Posts filed under ‘Just for Fun’

Banana Cream Pie from Beth M. Howard’s “Making Piece” on Leite’s Culinaria

Banana Cream Pie on the windowsill

Banana Cream Pie on the windowsill

Last week we went to heaven — not the one-way ticket concept, or the Rewards for Good Behavior concept, but the Heaven on Earth concept, and it was lovely all around. My friends Dean and Joe have a beautiful farm up past Scranton, Pennsylvania, with all the transcendant beauty of an old-school dairy farm and none of the work. We sleep late, sit and visit, read a lot, take turns in the big ol’ swing and the enormous hammock under the most magnificent ancient shade tree, and spend a little time cooking good things.

IMG_0864

Avoiding a trip to the grocery store (not quite ten miles and a lovely drive at that) has high priority, and when the Dessert Bug bit, we all turned to stare at the basket, where once and recently had waited ripe peaches and blueberries, but at that point was home to naught but onions, shallots, chilies, and a big freckly bunch of bananas.

“Banana Cream Pie?” whispered Dean. How hard could that be, we all murmured? “Not very!” came the answer, since the magic of wireless took us to Leite’s Culinaria where excellent recipes await (including, full disclosure, a few of my very own…). Not only did we find a most worthy recipe with encouraging inspiring commentary from cooks, but it came with a sweet, tender, moving essay by Beth M. Howard, from whose book, Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie, the recipe came.

IMG_0866

I liked it not only for its intrinsic qualities,  but because it called for meringue, rather than whipped cream. I love me some whipped cream, to the point of not getting in to that other Heaven Concept if the gluttony and worship of unholy things part is on the money, but since we did not have any, that was a mark against it (See “…trip to the store…” above). This called for egg yolks in the custard and egg whites into the meringue and we had every single other thing required. In a very short time, custard was made and pie shell was baked to a golden turn. We lined it with ‘naners, filled it with custard, added the remaining ‘naners to the top even though that was not mentioned (we like walking to the edge sometimes), and buzzed up the meringue with sugar and cream of tartar and a bit of salt, using Dean’s electric hand mixer. Do you love his green mixing bowl, which came from his mama’s kitchen? I know, right? If I were not worried about that other Heaven thing I might covet it or worse, but deep breath, I stayed on the good road, with the reward of pie in my near future. IMG_0868

It was so pretty with all that meringue, from five, count ‘em folks, FIVE egg whites —- what a pleasure to transform the little clear golden-tinged egg whites to bubbly foam and then thick cream and finally magical mighty whorls of glorious sweetness. Dean did that, I just watched and cheered. While the oven heated up, we put it in the window, because when one encounters an actual old-school window sill in a kitchen on a day when one can do so, one ought to put a pie right there and take its picture.

IMG_0875

Here’s Dean placing the handsomely perfectly browned pie back on the window sill to cool down. We all stayed far away from it because you could just not hardly avoid cutting an early piece if you got too close. It sat there for a good while, till cooled off nicely, and then went in the fridge until after dinner. It was so wonderful. Can’t believe it but there was enough left after the first pass by four people that we had some for breakfast the next morning, before hitting the road to drive back home. It was sweet, every bit of it, so very sweet. We are very lucky.

http://leitesculinaria.com

Want the recipe for this delightful summertime pleasure of a pie, from Leite’s Culinaria?

Click right HERE!

Want to read the essay from Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie, which was even more wonderful than the actual pie and that is saying very very wonderful moving and good?

Click HERE!

Want to know more about the book from whence cometh the pie, and the author of that book?

Click right HERE! and right HERE!

Want to buy the book from an Indie Bookshop, near or far?

Click right HERE! or HERE!

Want to see that pie on the windowsill one more time? I know I do. To time with friends, vintage and new, family too, in the kitchen, on the porch or in the car, and especially at the table. Happy summer, folks!

IMG_0876

 

file://localhost/Users/nanciemac/Desktop/9780373892570.jpg

August 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm 1 comment

Jill O’Connor’s Amazing, Stupendously Fine “Hunka Chunka Chocolate Chip Cookies”

Image

My friend Jill O’Connor knows a thing or two or three about baking, desserts and sweet treats. As a pastry chef, she knows the why and how, and she brings her professional expertise into the home kitchen. She’s also a mom, a newspaper food columnist and a cookbook author, all of which add generous dollops of down-to-earth perspective to the recipes and food stories she creates for her readers, family, and friends.

This past weekend I visited Jill at her beautiful home in San Diego, where she welcomed me with guacamole, chipotle shrimp, tiny spicy beef tacos with pickled onions, and much more. Everything dazzled me and I ate and ate, as though I had walked all the way from North Carolina, which is to say, with vigor and delight. Then came dessert.Image

I had heard of Jill’s famous chocolate chip cookies, but had never actually partaken of their essence in real life. Now I have. They were spectacular. They were magnificent. They were luscious, charming, and irresistible. Generous and amazing, just like Jill O’Connor herself. To my credit, I brought home two cookies each to my husband and daughter, and did not consume them en route, mostly because I had Jill help me triple wrap them and bury them deep in my excessively large and uber-full suitcase. They were very pleased. If you make them, I predict that you, too, will be very pleased.

These cookies come from one of Jill’s many cookbooks, Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for KidsIt is inexplicably and unfortunately out of print, but you may be lucky enough to find a copy in the Used Books marketplace, such as HERE. You can also purchase this treasure as an e-book, right HERE for Kindle, or HERE for Nook, or HERE for KOBO. Then you can enjoy its wonders on your tablet device, e-reader, or on your laptop or desktop computer.

Image

Jill O’Connor’s Hunka Chunka Chocolate Chip Cookies

Starting the batter with melted butter makes these cookies chewy and dense. Refrigerating the dough overnight improves the texture and highlights the butterscotch flavor in these chocolate chip cookies. Use a 2-ounce self-releasing ice cream scoop, if you have one, to portion out the dough.

Makes 18 to 22 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add the eggs and egg yolk, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine. Sift the flour and baking soda into the batter and stir just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. (Alternately portion out the cookie dough by level ¼ cups onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Cover tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap before refrigerating.)

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature before baking. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you haven’t done so already, use a 2-ounce self-releasing ice cream scoop or ¼-cup measuring cup to portion out the cookie dough.

Arrange the cookies at least 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the cookies are crisp and golden brown around the edges yet slightly soft in the center, 15 to 17 minutes. Allow cookies to cool slightly on the pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Flavor variations: Instead of semisweet chocolate chips alone, try:

•1 cup chopped walnuts plus 1 cup dried sour cherries and 11/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

•2 cups milk chocolate chips plus 11/2 cups chopped pecans

•1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricot plus 11/2 cups coarsely chopped raw almonds

If you love sweets, treats, and baking, you will adore Jill’s bestselling book, Sticky Chewy Messy Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth, which is in very much in print and selling like incredibly delicious chocolate chip cookies, all across the country and around the world.

jill sticky chewy

Check you local independent bookstore, which will either have it on hand or be able to get it for you speedy quick. Or check with IndieBound HERE, or also HERE and HERE.

And for the last word on cookies from Jill, check out her cookie-centric feature story from her monthly column in the San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper, U-T San Diego, in which she shares this recipe and others and gives the complete and clear #411 on making super wonderful drop cookies in your home kitchen. For that, click this link:

“Delightful Dollops: There’s an Art to Perfecting the Ultimate Drop Cookie”

May 28, 2013 at 9:33 pm 8 comments

Hurry! It’s Long-Distance! Thai-Inspired Roast Chicken with Sweet Potatoes for FoodBlogSouth 2013

Dinner's ready! Roast chicken with Thai flavors, served with pan-roasted sweet potatoes, sweet hot garlic sauce and jasmine rice.

Dinner’s ready! Roast chicken with Thai flavors, served with pan-roasted sweet potatoes, sweet hot garlic sauce and jasmine rice.

When I read about the FoodBlogSouth2013 Telephone Game, I raised my hand as fast as I could. Who wouldn’t want to cook along with a slew of like-minded, blogging, experimenting fellow food writers, connect to FoodBlogSouth, and learn from the Grand Dame, Fairy Godmother, and Resident Generous Genius of Southern Cuisine, Nathalie Dupree? “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking”  by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens Grabart had just published to great acclaim and I had gotten my copy and had Nathalie sign it just days before this opportunity arose.

But when I got down to brass tacks, as my mother used to say without explaining what that meant or what other kinds of tacks she was using before she got down to them, I had a moment. A moment of fear and doubt. Roasting? Roasting a whole entire chicken? In the oven? I have been cooking for well over 40 years (yes, I started young), and am at home with mortar and pestle, wok, cleaver, dough scraper, and cast iron skillet. I’m all over baking and the oven is my friend. But what I know how to do with meat is cut it down to size. Whole chicken? I can turn that thang into breasts, legs, thighs, back, and wings in a New York minute, ready for frying in my castir iron skillet. I know from pork butt and country-style ribs: how to chop it up and then rapid-fire grind it with my cleaver into hand-crafted ground pork popping with flavor, or thinly sliced or primly-chunked pieces, ideal for stir-fry or curry. Rib-eye, tri-tip, flank steak — it’s all a cakewalk when I’m cooking Asian dishes, or Southern-fried ones, or stewing an old hen into chicken and dumplings, or wings into party-perfect finger food. But a whole roasted anything? Give me strength!

So I took a deep breath and reached across the oceans, using my imaginary telephone. As we Baby Boomers used to do back in the day of telephones tethered to walls and costly surcharges based on who was calling from where, I called “long distance”. I ‘telephoned’ my Asian culinary knowledge base, for an idea of how to handle a big hunk of meat in that big hot oven-box. I got an answer pretty quick; it was lively and the connection was crackling-clear.

Gai yahng! Gai yahng!” I could hear the Thai grilled chicken vendors calling up to passengers through the open windows of an upcountry bus or train. Grilled Thai garlic chicken, splayed out on to bamboo slats and grilled over coals, served with sticky rice, green papaya salad chili spiked and cool-hot; and chili-garlic sauce, the sweet and tangy syrup/sauce that pairs perfectly with gai yahng. The marinade for grilled chicken ought to work on a whole roast chicken, I answered myself, “since I’ve got guidelines on translating to roasting from my predecessor, “Life In Recipes”.

I hung up the imaginary helper-phone, on my toll-free long-distance call, ready to cook. Life in Recipes had cooked brussels sprouts with ginger and green onions in the cast iron skillet along with her gloriously pictured bird. I opted for sweet potatoes, because they are found in Thailand, they cook up like the kabocha pumpkins and other hard squashes and root vegetables Thai people love, I adore them, and I had some on hand. I cooked the dipping sauce while the bird was roasting, and planned on lovely simple jasmine rice to serve along with everything, since sticky rice is another story for another day. Here’s how it went:

Components of the Thai-inspired seasoning paste for my whole roast chicken: Garlic, cilantro stems, fish sauce, soy sauce, vegetable oil, and salt

Components of the Thai-inspired seasoning paste for my whole roast chicken: Garlic, cilantro stems, fish sauce, soy sauce, vegetable oil, and salt. Freshly ground peppercorns add heat and depth, but since I forgot about them until I was ready to start grinding all this to an aromatic puree, you don’t see them. They’re in the recipe below, never fear. Just not in this picture!

Generously coated with the cilantro-garlic seasoning paste, the chicken gets a nest of chunky sweet potatoes to keep it company in the oven.

Generously coated with the cilantro-garlic seasoning paste, the chicken gets a nest of chunky sweet potatoes to keep it company in the oven.

This simple-to-prepare dipping sauce accompanies crispy spring rolls, fish or shrimp fritters, and other rich, robust and hearty dishes in Thai cuisine.

This simple-to-prepare dipping sauce accompanies crispy spring rolls, fish or shrimp fritters, and other rich, robust and hearty dishes in Thai cuisine. Stir together all but the chili sauce and let it simmer into delicious tangy goodness while the chicken roasts away in the oven. Then add chili sauce, let cool, and enjoy with roasted, grilled or fried dishes.

Handsomely browned, crisp-skinned, and aromatic with garlicky goodness, this chicken bestowed marvelous flavor to the sweet potatoes in the process of cooking.

Handsomely browned, crisp-skinned, and aromatic with garlicky goodness, this chicken bestowed marvelous flavor to the sweet potatoes in the process of cooking

Dinner's ready! Roast chicken with Thai flavors, served with pan-roasted sweet potatoes, sweet hot garlic sauce and jasmine rice.

Dinner’s ready! Roast chicken with Thai flavors, served with pan-roasted sweet potatoes, sweet hot garlic sauce and jasmine rice.

My Telephone Game was a ‘win’ all around. I roasted a most tasty chicken, taking things in a Thai/Asian direction that worked handsomely and deliciously. I found “Life In Recipes” and a whole slew of other bloggers to follow, including my dear friend Sheri Castle who started the Telephone Game for us and for FoodBlogSouth 2013 way back in November. My family got a spectacular weeknight dinner that was so simple, and unintimidating, that they will be enjoying it in regular rotation from now on. It was a feast and I’m glad to be on this party line. (Young bloggers, ask your parents/grandparents about that one — it may be too low-tech and antique for Google).

Below you’ll find my two recipes, for the chicken and the fabulous sauce — good on almost anything, I would have to say. To see where I’m coming from, you can trace our calls! We started this FoodBlogSouth 2013 Telephone Game with my friend Sheri Castle here at Sheri Castle. Then came Anne-Marie Nichols at thismamacooks.com, and Niki at lifeinrecipes.com. Now me, here at nanciemcdermott.wordpress.com. And next week, December 19th:  Michal Thornton at thehumidity.blogspot.com. We’ll keep on going, so check Michal Thornton for the next number to call. We’re cooking here on the FoodBlogSouth 2013 party line, with our recipe-driven Telephone Game.

Nancie’s Thai-Style Roast Chicken

In Thailand, spry, slender chickens are seasoned with cilantro root, garlic, peppercorns, soy sauce and fish sauce and grilled over charcoal to be enjoyed with sticky rice, green papaya salad, and a sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce. Flattened out and held steady with baboo, Thai grilled chicken is known as gai yahng and is eaten as finger food. This same marinade works wonderfully on a whole chicken, roasted in the oven with ease and served with a luscious side of sweet potatoes roasted alongside the bird.

1/4 cup chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 whole chicken (a small one; about 3 1/2 pounds)

About 3 cups peeled sweet potatoes, cut into big bite-sized chunks

In a blender or a small food-processor, combine the garlic, cilantro stems, vegetable oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper, salt, and water. Grind to a well-combined, fairly smooth paste, pulsing on and off and scraping down the sides between grinding spells to get everything to the same stage. (You could also mince the garlic and cilantro stems very finely using your knife, and then mashin the salt and pepper with the back of a fork to incorporate it. Scrape this into a bowl, add the fish sauce and oil, stir well, and continue.)

Transfer the paste to a large bowl. Add the chicken and turn it all around, rubbing with the paste to season the chicken completely and as evenly as possible. Cover and set aside for 1 hour or up to 1 day.

To roast the chicken: Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place it breast side up in a roasting pan large enough to contain the bird. Place the sweet potatoes all around the chicken. Place the chicken in the oven and reduce the heat to 425 degrees. Let the chicken roast for about 45 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp, and the meat is done to 165 degrees measured at the thigh where the heat is thick.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Leave the sweet potatoes in the roasting pan, covered, on the back of the stove to stay warm. To serve, transfer the sweet potatoes to the serving platter and distribute them around the chicken, scraping any liquid onto the platter to flavor the chicken and the sweet potatoes. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce (recipe follows) and jasmine rice, or couscous, pasta, or bread.

Serves 3 to 4 people

I’ve adapted this recipe from my book: Quick and Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes by Nancie McDermott. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

Sweet-Hot Garlic Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup vinegar (white vinegar or apple cider vinegar)

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce (sambal oelek), or Sri Rachaa Sauce, or 2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes

In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar, water, garlic and salt to a lively boil over medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Adjust heat to maintain an active simmer and cook, stirring now and then,  for 9 to 12 minutes, until you have a thin, smooth syrup, about the texture of maple syrup. (This is tricky — it needs to be definitely thickened but not as thick as honey or pancake syrup. If you’re not sure, crank it up a little and go another five minutes with lots of bubbling. It will thicken on standing; but it does need to be thickened up to thin but specific syrup before you stop. ) Remove from heat, stir in the chili sauce, and set aside to cool. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve at room temperature with grilled, roasted, or fried foods. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.

This recipe comes from Quick and Easy Thai: 70 Everyday Recipes by Nancie McDermott. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

December 14, 2012 at 1:05 am 8 comments

“Under the Tuscan Sun Dinner” at Fearrington House with Francis and Edward Mayes

Autumn nudges me toward reflection, and tonight I’m remembering a recent evening full of delights. The time was sunset, two weeks ago today; the setting, the lovely Fearrington House Restaurant, an extraordinary restaurant, inn, and residential community located just a few miles south of Chapel Hill. The occasion was irresistible for me: A dinner with Francis and Edward Mayes, authors of  The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen, published this spring by Clarkson Potter. Executive Chef Colin Bedford‘s cooking is brilliant, unique, and satisfying; I adore Frances Mayes’s books and blog; Fearrington House is incredibly beautiful and comfortable; with all that in mind, my expectations were high. As you can see from my smile in this photograph of me with Frances, Edward, and my friend Keebe Fitch, (proprietor of McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village), the evening exceeded them, by many a country mile. We’re still in that luscious seasonal window where the sunlight and temperature make eating outdoors a pleasure, and that is what we did, from a welcoming flute of prosecco on the patio to a farewell glass of Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo at our table in the Garden Terrace, as twilight dwindled to darkness.

Fearrington House Wine Director Max Kast’s pairings enhanced this memorable meal. Here is my glass of Antinori Orvieto (2010), poured to accompany the exquisite first course:

Potato Ravioli with Zucchini, Speck, and Pecorino (page 86)

Our main course, Braised Short Rib (page 129) with Garlic Flan (page 158), Green Beans with Black Olives and Gremolata (page 159), with Mormoria Chianti Colli Senesi (2006)

Dessert was Lemon Hazelnut Gelato (page 182) with Panna Cotta (page 187), and Massimo and Daniela’s Wine Cake (page 204), made with pine nuts and vin santo. That wine was paired with the dessert course: Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo.

Early in the meal, Frances spoke about food and cooking in Tuscany. She remembers their early days in the kitchen of Bramasole, their home in Cortona, Italy, when a door placed over two saw horses served as their table. Twenty three years later, they have a sturdy and permanent table, but not a fussy, laborious approach to cooking. Like their Tuscan friends and neighbors, they focus not on length or complexity in cooking, but rather on improvisation and on primo ingredients. No measuring cups or spoons in a traditional Italian kitchen; but if you are like me, you will gratefully note that the cookbook provides those pesky measurements for those of us who might need an assist on the way to intuitive cuisine. For the short ribs, she noted that she and Edward like to cook ‘too much’ when they make this, doubling the recipe so that they will have plenty left for the following day. When we raved about the garlic flan, she noted that the book includes a wonderful garlic soup (page 94); the recipe sounds simply delicious, and is also simple to prepare.

The book’s dedication warms your heart — a two-page salute to the friends and neighbors who have made the Mayes’s life in Tuscany such a feast. Photographs and stories throughout the book season the recipes, making you eager to cook Fiorella’s Red Pepper Tart, Ivan’s Pear Agnolotti with Gorgonzola and Walnuts, Placido’s Steak, and Slivia’s Ricotta Tart. Here is the butcher handing you a taste of proscuitto. A beaming woman in apron and kerchief is proffering a basket of eggs, and then two people with a rabbit; this one, you must see for yourself. Marvelous. Add a sprinkling of ingredients (shallots, asparagus, mushrooms, figs) and images of the recipes, both in progress (pesto) and ready for the feast (Fritto Misto, and Rich Polenta Parmigiana with Funghi Porcnini). I predict you, too will feel compelled retire to your reading chair to savor the book, or the kitchen counter to cook up the food.

My first endeavor was the fig and walnut tart. You’ll find the recipe in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook on page 201. From the crust, pasta frolla (page 192) to the finished tart, which was lovely to look at and a deep pleasure to eat, I loved making this dessert. For a sampler of four recipes (Fried Artichokes, Guisi’s Ragu, Chicken with Olives, and Strawberry Semifreddo) available on the web and sauced with luminous photographs from the book, visit publisher Clarkson Potter’s “Recipe Club” by clicking HERE.

To visit Frances Mayes’s website, click HERE.

To read her blog, Frances Mayes’s Journalclick HERE.

To read an interview with Frances Mayes in the Washington Post, click HERE. (It’s written by my friend Domenica Marchetti.)

To find out more about this glorious book, click HERE.

To order The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen from Indiebound, click HERE.

September 27, 2012 at 2:45 am Leave a comment

Fearrington House “Under the Tuscan Sun Dinner” with Francis and Edward Mayes

 

Autumn nudges me toward reflection, and tonight I’m remembering a recent evening full of delights. The time was sunset, two weeks ago today; the setting, the lovely Fearrington House Restaurant, an extraordinary restaurant, inn, and residential community located just a few miles south of Chapel Hill. The occasion was irresistible for me: A dinner with Francis and Edward Mayes, authors of  The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen, published this spring by Clarkson Potter. Executive Chef Colin Bedford‘s cooking is brilliant, unique, and satisfying; I adore Frances Mayes’s books and blog; Fearrington House is incredibly beautiful and comfortable; with all that in mind, my expectations were high. As you can see from my smile in this photograph of me with Frances, Edward, and my friend Keebe Fitch, (proprietor of McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village), the evening exceeded them, by many a country mile. We’re still in that luscious seasonal window where the sunlight and temperature make eating outdoors a pleasure, and that is what we did, from a welcoming flute of prosecco on the patio to a farewell glass of Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo at our table in the Garden Terrace, as twilight dwindled to darkness.

Fearrington House Wine Director Max Kast’s pairings enhanced this memorable meal. Here is my glass of Antinori Orvieto (2010), poured to accompany the exquisite first course:

Potato Ravioli with Zucchini, Speck, and Pecorino (page 86)

Our main course, Braised Short Rib (page 129) with Garlic Flan (page 158), Green Beans with Black Olives and Gremolata (page 159), with Mormoria Chianti Colli Senesi (2006)

Dessert was Lemon Hazelnut Gelato (page 182) with Panna Cotta (page 187), and Massimo and Daniela’s Wine Cake (page 204), made with pine nuts and vin santo. That wine was paired with the dessert course: Badia Coltibuono Vin Santo.

Early in the meal, Frances spoke about food and cooking in Tuscany. She remembers their early days in the kitchen of Bramasole, their home in Cortona, Italy, when a door placed over two saw horses served as their table. Twenty three years later, they have a sturdy and permanent table, but not a fussy, laborious approach to cooking. Like their Tuscan friends and neighbors, they focus not on length or complexity in cooking, but rather on improvisation and on primo ingredients. No measuring cups or spoons in a traditional Italian kitchen; but if you are like me, you will gratefully note that the cookbook provides those pesky measurements for those of us who might need an assist on the way to intuitive cuisine. For the short ribs, she noted that she and Edward like to cook ‘too much’ when they make this, doubling the recipe so that they will have plenty left for the following day. When we raved about the garlic flan, she noted that the book includes a wonderful garlic soup (page 94); the recipe sounds simply delicious, and is also simple to prepare.

The book’s dedication warms your heart — a two-page salute to the friends and neighbors who have made the Mayes’s life in Tuscany such a feast. Photographs and stories throughout the book season the recipes, making you eager to cook Fiorella’s Red Pepper Tart, Ivan’s Pear Agnolotti with Gorgonzola and Walnuts, Placido’s Steak, and Slivia’s Ricotta Tart. Here is the butcher handing you a taste of proscuitto. A beaming woman in apron and kerchief is proffering a basket of eggs, and then two people with a rabbit; this one, you must see for yourself. Marvelous. Add a sprinkling of ingredients (shallots, asparagus, mushrooms, figs) and images of the recipes, both in progress (pesto) and ready for the feast (Fritto Misto, and Rich Polenta Parmigiana with Funghi Porcnini). I predict you, too will feel compelled retire to your reading chair to savor the book, or the kitchen counter to cook up the food.

My first endeavor was the fig and walnut tart. You’ll find the recipe in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook on page 201. From the crust, pasta frolla (page 192) to the finished tart, which was lovely to look at and a deep pleasure to eat, I loved making this dessert. For a sampler of four recipes (Fried Artichokes, Guisi’s Ragu, Chicken with Olives, and Strawberry Semifreddo) available on the web and sauced with luminous photographs from the book, visit publisher Clarkson Potter’s “Recipe Club” by clicking HERE.

To visit Frances Mayes’s website, click HERE.

To read her blog, Frances Mayes’s Journalclick HERE.

To read an interview with Frances Mayes in the Washington Post, click HERE. (It’s written by my friend Domenica Marchetti.)

To find out more about this glorious book, click HERE.

To order The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen from Indiebound, click HERE.

September 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm 2 comments

Happy 100th Birthday to the Hughes Family and Pine Knot Farms: A North Carolina Century Farm

I’ve been a fan and a customer of Mr. Stanley Hughes and Pine Knot Farms since we moved home to North Carolina from Southern California in 1999. His family farm out in Hurdle Mills, 12 miles north of Hillsborough, produces a marvelous organic harvest which he sells to area chefs and to the public at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. His justifiably famous sweet potatoes first caught my attention, as I am a fool for them in any form. His yearlong bounty of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and yellow squash, canteloupes, strawberries and watermelon, collards, kale, and Swiss chard have kept me coming back, stopping by the table where a visit with him and his wife, Linda Leach, feeds my spirit just as their vegetables brighten my kitchen. I wrote this story about Mr. Hughes in Edible Piedmont’s Winter 2009 issue. “Stewards of the Land” included him among six Piedmont North Carolina farmers profiled HERE . Pine Knot Farms’ website is right HERE. This past Saturday, I joined hundreds of friends, fans, customers, neighbors, and family members on the 100-year-old Hughes family farm, to celebrate its centennial birthday, which brought designation as a North Carolina Century Farm. From the day in 1912 when Mr. Hughes’s grandfather purchased the farm, it has been in continuous operation, its 125 acres supporting the Hughes family for one hundred years. What a reason to celebrate, and what a fine celebration they created on a gorgeous, late-summer afternoon. Here’s a small peek at a big, bountiful, joyful gathering in rural Orange County, NC. My friend Diane Robertson congratulates Linda and Stanley on their great success, in organic farming, growing and running a successful small business, and in throwing a fantastic memorable party! An abundance of friends-in-farming stopped by, including fellow vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farms. Here’s Alex with Stanley. I got to visit over lunch with my friends Kate Medley and Emily Wallace, feasting on an astounding and extensive repast of old-school family-reunion-quality cooking. Here’s my plate; my initial plate, actually. At 12 o’clock, you see a fried chicken leg teetering atop candied yams (sweet potatoes cut into french-fry sized chunks and cooked with butter and sugar). To the right, chicken and dumplings, just like my grandmother made them. Next is “beantown”: greenbeans/stringbeans, field peas (maybe crowders, or lady peas? Please do leave me a comment if you can set me straight here, or just have an opinion about it), and butterbeans, both of which are cooked with corn. Next set is lima beans/butterbeans cooked with curls of streak o’ lean, a beloved porky seasoning meat which is kin to bacon but with the big accent on the fat, and red peas. The grand finale is chicken and country ham, the latter cooked by host Linda Leach, who didn’t let the challenges of putting on this grand, extensive party keep her from cooking up two peach cobblers, a country ham, and more. I loved it when a young family member walked out to greet me as I came up the driveway, handing me my program in the form of a cardboard fan, the kind we literally prayed for when sitting in my grandparents’ church on a July Sunday, back in the days before air conditioning adjusted the summertime for us.

Fried chicken, and a big pot of chicken and dumplings, made by Miss Linda’s mother. Below is Miss Linda’s country ham. I wish I had some right now.

Butterbeans and corn.

This tobacco barn right out front is an original building, with an old washtub, a washboard, and other pieces of farm history decorating the wall.

Pieces of the farm’s past arranged inside the big, beautiful ‘shed’ where the crowd lined up for food and enjoyed shelter when rain showed up a time or two. I loved the Hershey’s cocoa can made from metal, the coffee mill, Cheerwine or RC Cola bottle, irons, and a Lodge Cast Iron cornbread skillet. This school desk came from the old schoolhouse which stood on the farm property. Family elders and longtime neighbors reminisced about schooldays there. The piece of wood on top of the desk was used in planting tobacco. Elders recalled (and demonstrated by pantomime right there by the desk) poking the seeds down into a hill of dirt as they worked a row, planting the new crop.

I find this so beautiful and profound. I also find it poignant: I cannot begin to imagine how tired people must feel walking home after another day of ‘working tobacco’, in the blistering, merciless heat of a North Carolina summertime. This is how the tobacco was prepared to be placed in the tobacco barn to cure.

This broom was made by Stanley Hughes’s father, who grew the plants he used in the summertime, dried it in the fall, and crafted the brooms during the winter when the outdoor farmwork took a backseat to the weather.

It was the sweetest, easiest day. As things wound down, I was standing out back talking with Mr. Ricky, Hughes-family friend, neighbor, and pitmaster, who was working the gigantic smoker on which he had cooked a whole pig (starting at 5:00 a.m.). Looking up, I noticed what I interpret as commentary from the universe on the occasion, the celebration, and the location. The Southern Foodways Alliance‘s oral history collection includes interviews Carrboro Farmers’ Market vendors. My friend Kate Medley (and lunch buddy, see above) recorded an wonderful interview and video with Mr. Stanley Hughes, which you can enjoy on the SFA website HERE

Pine Knot Farms 1912 – 2012. Going strong, growing strong. To the next hundred years!

September 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm 1 comment

Midnight Snack on My First Night Back in Bangkok: Thai Rice Soup/kao tom

Arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport  long past 11:00 p.m. on a July evening, I transformed from a drowsy denizen of giant metal flying machines into a dazzled and grateful traveller, amazed to actually be standing on solid ground at my destination: Thailand. Like the magnificent red and gold doorway greeting placed to greet passengers stumbling in from the jetway, this handsome sala on the concourse reminded me that I was back in Thailand, where visual celebrations of Thai culture enliven everyday places and moments.

Murals like this vision of a lotus pond and another with a still life of mangosteens, durian, rambutan, pineapple, lychees and other Thai fruits lined the   gleaming cavernous passageways leading into the main terminal. Had I not been on a moving sidewalk, I would have tried to photograph every one. The restrooms featured flourishing orchids, duplicating their lovely presence in the mirrors.

Even the boards informing passengers where our luggage could be picked up tickled me, with the listings of arriving flights. Nothing so familiar to me as Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami; there I was in a place where jets zoom in from Guangzhou and Hanoi, Seoul and Macau, Vientiane and Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore. I easily found my refrigerator-sized rolling suitcase, cleared customs speedy-quick, and found the taxi stand, where I was soon paired up with a driver who stowed it handily in the trunk of his small sedan and headed us off toward my hotel.

To my delight, the trunk of his taxi not only accomodated my massive suitcase but also held a sticky-rice serving basket, his old-school lunchbox, tucked over to one side. This pleased me: Some things continued as I remembered them from 37 years ago. The sparkling airport, the elevated expressway, and the highrise Bangkok skyline visible from the taxi confirmed that much had changed since 1978, when I departed from Bangkok’s original Don Muang Airport, at the end of my Peace Corps service in 1978.

The taxi driver’s lunch and the night markets we passed now and then as we sped through the city reminded me that while I had eaten fairly recently on the airplanes carrying me from North Carolina to Atlanta, to Tokyo, and then to Bangkok…..

….I had not dined to my heart’s delight, nor had I enjoyed even a morsel of Thai food. I considered asking the driver to drop me off at one of the night markets, but given my massive suitcase and carry-on’s, such nimble and spontaneous actions were not on the menu.

But once I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and got settled in my sixth-floor room with river view, I spied the Room Service Menu. And did I see the magic words, “24-Hour” Room Service Menu? I did indeed. This made me so happy. But what to choose?  Laab Mu (minced pork salad with Thai herbs? Tod Mun Plaa (deep-fried fish cakes with cucumber salad)? or Gaeng Peht Beht Yahng (red curry roast duck)?

Well, none of the above, since the “Not available after midnight” caveat applied to my moment in time. But turning the page, I found the perfect supper, the ideal late-night Thai comfort food: kao tome, rice soup. Much as I love jook, Chinese-style rice soup made by slow-and-long-simmering of raw rice grains in lots of water to create a lovely porridge, I absolutely adore Thailand’s version, made by simmering cooked rice into a clear but hearty and comforting soup.

Kao tome comes with seasonings, some added and some on the side as kreung brung rote, or flavor-adjusters. Vinegar with chilies, fish sauce, dried ground red chilies, and sugar are the basic, standard offerings. My soup already ‘dressed’ up just right, with chopped cilantro, green onions, crispy garlic fried in oil, and minced pickled radish scattered on top, enhancing the finely chopped pork dropped into boiling water during cooking to make soup.

Even though kao tome is a meal in a bowl (especially popular with those recovering from or en route to a hangover), I ordered myself a plate of rice and nahm plah prik, fish sauce with finely chopped fresh hot chilis. My feast arrived in about 20 minutes, the amount of time it took to turn rice into kao tome. Finishing touch: a Singha beer, Thai-style, with ice, the way I like it, so the heat doesn’t warm it up.

While I ate my first meal back in Thailand, I thought of many late-night kao tome meals taken at the restaurants along the major highways, where air-conditioned Thai tour buses stop halfway through their all-night express runs in to Bangkok from up-country cities and towns. At first I found it odd that the buses stop around 1:00 a.m. at a designated restaurant and travel center, so that everyone can get off, shop a little, use the facilities, and then eat a bowl of kao tome which is included in the price whether you eat it or not. But what a good idea: The drivers can stretch and have a bit of ‘lunch’, and what a boost to my ability to fall asleep for the remainder of the trip, awaking just as sunrise informed us that the bus was nearly to our destination. So many good memories, often food-centered, each one leading me to another. It was after 2:00 a.m. by the time I set my tray out in the hall and went out to my balcony to enjoy the river view.

I can’t share my supper with you, but I can let you join me on the balcony of my hotel room for a taste of the sights and sounds of the Chao Praya River very late at night. Click HERE for a peek via my Vimeo files. I thought I was too excited to fall asleep, but once I turned off the light, I drifted in to a sweet, sound sleep. For me, kao tome works every time.

August 20, 2012 at 11:39 am 6 comments

Summer Farmer’s Market Vegetable Plate “Nicoise” with Spoonbread for #LetsLunch

Farmers’ markets make me happy, always, anywhere, anytime of the year. They inspire cooks, attract all kinds of people, delight children, and decorate the world with produce, flowers, jams and hand-crafted many-things. One of the fine farmers’ markets which are local for lucky me here in NC is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, whose tagline “Locally grown, nationally known” is apt. They sell on both Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings this time of year, and they keep going Saturdays all winterlong, albeit with a smaller presence during the months of cabbages and collards. Also handy for me are Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market, and the Durham Farmers Market, both open yearround, as well as the South Durham Farmers’ Market, and the Pittsboro Farmers’ Market, both open April through November.
I kept thinking about peaches and blueberries, but before I made up my mind, I realized that my favorite farm-raised pleasure of summertime is a ripe, sweet gorgeous aromatic tomato. But the way I was raised, we don’t do too much to the tomatoes this time of year, beyond slicing them for eating with salt and pepper, or dealing them out on well mayonnaised- white bread for tomato sandwiches. So that’s not a recipe, nor, all by itself, a lunch. But that tomato, while not needing a recipe, anchors what I grew up loving about summer eating: the Southern vegetable plate. Not to give up or give up on meat, but to make time with the goodness from the garden, which next to everybody had. Corn, beans, squash, ‘cukes, ‘maters, okra, watermelons, canteloupes…..I’ll stop even though I’m not done.
Vegetable plates aren’t always vegetarian, as the green beans often got an assist in flavor and substance from a hunk of side meat or fatback. But the concept, based in joyful economy (no grocery bills) and flavor (can you spell ‘local’?)  of garden vegetables, simply prepared and laid out like a quilt on a big dinner plate made a feast, especially if cornbread or biscuits were along for the ride. So here’s my Southern summer vegetable plate, with sliced tomatoes, green beans and new potatoes cooked together, and hard-boiled eggs. I added in an herbed mayonnaise and some canned tuna packed in oil, as a little birthday wave and nod to Julia Child’s Salad Nicoise. Her 100th birthday is coming up August 15th. She lived into her 90′s and her presence anchors the culinary profession in powerful, precious and wise ways, to this day. With the tuna, the dressing, and the hard-boiled rather than deviled eggs, I took things in a Southern direction. For a fine salad Nicoise, visit “Simply Recipes” HERE, (and subscribe while you are there — a wonderful bountiful resource. For another recipe for salad Nicoise inspired by Julia Child, click HERE, from the blog “8.ate@eight”
Spoonbread is a somewhat fancy version of cornbread, although it is every bit as easy to make, and lovely with almost any main course or meal. Its texture varies, from a soft custard to a sturdy pudding to a very moist bread. Cornbread can be as simple as cornmeal, salt and water, while spoonbread adds in eggs and milk or buttermilk, and leavening to lift it up into a rustic demi-souffle, one whose ‘poouf’ deflates quickly with no loss at all. I adore it, and usually make it in a cast iron skillet, but this recipe called for a 7-inch wide dish. Searching my cabinets for a 7-inch baking dish, I grinned when I found this white ceramic French-style ramekin. It allowed my spoonbread to become another small nod to Julia Child on her coming birthday.
Let’s Lunch on a Farmers’ Market Vegetable Plate “Nicoise” with Herb Mayonnaise and Spoonbread
Sliced Tomatoes
(I blanch them to remove skins; if that’s too fussy, just slice ‘em and go)
Green Beans and New Potatoes
(Boil till tender in salted water, leaving small potatoes whole)
Hard-Boiled Eggs
(Cold water, to a boil, turn to low, 8 minutes, rinse and peel)
Tuna packed in oil
(Hated it as a kid; love it now. Stock up — uber-good pantry presence)
Herb Mayonnaise
(1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons each of minced green onion and fresh herbs)
Spoonbread
(recipe below)
Spoonbread
This recipe comes from a package of Moss’ Plain White Fine Ground Corn Meal, which is located in Kittrell, North Carolina.
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup corn meal
1 egg
1 teaspoon lard (I used butter, which I had handy)
1 cup sour or buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pour boiling water over corn meal and butter, and then let cool. Beat in egg, milk, soda and salt. Pour batter into hot greased 7 inch baking dish. Bake at 400degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6
For a bountiful supply of superb and practical recipes for farmers’ market feasts all summer and throughout the year, get yourself a copy of this book:
The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Recipes for Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.This cookbook and reference guide by my good friend Sheri Castle delivers everything you need to make the most of the produce find throughout the year. Visit Sheri’s website HERE.  Learn about the book and/or buy book HERE.                    
Spoonbread is simple, satisfying, and goes with everything. It doesn’t usually come with breakfast but it sure goes with it.
I know you are still a little bit hungry, so here’s a buffet of posts by my fellow food bloggers & foodie friends,
who are lunching together on Farmers’ Market fare today and through the weekend.
I may add more so check back in a few days  if you’re looking for more FM inspiration
Cheryl’s Summer Mexican Chicken Stew at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Annabelle‘s Mixed Berry Shortcakes at Glass of Fancy

Charissa‘s Curried Roasted Cheddar Cheese Cauliflower Soup, Gluten-Free at Zest Bakery

Juliana‘s View from Les Halles Farmers Market at Chicken Scrawlings

Linda‘s Farmers’ Market Fruit Galette at Spicebox Travels

Linda‘s Zucchini or Cucumber Quick Pickles at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Eveleigh Farmers’ Market (in Australia!) Winter Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

August 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm 17 comments

Video Visit to a Great Little Cafe Near Bangkok’s Royal River Hotel

A tall cool Thai iced coffee, brought to my table at  a small, delightful Bangkok cafe, one which became instant headquarters for many of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers gathered at the Royal River Hotel during July for Peace Corps Thailand 50th Anniversary celebrations. Check my blogpost HERE about my first meal there, a fantastic lunch made even more delightful by the company with whom I shared it: Ellie and Paul, two PCV’s I met during my Peace Corps Thailand time.

CLICK HERE for the video tour of the restaurant, featuring other wonderful Peace Corps folks and a beauty shot of ‘kai jiow‘, Thai omelet with the original Sri Rachaa Sauce on the side. Other PCV friends include Linda, Carolyn, and Pat. More names coming. And I will find out the name of the restaurant. I took it for granted, because there it was, coming and going many times a day. If you’re coming in toward the hotel, it’s on the right, about halfway up and just before the small canal. Here’s the Royal River Hotel website, with which to find the lane, Soi Charansanitwong, off Rajwithii Road at Krung Thon Bridge, west bank of the Chao Praya River, Thonburi Side.

CLICK HERE for the blogpost with photos of our meal.

Thai iced coffee delivers a particular pleasure, as it’s seasoned with roasted spices and made superstrong, generously sweetened and enriched with my favorite, evaporated milk. This was one of many food-moments in which I found things I remembered from my long-ago Thailand days unchanged, unspoiled, still fantastic and still right there, woven into everyday Thai life. Look for Thai coffee powder in plump cellophane bags in Asian markets, if you’re hankering to try it at home. Iced and with milk, it’s ‘cah-fey yen‘. Iced without milk, it’s ‘o-liang‘.

.

August 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm 2 comments

Thai Lunch with Ellie and Paul

My first day back in Thailand (overview post HERE), my friends Ellie and Paul and I took a short walk out the door of the Royal River Hotel and down the lane to a small cafe recommended by Friends of Thailand leader and dear pal Carolyn Nickels-Cox. It’s an open-air place with six or eight tables, turquoise-blue walls, and a beverage-making set-up with the fixings for fruit smoothies, sodas, lemonade, and an espresso machine. We ordered three dishes with rice, and each of them was fantastic. Except for the espresso machine and a few electronic devices, we could have been Peace Corps volunteers taking a lunch break back in 1977. Recipes will follow down the road, but for today, just feast your eyes.

I love tom yum, one of Thailand’s simple, brilliant soups. I must have enjoyed it a dozen times during my short journey, and I could never get tired of it. Lemongrass and galanga, wild lime leaves, fresh chilies, roasted chili paste (nahm prik pao), fish sauce, and a squeeze of lime juice — a line up of sharp, bright flavors, essentially Thai. This tom yum featured shrimp, fresh straw mushrooms, green onions and cilantro leaves. Here it’s often served as a Western-style first course, sans rice, but in Thailand it comes to the table as one of the ‘with-rice’ dishes: Perfection.

I had been longing for this dish, moo paht bai graprao, pork stir-fried with holy basil. In the West it’s very seldom made with ‘bai graprao’, or holy basil, as that herb is delicate and not widely available. Asian basil (bai horapah) is usually substituted and while it’s delicious, nothing tastes as marvelous as holy basil. Upcountry it’s usually made with hand-chopped meat, but even with sliced pork, it was so very good.

Nobody has to be persuaded to “Eat Your Vegetables!” when the vegetables come to the table from a Thai kitchen. This is pahk boong fai daeng, water spinach stir-fried with garlic. This hollow-stemmed vegetable is beloved throughout Asia. The Taiwanese name is kong shing tsai, which can be translated as ‘empty heart’, referring to the hollow stems of each delicate stalk.

These three dishes with lots of rice made us all so happy and satisfied. Some things in Thailand have changed, and many have remained the same. I took this photo of my personal serving of tom yum in order to show you the fresh straw mushrooms, cut in half and imbued with the tart fiery deliciousness of this soup. Just an ordinary little lunch, with good friends, at the local joint around the corner, back in Thailand. So delicious.

August 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm 6 comments

Older Posts


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

July 2014
S M T W T F S
« Mar    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Recent Posts

Nancie’s tweets:

Goodreads


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers