failed yoga class…is the one I don’t attend for fear of “failing.” A failed business might be the very best example of how to start the next. A failed apple crisp can still be a crisp…of sorts!

I have a book, whose title I shall not mention, filled with pie, tart, crisp and crumble recipes. Being that it was fall, I thought it would be lovely to bring an apple crisp to the dinner party I was supposed to attend that night. The problem with the recipe I was referencing was the inclusion of the volume of the topping, as a whole, right above the total for the light brown sugar. Was I supposed to add all of those measurements together? They were in the same block of the ingredient chart, so I assumed yes. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I stared at a bowl containing an obvious abundance of brown sugar already mixed with the other ingredients.

Not to panic. An abundance of brown sugar isn’t the end of the world, but it could very well mean a trip to the dentist, so I developed a new plan. I compensated with butter! I added lots more butter, thinking I could turn the crumble into a crust, but when I pre-baked the “crust,” it began to melt and slip away from the pie plate. FAIL FAIL FAIL!

I had a mess of apples, ooey, gooey, spiced apples sweetened with the reduction of their juices. I had a melted crust. Slightly discouraged, I decided the slip ‘n slide crust could be an ugly but delicious base. I poured the apples atop the “crust” and returned the mishap to the oven, where it all began to bubble over the pie plate. I stared and stared at it, thinking of all the wasted ingredients, all the meaningless photos, and the failed attempts at winging it. The waste factor kept nagging and nagging, so I tried a scoop….not too bad. I tried another spoonful…not bad at all!

I stirred the juicy, apple mess into a container to take to the dinner party. I whipped cream into a Kraken Rum whipped cream, which incidentally had the very best consistency I have ever whipped to date! I offered a bit of an excuse when I presented the warm, apple mess to the table, and you know what happened to my failed crisp? It disappeared!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
-Thomas A. Edison

Butternut Brownies & Window Views

October 2012

How does the window delight in the season?

The winter window tries to protect our needs for sleep and nestling and hibernation. The winter window offers a curtain of darkness to keep us in a slumber, but the world forces us to push beyond the curtain to face the day. As the light emerges, we may catch quiet views in slow motion- a creek slowly flowing or neighbors slowly trudging.

Before long, spring breezes against the window, and it opens. The window stretches and awakens, perhaps creaking as it moves. The changes are not immediate but rather like a song filled with anticipation in its chords. The spring window shows more light, shows the neighbors as they too stretch and emerge from the more dormant months. The window sings with the birds and the bicycles and the children who play until the evening light slips away.

The window boasts in summer! The summer window is a full expression. Hot breezes, humming fans, active streets, and the rattling glass of an electrified sky.

Those warm breezes grow colder and begin to carry leaves until the window must close. The window grows quiet, but there is still pride in the dampening view it frames. The window is a hushed pause. It is a painting of bright hues in stark contrast with an interior darkness. The window is a temporary collector of condensation, the effect of cooling fall flavors…

Chocolate Butternut Squash Brownies

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
8 oz. Ghirardelli 70% cacao chocolate, chopped

4 large eggs (local/free-range)
1 1/2 cups organic raw sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups almond flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cup local butternut squash puree
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray a 9″x9″ cake pan with nonstick spray.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chocolate and remove from heat. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth.

In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla for 3-4 minutes, until thick and pale yellow.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt

Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until just combined.

Put one third of the batter into another bowl. Stir in the squash puree, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Stir the chocolate mixture into the remaining batter and spread a little more than half of it into the prepared pan.

Top with the pumpkin mixture, then drop large spoonfuls of the remaining chocolate mixture on top. Swirl a knife through both to create a swirled effect.

Bake for 40 minutes, until just set and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.

A High Tea Hike

October 2012

Alex said, “How about a hike?”
I said, “How about high tea?”
Then autumn summoned summer,
And they worked in perfect harmony.

Serendipitea [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] (noun): the good fortune of picking THE perfect day for a hike and a high tea picnic; the culmination of inspiration from various sources.

In the words of the great philosopher, Steph T., “If you greatly desire something, have the guts to stake everything on obtaining it.”

The hike unfurled like swatches from a paint sampler, with one hue following the next. There were paths through deep yellows, followed by walks through green blankets of ferns, and then there were falling reds and oranges. I felt like Dorothy on a mission with the Tinman, the cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

The horses marked the spot, and it was here I began to feel like Alice in Wonderland with a Mad Hatter and a crazy cast of characters seated for a proper tea (of sorts).

The forest tea table marked the culmination of previous journeys, past ceremonies, growing friendships and new inspiration.

The forest tea table marked one of my most treasured days. I hiked playfully. I sipped tea warmly. I ate contentedly. I laughed heartily. Put quite simply, I was happy, really, really happy!

As we finished the fall flavored scones, egg salad, cucumber sandwiches and mugs of tea, we continued along the playful path of imagination, on which little mounds of moss became the rolling hills of a distant land. Like little children who play their hearts out until the sun begins to set and mothers call for their return, we had enjoyed one of the last beautiful bursts of fall to its fullest.

Recipes for this Raccoon Creek State Park adventure to come! Stay tuned.

First Annual Pepper Farm Festival (Pittsburgh, PA)

October 2012

There once was a Sunday that stretched lazily in the sun like a cat who knows no schedule. It was a Sunday filled with beauty, with the slow meandering path of a tractor in a field, with pillowy clouds changing course, with laughter and clanking glasses. It was the Sunday of an Italian style BBQ, at White Oak Farm, and it was on that Sunday the owners told us about an upcoming Chile Pepper Festival.

The First Annual Chile Pepper Festival was a chance to celebrate bursts of flavor and bursts of fall colors. It was a chance to see the farm filled with vendors and visitors. It was a chance to see the trees filled with colors. The owners of Reyna Foods, Pittsburgh’s premier Latin American grocer, created the event to celebrate the food they love on the farm they love.

Since my introduction to the farm, the barn had been transformed. More of the vintage farm equipment had been restored, and the barn felt more like a museum dedicated to old farming practices than the stumbled upon, nearly forgotten collection it felt like previously. Meanwhile, the outdoor area was a brand new set up of food and craft vendors.

Grilled corn + a slather of melted butter!

A grilled chile pepper (sweet) stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon

Somehow the bacon-pepper came out looking like a sea creature?!?

A Hoboken Gourmet sausage sandwich topped with HOT peppers! The peppers were so hot, we had to buy a Mexican Coke to de-spice our palates.

I’ve mentally planned so many events in that beautiful barn space.

Reyna’s isn’t exaggerating when they call themselves the “premier Latin American grocer.” The store is in constant motion, with fresh corn tortillas riding up and down and around little conveyor belts. Meanwhile, one finds Pittsburgh’s best, made-to-order tacos street side (I highly recommend the chorizo taco). The same taco expert responsible for Reyna’s sidewalk sales was sizzling meats at the festival as well, and this time Edgar the expert and his crew were selling lamb tacos! LAMB MEAT TACOS!

After finishing our tacos, it was time for a wander…

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate autumn and give the season the praise it deserves without complaining about the cold that is to come. Sometimes I just dread winter too much to enjoy the last warm breezes, but this day was the perfect way to appreciate fall in all its glory.

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
-William Cullen Bryant

The Final Ode To A Cabin in Fall: Pumpkin Muffins

September 2012

After waffles became pancakes and wanders became fireside reflections, it was time to leave that cabin we love, but before we drove away, there was time for one more dosage of fall flavors.

Nothing brings out the pumpkin and spice flavors of these muffins like quiet views and the changing colors of leaves. Best eaten when warm with a mug of hot cider and someone you hold dear. These muffins should be savored as much as the place where you eat them. In our case, this was the final ode to the cabin in fall. The next time we see it, it will be a completely different place, perhaps even a place covered in a blanket of white?

Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients

For The Batter

3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/3 cup organic buttermilk
1 1/4 cups organic pumpkin pie filling (from a 15-ounce can)*

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
3/4 cup organic light brown sugar
2 large eggs (local/free-range)

*You could use regular pumpkin puree, but the store was out when I shopped, so I just used the extra spice of pie filling to my advantage.

For The Sugar Coating

3/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed.

With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon.

Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack

The Final Ode

As we wandered away, the road unfolded like a painting. The last Ode to the Cabin was a Sunday smile and a Sunday mile, and in some ways, it felt like a wander through time.

Happy Fall!

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: Cookie Cups & Cartwheels

September 2012

When is the last time you really went outside and played?

When is the last time you flew through the trees?

When is the last time you ran like a fool? When is the last time you did a cartwheel?

There’s something about being at the special cabin in the woods that simplifies fun. Maybe it’s because we’re removed from typical routines or because no one is watching, or maybe because we’re just plain weird [magical]? Whatever the impetus, there we were playing outside, laughing and seeing the world from all angles. It took me back to a time when fitness was just an afternoon spent outside with friends.

Perhaps it was all the play that incited my craving for cookies. Perhaps I was transported to the time when I’d run inside with numb fingers and find a kitchen table covered in warm, fresh, gooey, chocolate-chip cookies.

One of the advantages of being a baking adult is I can make cookies when the craving hits. This time I was inspired by the ol’ cupcake form. Another advantage of being a baking adult is I can also be inspired by bourbon!

Bourbon, Cranberry & Pecan Cookie Cups
Makes 20 cookie cups

Ingredients

3/4 cup raw cane sugar
3/4 cup organic packed brown sugar
dash of nutmeg
1 cup organic, unsalted butter, browned
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 Tablespoons bourbon
1 egg (local/free-range)

2 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (leaving a handful whole for garnishing)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1/2 cup organic dried cranberries

Directions

Heat oven to 375ºF. Line a cupcake pan with natural parchment liners.

Mix sugars, nutmeg, butter, extracts, bourbon and egg in large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry mixture to the egg mixture.

Stir in nuts, cranberries and chocolate chips.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls into lined cupcake pan.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until light brown.

Cool on wire rack, and go play!

weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: A Shared Plate & Thoughts

September 2012

Printed words, sipped drinks, thoughts shared and a shared plate…these elements seemed to slow time in the best possible way…the way that makes me pause and question why more of my life is not this memorably simple. Every now and then, it’s inspiring to borrow someone else’s words to preserve these moments, and in this case, John Muir’s words take me back to that afternoon…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. 

“Adult Root Beers” with Art in the Age Root
& Charcuterie

With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained on one of Nature’s most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial human love, delightfully substantial and familiar. 

One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers’ plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. 

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

-John Muir

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: Flax Golden Tales

September 2012

“Invitation”
By Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

As a kid growing up in the suburbs, I imagined some far fetched and fantastical worlds, but I can only imagine the worlds I would have created if the woods had been my backdrop. Fortunately, the special cabin in the woods provides an opportunity for my feet and my mind to wander. As the summer slipped away, and fall took hold, our play place was a brand new adventure! What struck me on this wander was the brilliant and bold color accents and the small glimpses of creatures in motion. As an adult child, this is what I saw…

Colorful, sculptural coral reef and the scaly skin of an old and tired dinosaur, adorned with bits of lace.

A prince charming and his longtime companion (trapped by a spell in the body of an inching caterpillar)

A magical fortune telling tool. I never knew those colors existed on acorns(?)!

An entire fleet of Cinderella’s pumpkin stage coaches!

A shy little guy…

…who found his courage.

A snooty frog who thought, “Oh bother, why won’t these fools go about their day [in a British accent].”

And best of all…French tarts! Citron flavored tarts to be exact!

Did you see extinct creatures and delicious delicacies? If so, come sit by my fire! We’ve got some flax golden tales to spin!

Ushering in Autumn: Harvest Nests

September 2012

When I was a college lass in the architecture program, I designed a home that had to respond to a steep grade, a wooded landscape and the phases of a couple’s life from the first child to retirement. My initial concept was a series of connected nests representing isolated aspects of daily life- eating, sleeping, resting, etc. Whether or not I was too obsessed with bird metaphors (lovebirds, keeping the nest warm, planning for a nest egg, etc), the design veered through the course of the  semester. However, my fascination with nature-inspired design led me to discover a branch of architecture called Biomimicry.

A Thought Project…

Biomimicry’s prophet is Michael Pawlyn, who elaborates on the concept in his TED talk. Pawylyn asks, “How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty?” His answer and the mission of biomimicry is to use nature as a design tool to radically increase resource efficiency, use waste from one organism as a nutrient for another organism, and move from a fossil fuel economy to a solar one. What does that look like?

Maybe like a nest?

A Play Project…

Inspiring architects and designers (and more importantly, the people with the money) to shift their paradigm will take time. In the meantime, one can’t truly debate the issues and innovations of the world without a proper breakfast. Call me old fashioned! Why not have a little fun channeling nature for your breakfast or brunch spread? Here I go with nests again…

Though these nests might not mimic the more intricate systems of a real nest, they do channel elements of sustainability via local and organic ingredients. They also fueled the movers and shakers who attended this brunch to usher in autumn. These nests are blank canvases, so use what’s in season and flavorful and have fun!

Harvest Nests Recipe

Ingredients

12 slices organic honey wheat sandwich bread
3 tablespoons organic unsalted butter (melted)
1 ear of local corn
1 small local squash, roasted, cut into chunks
Fresh local sage, chopped
12 large eggs (local/free-range)
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Lightly butter 12 standard-size muffin cups.

Flatten each bread slice with a rolling pin.

Insert flattened bread slices into muffin cups so they fit snuggly.

Brush melted butter over each bread cup.

Add a chunk or 2-3 small chunks of squash, a few kernels of corn and a few pieces of sage to each cup.

Crack one egg into each cup.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until egg white is set (be careful not to overbake it).

Remove from muffin pan and serve!

Wandering Into A Dream (The Old Lucketts Store & Design House)

September 2012

Driving home from Chantilly, Virginia was a scenic route, and one corner of the scenery caught our eyes in particular. We had seemingly arrived in a small town sustained by antiques. Two houses flanked an intersection, and their scattered wares beckoned to us! In the end, we only had time for The Old Lucketts Store, which is a little like saying, “In the end, we only had time to see the Louvre.”

As fate would have it, we had arrived at the right place at exactly the right time! We didn’t know it then, but we had stumbled upon this antique mecca just in time for The Design House.

The Design House at the Old Lucketts Store is a monthly interior design showcase where everything is for sale. We bring together the best creative minds and the latest finds in a truly inspiring way. At the Design House you will see well-designed spaces that incorporate items that you never would have thought to put together. 

Had we not already filled a large SUV with wedding decor, I’m sure we would have tried to haul furniture, vintage bicycles, letters, tea sets and more, but as we were already quite packed, it was more of a visual feast. Oh what a visual feast it was! Mark your calendars and get yourself to that beautiful design house. You might just find me nestled in one of the bedrooms or whipping up something in their kitchen. I’m fairly convinced I could just pretend to live there until they accepted my adopted accommodations as true. Until then…

Fin.

Italian BBQ On The Farm, Part I

August 2012

There once was a Sunday that stretched lazily in the sun like a cat who knows no schedule. It was a Sunday filled with beauty, with the slow meandering path of a tractor in a field, with pillowy clouds changing course, with laughter and clanking glasses. It was the Sunday of an Italian style BBQ, at White Oak Farm.

This was no ordinary Italian BBQ! It was the culinary culmination of some of the city’s best Italian chefs, as envisioned and curated by Justin Severino of Cure. I once praised Justin for creating more than a meal, but rather, for creating an entire dining experience, and this was the epitome of a dining experience.

While peeking around the barn, we met one of the owners of the farm, Tony DiCio, who was as eager to give us a tour as we were to see everything. The farm had been in Tony’s family for generations, and he and his brother had long talked about restoring it. Realizing time would continue to pass them by if they continued to talk about their farm plans, the two proactively began getting to work.

They read a lot. They consulted with farming experts. They did some dirty work. Gradually, the farm became what we were seeing on that beautiful Sunday, and it was a lot to see! From the antique farm equipment slated for restoration, to the chickadees, to the horse in its own small barn, to the lake and quiet opening in the trees, the farm had so clearly been born again with a thoughtful passion and a history to share. Soon the farm will be sharing its produce as well. Keep an eye on the local food scene for ingredients from White Oak Farm. Many of them have already been enjoyed at Cure.

(Appropriately for my thematics, the above vintage beauty is a grain separator!)

Walking around that farm made me question my need for urban spaces and busyness. Tony has the advantage of alternating New York and the farm as his home bases. The combination of extremes struck me as ideal! We talked about the importance of slowing down to re-evaluate and recharge, a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. He described the farm’s revitalizing effect in his own work. Each time he stayed there, he developed a new focus in his return to his busier, business life. Sign me up!

Walking up the stone driveway, into the grassy field, and finally, to this table, provide so many details to behold! I was so excited by the beauty of that table that I nearly failed to eat some of the starters, but I quickly regained my food focus.

I can’t thank Justin Severino (pictured above) enough for inspiring this event, which combined the talents and efforts of so many people. It was a truly memorable meal with a very palpable energy from the chefs and in return, respect from their diners. Rather than dissect the menu, I am structuring this post much like my own experience. I read over the menu initially, but once the food started coming to the table, I just took it in with my senses (and of course with my camera as well). Hence, what follows is a visual delight rather than a course-by-course review! Believe me, each course was impressive and need not be dissected!

The Menu

Reception
Salumi & Negronies
[where there is a Justin Severino, there is surely a Negroni]

Heirloom Tomato Salad
w/ Pine Nut Brittle & Balsamic
Wine Pairing

Grigliata di Mare
2010 Bisson Bianchetta Genovese
“U Pastine” Liguria

Pizza A La Griglia
2010 Monteforche
“Lo Sfuso di Collina”
Cabernet Franc Veneto

Pork Belly
Coenoebium “Rusticum”
Lazio Bianco, Central Italy

BBQ Brisket
2000 Calabretta Etna Rosso Sicily

Watermelon & Olive Oil Cake
2004 La Stoppa “Vigne del Volta”
Malvasia Passito Emiglia Romagna

Do you spy little green spears? Those were sea asparagus, and they tasted like little baby asparagus spears! I have to admit, after an all too vividly textured octopus eating experience in Spain, I was hesitant to try those purple tentacles atop the sea asparagus, but I quickly found myself converted! I didn’t feel as though I was eating an octopus (if you ate what I ate in Spain, this statement makes sense), and the combination of flavor and texture worked! Bravo Michele, you sold me on eating octopus!

These two pictures sum up what I appreciated the most about this bbq event. I had anticipated an amazing meal and to be in awe of the setting, but I was pleasantly surprised to feel so inspired by the chefs. What impressed me the most about this experience was the camaraderie, the antics and the overall enjoyment the chefs derived from sharing their craft in a rustic and somewhat challenging fashion.

Thanks to all the chefs involved! I also walked away from this experience with the inspiration to visit the restaurants I had yet to try.

Justin Severino, of Cure
Sam Di Battista, of Vivo
Michele Savoia, of Dish Osteria
Domenic Branduzzi, of Piccolo Forno
Stephen Felder, of Stagioni

And thanks to the fellas of Bar Marco for orchestrating the libations!

By the time the brisket arrived at the table, my camera had called it quits, so I had to pull from the talents of my pal Alex Mohamed to show you just how deliciously this meal ended…

This was by far one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced. The hours passed without us knowing, and we all left feeling mentally lighter, happier and more relaxed. It was ideal, and I am tremendously grateful I had the chance to share in this event.

One Last Note…

Stay tuned for more Justin Severino/Cure events and be sure to keep updated on the Cure website so you too can join beautiful food festivities such as this. Also, check out Adam Milliron’s photos from the event on the Cure Facebook page. I could look through his photos for hours! You might even spy yours truly in front of the camera for a change.

Frozen Berry Dessert, Part Deux: The Delivery (sans celebrities this time around)

July 2012

My fascination with food is not limited to the how. I’m curious about the who, the what, the where and perhaps most importantly, the why. We associate memories with food. We bond over food. We pass our stories as we pass our plates, and we make friends via our tastes. I already showed you the how for a very memorable frozen berry dessert. It was a failure of sorts, but the revisions succeeded in a way that utterly surprised me! However, the dessert’s story did not end there. I was making that dessert for a summer Sunday-the type of summer Sunday that perfectly reminds me of the happiness growing underfoot!

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” ~ James Oppenheim

(A summer Sunday can be downright torturous for a dog who has eyes only for saaaaaausages!)

If we don’t make time, summer’s golden ears will quickly disappear, and grills will enter dormancy.

If we do make time, we might use more butter on golden kernels than we should, just because it’s fancy butter. We might sip more sangria than we should, just to reach the wine-soaked, sangria peaches, bursting with the flavors guarded best by local growing.

If we don’t make time, we might miss the show (sometimes the show is a little racy)…

If we do slow down, we might see what a cold beverage can do to a lady on a hot day. ;P

If we do slow down, we can learn more of our own food story from those who taught us, and we can pass it to those who who care to share it.

If we do slow down, the sky might put on a show in our honor. In our case, the Pittsburgh sky sure was feeling fancy!

The show transitioned to flickering candles and second rounds of adult root beer floats then a downhill stroll to fall asleep to the hum of a fan.

May your hot oven be worked minimally. May your frozen desserts refresh you maximumly! May you enjoy summer’s best hues and lights until a quiet stroll leads you peacefully home!

Cure + Embury = The Salumi of the Dog That Bit Ya!

June 2012

As often as I can, I moonlight [in the daylight hours though, because that's when the lighting is better] as a food stylist for Pittsburgh based photographer Adam Milliron.  Adam is one of the most delightfully busy gents around the town! He can text and sip a cocktail and juggle a growing Vizsla puppy, while simultaneously setting up lights and cameras. Note:  I said “texts.” Adam rarely has a free hand to answer a phone call or conversely, to make a call, so when I saw a missed call from him, I knew something epic was unfolding.  I was correct! The surprise, warranting an actual phone call, was an invite for my special one and me to be Adam’s guest at a Sunday Supper of Seafood & Cocktail Pairings at Cure, one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants (as you may recall, I first fell for Cure on my wintry birthday eve)!

As Cure’s website says, when you dine with Cure, you’re supporting many local farms and organic food purveyors.  I applaud Chef/Owner Justin Severino’s commitment to the quality, taste and economic/environmental benefits associated with using local ingredients. Between the interior design of reclaimed wood, the hidden piggies and the communal atmosphere, Justin has created not just a place for a meal, but an entire dining experience.

As if a Sunday tasting menu at Cure were not a big enough slice of heaven, the man, the myth and the legend was lending his mixology wisdom to the cocktail pairings.  Yes- Spencer Warren, who gave Pittsburgh its first Prohibition style bar (which will be reopening in a new location soon!!!), crafted unique cocktails for each course. Fortunately, Spencer shared his concoction details with me, for my head was spinning far too freely with the bliss of the perfect Sunday meal to document the details properly. The meal was a perfectly paced meander through a menu, much like dining with a European family. The best part is, Justin has barely begun to entertain! There are more events and even a farm dinner or two in store! Stick around this nook of the blogosphere, and hopefully, I’ll have notes from a hog butchering at some point.

Caipirinha Peach Punch

Cachaça Peach liquor, Peach Puree and Champagne.

Poured over ice and topped  with Bittermen’s Tiki Bitters. A light and refreshing complement to the chilled, citrus spritzed seafood spread.

Fruits de Mare
Lobster, crab, oysters, goeduck, caviar

Due to birth in a landlocked state (Nebraska) and a mom whose Midwestern roots influenced her cooking, I had often claimed to be a seafood “virgin.” I had this notion of making a seafood mecca to Maine or Scotland or some paradise near the Equator, but much like many a coast, the notion has gradually been eroding.  Aside from other forays into oceanic eating, each orgasmic bite from that seashell blew all notions of seafood virginity out of the water. Take a look at that seashell! It contained such decadent deliciousness. I shall now leave the sexual metaphors at bay [the aquatic puns, however, seem to be continuing], but know this: if you eat seafood at Cure, expect to close your eyes, block out the world and thoroughly savor each bite.

Avocado Mousse w/ Grapefruit Foam

Looking at this course was like studying a section cut of the earth. There were so many layers and textures, but unlike a geology class model, digging into this blend of avocado and citrus accents was far more satisfying.

Tortellini Pie
Ricotta, pig’s feet, San Marzano tomato, basil, Pecorino

The flaky pasta inspired crust revealed shredded, tender meat with the fresh kick of basil and salt from the Pecorino. Furthermore…look at that lobster shaped crust!

The Count Severino

“Since Justin loves Campari and drinking Negroni’s, we made a Campari based cocktail to pair with the [tortellini pie].  What better than an Italian based cocktail with a pasta course.  It was Death’s Door Gin, Campari, and Cynar mixed with fresh grapefruit juice, and a cardamom and date syrup.  It was topped with one of Justin’s salumis (a cocoa & pepper salumi).” – Spencer Warren

Faust’s Pact

“This is an Embury favorite.  We muddle jalapeño with Angostura Bitters, then add lemon, Ginger Syrup, Basil Syrup, and Bluecoat Gin, then pour it up, and top with cayenne pepper.  It is refreshing yet spicy, and it paired very well with the cured meats Justin had prepared.”

Antipasto
House cured meats (lomo and French style sopressata), pickles, farmstead cheeses

Laying Down the Broom

“The lemon from the dessert fit very well with the cassis (Black Currant) and the honey from the cocktail.  I used Gekkeikan Sake & Plum wine, Barenjager Honey liquor, basil syrup, fresh lemon and cassis juice.  Its light, refreshing taste complemented the tartness of the dessert.”

Pistachio Nougat
Lemon curd, white chocolate ganache, rhubarb gelee, balsamic-vanilla sabayone

The meal ended with a bang! The dessert was like a firework, both for its color and explosion of sharp, contrasting flavors.

What Spencer Learned In The South…

And a very special finale…BOURBONS!

I wish I could say I sampled them all. Why didn’t I sample them all?!?

PS: Thanks to everyone who made this Sunday deliciously different from the rest…

Special thanks to Justin Severino and Spencer Warren for collaborating and creating a memorable, palate-teasing Sunday supper.

A very special thanks to Adam Milliron for thinking, “Who is passionate about slow foods and artisan cocktails and would appreciate this experience?” and more importantly for answering that question with my name and my special one’s name!

Special thanks to our dining partners for putting up with the fact that Adam and I like taking pictures…of EVERYTHING.  You were a patient pair, and we appreciated your willingness to stare at food, wide eyed and salivating, as we tried to capture the perfect shots.  You are gems!

Cure on Foodio54

Pork-n-Pone

A Spot of Hillbilly Tea

June 2012

The weekend had been a Bonnaroo whirlwind, but the Sunday morning raindrops over Manchester, Tennessee fields, put us on the road earlier than we intended.  We may have missed some Bonnaroo shows as a result, but foregoing rainy concerts meant more time for lunch along the way.  Thanks to Nicole, we decided upon a quaint patch of Louisville, Kentucky called Hillbilly Tea.

“At its core Hillbilly Tea is an Appalachian themed “Tea Café”, which offers a variety of fresh organic whole leaf teas and boast a full menu of wholesome mountain inspired comfort foods.”

From my first peek through the door, I knew we had made the right decision.  There was an abundance of brick, rustic wood, old metal and mason jars.  On top of the visual welcome, our waiter was brimming with positivity and personality.  We all exchanged Bonnaroo stories and a few traveling tales before even discussing the menu.  I told the waiter I was ready to move into the space, and his enthusiasm for the place just beamed.  It was so apparent he genuinely adored the cafe, and it made an amazing cafe all the more memorable!

pork & pone
w/ garlic mayo red cabbage chow chow & choice of side

Sweet, tangy, tender chunks of pork atop slightly sweet and spongey corn pone…

…very quickly became a picked over plate!

Duck Burger
w/ house bacon, caramelized onions, greens & cheese

Additionally there was a cakey biscuit with local honey, smokey greens that taught me how proper southern greens can really steal the show, sweet potatoes and endless mason jars of Nettle tea from the Hillbilly farm outside of town.

Our charismatic waiter said “dessert,” and I was going to pass, but he kept talking, and when he did, he uttered the words “bourbon bread pudding.”  We ordered it without hesitation.  We did it for us, and we did it for Nicole, knowing she would surely be on her way to some celestial paradise if she could have taken just one bight of the warm caramel-topped bread chunks with a meringue topping and BURSTS of bourbon flavor!  Our charismatic waiter also suggested a hot tea pairing similar to a chai but made with a smoky black tea, milk and sorghum syrup.  It was the type of tea that conjures views of bluish-green hills shrouded in low, dewey clouds, when time is timeless and the quiet is invigorating.  It was an entire scene of calming respite in a sip of smokey tea.

I could have stayed there all day, just sipping tea and enjoying the waiter entertain each table with his happy attitude, wild gingery beard and blonde hair.  I could have, but alas I, for some reason, continued on the journey toward home.