29 June 2012

Blueberry-bacon cake

I swiped this idea from another clever little blog and did some heavy editing.  Needless to say, with this cake (and also with this guacamole, I suppose), I am on the bacon bandwagon with both feet.  What the hell?  You can't live forever.

Blueberry-bacon Cake

Serve for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

10 slices thick-cut bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons bacon fat, cooled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries 
Bake the bacon in the oven until crisp and drain on paper towels.  Crumble when cool enough and set aside (reserve 2 tablespoons of the fat, as well).  
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk butter and bacon fat with sugar until combined. Whisk in eggs until completely smooth, then whisk in vanilla extract. Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing with a large spoon. Add in milk and stir until combined. Toss blueberries with 1-2 tablespoons of flour. Fold in bacon and blueberries, then pour batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until golden on the sides and top. Remove cake and poke holes on top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over top and let cool 10 minutes before serving. 
Cream Cheese Glaze
1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk
Add softened cream cheese to a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add in milk and vanilla, mixing until combined, then begin to stir in powdered sugar. If mixture is too thick, add additional milk 1 teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin, add in powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

22 June 2012

Cocktail time with gin and basil

This is a great way to use up fresh basil that's past its prime (but still tasty), and a great excuse to mix up a gin cocktail on a hot summer day.

Basil-Gin Mojito

Serves 1

10 basil leaves
½ oz. simple syrup
2 oz. gin
1 oz. water

Place basil leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle until fragrant.  Add all other ingredients plus generous helping of ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into a short glass neat or on the rocks.

20 June 2012

A Midsummer Feast

Happy Summer Solstice, everyone!  Although I am already complaining about the heat (really?  100 degrees this weekend for the Fort Collins Brew Fest?!?!), I really do love the excuse to sit on the patio and eat and drink right from the garden.  The Scandinavians have it right: their Midsummer Festival is almost as important as Christmas, and it involves plenty of consumption.  Here's my dream menu for this holiday, which I think we should all celebrate tonight:

~Midsummer Menu~

Watermelon Mojitos

Moroccan Spiced Grapes

Scandinavian Melon Salad

Savory Greens Pie

Garbanzo and Raisin Salad

Salmon Cakes

Scandinavian Rhubarb Crumble

15 June 2012

Peruvian fish in sour onion sauce

I have not been to Peru, but I have been entreated to some lovely meals by a native Peruvian friend, who  helped me with this recipe.  I love this in the summertime--it's light, quick to make, and goes perfectly with a mojito on the back patio (or you could try your hand at the Peruvian cocktail, Pisco Sour).

Peruvian Fish in Sour Onion Sauce

Serves 6

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
6 medium fish fillets (tilapia, halibut, cod…)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
4 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium avocados, thinly sliced

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When it shimmers, reduce heat to low and sauté the onions, jalapeno, and garlic until onion is soft.  Add vinegar, cover, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Place flour on a plate and season liberally with black pepper.  Lightly salt both sides of each fillet, dredge through flour (shaking off excess) and fry in batches once the oil is smoking slightly.  Place friend fish on a serving platter, pour onion sauce on top, and garnish with avocado slices.

08 June 2012

If it doesn't squeak, is it still a cheese curd? Taking in the sights in Wisconsin's capitol city...

I recently had the good fortune of travelling to Wisconsin's capital city for some concerts in May, and I did indeed eat my proverbial heart out.  Non-Midwesterners may scoff at the idea of looking for fun and good food in Madison, but those from the Great Lakes region know it's a great college town with fresh produce stands all over in the summer, not to mention the locally made artisan cheeses and ice creams.  It's worth the drive if you're already in the Chicago or Milwaukee areas, and if you're in those areas to visit family this summer, it's a great short-term escape from Grandma's guilt trips and casseroles.

The view from Lake Mendota on UW-Madison's campus. 

The cheapest way to get there is to fly in to Chicago at O'Hare or Midway (O'Hare is slightly closer to the Wisconsin border) and take the shuttle up to Madison.  Coach USA runs a bus with stops at both airports and the Amtrack terminal (union Station) in the heart of downtown Chicago, dropping you near two stations with multiple "L"  and Metra lines, if you decide to go that route.  They run an on-time (or early) ship and it's $58 round-trip/ $29 one-way.

[By the way, I'm not going to waste a lot of time saying nasty things about airlines in this post; I've done enough of that already.  But I would just like to warn you, in case you didn't know, that Spirit Airlines charges $35 per carry-on.  I did not know this when I booked my tickets through Priceline, and if I had, I wouldn't have thought they were the cheapest deal.  So don't forget to check baggage fee policies with the company before booking through an aggregate sight, kiddies!]

Mostly I practiced and performed, but I can give you a few tips.  Frank Lloyd Wright spent many years in the area, so if  you're into that sort of thing, check out his handiwork near campus at the First Unitarian Church, which he built in 1951.  Monona Terrace Convention Center was not built while FLW was alive, but he did draw up the plans, and it's also where they record Michael Feldman's NPR show, Whad'Ya Know?, every Saturday.  There is a fee to be in the audience, but the free coffee and doughnuts are pretty tasty.

Monona Terrace

Olbrich Botanical Gardens are free to the public from dawn until dusk and contain the only Thai Pavilion in North America.  It is beautiful, and the gardens are really stunning (plus they're a fun way to learn what grows in this part of the country).

Did you know that University of Wisconsin has a big, honkin' LAKE right on campus?  For a reasonable fee, you can rent a sail boat from the boat house on campus and act all fancy.  Or you can just wander along the mostly wooded trail that rings the lake and enjoy the many Gothic-inspired buildings on the heart of campus for free.  If I had attended this school, I don't think I would have done much homework.

This is the student union building at UW-Madison!
There's a good ice cream shop in here, too. 

This is the most important activity when visiting a town, isn't it?  It tells you so much about whether or not that town deserves to exist (the town where I reside, for instance, probably does not).

The Dane County Farmer's Market is the largest producer-only farmer's market in the US.  Wander around the charming downtown area every Wednesday and Saturday in the summer and eat your weight in fresh cheese curds and other artisanal cheeses, homemade salsas, samples of locally raised meat, and so much more.  There are food stands, too, so you can get a more balanced diet if you want.  This is actually a great place to go for lunch.

If you don't make it to a farmer's market, Brennan's Market is your next best choice. These sort of overgrown roadside stands are all over town, and they carry loads of local produce, wine, beer, and some groceries, along with a deli counter and another lifetime's worth of Wisconsin cheese (and yes, you can eat your weight in free samples here, too).  Local cheese, locally made wine, and a big loaf of crusty bread can all be purchased here and brought to any one of the several lakes in town for a perfect picnic lunch.

Lao Laan-Xang at 2098 Atwood Ave. offers beautiful Laotian food in a slightly gentrified Capitol-area neighborhood and a reasonable price.  There's a little outdoor seating, but it goes fast during Madison's short summer.

Across the street, get your dessert at Monty's Blue Plate Diner (that is seriously what we did).  They actually have a terrific-looking menu, with tons of egg dishes and healthier, often vegetarian versions of diner classics, reminiscent of Sweet Melissa's in Laramie or the Chicago Diner.  But I only went for the homemade pie, which was glorious in every way.

There is a lot more to do in this diverse, education-rich, politically active town, I'm sure.  In the short time I spent there, I was overwhelmed by how much fun I had every single day.  Madison is a great place to hang for a weekend as a 20-something, 30-something, or as a whole family.  In mid-May, the weather was near-perfect every day, and there were plenty of places to go biking and running (in fact, you can rent bikes from the city for sight-seeing).  I highly recommend a visit.

01 June 2012

Monster Brunch

This is not a role model for brunch.

I recently had a lovely day off with friends, and we decided to live it up and pig out in the middle of the day.  After all, what is more decadent than heavy brunch food and booze at noon?  New Orleanians know what I'm talking about (though I can live just fine without the "Drive-Thru Daiquiri" shops).

I decided to serve the following menu:

Mimosas with orange, grapefruit, or cranberry juice
Steamed asparagus with creamy mushroom sauce (recipe below)
Red eye beans and rice
Shakshuka (I'm convinced that if there'd been a Jewish community in early New Orleans history, this would be de rigueur on their brunch menus) (recipe below)
[Eric made a decadent scalloped potato casserole, but you'll have to ask him for that recipe...]

Rhubarb syrup-and-gin cocktails 
Chocolate-oat-rhubarb muffins
Rhubarb cobbler

For the steamed asparagus, I just seasoned it lightly with salt and poured this over it:

Easiest Mushroom Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
8 oz. mixed mushrooms, cleaned and diced
2 medium shallots
1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
½  teaspoon herbs de provence or dried thyme
¼ c. chardonnay
1-2 teaspoons flour, depending on how thick you want it
4 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil and sauté the shallots until fragrant and soft, about 4 minutes.  Add mushrooms and salt and continue cooking until fragrant and the mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the dried herbs and chardonnay, then sprinkle with flour and combine thoroughly.   Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, season to taste with more salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the sauce gets too thick, just water it down with some milk.

This works well as a crepe filling (use 2 teaspoons flour for a thicker sauce, and stir in shredded cooked chicken if you prefer), on multigrain toast, over steamed asparagus or green beans, over pasta, or as a pizza sauce with spinach and thinly sliced potatoes, etc. etc.

I also used this opportunity to finally make Shakshuka, recipes for which I have been seeing in cooking magazines and Yotam Ottolenghi's beautiful cookbook for months now.  People of Israel, I know now that you are the chosen ones, because you came up with this perfectly simple and delicious way to enjoy eggs.  Bravo.

All the recipes I read were kind of one-note in the sauce department, so I decided to vary the vegetables a bit.  Here's my version:

Fully Loaded Shakshuka

Serves 4 with some leftover sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 eggs
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used dill, cilantro, parsley, and chives)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  When it shimmers, add the onion, zucchini, and carrot and cook until the onion is translucent and the carrot begins to soften, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, paprika, and cumin, stir, and lower to low heat.  Cover and allow to cook about 15 minutes, or until tomatoes start to break down a bit.

Make four hollows in the sauce, and one at a time, crack an egg into a small bowl, then pour into the indentation in the sauce.  Sprinkle a little salt over the eggs, cover, and continue to cook 8 minutes or until eggs are done to your liking. Remove from heat, sprinkle the entire dish with the fresh herbs, and serve.

Thanks, Tiffini, for the pic!