I’m Writing Less, Doing More (Food Porn)

23 03 2014

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately (unless you count recipe development) because I’ve been cooking.

Cooking at home, making quick dishes that use what I have on hand.

Cooking at work for members of the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club for various cooking classes and events.

I even cooked for friends recently, laying out a buffet of finger foods for their daughter’s Baby Shower – it was how I spent my “day off.”

Yesterday’s “No-Tomato Italian” cooking class menu was particularly tasty.  Italians love tomatoes, but they don’t eat them at every meal or every day – there is a whole country of good eating that we Americans often overlook in favor of pasta and tomatoes when thinking of Italy.  I think the best meals are the ones where the focus is on quality ingredients prepared in a minimalist fashion, which is exactly what yesterday’s class was all about.  The menu was Melon & Prosciutto Salad with Blood Orange & Shallot Vinaigrette, Lemon Oregano Roast Chicken with Parmesan Polenta and Balsamic Grilled Onions, and a delicious Orange Olive Oil Cake with jarred Peaches.  One of the students recently went to Italy and said that my recipes transported her back to that trip.  Frankly, that’s the most flattering thing anyone could say about my food.

Of course, I failed to get any pictures.  As a marketing manager, I suck.  As a cook, instructor, merchandiser, writer, and General Manager I do a pretty good job.  Perhaps its all those other responsibilities that interfere with my being better at marketing and social media – I just have too much on my plate.  How can you worry about pictures when you are feeding, educating, and entertaining guests?  The person in front of me is always my focus, and I never seem to get back to all those potential guests and customers out there in cyberspace.  There’s just not enough time.

So perhaps this little picture book of a handful of the food I have created lately will encourage my local readers to stop into The Seasoned Gourmet to say hey, or to join the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club to take some classes with me and taste my food themselves or learn to make it.  If nothing else, it will serve to inform you all that I am not gone, just busy doing rather than writing.

If you’d like any of the recipes for the tasty food shown here, just ask and ye shall receive!

Happy eating!

 





The Chef, The Farmer, and You

7 01 2014

As I was driving to work today, I felt all warm inside despite the frigid temperature outside.  I love this time of year, when Wilmington is her most authentic self.  In these months of cold air and short daylight hours, my beloved city is a true Southern town.  The summer people are gone, the holidays are over, I have tied my last Christmas bow and counted the widgits in the store for the tax man who, like death, inevitably comes.  The cooking class schedule for the next season is set, my menus are prepared, my recipes are being slowly tested in my spare time, and I actually have spare time.  I can carefully write a blog post that is something other than a rant.  This is the life!

BeachIt’s slower here in the winter, more like a Southern town is supposed to be.  I can get to work in five minutes or less.  I can get over the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach without slamming on my brakes, despite the construction.  I can make the right turn onto Keel Street in front of Redix without fear that someone will ignore the opposing stop signs and T-bone my car.  I can leave my car running while I dash into the post office to check my mail – no one will steal it today.  My mail will actually be in the box by 9:30 am, something that only happens this time of year.  I can go to the beach without fighting for or paying for parking.  I can take my dog to the beach, though perhaps not today (brrr).  It’s just so Southern here this time of year, slow like molasses pouring from a jug and comfortable like a favorite pair of flip flops.

As a devout foodie, I have another reason to love this time of year.  I can get a table for dinner at most any restaurant on any day of any week without reservations.  If your life looks anything like mine, it is a rare day when you can plan ahead enough to make reservations.  There are just too many variables in a typical day for me to plan dinner more than an hour or two in advance, so now that the best restaurants are not jammed with visitors and things are slower in general, I can dine out again.

There is one place that reservations are always required, and it might just be the hottest ticket in this chilly seaside town.  I am so excited to attend at least one or two of these events again this year and really wish I could go to each and every one of them.  But I would need a much better paying job for that!  I love being able to sample the on-the-fly creations of a variety of chefs from an assortment of restaurants around the coastal area.  I love the friendly competitive spirit that I have witnessed behind the scenes.  I so love that nearly all the ingredients used to create these meals is created, grown, or raised here in North Carolina.

What place am I talking about?  Fire on the Dock, of course!  This local arm of a statewide Competition Dining series has been firing up the coastal area for three years now, and I truly look forward to it every year.  I enjoy these events so much that I’m a teensy bit jealous that I didn’t think of it myself.  But if I had, I doubt I could have actually breathed life into quite as successfully as Jimmy Crippen has done.  I can only imagine how tired his arms got swimming up that stream of transforming his local cooking event in Blowing Rock into a series of events across North Carolina, culminating in a finale each year in, where else, the state capital of Raleigh.

BluewaterI am headed over to Bluewater, the hosts of these fantastic events, for the Media Day event for the kick off of Fire on the Dock 2014 this afternoon.  I will be tweeting the competitor’s names as they are announced, and I will update you tomorrow with a little who’s who post.  Stay tuned!

Get ready to experience great local food cooked by energetic local chefs in an Iron Chef-style competition where you are the judge.  If you are a foodie like me, you are guaranteed to have a blast.  It’s all about The Chef, The Farmer, and You!





Wilmington for Foodies: Groceries, Gadgets, and Gurus

27 01 2013

Now, I may be a bit biased in my views, but what I am about to share with you here are some of the best places to shop in Wilmington for foodies like me, plus a couple of folks you should know about who can keep you in the foodie loop.  That I happen to manage one of the stores I recommend may seem like a conflict of interest; since I am not being paid for my opinion, I don’t have any ethical qualms about it.  Chalk it up to confirmation that I love my job!  The opinions herein are strictly those of the author, and you know what they say about opinions.  Don’t take my word for it – visit these stores and judge for yourself.

Groceries:

If you live here, I am sure you are aware that we have an abundance of grocery stores such as Food Lion, Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, even Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s that both opened last year.  Personally, I need nothing from Trader Joe’s, though I do stop into Whole Foods once every month or so for some bulk goods that I don’t find elsewhere.  Also, their produce is reasonably priced and includes hard-to-find items.  Their cheese selection is possibly the best in town, though it is expensive.  I do most of my standard grocery shopping at Harris Teeter – canned goods, paper products, frozen items, etc.  But the best in local produce at this time of year when the Farmer’s Markets are not operating is at La Huerta, located at 830 S. Kerr Avenue.

LaHuerta1LaHuerta2 LaHuerta3Spanish for “The Garden,” this wonderful place is a haven for delicious, fresh produce.  Also to be found here are some great Mexican-style cheeses, dried chilis and spices, cookies, canned goods, dried beans, and cured meats.  Much of their product comes from North Carolina growers and purveyors, so in many cases you are buying a local product from a local retailer – the ultimate in shopping and eating local.  La Huerta doesn’t have everything – if you want watercress and endive, you are not likely to find them here.  It is, after all, a Hispanic market that caters to the Mexican and Latin-American population of the area.  But a visit here will not disappoint you, and will likely inspire a meal or two as you gaze at all the lovely ingredients.

Among the unexpected treats I found at La Huerta recently were a delicious Oaxacan rope-style cheese  that had the texture of part-skim mozzarella and some lovely side bacon from hogs raised right here in North Carolina.  The cheese was super delicious when I baked it up inside puff pastry pinwheels – it seemed to be more flavorful melted.  The bacon I baked on a sheet pan to render off much of the fat, then dipped the crispy slices in melted chocolate and served it with a red Bordeaux at a wine pairing class last week.  Mm mm mm.  I also found green tomatoes in the dead of winter y’all, and you know what I did with those.  You don’t?  Where you from, Shug?

SaigonMarket1 SaigonMarket2 SaigonMarket3

From La Huerta, you can head up Kerr Avenue toward Market Street and visit Saigon Market & Tatyana’s European Delights in Kerr Station Village.  Saigon Market, 4507 Franklin Ave., is practically a landmark in Wilmington; if you like to cook and you live here for any length of time, someone will send you there for something.  I confess to sending a good many people there when they are in search of obscure or  Asian ingredients.  I personally go there as much for the experience as anything else.  I love to look at all the products, read what I can of the labels that may or may not have an English translation on them, and decide what strange new product I am going to take home to sample.  I haven’t had the privilege of traveling to the Far East, so Saigon Market is as close as I have been to an Asian cultural experience.  Also, they often have delicacies like quail eggs that you can’t find elsewhere in town.  The other eggs, the ones without cartons or labels?  You should really ask about those.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  I love pork Lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls) but not the laborious process of making them, so I buy the frozen ones here.  If you need chopsticks, or rice bowls, or those functional little shovel-style soup spoons used in Asian restaurants, they have those too.  Fresh produce is limited to the most common ingredients used in Asian cooking, but it is top notch.  Mung bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, bok choy and much more is cleaned and bagged on the premises, refrigerated and ready for you to use.  Open seven days a week until 7pm, Saigon Market is a feast for your senses!

Walk around the corner from Saigon Market and enter a little corner of Eastern Europe right here in Wilmington.  Tatyana’s boasts an unimaginable assortment of items for such a small space – pickled veggies of all sorts, beverages, candies, cookies, sausages, just about anything you can think of from tatyanasthe old country.  Fresh foods and baked goods are also available. Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm and Sunday 12-5pm, Tatyana’s is ready to serve you with delectable treats from Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and beyond.  If you don’t live here, no worries!  Tatyana’s website has a virtual shopping cart – they will ship to your doorstep.

Using La Huerta as our starting point once again, you can head the other way on Kerr Avenue, between Wilshire and Wrightsville Avenues, where you will find Tienda Los Portales.  This supermercado has a bevy of Mexican foods and products.  If you need masa harina for your tamales, LosPortalesSupermercadoor just better prices on grocery items (like crema or tortillas) than you can find elsewhere, give this store a try.  Pick up some fresh-baked cookies and bread, or a piñata to fill with candy for the kids at your next party.  It’s a little bit of home for the Latin Americans in our community, and the rest of us “gringos” are welcome, too.

A few more essential links:

Fresh Bread and Amazing Desserts:  La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries

Hard-to-find cuts of meat, yummy fresh-prepared foods, and much more:  Pine Valley Market

Organics, Vegetarian, and Vegan Specialties:  Tidal Creek Co-Op

Gadgets:

I have to tell you about the store I manage – The Seasoned Gourmet, located at 1930 Eastwood Road.  We don’t carry fresh foods like these other fine establishments; rather, we carry the tools and shelf-stable ingredients you need to cook at home.  We have a large assortment of kitchen tools and gadgets – I’m going to go out on a limb and say perhaps the largest selection in Wilmington.  Cookware, cutlery, bamboo boards and accessories, and bakeware abound in our modest space.  Oils, vinegars, seasonings, and flavorings anchor one section of our space.  We do a brisk gift basket business, and I know they are the best looking gifts in town because I have shopped around.  We hand-tie all of our gorgeous bows, and we build the gifts to your specifications.  Shipping and delivery are no problem.

TSG (598x800)Coffee & wine are a big part of our business, too.  We have a coffee club that is free to join and has been around since our inception in 1994; members enjoy a free pound for every 10 pounds purchased, any coffee combination, any length of time.  We offer fine coffees from Carolina Coffee Company which is roasted right here in Wilmington.  We also have a hand-selected array of boutique and small production wine, about 150 different labels on any given day, ranging from $6.99 to $289 per bottle.

The Seasoned Gourmet boasts an ever-growing assortment of local and regional products, from the iconic Goodness Gracie Heavenly Toffee Cookies to all-natural cookies for your dog from My Porch Dawg.  Mama Lou’s, Off the Hook, Outta the Park, Pluto’s, Bone Doctor’s, and Mother Shuckers are but a few of the sauces on our shelves.  8th Wonder Seasoning, Carolina Candy Company, Salem Baking Company, Polka Dot Bake Shop, Heide’s Homemade Buttermints, Old School Mill, Shirley’s Peanut Brittle & More, Cat Daddy’s, The Peanut Roaster, and Old Log Cabin (Berry Towne Crafts) are but a few of the other local products on our shelves. 

The Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, which meets at The Seasoned Gourmet, offers cooking classes and wine pairing classes to members and their guests.  In addition to store staff, the Club hosts some of the best chefs in Wilmington who offer recipes and instruction culminating in chef-prepared meals.  It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the folks behind the stovesIMG_1342 (478x640) at your favorite restaurants!  The Club is a one-of-a-kind offering in Wilmington, teaching classes in  a kitchen equipped with residential equipment, just like at home.  From hands-on techniques classes (knife skills, soufflés) to demonstration classes with themed dinner menus, the club has something for everyone who enjoys cooking.

We like to say that we are “Wilmington’s Complete Culinary Experience,” and we want every visit to our store to reflect that sentiment.  We have wine and food open for sampling nearly every day, so be sure to ask if you see something you want to taste.  The Seasoned Gourmet takes phone orders for gift baskets and many of our products can be ordered through our website, which is still under construction.

The prices are more than reasonable at all of these places.  I may be a store manager, but I live on a budget like everyone else these days, hence the crappy tree house apartment I complain about often on this blog.  These are the places I shop because they have the best product for the price, and I am all about quality.  I want the best value possible for my hard-earned money.  These stores offer just that.

Gurus:

For the up-to-the-minute scoop on what’s going on in the Wilmington Food Scene, two indispensable resources come to mind. Port City Foodies (@portcityfoodies), a blog hosted by the Star-News and driven largely by a hard-working guy named Paul Stephen (@pauljstephen), definitely has its finger on the pulse of all things food in Wilmington.  Another reliable resource is Liz Biro (@lizbiro, @lizbirofoodtours). This lady knows everyone who’s anyone in food in the Port City and can hook you up with a tour to see the best of the best in action.

That’s it for my insider tips to the best foodie finds in Wilmington for now.  Get out there and Eat Wilmington!





Cookin’ with Gas

27 01 2013

Whew!  What a week!  I have been at the stove a lot this week, which is a good thing if you’ve come here in search of new recipes.  Below, I offer a few.  But you know how I am – I like to take these opportunities to regale you with my unsolicited opinion on all sorts of things.  If you just want the recipes, you know what to do – scroll away!

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

Some ingredients for our Mexi-Cali Winter Feast

I had three cooking events at the store this week, with three completely different menus.  Tuesday, we did a little Mexi-Cali Winter Feast, which featured a hearty, low-fat Winter Icebox Salad for a first course.  Yesterday, I took some inspiration from Spain and France to create a menu I called “The New South,” using common Southern ingredients in some new and interesting ways.  Finally, last night we served as the first stop of a Progressive Dinner hosted by Liz Biro, who is a freelance writer, tour guide, and all around woman-to-know on the culinary scene here in Wilmington.  If you visit Wilmington, check out her Culinary Adventures and grab a tour – it’s a great way to get familiar with the who’s who of the food world in the Port City while eating (and drinking) your way around town.

So while I was doing all of this cooking, I was thinking about the merits of cooking on a gas stove.  I am often asked about the performance of the two cooktops in our store – one gas, one magnetic induction – and how they compare with electric, which is what seems to be in most of the homes in Wilmington, especially the newer ones.  Those of you who are suffering through cooking with an electric stove know that there is really no comparison – it’s like apples and oranges.  I can say this only because I, too, suffered with an electric cooktop for most of my adult life.  Once you know your stove’s response time, you can cook anything you want on an electric stove, but it ain’t always easy.  The responsiveness of a gas stove is what most cooks with an electric stove long for the most.  You turn down the flame, and the heat diminishes pretty quickly.  You turn it up, it gets hot quickly.  With an electric stove, there is time to take a potty break while you await the temperature changes.  Preheating the pan for your morning eggs takes 5 minutes.  “I’m sorry I’m late, Boss; I was waiting on my stove.”  Really, who has that kind of time?

My crappy little tree house apartment has a gas stove.  It is half the size of the electric stove in my beloved and much-missed home that I sold last year, but it performs twice as well.  Aside from the abundance of windows, it may be the best feature of this dump.  The windows, as it turns out, are as much curse as they are blessing.  It is light, bright, and just a bit too airy in here.  Airy, as in breezy, as in much like not having windows at all.  I have had to shrink wrap my windows to keep the wind from blowing through, which reduced my electric bill from $129 to $29 per month (no kidding).  I wish I could say that this was the price you pay for living in a charming historic home like my friend Roberta’s house, but I cannot.  This place is a little rickety building behind another house; there is nothing charming or historic about it.  The lack of landscaping combined with a canopy of trees means that not much is growing around here but weeds; this means that the building (I can’t bring myself to call it a house) is sitting on the equivalent of a sand dune that is eroding like crazy.  I am certain that there are termites hard at work eating the guts of this place and fear that any day it may fall down; I am hoping that Buddy and I are not home when it happens.  Every time I step into the much-too-heavy-for-this-house-of-cards claw foot tub to take a shower, I hear the floor creak and wonder if I will land, naked, in the middle of my downstairs neighbor’s kitchen.  If the fall didn’t kill me, the embarrassment would.  The good news is that it’s just him and I back here, so no one else would hear us screaming – me from humiliation, him from sheer horror at the sight of me.  I could probably wrap myself in the shower curtain before anyone else showed up.  But I digress.

So we can all agree that gas is preferred over electric as a cooking medium.  But have you tried magnetic induction?  It has been popular in Europe for quite some time, or so I am told by the appliance gurus at Atlantic Appliance. It has only become all the rage in my corner of the universe in the last few years.  I really like cooking on induction.  If it is possible for you to imagine, I find it even more responsive than gas to temperature changes.  It also does everything faster, rather like convection ovens do when baking.  The concept is that the magnets react to the pan that is placed on the “burner” and, through some sort of technology that is beyond my understanding, heats only the pan where it is in contact with the reactive surface of the cooktop.  This means that aluminum does not work on this cooktop, though cast iron, stainless steel, copper, and any other cookware that attracts magnets works just fine.  My experience has been that pans that have reactive metal layers all the way up the sides of the pan work best; those with magnetically reactive disc bottoms and aluminum sides just don’t perform as well on this cooktop; the heat doesn’t transfer up the sides of the pan.  Copper, or pans with a copper layer in them, really do the best job on induction.  I don’t understand the science of it all, but that’s what I have seen through my own cooking experience.  You can’t flambé on induction without the aid of a match, but otherwise it is a highly functional and responsive cooking medium.  So as long as you have access to matches when making Cherries Jubilee, I think induction is a really great choice.  If you don’t have natural gas where you live, it is a lot more economical to put an induction stove in your kitchen then to install a propane tank for a gas stove.  There are more attributes of cooking with gas and induction that I could discuss here, but I’ve had enough, haven’t you?  Anymore of it would be white noise.  Stop in for a demo and I’ll chat you up about it then.

Back to the food.  Among the other dishes I made this week, there seemed to be a fruit tart theme going on.  I made two different fruit tarts:  a rustic tart with fresh pineapple and mangoes, and another using a tart pan and jarred peaches and pears.  In both cases, I glazed the tarts with apricot preserves.  Almost every recipe I have found for this sort of tart calls for apricot preserves as a glaze.  Why apricot, I wonder?  I have some peach preserves in the store – I’m sure that would be equally good.  I understand why you would maybe not want to use blackberry preserves on a pineapple-mango tart, but it would be great with any kind of berry tart.  The preserves serve as a simple glaze to keep the tart moist and to aid in browning to a golden color.  Armed with that knowledge, use any preserves you would like to glaze your tart.

I think I’ve said all I have to say at the moment.  It’s my day off and I am going to spend it being a slug, watching a week’s worth of shows from my DVR.  Right now, “Must Love Dogs” is on…almost makes me want to sign onto one of those dating websites and roll the dice.  Or maybe not.

Until next time, try out these recipes.  The icebox salad will hold up for a week in the fridge, making it a great salad to tote along to work for lunches along with a bowl of the White Bean & Ham Stew.  You might want to chop the cabbage a little finer than I did so you don’t need a knife to eat it.  I’m just sayin’.

I am glad to be back at the stoves cookin’ with gas…it’s been a while!

IMG_1581Crunchy Winter Icebox Salad

3 cups fat-free Plain Greek Yogurt

½ cup Skim Milk

1 small clove Garlic, minced or pressed

1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

½ cup Chives, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons Cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon Mint, chopped

4 tablespoons fresh Lime Juice

1 tablespoon Sea Salt

½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Hass avocado, thinly sliced

8 cups Green Cabbage, finely shredded (about a two-pound head)

8 Radishes, halved then thinly sliced

2 cups peeled Jicama, julienned

3 Scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup Celery, thinly sliced

4 ounces Cotija Cheese, crumbled

¼ cup Pepitas (pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted)

13” x 9” Glass or Ceramic Baking Dish

In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, milk, garlic, cayenne pepper, chives, cilantro, mint, and 3 tablespoons of lime juice.  Add the salt and pepper; set aside.

In a small bowl or dish, toss the avocado with the lime juice

In the baking dish, spread the cabbage in an even layer.  Top with layers of radishes, jicama, scallions, celery, and avocado, then sprinkle with the cheese.  Spread the dressing over the top evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Just before serving, sprinkle with pepitas, if desired.

Serves 8-10

IMG_1598White Bean & Ham Stew

This gorgeous winter stew, called “Garbure” in southwestern France, is inspired by a recipe from the French master Chef Jacques Pépin, who says that it is traditional to add some red wine to the last few spoonfuls of broth and sip it right from the bowl.

4 meaty Ham Hocks, about 3.5 lbs

½ lb dried Cannellini Beans, picked over and rinsed

3 quarts Water

2 medium Red Skinned Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 large Leek, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large Celery Rib, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 large Parsnip, cut into ½ inch pieces

½ pound Savoy Cabbage, cut into 2 inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Eight ¼ inch thick slices of Peasant Bread, lightly toasted

2 cups shredded Gruyere or Comte Cheese

In a large pot, combine the ham hocks, cannellini beans, and water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.  Add the potatoes, leek, celery, parsnip, cabbage, and ½ teaspoon of salt.  Cover the stew and simmer over low heat for 1 hour more, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the ham hocks to a plate.  Simmer the stew uncovered over moderate heat until thickened and the beasn and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the ham hocks and discard them.  Chop the meat into bite-size pieces and add to the stew.  Season the stew with pepper.

Preheat the broiler.  Ladle the stew into oven-proof crocks or ramekins and place the ramekins on a baking sheet.  Top eachIMG_1603 ramekin with the bread and spread the cheese on top.  Broil on the top rack, 4 inches from the heat, until the cheese is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Serve right away.

Serves 8.

Note:  If, like Chef Jacques, you would like to enjoy the last of the broth in your bowl with some red wine, try a few tablespoons of Beaujolais or pinot noir.

Easy Peachy Pear Tart

This is the perfect dessert for the winter – made from luscious jarred fruit, you can toss it together in 30 minutes whenever company calls.

1 sheet of Prepared Pie Dough

½ quart Pear Halves, sliced

½ quart Peach Halves, sliced

¼ cup Apricot Preserves, heated in the microwave, for brushing the tartIMG_1602

For the Streusel Topping:

½ cup Brown Sugar, packed, plus 2 tablespoons

½ cup salted Pecans or Walnuts, chopped

4 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted

Arrange the prepared pie dough in a tart pan or spring form pan with a removable bottom.  “Dock” or pierce the dough all over with the tines of a fork.  If desired, weight the pie crust down with pie weights or dried beans to prevent bubbles.  Place in preheated 400oF oven and bake until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and slice the fruit about ¼” thick.  Toss the streusel ingredients together in a bowl until well combined; set aside.

Arrange the sliced fruit decoratively in a single layer, overlapping, in the baked tart shell.  Brush the fruit and exposed crust with the apricot preserve.  Top with streusel topping and return to oven to bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Remove from oven, cool, and unmold from pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Serves 8





7 is the new 6, Writing with Abandon, and Baked French Toast

4 11 2012

Hello My Dear Readers!  I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I wrote a blog post.  I guess I feel obligated to toss you a recipe when I write to you, since this whole mess started as a cooking & dining review blog, and there has not been a lot of cooking going on up in the wee tree house apartment of late.  I have had other fish to fry (pun intended), hence my long silence.  Maybe you’ve enjoyed my relative silence.  Well, too bad – it’s over!

Squirrel Alert!

Squirrel Alert!

Last night I discovered there was a time change afoot for the hour of midnight.  I had been waiting for it all through October because I swear that’s when we usually do it.  Who gets to make decisions like when we switch from Daylight Savings Time back to Standard Time?  I want that job.  Think of the fun I could have!  Anyhow, I guess that means that 7:00am is the new 6:00am effective immediately.  The dog did not get the email and got me up at the old 6:00am.  Ugh.

While I was away not doing much cooking, I was indeed writing, just not for my blog.  I was developing background, places, characters, and other such input needed to craft my novel.  I have joined a crazy little writing phenomenon called the National Novel Writers Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.  Having already been fairly well indoctrinated into this long-standing group of nutty writing fanatics, I can tell you that we lovingly call this exercise ‘NaNo’ and those who participate ‘WriMos.’  I know, right?

What NaNoWriMo is all about is networking and providing support and encouragement to fellow writers while you all try to crank out a stunning 50,000 unedited words toward your latest novel project in the month of November.  It is totally an honor-based program in which you write and everyone else takes your word for it.  There is a feature on their website in which you can scramble a copy of your novel and upload it for official word-count verification at the end of the month, but that’s not required (and some paranoid types don’t want to send their manuscript anywhere for fear some great conspiracy exists to steal their idea – whatever).  If you get to 50K, you are considered a ‘winner.’  The point is to provide motivation to just get on with it and write, write, write thereby putting a substantial dent in your project in a short period of time.  Writers suffer from procrastination like the rest of us, and this undertaking is designed to get you over the hump and well on your way to completion of your project.  It’s like a 30 day crash diet for the overly verbose – shed those words in 30 days.  Hah – that’s pretty good.  I might have to use that again.  In case you are wondering, yes, some of the participants are actually published authors, including Sara Gruen (“Water for Elephants” et al) and many talented others.  So it’s not just for wannabes like me.

We have a somewhat active local group of WriMos here in the Wilmington area who get together to support one another in this endeavor at preparatory sessions, ‘write-ins’ and other such caffeine-laden events.  I have attended a preparatory event and the kick-off meeting.  I will attend at least one of the write-ins, though I really do my best writing in my pajamas in the living room in a noise-controlled, interruption-free environment.  But being accountable to a group of people to get this thing done is my motivation for joining them, so I will hold my own feet to the fire by showing up and networking.  I have picked up a few tips already, so it’s all good.

As I was sitting in the kick-off session a couple days ago during which questions were being asked by us newbies and answered by the more experienced, a young lady asked a question that brought out the worst of my snobby ego.  She proceeded to give some background about her story structure (there did not seem to be a firm plot yet, and this was the day to start writing) and was asking about how to decide whether she should write in first-person or third-person.  She said one of her dilemmas about first-person was that she wanted the protagonist, who moves to a new town, to initially keep some secrets from her new friends that she didn’t want to keep from the readers (she didn’t put it quite so eloquently, but that was the core question).  She didn’t know how to do that if her story was told in first person.  My bitchy ego was saying, “What? Let me replay that to make sure I heard her correctly…say what?”  I listened a bit more, and it became clear to me that she was indeed confusing the first-person narrative with dialogue.  My snobby ego was having a field day with this question in my head, saying things like, “What is she, like, 12 years old?”  After I listened to a couple people struggle to answer her and fail, I couldn’t resist speaking up.  Either they were just being nice, or they didn’t understand what she was asking because it was such an elementary writing question.  So I said, “I assume you will share your character’s thoughts in the novel and not just her spoken words.  If so, then I think you can tell your audience the secrets she is keeping through writing her thoughts.”  Lawd, I am such a bitch sometimes.  But really, isn’t this story-telling 101?  I mean, maybe she is tee-totally wasting her time here and should go play beer pong with the rest of her college buddies.  There is another college girl in the group who has been writing like this since she was a teenager and she totally gets it, so it’s not a question of youth.  At least I know her book, should she complete one, will not be competing with mine for readership.  Hah.

So if you don’t hear from me, that’s what I’m doing.  Writing my novel and trying not to be bitchy.  And working.  ‘Tis the season in retail, so I am a gift-basket-making, present-wrapping, bow-making, product-reordering, merry-(bleeping)-christmas-to-you-too-saying shopkeeper.  I really do love the pretty-making part of this time of year (I love wrapping and making gift baskets and bows), it’s all the paperwork and sense of urgency that piss me off.

But, anyhow, today I awoke an hour early (thanks to Buddy), though not really, with a desire for a sweet breakfast treat.  I am rarely about the sweet in the morning; that usually hits me in the evening.  But I need protein for fuel, so I decided to make some really eggy, custardy French toast with real maple syrup and butter to address both issues.  This is really easy and really good if you care to give it a whirl.  Nothing super special about it, it’s just a different method of preparing French toast that will remind you a bit of bread pudding.  As I am suffering from a touch of lactose intolerance these days, I am using coconut milk but you can use regular old milk of whatever variety you have in the fridge.  Oh, and you bake this in the oven, so it’s also a great time saver for a maniac writer like me who doesn’t want to waste precious writing time at the stove.

Pick a good loaf of crusty bread, slice it thick, and let the soak time and the oven work their magic.  You experienced cooks will recognize how easily this can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled to feed any crowd.  Just get a bigger pan out of the pantry.

Get a fork!

Baked French Toast for Two (or one seriously distracted would-be author who will reheat it tomorrow)

4 thick-cut slices of Crusty Bread (I used toasted sunflower honey bread that I get at Harris Teeter)

3 large Eggs

¼ cup Milk (cow, goat, soy, coconut, whatever)

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract (or any flavor you like, perhaps almond?)

Sprinkle of Sea Salt

Parchment Paper, if you hate messy cleanups like me and want this to look good on the plate (as opposed to prying it out of the pan all helter skelter)

Line a baking dish with the parchment paper.  I used a loaf pan for the quantity as written.  If you quadruple the batch it should fit nicely in a 13” x 9” baking dish or pan.  You could even arrange it in a non-stick oven-proof skillet if desired…but I digress.

Arrange the bread slices laying artfully in the pan, overlapping by half.  Trim the bread to fit the pan if desired, shoving the end bits into the nooks and crannies.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together until well combined and frothy.  Whisk in the vanilla. Pour egg mixture over the bread slices and let soak for a good while until all the egg mixture is absorbed into the bread (it will happen, just be patient – unless you’ve tried to substitute soft sandwich bread, then it ain’t never gonna happen).  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (this really makes the sweetness of your topping pop out and say “good morning.”)

(Crazed Cook’s Note:  If you are a perfectionist like me, you can dirty just one more dish by placing the bread in a single layer in the shallow dish and soaking in the custard to ensure even distribution.  Then carefully transfer the bread to the baking dish and pour any remaining custard over, continuing the soak until it is all absorbed.  If you have used plain old white or wheat sandwich bread you have reached the point where you regret it as the bread will fall apart into mush when you try to transfer it.  I’m just sayin’ – go for the thick, crusty bread for this recipe.  If you are not that worried about it or are in a hurry, just arrange in the baking dish and pour the custard over, letting the tops of the bread slices go without the big soak – it will still be good.  Multi-textural.  Is that like multi-cultural? I’m not sure.)

Preheat the oven to 375oF and bake the French toast until nicely browned on top, about 30 minutes in my mini tree house apartment gas stove that is old as dirt.  In a spiffy new convection oven, I would bet on about 18-20 minutes.  In my electric oven in my previous house I would have done 400 degrees.  So follow your gut – you want crusty golden top and soft center but no runny egg stuff.

Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes.  Two serving options:  Slide your spatula in between the bread shingles and serve them intact in sets of two; or cut as you would a coffee cake and serve in squares.

I like mine with ample butter and real maple syrup, but a nice warm fruit compote or heated raspberry preserves would be excellent as well.

Enjoy!





“Real World” Pasta – My First Video

7 10 2012

I have been trying to get all the pieces and parts of posting a video in place for a while and have finally succeeded.  I hope you don’t get nauseated from the camera jumping around a bit, but kneading pasta with one hand while holding the camera with the other is, well, challenging.  Overall, I think it’s a solid first effort.

My video camera is my iPhone.  My editing software is Windows Live Movie Maker.  My studio is my tiny kitchen in my tiny “tree house” apartment, where there isn’t really counter space sufficient for rolling out pasta.  Somehow, with these crudest of tools, I managed to get it done.

I love me some Big & Rich – they are a riot.  They are also very generous with their time and put their money where their mouth is when it comes to what they believe.  I can respect that.  So I had to use their song “Real World” for this video because they talk about how things sometimes don’t work out how you want (which could have happened with the pasta, but luckily didn’t), and they mention being “a little bit messed up and broke,” and that is such a good description of me I thought it apropos of everything.  And so it is.

Now, if I can successfully upload a video that you, my dear readers, can actually watch – well, that will spell success.   Let me know what you think.  Remember that encouragement can lead to more of the same, so do what you must.

Lawd, I hope this works out.





Passata My Ass – and a great Pomodoro Sauce

27 09 2012

Have I mentioned before what a pain it is to be a food snob?  Working around the food business, owning and now managing a gourmet shop, and eating some seriously good food from New York City to Las Vegas and right here at home has turned me into a snob with a low tolerance for crappy food.  I have an even lower tolerance for people putting their mugs in front of TV cameras and acting as if they know something when they don’t.  I found a fellow blogger who has a seriously hard time with this food TV explosion we are experiencing and I love to read his rants.  Saves me from having to say things myself – I can just agree with him.

As tired as I am of most of the offerings on Food Network and Cooking Channel, I at least respect the fact that they run a tight ship and check their facts before letting their stars say things that aren’t true on camera.  I was watching Rachel Ray’s talk show on CBS the other morning – not on purpose, it was just on.  So she’s dumping this stuff that looks like chunky tomato juice into a pot on her stove and she calls the stuff Passata.  She proceeded to bumble and babble and fall flat on her face trying to explain what the hell passata is – and she failed.  She said it was like fresh tomatoes, but not really, and sold in a jar, not a can, and, well, just get some it’s real good.  Right.  She is clueless.  I don’t know what that stuff was she poured into the pot but it was way too chunky to be true passata.  Apparently she has fallen victim to some clever marketing on the part of someone who put some crushed tomatoes in a jar instead of a can and called it passata.  Americans are so gullible; our love affair with all things European has made a lot of folks very rich and perpetuated some serious BS.  I’m just sayin’.

Passata is, really, a pure tomato juice from which most of the pulp and all of the seeds has been removed through repeated pressing/juicing.  If you make it, it is indeed a very fresh taste that is a fabulous burst of flavor in the winter when fresh tomatoes are not growing in your backyard.  But if, like me, you don’t own a passapomodoro – the machine used to squish all the liquid out of the tomatoes – then you probably buy tomato juice or tomato puree in a can.  Just like me.  If you get the no-salt-added variety it is a delicious addition to many dishes.

Having gotten my knickers in a snit over Rach’s very public fumble that CBS didn’t bother to clean up before it aired on national television, I felt like cooking.  But I was still too sick so I didn’t.  Today, I think I may have turned the corner.  So I ventured out and picked up a few things I didn’t have so I can make lasagna because I need some stick-to-my-ribs comfort food.  Step one:  make the sauce.  I am making extra sauce to put a little in the freezer for later when I don’t want to cook.  If you have a family of four this is probably only enough sauce for one hearty meal.  Since I am but one person (and the dog is on a no-human-food diet), I will have extra.

There are two things I normally like to have for my tomato sauce that I didn’t have today: bay leaves and celery (you know I like my bay leaves because I ran out; most people have them forever, like, that same jar).  Hey, I’m not Italian, so there are no rules in my kitchen other than don’t burn anything if you can help it.  I know some Italians that would object to the bay leaves saying it was a Greek thing or a Turkish thing.  What.  Ever.  Anyhow, today I didn’t have bay leaves or celery, so I used the other usual suspects:  half a large onion; several small carrots; 4 large cloves of garlic that I chopped up fine with a teaspoon of salt; and a small summer squash (seeded) in lieu of the celery I didn’t have.  My seasonings were 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves (sort of in lieu of the bay leaves; the Italians would say it’s more of a pizzaiola sauce with the addition of the oregano – whatever), 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves, and another tablespoon of salt.  My tomato products were a large can (28 oz) of no-salt-added crushed tomatoes and a small can (6 oz) of no-salt-added tomato paste which I reconstituted in 3 cans of water (that’s 18 ounces of water for my math challenged friends).  I sautéed the diced vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until the onions were clear, then added the seasonings and tomato products.  Once the simmering starts in earnest, turn down to a bare simmer and just keep cooking, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until all the flavors develop and the sauce is thickened, about an hour.  I leave a lid on the pot tilted a bit so some steam can escape.  Now taste and adjust your seasonings.  I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar because the sauce was very acidic – a common problem with canned tomato products.  This does not make the sauce sweet at all; it neutralizes the acidity and makes the tomato flavor really rich.

The can makes a handy spoon rest too!

Now you can do anything you want with this sauce – dip bread in it, use it for your lasagna, toss it on pasta, dress your meatballs with it, use it as a pizza sauce – just any little thing you’d like to do!  You can easily double or triple this recipe for a big family gathering.  You can add some elegance with a ½ cup or so of dry red wine added to the veggies and cooked off for about 5 minutes before adding the tomato products.  You can use an immersion blender to completely puree the veggies to make this sauce smooth as silk.  Whatever floats your boat.  This is so much better than any sauce you can buy prepared, and it took me only 10 minutes to prepare and an hour to cook with very little effort on my part.  Low sodium, big flavor, easy peasy.

OK, time for me to eat.  Did I mention that my friend Roberta and her husband Jim have a bakery?  (Roberta is one of those Italians that would probably not approve of my bay leaf addition to the tomato sauce.)  If you are on Facebook check them out here.  She brought me bread and cookies yesterday.  That must be why I feel better today!  Yum.





Inspired Cooking with Marc Copenhaver

19 09 2012

I was sitting at home on Friday evening catching up with what people were saying on Twitter, and came across a tweet from Marc’s on Market about a cooking class on Sunday.  If you don’t know, Marc & Sara Copenhaver own and operate the restaurant Marc’s on Market at 7213 Market Street here in Wilmington.  I was looking forward to a day off on Sunday and had no plans; going to a cooking class sounded like fun.  So I called and left a message for a reservation and made a note on my calendar.

Those of you who know what I do to earn my paycheck may find it a bit weird that I went to a cooking class.  I manage The Seasoned Gourmet, a locally owned kitchen store that hosts the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club; cooking classes are a major part of what we do, and I teach classes myself.  For you, I submit this:  Just because I host classes every week and teach a few doesn’t mean I know everything.  I’m not a gourmet chef; I’m just a good cook.  I love food and cooking and am always looking for inspiration in the kitchen.  As it turns out, Marc’s class was definitely inspiring – I’m so glad they had room for me to attend!

On this day, we went beyond the simple, modern dining room I have patronized numerous times into the spotlessly clean operating room of this 2008 Wilmington Top Chef.  Marc’s theme for the class was to create a meal from what he found at the Farmer’s Market – seasonal cooking at its best.  He did indeed have some local, seasonal selections like kohlrabi, onions, okra, and head-on shrimp.  He also selected some items that are in season right now but not grown locally, like baby artichokes from California and Hatch chilis from New Mexico.  Marc recommends that you not get too hung up on the local thing, but challenge yourself instead to cook seasonally and enjoy the best of everything that is available.  As he said, “Everyone has a right to make a living selling their products.”

Marc started the session by sharing his thought process about how to bring all these great ingredients together, telling us that we
should apply what we know about cooking different ingredients and use that to guide us as we create new dishes.  The star of the dayCap Steak, Creamed Corn, Okra was undoubtedly the Deckel Steak (also known as Cap Steak or Loin Flap Steak), which Marc described as the cut of beef that is wrapped around the outside of the Rib Eye.  It looks a bit like the flank, but Marc says the grain runs the opposite direction of flank.  He trimmed the excess fat, sliced the meat lengthwise against the grain, and rolled it into pinwheels tying it together with butcher’s twine.  A simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and a brush of oil and Marc grilled this to a perfect medium rare.  Served with Fresh Creamed Corn with diced Hatch Chilis and Onions plus Pan Seared Petite Okra this was a fantastic small plate of food packed with flavor.

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Before we enjoyed the Cap Steak et al, we had what Marc called a counterintuitive take on Shrimp; “Sweated” Shrimp cooked low and slow (well, slow for shrimp anyhow) in a dab of butter and served with Kohlrabi Slaw and Roasted Baby Artichokes.  The texture of the shrimp was amazing.  “It’s the same bite all the way through,” Marc said, as opposed to the rubbery outside and soft inside that quick-cooked shrimp often has.  Marc’s idea here was to let the shrimp cook in their own juices with minimal seasoning, which can only be done with super fresh shrimp that hasn’t been drowned in tap water or frozen.  The kohlrabi slaw had a great texture but I would have kicked up the flavor some (the older I get, the more flavor I crave).

The final dish was like going to science class – and I was the student who was awed by it the most!  My cooking is very basic and traditional, so imagine my surprise when Mark flavored up some sour cream in the stand mixer and then added crushed dry ice to it to make an almost instant ice cream!  While I didn’t care for the flavor profile – sour cream, maple, cinnamon, apple cider – I was highly impressed with the texture and the speed of the process.  I will be going to Rose’s to get some dry ice to try this technique very soon.  Marc served the ice cream with roasted, caramelized pears for a sweet finish to a fun class.

Unlike other classes where you know the menu in advance and the table is set for you, this experience was totally folksy (carry your own chairs to the kitchen if you want one) and free form – the menu is not announced in advance.  As long as you don’t suffer from any allergies or dietary restrictions, it’s rather fun to walk in and be surprised about what you will be eating.  The portions are modest, so you won’t have to cancel your dinner plans.  You aren’t provided recipes – you write down what you want to remember as you go, and Marc happily repeats anything you might miss during the action.  Sara pours generous samplings of the wines that she has carefully paired to the menu.  At $45 per person with the modest portions of food and the self-help aspects, I would rate it a fair value but not a great one.  However, if you want the chance to go behind the swinging doors into the restaurant kitchen of one of Wilmington’s most talented chefs, then the experience is priceless.

I hear that Marc & Sara offer these classes once a month on a Saturday or a Sunday at lunch time.  If you “like” them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@marcsonmarket) you are sure to hear about them, as well as their menu changes and specials.  Whether you  attend a class or stop in for dinner any given day (except Monday), you are sure to enjoy good food and great hospitality!





Falafel: A Ball of Positive Energy

19 08 2012

“There are two kinds of people on the planet; people that bring you energy, and people who take energy away from you.”

“Take responsibility for the energy you bring.”

-Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Harvard-Trained Neuroanatomist whose life was forever altered when she survived an AVM stroke

Some of you may think that the discussion I am undertaking here is bunk.  That’s OK, we are just in different places.  I’m not recruiting anyone to my way of thinking, I’m just sharing my thoughts in the event they may resonate with someone else.  Rest assured that I am not crazy or dangerous; I am merely on a quest to live more authentically, love more deeply, be more connected to the world outside of me, and live life to the fullest.  If that’s not your thing, this is your exit cue.

My journey toward self-improvement and enlightenment is taking me a lot of places I never would have thought I’d go – places in my mind, my consciousness, that are so drastically different from the self-centered, self-obsessed life I have lived until this last year.  That’s not to say that I was an egomaniac, just that I really didn’t know how to connect with others on a truly meaningful level and had a very different perspective on things as a result.  So think of me as a grown up kid in the candy store that is a meaningful life.  Every day I am having ‘aha!’ moments on scales both large and small and it’s a blast.

To some people, saying something like, “I can’t take all this negative energy” is the equivalent of kids speaking in Pig Latin; to them, its goofy gibberish made up by some kooky woman having a mid-life crisis.  But some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  To me, negative energy is:  a negative attitude; hostility; self-centeredness; greed; ulterior motives – attempts to manipulate or control others; being in a ‘bad mood’; ignoring other people.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  I sometimes emit negative energy; I am human and it is part of the experience.  But instead of just acting out of that negative place like I used to, I am now trying to maintain an awareness of my tendency toward negativity and use it as a thermometer of sorts to check my own state of being and correct it.  (Dude, quit rolling your eyes.  I warned you that you might want to go read another blog – this is going to get deep.)

For me, hunger, anger, loneliness, exhaustion, a sense of being overwhelmed, frustration, pain, illness – these are some of the things that can lead to negative energy and actions.  So when I identify that I am being negative (cranky, self-centered, short tempered), I now try to identify what the cause might be and address it so I can once again emit positive energy.  Ignoring it will not make it better; it will only get worse until the need I am experiencing gets met.  Hunger is a huge trigger for me, followed closely by being tired.  If I am hungry or tired I can be like a beast just ripping everything and everyone in my path to shreds.  My path to a more meaningful life demands that I learn to avoid being too hungry or tired by making it a priority to eat well and get enough rest.  I suck at this, and have consequently been a little cranky lately.  As soon as I eat I am better, and getting a good night’s sleep is like having a personality transplant.  Despite knowing this, I still struggle to make eating and sleeping a priority.  Why, I’m not sure.

Perhaps my dilemma is a simple matter of overcoming long-held habits.  For now, that’s how I’m approaching it.  I just have to practice taking better care of myself and slowly I will get better at it.  Also, this concept of putting myself first in healthy ways is new to me.  I am not speaking of selfishness; I am talking about how if I want to be useful and helpful to others, I have to have a full tank of energy – positive energy.  I am not talking about wanting people to do things my way or getting something from them; I am talking about taking responsibility for myself, meeting my own needs, and then offering up my extra energy to help someone else.

In the past, it was my habit to neglect myself to do things for other people, and then be ticked off when other people didn’t take care of me in return.  That circular logic was the problem; I was martyring myself hoping it would result in others embracing, loving, and caring for me.  When you peel back the layers of that thinking, it’s pretty selfish.  My thought process was something like, “Look at me; I do all this for other people and no one does anything for me!  I haven’t even had breakfast and it is 3pm.  Look at the sacrifices I make for them!”  This, sadly, was how I thought.  This may be a rather simplified example, but it’s all in there.  I may have come by it honestly, having grown up seeing this behavior modeled for me.  But it’s high time I learn to put myself first in a healthy way and stop being a cranky martyr.

The fact is that no one is going to take care of me; I have to do it for myself.  Likewise, I am not obligated to take care of anyone else.  When children are young, we have an obligation to do for them what they cannot do for themselves and teach them how to take care of themselves and contribute to the family in an appropriate way.  At some point as they grow it becomes their job to feed, clothe, and bathe themselves; get out of bed on time for school or work; and do their fair share around the house to help out.  As an adult, it is my job to establish boundaries that dictate that I do these things for myself and put others on hold, if need be, to get them done.  Not until my basic needs are met do I have the positive energy needed to help others.  Trying to do things for others when my basic needs haven’t been met is a recipe for negative energy and bad outcomes.

For me, the magic in this process has been in the spaces between these behavior changes.  (Dude, are you still here?  Well, then, pay attention now.)  Some of you know the space I am talking about.  It’s the space-time between the thought about what to do next and the doing of it.  It is also in the space-time right after having done the right thing and the peace that comes in that moment.  In that moment, nothing more needs to be said, there is no frustration, and I realize that everything is just exactly as it is supposed to be.  I don’t have to fight my way through situations; I can just let them be.  You know that warm, cozy, comfortable feeling you get after a satisfying meal?  In that moment, all of my needs are met and I’m a great big ball of happy love.  It doesn’t last very long – maybe a couple of hours at most.  But now that I have experienced it, it makes me want to do it again and again.  Taking care of myself and being a nicer person for it is addictive.  I like positive energy; I want to have more of it and give more of it.

Speaking of satisfying food, who among us doesn’t like some fried things every now and then?  Oh, come on, you know you do.  You may be avoiding them, but you know you love them.  I recently did some research into Egyptian cuisine for a cooking class I gave.  I was familiar with some of the common foods of Egypt but have a new appreciation for them after my research, and after making them myself.  The emphasis is on affordable, satisfying foods.  The one dish that I made that I am still thinking about almost daily is the Falafel.

For the uninitiated, Falafel is a fried ball of dough that is packed with protein and flavor.  It’s the Middle Eastern equivalent of French fries, seen and sold everywhere, only better for you.  If you like spicy food, you can add more chili flakes or a few dashes of tabasco.  If the amount and variety of herbs I use here seems a bit too busy for your palate, just use parsley and skip the coriander (cilantro) and dill.  Containing mostly garbanzo or fava beans with a little bulgur wheat, these delectable nuggets are very high in protein and could be the main course if you were so inclined.  They will certainly satisfy your hunger and replenish your energy.

That’s the other thing I am having a blast with on this journey toward a more meaningful life:  freedom.  While certain choices come with more consequences or responsibilities than others, I am free to do any darn thing I choose – including eating falafel for dinner.  I’m just sayin’.

2 cups canned Chickpeas or Fava Beans, drained well (or 1 cup dried, soaked in water overnight, then drained)

½ large Onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Cilantro

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Dill

1 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes or cayenne powder

4 cloves of Garlic

1 teaspoon Cumin

1 teaspoon Baking Powder

4-6 tablespoons Whole Wheat or Bulgar Wheat Flour

Soybean or Vegetable Oil, for frying

Place the drained chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin.  Process until blended but not pureed.

Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

Form the bean mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 375oF in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test.  If it falls apart, add a little flour.  Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes until deep golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

Makes about 20.





Foodie Pen Pals: A Word from My Recipient

31 07 2012

Dear Readers,

As mentioned in my post earlier, my Foodie Pen Pal recipient this month is not a blogger so I asked her to write a little something about her experience that I could share with you.    After receiving my package earlier this month, she sent me the sweetest email.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I was so excited to receive my goodie box yesterday. I had a terrible day at work and got home an hour and a half later than usual. When i walked in the door my husband had the box waiting on the kitchen table for me. It really made my day:) I think he was just as excited to see what was inside.”

Like I said, getting the package is at least as fun as what’s inside.  Here’s Sarah:

“I was very excited to be participating in Foodie Pen Pals for the first time. My pen pal was Susan from Wilmington, North Carolina. I live in Illinios and couldn’t wait to see what kind of goodies I would get. Susan was very personable and nice to talk to from the start. I really enjoyed her blog as well. I explained to her that I had started eating vegan this year for health and weight-loss reasons. She did a great job keeping my dietary restrictions in mind.

My goodie box included Pineapple Pepper Jelly, 8th Wonder All Purpose Spice Blend, and Campobasso Trading Company Black Tie Seasoning. The spices are made locally in Wilmington. My husband and I immediately sampled the jelly because we had never had anything like it. It had a great flavor with just a little spice. I plan to use the seasonings for grilled or roasted veggies for me and my husband will use some on local organic meat. Susan also included some great tips on how to use each of my new ingredients.

This was a great experience and I plan to continue doing Foodie Pen Pals.

Thanks again Susan!  Sarah K.”








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