Thursday, September 27, 2012

Comfort Food: Tomato soup and Grilled Cheese with a Twist!

The changing of seasons from summer to fall is probably the most dramatic for me. I love walking through Cherokee and seeing spontaneous bursts of color in the trees that remind me that I do live in a temperate zone, where trees actually do change. I lived in Andalusia, Spain last year, and let me tell you, coastal pines are beautiful for the first couple of months, but when you expect seasons to change and leaves to change and something to get you into the spirit of making it through a long winter and nothing happens, it gets depressing really quick. On said walk through Cherokee Park the other day, my friend was getting a good laugh because I was flipping out over some crimson and gold all over a tree. Hey, it is something to flip out about!

Anyways, with such delight and dramatic natural change, comes the need for food that warms you up. I prefer vittles that warm the heart and soul as well as the stomach, so today's recipe is Tomato Soup from Scratch and Grilled Cheese with Truffle Oil. Yes, I know, we're getting fancy, but you can't get any more comfortable than this! My tomato soup just takes ripe, red tomatoes and makes them into something amazing; the number of tomatoes depends on how much soup you want. Also, this recipe is vegetarian, but I guess you could add some chicken stock if you don't think this is flavorful enough...hah, as if. Then with the grilled cheese, you can definitely experiment with the cheese type, just make sure it is a good melting cheese--we all love semi-hard cheeses (Manchego is my life), but please, those don't make a grilled cheese, just as Parmesan doesn't...don't try it. This time, I used cheddar--everyone loves a picture of orange grilled cheese :) It's just right.

So, here it is. Perfect for a rainy day like today! Cozy up, stand by the fire of the gas stove for a little bit, and warm yourself down to your very soul with the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese combo.

Tomato Soup from Scratch and 
Grilled Cheese with Truffle Oil
About 5 Ripe tomatoes
4 Cloves garlic
1/2 Minced onion
1T Rubbed sage
Sea salt
Black Pepper
Chili powder
Bread (for crouton-making)
Olive oil
1T Butter

4 Slices of whole wheat bread
4 Slices cheese
Truffle oil
2T Butter

The first thing you need to do is prepare the soup so it can cook down while you are frying up the goodness that is grilled cheese. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces. You can choose to take the skins off or not, I personally like the texture that the skin gives to the soup, as well as the color. If you want to do so, just boil them in water until the skin starts to break and then throw them in an ice bath--the skins will slip straight off. Then take care of your garlic and onion; I like to sliver my garlic and just chop the onion. Take one T of butter and about the same of olive oil and heat in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat until just melted. Add the garlic and onion to the pot and fry up until translucent and fragrant, add the sage at this point and fry until just fragrant (it releases the herb's magic). The pot should be hot enough by now to add the tomatoes. Stir this beautiful mixture up until well combined and bring to a boil. Then simmer until thickened.

While the soup is simmering, you can make up the croutons! I simply cubed up some bread and I drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper on a baking pan. You can herb this up with oregano or sage too if you want. Then dry them out in a low-heat oven until they are crunchy enough, probably 15 minutes. If you want them a little toastier, up the temperature to 325, just flip them halfway through and keep an eye on them.

When your soup has thickened down, it is time for seasoning! Add salt, pepper, and chili to taste, and if you want some layers of flavor, drizzle a good olive oil right before serving. You can also make it creamy by adding way?!

Now for the grilled cheeses! You all know how to do this, but have you ever thought of making your favorite sandwich the greatest piece of bread and cheese that has ever touched your lips? That is where truffle oil will take you. I melted 2T of butter in the mic and I added a splash of truffle oil--trust me, it goes a long long way. Combine that happy mixture and use a pastry brush to brush one side of two slices of bread (the side that will go in the frying pan). Then you heat up your pan or iron skillet, and go to town making a grilled cheese. Place the butter-truffle oil side of the bread down on the heat, place two slices of cheese on top, and sandwich it up with the second piece on top. Flip when it is nice and toasted on the bottom--you might want to control your heat on this one, especially if you are using an iron skillet because they hold heat more efficiently than the average frying pan. I flip mine a couple of times just to make sure that heat is getting to the center and melting that cheese up all nice and gooey.

Finally you combine the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese into a happy party in your mouth. I put the croutons in the bowl and pour the soup over it, then I cut the grilled cheese into triangles because we all know that sandwiches taste better in triangles. At this point, you should be swimming in the warm, comforting flavors of deeply flavored tomato soup and soft, melty cheese with truffle oil rocking out your taste buds. So good!

Enjoy my friends, and may you smile even as the skies are grey. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meet Me at MacLaren's: Television Series Premiere Menu

I am admittedly one of the biggest fans of the show How I Met Your Mother (affectionately called HIMYM, or him-yim). This is unfortunately the last season, but fortunate at the same time because it is another great excuse to get creative with some food and munchables, as far as premiere parties go. I am one of those people who loves constructing new menus and making parties out of whatever I'm "nerding out" on at the moment. Just wait until The Hobbit comes out...goodness.

Now we are reveling in HIMYM, and I decided that we would make our menu MacLaren's themed to celebrate. MacLaren's is the bar where the gang hangs out in every episode, and occasionally we get a glimpse of the pub grub that such a trusty hangout offers. My menu includes some basic bar bite staples with some room to personalize, because there is more than one palette to please at a party. Thus, we have Crispity Crunchity Nachos, Hand-Dipped Chicken Strips with homemade Hot Sauce and Honey Mustard, as well as Ranch (not homemade this time), Mini-Best-Burgers-In-The-World, and Brownies. We also had pretzel nuggets and mustard to munch on, but I forgot to put those out, Hah! We were definitely well fed and we had leftovers (which makes lunch easy today).

So, as a result, today's post will be a marathon of recipes, so bear with me friends and you too can celebrate during this premiere week (or you can save these up for the finale *gasp*!).

Crispity Crunchity Nachos
8 Corn tortillas
Olive oil for drizzling
Refried beans
Optional: Jalapeños, hot sauce, onions

This dish is really easy to personalize, it just depends on what you like on your nachos. I made mine simple because I was already going crazy with burgers and chicken strips. The special part of these nachos is that I made my own chips before throwing the toppings on. Seriously though, making your own chips is far easier than you think, and of course more delicious. 

Check it out: You simply cut the corn tortillas into quarters to make triangle chips, then you distribute them on a baking pan, not overlapping. Drizzle the tortilla pieces with olive oil and flip them all to make sure that both sides are coated with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and put into a preheated 350º oven. I would check them after 10 minutes to see how they're doing. If they start curling up for you, then you should flip them over (this will give you maximum crunch) and bake them for another 5-7 minutes. You might need more or less time depending on your oven, just keep an eye on them. Everyone knows what chips are supposed to look like.

Take them out and let them cool, they will be crunchy by this point, so they will hold up when you spread on some refried beans. Then you distribute as much cheese as you want, I used slices of cheddar this time, but shredded Mexican cheese works, Oaxaca cheese is awesome, and you can sprinkle a little directly on the pan if you're like me and you love that crunchy burnt cheese. Throw them either under a broiler for a few minutes or put them back in that 350º oven until the cheese has melted and is bubbly. Perfection!

Hand-Dipped Chicken Strips
Chicken tenders
Seasonings: Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder, Oregano (whatever you want!)

I originally got this recipe off of The Pioneer Woman Cooks and she nailed it! I used a seasoning mix of salt, black pepper, and Chimayo chili powder. The first thing I did was soak my chicken strips in a bath of buttermilk for about 15 minutes. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can simply mix milk and a bit of vinegar until the milk gets thick (starts to curdle). While that's waiting you can heat up the oil in your trusty iron skillet or frying pan. You need enough to pan-fry, so about an inch of oil. I used olive oil, but vegetable oil or your favorite frying oil would work too (I've heard great things about coconut oil). Also, you have to prepare that lovely breading, which is your seasoned flour and a couple splashes of milk. Mix that up well with a fork and you'll start seeing the little clumps of flour that so remind you of chicken, how apropos! 

By now your chicken should have soaked enough and your oil should be ready, so it's time to dredge those babies in that sweet breading. I took each strip and pressed it into the flour mixture to make sure that it was well coated on both sides. Then I put these on a reserve plate that would hold the chicken to be fried. Another plate lined with paper towels needs to be on hand for draining after the chicken is finished cooking. If your oil is hot, the frying process is pretty easy, just give it a minute or two on one side, flip when it is as brown as you want it, and if it happens to need another turn, go ahead, that's fine. When they are as picture perfect as you want, set them aside to drain. 

Now you're ready to prepare your sauces! 
Homemade Hot Sauce is simple as can be. You take a small dipping bowl out (microwave safe) and you throw in three tablespoons of butter, a healthy shaking of Cholula hot sauce, and some minced garlic in the microwave for about 45 seconds, or thereabouts. Then you mix it all up and you should have a creamy hot sauce ready for dipping. I also like to throw in about a tablespoon of sesame seeds because they're gorgeous and taste great!
Honey Mustard Sauce is just that. I mixed two kinds of mustard: Organic mustard and Grey Poupon (I always picture that scene from Wayne's World when I say that) and then about a third of that mixture in honey. That was it. It came out great to my tastes, so you can experiment with other mustards too if you want. I believe that a large-grain mustard would work out well with this too.
Then you can add any other sauces you want, like Ranch dressing or Barbecue sauce.

The World's Best Burger

1-2lbs. Ground Chuck (or whatever you want to make your burgers out of)
1 Egg
Minced garlic or Garlic salt
Italian breadcrumbs
Chili powder
Worcestershire Sauce
Barbecue Sauce
Optional: a spoon of caramelized onions

Everyone has their own idea of what the best burger in the world is, there was even an entire episode on it in How I Met Your Mother (Season 4 Episode 2: Best Burger in New York). This is the recipe that I grew up with, more or less, with a few changes. Basically, it is all about making the meat reach the depth of flavor you want, and making it go as far as it can (hence the breadcrumbs). I added chili powder where onion would be, and you can experiment as you go. I think that caramelized onions would take this to the next level too. Simply mix all of these ingredients into the meat and squish it around as well as you can until it is incorporated. Warning: it is bloody cold when it comes out of the fridge, so prepare yourself for some mind over matter exercises.

When the meat is mixed up, form them into the size of patties you want. Note that meat does shrink quite a bit when it is cooked. We were making mini burgers this time (I found mini buns, what?!) and layered them with cheese; it went well with the bite-sized bar bite theme. Heat a pan on high and throw the burgers in without touching. Alternatively, if you don't live in an apartment you can grill these up and get fancy. I think my burgers turned out awesome--they even had a char due to high heat pan, which was a real joy to clean up. Now all you have to do is construct the burgers.

I didn't go crazy with dressings like tomatoes, onions, pickles, etc, but you can do that if you want. I just put a spoon in the sauces I made and I brought out the bottle of barbecue sauce. Honestly, this burger is so flavorful, I feel like it stands on its own with just cheese. You can be the judge of that!

Finally, I made some brownies with heath bar bits inside, but that recipe is going to have to be for another post. You all have a great arsenal of recipes to make any episode of the last season of HIMYM legen...wait for it....DARY!

I would say this would go for any party that you need nibblies at. Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Quichetátatouille: Dishing up something new!

If you've read this title, you already know I've gone a little crazy with throwing things together. My kitchen was incompletely incomplete it seemed. I had the ingredients for a partial quiche, frittata, and ratatouille. The key ingredients I was missing were cheese and onion. So in an attempt to make up for a serious lack of some of the most important food staples, I upped the presence of veggies and threw in a crust. I actually found it quite delightful, and because I made an entire baking pan full of Quichetátatouille, I was thankful it turned out well because it was lunch and dinner for a few of days out.

I honestly don't know how I could ever run out of onions because I use them in every recipe (that's probably the reason right there). However, I was not disappointed in the outcome. I feel like the flavors balanced just fine, and onion usually acts as a balancing agent in most recipes. I upped the garlic for depth, plus you can never have too much garlic, and the farm fresh eggs with orange yolks that I threw in took care of the richness that cheese would usually have. Because of the warm mixture of traditional ratatouille veggies, the eggs and wealth of ingredients of a frittata, and the crust of a quiche, here is my Quichetátatouille. All in all, it was a win. So, here is my procedure.

1 Pie crust, rolled out into a square baking dish
Olive oil
4 Cloves of garlic
1 Zucchini
2 Celery stalks
2 Carrots
4 Stewing tomatoes
2 Bell peppers
Black Pepper
Herbs de Provence

Heat the oven to 350º. The first step is to prepare the pie crust. Roll it out into a rectangular baking dish, big enough to fit all your ingredients. I baked it in the oven for about 8 minutes before I added the ingredients, you can prepare this as you would prepare a quiche crust, and that is weighted with dry beans or with a slightly smaller baking pan placed on top of the rolled out crust. This will prevent the crust from bubbling up in the center, and it will cook evenly.

I cut my ingredients into whatever shapes I thought would look cool layered in a baking pan, but you can just go for slicing or cubing at about an inch measurement. The only thing I would strictly recommend is slicing the tomatoes in half moons, so for every whole slice of a tomato, just cut that in half and you have your top layer. The tomatoes on the top really worked well in the oven, as they were still moist, but had that taste of oven-roasted happiness.

For the eggs, I chose to use 5, but you can increase and decrease at your discretion, it just depends on how fluffy you want this Quichetátatouille. Beat those eggs to oblivion with a whisk to ensure maximum fluffiness. You can also add heavy cream or milk at this point, as well as the seasonings to taste.

Distribute the veggies as you see fit inside the warm pie crust. I like to layer, as I would a ratatouille, but you can just throw them in there, as long as they are mixed up, because they'll be swimming in a sea of golden eggs in a minute. When the vegetables are all settled, distribute the egg mixture (with seasonings) evenly. Make sure that the seasonings haven't all settled at the bottom, so give it a good whisk before pouring it out. Alternatively, you can season each individual layer that you make, to ensure that all of your Quichetátatouille is seasoned. Now you are ready to pop it in the oven. It took about a half hour to get it to the softness and bubbly happiness I was aiming for. I would gauge the time by the doneness of the crust, if it is starting to get dangerously browned, it is probably time to take it out of the oven.

This dish is great with a side of cheese and crackers. I actually used it with a side of spreadable cheese, crackers, and my homemade tomato jam. Delicious! Then, I continued to heat it up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few consecutive days. It kept very well in the fridge! On top of all that, this meal is rather healthy considering that it lacks the weight of butter and cheese.

In addition to simple sides for a light meal like crackers, you can make it a side for a more complete meal. I think it would be wonderful aside a salmon fillet, tilapia with beurre blanc, roasted chicken, or warm brie and grapes MmmMmm! When in doubt, it does stand well on its own. Enjoy (for many days to come)!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sesame Almond Chicken: A Quick and Elegant Dinner

I don't often keep meat hanging around the house, but when I do, I like to dress it up a little bit. Today we have a nice lean chicken breast on the menu, ready for a marinade and a healthy crusting of sesame and almond. Normally, I prepare this just as pan-seared sesame chicken, but I had such gorgeous blanched almonds hanging out in the pantry, I just had to pair them with their sesame buddies. This time, I decided to give it a whirl in the oven, joined by a side of almond haricot verts (a fancy name for french green beans) and a mixed salad with an agave-balsamic vinaigrette.

I assembled the marinade first and let the chicken bathe in those juices, refrigerated, until I was finished preparing the rest of the vegetables. After the beans are cleaned and snapped, the salad washed and prepped, the vinaigrette prepared, and the oven preheated, the chicken was probably in the marinade for about a half hour. You could marinate it longer if you want, but I was satisfied with the taste of the chicken as it was. Also, a note on the haricot verts, you don't have to go crazy with the almonds if you don't want to--I just love them to death, so I threw some more in the pan with them. I took it easy on my roommate though, and just sprinkled a few on her end (slowly getting her into eating nuts as a component of a meal, it's a texture thing ;) ). Let's see what we came up with:

Sesame Almond Chicken 
with Haricot Verts and Salad with Balsamic-Agave Vinaigrette

2 chicken breasts, cut into 4 pieces
Soy sauce
Orange juice
1 T Chili sauce (I used Vietnamese chili paste: Sambal Oelek)
1 t Brown sugar
2 Cloves of minced garlic
Blanched, sliced almonds
Black and white sesame seeds

Haricot Verts (fresh green beans)
1 Clove garlic
Almonds (optional)

Red cabbage
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Black Pepper
Agave nectar

To make the marinade: combine about 1/4 cup each of orange juice and soy sauce together, if you see you need more to really drench those chick-chicks well, add more! Then mix in the chili paste (you can use your favorite Asian chili sauce here: Sriracha would be a good choice too), brown sugar, and garlic.  That's your marinade! Congratulations, now toss in some cleaned up chicken breasts, cover and set in the fridge so that you can get on with the rest of the activities. Again, 30 min did it for me, but you can increase the marinating time if you want.

Preheat your oven to 350º

Mix up your almonds and sesames in a shallow plate or bowl, just to get it out of the way, and set aside. This will become a component of your chicken assembly station, consisting of taking the chicken out of the marinade, dredging it in the sesame-almond mix, and placing it on parchment paper (I learned this the hard way) on a baking sheet.

Now you have to clean and snap the ugly ends off the beans, and mince the garlic that will go along with the beans. Set this aside as well.

Prepare your salad greens (I used spinach, carrots, and red cabbage for that punch of color) and your vinaigrette. Vinaigrettes are so easy! Take your best olive oil and measure out about how much dressing you'll need, then throw in about a quarter+ of that in vinegar, squirt agave to taste, and season with salt, black pepper, and thyme, also to taste. Mix, taste. Mix, taste. You'll get it, don't you worry. Do not get excited and drown your salad in the dressing just yet--you must wait until right before you serve to dress the salad, otherwise it will wilt and that would be too sad.

By the time you've finished this list of chores, your chicken should be ready, and the oven should be thoroughly preheated. Give the chicken one last toss about in the marinade and start your assembly line. I recommend lining the baking pan in parchment paper because it will stick to the pan--not impossibly, but it will stick and you will have more to clean up. When each chicken breast has been evenly pressed into the sesame-almond mixture, place them on the baking sheet and into the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

While the chicken is in the oven, heat some olive oil in a large pan on medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer toss in the green beans and start your sauté. When they begin to get that brilliant green, add the garlic and optional almonds and toss frequently until fragrant. Season with salt and black pepper. If you have managed all of this and the chicken still isn't finished, great job, now put a top on it to keep warm. Timing takes practice too ;)

To plate: Place a couple pieces of chicken on one third of the plate, on the other two thirds distribute the  beans and the salad. You can choose to drizzle the vinaigrette directly on the salad, or give your guests the opportunity to serve themselves at the table. Now you are ready to go! Enjoy your meal!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

El Mundo: Worlds Away from Your Average Mexican Joint

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go out with my best friend for some serious dining. Said friend is who I would consider my intellectual match, so going out with her provides the boost I need to get back into more brainy activities like reading books, discussing literature, philosophizing, etc. These are things I miss from wasting away the afternoon in the Quad on campus, exercising the aforementioned with fellow classmates. In the wake of entering the career world (aka the grown-up world), I forgot that such activities are what really make life interesting--besides experimenting in gastronomy of course. I must divulge the challenge that came from this dinner conversation: To read Ulysses and to take part in the next Bloomsday celebration. Challenge Accepted. Hah, we'll see if I survive.

Okay, now that we've passed the gratuitous musing stage, we can get to what we are all here for: THE FOOD!
Today's provider of tasty morsels: El Mundo
Cuisine type: Mexican, of course.
Location: Frankfort Avenue, Louisville's Clifton Neighborhood

The first impression that I had of El Mundo even before my first visit was that it had to be an incredible place to eat. Just passing it on a walk or drive down Frankfort could tell you that. It is always overflowing with people, the smell wafting through the air really will make your mouth water, and just a peep inside at the colors and decor tell you that the restaurant isn't just the real deal, but they absolutely love what they've built together. And so do I!

The first floor of El Mundo is always busy with people placing take out orders, and the small dining area, consisting of a few tables, is always full. We stepped right outside again, turned left and followed a staircase to the second floor, where we could take a seat in their full dining room. In addition, they have a patio area in the back for nice weather seating. The hosts and waitstaff are always friendly and approachable. We had to wait for a few minutes, which gave us the chance to grab one of their legendary margaritas at the corner bar. Let me draw your attention to the detailing here too: the colorful decor, the tin tiles, the glass and shell art, and my favorite, a framed poster of Frida Kahlo at our dinner table. It's a place that makes you feel good, and I would say that this is because it fulfills the needs of all 5 senses. You'll see why in a second.


At the table, we had our margaritas in hand: my friend's a frozen mango, and mine a strikingly fuscia prickly pear on the rocks. Then we ordered an appetizer of chips and guacamole. Their smooth guacamole is on point--and you all already know of my love of the fine balance of avocado, cilantro, and lime. El Mundo's guac also includes tomato, which gives it more substance as an appetizer, instead of just a condiment. Plus, the hearty tortilla chips have an incredibly gratifying crunch, that hold up well against the thick guacamole.

For the main course, my friend chose the delectable carnitas, and I the tamales. The carnitas had a wonderful char on the vegetables from the pan sauté, much like the taste that many associate with fajitas, and the pork was as tender as they come. My table mate was more than satisfied with her choice. As for the tamales, my goodness, the mole sauce is the best I have had in this city! Mole sauce is very complex, and is often subjective in taste, but to me El Mundo has hit the nail on the head. The warm spices from the ground chilis, cinnamon, and nuts creates an unmatched accompaniment to the soft, meat-filled tamales, presented in their thoughtfully wrapped corn husks. Along with a garnish of corn, mexican rice, and refried beans, this plate is what I would deem one of the legendary dishes of our city. It is quite a bit of food as well, so I was satisfied without moving on to dessert.

At the end of the night, we had to take a little stroll up and down Frankfort to reflect on the awesomeness we just consumed, and to enjoy the beautiful weather of our pre-fall season, as well as a stop at Bourbon's Bistro. I'd say it was another magnificent evening at El Mundo, and I look forward to my next delicious experience soon.

¡Que aproveches!

El Mundo
2345 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Phone: 502.899.9930
Also find them on Facebook here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Life Gives You Apples, Make Apple Tarts!!!

How are apples so exceedingly beautiful? It takes incredible energy to make an apple, well really to make any fruit or vegetable. The fruit is formed to protect the seed, and when it drops to the ground, hopefully it has a chance to germinate and grow anew. Imagine having just a few resources to live and thrive on: soil, water, light, and air, and you're expected to grow up healthy, reproduce, and now to feed entire populations of hungry people. I obviously taught this lesson when I was teaching bilingual Science classes in Spain, and this is how I went about it. Now, it is what I think about when I am creating something out of what most would view as an average apple--the energy from that apple is going to fuel me for the rest of the day, so I am going to celebrate it as well as I can!

Today's recipe is super simple, yet endlessly rewarding. Four ingredients and a couple spices will take you to otherworldly status. Not only will it transform the atmosphere in your kitchen with the warm, enveloping scent of baked apples and autumnal spices, but when you take that first radiant mini tart in your hand and you sink your teeth into its soft, yielding apple-happiness, your day will notably improve. Just take a look at the mouth-watering photos; they make me want to finish the plate I have sitting on the kitchen counter (now covered in foil, so as to deter overindulgence).

I used Macintosh apples for their firmness and tartness, because you do add a tad of sugar. Also, you don't have to go buy a thousand pounds of apples to make this one, I just used four fist-sized apples and I ended up with 8 or 9 mini tarts, which is plenty. Please please, use real unsalted butter for this recipe, for it will allow the flavor of the apple to shine.

MmmmmmmmMmm. I don't think I can even start to write this recipe without wanting to make another batch!

Autumn Apple Tartlets

4 Macintosh apples
3 T Unsalted butter, melted
1/8+C sugar
Puff pastry or pie crust

Set your oven to 400º on bake
I happen to have access to a wealth of little poaching cups in my home, so I used those to make mini tartlets. I bet that a muffin tin would work just the same, or if you happen to have mini tartlet pan, good for you--now you can use it! If you have prepared pie dough in the freezer, you'll obviously need to thaw it out, and for those who buy it in the store (try to find one without preservatives), you have to thaw it from the freezer as well! If you want to take the challenge to make your own pie crust, I recommend Lynn Rossetto Kaspar's Pie in the Sky Apple Pie Crust Recipe from The Splendid Table (a radio show and podcast from American Public Media). Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness, and if you have individual tartlet cups, like I used with our multi-purpose poaching cups, invert them over the dough and cut about a 1/2 inch circumference around them--this will give you just enough crust to cover the inside of the tartlet...if you want to get fancy and crimp the edges or cut out ornamental leaves or something, you'll clearly have to adjust your measurements. Do what you think is fitting! Press the dough into your tartlet molds and set aside.
To prepare the apples, all you have to do is peel, core, and slice them thin. Because I had four small apples, it was a breeze, and I didn't have to adjust the size of my slices for the size of my cups because they were already small enough. And boy! The flavor explosion in those apples was mesmerizing...I was taken aback. Anyways, slice them as even as you can manage with the thinness that is asked of you. Then you take those apples and layer them directly into your tartlet crusts. I layered them in a spiral shape for most of them, but if you just want to throw the slices in there every which way, that's fine too. 

Finally, you melt the butter and sugar together in a small bowl (I just used the microwave, but over the stove would work too), it took about 30-40 seconds. Then mix it up, spice with nutmeg and cinnamon, get a pastry brush out and go to town on top of those apples. You want to brush enough of that glaze to seep down to the bottom, but don't add a ridiculous amount, you only have 3 tablespoons. When they are all arranged on parchment paper on a baking pan, set them in a 400º oven for about 20-25 minutes, but watch for burning crusts, okay? When you take them out, transfer them to a wire rack to cool, and drizzle some honey over them... yes, I said drizzle honey. Amazing.

You can serve them warm or at room temperature. As I mentioned earlier, I just kept them on the counter wrapped in foil. If you want to reheat them, I would do so in the oven. They are also lovely served next to a small spoon of ice cream, and what a dainty presentation that would make! Throw a sprig of mint on the ice cream and you are getting closer to haute cuisine than you know :)
Enjoy, and may this be the beginning to a season full of warm, comforting, and exceedingly delightful food! Bon appetite!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to immortalize summer tomatoes! Answer: Refrigerator Tomato Jam!

Let me just sketch for you a vision of paradise. Whenever I see a bounty of food cascading out of crates and boxes and baskets, and their subsequent fall into my rolling market bag, it is pure happiness. What I love even more is rolling that bag home and opening it up to see, with seemingly new eyes, what I purchased. On my walk back, I am musing over what I can mix, steam, roast, blend, reduce, bake, or just eat rinsed and raw. When I get home, this thought process explodes into bursts of energy, flashes of knives, fruit and vegetables dancing by and leaving distinct juices in their wake, and after some scientific processes transform once fallen fruit from its branch, I am allowed to indulge in something truly miraculous. This is the montage that flips through my mind when I think about tomato jam.

I first tasted this rarity in Spain, when I was staying with the Handsome Spaniard's family. Oh, how mamá made her refrigerator jams--plum, tomato, peach, all so wonderful. I never got the chance to make them alongside her, but of course I brought up the discussion on how to make them. The description was simple: take whatever fruit you want and chop it fine, then add about half that of sugar, and throw in some lemon seeds for pectin and a squeeze of juice if you want. The acidity and the sweetness are then balanced.

I did a little more research and got into some actual canning recipes. It's not that I don't have the gumption to take on a canning project, but rather I don't really have the resources at the moment. So, as the New York Times recently assured me, refrigerated jams are the way to go, both in Spain and here in the States! They store for ages in the fridge, and if you spot a little mold growing, don't worry it isn't dangerous mold--you just scrape it off the top and keep on keepin' on. Come on, don't be such a wimp. Also, if you do end up throwing it away out of fear, it is SUPER easy to remake!

This tomato jam is also a new taste for some in the States, for we usually think of jams as fruit-based. This might be another reinforcement of the fact that the tomato is biologically a fruit, although we often cook with it as a vegetable. Tomato jam is great, I have recently used it as a condiment for both baked fish and a vegetable quiche I made. In addition, you can smear it on toast in the morning with a bit of queso fresco or spreadable cheese like Boursin or Alouette--it is the stuff of dreams. It also goes well on its own with toast or crackers.

As I mentioned earlier, you can play around with this base recipe and try it with different fruits: strawberries, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, basically anything that you would want to make a jam out of, you can stuff into a jar in your fridge. I also referenced the website Food in Jars, which is a canning blog, and I used this recipe as a base: Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika . So, let's see where the wind took me on that lovely day...
**Note: Because this was a test recipe, I only made enough for a single jar--if you want more, you just have to add more ingredients. I wouldn't worry too much, but the ratios should remain more or less the same.

Spiced Tomato Jam
3 C Red and yellow tomatoes, chopped
3/4 C Sugar
1/8 C Orange juice (because I didn't have lemon juice, and it sounded good)
1 T Apple cider vinegar 
3/4 t salt
1/2 t Grated fresh ginger
1/2 t Smoked paprika (pimentón)
1/2 t Ground cloves

This recipe is really basic in construction, but what it demands is time by the stove. Get a giant mixing bowl out, and throw all of the ingredients together. Mix this up really well with a wooden spoon. 

Then you put a pot big enough for your ingredients to fit on high heat and empty the contents of your mixing bowl inside. You have to bring the mixture to a boil, while stirring occasionally. After you get it to a boil, reduce it to a bubbly simmer and stir often until it becomes the consistency of jam that you wish. This took me a solid 50 minutes to accomplish. 

You can go on to canning these if you're into that. Otherwise, just take a clean jar (I reuse jars from past refrigerated condiments), fill it up and let it cool to about room temperature before you put it in the fridge (you don't want to break the glass!).

Now it's time for you to enjoy jammy tomatoey awesomeness! Be merry, dear friends! 

Listening to Kyle Meredith on WFPK Radio Louisville

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lynn's Paradise Café: A Truly Eclectic Paradise for L'ville

If someone sat me down and forced me to name the one thing I love about Louisville, I would probably have to be harassed for quite a while to just give one answer. If you see the My Louisville Loves page on the toolbar, you'll see that my list almost never ends (don't worry, there is a bottom to the page). However, I would say, as an attribute of Louisville, I love how genuinely eclectic our city is. If you haven't deduced quite yet, I hail from the Highlands part of town, and this corridor of our fair city specializes is Keeping Louisville Weird, as the tagline dubs it. This neighborhood, among many other incredibly awesome neighborhoods, pretty much defines unique in my book. It isn't stuffy and it isn't something you can find everywhere. Whenever I found a cool neighborhood full of colors, delicious food, friendly people, and creativity, I was brought back to my memories of the Highlands.

Although every place is different in its own right, there are feelings that you can share when you connect it to home. The artsy and eclectic neighborhood I lived in in Barcelona for example, Gràcia, reminded me of the Highlands, although it was playing a totally different game on the Mediterranean. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that there are places you can feel at home all over the world, because there is that something special that really weaves a community together. I feel that community here in the Highlands as in other neighborhoods in Louisville as well, but I belong here as another would belong in Germantown or in Nulu or in Crescent Hill. Our city is so diverse, so varied and fruitful with genuinely nice people, interesting places to visit, and the sounds, smells, and tastes of a city that knows what it means to have a good time.

Thank you Lynn's Paradise Café for letting me wax poetic before your restaurant review.

Switching focus a bit, Lynn's is a place that I have been going to since "Bardstown Roading" became a weekend ritual (Fun fact: I even had a final exam at Lynn's in college). Now, Lynn's is on Barret Avenue, which is just a few blocks from Bardstown Road, but it is still a stop on that route as far as I'm concerned. Anytime I am showing a deprived soul the Highlands neighborhood for the first time in their lives, you can be sure that brunch/lunch/dinner will be at Lynn's. That beacon of sparkly multi-colored joy is a good example of all that is good in our neighborhood rolled into one gorgeous restaurant/boutique.

This particular visit to Lynn's was in honor of a dear friend (check out her blog here) and her mother passing through Louisville on a cross country trek back to the East Coast. They were on their first visit to L'ville, although they had family who grew up here, and I was given the task of summarizing everything I wanted to show them in two days. I can now say, Mission Accomplished! So, of course, on our Highlands route, we swung by Lynn's for dinner. It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside. I think this is the first time I have ever done so because I'm usually requesting the train table (with a moving toy train in a shadowbox table), or by the giant white tree, or in a booth that is overflowing with plastic figurines, that impossible find-the-item shaker, and giant crayons for entertainment while we wait. However, when you can snag a good day outside in the summer, you take advantage of it.

We started off our meal with an appetizer of Fried Potato Pancakes with Creamy Goat Cheese. Anywhere I can find goat cheese I get really excited, not to mention when they are served with latkes! I was not disappointed. The potato pancakes were crispy on the outside yet still yielded to that beautiful and soft potato inside. With the subtle bite of the creamy goat cheese spread, it made the beginning of the meal even more wonderful than our pure anticipation for the entrée.

We were anticipating fish that evening, and ordered the Gingersnap-Encrusted Cod and the Fried Catfish Platter. The sides we chose included southern-style green beans (which means w/bacon), coleslaw, and pan-fried apples. My tablemates were pleased with their catfish, and I loved the idea of my Gingersnap-Encrusted Cod. I could have had more gingersnap, but the fish was cooked well, and there was a substantial amount of cod, so I really couldn't complain. In addition, the guava-ketchup that came to us alongside the tartar sauce was completely empty at the end of my meal, because it was just so complete--this is what ketchup has been missing all along! If you are capable of making ketchup better, mastering southern green beans, knocking coleslaw out of the park (which is hard because coleslaw is a very subjective food), pan-frying apples to cinnamon and sugar perfection, and rocking out on the fish, you are a wonderful establishment in my book.

In addition, Lynn's has a unique boutique called the World of Swirl as its entrance. If there is a waiting list that evening, you can entertain yourself by trying on a potpourri of funny sunglasses, browsing various gags and gifts, different attire and accessories for the home, and if you are a little overwhelmed just step outside and bang out a tune with a flip-flop organ. I feel like some of these descriptions might seem foreign to those souls who have never ventured to Lynn's, but I promise you will understand after your first visit. Join the movement :)

I can't help but feeling completely recharged, fun-loving, and full of whimsy whenever I leave Lynn's. It is just that kind of place. Anywhere that has a pair of suspender pants made out of tea-bags hanging over the hostess desk, just begs that kind of attitude that makes us all step back, stop taking the world so seriously, and have a good laugh. A lot is to be said of a place that can bring us all fun and humor, no matter how we started the day. I know I'm grateful!
Go forth and indulge in some merry-making!

Lynn's Paradise Café
984 Barret Ave.
Louisville, KY
They also have a Contact Us form on their website

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Snack Attack! Charming Chicken Salad

I have been practicing up on meals that can spread out over a number of days, at least to cover lunches during the week. Obviously, one of those meals will be the staple chicken salad. My recipe is pretty basic, but I do home make everything in the recipe, there is no canned chicken or store-bought mayonnaise in this, and I think you'll agree that the taste is notably better. Plus, mayo is much easier to make than most people think...I'm starting a mayo revolution, so follow along below!

Learning to make a basic mayonnaise will change your life, you feel like a freaking kitchen rockstar after you make your first batch, and since it takes about 20 seconds to whip up, you go out and tell all of your friends. I encourage this behavior, because it means people are returning to the basics, becoming active in their kitchens, and in turn becoming more active in controlling the processed mess that most Americans unfortunately consume. Now, I won't continue on this diatribe, because we all know where I will end up, but I encourage you to keep on keepin' on when it comes to starting from scratch.

Today's delightful salad can be eaten inside a fluffy pita (I'm trying out a recipe for one of those soon, so keep a look out), between some happy whole grain bread, with slices of baguette, or on crackers. You could probably nest a scoop in a nice bed of fresh lettuce and raw veggies to make a one-bowl complete meal, just go for whatever makes you feel good, because that's what snacks are for!

Homemade Chicken Salad
2 Chicken breasts, washed and trimmed up
Red grapes, sliced in half
Celery, washed and chopped fine
Red onion, chopped fine (optional)
Eggs, hardboiled
1/2 C Flax seeds
Olive oil
Egg, uncooked
Black Pepper
Dash of chili powder

Start by poaching the chicken breasts in water and about a 1/2 cup of white wine, until they are cooked through. Take them out and set them aside to cool. When they are cool, chop them in small pieces. Place this in the bowl that you will store this lovely salad in. Then you add in the grapes, celery, and onions then give it a joyful toss. Peel the hardboiled eggs and chop fine, then throw it in the bowl, and add the flax seeds (you can also use almonds or pecans or whatever nut/seed piques your fancy). As for measurements, you can basically add as much as you have, or as much as you want--you know what a chicken salad looks like, so add as you need to.

Now it is time to make the Mayonnaise!!! That has a capital-M because it is going to start a revolution in your kitchen. Get ready! I use an immersion blender, which I think every cook should have in their kitchen, and it makes mayo in like 20-40 seconds. It is so easy, seriously go try it now. Crack an egg in the bottom of the blender cup, then add as much olive oil as you want mayonnaise. If you have a lemon, squeeze a little bit in there, if not, a dash of vinegar works fine too. Then you immerse the blender all the way to the bottom so that the blade covers the yolk and white, and then bzzzz away until you get mayonnaise. As the mayo forms, raise the blender up and up until you get the thickness you desire of mayonnaise. After this, all you do is add salt. Seriously easy and incredibly delicious. Homemade olive oil mayonnaise: if you're not having an epiphany right now, I don't know what will get you there.
Add that mayonnaise to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and mix well. Then season with salt, black pepper, and chili powder to taste. Don't be afraid to experiment with this, you can throw in some golden raisins and curry, you can add carrots and ginger, you can go to the moon and back, so have fun with it!

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Carrot Soup with Ginger: An Answer to the "Cold Front"

I think a good measure of the seasons changing, nowadays at least, is not necessarily the day on the calendar, but when you get a week of 70º weather after a 90º+ heat wave. Known in Louisville as a cold front, this 70º weather can induce chronic outdoorsiness, the desire to become more active during the daylight hours, and returning to an open-window policy. I am happy to say that I fell subject too all of these symptoms, and it has been a good week! Generally, when fall is knocking at our doors, we have a little fluctuation period of hot weeks and cooler ones. In order to get into the spirit of fall, I took this cool week to make up a soup I hadn't made in a long time.

Carrot soup with ginger is my favorite autumnal soup. It contains the best veggies from this part of the season, it is comforting and smooth, and it is versatile enough to transform into new dishes from the leftovers. It is also a soup that is better the 2nd and 3rd day after you make it--I absolutely love those! It's like you forgot how great it was the night before, and magically you formed super senses to enjoy the dish even more! I'm easy to please.

This soup can have any number of ingredients and forms. You can make it creamy or not, you can puree it or not, the choice is yours (as with everything). I like to start it out as kind of a stew--we can get into the debate on what is a soup and what is a stew, but my basic definition is that if the pieces are small enough to eat it with a spoon and not a fork, then it is a soup. I eat chili with a fork, so its stew. I'll try to suggest a few variations though for you soup-purists (which includes pureeing).

Carrot Soup with Ginger
2 Celery Stalks, trimmed and sliced thin
1 onion, chopped
8-9 Carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 Potatoes, depending on size, with or without skin, cut into 1x1/3" pieces
About a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated (I actually used a zester)
3-4 Cloves of garlic, sliced
8-10 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
Black Pepper
Cream (optional)

To prep the vegetables, I like to slice them all thin (except the potatoes stay a little more substantial). If you have a mandolin slicer, I would get that out and go to town; depending on your knife skills it could save you some time. If not, chopping them up isn't too bad--I like using prep work to relieve stress--the more stress, the more complex the meal coming out of the kitchen. Is anyone else like that? Hah. Anyways, everything should be about the same smallish size, this makes sure that every ingredient is cooked quickly and evenly, has a chance to distribute its flavor, and still fits in the soup category.

I group the onions and celery together in one bowl, and the potatoes, carrots, garlic, and ginger in another. You will heat some butter or olive oil (or a mixture of both) in a large pot and cook the celery and onions first, until they are fragrant and translucent. Then you add the second bowl with the carrots, potatoes, garlic, and ginger and stir around until the carrots become soft (probably 10 minutes). If the veggies stick to the bottom a little, don't freak out, we are about to de-glaze the pan with the broth or water. Relax.

Okay, when the veggies are tender, but not mushy, it is time to add the broth and finish the cooking process. Bring all of the ingredients to a boil (save the seasonings and cream, that comes at the end), and simmer on low for about 20 minutes, stirring a bit here and there. Now it is time for the finishing touches. Turn off the heat and add salt and pepper to taste, then add about a 1/2-3/4 tsp of nutmeg. If you are adding cream, you can stir in 1/4 cup at this point, and reheat, but not to boiling (curdling is bad). To serve, sprinkle some parsley on top...the soup can do the rest.

On the 2nd and 3rd day you can puree it and serve it either cold or hot. Additionally, you can throw some homemade croutons (bread that you dried in the oven) and good-quality olive oil into the puree for some interesting layers.  This time I actually went a little avant-garde and put some pumpkin seed oil in there, for the win, which added the most wonderful nutty flavor to this already warming dish. It is magnificent for lunch or dinner on any day of the week, and the ginger-carrot combination will make you smile :)

Enjoy my friends!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Meet Meat: Louisville's Own Speakeasy

I'm going to start off by saying that Louisville can still seriously surprise me after so much time. I don't know why I'm so surprised all the time, probably because I just love getting excited about everything, but seriously Louisville, way to be awesome in your own unique way. This is brought up because recently I was recommended to go to a speakeasy-style bar over the Blind Pig. Now, I've indulged in the Blind Pig and I know how incredible it is (I must write a review!), so I was chomping at the bit to get to the secret upstairs!

 **Note: the pictures are very dark...c'mon it's a speakeasy!

I made it. It is everything I dreamed it would be!

Take the plunge...
This particular night, we were meeting a friend to celebrate her birthday. Normally you would think that one would pick a place everyone had been to before. That's not how we roll, and I couldn't be happier! I'm going to take you through our evening, and you'll see why...

The only indication that there is anything upstairs is a small painted sign that says Meat with an arrow pointing up. There is a long staircase that leads you to the second floor of a Butchertown brick and mortar building. You look up from the staircase and meet a grey steel door with a single red light illuminated overhead. My friend and I hesitated with both fear and curiosity. To me mingled apparitions from a history rife with prohibition-era gangsters and flapper girls materialized. Also visions of meat lockers and slaughterhouses flashed by, but I relied on the romanticism of the former to bring me through.

We entered through a long and dark labyrinth-like hallway, the first sight we met was literally hanging meat, working with the slaughterhouse premonition, but it wasn't off-putting (as it was cured meat, and I'm pretty used to that coming from Spain). Still, we embraced the haunted house feel as we turned the next corner and met yet another long hallway with a single lamp-lit desk featuring the menu. At that point we caught our breath a little...

The inside entrance was masked by a heavy damask curtain, which parted in the middle only offering a tiny glimpse of what could be on the other side. Excited is an understatement. Behind the curtain was an inviting space with two plush couch and chair seating areas, a long table with swing out chairs, and a long stand up bar separate from the central wrap-around beacon of a bar. There was an additional room that continued towards the back with seating as well. The central bar was placed in front of a billboard-sized mural saying Meet me in Butchertown. Perfect.

Meat's central horseshoe-style bar

Ambiguous Smile

On top of all this amazingness the Derby City Soul Club was spinning wax with Matt Anthony. I was starstruck that night because I am a long-time fan of Matt Anthony from the Friday Night Soundclash on WFPK. He is a serious musical genius, and I mustered up enough courage to actually introduce myself (nearly genuflecting) and to thank him for creating musical fusion like I've never heard from anyone else. If you are lost at this point, start off by tuning into 91.9 WFPK on Friday evenings before you go out...and you'll quickly understand where I'm coming from. We are lucky, fellow Louisvillians, very lucky.

Now let's get to the cocktails and nibblies! I can tell you that Meat has the best cocktail list currently in existence in Louisville--I don't think this is just my own opinion. You go there and you will not be disappointed. For those who may be intimidated, the menu actually guides you in the right direction by organizing the drinks into Well, Medium, and Rare categories based on complexity. My first try was the Meat Julep, because I had to start with bourbon, which looks like their specialty (naw, really?). Everyone chose different cocktails and everyone was in love with whatever they picked. I like that the cocktails were thoughtful, well-presented, and didn't overdo it.  Later, I actually went off menu because I heard yet another rumor that one of the bartenders--you'll have to find out yourself because I'm not naming names ;)-- makes a killer Old Fashioned...and yes, sir he does! Love rumors in a speakeasy!
Meat Julep: Served in a silver tumbler

The bar not only serves delicious cocktails in every way, shape, and form, but they also have a carousel of jumbo jars full of snacks!!! The choice of nibblies is varied and plentiful from gingersnaps to pretzel chips and nuts to veggie crisps, which are doled out by little silver scoops into wax paper packets. It adds a nice playful note to a place that already makes me feel way cooler than I am. Yep, I'm going back.

Good people, phenomenal music, and scrumptious drinks made for a great birthday celebration. Next time I will be indulging in a dinner at the Blind Pig before I sneak upstairs to see what's going on at Meat. I don't think it is possible to have a bad time there--Three cheers for Meat!

<psst!> Spread it around and bring some friends, but keep it on the down low ;) Also, be responsible, as Meat reminds you on the menu, you can't ride all the rides at don't even try it.

1076 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40206
Phone: 502.354.3212