Saturday, July 30, 2011

Triple-Layer Carrot Cake

I know that carrots are generally regarded as a spring vegetable, however, this cake is such a fabulous treat during the hot summer months. Not to mention, it was requested from my co-workers at the DA's on my last day (holla!). Get ready, because this is one of those "best-ever" recipes (I got a few of those when I made it), and the three layers of deliciousness will have people thinking you are a pro baker!

I've included in the recipe a medley of spices that give a nice kick to the sweet and oh-so moist texture of the cake. Then, the light, pillowy cream cheese frosting smooths out the texture from the nuts and carrot, and gives the cake a decadent finish.
Believe me, if you are a carrot cake fan, find the next possible excuse (friend's birthday, potluck, dinner party), or heck, make up an excuse, and bake this cake!!

Cake Ingredients

* Butter (for buttering the pans)
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 cups sugar
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (choose high quality spices, it will make a big difference in flavor)
* 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon all spice
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 4 eggs
* 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
* 3 cups grated carrots (about 6-8 carrots)
* 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (or walnuts if preferred)
* Note: Make sure you have 3 (8" or 9") round pans (important that they are same size and brand) and parchment paper.

Frosting Ingredients
* 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temp
* 12 tablespoons salted butter, a.k.a. 1 1/2 sticks (or if have unsalted butter on hand, just add a pinch of salt to the frosting at the end)
* 2 1/2 - 3 cups powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
* 2 teaspoons vanilla
* Optional: 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted (for decorating side of cake)

Cake Directions
* Preheat oven to 350 F.
* In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour, sugar, spices).
* Add eggs and vegetable oil, using either a hand mixer or cake stand mixer.
* Stir in grated carrots and pecans to batter.
* To prepare the pans, coat with butter and line bottom of pan with parchment paper (very important step, otherwise you have a difficult time getting the cake out of the pans).
* Pour batter evenly between the three pans. Bake for about 35 minutes.
* Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for about 5-10 minutes (until pan is cool).
* Then, remove the cake from pan by turning over and gently patting the bottom. Cool on wax paper until room temperature (do not want the cakes to be warm at all when frosting--otherwise gooey mess will ensue).
Note on Toasting
* Whenever I use nuts in any recipe, I always toast them. Toasting brings out the oils in the nuts, and you will be amazed at how much tastier they are. If you would like to go this extra step, all you need to do is warm the nuts in a pan on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the nuts, and stir occasionally, so that the nuts do not burn. After I toast the nuts, then I give them a chop.

Frosting Directions
* While cakes are in the oven or cooling, this is a good time to make the frosting.
* Beat together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy.
* Then, add the powdered sugar little by little (don't add all at once, or sugar will splay everywhere).
* Mix in the vanilla, and whip for a couple minutes until fluffy.

* When time to frost, set up the cake on your cake dish, and put small pieces of wax paper under bottom layer (this way you can remove the wax pieces when done frosting, and your cake base will be clean).
* Spread a layer of frosting between three layers of cake.
* Then you will go about frosting the entire outside of the cake. You can use an icing knife or just use a regular butter knife.
* As you can see from the first picture, I decorated the cake by pressing chopped pecan pieces up the side of my cake, almost halfway. This is really easy- literally jut press into the cake using the palm of your hand, and it has a really nice professional look.
* Slice and serve to your most favorite friends!
~ Stay fresh!

* This recipe was born of Alton Brown's and Paula Dean's love child.

Zesty Lemon Bars

Ingredients (Crust)
* 1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temp
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 2 cups flour
* Pinch salt

Ingredients (Filling)
* 6 eggs, room temp
* 3 cups granulated sugar
* 1/2 - 1 tablespoon lemon zest, depending how zesty you like your treats (note: don't get any of the white part when zesting--it is very bitter!)
* 1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 6-7 lemons, depending on size)
* 1 cup flour
* Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Crust Directions

* Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
* Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, and add the butter/sugar mixture on low until just combined.
* Gather the dough into a ball.
* Press the dough into a greased 9" X 13" pan. Build the dough up up along the edges higher than the center of the pan, about 1/2 inch up the pan.
* Chill the dough for 30 minutes in refrigerator.
* Bake the crust for 15 minutes or so, until light golden brown.
* Let the crust cool completely on a wire rack.

Filling Instructions
* Whisk together the eggs and sugar. Then, mix in the rest of the ingredients until combined (don't over beat the eggs).
* Pour the mixture over the crust.
* Bake for 30-35 minutes.
* Let the lemon bars cool completely to room temperature before cutting and serving.
* Cut into triangles or squares, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and voila!

Recipe adapted from here.

~ Hope you enjoy these super fresh and tangy treats!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Basic Marinara Sauce

*1/4 cup EVOO
* 1 small-medium onion, small diced (I like Spanish/yellow)
* 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 bay leaves
* 1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves, hand-torn
* 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed (buy very good quality, because this will affect the quality of the marinara drastically)
* Salt and pepper, to taste

* To prepare the tomatoes, drain from can and take out the whole tomato. Give each tomato a good squeeze (or a couple) to break the tomato apart into small pieces (do so slowly and wear an apron, because otherwise will get some splash back).
* Heat the EVOO over medium heat, and add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft (make sure are watching carefully and stirring to ensure the garlic does not burn).
* Add your crushed tomatoes, and cook for about 20 minutes until the sauce reduces to a thicker consistency, stirring occasionally.
* Take the sauce off the heat, and season with salt and pepper. (When you let the sit sauce cool it will also thicken up a bit more). ENJOY!

* If you are using in the eggplant recipe, let the sauce cool a bit before using.
* Also, you will want to double this recipe if you are making a large batch of the eggplant.
* You can also make in advance to save yourself time that day, and just reheat on the stove if you are serving with spaghetti (or whatever you fancy doing with it).

~ Stay fresh!

Eggplant Parmigiana

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This is seriously the truest of all cliches. Ladies, if you haven't learned this yet, it's probably not too late. Just make sure you really want him to stick around before you get him hooked.

No matter your feeling on eggplant in other preparations, there's no snubbing it in this dish. The eggplant is crisp, yet tender, and it is the ultimate comfort food, without being need-a-nap-now heavy. It's the quintessential dish that is best in it's most pure, fresh form. When a dish is about classic simplicity, the recipe usually is straight forward, and the ingredients should be the best you can find (this is what separates the just-okay from the great).

Luckily for us, eggplants are looking absolutely gorgeous, and you should be noticing their deep purple, taught, shiny skin is beaming with joy right now. So, go get you some, and make a delicious dish that will impress that lucky man in your life, or anyone else that enjoys a good meal!


* 1-2 eggplants
* 4 eggs
* All-purpose flour
* Bread crumbs
* 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
* 8-16 oz. sliced mozzarella (buffalo preferred)
* Fresh basil, for garnish
* 2 cups-1 quart marinara sauce (see my recipe, or buy your favorite from the store if you need to save a little time)
* Optional: spaghetti (for serving on the side)

Note on Range
* The range indicates how much you want to make.
* If you follow the lower end (1 eggplant, 8 oz. mozzarella, 2 cups marinara), then this will make about 2 layers of eggplant in a 9X13 inch dish. My favorite preparation is 4 layers, and if you want this amount then follow the high end. Just be warned that this is a lot of food, so share, or be prepared to enjoy leftovers for a few days (it reheats very well).
* It also depends on the size of the eggplant because they do vary greatly. This would be for medium-sized eggplants.

* Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch pieces (I personally like them as thin as I can get them).
* Lay the sliced eggplant onto a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. (I know this seems strange, but it brings out the moisture from the eggplant, and will make them more tender). Once the eggplant starts to sweat, after about 5 minutes, dry off with paper towel.
* Assemble your frying station for the eggplant. I like to pan fry mine. Lay out dishes for your flour, bread crumbs, and eggs (whisked) like so.
* Sorry there are no measurements for the flour and bread crumbs. What I do is put down a thick coating of the flour on a plate or shallow dish (season the flour up with a little salt and pepper) and do the same with the bread crumbs (except I grate a little Parmigiano Reggiano into the bread crumbs as well). When I start to run low, I will replenish as needed.

* So, here's what you need to pan fry the eggplant:
** Coat your pan in EVOO, and heat on medium high heat.
** Coat your eggplant pieces in the flour, then dip in the egg, and then dredge in the bread crumbs.
** I do this for as many as can fit in the pan, then fry those up, and repeat the process until they are all done. Be prepared with some plates or cutting boards lined with paper towels to let your finished fried eggplant pieces hang out until you are done. It should look like so:
* When you are done frying your eggplant, let cool until room temperature.
* Then, it is time to assemble the dish. Preheat oven to 350 F.
* Spoon a layer of marinara on the bottom of your dish. Then, put down a layer of eggplant, then a layer of marinara, mozzarella, and a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Each layer should look like this:
* Continue layering. Make sure to reserve enough mozzarella and a good amount Parm to top off the dish.
* Cook in oven for about 30-35 minutes. I increased the temperature to 400 for the last 5 minutes to brown the cheese on the top.
* While the dish is cooking, make some spaghetti (if you wish). Pasta is really wonderful with this dish, because it soaks up the excess marinara, and balances the cheesiness from the mozzarella. Also, would be very nice with some crusty bread.
* Serve with pasta or bread, and top with some more grated Parm and julienned Basil (see first picture). ENJOY!

~ Stay fresh!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Super Fresh Cherry Pie

Lately, I have been noticing some sinfully red cherries cropping up, and behold, it is cherry season. Around the same time the cherries began blushing at me, it was also nearing my Dad's birthday, so I put two and two together, and made him a super fresh cherry pie (I really am an awesome daughter).
And I must humbly admit, it got rave reviews. My Dad has since divulged that he was initially a little worried, because he tends to find most cherry pie sickly-sweet. However, he said this was the perfect balance of sweetness, and was definitely not shy about going back for more! The texture of the fresh cherries were really nice and plump, and it had a unique depth of flavor from the hint of orange, vanilla, and almond. It was also sweet, and definitely a little tart, but it wasn't toooo sweet.

I hope you break away from the syrupy-canned stuff, and try out this super fresh pie while the picking is still good!

* 6 cups Bing cherries, halved pitted (a big bag)
* 2 1/2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
* 4 tablespoons butter
* Pie Crust (see "How To")

* Pit the cherries. Now, this was by far the most time-consuming part. I used a small knife to accomplish the job, and just plunked down in front of the tv with my cherries and a bowl. You can also buy a cherry pitter if you prefer.
* Preheat the oven to 400.
* Mix the pitted cherries with all of the ingredients, except the butter, in a large bowl.
* Pour the cherry mixture into your pie crust, and then dot with top with the butter.
* Roll your pie crust over top, and decorate (see "How To" for directions).
* Line the edges of crust with foil (so they don't burn), and bake for 30 minutes.
* Remove the foil band, brush the top with heavy cream or egg whites, and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
* Continue baking for approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown.

* Let the pie cool on a rack for 4 hours or so. I like to bake the pie the day before serving, and let it cool overnight. The reason being that the filling needs to cool to thicken up to the right consistency. I really think it's just easiest to do it a day ahead so you don't run out of time, and there's not too much pressure.
* Slice and serve! It's not pictured, but this pie is so good with some vanilla ice cream. The mild flavor is a creamy complement to the tart, sweet cherries.

Recipe adapted from here.

~ Stay fresh!

How To: Perfect Pie Crust

Next in my "How To"-- the perfect pie crust! It is the time to bake-up some summery, fruit-filled, or meringue-topped pies. And what better way to show your loved ones that you are willing to go the extra mile to make them the perfect treat? Believe me, this pie crust recipe will be a crowd-pleasing, show-stopper that will impressive the pants off everyone you know!

I really tried to break everything down step-by-step, because I know that making your own pie crust can be a little intimidating, even for the most seasoned baker (and I by no means am an expert yet). But, I hope you will dive in and try it, because it is fun, rewarding, and tastes wayyy better than the frozen stuff.

Ingredients (for pie crust bottom and top)
* 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 4 teaspoons sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), very cold
* 1/2 cup shortening, very cold
* 14 tablespoons ice water

Ingredients (if you need just a bottom or top crust)
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons sugar
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 6 teaspoons unsalted butter, very cold
* 1/4 cup shortening, very cold
* 7 tablespoons ice water

* In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar.
* Dice up cold butter into small cubes (remember: very cold ingredients are essential to flaky crust; leave in fridge until needed)
* Add the diced up butter to the flour mixture. To incorporate, rub/squeeze the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it starts coming together into clumps. This should take 1-2 minutes.
* Note: instead of using hands, you can also use a pastry blender (I have one, but was at my Dad's when I made this, and using hands works just fine as well--just make sure to try to use only your fingers, that way your hands don't warm the ingredients too much).
* Then, add the shortening, and rub into the the floury/buttery mixture until it becomes incorporated into smaller pea-sized pieces. This should take about a minute or two.
* Add about half the water, and incorporate with fingers until damp. Then, add the rest of the ice water little by little until the dough is totally moistened (but not so much that there is excess moisture).Work the mixture together until just right, don't overwork the dough (as fun as it is, this will activate the gluten, and make the dough tough).
* Half the dough (if making top and bottom crust), wrap tight in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
* After done refrigerating, flour a smooth surface to work on, and pat your dough down on top.
* Begin working the dough from the center out with your rolling pin.
* Continue working until the dough is about an 11 inch circle.
* To get your dough onto your pie pan, I find it easiest to roll it back over my rolling pin, and then unroll the dough over the pie pan. There should be enough dough to hang a bit over the edges (I rolled mine out a little too much--no worries, that what scissors are for).
* Then fill your pie with whatever you fancy!
* If making a top, repeat steps above, and unroll over your filling.
* If baking only the bottom, make sure to line with some pie weights/beans if baking before you add your filing (depending on the recipe).
* Then, pull the bottom dough over the top dough, and roll up to pie pan edge. You may need to cut some overhang to make everything even. There are so many different ways to decorate the edges. This honestly is not my forte. As you can see, I do the pinchy-sun looking thing, because it's pretty easy. Literally, just pinch together the edge of the dough between your thumb and pointer finger, and push from other interior of the pie crust with your other hands pointer finger.

* Cut little vents in the top. I also like to brush my pie crust with a little egg white or heavy cream, and then sprinkle with granulated sugar (although you may want to wait until about halfway through baking time for this, so the top doesn't get too brown).
* Important note: Before putting pie crust in the oven, you will always want to line the edges with foil. Remove the foil band when there is about 30 minutes left of cooking. The reason for this is that otherwise the edges will get much darker than the rest of the pie. No one wants burned edges!
* Baking time will depend on what you are using the crust for, and will likely want to refer to the recipe you are using for the filling.

~ Stay tuned for some fresh cherry pie, and as always, stay fresh!

Pie crust recipe adapted from here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rum & Coke Ribs

I made these ribs for the Fourth, and boy, were they bursting with flavor. The rum & coke offered the perfect pairing for sticky-sweetness, the hoisin gave a rich, soy-vinegary subtle sweet, and the Tabasco/garlic produced a note of heat with bite. When these ingredients cuddled up, they created a savory/umami, mouthwatering bite of succulent meat.

Whisk together the following (amount for one rack of ribs, portion accordingly):
* 1/2 cup rum
* 1 1/2 cups coke
* 3/4 cup ketchup
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 4 dashes Tabasco (or whatever pepper sauce you have on hand)
* 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
* Pour marinade over ribs (I used baby back) and marinate overnight (or at least 4 hours).
* Cook using whatever method you prefer (see "How To" for help).

Easy Sauce
* Reserve the extra marinade.
* Put marinade in sauce pan and heat on medium-high heat until it is reduced by about half, and has become a thicker, saucy consistency (make sure you are watching it, and whisking--so it doesn't burn).
* Serve with the ribs for some finger lickin' good!

Recipe adapted from here.

~ Stay fresh!

How To: Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs

I have decided to start a new "How To" series for my blog. The reason being so that all of you can access cooking technique tips (per the label), without having to search through other recipes. For example, this post will deal with cooking preparation of ribs, and my next post will be a recipe for a Rum & Coke marinade. Hopefully this will help you more easily find what you are looking for! (Let me know how you like the format).

Now, onto the good stuff...
I'm just throwing it out there--I love me some ribs. And seriously, what better than biting into the perfectly cooked rib, finding it to fall of the bone with ease, and nearly melting in your mouth. Oohwee! My favorite method to achieve this most wonderful sensation is by utilizing the oven and the grill. The oven helps for the perfect texture, and the grill gives the meat a soulful, smoky flavor.

Here's how it should go:
1) Flavor up your ribs using a marinade or a dry rub (whatever you prefer).
2) Place ribs on foiled baking sheet, and in oven at 350 F for 20 minutes per side.
3) Lower the temperature to 250 F, cover the ribs with foil by making a tent over the baking sheet, and then tucking the foil under the baking sheet (important that it is well sealed, or the marinade may burn), and continue cooking for about the next 2 hours.
4) To check the ribs- poke with a fork. If the meat is coming off the bone, you're good to go. If not, continue cooking at 250 F checking on every 15-20 minutes.
* The ribs by now should have the right texture.
4) For a nice charred, grilled flavor, place ribs on grill over direct flame for 5 minutes per side.

Enjoy perfection!

P.S. Does anyone else have a preferred cooking method? Please share the love if so!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quick & Easy Quinoa Salad

 After doing a quick once-over of my blog, I realized that the baked goods are starting to overwhelm my other offerings. Despite what has been shown thus far, I really love to cook. So, here's to some more savory coming your way!
On Quinoa (keen-wah)
You may not have heard of this new "it" superfood: quinoa. About a year ago, I hadn't heard of it either. But something happened, and it exploded on the culinary scene. Almost every grocery store I've been to lately has it stocked (HEB, Randalls, etc.), and I have been seeing more and more articles espousing it's wonderful benefits. So, what's the big deal?

Quinoa is the only grain-like crop that also serves as a protein (the edible part is actually seeds). Which is pretty amazing because you can cook it up like rice, oatmeal, or pasta, but you also get the powerful punch of protein. This is really great news for vegetarians, health nuts, or people wanting to try something new. It also contains several amino acids (like lysine), calcium, and iron. It was originally cultivated in South America, and was supposedly the sacred food of the Inca (maybe that's why they were so badass).

So jump on the bandwagon, head to your nearest store, and stock up. You should be able to find the red or white variety. I used the white variety, because I like the way it allows the colors of the vegetables to pop, and I think it has a slightly milder flavor than the red. But try both, and see what you prefer!

This upcoming recipe has been my favorite dish featuring quinoa I've made or eaten--by far. It's really tasty warm, room temperature, or cold. It's also versatile, and serves as a light dinner with some chips and salsa, or a small quesadilla, a go-to lunch item, or a dish to leave in the fridge and snack on for a few days. And as I'll mention below, it is a quick recipe to make, and easy to mix up depending what you have on hand.

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad

* 1 cup quinoa, rinsed (I hear it needs to be rinsed or it has a strange flavor)
* 2 cups water
* 1/2 cup red onion, diced
* 1 cup red or yellow bell pepper, diced
* 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
* Big handful of chopped cilantro (1/4-1/2 cup depending on your taste for it)
* 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
* 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2-3/4 teaspoon chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* Optional: 2 pinches cayenne pepper (if you like heat!)

* Optional: sliced avocado to serve on the side or diced avocado to mix in

(lime and avocado not pictured)


* Add 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water to a saucepan.
* Bring to a boil, and then cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes (until water is absorbed).
* While the quinoa is cooking, make your dressing by adding the lime juice, vinegar, EVOO, and spices to a large bowl.
* Whisk to combine.
* Then, slice and dice the vegetables and cilantro.
* When the quinoa is done cooking, fluff it with a fork.
* Add the quinoa and black beans to the vinaigrette (you will want to whisk the vinaigrette again if it's been a while, because the oil will start to separate).
* Mix in your chopped veggies, and then you may want to add a little more salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
* Serve warm or cold! Garnish with some cilantro or lime zest to make it look fancy.
* Note: I really love avocado, but was worried about it looking brown after a day or two, so I just mixed it in when I served the salad. The avocado adds a nice creaminess, and is a wonderful balance to the heat from the spices and zest of the lime.
Hope you guys see--and taste--that eating healthy can also be incredibly delicious!


* No bell pepper? Try your favorite tomato diced, or cherry and grape tomatoes halved instead.
* No red onion? Try yellow or sweet, or scallions instead.
* No red wine vinegar? Try white wine vinegar, apple cidar vinegar, or skip the vinegar all together, and add a little more lime juice or some lime zest.
* Spices- add more or less depending what you like, see what other mexican spices you have in your pantry also.
* Try adding some fresh corn to the recipe.

Leftover Ingredient Woes
* One thing I really hate is when I make a recipe, and then have something like half a red onion or half a bunch of cilantro left, when I don't really have anything on hand that I can utilize with those ingredients. If these are ingredients you typically would be clueless with, and don't want them to go to waste, try making some quesadillas or fajitas the week you make this recipe also. The leftover red onion would be delicious sauteed and added to either dish, and also garnished with the cilantro!

~Stay fresh!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peach-Raspberry Crisp

It's midsummer, and I'm already preparing myself for the perfect peach. Peaches tend to peak in August, so get ready for the somewhat firm, yet supply soft, velvety skin, the delicate aroma, and the succulent sweetness that this gorgeous stone fruit is waiting to offer.

Given my eternal obsession with berries (and their seasonal bounty), this next recipe is an all-time summer fave. The sweet, juicy peach balances the puckery-faced raspberry perfectly. Top that off with a buttery, crunchy crisp, and I'm ready to die happy. Just serve up with Bluebell's Homemade Vanilla (or whatever suits your fancy), kick your feet up, and let your worries slip away...

Peach-Raspberry Crisp

*8-10 peaches
* 1 small orange, zested (whenever you zest, make sure that you don't get any of the white part-- it's very bitter!)
* 1 lemon, juiced (or add a little zest, if you want more of a zip)
* 1 1/4 cup sugar
* 1 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1 1/2 cup flour, plus 2 more tablespoons
* 1 tablespoon corn starch (if don't have corn starch, increase flour amount)
* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 pint raspberries
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup quick oats
* 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter

Fruit Preparation
*Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9X12 baking dish (or something similar size).
** Okay, quick secret: I did not peel my peaches when I made this dish, and in fact, I really liked having the peel in there. Again, this is what the pros call "rustic" (this may seem like deja-vu if you read my tomato soup recipe). If you want to peel the peaches see **. If not, skip right on by.
** To Peel: Place peaches in boiling water. Take them out after less than a minute, and then immerse in very cold water (this ensures they don't continue cooking, and get all mushy). Peel the peaches by running your knife carefully along the side of the peach, and the skin should come off very easily.
* Slice the peaches into wedges (I do about 6 per peach), and place them in a large bowl.
* Add 1/4 cup of the sugar, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, as well as the corn starch, cinnamon, and zests.
* Stir carefully, coating the peaches.
* Then, even more carefully, mix in the raspberries.
* Let the mixture hang out for a few minutes, giving the sugars and such a chance to mingle with the fruit.
* Make sure the mixture isn't liquidy at this point (if so, add a little more flour or corn starch).
* Pour the mixture in the baking dish.

Crisp Topping
* Combine the 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 brown sugar (what should be remaining of these three ingredients), oatmeal, and salt.
* Then dice the cold butter and mix in.
* You can mix the butter in by using an electric mixer or with two forks. Using an electric mixer is a lot easier if you have one. Just pulse the ingredients together. If you have two forks, you wants to break up the butter into the rest of the ingredients until the butter is mixed throughout and coated (butter should be in pea-sized pieces and crumbly).
* When mixed, sprinkle on top of the fruit.
* Let bake for about an hour, and get ready to dig in:
(Okay, I know my photos aren't top-notch. I always get excited to eat, and then forget to take a picture of it looking all pretty in the bowl ready to serve. I promise to work on this!)

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten (I kinda love her, if you can't tell)

Prefer peach cobbler?
Try this. Like my raspberry addition? Mix and match. Prepare the fruit preparation from my recipe, and add the cobbler topping from Paula's!

~Stay fresh, friends!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Polenta Cornbread

(photo courtesy of the WSJ, see the link below)

Alright, so I'm taking a little break from the tomatoes to give you a southern classic that will pair nicely with that fresh tomato soup you just whipped up. That's right, it's cornbread!

A few days before the Fourth, I received this link from Erik (hint hint, nudge nudge). And when I came to the Polenta Cornbread I was definitely intrigued. Does this recipe seriously suggest boiling and pureeing the corn yourself? Yes, indeed. All the cornbread recipes I had tried previously just called for cornmeal and flour (and the like), so this was quite the head turner for a freshster such as myself. And I have to admit, I was scared. It sounded like wayyy too much work, and I already had a full plate for the Fourth (ribs and peach crisp on deck). However, I gritted my teeth, woke up early Monday morning, and went to work. And I am happy to report that it really wasn't worth any anxiety. It was simple, and it came out so fantastically. So, voila:

Polenta Cornbread (with a kick)

* 4 fresh corn cobs (get the freshest, most delicious corn you can find! The sweet flavor of the corn makes this recipe)
* 2 cups flour
* 1 cup polenta (not the precooked stuff in a tube, you should be able to find the corn meal in a box at any well-stocked grocery store)
* 2 tablespoons baking powder
* 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper (freshly ground is always preferred)
* 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
* 1-2 poblano peppers, chopped, with ribs and seeds removed (anaheim works too)
* 2 cups water
* Optional: 1 small jalapeno chopped (ribs and seeds removed unless you like it hot, hot, hot)
* Butter (duh)

* Boil 4 fresh corn cobs, husks and such removed, for 20 minutes (did I mention it's also the season for corn? I got some fantastic Georgia sweet corn from the new Whole Foods on Waugh!)
* Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
* Remove the corn kernels, setting aside 1 cup.
* Put the rest of the kernels in a blender and puree.
* In a large bowl, mix together the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, and pepper.
* Then, stir in the brown sugar, the chiles (and jalapeno if you so desire), the corn puree, the corn, and the water.
* Butter two 8X4 inch pans (or as you can see from my pictures, I just used pie pans because my 8X4's disappeared).
* Distribute the batter evenly between the pans.
* Let the batter rest for 20 minutes (Do you really need to do this? I was skeptical myself, until I found out why).
(happy, resting cornbread batter -- and yes, it is very thick!)

* Place the pans in a baking dish filled halfway with water, and then place in the oven (Again, why? The moisture the water bath provides gives this cornbread a really scumptious texture).
* Bake for 50 minutes-1 hour.
* Remove the water pan, and continue cooking the cornbread (cover the top with foil), for about another 20-30 minutes.
* Let cool for a few minutes, then remove by inverting onto your serving dish. Serve with lots of butter (and honey, if you're looking to bring out the sweetness).

Now, enjoy the sweet, slightly spicy, and soul-soothing experience that is cornbread!

The People Have Spoken
I have been asked for some simpler recipes. If this whole boiling the corn business is just not your thing (although I say, "Have no fear!"), here are some other really great homemade varieties:

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Honey Cornbread Muffins

* Yes, I love the Food Network's website because the recipes are rated and reviewed, and it is super user-friendly.

Also, Joy of Cooking has some fabulous cornbread tips, and a good looking Southern Corn Bread recipe (p. 632), but if you don't own a copy, let me know, and I can scan the page for ya!

~ Stay fresh!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fresh Tomato Soup

Now that I have championed the virtue of the tomato, here is your perfect opportunity to showcase it in one of it's purist forms. If you haven't had fresh tomato soup, then you sure are missing out. The stuff in the can may be acceptable if you're trapped in a blizzard (perhaps), but aside from that, it's really just a crying shame--especially considering how delicious and easy the alternative is. So check it out.

* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large chopped red onion (approximately 2 cups)
* 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
* 4 cloves garlic, minced
* 7 large tomatoes (preference: vine-ripened; the tomato is the star- so make sure the tomatoes are of the best quality!)
* 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
* 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (plus some julienned to garnish)
* 4 cups chicken stock (to get really fresh, try this)
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper
* 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* Optional: 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (heat seekers only)
* Optional: 3/4 c heavy cream or half and half (I just like to add a splash of milk to my bowl to lighten it up for the summer)

* Gather ingredients (as usual)
* Optional step: Peel the tomatoes. When I make this soup, I usually leave the skin on (so far it's just been for me, the fam, or roommates). Whenever you take such short-cuts, just call the recipe "rustic" (works like a charm). But, if you are making this for someone fancy, you may want to take the time to take the peel off (otherwise you will get little bits of peel in the soup). All you need to do is take out the stem, make an "X" with your knife on the bottom off the tomato, and drop it in some boiling water for say a minute (just enough time for the skin to start lifting off the tomato). When you fish the tomato out of the boiling water, drop it in an ice bath (this keeps it from continuing to cook). If you are a visual person, check this how to video, by clicking on this link, scroll over one arrow, and select "tomato skin removal". There are also some other really awesome videos about tomatoes at that site!
* Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
* When the oil is warm, add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender (approximately 10-15 minutes).
* Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two (you may want to reduce the heat a little if your pot is getting very hot--it's very important not to burn the garlic!)
* Stir in the next 7-8 ingredients (through sugar, or cayenne pepper if you dare).
* Bring the soup to a full boil. Then, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30-40 minutes (uncovered).
* Here is what it should look like (sorry about the picture quality):
* After this point, if you want a really "rustic" soup, go ahead and enjoy (add some cream if you wish). I like it smooth, and the easiest way to achieve that is by using an immersion blender. My dad says he uses a food processor or blender and it works just fine, but that's going to be a lot messier. The immersion blender is super easy, and definitely worth it if you like blended soups.
* So, I blended mine, added a splash of milk, and here's what I got:

Serve garnished with some fresh julienned basil. It may not look like much, but this soup is brimming with intensely fresh flavors, and it is now one of my all-time favorite soups. I promise, this recipe will exceed your tomato soup standards by far!

* Note: This recipe makes about 8-10 servings. I like having this much because it just gets tastier the longer it sits and the flavors marry (and it makes for some super simple weeknight dinners- make this on the weekend, and then serve later with some quick grilled cheeses). However, you can always half the recipe if you just want to try it out!
* Recipe adapted from Ina Garten.

~Stay fresh!

Tomatoe, Tomahtoe

Fruit or vegetable? Why bother?! The peak of the season is coming up (late July), so now is the time to enjoy some tomato goodness without care. So go pick all the vine-ripened, roma, heirloom, beefsteak, cherry, grape, yellow, green, plum, or campari that your hearts desire!

(vine-ripened and roma pictured)

Why is seasonal such a big deal?
* Because that means the tomatoes are perfect for the picking. I know it might sound a little crazy to talk about such things as "season" when you can pretty much get whatever you want year-round. Well, you can't get the BEST year round. The reason being that seasonal produce is what the farmers are actually growing in your area based on the soil and climate. That means that the produce is more nutritious, and it tastes better! Not to mention, there will be a larger supply of that produce, driving down prices for you!

Which means it is the perfect time to create and enjoy such treats as:
* Salsa (see previous post)
* Gazpacho
* Marinara (or any other tomato based sauce)
* Stuffed tomatoes
* Tomato soup (coming up!)
* BLTs
* Tomato salad (favorite: caprese)
* Ratatouille
* Tomato pies and tarts
* Or simply slice, and hit with some s&p action!

Tomato Tips
* When storing tomatoes, lay flat on a tray if possible. If they're stacked, they tend to go bad quicker.
* Don't store in the fridge before their ripe; leave them out on the counter! Don't believe me? Put a tomato in the fridge and one on the counter. Try each the next day. The one in the fridge (especially if it's been there a few days) will taste mealy, and the flavor will be non-existent.

Good News for People Who Love Good News
* Tomatoes contain lycopene, a totally awesome antioxidant! It's no coincidence that the most succulent summer treat helps ward off certain types of cancer, AND has also been shown to help skin's ability to protect against harmful UV rays!

Voice of the People
* I have a tomato soup recipe coming up, but was wondering what other tomato recipes people were interested in?? Please post below and let me know! Also, if you have some tomato-inspired recipes of your own, please share! :)