Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with a Blackberry Swirl... In a JAR!

   And now for something completely different.  Well, not completely different.  It is still a cake in a jar, but it is not a chocolate cake.  Because I can't send my husband a lemon meringue pie, I thought a lemon cake was the next best thing.  The blackberry is just because I wanted to.  He likes blackberries, but would honestly. probably prefer the lemon cake by itself.  However, I am the one cooking so he is just going to have to live with it.  You could use any jam you wanted to really:  strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb, and apricot would all be fantastic with the lemon cake.  Oh, and sappy factor:  the wedding cake was a lemon curd filling.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Blackberry Swirl
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 C white sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C blackberry jam

   Beat butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time; fully incorporate.  Add lemon zest and juice.  (The amount of zest and juice are roughly the equivalent of 1 large lemon.)
   In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.  Stir gently with a fork or whisk to break up lumps.  Sift if the mixture is still lumpy.
   Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter and egg mixture.  Do NOT over mix! 
   Into each of 2 sterilized and greased canning jars, add two large spoonfuls of the batter.  Add 1 heaping teaspoon of jam to each jar.  Do this two more times to create 3 layers.  (Jars should not be more than  2/3 full.)  Take a skewer or a long skinny spoon handle and swirl the batter and jam together.  Do not mix too much.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Within 3 minutes of removing cakes from the oven, close with 2 part canning lid.  In about 5-7 minutes you'll hear the lid pop, this means it is vacuum sealed.  Allow to cool at room temp.

German Chocolate Cake in a Jar

   Alright, cake in a jar numero dos.  I am not a huge cake fan, but I do really enjoy the occasional German chocolate cake.  Pecans, coconut, caramel, chocolate.... a little bit of sugar heaven.  This is the second cake Louis will be receiving.  I am really excited about this one.  I kind of want to keep it for myself.  But I wont!  I will send it off tomorrow morning with everything else.
TIP:  I cheated a little bit with this recipe.  The base is exactly the same as the previous recipe.  I just took 1/3 of the batter out before the toffee bits were added (and I added the espresso separately).  Then I folded in the coconut and pecans.  Two cakes with the same amount of work.  I am going to give you the full recipe though.  Feel free to make the batter divide it into 3, then mix in whatever you like to get 3 different cakes:  chocolate chips, dried cranberries, swirl in peanut butter, etc.   

German Chocolate Cake in a Jar
1/2 C butter (1 stick), softened
1 1/3 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C unsweetened [dark] cocoa powder
2/3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C buttermilk (or regular milk, but not skim)
1 C coconut
1 C chopped pecans
3-4 Tbsp "hot" caramel (the kind you need to heat up, not the really runny kind)

   Beat butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time; fully incorporate.  Add vanilla.
   In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt.  Stir gently with a fork or whisk to break up lumps.  Sift if the mixture is still lumpy.
   Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter and egg mixture.  Do NOT over mix!
   Gently fold in pecans and coconut.
   Into each of 3 sterilized and greased canning jars, add two large spoonfuls of the batter.  Add 1 heaping teaspoon of caramel to each jar.  Do this two more times to create 3 layers.  (Jars should not be more than  2/3 full.)  Take a skewer or a long skinny spoon handle and swirl the batter and caramel together.  Do not mix too much, you want the caramel to be swirled throughout.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Within 3 minutes of removing cakes from the oven, close with 2 part canning lid.  In about 5-7 minutes you'll hear the lid pop, this means it is vacuum sealed.  Allow to cool at room temp.  

Toffee Mocha Cake (in a Jar!)

   My husband loved his groom's cake.  Maybe a little too much... he has suggested having another wedding just so he can have another groom's cake.  I have calmly tried to explain it would be cheaper and much less of a hassle to just order another cake, but I think there was something about eating it in front of a hundred people that made him enjoy it just that much more.  It was really simple, just a chocolate cake with mocha filling and ganache.  It was made beautifully though.  Moist and tender and packed full of chocolate and mocha flavor!
Cake by Flour Girls, Photo by Chip Talbert
   Christmas and (both) of our wedding anniversaries are fast approaching so I decided Louis' December care package would be really sappy and sentimental.  (Right... you guys know he's in Afghanistan?  Cool.)  I didn't really want to send any sort of icing/frosting.  That just screams "mess" to me.  That is why I decided to add toffee, something extra that makes the cake a little more special.  Heath bars are one of his favorite candies, and who doesn't like toffee and mocha together?  Cakes in Jars are a care package tradition, but also make great gifts for neighbors, coworkers, and people you just don't want to spend a lot of money on!  (Or for the people you know who just really love cake... I have several of them in my life.)

Toffee Mocha Cake
1/2 C butter (1 stick), softened
1 1/3 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C unsweetened [dark] cocoa powder
2/3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C buttermilk (or regular milk, but not skim)
2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
2 tsp hot water
1 C toffee bits

   Beat butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time; fully incorporate.  Add vanilla.
   In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt.  Stir gently with a fork or whisk to break up lumps.  Sift if the mixture is still lumpy.
   Dissolve instant espresso in water.  Add to buttermilk.
   Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter and egg mixture.  Do NOT over mix!
   Gently fold in toffee bits.
   Carefully pour into 3 sterilized (see below) and greased 16 oz canning jars (or mason jars).  Fill jars only 2/3 full.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Within 3 minutes of removing cakes from the oven, close with 2 part canning lid.  In about 5-7 minutes you'll hear the lid pop, this means it is vacuum sealed.  Allow to cool at room temp. 

TIP:  Sterilizing and Prepping Canning/Mason Jars
   Remove lids from jars.  In the BIGGEST pot you have, put in jars and lid pieces.  (My largest pot can do 6 at a time.)  Cover with water.  Try to get the air bubbles out of the jars, if there is a little air left, don't worry about.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Boil jars and lids for ten minutes.  Leave in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
   I prep the batter.  Then pre-heat the oven and sterilize the jars.  As soon as the jars are ready.  Remove them from the water and quickly dry them.  Non-stick spray is the easiest to use for greasing the jars.  Add batter to jar, a spoon works best for this.  Make sure the inner and outer lip of the jar are clean!  Bake.
   When the cakes come out of the oven, again make sure the rim and threads of the jar are clean.  Place two part lid on and close as tightly as you can.  The heat from the cake will create a vacuum seal (*pop!*) that preserves the freshness of the cake.
   Quick Jar Sterilization!!:  Top rack of an EMPTY dishwasher WITHOUT soap.  Follow all other instructions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Arrington Vineyards, Edition: Red

   After all the food yesterday, logically it seems like a good idea to limit today's calorie intake to liquid form.  Don't judge my logic... or do.  I had a math class once that told me my logic was not logical (proofs..... hate 'em.)  Anyway, with Christmas looming on the horizon and gift ideas plaguing our brains, I thought I would share a little bit about Arrington Vineyards.  They ship to many states. (Sorry, Maine, not to you... but if you need/want something.... I could hook you up.)   Every wine is special and beautiful; a bottle or two would make a great gift for the wine lover you love!

   When visiting Arrington Vineyards, you may see a man wandering around in a t-shirt and cowboy hat acting suspiciously like he owns the place.  That's because he does.  Kix Brooks (you know... from that little country duo, Brooks and Dunn), along with Fred Mindermann and Kip Summers, founded AV in 2005.  Winemaker, Summers, has been helping AV win awards from the very beginning.  (In a couple weeks, I'll be sure to get a picture of the ridiculous number of awards.)  Because the vines are still young and the Tennessee climate is not suited to all grape varieties, many grapes are shipped in from California.  But all the masterful work of fermenting and blending and bottling occurs on location in Arrington.

   Other than the absolutely gorgeous Middle Tennessee setting, the best part about the vineyard is that the tastings are free and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable!  Weekdays, you can taste all the available wines (don't hold me to this statement, this was their policy, and I don't know if it has changed or not.) And weekends (Fri-Sun), you can choose 4 wines (I know that this is correct!)  Tastings are on a first come, first served basis.  On weekends, it seems that there is usually about a 1 hour wait for tastings.  Probably longer in the peak season (May-September).  Bring a picnic, buy a bottle to enjoy, and soak up the scenery while you wait.

   Normally I don't like rose wines.  They tend to be sweet, and I don't really care for sweet wine.  But Arrington Vineyards' one rose, Firefly Rose, is a beautiful, crisp, light-bodied wine with "aromas of strawberry jam and cherry pie".  It sounds sweet, but it's not.  The fruity flavors allow the natural, mild sugars to sing.  Gently chilled, Firefly Rose is a great compliment to any meal.

   Red Fox Red is the most popular red AV sells.  It is easy to understand why once you've tasted it. You don't have to be a hard-core red fan to be a fan of this red.  It isn't heavy or dense.  It has a bright, clean flavor that is widely appealing.  "Aromatic notes of wild strawberry and black tea are followed by flavors of mixed berries, vanilla, and black plum."  Maybe I am just tricked by the description, but I can find all these flavors in the wine when I taste it... especially the back end hints of vanilla.

   My personal favorite red at Arrington Vineyard is the Syrah.  You probably have to be a hard-core red fan to like this one.  It is deep, dark, spicy, and smokey, "...aromas of blackberry, vanilla oak, and allspice are followed by flavors of juicy raspberry, clove and cocoa."  It is dangerous luxury. 

   A bottle of Arrington Vineyard red wine will run you $23-$28.  So, not outrageous, but definitely more than Barefoot or Little Penguin.  Truly though, the quality is fantastic and you can feel the love that is put into every bottle.  Especially if you spring for the $50 KB 308.  This is the only special reserve wine at AV.  And oh, it is amazing... beyond amazing, actually!  It's a Cabernet Sauvignon: smooth, rich, decadent, a hint of sweetness, a little spice.  My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.  The tasting menu describes it best:  "Made from [their] best barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, this special reserve is loaded with complex aromas of cedar, cola, and cherry pie followed by smooth chocolate covered cherry and black currant flavors."   That makes you want to have a glass, right?

And the whites..... To be continued!!!

6211 Patton Rd.,  Arrington TN 37014
(615) 395-0102
*Quoted wine descriptions from AV tasting menu.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Topping

   Happy Thanksgiving beautiful people!

   This will be the last Thanksgiving recipe for the year.  And probably the last pumpkin recipe too.  I know, it's really sad.  Oh... wait.... there may be one more pumpkin recipe coming up soon, lol!  I know most of you already have your pies and/or cookies made for today, but I am really excited about this dessert and I can't wait until next year to share it!  (And I have already gotten a jump on next year's recipes!)  I don't think pumpkin is an exclusively Halloween or Thanksgiving ingredient, so try this!  Maybe include it in your Christmas spread?  This is my first cheesecake and let me tell you it is NOT hard!

Ginger Snap Crust
2 C ginger snap crumbs
6 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 C brown sugar

Mix crumbs and sugar.  Pour butter over crumb mixture.  Combine.  Press into the bottom of a lightly greased, non-stick 10 inch spring form pan.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
3 (8 oz) pkg light cream cheese, room temp
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1/4 C sour cream
3 eggs plus 1 yolk, beaten
1 1/2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 sp freshly grated ginger
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

   Beat cream cheese until very soft  Beat in pumpkin and sour cream.  Add sugar and spices.  Thoroughly mix in eggs.
   Pour into spring form pan w/ crust.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 1 hour- 1 hr 15 min.  Until set.  Center should be a little wiggly, but not jello-like wiggly.
   Cool completely (4 hrs at least, better overnight.)  Remove spring form pan ring (cheesecake will remain on bottom portion.)

Praline Topping
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 C dark Karo syrup
1/4 C brown sugar
2 Tbsp pre maple syrup
1 C chopped, toasted pecans
1/8 tsp salt

   Melt butter over medium heat.  Add all other ingredients.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Cook 2 more minutes.  Remove from heat.  Cool for 5 minutes, stirring constantly while cooling.  Spread over cooled cheesecake.  Allow praline topping to cool completely.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiced Sweet Potatoes

   Sweet or savory?

   It seems this is the dilemma faced by many when it comes to sweet potatoes.  I often find a divide that people are in the sweet or savory category and unwilling to change their position.  I adore sweet potatoes in almost all forms:  baked, roasted, mashed, pie.  Although, I think that "sweet potato casserole" is one of the most unforgivable dishes that can be placed in front of people (especially people you are supposed to love!)  You know: the sickly, sticky sweet orange goo loaded with marshmallows?  *shudder*  Maybe it is because the one time I tried it I could taste nothing except brown sugar and blackened marshmallows with some more sugar and possibly some corn syrup.  Sweet potatoes are naturally delicious!  Why ruin them?  Also, with all the other calorie heavy dishes on holidays, why add more guilt to the plate?

   This recipe is my attempt at a compromise between savory and sweet.  My friends agreed.  And it isn't loaded with fat or sugar so you can truly feel good about eating a pile of these sweet potatoes!  I took some cues from Indian cuisine to enhance the natural sweetness, but stayed true enough to Western flavors so as not to scare people off.
Spiced Sweet Potatoes
4-5 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2-3/4 C 2% or evaporated milk
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
1 C golden raisins
1/2 C chopped pecans
1/4 C brown or raw sugar
salt and pepper

   On a baking sheet, drizzle sweet potatoes with a little bit of olive oil.  Roast at 350 deg F for 30-40 minutes, until very tender.  Mash roasted sweet potatoes with milk and butter.  Add spices.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in raisins.
   Spread into a greased 8x8x2 baking dish.  Sprinkle pecans and sugar over the top.  Bake covered at 350 deg F for 20 minutes.  Uncover, bake 5 more min.
   Serves 8-10
*This dish can easily be made the day before then baked the day of.  Add 5-10 minutes to covered baking time if coming from the refrigerator.

Chicken and Cornbread Dressing

   When I was little and we would visit my dad's side of the family for Thanksgiving, I was really confused as to why chicken and cornbread dressing wasn't there!  (There wasn't even regular cornbread!  Only some gross sweet stuff out of a box mix.)  I assumed it was something that everyone always had.  They had stuffing... in the bird.  I can't even begin to explain how upset (and nauseated) I was by this idea.  I still think stuffing anything inside the cavity of avian creatures with the intent of eating it later, is a terrible and disgusting concept.  

   This dish is Thanksgiving to me.  I truly need nothing else on the 4th Thursday of November except a HUGE plate of this dressing.  We don't have a lot of family recipes that are passed down and traditional and junk--actually, I don't think we have any--except this.  Granny (grandmother on my mom's side) has been making this for at least 40 years.  I assume longer.  My mom always complained about it as a little kid because my grandma put in huge chunks of raw onion that remained slightly raw throughout the cooking process.  (Unfortunately, Granny really isn't that great of a cook.)  So my mom took over making it however long ago.  And I know that I'll make it every Thanksgiving for my kids and grandchildren.  And they sure as hell better make for their future generations!

Chicken and Cornbread Dressing
2 med onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 roasted chicken breasts, chopped*
2 roasted chicken thighs, chopped*
1 12" pan of cornbread, crumbled**
4 lightly toasted pieces of reg sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 Tbsp ground sage
1 tsp black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
4 C low sodium chicken stock (roughly 1 whole box)

*A small-med rotisserie chicken works perfectly! Please remove all skin, that won't be tasty in the dressing.
**You MUST use white, unsweetened cornbread.  I can't stress the importance enough!  Any white cornmeal you buy should have a recipe for (unsweetened) cornbread on the package.

   In a little bit of oil, saute onions and celery until tender and onions are slightly golden at the edges (~7 min).  Combine vegetables, chicken and breads.  Add sage and pepper.  Add eggs and stock.  Mix everything.  It will be kind of wet and a little soupy, don't worry.
   Pour into a greased 13x9x3 baking dish.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 45 min-1 hr, until everything is set, liquid is gone, and top is golden.
   Serves 10-12. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feta, Spinach, and Cranberry Rollups

These are really really good and almost stupidly easy, but still very impressive.  It is a unique combination of flavors that are terrific together.  Honestly, these would be awesome year-round.  And aren't we always looking for great finger-food appetizers that are perfect warm or at room temperature?  This recipe hits all the marks:  tasty, easy, [relatively] cheap, and pretty!  This is Heather's recipe!

Feta, Spinach, and Cranberry Rollups
1 pkg (8 oz) light cream cheese (room temp)
1 pkg (10 oz) chopped frozen spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
1 C feta cheese
1 C dried cranberries
2 pkg  refrigerated crescent dough
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

   Roll out crescent dough on a flat surface and press all the seams together to create and even surface. 
   Combine all other ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Spread the mixture onto the rolled out dough and then roll up longways. Slice into 1" slices and place on a greased baking sheet. 
   Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes.

Mulled Cider

   Easy easy easy.  Sweet and spicy, it is delicious and makes your house smell fantastic!  You could make this in a crock pot and keep it warm all afternoon and evening.  Also, then it isn't occupying one of your precious burners that are needed for all sorts of other things.  I made this with Scott's Orchard apple cider.  They normally have a stall set up at the farmers' market I go to.  It is hand pressed in small batches from the apples that are grown at the orchard.  It is the best cider I have ever had!  It is like biting into the freshest, cleanest apple you can possibly imagine.
TIP:  When baking, if the recipe calls for water, use juice instead.  It automatically adds extra flavor without any extra work!  I recently used left over mulled cider in my pumpkin bread.  It was so delicious!  Considering that I use apple sauce in my quick breads, adding the cider simply boosts the mild apple flavor (without overpowering the other flavors.)
Mulled Cider
1/2 gallon apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/4 tsp whole allspice

Add ingredients to a pot.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to med-low, simmer for 30 minutes.  (I don't use crock pots very much, so I guess just heat on low for at least 1 hour.)
6-8 servings.

Thanks be unto... the best friends EVER!

   Let's talk about sex Thanksgiving.

   It is just days away and I am super excited, so get ready for too many posts per day so I can fit in some great recipes!.  This year, it will be just be me, my parents, and my little brother (well.... little as in 21...), but I still got to have a huge awesome Thanksgiving meal with my bestest friends in the entire world!  We had a feast this past Sunday.  Afterwards, we all kind of crawled around the house until our food digested enough to play the craziest game of Loaded Questions that has ever been played:  Dead Helen Keller Babies, anyone?  I know.  That's horrible, but our food was far from horrible or disturbing!  I can't remember the last time I ate that much food. 
I am pretty sure in the beginning there was 2x the amount of food on this plate.

Our menu:
   I guess I'll start off the recipe parade with our dessert.  We knew there was going to be tons of food, so a heavy sweet treat was kind of out of the question.  Something people could pick up and nibble on was a good option.  These cookies have an amazing pumpkin flavor and aren't too sweet.  And if you enjoy cake-like cookies, you'll adore the light, almost fluffy texture of these!  The recipe was sent to me by a friend in Florida.  I deviated from the original recipe slightly, because we made them sort of spur of the moment and had to work with what was there.

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cookies
2 C flour
1 C sugar (brown or white)
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C pumpkin puree
1 egg
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 C white chocolate chips.

   Combine flour, sugar, spice, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl (or in a well in the dry ingredients), combine pumpkin, egg, oil, milk and vanilla.  Slowly mix wet and dry ingredients together.  Fold in chips.
   On a lightly greased cookie sheet, drop tablespoons of batter about 2 inches apart.
   Bake 350 deg F 13-15 min.  Until edges are lightly golden.

Pictures obviously by Heather!

Monday, November 22, 2010


   The post title is not a mistake.  There is a really amazing red wine that is simply called "r".  It is a Southern Australian cabernet sauvignon, specifically from the Barossa Valley region.  Have you heard of Jacob's Creek Wines?  Same place.  And have you seen that bottle of red with the pink oval logo reading "Bitch" in pretty script?  Same winery as r.  It is a beautiful, full bodied red with notes of cherry and hints of black pepper.  While the taste is rich it is not heavy like Burgundies or merlots tend to be.
   We have this wine often but not all the time.  It will run about $17 in a store or $14 (plus S&H) online.  our everyday, all the time wines tend to be $7-$10 because we go through a lot of wine.  It's not too expensive that we don't have a couple bottles a month though.  And really, for the amazing quality that you are getting, $17 is a great price.  This is better than many $30 bottles of red that I've had.  For your next steak and/or date night in or if you just want to feel extra fancy eating your spaghetti and meat balls, pick up a bottle of r. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

W3C Cookie

   "W3C" stands for white chocolate and cranberry chocolate cookies.  There is nothing especially fancy about them, but they are nice festive little cookies that fit in perfectly with the holiday season without hitting you over the head with holiday cheer and flavors.
W3C Cookie
2 sticks butter, room temp
2 eggs
1 C brown sugar
3/4 C white sugar
1/4 C dark cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 C white chocolate chips
1 C dried cranberries

   Beat together butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating.  Add vanilla and cocoa powder.  Fold in 1 C flour and baking soda.  Fold in second cup of flour.  Do not over mix.  Fold in chips and cranberries.
   Drop onto ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 deg F for 10-12 min.
   2 1/2-3 dozen cookies

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Coq Au Vin over Roasted Garlic Lentils

   Coq au Vin is a traditional French country chicken stew.  I just learned this:  its conception is accredited to the personal war-time traveling cook of Julius Caesar after some bastard Gauls gave him an oooooold rooster as a "gift".  This creative cook, apparently was up to the challenge and thought, "I'll just braise the hell out of it in a pot full of wine."  Problem solved.  So yes traditionally, it uses a crusty old rooster (hence the coq portion of the name.)  But a rooster that refuses to die isn't an easy thing to come by in the regular super market.  I guess you could sneak one of your mother-in-law's roosters in the middle of the night and blame it on a weasel (JK........) or use a capon.  But it is just as easy to use a readily available (cheap!) chicken.  This dish is surprisingly easy to make; don't be intimidated!  Oh, and the roasted garlic lentils are a fantastic starchy (healthy) vegetarian side.

Coq au Vin
1 chicken, broken down into 4-6 pieces*, skin removed
1/2 C flour
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, cut into large pieces
2 large carrots cut into 2 inch pieces
8 oz mushrooms, quartered
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tsp herbs de Provence
1 tsp thyme
1/2 C sherry
1 bottle full-bodied red wine (ie Burgundy or Cabernet)
salt and pepper
Baby spinach or parsley

   Put flour on a plate.  Liberally salt and pepper the flour.  Coat chicken pieces with flour, dust off excess.  (*You can use all breast or all legs if you want, whatever your favorite piece.  Just make sure the bone is in it.)
   Render bacon in a large, deep pot.  Brown chicken pieces on both sides.  Add vegetables, lightly salt and pepper.  Add sherry.  Cook for 5 min.  Try to stir veggies if possible.  Add wine.  Bring to a boil.  Cover.  Reduce heat to med-low.  Cook for 45 min.  Remove lid.  Cook 20-30 more minutes to reduce liquid.  (Add chicken stock if liquid reduce too much.)  Meat should be fall of the bone tender.  (We actually found a completely clean bone in our pot; it was pretty funny actually.)  Serve pieces with bone still in or shred the chicken.  Serve over roasted garlic lentils or with boiled potatoes.  Top with parsley or torn baby spinach (for a bit of freshness to cut through the richness.)
   Serves 6.

Roasted Garlic Lentils
1/2 lb dried lentils (any color, brown is easiest to find)
3 C vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
3 large roasted garlic cloves

   Bring stock to a boil.  Add lentils.  (Make sure to pick out the tiny rocks from your lentils and give them a quick rinse.)  Reduce heat to med-low.  Cover.  Cook for 20 min.  Use a fork to mash garlic cloves into a paste.  Add mashed roasted garlic cloves.  Cook another 10-15 min (covered) until lentils are tender.
TIP:  To roast garlic cloves individually, separate cloves from head.  Place on a piece of foil.  Liberally drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Tightly wrap foil around garlic.  Put in a 350 deg F oven (or toaster oven) for 20-25 minutes.  Cool completely while still wrapped in foil.  Cloves will easily slide out of paper when ready to use.
   Serves 4-6.
Pictures by Heather!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Quiche

   Are you sick of pumpkin yet?  I'm not.  I don't think it is possible for me to get sick of pumpkin... EVER.  It is my fall-time crack.  One of my many food addictions.  Even if I had break down, roast, and mash pumpkin myself, the plethora of pumpkin recipes would still be present.  Besides, what else do I have to do with my time?  I currently live a life of leisure (but let me tell you, it is not all it is cracked up to be... I would much rather be holed away in a lab somewhere.)

   Anyway, pumpkin quiche.  This is one of those I'm-drunk-but-this-sounds-like-a-GREAT-idea kind of recipes.  After an afternoon of wine, I get creative and my mom gets encouraging.  Saturday night we planned while my dad scoffed.  And Sunday morning we cooked and everyone enjoyed.  Don't be fooled, this is not a sweet application of pumpkin.  With bacon, thyme, and cumin it is very much a savory dish perfect for any meal of the day.
 My mom did the crust, that's why it looks so pretty.

Pumpkin Quiche
1 recipe pie crust (sugar in dough is optional)*
3 eggs
3/4 C whole milk (or evaporated milk)
1/2 C pumpkin
1 tsp cumin
1/2 thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3-4 slices of bacon, chopped (optional)
1/2 med onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic
1/2 C shredded monterey jack
*or one regular 9" purchased pie crust

   Combine eggs, milk, pumpkin and spices.
   Render bacon until crisp.  Remove from pan.  Discard fat, but reserve 1 Tbsp.  (Use a little bit of olive oil if making a vegetarian version.)  Saute onions over medium heat in bacon fat until golden brown.  Quickly stir in garlic with onions.  Remove from pan and cool slightly.  Mix into eggs and pumpkin.  Fold in cheese.
   Roll out dough.  Fit into a shallow 9" pie plate or a deep 8" pie plate.  Trim off excess.  Pour in filling.
   Bake at 375 deg F for 40-45 min, until center is set.  Cool for about 10 minutes.  Cut and serve.
   Serves 6.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pumpkin Fudge (for the Hogwarts Student inside everyone)

   Pumpkin is all over the freaking place in Harry Potter.  Pumpkin pasties, pumpkin juice... The concept of Halloween linking pumpkins to.... [magic?] I'm guessing is what spurred J.K. Rowling's prolific use of sweet pumpkin treats in her phenomenon that is Harry Potter.  What ever her reason, I don't care.  I love the books (and the movies) and I love pumpkin.  I have only met a few people who don't enjoy Harry Potter and I have found I generally don't like them as human beings.  So this recipe is for the Witch (and)or Wizard inside all of us!
  I kinda just wanted to share how geekily awesome this pic is.
   I admit the reasoning for making pumpkin fudge was not originally for HP but for my friend Rachel who bought some at a local arts festival last year.  I have since made several attempts at pumpkin fudge and failed miserably on all previous occasions.  But I cracked the beast a few weeks ago, and now, in honor of part 1 of The Deathly Hallows, it seems appropriate to share.  I will still try other variations of pumpkin fudge in the future to get it absolutely perfect, but this is recipe is pretty damn good.  Rich, creamy, dense, sweet, and pumpkin-y!

Pumpkin Fudge
2 C white sugar
1 C brown sugar
3/4 C butter
2/3 C evaporated milk
2/3 C pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
1 Tbsp molasses (may be substituted for more corn syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 pkg (12 oz) white chocolate chips
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
1 C chopped walnuts (optional)

   Over medium heat, melt butter.  Add sugars, milk, pumpkin, syrups, and spices.  Turn heat up to med-high.  Heat until mixture reads 234 deg F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage.)  Stir constantly, this will take 15-20 minutes.  (I know, tedious, but necessary.)
   Once temperature is reached, remove from heat and immediately add vanilla, white chocolate, and marshmallow creme.  Stir until fully incorporated.  Fold in nuts.
   Pour into a foil lined 9x9x2 baking dish.  Allow to set up at room temp for at least 2 hours.  Cut into small pieces.
   36 bite-sized squares of fudge, you be the judge on how many that actually serves.
This is 1/3 of what I made... all that was left when I got around to taking a picture.

Vader/Potter image courtesy Tailgate 365

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pastisio... finally!

   Recently regular Italian lasagna was discussed.  Now it is time for Greek lasagna!  Ok, it's not really lasagna but it is the same basic idea:  ground meat, pasta, tomatoes, cheesy sauce.  My friends and I went to the Nashville Greek Festival a couple months ago.  Heather bought some pastisio that was delish.  I was like, "Hey, we can totally make this at home!"  So a few weeks later we did.  I would have blogged it earlier except that I didn't write down amounts and I forgot to put eggs in the bechamel (basic white sauce.)  Well, I forgot to tell Sarina to put eggs in the bechamel (she makes a kickass cheesy white sauce!)  It was still super yummy, but there was no way I could share it as a recipe.  This past Sunday we made it again so now I can share!

1 recipe parmesan sauce (see below)
1 lb short cut pasta, cooked 2 min less than package directions
1 lb ground beef (or lamb)
1 lrg zucchini, chopped
2 lrg carrots, chopped
1 med onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 can (14 oz) crushed or diced tomatoes
1/2 C red wine (optional, stock maybe substituted)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

   In a large pan, saute onions and carrots in a little bit of oil over medium heat until tender, 5 min.  Brown ground beef.  Add zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, and spices.  Simmer until liquid reduces by one half, ~15 min.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in cooked pasta.  Pour into a greased 13x9x2 baking dish.  Evenly spread parmesan sauce over the top.
   Bake at 400 deg F for 30-35 min.
   Serves 8
TIP:  Oh no!  You don't have the amount of cinnamon you thought you had!  Do you have pumpkin pie spice?  2 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice may be used instead of the cinnamon and clove.  The spice blend is mostly cinnamon with just a touch of clove, nutmeg, and ginger.  Pumpkin pie spice may be used in any recipe that calls for cinnamon as long as you don't have some weird blend that has sugar added.  (This happened to us the first time we made pastisio.)
   And shit!  That can of tomatoes is no where to be found?  Use half a jar of marinara, your audience will never know the difference.  (This happened to us the second time we made it.)

Parmesan Sauce
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 C flour
1 1/2 C milk
1/2 C cream*
1 1/2 C parmesan cheese
2 lrg eggs
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
*If you are using whole milk, all 2C can be milk.

   Melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in flour, make sure there are no lumps.  Slowly add milk and cream, whisking constantly.  Cook for 3-4 min until mixture starts to thicken.
   Beat eggs in a bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of hot milk mixture to eggs, stir constantly.  (This is tempering... making sure your eggs don't scramble when they hit the pan of hot sauce.)  Add eggs to sauce.
   Slowly work cheese into sauce.  Add nutmeg.  Lightly salt and pepper.
**This is a good basic sauce and would be great with vegetables (ie. veggie gratin)
Photos by Heather!<3
Oh! And check it, Heather has a photography blog now!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bombay Bistro

   When Bombay Bistro opened in Cool Springs, it wasn't so much a bistro as it was a diner.  Cheap red, vinyl booths.  New but yellowing-come-with-the-greasy-feel tables.  It kind of felt like you were eating in a dirty hospital cafeteria.  But it didn't matter because the food was incredible.

   The food is still incredible, but the location has recently changed (literally, down the street from the original local.)  The new decor fits our American ideal of "bistro" much better now with unobtrusive modern lighting, suede (faux)finished walls, and a full bar(!!!)  A full bar is always a bonus.  The only drawback is that now I feel the need to put on my good jeans before heading out for some Indian.  Actually, it's more of a temporary hassle than a drawback; I like dressing up a little when I go out.

   I love paneer pakora, but it seems the trend in my local Indian restaurants is to cake on the chick pea flour breading.  Too much breading makes the appetizer dry and unappealing while covering up that lovely mild flavor of the homemade cheese.  The paneer pakora is the only thing I would say not to order at Bombay Bistro.  For an appetizer, go for the samosas.  The pastry is light and crisp and the filling is slightly spicy.  They are so good!

   The vindaloo sauce at Bombay Bistro is the best I have ever had.  To get the right heat level, you have to request hot, but that is perfect if you are not a fan of really spicy things.  Vindaloo is ginger-garlic-cumin- pepper curry with a little bit of tanginess because of the addition of malt vinegar.  I order the chicken vindaloo, but I have heard the lamb is very tasty, too.
Lamb Vindaloo

   The last time we went, my mom ordered the chicken dhania.  It is a ginger-citrus marinated meat with bright, clean notes that are almost Caribbean in flavor.  Of course, the spice blends like garam masala make is distinctly Indian.  If you aren't too keen on the sometimes heavy or too spicy curries, this dish is for you!
 Chicken Dhania

   And, of course, like any good Indian joint, there is a fantastic vegetarian selection.  I always like to share a couple dishes so you can get your veggies in and also so you can try a variety of things.  The aloo gobi  is wonderful as is the vegetable korma.  Really, I love cauliflower in any fashion, so whether it is stewed with tomatoes and peppers or bathing in a yogurt curry, that is fine by me!  I recently tried the chana saagwala.  Wow.  It is amazing.  The chick peas are really tender and the spinach sauce is smooth and beautiful.  If you are hesitant about Indian food, try the chana saag.  Think of it as black eyed peas that invaded your creamed spinach (to put it in friendly Southern terms.)
Chana Saagwala

9040 Carothers Pkwy Suite B-111
(615) 771-9105
Lunch Buffet Monday-Friday
Dinner Tuesday-Sunday

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bill's 9 lb Lasagna

   Lasagna is one of the ultimate comfort foods, right?  We never had it growing up, but it is still a very comforting dish.  Maybe it's because people tell me it is supposed to be or maybe because it is awesome!

   My wedding was handled a little differently than most (I'll tell you about that in a couple weeks.)  One minor  difference is that we didn't have a rehearsal dinner.  But at my parents' house, we had a huge meal for my side of the family because they all came in from out of town.  My dad made two huge lasagnas for the 15 or so people clogged into the house.  He was so proud of his lasagnas.  He went around telling them about how each one was 9 pounds.  I shit you not!  There was so much food (and wine)!  I ate more lasagna than someone who has to put on a wedding dress in 18 hrs should have.  There was so much that we had to pack some of it up and take it on our honeymoon (an adorable little cabin on top of a mountain in Gatlinburg, TN).

   This is my dad's lasagna recipe, but, don't worry, it is cut in half.  This is not the 9 lb version (but it is easily doubled into it.)  We happen to like a noodle-y lasagna, so ours has 4 layers... you can do three is you want.  This can be assembled ahead, and kept in the refrigerator.  Just add 15-20 min to the covered baking time.
Bill's 9 lb Lasagna
1/2 lb lasagna noodles (8-10), cooked to just shy of al dente (~8 min)
1 med onion, chopped
4 oz mushrooms, sliced (1- 1 1/2 C)
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 lb ground meat (any kind you like beef, turkey...)
1/2 lb Italian sausage (again, any kind you like)
1 jar of your favorite red pasta sauce (~26 oz)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
15 oz ricotta
2 C shredded mozzarella
~1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp parsley
salt and pepper

   In a large, deep sided skillet or pan over medium-high heat, saute onions in a little bit of oil for 3-4 min.  Add ground meat and sausage.  Lightly salt and pepper.  Cook through.  Add mushrooms and garlic.  Cook until mushrooms start to get soft; it will take about 4 min.  Turn off heat.  Add pasta sauce, oregano, and red pepper flakes.
   In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, half the parmesan (1/4- 1/3 C), and parsley.
   In a greased 10x10x2 (or 11x7x2) spread a little of the meat sauce in the bottom.  Cover with noodles, cut off ends to use for filling in gaps in other noodle layers.  Spread 1/4 of the meat sauce over the noodles.  Spread 1/4 of cheese mixture over meat layer (placing small dollops evenly over the meat will probably work better.)  Repeat this pattern until done.  Sprinkle about 1/4 of parmesan over the top. (And maybe some extra mozzarella???)
   Cover.  Bake at 350 deg F for 30 min.  Uncover, bake 15 more minutes.
   Serves 6.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roast, Inc: Craft Roasted Coffee

   A hot beverage is the second best way to start any morning.  Coffee is my personal choice of morning drinks, although I do not limit my consumption to just mornings.  I am a morning person there is no doubt about that.  When I wake up I am awake, but I still love that little caffeine pick-me-up.  Also, the feeling of a warm mug in chilly hands is delightful.  (I get cold when I sleep, so my hands are chilly when I wake up, year round.)

   A couple weeks ago at the Franklin Farmers' Market, I bought 1 lb of Roast, Inc Guatemalan coffee.  It was in impulse buy because we literally have 4 lbs of coffee in the freezer.  As I walked by their stand on a pretty, sunny fall morning, the smell of a beautifully brewed coffee wafted pass me.  It made my knees a little week.  The smell of coffee holds so many memories for me that I can't help it.  I did a sort of U-turn and was almost knocked over by this gorgeous, huge mastiff (who's owners are at the market almost every weekend.)  I looked at my mom and said "I am buying some of this!"  Apparently, I felt the need to declare my imminent purchase less she try to stop me in favor of keeping a rational amount of coffee in the house.

   Guatemalan jumped out at me first.  I love single origin Central American coffees, and the nice man assured me that is was a great coffee.  He had run out of sample brewed Guatemalan, but had Peaberry.  I had a sample.  It was bright, sharp and acidic the way a good Peaberry coffee should be.  If you can roast a decent Peaberry coffee, I will assume your other coffees are also good.  Since 2 lbs of the coffee in our freezer is Peaberry, I didn't hesitate about the Guatemalan.  It is smooth, rich, and widely appealing.  Even if you are only a casual coffee-drinker, you will refill your cup again and again with the Guatemalan.  We went through the pound in about 10 days (and that is with only three of us drinking it.) 

   The coffee is a little on the expensive side at $11-15 a lb, but so worth it.   It is what you would expect to pay for a premium, gourmet large-scale roasted whole bean coffee at specialty stores.   Roast, Inc ships in fresh, unprocessed berries from around the world.  All the roasting takes place in their one shop on Trousdale Dr; they refer to themselves as "micro-local".  Even though the business has only been up and running for a few months, the owner Brad Wood, knows his stuff.  I can't wait to try the other varieties!

 4825 Trousdale Dr. Suite 211
Nashville, TN 37220

PS-- Dear Mr. Wood, 
If you have happened to stumble on this by chance, I think it would be really great if you started shipping your amazing coffees nationwide so that people outside the Nashville area may enjoy your roasts!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Stuffed Apples

  AGAIN... remember the pumpkin muffins and those muffins made into croutons???  Here is yet another way to use left over muffins.  My dad doesn't like muffins (unless they are lemon poppy seed) so 12 muffins are too many for me and my mom to finish by ourselves.  That is why there are two left over recipes.  I cannot begin to tell you how awesome these stuffed apples are.  These were our dinner the night I made them... we each ate one then split another.  I tried this recipe with two different apples:  Granny Smith and Arkansas Black.  Arkansas Black's have an amazing flavor but the skin is naturally a little waxy.  The flesh didn't bake as well as I had hoped and they aren't exactly readily available at most grocery stores.  (I bought them at the Franklin Farmers' Market from Scott's Orchard.)  The Granny Smiths were absolutely perfect though!  Which is great, because they are cheap and available in supermarkets all year long.
   If you didn't make pumpkin muffins, but still want to make this recipe see note at the bottom of the page!
Pumpkin Bread Pudding Stuffed Apples
4 medium-large Granny Smith apples
3 pumpkin muffins, cut into small cubes
1 egg
3/4 C milk
1/4 C pumpkin puree
1/4 C brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C raisins

   Lightly toast muffin cubes in a 300 deg F preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.
   Combine egg, milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, and vanilla.  Soak toasted muffin pieces in mixture until all the liquid is absorbed.  This will take about 15 minutes.  (If mixture seems a little too dry, add an extra 1/4 C milk.)  Fold in raisins.
   Cut off the tops of the apples.  Using a melon baller or small, sturdy spoon hollow out the core of the apple.  Do not go all the way through the bottom of the apples.
Hollowed out apple
   Cut 4 slices down the sides of the apple in an "X" formation.  Do not cut thought the center of the bottom of the apple.
  My attempt at being instructional
   Stuff apple with bread pudding mixture.  Lightly pack pudding in, be careful not to break off pieces of apple.
   Bake 350 deg F for 45 minutes.
   4 servings. 

NOTE: Don't have pumpkin muffins?  Use about 4 C stale French bread cubes (lightly toasted) and up pumpkin puree amount to 1/2 C.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fall Salad with Pumpkin Croutons and Maple Vinaigarette

   Remember those pumpkin muffins from yesterday?  Here is an awesome way to use left over muffins that have gotten a little stale.  They don't have to be stale, fresh ones work just as well.  This would also work with left over pumpkin bread as long as it isn't extremely sweet.  The apples are really delicious in this salad.  We used a Winesap apple which is sweet with just a little tartness (not as much as a Granny Smith.)  Gala or breaburn would also be great.  When my mom suggested a maple vinaigrette, I hesitated and all those horribly sweet, sugary dressings (that sound fantastic in words)that I have tried in my life came flooding into my memory:  repulsive raspberry vinaigrettes, orange concoctions, ghastly ginger dressings, and (*gag*) honey-mustard.  I have found good varieties of all these, but some..... some make me want to swear of salad just thinking about them.  This dressing isn't too sweet, trust me.  The cider vinegar and dijon balance it out very nicely      

Fall Salad with Pumpkin Croutons
2 slices bacon, chopped (optional)*
2 pumpkin muffins, cut into small cubes
1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 C toasted walnuts, chopped
1 small firm fleshed apple, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
8-10 oz mixed field greens (or you favorite kind of lettuce)

   Render bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan, add butter to bacon drippings.  Toss cubed muffins in bacon fat and butter.  Spread on a baking sheet
   *If you are not using bacon, melt 1 1/2-2 Tbsp butter and toss the muffin cubes in it. 
   Bake 350 deg F for 15-20 min.  Tossing every 5 minutes.  The outside should be lightly crispy and in the inside still tender.
   Toss apples, lettuce and onion together with a little bit of the vinaigarette.  Plate and top with walnuts, croutons, and bacon.  Add extra dressing if needed.
4 large side salad servings .

Maple Vinaigrette
1/4 C cider or red wine vinegar
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp thyme
salt and pepper

   Whisk together all ingredients.  Or shake them in a small jar.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   ~8 servings

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin Muffins

   It's that time of year.  Pumpkin time.  I adore pumpkin and would eat it year round if if store carried it all the time and not just as a seasonal item.  Last year, I got my fix with some pumpkin bread and a few pumpkin pies, but I wasn't completely satisfied.... Does anyone even remember the pumpkin shortage last fall???  (No, you probably just remember the gas shortage.)  This year though, I am stocking up!  I am buying about 2 cans of pumpkin a week.  It's crazy, I know, but I do what I have to do.  Expect quite a few pumpkin recipes coming up.  After today, the next couple recipes will be using left over pumpkin muffins in some truly awesome ways.  (That is assuming you have left over pumpkin muffins.)

TIP:   Maybe some of you noticed that a lot of my baking contains applesauce.  This is because, in my head, I can not justify using 1/2 C or however much oil in my baked goods.  A little bit of oil is great, it holds the moisture for longer and keeps them fresh.... but all oil?  Can't do it.  Whenever a recipe calls for a lot of oil, I substitute with the same amount of unsweetened applesauce plus a little bit of vegetable oil (usually 1 Tbsp.)  However, if you are mailing baked items to someone or are making a gift basket.... use all oil, it will keep things fresher for much longer!

Pumpkin Muffins
1 3/4 C flour
1/3 C lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
3/4 C milk
1/2 C pumpkin puree
1/3 C unsweetened apple sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 C chopped walnuts (optional)

   Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and spices.  Make sure baking powder is evenly distributed and there are no lumps.
   Combine the wet ingredients thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients to wet.  Add walnuts.  Do not over mix.  Pour into greased muffin tins.
   Bake 350 deg F for 20-25 min.
   Makes 12 muffins.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flor de Caña

  This is my favorite rum.  Hands down.  I could (and have) down a whole bottle in less than 48 hours (with only minimal assistance.)  That makes me sound like a total alcoholic, but in my defense, I was on vacation in the Caribbean.  If I hadn't gotten sloppy drunk and barely remembered a few days of the trip, I would be shaming the great institution of exotic beach vacationing.  I will try not to emotionally spew out word vomit on why I love it so much.  Hopefully, this is an informative post.
     Flor de Caña is a slow-aged Nicaraguan rum that my mom and I "discovered" on our first trip to Roatan, Honduras.  There are a variety of 4 years that include Limon and the only varieties of silver rum available from this particular distillery.  All the older rums are dark.  The older ages are 5, 7, 12, 18, and 21... no shit.  I have not had the 21 year old, but the 12 and 18 are to die for!  Ridiculously smooth and flavorful, with a hint of natural sweetness mixed in with the characteristic caramely, peppery notes of a seriously good rum.

   As amazing as the older varieties are, the 7 year is my favorite.  It is nice enough to sip on its own, but not so expensive that you feel bad mixing it with a little fresh pineapple juice or Coke.  Ok, really I shouldn't say that about the expensive part.  If you can even find the 7 year in the states it will run about $25.  We stock up on it when we go one vacation.  In Honduras it goes for about $12 (for 750 mL.)  So while $25 isn't outrageous, it's double what it is in Central America.  Sadly, that picture above holds all our remaining 7 year. 

   Luckily, the 4 year is available in many liquor stores and will only set you back roughly $13.  The 4 year is perrrrfect for mixing.  Light in flavor but pronounced enough to compliment fruit juice or whatever else you like with your rum.  I don't like to over do it on the mixers because (normally) I like to enjoy and savor what I am drinking.  And I really really enjoy drinking Flor de Caña rum.  (It may be one of my favorite past times.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Miso Soy Salmon

   Everyone likes salmon, right?  I know people who like salmon who refuse to even touch other kinds of fish.  This is a super simple marinade that would be good on any type of meaty fish (salmon, halibut, swordfish... you get the picture.)  Check the Asian aisle of your grocery store or specialty stores for miso.  If you can only find miso paste, thin it with a little water (there should be instructions on the package.)

Miso Soy Marinated  
1.5 lbs salmon
2 Tbsp prepared miso (ex: Minute Miso)
2 Tbsp soy sauce (low sodium preferred)
2 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger

   Cut fish into four equal pieces.  Place in a small-medium sized baking dish.  Combine all ingredients.  Pour over fish.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes; flip fish over once during marinating process.
   400 deg F for 20-25 minutes for medium.  (10-15 minutes if fish is in a larger baking dish and the pieces are not packed in close together.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cheesecake Filling

   Normally I am a few days (or weeks) behind with my posts.  I make something, document it, then have to sift through my stock pile of stuff before it makes it here.  But not today!  I literally just finished making these for my friend's birthday (which is today!) Exciting, I know.  And what is also exciting are these cupcakes.  I was told her dad was getting her a cake, but she made a point to stress just how much she loves cake!  "Pumpkin cake with a cheesecake something" was her request.  And I love when people request something specific for me to make.
   The cake is really moist and the flavors aren't heavy or overly sweet.  I think the key to the cake is the fresh ginger.  The filling/icing is tangy and sweet like a really good NY-style cheesecake
TIP:  Thin the filling out a little bit and it makes are great dip for fruit!
Pumpkin Cupcakes
1 C flour
1 C brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 C unsweetened applesauce (not chunky)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 C pumpkin

   Thoroughly combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.  Make a well in the center of the mixture.  Mix the applesauce, eggs, and oil in the well.  Fold in dry ingredients.  Add pumpkin.
   Evenly distribute into muffin pans that have been lined and lightly sprayed.
   Bake at 350 deg F for about 25 mins.
   Makes 12 cupcakes.
   When cupcakes have cooled slightly, use a wooden spoon to poke holes in the center of the cupcakes.  Hole should only go halfway into the cupcake (do NOT go all the way through!)
Wiggle the spoon a little to make the hole larger.
Fill hole with filling and carefully spread over the top of the cupcakes once cupcakes have completely cooled.  It is not an extremely thick filling.

Cheesecake Filling 
8 oz softened cream cheese
2 Tbsp softened butter
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp evaporated milk (or cream)
(you may need a little lemon juice)
   Use an electric hand mixer to beat the cheese and butter together.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Add evap. milk.  Filling should be a little bit thin--it is almost more of a cheesecake glaze.  If it is too runny, add ~1 tsp lemon juice; this will thicken the mixture.
   Place filling in a resealable plastic bag.  (Fold bag edges over mouth of a large measure cup or glass for easy transfer.)  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Snip a small corner off before filling cupcakes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mild Jerk Rub

   I love jerk.  LOOOVE it.  With a a passion akin to ultra-creepy obsession.  Why?  Couldn't tell you.  There is something about a really good dry rub that fascinates me.  This is a jerk rub for those who don't like things too spicy.  It's really mild, but you get all the wonderful flavors of a traditional jerk rub.  It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 month.  The amount in the recipe is enough for 4 portions of meat (chicken breasts, NY strips, thick cut pork chops...)

Jerk Dry Rub
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp whole allspice
1 lrg clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt (or kosher salt)
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

   In a mortar and pestle (or small food processor) crush cumin, peppercorns, and allspice.  Crush in garlic and salt.  Mix in all other spices.
   Rub directly onto raw meat.  Let sit about 10 min.  Grill or roast until meat is done.

   NY strip steak with mild jerk rub

Thursday, November 4, 2010


   Today is my dad's 58th birthday!  Last night we had his birthday dinner.  I have been planning this particular pierogi making adventure for over a month.  Piergoies remind me of something my dad would have grown up eating.  Never mind the fact that my grandmother is neither a great cook nor Polish.  In fact, there is absolutely no Polish in our veins.  Although, half of my heritage did invade Poland a few years back (.... too soon?)

   I love homemade pierogies but they are seriously time intensive.  You can't come home on a Tuesday night and be like,  "Oh, hey!  I think I'll make pierogies from scratch!"  It doesn't work that way.  But it is sooo worth it to make them yourself!  Good new is that they freeze amazingly well.  While they are not hard to make, the process will take a few hours so be prepared.  Do this on a Sunday afternoon or a snow day.  This recipe makes a lot because if you are going to make them, make a bunch!  Go all out, make half meat and half potato... variety is the spice of life, right? 

Pierogi Dough
5 C flour
16 oz sour cream
2 eggs (whole)
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt

   Combine everything except flour.  Add 4 1/2 C flour.  Incorporate.  The dough probably will not form a ball on its own (don't worry!)
   Sprinkle 1/4 C flour on surface.  Turn out dough.  Sprinkle the last 1/4 C over the dough.  Knead dough until it comes together.  Add more flour if needed.  Divide dough into easily managed pieces (2-4).  Let rest at least 10 min.
   On floured surface.  Carefully roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into 3 inch circles.  (NOTE:  Once cut, the dough has a tendency to spring back a little.  The dough may need to be stretched a little when it comes time to fill.)
   Makes 8-10 servings.

Potato Filling
1/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 C white cheddar
1/2 C soft farmers cheese (ricotta salata or cream cheese will also work)
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper

   Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to boil.  Liberally salt water.  Boil until potatoes are fork tender.  Drain potatoes.  Mash.
   Saute onions for 5-7 min in a little bit of oil.
   Add the onions and the rest of the ingredients to the potatoes.  Mix.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   (Enough filling for half the amount of dough made. 20-25 pierogies)

Meat Filling
1/2 lb ground beef (93/7 I think is best)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp mashed potato filling (optional... it works as a binder)
salt and pepper

   Saute onions in a little bit of oil for about 5 min.  Add ground beef.  Brown and cook thoroughly.  Turn off heat.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   (Enough filling for half the amount of dough made. 20-25 pierogies)

Assembling, Cooking and Serving (Exactly the same for meat and potato fillings)
Place a heaping tsp (really its about 2 tsp...) in the center of a dough circle.
Gently stretch dough around filling, bringing edges together.

  Yeah... Look at those awesome purple nails!
Seal dough completely.  (NOTE:  The dough should have enough moisture to stick to itself, but if it is not sticking, dab a little bit of water at the edges.  Or use a fork to crimp edges.  I use a fork to crimp the edges of the meat filled ones so I can tell the difference between the two.)
I bought it 'cause the color is called "climax".
In a large pot, boil pierogies in salted water for 6-7 minutes.  Do this in batches.  Drain off excess water.  (This is the point where you would freeze them.)

For every 4 servings:
1 medium onion, sliced
2 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/3 C chopped parsley

Saute onions in 1/2 Tbsp butter until golden brown over med-high heat.  Melt in the other 2 Tbsp butter.  Saute pierogies for 6-8 min.  Cover and cook another 5 min.  Toss in parsley and serve!

Trust me, it is all worth it in the end!!!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


   It is amazing how many great restaurants are found in strip malls.  There is a bit of a culinary taboo to strip mall dining.  But thanks to people like Guy Fieri and Anthony Bourdain, that taboo is slowly dissolving and "foodie elitists" are accepting the fact that good food is good food no matter where you find it.  I have always been a fan of strip mall joints simply for the fact that where I live that is mostly what you get.  The Brentwood/Cool Springs area is literally made up of hundreds of strips.

   Jasmine is a little Thai place situated between a Factory Card Outlet and an Ortho Mattress store.  No joke.  The food is incredible and very reasonably priced.  Part of the menu is a list of sauces that can be paired with chicken, beef, pork, seafood, or vegetables.  The garlic sauce and ginger sauce are my favorites.  And like any Thai restaurant there is a noodle section.  To be honest, I am not a huge fan of their noodle dishes.  The flavor is good but they tend to be a little dry for my taste.  Luckily, the pad thai seems to be the exception.  It is delicious.
 Tom Ka (coconut-y, mushroom-y goodness)

  The last time we ate at Jasmine.  I had the crispy duck with tamarind sauce.  (I know, I am sorry... I am on a duck kick right now.  It will probably be over soon.)  I was hesitant about the tamarind sauce being too sweet, but it is wonderfully balanced: salty, sweet, sour, garlicy.  It could have been spicier, but most of Jasmine's menu is light on spice.  They have adjust for more Western palates.  So this is a great place to try Thai if you have avoided it because you think it will be too hot.  For those of us that like a good bit of heat... all you have to do is ask!  Which is what I do when I get the chili lime beef salad.  My mom likes it just the way it comes though, and I think she has ordered it the last 5 times.
Chili Lime Beef Salad
 Duck w/ tamarind sauce
   My dad had the crispy duck with garlic sauce.  The heaping piles of garlic, I think, are a thing of beauty.
  Duck w/ garlic sauce
    Duck is a new thing for me.  So I wasn't exactly prepared for the layer of fat between the tender, juicy breast meat and the perfectly crispy skin.  I sort of dissected mine while eating to avoid the fat layer.  My dad on the other hand devoured his.

8105 Moores Ln
Brentwood, TN 37027
(615) 661-0169