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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five-Fingered Dating

Over lunch today, after I amused a friend with my latest adventures in dating, he suggested I try his approach: Five-Fingered Dating.

At first I recoiled, thinking it sounded a bit like an infamous Woody Allen quote or a fraternity hazing prank. (Old connotations die hard.) Then he explained. I thought it seemed so clever, I couldn't believe he hadn't patented his approach. He assured me it worked to great success when he found his wife. Now in his mid-50s, and still happily married, he doesn't have much use for it anymore, so he was glad to share it.

Here's how it goes:

Take each of the five fingers on one hand, and assign every one an activity you think you'd like to do with your future mate: dancing, tennis, jogging, hiking, movies, antiquing, watching football, spitting watermelon seeds, spelunking, etc. Then find five people of the opposite sex with whom you can do one of those activites -- just as friends. Keep looking for more people -- again, just friends, no hanky panky -- to add to each finger. (OK, yeah, I realize the metaphor seems a little weird, but just hang with me.)

If you keep focusing on finding fun people with whom you can do the things you enjoy, eventually you'll discover some people can fit on multiple fingers. Keep it clean, focus on friendship, and see where it goes. In the worst case, you'll be doing things you enjoy anyway.

I thought this was clever and intriguing. So, I have picked my five activities that I would like to do with MFH (my future husband -- as any student of CSS knows, we Smith girls love to use initials):
  1. Trying new restaurants -- especially random, hidden ethnic eateries.
  2. Tasting wine (hmm, could this present challenges in the "keeping it PG" department?)
  3. Watching thought-provoking movies worthy of discussion (does not include blast 'em blockbusters)
  4. Reading and discussing interesting books
  5. Hiking, jogging and tennis (too broad? I could not pick just one)
 What do you think? Should I try it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Consider the Source

East Fork Farm
“Outstanding in the Field” aims to put people in touch with their food source … in a delicious and meaningful way

By Page Leggett
We were pilgrims, really.

All 120 or so of us were, at some level, interested in the burgeoning locavore movement. We had traveled, some of us, for hours to reach this hilltop outside Asheville, N.C., where the farmers who raised and harvested our dinner would greet us. Where the chef would see, up close, how happy he had made us all through the simple, yet miraculous, act of preparing a meal.

We had assembled on Sunday, Sept. 19 at East Fork Farm in Marshall for one of just two Outstanding in the Field farm dinners in North Carolina this year. We had convened to have an al fresco dinner on the farm, see where our food had been grown and raised and meet the people who raised and harvested it.

Chef Jim Denevan began staging these “at the source” dinners at organic farms around his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif. in 1999. His idea was simple, but groundbreaking. According to the website, he wanted people “to dine at the source on the very soil that nourished the bounty on the plate, in the company of the farmers who cultivated it.”

He found he was onto something. Diners loved meeting the people who raised their food. Farmers were humbled by the appreciation they were shown. So, Denevan set out to spread the gospel of eating locally and organically.

Denevan was there in Marshall, and oh, how he adds to the ambience. Tall, tan, movie star handsome and always in his trademark cowboy hat, he casts quite a spell. He and a small staff travel the country for much of the year, by bus, tending to the smallest details of these dinners.

When we first arrived at the farm – which was so perfectly pastoral, it looked like a movie set – we were greeted by trays of smoked trout rillettes (with trout caught from the very pond we were overlooking) and chevre and chive crostini with red pearl tomatoes. Our apps were paired with an Alain Patriarche Aligote, Bourgogne (2008). I don’t know what any of that means, but it sure was tasty.

After our happy hour and brief lesson in sustainable agriculture, our group descended the hill where the Outstanding in the Field table awaited. The white tablecloth looked even whiter against the very green (literally and metaphorically) surroundings. The tablescape got even more interesting once each diner set his or her own plate down at the table. It’s Outstanding in the Field tradition to bring a plate with you to dinner as your contribution.

Dinner is served family style, which is appropriate for such a convivial occasion. A different wine – all organic – is poured with each course.

Chef William Dissen of The Market Place in downtown Asheville was the culinary magician who brought this all to life in a field. (Outstanding in the Field selects a farmer and chef to partner with them to pull off this feat.) The Market Place is known in the area for sourcing local ingredients and doing wondrous things with them.

Now, in this setting, we probably could have ordered take-out pizza, and it would have tasted sublime. But, oh, what a meal!

Wild mushroom tarts with mountain basil were served along with a salad of mesclun greens, roasted beet vinaigrette and organic radishes. Next came a grilled leg of lamb served with tomato jam (from a Mason jar) and a delicious improvement on succotash – edamame with silver queen corn and sweet peppers.

Rabbit gumbo was made with okra, fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and crispy Vidalia onions sprinkled on top.

We hardly noticed that it had gotten dark. But suddenly, dessert was being served by candlelight. Slices of buttery pound cake were offered along with fresh local blueberries and lemon cr̬me fraiche. We washed it down with a concoction that reminded me of a Bellini Рbut even better. This bubbly cantaloupe cocktail was made with Cremante de Bourgogne, sourwood honey and fleur de sel. The perfect combination of sweet and savory.

We didn’t want the night to end; we left the farm reluctantly. Comfortably full, giddy and nourished ... in every sense of the word. Pilgrims who had come to a place that felt holy and were ready to share the truth: We need to know and feel good about where our food comes from.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scotty's Stuffed Shells

Tonight...a special guest feature. Celebrity chef Scotty Charneco, live from Arlington, Va., with stuffed shells. 

Step 1: Boil water and prepare jumbo shells as directed on package (we recommend Barilla).

Step 2: Mix together: 1 16 oz. container ricotta cheese, 1 bag of parmesan, 1 1/2 bags mozzarella, 2 eggs (beaten), fresh washed baby spinach (optional). 

Step 3: Stuff shells with cheese mixture and place in Pyrex baking dish.

Step 4: Boil 4 large tomatoes in water for 20 minutes. Drain water, peel and core. Add tomatoes to blender or Cuisinart and puree until soup consistency. Add 1/4 cup vodka, salt, sugar and pepper to taste. 

Step 5: Finely chop onion and three cloves garlic. Sautee in olive oil over low heat. 

Step 6: Add garlic and onion to tomato sauce; pour over shells. 

Step 7: Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 until bubbly. 

To complete the meal, serve with a tossed salad (strawberries, mixed greens, almonds and vinaigrette (olive oil, lemon juice, sugar and dijon mustard)).

Enjoy with friends! 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Farewell, Roomie!

Tonight is Leigh Ann's last night in my humble abode. Tomorrow she closes on her new house. We are watching Bachelor Pad online on the porch with the windows open. And she is -- GET THIS -- polishing my silver while I heat up our dessert!

I will miss her.

Anyway, LA says she was the victim of false advertising in this living arrangement, claiming that I did not cook dinner for her NEARLY AS OFTEN as she was led to believe by my cooking posts. But she says I redeemed myself tonight! I made Pasta with Shrimp and Cilantro-Lime Pesto from the July issue of Bon Appetit. We both agree it is a keeper. Helpful hints to follow the recipe. Makes 4 servings.

1 1/4 cups (packed) fresh cilantro leaves, plus 1/4 cup chopped
1/4 cup (scant) chopped green onions
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon chopped seeded jalapeno chile
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound linguine
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
3 tablespoons tequila
1/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese or feta cheese

Blend 1 1/4 cups cilantro leaves and next 4 ingredients in processor until coarse puree forms. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil. Season generously with salt. Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Cook linguine in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook until almost opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; add tequila. Return skillet to heat and stir until sauce is syrupy, about 30 seconds. Add pesto; stir to coat. Remove from heat.

Add pasta to sauce in skillet; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide past and shrimp among 4 plates. Sprinkle cheese and chopped cilantro over and serve. (Adapted from Tejas Texas Grill & Saloon in Hermantown, Minnesota.)

Notes from moi: This would be a super-easy weeknight supper if you made the pesto in advance. You can even get frozen shrimp and defrost them in the fridge the day you want to make it. Then it would be super simple to put together when you get home from work. LA and I both thought it was so fresh and tasty -- though she thought I had a bit too much jalapeno. I used some jalapeno pickles and just chopped them up (with seeds); they keep in the fridge so much more efficiently than buying fresh ones.

For dessert, we had ice cream sundaes with warmed caramel icing.

I made a sour cream pound cake with caramel icing for a program at church last night, using Ranie's Aunt Linda's famous recipe. I put the leftover icing in a Tupperware and heated it back up on the stove so it was warm and saucy. We toasted some pecans and sprinkled it all with kosher salt. Scrumptious!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Purple Cow for Grown-ups

My supper club met last night for the first time in a while. We've been a bit off schedule since a few babies joined us this year.

We have been meeting for about six years, so we have a pretty good routine. The hostess makes the main dish and supplies the wine. The rest of us fill in with sides and dessert depending on who is hosting.

Last night we were at Kathy's, so I was on dessert duty. She made a fabulous roast chicken for the main course; it came with roasted onions and tomatoes. Amy made some tasty mac and cheese with shallots and bacon. Anne made some Provencal Summer Vegetables that I definitely plan to make myself. It was a lovely plate, and everything was so tasty!

My dessert was Raspberry Beer Floats with Raspberry Granita from Bon Appetit. When I was little, my mom always made Coke floats for our slumber parties, and sometimes we made a Purple Cow: a Coke float with grape soda. I decided these were Purple Cows for grown-ups. A little tangier than I expected at first, but really refreshing. As the recipe noted, it would be perfect for an outdoor party on a warm night.

1 750 ml bottle chilled Belgian raspberry beer (framboise lambic)
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
Premium vanilla ice cream

Mix 1 cup beer and 1 tablespoon sugar in glass pie dish; stir to dissolve. Freeze until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Boil 1 cup beer with 2 tablespoons sugar in heavy small saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Chill syrup until cold. Chill remaining beer.

Using fork, scrape granita into flakes. Spoon ice cream into 4 small glasses; drizzle syrup over. Top with granita; pour more beer down the inside of each glass.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Orzo with Creamed Corn Sauce

As you may recall, creamed corn is one of my favorite decadent summer dishes. Yes, it's fattening. I do not care. It is seasonal, people! I only make it a few times a summer, and I love making this variation. It combines a starchy vegetable and a starchy grain and a lot of fat -- what is not to like?

I got this from Bon Appetit a few years ago. And it's apparently not on their website anymore, so you can thank  me later. It is perfect paired with that barbecue salmon I told you about last week! Mix up a quick caprese salad with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, and you're set. It was a hit when I served that very menu to some dear friends last night.

Orzo with Creamed Corn Sauce
4 servings. As creamy and comforting as risotto, this pasta dish is filled with rich corn flavor.

2/3 cup orzo (about 5 ounces)
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
2 ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs, divided (1 cob reserved)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped leek (white part only)
3 tablespoons dry white wine
Chopped fresh chives

Cook orzo in large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Meanwhile, place cream, half of corn kernels, and reserved cob in heavy medium saucepan. Boil over medium heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Discard cob; puree sauce in blender until smooth.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leek and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add wine and simmer until almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Add remaining corn kernels and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add creamed corn sauce and cooked orzo. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

Note from me: You really cannot screw this up. I added a little too much cream, cooked all the corn in the cream and didn't puree the sauce, used vidalias instead of leeks, skipped the chives, and it was still absolutely scrumptious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Powers Family Tomato Pie

There's nothing better than making delicious food that transports fond memories. This one is a great example.

My friend Peggy invited me to spend New Year's weekend with her cousins at their family beach home on Bald Head Island. The house is full of stories and memories because it was actually one of the first homes on the island. It had to be relocated to a new spot in recent years because severe erosion had threatened the original location.

Even though it was a cold winter weekend, the Powers cousins celebrated the start of 2010 by making their traditional beach house treat: tomato pie. Sure, it might be a little tastier with fresh, ripe summer tomatoes, but even on that cold night, it was a delicious complement to our holiday dinner. I loved the idea that good food isn't simply seasonal -- there are certain things you just love to make in certain places.

Here's the pie recipe as Peggy e-mailed it to me this summer, after she made it for our creamed corn and barbecue feast:

Cook the pie crust by itself for 5 minutes on 400 or until it just starts to turn golden brown. Then you just do a layer of sliced mozzarella cheese on the bottom, and sliced tomatoes and basil on top. I buried most of the basil under the tomatoes but left some on top. I also sprinkled it with sea salt and cracked pepper. Bake on 350 until the cheese melts, tomatoes get soft, and it looks yummy.

Oops, I forgot to take a photo of the finished product because I was too busy eating it!