Feb 26, 2009

You've gotta...

Ditch your coasters.

Why not order some personalized cocktail napkins? You can find them in a ton of colors and the possibilities are endless: include a favorite quote or song lyric, a toast, cute design or just a monogram with your initials. 

I ordered these for a big blow-out bash, but how fun would it be to have some made for everyday use? Make happy hour a little happier... I get mine here.

Feb 25, 2009

"Old Clothes"

This isn't a typical DFO since it has to be on the stove for awhile, so it makes sense to go ahead + cook enough for leftovers. It will make a terrific lunch the next day. I only use half of a small flank steak when I make it but there's enough sauce for a whole steak, if you're into that kind of thing.

Dinner for One: Ropa Viejo

Ropa Viejo (or 'Vieja' depending on who you ask - the name means "old clothes" in Spanish, so technically the 'a' is correct) is a Cuban dish usually made from leftover shredded beef and spicy tomato sauce. I like to cook it all at once to keep the clean-up to a minimum, and using an inexpensive cut of meat means it needs extra time on the stove to get tender. It's a little more of a time investment, but it's worth it!

How I made it:
Slice half of a large onion and three whole pickled jalapenos into quarter-inch slivers and dump them in a small saucepot. Throw half of a small flank steak on top and add a can of Salsa Ranchero. Fill the empty salsa can once with water + add it to the pot + then pour in enough beer to almost cover the meat.

Top the pot with a lid + place it over low heat for about an hour. It should maintain a gentle simmer (bubbles barely breaking the surface) and when it’s done the meat will be super tender & falling apart and the sauce will be significantly reduced and thickened.

Pull the piece of meat out, shred it with a fork (sometimes it’s easier to use two), return it to the pot + toss with sauce.

Serve over white rice with lots of chopped cilantro and sour cream.

It’s also great rolled in a tortilla burrito-style or atop a bowl of spicy black beans.

NOTE: You can find Salsa Ranchero on the Latin foods isle of your grocery store. Be warned… Salsa Ranchero can be nuclear, burn-your-face-off, hot – it really varies by brand and you may have to taste a few to find one that suits your pain tolerance or shift down to sauces called Salsa Fresca. OR…use the hot stuff + reduce it to half a can – just add more beer!

Feb 23, 2009

The Book: Fat Tuesday

You remember my little book project, right? Well, the next occasion on the calendar is Fat Tuesday - the last day of Mardi Gras. Here's an easy dinner party menu with 'Big Easy' flavor...


Serves 6-8 

The Menu:
Hurricane Cocktails
Hot Cajun Nuts
Confetti Orange Salad
Soft French Bread
Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding w/ Bourbon St. Whipped Cream

Head to the dollar store for strands of colorful, cheap plastic beads and feathered masks. Hang them from the chandelier, over the backs of chairs or string them across doorways.

Zydeco music or some New Orleans Jazz

Hurricane Cocktails
Makes 2 cocktails

4 oz. Rum
1 oz. Grenadine
1 oz. sweetened lime juice
1 tea sugar
Orange juice
Fresh orange slices

Mix all ingredients except orange juice and stir well to dissolve sugar. Fill 2 tall (8oz.) glasses with ice, add 3 oz. of mixture to each glass, fill to top with orange juice, stir and garnish with orange slice.

NOTE: Traditionally both light & dark rums are used for Hurricanes, use equal parts of each if you want but sticking to one type will be easier on your liquor budget.

Hot Cajun Nuts
Serves 6-8 as a pre-dinner nosh

2 cups raw cashews, almonds or peanuts
2 TB Creole seasoning
1 TB peanut or vegetable oil
2 tea butter
salt & pepper (optional)

Heat oil & butter in a medium sauté pan over med heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring often until they begin to toast, about 4 mins.

Sprinkle spice mixture over nuts and toss to coat. Continue cooking until nuts turn brown, about 4 mins. Lower heat and cook, stirring, until nuts are dry. Be careful not to burn the nuts!

Remove from heat, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt & pepper if using. Cool completely and store in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks.

1 pound smoked or Andouille sausage, sliced 1/4” thick
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 TB Creole seasoning
2 TB olive oil
1 package chopped ham
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 scallions, chopped, white & green parts separated
Small onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large can chopped tomatoes
4 14 oz. Cans chicken broth
16 oz. Bag uncooked long-grain rice
1 tea hot sauce or ground red pepper to taste
salt & pepper

In a bowl, combine chicken and Creole seasoning, toss to coat and let sit. Heat large stock pot over medium-high heat, add sausage and cook until it starts to brown and render some fat. Remove sausage from pot and set aside. Add 1 TB olive oil and chicken to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned and not quite cooked through. Remove chicken from pot and set aside.

Add remaining TB olive oil to pot. Add ham, garlic, white scallions, onion, pepper and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until ham is cooked and onions are translucent, about 10 mins. Add tomatoes and broth, stir well. Add rice and hot sauce. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered for 10 mins. Add sausage and chicken, cook until rice is tender and meats are fully done, about 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional Creole seasoning if needed. Garrnish with reserved green scallions.

NOTE: If you don’t mind the extra expense small, raw, peeled shrimp can be added with the sausage and chicken for the last 15 mins of cooking time.

Confetti Orange Salad
7 oranges, rind removed
olive oil
1 handful parsley, chopped
crushed red pepper
6 cups arugula or baby spinach

Slice orange horizontally to form rounds. Remove seeds if needed. Arrange greens on a large serving platter, lay oranges on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with parsley and red pepper.

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding (w/ Bourbon St. Whipped Cream)
Serves 6-8 with leftovers for breakfast

5 butter croissants, 1-2 days old
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
4 oz. good semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups whipped cream or cream topping
1 oz. bourbon

Cut the croissants into 1” pieces, place in an ovenproof baking dish in an even layer. In a medium saucepan, heat the half-and-half, cream and salt over medium high heat. Stir occasionally to make sure mixture doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. Be sure not to let cream mixture boil, it will scald very easily. When mixture reaches a simmer, remove from heat and add chocolate, stirring to dissolve.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together. Keep stirring and gradually add the cream mixture, pouring slowly. Pour over croissant pieces and toss well to coat. Let sit for 15 mins to allow mixture to be absorbed. Heat oven to 350F.

Place the baking dish in a larger roasting pan and fill larger pan halfway with water to create a water bath. Bake until set, about 40-45 mins.

Mix whipped cream, bourbon and cinnamon to taste, spoon over bowls of warm bread pudding and serve.

Feb 20, 2009

Sweet Redemption

I couldn’t let the garlic beat me. You understand, right? My earlier, um... disaster, had left a bad taste in my mouth… and I do mean that literally. So I set out to remind myself why I do, in fact, love garlic.

Dinner For One: Pasta Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Olive Oil Pasta)

This DFO is a garlic lover’s dream. It is one of the easiest, fastest & tastiest ways to fix a bowl of pasta – perfect for a weeknight when you’re craving comfort food. Or culinary redemption. But maybe that’s just me…

How I made it:
Start a big pot of water over high heat to cook the pasta. While you’re waiting for it to come to a boil, finely mince 3-4 cloves of garlic. Or push it through a garlic press… whatever works for you. Put the garlic in a sauté pan over low heat with a few swirls of olive oil. No, I don’t know how much a few swirls is…maybe a little less than a quarter cup? 

When the water reaches a boil, add a palmful of salt & dump your pasta in. Any shape you like. Stir the garlic occasionally, making sure it sautés gently & doesn’t burn. When the pasta is almost done, scoop it out of the water & add it to the sauté pot. Raise the heat a little & cook, stirring, until the pasta is fully cooked & coated in the garlic oil. Add salt, black pepper & red pepper flakes to taste. I like a lot of all of those plus a little grated parmesan. And a glass of wine.

Finally, garlic a gal can love...

Feb 19, 2009

You've gotta...

Wash your hands.

After the garlic incident earlier this week (yes, it's haunting me & I'm not recovered from my dismal failure yet) I had a serious case of smelly hands. One wash with this soap though & the eau de garlique was gone! Plus it comes in a super-chic glass bottle with great scents and a rainbow of pretty colors. 

Lately, I've been giving a bottle to everyone I know. In the last month I've taken it as a hostess gift for a dinner party, given it as a birthday gift for my mom & dropped it off as a housewarming gift for a friend's new place... great for a kitchen or bathroom, you can find it here.

Feb 17, 2009

The Vampire Killer

When I started this site I promised to share not just the good, but the bad & the ugly. Here’s a story about Ugly…

I was visiting in LA last week with my fabulous Greek friend & her fabulous Greek parents & they took me to a fabulous Greek restaurant where we ate this fabulous garlic spread. They told me it was called Skorthalia. So everything was fabulous, understand?

And then I came home & tried to re-create all that fabulous-ity and, boy oh boy, did I fail miserably.

This garlic dip, spread, appetizer, whatever… it was really incredible. We ate it on everything – bread, vegetables, grilled shrimp & chicken… I even ate some all by itself on my spoon. Really, it was that good. And yes, we all reeked when it was over – even the next morning after lots of hand washing & teeth brushing we were still tasting, breathing & smelling garlic. But it was worth it.

So I was riding my fond memories of this new treat when I got home & decided to make some for myself. I used the recipe below, but I’m not telling you where I got it. Because it was bad. Really bad. It was bitter and awful and it burned.

So, as instructed, I added more potato, and then more, and then even more. Until I had used the whole bag and I was left with a huge bowl of (still) insanely garlicky mashed potatoes. But not garlicky in the good way… just overwhelming & painful.

In the end I threw the whole mess away.

So what went wrong?

Was it because I used a food processor & didn’t smash everything by hand? (I know there’s a little Greek grandmother out there hanging her head in shame… what can I say? I don’t have all day to smush garlic…)

Was it bad garlic? I don’t think so. I bought it that day & it seemed fresh, no sprouting or discoloration.

Was it because the garlic was raw? Again, I don’t think so. One friend suggested that I roast the garlic first, and while that would be delicious, I swear that the dip we had was raw garlic. Just better raw garlic than mine.

Was it a bad recipe? I looked at a few & they all seem pretty much the same so the secret must be in the garlic to potato ratio...

All I can say is... until I've figured this out, the only thing this recipe is good for is battling vampires. Or maybe I've been reading too much Twilight :)

The Starting Point:
1 1/2 pounds of potatoes for boiling
6-12 cloves of garlic, minced or grated (to taste)
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of good quality red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes and boil in salted water (add the 1 tablespoon of salt to the water) until well done (easily pierced with a fork). Sprinkle with pepper and mash.
In the blender bowl of the food processor (or with a hand mixer), purée the potatoes and garlic until well mixed, about 30-45 seconds. Still puréeing, slowly add the olive oil and vinegar, alternating between them, tasting as you go, until the mixture is smooth. Skorthalia should be creamy and thick. If it gets too thick, add a little cold water (not more than 1/4 cup).

Yield: About 2-3 cups

To prepare by hand
Mash potatoes with garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar slowly, alternating between them, mashing well. Add pepper. This version may be grainier, but the taste is wonderful!

Note: Skorthalia is a matter of taste. Some prefer a mild garlic taste, while others prefer a strong garlic taste. If the taste is too strong, adjust the quantities of potatoes or bread up a bit. If the taste is not strong enough, increase the garlic.

*Not freaking likely

Feb 16, 2009

Where do I sign up?

I figure this artist needs some volunteers to dispose of the beer... and I do like to be helpful. 
Beer Cap Trivet

I love etsy.com. I've bought so many presents for folks there - mostly handmade posters & prints. As it grows more popular there seems to be more crap listed, but if you poke around long enough you'll end up with a cart full of inexpensive art & stuff that you need. I mean... want.

Feb 12, 2009

A Weeknight Staple

Most nights my first task upon arriving home is to throw rice, salt & water in the rice cooker and turn it on. Then I have about 20 minutes to change clothes, flip through the mail and figure out what else to make. Since the contents of my pantry remain pretty consistent, I tend towards a few staple recipes – this is one of them. 

Dinner For One: Spicy Black Beans and Rice

I’ve been known to eat a bowl of these black beans all by themselves, but the addition of rice creates a complete protein.

How I made it:
Start the rice. Finely chop half of a white onion and one clove of garlic. Heat a swirl of olive oil in a small sauce pot, add half the chopped onion and all of the garlic. Once the onion has softened and started to become translucent, add 4 or 5 shakes each of chili powder and ground cumin to the pot and stir to coat the onions with the spices. You want to let it cook for a minute & then add a can of black beans and stir.

Once the beans have heated through, add a little salt and black pepper and squeeze in the juice from a quarter of a lime. Black beans can be really heavy and the acidity from the lime juice will brighten up the flavor and cut some of the thickness. If you don’t have a lime handy, a splash of vinegar actually works too. You won’t actually taste any acidic flavor – it’ll just taste… better.

Keep the beans over low heat until the rice is ready & then pile them both in a bowl. Top with sour cream, hot sauce, chopped cilantro & the reserved chopped onion. Grated cheese and, of course a little pickled jalapeno, never hurts either.

A note about fresh herbs:
Fresh cilantro, parsley or chives can really boost a dish – they add fresh flavor & color. If you don’t have a spot to grow your own, or it’s the dead of winter, you can still get a little green… Buy a bunch of any herb & put the stems in a cup of water (a drinking glass works great). Cover the leaves with the plastic produce bag you brought the herbs home in & store the whole thing in the fridge. If you change the water every few days, the herbs will stay fresh for two weeks or more. You’ll find yourself added some to everything you make – even if it’s just a little garnish!

Feb 10, 2009

Drag Queen Bingo & Other Pursuits

OR... 3 days in La La Land

I should really just call this “How to Eat Your Way Across Southern California”.

Snuck off to the west coast last weekend to surprise a friend for her 30th birthday. We didn’t really stop eating from the moment my plane touched down – Greek food at Petros in Manhattan Beach, ceviche at Ortegas in Redondo Beach, machaca w/ eggs at Shorehouse Grill in Belmont Shore… but I wanted to share some of my personal favorites:

The best (and worst) of the eating took place Sunday afternoon on a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) between Long Beach & Redondo Beach…Our adventure began shortly after polishing off a platter of chilaquiles w/ eggs over easy, corn tortillas & refried beans at the birthday brunch. I say platter because I think if the plate your breakfast comes on is big enough to hold a full turkey then it qualifies as a platter, don’t you? The chilaquiles were delicious (more on those at a later date) and the company was divine, but after a few hours of birthday fun it was time to hit the road. We were headed back to Redondo Beach but we had three very important stops to make:

1. El Gallito Taco Truck
I love taco trucks and this one is my all-time favorite. I’ll admit I haven’t been to every truck in the greater LA area though so if you have a recommendation – I’m all ears. But El Gallito will be hard to beat. It can be found in a parking lot on PCH, really close to the 110, and there’s always a line outside the window (a really good sign if you’re eating from a truck). What to get? Tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor can be found a few ways but some ingredients are consistent: corn tortillas,spit-grilled pork & pineapple. Cilantro, white onion, green tomatillo salsa & a squeeze of lime are all optional, but highly recommended. At Los Gallitos you fix your own, but you can always order your tacos “con todos” to get the full treatment. They’re smaller than your typical Mexican joint tacos but at a buck & a quarter each you can afford to order a few. We had literally just left the restaurant so this was strictly a snack stop: one quick taco each while standing in the parking lot. Were we hungry? No. But there’s always room for one little taco. Besides… driving by El Gallito without stopping just isn’t right…

2. Miss Donuts & Bakery (& Mekong Express Chinese Food)Los Angeles is immense. And no matter where you are, it is a certainty that you are AT LEAST 30 minutes away from where you need to be next. Since I don’t drive when I’m out there that leaves me with a lot of time to look out the window while we’re on the road - and you know what I’ve noticed? LA has a crazy number of independent donut shops. And even more interesting… there are quite a lot of Donut/Chinese Food combo shops. Apparently my native LA friends had never noticed this phenomenon. Guess they don’t spend enough time gazing out the passenger-side window… but I needed to check one out. 

We made a quick stop at Miss Donuts & Bakery and picked up a dozen to take home. The donuts come in every old-fashioned flavor you can think of, they’re as
 big as your hand and the box must have weighed five pounds…this was seriously good stuff. They may have been the best donuts I’ve ever had. But then, have I ever had a BAD donut??

3. See’s CandiesOur last stop on the way home was the See’s Candies Store to pick
 up some chocolates I could leave as a gift for my hosts. See’s is a California institution, and it’s not hard to see why… they give you a piece of candy just for showing up! We finished our brown sugar nougat truffles and left with a box of chocolate-covered divinity, maple chips and peanut-caramel clusters. We also left feeling the teeniest bit sick to our stomachs…

We spent the rest of the afternoon moaning about how full we were and rubbing our distended bellies. And you know what? I’d do it all again. You guys free next weekend??

So there you have it… my favorite SoCal spots. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done the LA-essential stuff: lunch at The Ivy, a stroll down Sunset Boulevard, shopping at The Grove… and those are all nice. But for me, the real ‘scene’ in LA is tacos on the side of the road & donuts with a side of fried rice! 

And yes, there is such a thing as Drag Queen Bingo... 

Feb 6, 2009

The Best & Worst Thing I've Ever Made.

They say you can’t go home again. Turns out, you can - you just shouldn’t. Because if you do go back to visit the place where you grew up, you’ll wind up having lunch with one of your oldest friends at one of your favorite places & the menu will list Smoked Gouda Mac n’ Cheese as a side item, and you will insist on trying it. And that’s where the trouble will start.

Mac n’ Cheese at it’s worst still comes in pretty high on my list of favorite things. I cannot resist ordering it whenever it’s available. And it was pretty delicious that day. It was so good, in fact, that I decided to re-create it at home for a party a few weeks later. Of course, once I got started it got a little out of hand… why must I add a pork product to everything??

The party, incidentally, was for that same old friend (old as in, I’ve known her for 15 years, not that
she’s old. That’s a very important distinction.) and her burgeoning jewelry design business. You can find her on-line here. Her stuff is beautiful – I wear a piece every single day. And she didn’t even pay me to say that!

Disclaimer: This recipe is insane. There is no redeeming nutritional value in it AT ALL. If the Surgeon General knew I had come up with this, there’d be federal agents at my door to arrest me for endangering people’s health. It is BAD for you. It is also so good… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Smoked Gouda Mac n’ Cheese (with Bacon)
This makes a huge casserole dish-full. I’m not going to dictate how many people that should feed – but for the sake of your waistline, it should feed a lot.

What’s in it:
1 stick butter
5.5 cups whole milk
.5 cup all-purpose flour
2 tea salt, plus more for pasta water
.5 tea ground black pepper
.25 tea cayenne pepper
4.5 cups (18 oz.) Smoked Gouda cheese, grated
2 cups (8oz.) Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
8 strips bacon
3 stalks green onion, thinly sliced, green & white parts
1 pound small penne pasta
1 cup store-bought bread crumbs

How I make it:
Smoked Gouda is a really soft cheese so I’ve found it’s easiest to grate it using a food processor. Just buzz it through using the grating attachment. It will all melt down so it doesn’t matter how it looks, just that it gets small enough to melt evenly.

Fry bacon until crisp over medium heat. Reserve drippings. Crumble cooked bacon into small pieces and set aside.

Melt 2 TB of the butter & combine with breadcrumbs, set aside.

Put a large pot of water over high heat to cook pasta. Once water comes to a boil, add a palmful of salt & cook pasta to al dente, according to package directions. When pasta is done, drain, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process & set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In large pot (probably the same one you cooked the pasta in) melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add reserved bacon fat. When butter/fat starts to bubble, add flour & stir with a whisk for one minute.

Add milk, a little at a time, and continue whisking to keep mixture smooth & lump-free. Once all milk has all been added, continue cooking over medium heat, stirring regularly until mixture begins to thicken. Don’t let it boil too hard, it should be gently bubbling.

Once the milk has thickened a good bit, reduce heat to low. Add salt, pepper & cayenne. Add cheese (save one cup of Monterrey Jack for top), a cup at a time and stir in between, to melt it into sauce. It will become very thick. Your arm will be tired at this point.

Remove from heat completely. Add cooked pasta, green onions & bacon. Stir to distribute everything evenly & pour mixture into a large (preferably greased) casserole or oven-safe dish. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese and buttery breadcrumbs. Bake until top is golden & sides are bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.

Now, this part is important… Call your doctor & warn them you might suffer a massive coronary. Perhaps ask them to go ahead & send an ambulance to your house. Just in case…

Feb 5, 2009

Not so fast, missy...

I wasn’t going to share this recipe initially – I just didn’t think it was worthy. I didn’t even take a picture of it since it was so boring. But I had the leftovers for lunch yesterday and have reconsidered my hasty decision…

Dinner For One: Sweet & Spicy Veggie Stir Fry

Generally when I cook for myself during the week I stick to vegetarian fare. No real reason, I’m certainly a meat eater, it just seems easier, faster & needs less prep work. This is one dish, though, that I will make with chicken next time – it certainly worked all veggie, but adding thin strips of chicken would be just as fast & easy, and would give it some bite. Alternately, I could add mushrooms… I have a lot of veggie-headed friends, I’m hoping some of them will try it out & make suggestions! (hint, hint)

My friend T_Ro gets 100% credit for finding the secret ingredient here. It’s a store-bought broccoli slaw that I read about on her blog. You can find it at Kroger. If you find yourself without a Kroger, I suppose you could break out a food processor & grate broccoli stalks with cabbage and carrots… in fact, I might just do that next time.

The recipe came about from a mixture of laziness, impatience & broke-ness (a state of having little or no money to buy dinner) – a sad combination. I wanted Chinese take-out but didn’t want to go get it, wait for it, or pay for it. Not a very auspicious start for such a tasty dish!

How I made it:
As usual, started the rice cooker and then started scavenging through the fridge. I had a taste for Asian flavors so I set out a big frying pan, swirled in a little toasted sesame oil and set it over medium-high heat. When the oil was shimmering I dumped in about half the bag of shredded veggies. I let them fry for a minute, tossing a little bit & then added about 2TB of soy sauce. Another minute of tossing and then I added 3TB of sweet chili sauce (the orange sauce with flecks of red) and 2 TB of water. The chili sauce thins out & becomes a spicy, sweet glaze over the vegetables. Thirty more seconds over the heat and the veggies should be cooked – limp but still with a little bite. Spoon veggies & sauce over rice. Um, that’s it. I told you I was being lazy.

Next time I’ll thinly slice some chicken & brown it in the hot oil before I add the veggies… and maybe I’ll invite my Chinese delivery guy over for dinner ☺

Update: I just checked in with another one of my favorite food blogs – Orangette. She has a stir-fried cabbage post that is eerily similar! I swear I didn’t see it before my experiment-cum-recipe was born…too weird. But if Molly is eating it then I know I’m on to something good… 

Feb 3, 2009

Old Cheese Spread

I was going to call this entry "Why I love having a blog" or "Matt Bites is my personal hero"... but neither felt right. Stay with me...

First you must go immediately to this site. It's a food blog by one of the most talented guys you could imagine. Not just an entrancing writer, his day job is as a killer food photographer. So the imagery on his site just blows you away.  Incidentally, according to some mutual friends we have out in LA, he also happens to be a genuinely nice and caring person. One day soon I am going to go visit out there & hug him. Hope he doesn't mind.
Now, go read his entry & come back. It's OK, I'll wait...

So now you see where the old cheese comes in. After reading Matt's post about Fromage Fort I had to try it. And since I've already posted a recipe this week with a fancy-sounding French name, I thought I'd better keep it low-key. But this stuff is awesome. I followed his directions, with one exception. After tasting my mix (a combo of Port Salut, Comte & Parmesan) I thought it needed a little punch - so I used the whole garlic clove. 

It doesn't look like much but... oh my!

I've never heard of Fromage Fort before, but I certainly had a fridge drawer full of cheese bits ready to go - which is what's so great about having a blog & exploring other people's food blogs.... you learn that the weird stuff you do isn't so weird after all! 

And now I have a recipe for Old Cheese Spread that I will use forever. You will too, just try it...

Thanks Matt!

You've gotta...

Preserve your taste buds... and the planet.

I’m in love with my newest discovery – Braswell’s Select Organic Preserves. I try to do my part to be ‘green’ and products like this make it easy. Not only are they delicious, organic, and made by a local company here in Georgia - but they come in these great drinking glasses that you can wash & re-use. I’m working my way up to a full set, they’ll be great for serving wine. Plus - and this is huge - the jams actually taste like real fruit, not just sweet & vaguely fruity. My first jar was Cherry Pomegranate and it was tart & full of cherries.

Next, I’ll have to decide between Peach Apricot Preserves with Sauterne, Raspberry Pomegranate, Fig, Seedless Black Raspberry, Spiced Apple and Strawberry…

I get my fix at a local farmer’s market but the company does have a website I think you can order from – it’s actually a small section of a larger specialty food manufacturer. I couldn’t get it to load this morning but hopefully you’ll have better luck!

Feb 2, 2009

Same time next week?

Had dinner with friends and family this weekend & it was the best meal I've had in quite awhile... elegant, relaxed and delicious. Everyone contributed and everything was served family-style around the kitchen table. It was just perfect. My eternal thanks to the hosts... can't wait to do it all again!

We started with one of my favorite salads - greens (in this case, watercress) topped with sliced oranges, a few red pepper flakes & a homemade lemon vinaigrette. 

Next was a pot of slow braised beef short ribs, mashed potatoes and a platter of carrots, leeks and brussels sprouts with butter & salt.

Then a cheese course - Stilton, Comte & Parmesan accompanied by grapes and thinly sliced herb foccaccia. Plus a glass of Port for anyone who wanted it...

Last, but not least, was my contribution - a quick & easy apple tart. Great after a big dinner when you need something sweet, but not heavy. We ate it with a splash of cream, but ice cream would be delicious too.

Here's how I made it:

Tarte de Pommes
Serves 6

1 sheet store-bought puff pastry, thawed
4 apples, any type, peeled & thinly sliced
4 TB sugar
2 TB butter, chilled & cubed in small pieces
5 TB honey
1 egg (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Unfold & stretch pastry dough to almost fill a greased baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, score along all four sides, about .5 inch from edge. Poke a few dozen tiny holes in the center section using the tip of the knife or a fork. This allows the edges to puff up & the center to remain flat.

Lay apple slices, slightly overlapping, in rows. Do not place apples outside the score marks. Sprinkle apples with the sugar & scatter butter pieces on top. For a shiny  finish, beat the egg with a splash of water & brush the egg wash around the edges of the pastry. (I actually skipped the egg wash, but it would have been much prettier if I hadn't)

Bake 25-30 minutes until apples are soft & pastry is puffed and golden. Pull pan from the oven and drizzle honey over the warm tart. Serve at once, topped with a splash of heavy cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A sweet finish to a fantastic meal