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!

 





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!





Cilantro Substitutes & Embracing the twittersphere

18 05 2012

This is another one of those blog posts where I abuse your good nature by talking about what I want to talk about before giving you the information you came here for – in this case, the cilantro substitutes.  So if you are only here for those, scroll down.  Otherwise, let’s talk twitter.

I love making stuff up, though I mostly confine my fictional endeavors to the kitchen (more on that later).  When I write, I tend to be real and honest – sometimes a bit too honest, perhaps.  I strive to put a humorous spin on things because real life can sometimes be a bummer and we all need to laugh a little.  I need to laugh at myself to preserve what sanity I have left.  So I figure if I can do something good for me and for you at the same time – inviting you to laugh with me, at me – then it won’t be a totally narcissistic endeavor.  And sometimes I just over-think things – like now. Gawd!

Some of you have come to discover my blog through the magic that is twitter.  I really dig me some twitter.  It has it’s limitations, to be sure, like 140 characters is all you get to say what you have to say.  That means if I was writing this on twitter, I would have been done somewhere in the second sentence – right about the word “too” – if I had used abbreviations and twitterisms like ‘luv’, or smooshed a few words together without spaces.  One of my favorite self-written tweets was, “The upside of relying on twitter for your news: you find things out as they are happening. The downside: same.”  This was written because I saw a tweet about something going on in town that I would have liked to attend, but I found out about it when it was happening.  Without the follow-on explanation, I don’t know that anyone else got it.  Yet another limitation of twitter.

On the upside, is there any other place that an under-employed, middle-aged, average-looking, food-obsessed single woman like me can hob nob with the rich and famous?  It’s like having front row seats into the lives of some of them.  They may not answer a tweet from one of us mere twittersphere “stalkers,” but it is still fun.  I watch the interactions between Alton Brown (@altonbrown) and Simon Majumdar (@simonmajumdar) which sometimes include others, like Alex Guarnaschelli (@guarnaschelli).  It’s really great entertainment when waiting for your tires to be rotated – and it’s free!  I ‘met’ some interesting people on twitter, found out about websites & products I would otherwise likely not have discovered, and through reciprocal re-tweets have helped to grow readership for myself and others.  Unlike some, I have nothing to sell you and am certainly not making any money from writing this blog (though everyone has their price, if you’d like to make an offer).  But if I ever do follow through on my desire to write a book, I promise that you will be the first people I ask to buy it.  For the moment you are safe from solicitation, at least from me.

Twitter is usually my news source.  If you think this might not work as well as your TV, guess what?  All the TV stations, newspapers, and magazines have twitter accounts too, and they tweet all day long.  You can read as much as you like, or go right to the article or video that interests you rather than waiting through 23 minutes of blather for the story you want to hear.  You can search for keywords by person or by topic to find things fast.  It’s all up to you – you decide.  Isn’t that great?  My inner ‘CEO of the Universe’ really digs it.

Humor abounds on twitter if you choose to seek it out.  I really enjoy the spoofs – and there are many.  Right now, I’m following @ibecamemyparents (a dad with a wicked sense of humor – check out his WTF Wednesday posts), @ruthbourdain (a mixed up parody of Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain), @fake_dispatch (a pretend newspaper with the ‘fake’ commentary we would all like to write about current events), and a now seldom heard-from parody of Bobby Flay.  Originally, it was @angrybobbyflay, then they got in trouble because the real @bflay got his feelings hurt, then they switched it to @angrybflay, and now it’s been a while since I’ve heard from them.  The twittersphere indicated that they may be banned because the real Bobby was pissed.  But it was HILARIOUS.  There are other parodies of celebs that I follow just for the laughs, and I also follow the real ones (otherwise it’s not as fun because you don’t fully “get” the joke).  For some of them, I guess these parodies hit a little close to home and upset them.  Personally, I make fun of myself so that there isn’t a lot left for others to snark at except, maybe, that I am just not funny.  I’m OK with that.  I am a cook, not a comedienne.  You can’t be good at everything.

If you haven’t yet entered the twittersphere, I highly recommend it.  It works best when you make it part of your daily online activities, cultivating twitter relationships and keeping up on trends.  But you can definitely plug in on any given day just to find out what’s going on in your town or the town you are traveling to, as many restaurants and entertainment venues blog their specials and activities.  You can find events or places by using the “discover” feature, where tweets are organized by the hashtag (#) people assign to them (such as #wrightsvillebeach for one of my area’s beaches).  I think you’ll enjoy it.  You can follow me on there @eatwilmington and see the other half of the conversations you see on my twitter feed here on my blog, which don’t always make much sense when only seeing my comments.  Anyhow, go get you a twitter account and have at it!

Oh, and I like my twitter app on my iPhone better than the website itself.  I know it’s crazy, but the app has a couple features I use a lot that I can’t figure out how to do on my laptop.  But since my iPhone is broken – AGAIN – and is in the ‘evil brown truck’ (my dog’s opinion, not mine) back to Apple, I will be tweeting strictly from my laptop until the new phone arrives next week.  If you need me, send me a smoke signal or a tweet, ’cause there ain’t no phone ’round here!  #FREEDOM

I am not even going to try to tie these two topics together.  I’m just not that good.  In the twittersphere, I said it like this in response to a tweet from my new twitter friend, actual published author, and NC homeboy Andy Holloman:

@AndyHolloman: RT “I’m not really a writer. I just play one on #Twitter.” *smile*” @eatwilmington: Me too! HA. No, really.

So onto the cilantro substitutes.  A great lady I know, Margaret Sheldon, has a family farm just outside of Wilmington at which she focuses mostly on herbs, lettuces, and other greens.  She supplies many of the area restaurants with everything from micro-greens to edible flowers to mache & arugula for salads.  She has awesome greenhouses, a very laid-back casual vibe, and some super huge and beautiful heirloom turkeys (not for eating – they are part of the ecosystem that is her farm).  The turkeys will and do stalk visitors – it’s kinda freaky when you realize they are following you.  You stop, they stop, you move, they move.  Then they yell at you and you think about running screaming from the rows of thyme.  It’s a great place to visit.  But I digress.

Margaret’s latest newsletter offered the following information:

Vietnamese Cilantro

Greetings!

Now that the weather is heating up, your tomatoes are probably growing like gangbusters. That means it is almost time for fresh salsa.  And what’s salsa without cilantro?  But WAIT! It’s too hot for cilantro now. In your garden, it’s going to seed (cilantro is coriander seed and vice versa).

Luckily we have two solutions for you–if you want the taste of fresh cilantro rather than grocery store herbs trucked in from hundreds of miles away.

Vietnamese Coriander

Persicaria odorata, or Vietnamese Coriander makes a nice substitute for cilantro in cooking. It has a coriander-like taste with a slightly lemony finish. This perennial herb grows well in full shade.

Culantro

Culantro

Eryngium foetidum, or Culantro, is a tropical herb native to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. This plant can be easily grown from fresh seed. You have to plant the seeds immediately after they form if you want to keep your plants going.

The leaves of this plant also taste like cilantro, but with a “meatier” finish than the Vietnamese Coriander. The leaves of this plant have little soft spines. If you use it in fresh salsa, you can trim and discard the edges. Plant this herb in full shade to partial shade. This will promote more tender leaf growth (best for cooking) and less flower growth.  Learn more about Culantro here.

Thanks Margaret!  So if you don’t live near Shelton Herb Farm, you can ask your nearest herb farm or greenhouse if they stock these plants and give them a try.

Happy cooking – see you in the twittersphere!








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