Sunday, March 22, 2015

True Grits

So about a month ago, I was at a fantastic talk on craft distilling at the American History Museum. While there, I met Sam and Steve, who work at the gristmill and distillery at historic Mount Vernon. We got to talking about whiskey and cornmeal, and I told them about the 5th grade FoodPrints lesson I recently taught about food and the early American colonists. (Okay, so my 5th grade classes did NOT include a whiskey discussion, but we did grind our own flour for making waffles, and did shake cream into homemade butter. I kept hoping that nobody would ask what settlers used all of those inedible apples for....)

About a cocktail and a half into our museum chat, I found myself kindly invited out to see the mill and distillery in action. So last weekend, I went. My fellow Slow Food DC board members oohed and ahhed, as I did, at local grain being ground by a giant water wheel contraption and our first president's whiskey recipe being made at the (ahem, only legal) woodfire-powered distillery. We even got to sample some of the rare rye whiskey. (Don't worry, I wasn't driving.)



I was beside myself when Sam handed me a bag of the pancake mix (that Steve had raved about), a bag of cornmeal (also roundly praised), and, my favorite, a bag of stone ground grits. I used the cornmeal to make a batch of cornbread with 5th graders this past Friday, and then whipped up another batch of cornbread for our Slow Food DC annual potluck yesterday -- both were delightedly devoured, and the slow foodies remarked on the lovely flavor and texture. But let me tell you what I've been daydreaming about for the past 36 hours: the DELICIOUS shrimp and grits I made for a dinner party with my friends Sheffy, Aimee, and Griffin on Friday night. Oh, lord, it was a good meal. For your mouth-watering pleasure, I offer you this recipe, adapted from Saveur....

Irresistible Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients

  • 1 cup George Washington's Gristmill grits (seriously, they're the best!)
  • 4½ cups chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp (about 30), peeled and deveined
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1-2 handfuls shiitake mushrooms, washed, patted dry, then thinly sliced (I like the ones from North Cove Mushrooms, at the Dupont farmers' market)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar
  • ¼ cup freshly shaved parmesan
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced


Directions

In a medium cast iron pot, bring 4 cups chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and whisk in grits. Cook, whisking frequently, until grits are tender and creamy, 30–40 minutes. Open the wine....

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium/large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate; set aside. Reserve cooking fat in skillet.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, add shrimp to skillet and cook, turning once, until bright pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a dish that you can keep warm in a 200F oven. It's probably time to get another glass of wine....

Lower burner heat to medium, then add mushrooms to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 5 minutes), then add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

Raise heat to high, add remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth, and scrape bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon. Cook until broth reduces by half (about 3 minutes).

Return shrimp to skillet along with remaining butter and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, (about 1 minute).

Stir 1 TBSP butter into grits, along with parmesan. Sprinkle cheddar on top, then use a blowtorch (if you're Griffin) or a creme brulee torch (if you're fainthearted like me) to melt the cheese. Have a fire extinguisher nearby. And make sure at least one person is sober enough to use it.

Divide grits between 4 bowls; top each with shrimp and sauce. Garnish each bowl with bacon and scallions. You can also have lemon wedges and hot sauce for garnishes, but I forgot those. (I blame the delicious wine Sheffy and his wife brought.)

I've yet to try out the pancake mix -- haven't had an overnight guest in a number of months, and haven't had a pancake-worthy one in longer than that -- but maybe I'll bring some with me when I head to Charlottesville to visit friends and family in a few weeks. Seriously, who wouldn't love a guest who brings her own pancake mix?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Judith and Julia

Last night, I went to a another delightfully entertaining panel at the American History Museum -- part of their Food-focused After Hours series. This installment featured food history writers Alex Prud'homme and Sara Franklin as they discussed the renewal of American regional food culture after Julia Child's debut as The French Chef.

A self-identified foodie, I hadn't realized until this talk how little I knew about Julia Child, and I was surprised to recognize myself among the younger generation of folks who had come to learn about the joyful and daring food celebrity primarily through the book (and later movie) Julia and Julia. Okay, admittedly I cannot resist Meryl Streep in anything, so of course I would love her take on Julia, but I wondered: how accurate was her portrayal? Pretty accurate, it turns out. Julia was enamored with all things food, I knew, but until last night I had no idea that this ranged from a broad range of foreign delicacies to American regional specialties to the latest kitchen gadgets. What J&J didn't show was Julia's -- and Judith's -- interest in regional home cooking and the stories behind the food. Did you know that Julia had worked on a TV series about food prepared in the original American colonies? The series never aired, but I can only imagine the history, and no doubt the hilarity, that might have come about had Thirteen Feasts for Thirteen Colonies ever transpired. (And, professionally speaking, I would have loved to use some of the recipes in my FoodPrints lessons on colonial food traditions. Alas.)

Starting in the late 1960s, it seems, food luminaries including Julia Child and her editor Judith Jones, along with James Beard and others, began to look away from Europe and toward their own country for inspiration, exploring the rich heritage of American regional cooking with a new sense of appreciation and curiosity. It was the birth of the Farm to Table movement. Who knew? Judith especially was captivated by the DIY cooking (and everything else) culture, was intrigued by regional food cultures across the U.S., and was a vehement opponent of processed foods. Sounds like my kind of lady.

After the talk itself, we were free to wander through the museum's recreation of Julia's kitchen, which was fascinating, and nibble on a variety of tasty vittles based on recipes from famous cookbooks including the oft-cited Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What a lovely -- and informative -- evening! I came away with a few additions to my goodreads list, including the Taste of Country Cookbook, which was edited by Judith Jones, and My Life in France, co-written by Alex P-H and Julia about her self-described period of the "awakening of the senses" in the early 60s. Looks like I have my summer reading list started...if summer ever gets here!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Seasonal eclectic disorder

Ah, another snow day. What to do? Laundry? Check. Clean kitchen? Done. Watch Downton Abbey on Netflix? Waiting on the mailman. Breakfast #2? Eaten. Catching snowflakes on tongue while running errands? Completed. It's been a busy morning. And it's after 5pm somewhere in the world: time for a cocktail!

I do like the frou-frou drinks, especially since trying to limit my gluten intake -- oh, beer, how I miss you! -- and discovering that the mixed drinks in my neighborhood are not what one would call inexpensive. Delicious, yes, and often creative, but not so gentle on the wallet.

Now, I do not purport to be a mixologist, but every so often I hit on a good experiment. This afternoon was one of those times. Inspired by the fresh mint I had leftover from yesterday's chard tabbouleh wrap making class, the blackberries in my produce drawer (see, I'm not a local, seasonal purist after all), and bourbon giving me the eye from the liquor shelf in my freshly cleaned kitchen, I was thinking about some kind of smash. Then I remembered having blackberry smashes over the summer with some teaching colleagues and a debate sparking about what, precisely, a smash was (besides delicious). According to imbibemagazine.com:

"Like many cocktails, the question of the smash’s exact definition is a question of semantics. The smash is an open-ended cocktail, freely variable and seasonally flexible. There must be ice, though you may strain it out if you prefer. There should be fruit in season, though you may use it simply as a garnish. There should be a spirit base, though you may use your spirit of choice. Mint is a classic choice, though many other herbs can work. You may want to water your smash down a little or add a spritz of seltzer. At its heart, the smash is a wonderfully forgiving and flexible drink, made for hot days, for using what’s on hand and for smashing it all together over ice for pure sipping bliss."

Sounds fairly straightforward. And open to interpretation....

Sure, it's more of a warm weather drink, but I'm getting a little tired of hot toddies. Should you be so inclined for a taste of summertime, I offer you this latest recipe:

Winter Wonderland Blackberry Smash

Ingredients


  • 1 small handful fresh blackberries (or thawed frozen ones)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 shot bourbon
  • 1/4 tsp pomegranate syrup (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup packed fresh snow (make sure it's white because, you know....)
  • seltzer
  • 1 sprig fresh mint
  • 1 large slice of fresh lemon squeezed in at the end, if your drink is missing a little j'en est c'est quoi. (Thank you, creativeculinary,com, for that good suggestion, saving my drink from mediocrity.)

Directions
In a pint jar or sturdy glass, mash blackberries and sugar together with a fork.

Add bourbon and pomegranate syrup (if using -- I only did because I'm trying to use it up so I have a small jar for another culinary project, but it was a nice, tart addition).

While these flavors marinate for a few minutes, scamper outside to scoop up some snow. Add it to your mixture and top off the glass with cold seltzer.

Squeeze in lemon, then stir it all up with a mint sprig (or smash the mint with the blackberries in step 1).

Voila: happy summer-in-winter!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lady donuts

This recipe for churros, adapted from the How to Cook That blog, is an instant favorite. It was so fun to watch Jenn and Alison drizzle the batter into fun curlicues for our Galentine's Day brunch in Brooklyn this morning. I had the infinitely important job of cinnamon sugar coating and taste testing our funnelcake-like creations, which we eventually dubbed "lady donuts" (for their delicate elegance). Cronuts, get ready for the next big pastry craze....

Ingredients

1 cup water
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablepoon of vanilla
Canola oil to fry in
Cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Directions

Melt the butter and the water in a saucepan.

Add the flour stirring continuously. Keep stirring over the heat until the mixture thickens and clumps together into a smooth 'ball'. (Kinda like profiterole dough, if that helps.)

Remove form the heat and stir in the eggs one at a time and watch your dough turn a lovely buttery yellow color.

Add the vanilla and sugar and mix til combined and creamy.

Spoon batter into a piping bag (aka ziploc bag with a small hole cut into one corner).

Heat the oil til a small piece of bread dropped in turns golden after about 20 seconds. Fish out bread tester.

Pipe churros batter straight into the hot oil. Use you fingers, scissors, or a knife to break off the batter when it is the required length. Jenn made some pretty shapes....

Once the curlicues are lightly browned, use tongs to lift them out and put onto a plate covered with some paper towels to drain. (Yes, one of the few times I will concede that paper towels are necessary - mark your calendar.)

Quickly toss them one at a time in a cinnamon sugar mix (1 part cinnamon to @ 10 parts sugar) and place in a pretty bowl.

Delish!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pancakes for one

I don't understand how people overeat when they're depressed. In my experience, breakups are Nature's appetite suppressants.

Cooking for one? What's the
pointSo much about the eating experience for me is about *sharing* meals and conversation, about nurturing those I care about with wholesome and delicious dishes. How many times this week have I opened the fridge and been completely disinterested? Who am I going to share good food and scintillating conversation with now that yet another relationship has tanked? My houseplants? The worm bin residents? My bicycle? Bah. Looks like cheese and crackers for dinner again. (It's a good thing I've had lots of cooking classes to teach, else I'd have wasted away altogether: who can resist sampling mashed sweet potatoes with maple syrup and garden thyme prepared by 2nd graders, or beet and apple salad hand-grated by 4th graders, or spicy kale chips baked by middle schoolers? Not me. It may be significantly more lonely in my apartment these days, but thanks to my students at least I'm managing to get some good food in me a few times a day during the school week.)

The most depressing meal to prepare and eat alone, I've decided, is not dinner (partly because it's socially acceptable to have a couple glasses of wine during dinner) but weekend breakfast. You know, that time when one lazes around a bit in bed, snuggling and maybe dozing awhile before putting on some espresso and bustling about the kitchen to assemble a little something tasty for two. And then sometimes heading back to bed? That's the time I'm talking about, when loneliness is the most stark. Well, I'm tired of feeling sad. And today, for the first time in a week, I woke up hungry. So this morning, since I had minimal supplies around -- I am less motivated to buy food when self pity hits, too -- I decided to try a recipe my friend Carina had mentioned to me a few days ago: 2-Ingredient Pancakes. I had both ingredients and somehow this morning the idea of making pancakes for one seemed less pathetic than it did last weekend. Maybe it was the unexpected sunshine pouring through my bedroom window when I awoke. Maybe it was the fun time I spent with my dear friend Quynh last night. Maybe I'm starting to heal. Whatever the reason, the result was delicious and I devoured the whole plateful myself. And so, dear readers, single and otherwise, I offer you my adaptation of:

Flourless Banana Pancakes for One
Makes about 3 pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium, ripe banana
  • 1 large egg (or probably two small ones would work, and yield an extra flapjack)
  • 1 pinch baking powder
  • 1 large pinch ground cinnamon
  • butter

Directions
  1. Heat a skillet on the stovetop to medium heat.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, mash banana well with a fork. (There can be small lumps, but you don't want big banana globs or it will be weird.)
  3. Mix in the egg, then baking powder and cinnamon.
  4. When pan is hot, add a small pat of butter, which will melt and coat the bottom of the pan.
  5. Pour a Tablespoon or so of batter into the pan and cook your awesome little pancake until the bottom appears set (20-30 seconds, when you see a couple small bubbles pop on top), then flip with spatula and cook another 10 seconds or so til cooked through, but not burnt.
  6. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm with butter and syrup.

I suspect this recipe scales up just fine, but it is handy to have a 2-ingredient, 3-pancake recipe around.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Squeaky clean


When folks hear that I biked around the country, some get the misguided impression that I'm some sort of crackerjack bike mechanic. Those of you who have been following the blog for a little while probably know otherwise. This year, feeling a little bit extravagant, I decided to take Ollie in for her first professional tune-up. After all, she'd be a solid sidekick for close to six years now. She deserved a good deep cleaning of the drivetrain, new cables and housing, non-ratty bar tape and handlebar hoods. In short: the works. (Okay, maybe some of this extravagance was brought on by the fact that the bike shop was having a half-price winter service special, but my steady Ollie has needed some serious TLC for a little while now, as evidenced by the fraying brake cables, missing screws, and squeaking crankshaft.)

It'd been three weeks since I left my dear two-wheeled partner in the shop, and I must say that when I picked her up from The Bike Rack yesterday, she looked beautiful. Now let's see if that persistent squeak in the pedals remains....

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Floridian foraging

This winter, after a trip even further north to visit friends in Connecticut, Vermont, and Canada, after Christmas, I was fortunate to head south at last with one of my oldest and dearest friends. The least expensive flights we could find were to Florida, and though Becky and I were both leery of the proliferation of pastel shorts and mobile homes, we could not resist the chance to be in a warm, sunny climate for a week. So we went.

After numerous flight delays and some misadventures with our first airbnb rental, we settled into things: long walks on the beach, cooking lots of fish and gorging ourselves on citrus, kayaking. On one of our final days in the Keys, as we headed out to run a couple of errands, Becky spied some low-growing banana trees. Sure, they were clearly on the edge of someone's yard, but c'mon, they weren't going to eat all of those... I kept an eye out for angry neighbors while Becky braved the potentially-tarantula-laden bunch to glean a few ripe ones for us to nibble on.


The next day, after a couple hours of pretty intense kayaking around the mangroves, narrowly avoiding getting pooped on by the many pelicans and cormorants and managing not to get stung by a beautiful but deadly Portuguese man-of-war, we noticed what appeared to be some ripe coconuts in the palms near where we'd pulled in. I was thirsty and they looked delicious. After some misguided attempts trying to climb the trees, then equally ineffective efforts to knock the coconuts out of the tree with some large rocks and chunks of wood -- most of which ended up perched high up in the branches next to the irresistible looking coconuts -- we hit on a foolproof strategy: using our paddles to knock the delicious treenuts down.

Success! And then, Lord of the Flies style, I smashed them against a nearby concrete slab. In the end, though the meat inside was not yet edible, we guzzled two green coconuts' worth of fortifying liquid and left the rest for the birds and lizards to feast on.

And vultures, apparently, though I didn't realize they were so abundant until we made our way to the Everglades on the last day of the trip....