Saturday, January 28, 2012

writing exercise one-b: make writing livelier

Assignment: Describe eating a piece of fruit

     Each year as summer approaches, I gleefully anticipate arrival of the season's stone fruit. Living in the coastal south, my proximity to Georgia and South Carolina peach orchards stirs long-held passions deep within my soul.
     I grew up in Florida, but my maternal grandparents were Georgians. I've mentioned before our family's penchant for linking travel and food.
     This meant trekking northward during the humid, peach-ripening months to cart bushel boxes home to share. To this day when eating a ripe, rosy peach, a flood of special memories wash over me.
     Eyes closed, I inhale the floral and spice notes, feeling the softness of the fuzzy skin against my lips. As my teeth gently pierce the surface, a sticky-sweet stream of nectar trickles slowly toward the underside of my chin.
     I am Peach Mountain during the spring thaw. Gravity urges the juice downward. My elbow drips like a slippery rock jutting over a waterfall. Plip, plop. Plip, plop. 
     Ahhh, euphoria. The blush-colored inside winks knowingly at me and my grown-up heart melts. I am transported back to barefoot days and carefree thoughts. Dishes and laundry can wait... the backyard swing is calling my name.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

let's review: cafe 37

Post update, Feb. 15, 2013: I am sad to report that on December 5th, 2012 Cafe 37 closed their doors after five years of business...




    Several years ago, in my homeschool-mom life, Cheryl and I bonded in history class while teaching. It's been two years since I retired. My girls are in college now and I miss all my old friends... Sniff. But, I'm okay.
     Anyway, where was I? Oh yes... Cheryl and I met for lunch to catch up. She suggested Cafe 37 and I'm so glad she did! It was my first visit to the popular downtown venue.
     It is located behind 37th At Abercorn Antiques. The cafe is the property's former carriage house and has a scant eight tables.
     I arrived early and selected a lovely table next to the huge front window. After perusing the menu, I settled on a half of the Garden Salad, choosing to top it with sauteed shrimp.
     The salad is comprised of mixed greens, wild arugula, dried cherries and sprinkled with decadent candied pistachios. A baked crostini with a dollop of melted goat cheese was nestled in the center of my salad like a jaunty beret perched atop a Frenchman's head.
     Cheryl selected the Caesar salad with fried oysters, saying that they were fabulous. She was gracious enough to let me try one... aMAZing!
     The menu, while decidedly French features diverse choices. The ladies lunching next to us settled in with their own tiny, oval crocks of French onion soup... I was slightly jealous.
     The fun thing about dining at Cafe 37 is that shopping can be involved, if you are so inclined. Right across the parking lot is the antique shop! What better way to walk off the wonderful homemade sourdough bread and smoked olives we ate with our salads.
     The Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Brunch is on Sunday. Reserations are suggested. We saw firsthand how popular it can be. Click here for a look at their website.
Cafe 37 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 22, 2012

product comparison and review: crab cakes

     I was standing in the seafood department at my local Publix Supermarket when the gentleman in front of me ordered some Publix, store-made crab cakes.
     I asked him if he liked them. He raved about the Publix brand, saying they were way better than Phillips brand Maryland-style crab cakes...the ones I usually buy if not preparing my own.
     Well, that statement was like waving a red cape in front of an irritated bull. Unbeknownst to him, a challenge had been issued... Time for a product comparison!
I know, but somebody has to do it;)
     I was delighted to see Phillips' brand on sale. It's the only time I can justify buying them. In our area a package containing two three-ounce crab cakes retail for $8.99.
      When Publix has them on BOGO, it reduces the price to, (currently) $4.50 a box. That equals out to $12 per pound. Each is appropriate as an appetizer-sized serving.
Before baking. Phillips' on left, Publix on right
     The Publix crab cake mix is shipped in and formed in store. Since they are hand formed, size is random. They retail for $8.99 a pound. The cake I bought for test purposes weighed six ounces.
     I baked both according to package directions. While I waited, I mixed up a little sauce to serve with the crab cakes... Mayo with some Thai sweet chili sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Mmmmm:)
Here are the test results:
     Phillips' crab cakes have jumbo lump in them. They are more crab than filler and hold together without becoming squishy and falling apart. They have a lovely taste, but are less seasoned than the other one. The drier texture needs a dab of sauce.
     While more expensive than the other brand, the quality is comparable to a one served in a fine restaurant.
Phillips' crab cakes
     Publix brand uses mostly claw meat. It has a slight kick to it and I really liked the flavor. The Publix crab cake was softer and didn't want to hold together. It has a creamy texture and still falls apart after baking.
     My husband and I agreed that the Publix brand had more filler, less crab, but was flavored very nicely and didn't need the sauce.
half of Publix crab cake
     Conclusion: For me, personally, when Phillips are on sale, which is rarely, I'll most likely pick them. If not and in a hurry, I'd grab a couple of the Publix brand. I'm flexible and could be happy with either.
     One crabbier, one more flavor... Now, if we could combine the two, we would have the perfect crab cake!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

writing exercise one-a: describe your voice

I can't carry a tune in a jar. Putting thoughts to page is the next best thing. My writing will have to sing for me...


When conveying my passion for food, I wish to be:

Believable
Approachable
Relaxed
Confident
Funny
La-la-la-la-laaaaaaaaaaaa:)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

learning curve

   A birthday doesn't seem complete unless at least one gift is a book. That, of course, is my humble opinion. This birthday past,  I received two.
     One, a copy of Julia's classic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has been on my wish-list forEVER. A fiftieth anniversary edition now resides on my nightstand... I've made it as far as the sauce chapter.
     The newly edited publication, Dianne Jacob's Will Write for Food is the second. The subtitle is: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir and More.
     I really needed it about a year and four months ago. Ha. I began poring over its pages immediately, trying to soak up every piece of information. You're never too old to learn something new.
www.diannej.com
     I decided to work through Dianne J.'s writing exercises as a way to improve my writing skills. I'll be posting the lessons for all to see and critique, because, like I've said... everyone's a critic;) You'll see for yourself if the exercises actually work.
     This may take awhile, so please be patient with me. I'm aging like everyone else. I have a real life outside of this little blog. I'm technically challenged... code scares me. Ugh, and don't even get me started on the subject of photography.

Monday, January 16, 2012

cranberry-honey mustard

     I recently posted a recipe for turkey burgers and mentioned putting cranberry-honey mustard on it. My brother, Scott, the only member of my family keeping up with my blog, called to point out that I failed to mention a recipe for the sauce. Everyone's a critic;)
     I DID mention it a long time ago, (April, 2011,) in a post entitled, Little Turkey Sammies. He obviously hasn't been reading very long.
     I make it two different ways. The long version is with a bottle of mustard, either dijon, plain or spicy brown, some raw honey and a can of cranberry sauce. The easy way is to use an already-mixed bottle of honey mustard. You can make it either way...
Ingredients
1 bottle honey mustard
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
freshly ground black pepper
Directions
Stir two items together. Taste to see if a little plain or spicy brown mustard is needed. Add a little cracked black pepper if desired.
     This sauce is great on turkey or ham sandwiches, as a meatloaf topping or thinned with a bit of canola oil and some sweet, fruity vinegar as a salad dressing. I keep it on hand in my refrigerator... The kids love it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

herbed turkey burgers

     Welcome to the Recipe Development Laboratory, Dahlings. Today we are creating deliciously seasoned burgers made with turkey.
     The Fam (a focus group,) are my toughest critics. They never even consider holding back just to be polite or diplomatic. Sometimes I like that about them.
     I've researched the subject thoroughly and have a few tricks up my sleeve. Allow me to walk you through this delicious process...
Ingredients
1 t. butter
1 small-ish onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
a pinch or two of sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 T. milk
1 pound approx. ground turkey meat (mine was prepackaged at 19 oz.)
1c. panko
1 T. each fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley, very finely chopped
salt
freshly ground black pepper
Directions
Okay, no... we're NOT making turkey meatloaf. Just trust me.
Remove meat and egg from fridge to come to room temp. After chopping onion, place in melted butter in a non-stick skillet on medium heat. When onion starts to be a bit translucent, add minced garlic and turn heat to low and slow. Sprinkle with sugar and salt. Cook for another five minutes, then remove from heat. This, Class, is called caramelization.
Place egg in large mixing bowl and beat with a fork to blend. Add Worcestershire, Tabasco, Dijon and milk. Mix with fork, then toss in turkey, panko and herbs. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground, black pepper. Add the onion and garlic to the bowl.
Roll up you sleeves and get into that burger mixture with your hands. Be sure all is well blended.
If you have a kitchen scale, weigh out each burger at four ounces. If not, just divide the meat evenly for the amount of burgers you need. Shape into patties and place on a flat pan or plate to rest.
So, here is some of the things I encountered...
     I attempted to cook a test burger on my George Foreman grill, but it stuck. Badly. Turkey is fairly lean. Maybe that's it. I did try to open it before it was done. Just to get a look at its progress. Oops. 
     Anyway, I turned to my stove-top, cast iron grill pan. It worked like a dream! I seared the burgers until brown and crispy on the outside. I then finished them in the oven for about ten minutes to make sure they were done. I already had the oven on, baking some oven fries to go with the burgers.
     My focus group suggested I lose the sissified cranberry-honey mustard topping and lean toward something like bacon and cheese. They noted for the record that, albeit tasty, the texture was different than an all-beef hamburger. (Guess who was eating?)
     The spinach was favorably received... Well, one healthy thing, at least. And the turkey, of course. I must report that I loved all of the components of my experiment. Each item contributed to the finished product.
     In other words, everyone played well together. The herbs and other spicy notes gave it a nice flavor, but didn't overpower the overall burger. The sweetness of the onion made it melty-good in my mouth and retained a tiny bit of crunch.
     I think I'll try it with Swiss and turkey bacon next time. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

let's review: 700 kitchen cooking school

     Michelle and I thought it would be fun to take a cooking class at 700 Cooking School.... and it was! Located in the beautiful and historic 700 Drayton Restaurant in downtown Savannah, our particular class included eight students.
     We were so engrossed in listening to Chef Darin's instruction, preparing dinner and snapping photos, the two of us forgot our pre-arranged plan to talk like Julia Child all night.
     I'm sure had the other students known, they would be so grateful our memories lapsed. We usually find ourselves far more entertaining than others do.
     Chef Darin really demystified the techniques of stewing and braising. We made the classic French Boeuf Bourguignon.
     He even remained calm when Michelle tried to burn his kitchen down. (Just kidding... That's brandy being added to the pan.)
     The three-hour class was SO much fun. We learned how to purchase a good knife, care for and hold said knife. We even got to chop all of the ingredients for the meal.
     We were finished around seven p.m. The entire class then enjoyed the fruits (and veggies) of our labor, chatting about where we were from and getting better acquainted while devouring the meal we prepared. I'm gonna have to come do this again!
     Here are a few food highlights: 
     Celery root added to the mashed potatoes gave a smooth finish to an everyday side dish.
     Braised leeks accompanied the main course. After a bit of advanced preparation, the leeks finished in the oven beside the beef.
     Here's the finished plate. So beautiful and delicious! Let's all say it in our best Julia voice... Beef Bourguignon on top of Celery Root Mashed Potatoes with Braised Leeks Gratin.
    We even had a homemade dessert... Luscious and light Grapefruit Granita with raspberries and freshly baked shortbread cookies. A perfect finish to a hearty meal.
 A new foodie friend:)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

turmeric tea: defeating the uncommon cold

     A couple of co-workers gave me an early gift the Christmas crud, a week before the actual holiday. Merry Christmas to me. My youngest got it from me a day or so later.
     My hubs and eldest have a little New Year's plague right now. It's the gift that just keeps on giving. This time around, I'm extremely determined NOT to be the victim of viral re-gifting.
     I'm not a big fan of antibiotics or other drugs. I like to be as drug-free as possible. I'm usually on the lookout for remedies made from stuff I have in my pantry.
     Last year, when my mom traveled to Ireland with her sis, several travelers were stricken with a travel bug... not the good one that inspires you to keep on traveling.
     A local gentleman of Indian decent, sporting a lovely Irish brogue suggested they try turmeric and honey. Turmeric has long been used in Chinese and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory. We all now swear by this remedy.
     The turmeric should be the color of the polka dots on the tea towel in the above photo. If it's that dull, camel-y tan color Ralph Lauren made famous in the nineties, take it back... it's old.
     I bought a little can here in town at Kroger and a small packet in Russia at a flea market. There is a huge difference in the two. The brown-ish one from Kroger was promptly returned.
     The Spice and Tea Exchange on Broughton Street in downtown Savannah has some amazing spices, including a vibrant yellow turmeric. When my Russian turmeric is gone, I'll be purchasing from them.
     While turmeric and honey makes you feel much improved, I'm not going to lie to you and say, It tastes fabulous, daahhhling. Nope... It's pretty vile the first time you try it. Turmeric has a bitter, acrid taste that takes some getting used to.
     I mentioned the concoction to my overachieving friend, The Housewife. She promptly Googled the it and found a recipe for turmeric tea. You can read about her findings on the subject by clicking on her name above. She includes more interesting scientific stuff than I do.
     During her annual December visit we experimented with ingredient amounts. Since that time, I have been dispensing turmeric tea like a witch doctor... to any and every coughing, snot-filled acquaintance who comes within five feet of me.
     I've tweaked it until it resembles a spicy, soul-warming Chai. The key is to make it your very own. Compare my recipe, then look at the Housewife's and the guy she got it from. Come up with your own special brew.

Original Indian Remedy: 1 T. raw honey to 1/2 t. turmeric. Increase turmeric to 1 t., if you dare. Make a paste and eat it down with a spoon. It is not yummy, but it really works. Do this several times a day.

Turmeric Tea recipe:
Ingredients
1/4 c. water
3 regular green teabags
3 or 4 whole black peppercorns
1 t. turmeric
1/4 t. ground ginger or a chunk of candied ginger, cut up
1/4 t. cinnamon
1 c. unsweetened coconut milk (in cartons, found in the organic milk section, not from a can)
1-2 T. raw honey
Directions
Place water, tea and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then dissolve turmeric, ginger and cinnamon in tea. Remove from heat and let it steep for a few minutes. Remove the tea and peppercorns. Add coconut milk and honey. Taste to see if anything is needed. Simmer until piping hot.
Make two thousand twelve a healthy one!

Friday, January 6, 2012

an affair to remember... refrigerated coconut milk

     The first week of December was the week I began a love affair with unsweetened coconut milk. I've purchased the thick, syrup-py canned variety, but didn't realize you could get cold, fresh coconut milk in the organic refrigerated section of the food store.
     I know... Where have I been? Everyone else has already discovered it. I read that Biggest Loser coach, Jillian Michaels discovered it in 2009 and became a spokeswoman for So Delicious.
     Okay, I'm a little slow. But can I just say, wow! Better late than never. I usually start the day with a small glass of coconut milk... just to get the blood flowing. It has way less sugar than OJ.
     I am eating it on my cereal if we're out of greek yogurt. I've made smoothies and a chai-style health-benefit tea with it as well. I'll pass you the tea recipe when next we meet. You're going to need it during cold and flu season.
    Here is the coconut skinny, the low-down... the gospel according to Wikipedia: Two grades of coconut milk exist: thick and thin. Thick milk is prepared by directly squeezing grated coconut meat through cheesecloth. The squeezed coconut meat is then soaked in warm water and squeezed a second or third time for thin coconut milk. 
     There is an enormous difference between canned coconut milk and the coconut milk beverages found in cardboard containers in the dairy case along with soy milk. Refrigerated coconut milk beverages contain a fraction of the fat and calories found in canned coconut milk.
     My friend, Michelle prefers hers sweetened. I'm fine with Silk brand's sweetened, Original Pure Coconut Milk, but LOVE the unsweetened one by So Delicious. Even with zero grams of sugar, the flavor comes through without overpowering you.
     Refrigerated coconut milk has fifty percent more calcium than cow's milk and is lactose free if you are sensitive to that. It contains no cholesterol. Two percent cow's milk can have up to twenty percent. Sorry, Dairy Council:(  I still love cows... They have lovely eyes.
     You can find it cold in half gallons, or in one of those shelf-stable cartons. I watch for them to go on sale and keep a few in the pantry.
      Coconut milk. It's not just for pina coladas, anymore! But, go ahead... Feel free to add one of those tiny umbrellas to your glass;)