Monday, May 31, 2010

And I ran. I ran slightly far away.


After my graceful encounter with a tree root back in March, I had been out of commission for a few months.

Well, "out of commission" may be a small stretch.  I've been able to walk, skip, try my hand at double dutch and familiarize myself with the choreography from Janet Jackson's "If" video.  All with limited mobility, of course.

But running?  Out of the question.  Laziness may also have had something to do with it but that's an issue I'll address at a never time.

Eventually, this "ailment" started to catch up with me.  Once I realized that I couldn't sit comfortably at my desk without undoing the top button of my work pants, I knew it was time to make some moves.

So what did I do?  I ran.

I ran to the end of the road.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County.  And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama.  And that's what I did.

I ran clear across Alabama. 

Forrest Gump quote aside, Berry White and I decided to get off the sectional and go running this weekend.  Twice!  I'm really hoping it's something we can maintain, even as the 90 degree days become more consistent.  I feel good.  James Brown good.

A healthy change calls for a healthy (well, healthier than usual) treat.


Strawberry and Mascarpone Granita
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

Here's what you'll need:


1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 Tablespoon
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
2 cups strawberries, chopped
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
pinch of salt

In a small saucepan, combine water, 1/2 cup sugar and mint leaves and bring to simmer.  Stir until the sugar dissolves then continue simmering for 2-3 minutes.

 Remove from heat and strain the mint syrup over a bowl or large measuring cup.  Discard the mint.


Using a food processor, puree the strawberries and 1 Tablespoon of sugar.


Add the mascarpone cheese, lemon juice and pinch of salt.

Give it another whirl.


Add the mint syrup to the strawberry mixture and blend it well.  

If your food processor is kid-sized like mine, you can just combine the two into a large bowl instead.


Pour the soon-to-be granita in an 8 by 8 glass or ceramic dish.  Pop it in the freezer to chill for 3-4 hours. 

3-4 long, restless, impatient hours.

When it's ready, use a fork to scrape the granita. Spoon it into bowls or glasses.


Wow...this granita is AMAZING.  

The strawberries are fresh and tart and the mint is subtle and refreshing.  The best part is the addition of mascarpone.  It gives the granita a light, creamy texture similar to sherbet. 


You can experiment with different fruits (raspberries, blackberries, pineapples, mangoes) or different herbs (basil, lavender.)  It's one of those recipes that you'll almost always have all the ingredients on hand.

Enjoy.

P.S.  The brain freeze is totally worth it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


 "Hey Donny, looks like this one is suffering from shell shock."
"Too derivative."
"Well, I guess we can really shell it out."
"Too cliché."
"Well, it was a shell of a good hit."
"I like it. Step up."


Truth be told, I haven't seen TMNT in its entirety.  It's considered mandatory viewing if you're an early 80's child but it was one of those movies that I caught only bits and pieces of on HBO.  It wasn't until recently that I started to take a genuine interest in the film. 

I had serious questions that needed factual,Wikipedia answers.

Were those real people in turtle suits?  (Yes.)  You mean they weren't just super high-tech robots?  (No.)  Then how did they get their faces to be so expressive? (State of the art animatronics.)  And I swear I've seen Casey Jones before... (Some Kind of Wonderful)

I won't be sharing a pizza recipe but I do have something equally fun and simple.  Sure to please rodent senseis and party dudes alike.

Pretzel Turtles
(recipe from Rachael Ray Everyday)


Here's what you'll need:


One 14-ounce bag soft caramels, unwrapped
One 10-ounce bag pretzel nuggets
12 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped 
2 cups chopped almonds

Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. 

Now unwrap a caramel.


Roll it out into an oval about 1/8-inch thick.


Place a pretzel nib on the caramel oval.


Roll it on up.


Pinch the ends to keep the little guy snug and secure inside.


Repeat with the remaining caramels.


Pretzels in a caramel shell.  Turtle power.
 
If the caramels are too hard to roll out, give them a quick zap in the microwave.  7-10 seconds should work.  I heated them up a handful at a time so that they wouldn't harden up as I worked through the batch.

In a double boiler (I use a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), heat the chocolate.  Stir until smooth then remove from heat.

Dip the l'il dudes in chocolate.


Tap off the excess.


Coat them in the chopped nuts.


Place on the baking sheet and let them sit for a few hours.


When the chocolate is set, line them up on a serving tray...


... or eat them straight off the plate.


In the words of the world's most fearsome fighting team: 

These were awesome!  Bodacious!  Bitchin'!  Gnarly!  Radical!  Totally tubular, dude!  Wicked!  Hellacious!  Uh, mega...


I have always liked... Cowabunga.


Man, I love being a TURTLE!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cornbread.


This morning, as I stood in front of my open closet with my arms crossed, I came to an alarming realization:

I had nothing to wear to work.

I didn't even bother flipping through the hangers because I was convinced of that fact.  So convinced, that I wasn't even looking at the clothes anymore...I was looking through them.  Sort of like one of those Magic Eye pictures and I was expecting a 3-dimensional image of some new work pants to jump out at me.  Something.  ANYTHING.

Once I overcame that catastrophe, I realized that I'm occasionally guilty of doing the same thing in the kitchen.  There are hundreds (thousands!) of recipes to choose from and it's easy to overlook some of the simpler ones that have been around forever.  Like cornbread.

Since I had never actually made cornbread from scratch (bad baker! bad!), I put away the molecular gastronomy cookbook and went with a classic instead.

Sweet Cornbread
from Allrecipes.com

Here's what you'll need:


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

Preheat your baking machine to 400 degrees.

Lightly grease a 9 inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients:  flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.


Add the wet ingredients to the bowl:  eggs, milk and oil.


Stir well.  Give that shexy arm of yours a workout.


Pour the batter into the cake pan.


Give it a few (Yo! MTV) raps on the counter to bring any excess air bubbles to the surface. 

Bake the cornbread for 20-25 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.

And just like that...it's done.

You can eat it warm or cold, plain or with a slather of butter.

I enjoy it with a drizzle of honey.


This was just too easy.  I feel guilty at how tasty it is because it took so little time (and so few mixing bowls) to make.  If you like yours a little more savory, you can cut down on some of the sugar and add diced jalapenos or shredded cheese.

The best part of all?  No molecular breakdown necessary.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I wish they all could be California beers.


 Okay, maybe not all of them - I could never turn my back on East Coast offerings.  But man, those California breweries really know how to craft 'em.

One of the most popular breweries, not only in California but in the world, is Sierra Nevada.  Founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada started as a two-man operation and would eventually become one of the most successful breweries in the craft beer industry.  Their Pale Ale is the 2nd best-selling craft beer in the country and was the first beer Sierra Nevada released when their doors opened in 1980.

In addition to the Pale Ale, the brewery produces 12 other bottled beers.  My personal favorite is from their seasonal Harvest series, the Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop Ale.

Here's a little back story from the bottle:

Each fall, hops reach their peak flavor, bursting with aromatic oils that give ales layers of complex flavor that can only happen at harvest time.  For us, fall comes twice a year - once in each hemisphere.

This Harvest Ale features fresh hops from New Zealand - where fall occurs during our spring.  These fresh whole cones are picked, dried and shipped to the brewery within days of the harvest.


There's even a sweet pirate ship on the label.

Mike, care to do the pouring honors?


 Delicious.
 

Thirst-quenching.

(Ahem.  A glass for me too, mister.)


Nice.

Mmm...the aroma is clean and fresh, almost floral-y.  The flavor is of piney hops balanced with a hint of malty sweetness.  The hops linger on your tastebuds, leaving behind a dry, slightly bitter reminder of the goodness that filled your now-empty glass.

Sierra Nevada is a prime example of how a microbrewery can cross over into the "mainstream" beer market without compromising any of the quality that made their beer famous in the first place.

I'll definitely drink to that.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Superbad


I'm over here in my unit, isolated and alone, eating my terrible tasting food, and I have to look over at that.  


 That looks like the most fun I've ever seen in my entire life, and it's B.S. - excuse my language. I'm just saying that I wash and dry; I'm like a single mother.  Look, we all know home-ec is a joke - no offense - it's just that everyone takes this class to get an A, and it's bullshit - and I'm sorry.  I'm not putting down your profession, but it's just the way I feel.  I don't want to sit here, all by myself, cooking this shitty food - no offense - and I just think that I don't need to cook tiramisu.  Am I going to be a chef? No.  There's three weeks left of school, give me a f*ckin' break!  I'm sorry for cursing. 


I remember Mike and I taking his (then) 14 year-old sister to see Superbad when it came out in August 2007.  She was on summer break and Mike and I decided to play hooky to spend a random day out with her.  We wanted to cap it off with a movie and Superbad was one we were all interested in seeing.

It. was. hysterical.

Of course Mike, being the "big brother"type, had his makeshift earmuffs (hands, as the rest of the world calls them) on guard, ready to cover his sister's ears at the drop of an F-bomb.

Alright...I have a confession.  

I had a completely different movie planned out for today and something sweet to go along with it.  I came home and got a head start on the evening (a rare occurence, mind you.)  Berry White was grilling dinner which meant I had the whole stove to myself.  

I took out all of the ingredients and got to work.


 Everything seemed to be going smoothly...


 ...until I reached the 2nd to last step.


Anyone care to take a guess at what this is supposed to resemble?

(You might want to put on a Hazmat suit before you get any closer.)

What was supposed to be chocolate pudding turned into a grainy, liquidy pool of failure.  I think I know where I went wrong:  I didn't wait long enough for the mixture to thicken and this particular recipe didn't specify using a double boiler.  I'm all for a lesson learned but I was really looking forward to my chocolate nightcap.

Sorry guys.  Can we still be e-friends?

I plan on giving pudding another try in the future.  Only next time, I'm going straight for the Scharffen Berger recipe.  Because this one was bad.  

Superbad.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cookie Art. Beret optional.


Don't get me wrong...I love cupcakes.  

I love decorating them.  I love eating them.  I love giving them B-boy names and letting them battle it out on the cooling rack dancefloor.

But I was craving a new medium to work with.  

Enter Sweet Sugar Belle's Flickr page.  This girl is like the Picasso of the cookie world.  Star Wars, flowers, lingerie, Yo Gabba Gabba...you name it, she can create it.  

Once I saw these citrus slice cookies, I knew I had to try my hand at them.

So I did.  And guess what?  They were pretty easy!  I got a ton of oh-em-gees from my family and there wasn't a single bald patch on my head at the end of the process.

Give them a go.  They're fun and summery.

You'll need:

- baked sugar cookies (go with your tried-and-true rolled sugar cookie recipe)
- royal icing (Wilton has an easy recipe if you're using meringue powder)
- piping bottles and/or a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip
- food coloring (depending on what kind of citrus fruits you're doing)


Pipe an outline on your cookie.  This is called the "dam".


Now "flood" the cookie with more royal icing.


Use a toothpick to spread it out evenly so that it blends with the dam edges.


I said blend it with the dam edges!

 Just kidding.  I suck at being bossy.

While the first layer is still wet, pipe on the details using white royal icing.  This is commonly referred to as the "wet-on-wet" technique.


Place the cookies in a cool, well-ventilated area to dry.  This can take a couple of hours so put aside a few undecorated cookies for snacking purposes.

After you've obsessively watched a few back-to-back episodes of HGTV's House Hunters, check to see if your cookies are done.
Arrange them on a plate and feel your mouth pucker.


Pretty nifty, right?

You can take this sensory experience a step further and add some fresh lemon juice or lemon zest to the batter before baking.  I added lemon juice to the royal icing to give it that extra zing.


When life hands you lemons, make some (dam) cookies.