Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yes! Yes! Yes! I did it--- I cooked!

Hallelujah, I am back! Well, as back as a for-sale kitchen will allow.

Tonight I had a fellow shop gal and very close friend over to celebrate closing on her house. I am hoping that now she officially gets her check I will get mine... or at least an offer. You know, one shop gal at a time!

On any given night you could find us last summer on my patio grilling vegetables and drinking Pinot Grigio. I decided in my last few days of patio life I needed to disobey all selling-your-house rules and bring this summertime ritual back. Tonight's menu was not elaborate, it will win no culinary awards but it did bring this gal that loves to cook (and entertain) some simple pleasure
In addition to a great bottle of Cupcake Pinot Grigio and Grilled Purple Asparagus, Zucchini and Red Pepper we enjoyed one of my summer favorites...

Panzanella Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
For the vinaigrette
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'm looking at the gal in the mirror...or in my art?

If art is a reflection of our personalities, what does it say that most of my favorite art is of food?

I have a 12 day countdown until Chaos and Chicken packs up and hits the road. I am making final decisions as to what goes and what stays. Mostly things will stay... I am going from 1700 to a minimal 450 sq feet.

This weekend a friend asked me if I was keeping all of my art work. Over the years, especially through the store, I have created quite the collection. Today I took sometime to look it over to see if it (1) fits in my new space and (2) fits in my new life. I laughed because I had never really noticed, but a lot of the subjects are food... a Turkish man holding a pomegranate, Susan Lockwood's Blush, an oil painting of clementines in Italy... and even great food shots from the Eastern Market in DC. I guess that should not come as a surprise since cooking is my creative outlet and is really where I found comfort in this house.

I look around the boxes and I am everywhere... from the walls to furniture to the crazy gal that likes to cook reflected in the mirror. What items will create comfort in my new space? Do I carry the old me there or start fresh?

Hmm... I have a little less than two weeks to decide but I think I take my food art, my kitchen aid and shoes for now. I am sure as time goes on the mirrors will start to reflect new inspiration, new comforts and a gal that still likes to cook.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I am not cooking but that does not stop a gal from dreaming...

Well, that is if she could ever get any sleep.

If I was cooking I would definitely get out the flour and butter to make these. I think I can smell their sweet, nutty aroma but then I realize I am exhausted from insomnia and the scent is a mirage. Alas...

Pecan Bars
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

I cut the recipe in half for this attempt and used an 12 by 7 by 2 inch pan.. Be sure to note the proper pan size for the full recipe below (18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet), as it yields a whole lot of love.

For the crust:
1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup good honey
3 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the crust: Beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

For the topping: Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars and serve.

Taken from one a my favorite blogs, East Village Kitchen, these have to raise the bar in dessert creation. I said the other day that I do not bake for neighbors but I am thinking if I show up to my new apartment building with these in hand I may have instant friends.

Wishing you and yours sweet dreams...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hard Choices

People have been very surprised and somewhat disturbed at the amount of stuff that I have been able to purge preparing for my move. Sorry guys--for better or for worse, I have emotional attachment to people and experiences, not things. Or so I thought.

Last night I was sorting through kitchen gadgets and dishware that I can take or leave (stand-up mixer is going no matter how small that kitchen is) but I got to the basket on top of the fridge and alas... I came to a stand still: My Cooking Light Collection- Four years worth.

I don't even use them for the recipe, just inspiration. But still, the thought of giving them away them made me very sad. I know, I know--- I am a smart gal, I know that the 50 magazines cannot go (but 25 coats can?). I am working with 410 sq feet of space. But somehow last night, all logic went out the window. I turned around and walked away. I mean how could I give these away?

What I realize this morning as I box them up is: I am not attached to the paper (well, as pretend graphic designer I may be a little) what I am holding on to are the memories of the meals that were inspired by the content inside. With each item I give away or throw out there is a little emotional tie to a memory, whether I like to admit it or not. As each colorful issue hits the bottom of the Goodwill box I remind myself that life will be filled with many more meals, both delicious and exciting, and I can place these memories beside the old in the basket on my fridge, no magazines required...

Friday, June 19, 2009

When one is not cooking she takes to talking in food analogies

So, I woke up in a bit of a panic this morning at 3:42 a.m. What am I doing leaping without a net? Moving without a plan? I always have a plan, I am Ms. Plans. And then, I took a deep breath and I thought about cooking. I am my most peaceful when cooking, my most creative, my most passionate. Should not I look to it for life lessons?

When I am making dinner (dear kitchen, I miss you) I don't really have plan, I have ingredients. Ingredients, gut instinct, experience and culinary expertise. I use these to select and match produce, meat and spices to create an end product that is often very delicious. The entire experience is organic and I rarely follow a recipe unless I am baking. Hmm... now that I think of it, some of my best work starts out with a blank canvas (or platter). Thinking of this makes me feel so much better.

So, my friends, I head back to slumber knowing that when I head out with my very unplanned, plan I am packed up with all the ingredients, expertise and experience to create a delicious adventure... the journey will be organic and hopefully filled with many tasty bites.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just a little patience...

Two years ago I did not have the patience to bake a cake. I mean, come on, one hour and then you cool and then you ice it. And you have do exactly as the directions say. No way.

You see, I am goal driven. If I have a goal I not only meet it, but I go over and beyond. Just incase you did not know, I am just slightly competitive. On January 1, 2008 I decided that I would become a baker. With my lack of patience and my need to always improvise this proved to be challenging ... but I did it. Over the course of one year, I perfected a handful of cakes, more cookies than I choose to tell that I tasted, brownies, tortes, pastry... you name it and my lofty stand-up mixer and I created it.

I would like to say that since that cold January morning I have come a long way but waiting, WAITING to know what I will be doing is proving itself challenging. Maybe I need to break the rules, dirty our for-sale kitchen and remind myself what a little patience can get you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can one still have a food blog if she is not cooking?

I know, enough with the chaos... I promised three scoops food and one scoop me but lately life is too chaotic for cooking. (Gasp says the gal that finds therapy in cooking.)

So. Here it is.
1- Our house is on the market and kitchen needs to stay clean.
2- I have been out of town
3- I may be moving to a place with an even smaller kitchen. Yes, it is possible.

I am, however, eating. Eating lots of fast fuel efficient meals. One of my favorite items I snag from the Coffee Mill daily I will be recreating, thanks to Women's Health Magazine, in my hopefully new small city kitchen (please employers, call.) These are my idea of Fast Food.

Energy Chunks
Simply put, Chunks of Energy are all-natural cubes of goodness, so we asked the folks who make them at Dancing Star to share their recipe. Adapt it by adding your favorite seeds, nuts, and dried fruits.

1 c honey
1 c peanut butter
1 c carob powder
1 c sesame seeds
1 c sunflower seeds

1. Heat honey until warm, then add peanut butter slowly, until just mixable.

2. Stir in remaining ingredients and press into oiled 8 by 8 inch pan.

3. Chill for 1 hour. Cut into 25 small squares. Keep in fridge for up to 1 month; freeze indefinitely.

Monday, June 8, 2009

When life gives you limes...

...well, this weekend we made vodka tonics.

This Saturday I was at one of the best weddings I have ever attended. The ceremony was very personal to the couple, the surroundings were amazing and the reception was uniquely fun. There were about 150 people at a lake house property, spread amongst a house, boat house, deck and studio. Instead of a sit down dinner each guest received a bucket with a cloth napkin, sandwich, homemade chips, veggies and water. You gathered a blanket and copped a squat, if you will. That coupled with appetizers and late night snacks was the perfect combination of casual fun. Oh and there was cake with an amazing raspberry filling. And did I mention the limes... they were a source of pleasure and pain (the next day) for me.

Here are the three things I learned from the evening:
1. I might want to be a back up in an 80's music band.
2. One can be sore from too much dancing
3. You should always leave with the person you came with... you might feel better the next day.