Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pistachio-Chai Muffins

This is a good recipe from Cooking Light, and it puts forth the neat idea of using chai tea in something baked. (This sweet tea tart has also been on my mind lately. Let's just start putting tea in everything!)

Make these pistachio-chai muffins on impulse (like us) on a weekday morning for a top-notch distraction. Obviously, baking at 6:30 a.m. is so much more productive and rewarding than, say, finally ironing clothes, getting a jumpstart on to-do's, or otherwise sensibly and logically preparing for a crazy-busy day. Or you could just try them this weekend for a way less hectic experience.

We're you have an interesting go-to muffin recipe to recommend? Or a surprising use for tea in a recipe?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Edgy Burger

This article in the New York Times got me to thinking about a story I wrote for Edible Memphis some time ago. So, I thought I'd share.

My aunt eyeballed the burger that was set in front of her. Inspecting and scrutinizing it, she poked at the patty with her finger, and then she peeled back the bun to get an even closer look.

“It’s a veggie!” she proclaimed. She took a resigned bite of the sandwich. Even before this catastrophe, she had been dismayed by the fact that there were veggie burgers present at our family get-together, and her concern that she may have been given one by mistake grew. “I can see the vegetables,” she cried before her second bite. I sat down beside her and attempted to point out the visual differences between her beef patty and my veggie patty, but she wouldn’t hear of it. It was a veggie, and that was that.

Right then, I realized that veggie burgers had a real image problem.

They do come by their bad reputation honestly. For the most part, people are familiar with the myriad of dry, tasteless, hockey pucks found in the grocery store freezer case, but that’s not all there is. With nearly any food, fresher is better, and lucky for us, Memphis is home to many fresh, inventive examples of not only how veggie burgers are done, but also how they are done right.

My first stop was to see Balewa Bayete, a vegan for thirty-two years; he assembles a burger behind his own counter inside of Sean’s Deli on Union Avenue. Balewa’s Vegan Gourmet offers two stellar choices: Original Live Burger and Shiitake Burger. Both burgers are filling, spicy and delicious. He admits that the veggie burger is a great first step for those who are looking for a better way to eat.

“It is not a medicine burger,” he remarks, “but it is food that nourishes the body.”

His own recipes takes fresh to a whole new level. His burgers, made with organic beets, mushrooms, flax seeds, oat bran and spices, are not cooked, but dehydrated to preserve the nutritional value of the fresh ingredients. While he has been making different versions of this sandwich for fifteen years, he stopped using soy as an ingredient some time ago. Most of the frozen-box burgers use soy to replicate the texture and flavor of meat burgers. “It doesn’t need to taste like meat,” he says.

He’s right. The best veggie burgers in Memphis make little attempt to replicate the true flavor of meat, but offer something new for the palate. There is a certain freedom in disassociating the veggie burger from its meaty brethren.

Patrick Reilly recently created a house-made veggie burger to add to the already veggie-friendly menu at The Majestic Grille. The inspiration came to him while visiting friend and fellow chef, Tom Hughes, in Florida over Superbowl weekend. Tom features a veggie burger on the menu at his restaurant, Graffiti Junktion. His creation uses polenta as a base. Patrick liked the concept but decided to make it regional by using Delta Grind grits, as well as a little oatmeal, as the starting point for his burger. He flavors it with chopped mushrooms, onions, garlic, spinach, and then he adds pinto beans to the mixture for a bit of protein. The grits and oatmeal provide a nice chewy texture while the beans add a bit of richness. The grits hold the burger together so well that there is no need for an egg binder, so Patrick’s veggie patty is vegan as well. The presentation is the same as a traditional meat burger: toasted bun, lettuce, tomato, mustard and a nice helping of Majestic’s wonderful Parmesan shoestring fries.

In addition to the sandwiches I have already mentioned, there are many more veggie burgers to try. Houston’s makes their veggie burger in-house by using roasted beets, brown rice and jalapenos. It’s grilled over a hardwood flame and glazed with sweet soy sauce. The beets give it a peculiar purple color and it is always a stellar choice. Janice Blanchett also makes an oat burger that is out of this world. It’s the same oat burger I got as a kid from Squash Blossom and as a young man from Square Foods. Now she makes them for Otherlands. Last but not least, Huey’s puts on a pretty good show in the veggie burger category. Though the patty itself is bought from a distributor, they manage to make it their own with a combo of seasonings and atmosphere. In a town famous for barbecue, it is amazing how many healthy, flavorful alternatives are available.

With all of this in mind, I decided to take what my chef friends taught me and try to make my very own fresh veggie burger patties at home. Just to be super-trendy, I thought I’d make sliders instead of regular-sized burgers. Of course, my aim is to make a veggie burger even my doubtful Aunt could love.

-Reprinted from the Spring '09 Edible Memphis. Pick up a new copy of the magazine to read a story about our dining room table and to see a photo essay about kitchen radios.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spicy & Smoky Lentil Taco 'Meat'

Warm weather puts me in the mood for hot and spicy Mexican food. Give me some migas, chiliquiles, guacamole, torta, stuffed chilies, whatever, as long as it's spicy and comes with something nice and cold to drink.

I thought I was brilliant coming up with lentil taco meat, but like Mr. Shakespeare said, "There is nothing new under the sun." There are a million similar recipes out there, but I think this one is one of the simplest and probably among the tastiest due to a double infusion of smoke from the chipotle powder and smoked sun-dried tomatoes.

This is a very versatile recipe. You could use this like I did in a taco, or it'd be great in a burrito, or even as a stuffing for tamales. The texture of the lentils matches what most of us think of when we think of taco meat, so there's no need to buy that expensive and fattening fake meat. In short, this is a must-try, so give it a shot.

Tacos with Spicy & Smoky Lentil Taco 'Meat' + Simple Salsa
(serves 4)

12 small corn or flour tortillas or taco shells (warmed)
lentil taco meat*
1 cup shredded smoked cheddar
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1/2 cup chopped green onion
2 avocados (peeled and sliced)
1/4 cup sour cream
lime wedges
simple salsa**

This is best served family-style with all of the ingredients on the table. That way, each person can concoct their own taco to their own specifications. Personally, I like it all -- especially with a little drizzle of Valentina Black.

Spicy & Smoky Lentil Taco Meat*

1 onion (diced)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 cup dry lentils (both brown and green)
1 1/2 cups water (or so)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 cup smoked sun dried tomatoes (finely chopped)

In a saucepan oner medium heat, sauté onion in the olive oil. Once the onion is translucent, add cumin, salt, and chili powders and allow to cook for about a minute more. Add the remaining ingredients and bring it all up to a boil. Reduce mixture to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 30-45 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed. (You want the lentils to be tender, but not falling apart.)

Simple Salsa**

2 medium tomatoes
1 jalapeno pepper
2 cloves of garlic
lime zest
sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

In a cast-iron skillet over high heat, blacken the skin of the tomatoes and pepper on all sides while getting some caramel color on the outside of the garlic cloves. Throw all ingredients into a food processor and pulse 5-10 times or until ingredients are well incorporated, but not liquid.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Salt-and-Pepper Chocolate Easter Rabbits

So it's finally here: Happy Easter, everyone!

I kept scoping out chocolate rabbits during the past few weeks; I suppose I was trying to find the most perfect one. During the old days in Jackson, Mississippi and Germantown, Tennessee, I always dreamt of a chocolate rabbit so big it would loom over my childhood self; I wanted it to sport a sugar eye the size of a fist. A hollow milk chocolate rabbit was the centerpiece of every basket I ever received; however, TCV and his brothers always vied for a solid chocolate rabbit -- just because it meant more chocolate. Smart.

I couldn't stop thinking about the ideal one, so I decided to make my own this year. I plunged myself into the mysterious, craft-y world of molded chocolate, a world I never knew existed. In town, I could find molding trays for pirates, flowers, decorative swirls, lollipops, even crosses, but there were no rabbits available with the old-fashioned lines and details I pictured. I had to find them here. I had to procure some blocks of Callebaut chocolate -- no disks of pastel-colored chocolate allowed. And I had to learn quickly. These bunnies, unlike the ones I ate as I child, are rather small and are not hollow, but the flavors are, well, bigger than the plain milk chocolate kind I remember.

White Chocolate Rabbits + Sea Salt, Pink Peppercorns, Cracked Tellicherry Pepper, and Toasted Almonds


70% Dark Chocolate Rabbits + Smoked Salt, Cracked Tellicherry Pepper, Brown Sugar, and Pecans

1 cup Callebaut 70% bitter dark chocolate
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
scant pinch of Maldon sea salt

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Spoon mixture into bunny mold and use a chopstick to push the chocolate into all of the corners. Shake and tamp the mold to dislodge any air bubbles. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Carefully dislodge onto a plate and store in the fridge.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Strawberry-Basil Shortcake Sliders

We'd woken up early last Saturday and procured four quarts of Jones Orchard strawberries at the market; it was time to do something interesting with them, so we started dreaming. This idea came to a head last Tuesday night and, like a shortcake freight train, could not be stopped even by the threat of late-night tornadic activity.

(These guys will give us pretty much the exact arrival of bad weather. I basically trust them with my life -- especially Dave. My weather hero. I like racing around town in the hours before a storm is supposed to hit because I have a certain way of feeling prepared, and like most Memphians, it involves a mandatory trip to the grocery store. It is in our blood. Those who have come here from other places, you're simply not allowed to make fun of it.)

So we ran out to SuperLo to get our basil and cream. Although it was supposed to be a quick trip, the cash register broke, and we waited and waited. It was actually pretty entertaining. We finally whisked away our purchases, made a beeline for home, and had this dessert made before one of us fell fast asleep in the safest spot, the hallway, after 11 during the storm sirens and wind. I do love this town.

Strawberry-Basil Shortcake Sliders

(adpated from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book)

1 cups sifted AP flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1 small beaten egg
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift dry ingredients and cut in butter until there's a coarse crumb. Add in egg and cream and stir gently. Use a small, 1-tbsp. ice cream scoop to portion out hearty, mini clumps of biscuit dough. Put these on a silpat-lined sheet pan and bake for about 8 minutes. Let them cool for a bit and then split them. Set aside.

Strawberry Jam

2 cups sliced strawberries
1/3 cup cane sugar
juice from half a lemon

Combine all ingredients and mash them with a potato masher. Cook in a saucepan on medium-low heat for about an hour or until mixture reaches a jam-like consistency. Stir it often. Set aside to cool.

Basil Compound Butter

1/4 cup loosely-packed basil
1 1/2 tbsp. butter

Mix these two ingredients up in a food processor and set aside in fridge.

Putting the shortcake sliders together in the end:

1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup strawberries (small dice)
boxwood basil

Whip the cream and add a small dollop of it on the plate. Place the bottom half of the biscuit on top of this. Spread a little basil butter on it and then add warm strawberry jam. Add fresh strawberries and then the whipped cream. Place the top of the biscuit on the stack last. Garnish each slider with a tiny bunch of boxwood basil.

(Now I need to go pick some more!)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Porcini + Portobello Mushroom Bourguignon over Smashed Potatoes

We made an all-out French food extravaganza for a friend's birthday last week per his request. The feast started with a zucchini and goat cheese tart and continued with a cool little version of a nicoise salad with blanched green beans, hard-boiled eggs, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and a mustard-y vinagrette. The main attraction was my version of the French classic, beouf bourguignon, made vegetarian with mushrooms and a very "beefy" broth consisting of red wine and porcini mushrooms. I served the dish over some crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside smashed fingerling potatoes.

The French/vegetarian alliance was a hit. Everyone was stuffed so we had to make a to-go box for the mini-croissants with sliced strawberries and chocolate peanut butter we had planned for dessert.

The bourguignon has a lot of steps but is actually simple to make. Set some time aside on a weekend day to make this vegetarian version of a comfort food classic. It's shockingly full of flavor, and even the leftovers are great.
Porcini + Portobello Mushroom Bourguignon over Smashed Potatoes
(serves 4-6)

5 large portobello mushroom caps (cut into large chunks)
sea salt & cracked pepper
olive oil or butter (use olive oil to make this dish vegan)
5 large carrots (cut into large chunks)
15 fire-roasted pearl onions*
1/3 cup French lentils
porcini mushroom broth**
1 tablespoon butter (use olive oil to make this dish vegan)
1 tablespoon flour
chopped parsley for garnish

Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, sear the mushroom chunks in a few tablespoons of butter or oil until nicely browned. This is best done in batches. Remove mushrooms and set aside.

Add the carrots and onions to the pot. Once they begin to brown, add the lentils, onions, and enough porcini mushroom broth to cover. Stir. Put a lid on it and reduce mixture to a simmer for about an hour and a half. Remove vegetables from the broth and set aside with the mushrooms.

Crank the heat up to high as to reduce the broth by 1/3. Remove the reduced broth from the pot and set aside. Check broth for seasoning and adjust. Add the flour and butter to the pot. Allow mixture to cook until nutty and fragrant. Add the broth back to the pot with the roux. Mix with a whisk to work out any lumps. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. The sauce should look velvety and slightly thick. Add the mushrooms and vegetables back to the pot and coat them with the velvety sauce. Bring everything up to temperature just before serving. Serve over smashed fingerling potatoes and garnish with parsley.

*Fire-Roasted Pearl Onions

15-20 pearl onions

Toss onions onto a hot gas grill until the outer skin is nice and charred on all sides. This should only take a few minutes per side. Remove and place into a covered container to cool. Once cool, the onions will slip right out of their charred skin. This is a great way to add smoke and flavor to any dish.

**Porcini Mushroom Broth

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups water
1 white onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ribs celery
2 medium carrots
1 cup parsley
6 sprigs thyme
1/2 lemon
2 bay leaves
teaspoon sugar
teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups dry red wine (We used Independent Producers Merlot)
3 cups water

Reconstitute mushrooms in 3 cups of warm water for about an hour. Remove mushrooms and reserve for another use. Strain liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel to remove any grit or dirt that may have been lingering on the mushroom. This liquid is what will give your broth that "beefy" flavor.

Now process the onion in a food processor until it is broken down. In a stock pot over medium-high heat, sweat the onions in the olive oil until onion is translucent. Process the celery and carrots in the same way; now add them to the pot. Add the mushroom soaking liquid and the remaining ingredients to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and allow mixture to cook for 20-25 minutes. Strain out all of the vegetables and save them for the compost pile. Return stock to the stovetop with the heat on high and reduce stock by about 1/3.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Our Latest Creation: Compost

We have hit upon a stunning new conversation stopper: saving all food scraps for compost and for the new worms. Seriously -- it just leaves people speechless. Maybe they think it's gross, or maybe it's just not nice conversation at dinner. Maybe people just don't want to deal with the reality of their trash for an extended amount of time. Who knows? Scrap-saving is actually super-easy, and if you cook a lot, it's something that's worth doing. I started thinking about it last year and figuring out how we would make it happen in our kitchen after reading this article. And now I try even more to avoid wasting anything I buy because of this.

So we have a scrap bag that we keep in the freezer, and once we have a few of them full, we drop their contents into the compost bins at Urban Farms or hand a bag or two over to Steve for his plunge into vermiculture. Since we started it this year, we have very little trash to put out on trash day, the trash can does not reek, and overall, it has become an easy habit to adopt. It also has opened our eyes to the fact that just about everything -- egg shells, dryer lint, vegetable and fruit peels, seeds, core, leafy tops, whatever -- can be and is supposed to be used again.

Photos by Austin Grisham

On to procuring our own worms and our own compost bin soon. Not to be preachy, though -- this is actually kind of fun.

Do you compost? If so, what is your method?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Smashed New Potatoes

Our 4x8 raised bed garden had been fairly inactive with some cabbage and greens barely hanging on through the winter. Finally, on a nice day this spring, we decided to turn the garden and add some compost so we could plant tomatoes, beans, peppers, and eggplant. At the same time, our five-year-old neighbor was helping us plant a bunch of variegated monkey grass in a bare spot in the backyard when TCV brought over a surprise: about a pound of very dirty baby new potatoes.

TCV looked puzzled; thrilled, I explained my forgotten potato experiment.

As a lark last fall in the raised bed outside, I went ahead and planted some Yukon Gold potatoes that had started to vine out of the bowl where we store them. A few green leaves emerged from the soil after a while. I thought it was the beets and paid them no mind at all. Turns out we were growing potatoes and didn't even know it.

My little neighbor called the dirt-covered veg so gross, and we suddenly had to find a way to explain to her that most food she likes grows in dirt: french fries, potato chips, know -- everything! I don't think our argument was convincing enough because she still thought we were kidding her, gave us a very skeptical look, and went right back to neatly planting more clumps of monkey grass.

We did have smashed new potatoes for an after-gardening treat, and they were the best. Grow them or grab some at the store, and either way, there is no possibility you'll be disappointed.

Smashed New Potatoes

new potatoes
canola oil
sea salt
cracked black pepper
ketchup (optional to some; required for us)

(Basically, you do this: Bake. Smash! Fry. If needed, we've helpfully included more detailed directions included below.)

Bake (clean) new potatoes in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove them and allow them to cool. Smash the potatoes -- hard! get out all that stress! -- with the bottom of a frying pan. Pan fry the smashed potatoes in about 1/8 inch of canola oil heated to medium-high heat; you just need to crisp the outside since the potato is already cooked through. Remove them and drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. They taste better than regular old french fries because you get the baked potato flavor and the crispy crunch.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Food Truck Fare Tomorrow!

Like a fortune teller, I can see your future, and I know where you are having lunch tomorrow. Let me look into my crystal ball...I see you downtown in Court Square sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. I see you standing by a large truck trying to decide between tasty tacos or a veggie burger while soothing reggae music floats on the breeze. Read The Commercial Appeal article about the Food Truck Fare HERE. View the Facebook invitation HERE. Hope to see you there tomorrow!

The ordinace passed! Read about it here!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Almond + Eggplant Baba Ghanoush

If you love someone, do something nice to show it. The nicest thing I can ever think to do is to feed somebody. Being greeted with a simple spread of warm, smoky baba ghanoush, goat cheese sweetened with honey, and some salty olives will let the one you love tangibly know your appreciation. This week's theme for us has been gratefulness, so if you are grateful for someone, either in this way or another, it's sweet to let that person know. Here's our idea for it.

Almond + Eggplant Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. corinader
1 tsp. cumin
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1/3 cup whole almonds
juice from half a lemon
a pinch of Maldon salt
a pinch of cane sugar

Fire up that grill. Char the eggplant on both sides until it's more black than it is dark purple; depending on the size of the eggplant, this should take about 15-20 minutes. Remove eggplant from the grill and cover it; allow it to cool. Once it's cooled, pull the charred peel away -- it should come right off. Place both flesh and seeds -- but NOT liquid -- into a food processor. Leave it there for a minute.

Pour the olive oil into a pan over medium heat. Add coriander and cumin along with the crushed garlic. Let it cook for 1-2 minutes until spices are fragrant and the garlic is lightly browned. Let this cool, too, and then add it to the food processor with waiting eggplant. Add almonds, lemon juice, salt, and sugar. Blend until very, very smooth. Top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

Serve with crusty bread or toasted pita.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BBQ Tofu Nachos a la Hawkins

Some might call it strange, but I call it Memphis veggie fusion. It's where Memphis's BBQ culture collides with vegetarian cuisine. The result of this phenomenon is served up in restaurants, bars, and BBQ joints around the city. You can find Chef Gary slingin' some stellar vegetarian soul food at De Javu down on Florida St., or grab a raw BBQ veggie burger from Balewa at Sean's Deli on Union Ave. Even vegetarians can walk into Central BBQ and order a BBQ sandwich...a portobello mushroom BBQ sandwich, that is.

The Big Bang of Memphis veggie fusion had to be in the mid 90's at a little place near the University of Memphis called R.P. Trax. My good buddy Chris Hawkins, who is now helping to expand the vegetarian options at 3 Angels Diner, created R.P. Trax's original vegetarian menu about 15 years ago. You can sit down and order BBQ tofu quesadillas with smoked gouda, or a BBQ tofu sandwich with sweet potato fries, or Tofu Wings with blue cheese, or a BBQ tofu burrito. For brunch, they even have a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, and you guessed it, BBQ tofu. I think you can see the pattern here.

My all-time favorite is a Memphis original, the BBQ tofu nachos. Let me tell you something, boys and girls, you may not be ready for this. House-made chips with some sort of "cool ranch" seasoning, vegetarian black bean chili, lettuce, tomato, pickled peppers, melted cheddar, deep-fried BBQ tofu, and sour cream all piled onto a metal plate the size of your head. Two people could share this mammoth plate and walk away completely satisfied.

I made a version of Chris' BBQ tofu nachos at home so all of you outside of the Memphis city limits could get a taste of our fair city.

BBQ Tofu Nachos + Chipotle Pintos & Guacamole

3 handfuls of corn tortilla chips
2 cups Chipotle Pinto Beans*
2 cups pan-fried BBQ tofu**
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (dressed with a bit of vinegar, salt, sugar)
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeno peppers, and lime wedges for garnish.

Grab a large plate and start pilling on the ingredients; start with the chips and end with the garnish. Next, grab something to drink and a corral a friend. You'll need both to help you finsh off a giant plate of Memphis.

*Chipotle Pinto Beans (takes two hours)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion (diced)
1 tablespoon dried chipotle chili powder (less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 cups pinto beans (soaked overnight)
3 medium tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
2 cups water
salt to taste

In a pot, sauté onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and just starting to brown. Add the spices and cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, beans, and water to the pot and bring this to a boil. Simmer for two hours or until beans are creamy and tender. Salt to taste.

**Pan-fried BBQ Tofu

(This is good on sandwiches, in quesadillas, or on its own.)

1 block extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce

Cut tofu into 1/2 inch cubes and blot excess water with a kitchen towel. Heat a large frying pan over high heat and add oil. Once the oil starts to shimmer, brown the tofu on all sides in the pan. (This should only take a few minutes.) Remove tofu and drain off any extra oil. Toss cubes in warm BBQ sauce. Keep the tofu warm on the stovetop until you're ready to assemble the nachos.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Watermelon-Jalapeño Margaritas

This came about due to a friend's offhand remark about infusing tequila for a few minutes with a sliced, tiny hot pepper; for a shortcut, just juice it up for a spicy, balanced, and not-too-sweet drink.

Watermelon-Jalapeño Margaritas

1 personal-sized watermelon (no rind, juiced)
1 jalapeño (juiced)
1 lime (juiced)
1 tsp. cane sugar
1 tbsp. agave nectar
pinch of sea salt

Maldon salt for rim
reposado tequila

Whisk up the first 6 ingredients and, if you wish, add ice and tequila to the salted glass before pouring in the watermelon mixture.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easy Lemon-Lime Pudding Pie

Late one weeknight, I had the idea to start making a citrus pie since I had a lot of already-zested lemons and limes looking pitiful and naked in a bowl in the fridge. Here's to deciding to cook something random at eleven o'clock on a school night!

I must have been feeling carefree (or just tired?) because I used a recipe* like it was a suggestion and just did my own thing...kind of daring it not to work. This is lemon-lime creation is right on the edge of tart enough to make you wonder a little bit about its suitability as a dessert. Which means it's just right.

Easy Lemon-Lime Filling

juice from 5 lemons
juice from 5 limes
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk (reduced-fat or even whole)
3 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
1 tbsp. cornstarch, sifted
a pinch of sea salt

Combine in a saucepan on medium heat and stir or whisk constantly for about 10-15 minutes or until mixture thickens. Set aside to cool.
Easy Graham Cracker Crust

one sleeve of grahams
1/3 cup soy margarine, melted
a pinch of sea salt

Crush the crackers in the wrapper. Pour them into a bowl with the margarine and salt and hand-mix until combined. Press into a pie plate and bake for 12 minutes. Set it aside and let it cool.

(Before you make the meringue below, pour cooled citrus pudding into cooled pie crust and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Middle will not be firm, so the pie needs to cool in fridge.)

Easy Meringue

3 egg whites
3 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Use a stand mixer to combine until soft peaks form. Drop it onto cooled pie; the trick is for the pie and the meringue to be close to the same temperature before you bring them together.) Bake at 350 degrees until edges brown a bit -- about 10 minutes. Let pie cool on counter and then sit for a few hours in the fridge or overnight before serving.

(*Reading a lemon pie recipe in this cookbook is what really inspired me. As I'm turning the pages, I start to think, Hey, what about an acorn squash pie? And of course, Martha's already got it covered. She's just that awesome.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Catering From Scratch

How flattering to be asked to cater a 30th birthday party, one at which your cooking is to be the main surprise. In the past couple of years, we have learned (on the spot and with a lot of great help and support and cheerleading) how to cook up some courses for people who are not members of our sometimes opinionated but always forgiving immediate families.

Starting from 4 courses/8 plates/30 popsicles, and at last count, 5 courses/28 plates/all tomatoes, we've lucked out with many opportunities that just cropped up. We've taught an occasional vegetarian cooking class, and in February, we assembled a birthday party picnic for about 20 folks...but catering? Now that's something big. Something, well...intimidating. Bravely, we jumped right on in and did it, though, because why not? Happy to say it ended up being a great experience last weekend.
The Manns and their wonderful friends and family welcomed us and made us feel at home at their party. We happily planned and tested for weeks and prepped non-stop from end-of-winter morning farmers' market to early afternoon last-minute grocery run; a minute or two of panic and nerves gave way to calm and focused pre-party assembling with the goal of making 6 all-from-scratch vegetarian appetizers pretty and delicious. Here's what was on the menu.

- - -

Peanut Noodle Salad Lettuce Wraps with Basil and Cucumber and tied with Spring Onion

Green Pea Hummus with Pea Shoots and Blooms

- - -

What a good time we had sharing our kind of cooking with such appreciate folks. And now we're wondering -- and kind of plotting a little bit and dreaming a whole lot -- what's next on the agenda? We'll be sure to keep you posted.