The Gleeful Gourmand: 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Treats!

Every year I search for something new to bake for family and friends during the Christmas season. With all the glossy, beautiful magazines that stuff my mailbox, each take on holiday treats looks better than the next. Whittling it down to something I know my family will enjoy, and will be easy (hello, it is HARD to bake and also concentrate at the same time when you have twin toddlers!) is not always an easy task. The choice is usually made when I mentally say to myself, "Oh yeah, I could do that and not lose my mind."

This year I decided to stick with a standard from last year: Peppermint Meringues, and take on a new recipe: Crunch Bars. These crunch bars are really versatile, and SO delicious. Highly addictive, the cookie base is just crunchy enough without being too hard, while the salt added to the melted chocolate on top gives it a subtle complexity of flavor. Adding your favorite toppings adds to the fun. This would be a good recipe to do with your kids, and have them come up with their own toppings.
Mmmm...lots of chopped Ghiradelli chocolate.

For my first try, I put coconut on top. The recipe recommends toasted coconut, but I didn't have the time, and I've also been known to toast coconut by way of completely burning it to bits on more than one occasion. I like the idea of doing something like crushed candy canes, and maybe even popcorn.

A couple of notes, though. When the recipe says the dough for the cookie base will be wet and sticky, it really means it. It also says you should work the dough into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. What happens when you work with wet and sticky stuff with your fingers? Yeah, it gets all gobbed up. I'm not sure using another tool would be much better, but I was a little frustrated trying to spread it out with my fingertips. The more gobbed up with dough they got, the harder it was to make it conform to the bottom.
The finished Crunch Bar before slicing.

Also, when it says that you should let the completed Crunch Bar cool for 2 hours until the chocolate sets, that's really crucial. Of course it still tastes great, but the texture of a mostly cooled bar while the chocolate is still a little liquid, versus when it's completely set is different enough that I think it matters. If you plan to give these as a gift, I would recommend absolutely waiting until it's completely set. That way they won't fall apart when you put them in a gift bag or package.

Lastly, I know it recommends "fine sea salt" and also "Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)". Bon Appétit is going crazy for Maldon sea salt right now apparently, but here's my secret: I used Kosher salt and it turned out great. So don't sweat it if that's what you have on hand. Conversely, for the chocolate – and I know I say this all the time – don't skimp on quality. When they call for semisweet chocolate, splurge and buy the best you can. And be sure not to use chocolate chips: The chips have stabilizers in them that will prevent them from melting the way you need them to.
Pairing the Crunch Bars with the Peppermint Meringues makes a nice presentation.

Enjoy, and happy baking! Here's the link to the recipe again, in case you missed it up top: Crunch Bars

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Menu For The End Of The World

When I was about 13 years old I began sleepwalking and talking in my sleep on occasion. But it wasn’t until I entered High School that I started doing it frequently. One of the things I dreamed about most often was the world coming to an end. Every night it was the same dream: I would be lying in bed and the radio would be on. An announcer would come on, interrupting the music, and declaring that, “This is it. This is the end of the world.” In my dream it would almost always be storming outside. In real life, while I was still asleep, I would get up and walk to my parent’s room, opening their door and start crying, telling them that the world was ending.

My poor parents. I can’t even imagine how frustrated and worried they must have been that their daughter did this almost every night. It would usually take a firm, “Jenna, wake up! Go back to bed right now!” from my mother to get me to snap out of it.

So why the end of the world? I think it largely had to do with my fears. What’s not to fear about life ending in a cataclysmic event where there’s sure to be lots of pain and suffering? Whenever I would see something on television about it, it was enough to send me into a full panic. It also had to do with this overwhelming sorrow, fear, and disappointment that the world would end without me having experienced it at all. I remember praying to God to just let me grow up, travel, experience things, find a husband and have children before ending the world. That didn’t seem like too much to ask Him, did it?

Now that I am grown up, have a husband and children, have traveled extensively, and have a much better understanding and appreciation for my relationship with God, I can see how ridiculous my prayers were. Of course, I think God understands a silly teenage girl’s outlook on the world and realizes that it’s largely immaturity at play for her to make such demands on Him.
Here's a preview: This makes the list. Yes, frozen rolls.

These days, despite the Mayan calendar countdown and all the chatter that goes with it, I feel a lot better about impending doom.

Honestly! I really do! If the world were truly to end on the 21st of this month (which I don’t really think it will), I am okay with that. My relationship with God has changed so much, and it changed not only my heart, but also my outlook. It goes much deeper than “well, I know where I’m going in the end.” If the world is going to end, then it’s my belief that God willed it so. And if He willed it, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. So why spend this life worrying about when it will end, and how it will end? While you’re busy worrying, actual life is passing you by. I know this because I am a world-class worrier. I am a champion at worrying. And worrying has gotten me absolutely nowhere.

If I knew the world was going to end, would I be disappointed? Sure I would be! I’ve loved my time here on Earth. But my life was always going to be a blip anyway. It was always one grain of sand on a vast beach. But that’s not so bad – I happen to love the beach. I would be sad to miss watching my kids grow into adults. I would be sad that I never got to go to culinary school (something I hope to do someday), and that my book never got published. But none of those things are so important as how I honored God, and how I used and gave away all the love He instilled in me.

If we’re hurtling towards THE END, then I want to hurtle towards it with a smile on my face, laughter on my lips, my arms around my family, and an expectancy of a fulfilled promise in my heart. Not a quaking heart full of fear and sorrow for things missed out on.

And also, I would want to hurtle towards it with a plate full of good food. How could I not? One of my most supreme joys on Earth has been making food, eating food, reading about food, and, of course, writing about food. But what does one make to usher in the end of the world? Do you make every single favorite food for everyone you love? Do you book reservations at your favorite restaurant (why would they even be open??)? I know I wouldn't want to spend too much time making the dinner. I feel I'd be missing out on a lot of other important stuff at the end. So making every single favorite food we've ever loved is out. I also wouldn't want to over-stuff myself. I hate that feeling. Is that the last feeling I want to have before it all ends? After thinking for several days on these questions, I finally settled on this menu:

My Spaghetti: Because our whole family loves it. It’s easy and comforting. What more could you want for the end of the world than easy and comforting?
Parker House Rolls by Sister Schubert: Because these rolls are so ridiculously good, even though they’re of the frozen variety.
A Glass of Cline Cashmere Wine: There’s no way I’m spending the last night on Earth without a glass of wine in my hand!
Pumpkin Pie: Because it’s my husband’s most favorite food in the world, next to Hardywood Park’s Bourbon Cru beer, which I would also have on hand. He deserves a pumpkin pie at the end of the world.
Beatty’s Chocolate Cake: Because I adore this cake, and so does my son. There are lots of desserts I love, but it’s really hard to beat this one.

It’s (maybe) the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…and stuffed.

What's on your menu for the end of the world?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Leftovers, Glorious Leftovers!

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and by now, your leftovers have mostly been consumed. But for a large portion of Americans, Thanksgiving Part Deux is just one month away - at Christmastime. Yes, it's hard to believe, but a significant amount of home cooks simply redo their Thanksgiving dinners when it comes to Christmas dinner. Before all you foodies get up in arms about that ("Amateurs," you may sniff), there's definitely a precedent for it. After all, what would Christmas be without the superb, silky vocals of Nat King Cole singing, "Everybody knows, a turkey and some to make the season bright"?

The turkey is, forgive the pun my runner readers, trotted out once again. I don't necessarily think that's such a bad thing. How many times have we said to each other after the last of the Thanksgiving turkey is gone, "We should roast turkeys more often. Why don't we do that?" Oh yeah, because it's a lot of work. It's special. I bought our bird from Whole Foods to make sure it was organic and free-roaming, and also ordered up to ensure leftovers. We brined ours this year overnight and spent an inordinate amount of time tending and taking care of it (Nigella Lawson's Spiced and Super-Juicy Roast Turkey). That's not something you just toss in the oven any old night of the week.

Brined. Organic. Fabulous.

But I digress. These days it seems that as much attention is paid to what you should do with your leftovers, as it is to the Great Feast itself. I've had turkey stews, turkey soups, been witness to lots of interesting turkey casseroles, and made turkey hash the next morning myself. The most unique and fun leftover use was done by my husband's cousins in Hawaii. His cousin Alice made a huge turkey curry the day after Thanksgiving with a bar set up full of toppings and fixings. The wine and conversation flowed, and it was delicious and fun, like the holiday just kept rolling on.

It was also wonderful because the only thing I had to do was show up and hold my glass out to be filled. But what do I really like to do with my turkey leftovers? Apparently I most like to be like everyone else in America. According to a survey done on the Food Network, I am just like 80% of viewers.

I like to make a turkey sandwich the day after.

I know, how boring is that, right? But it's not. It's something I dream about. After working so hard the day before and making everything perfect, my day after perfect is very simple: Slightly toasted WhiteWheat bread. Both sides slathered with Hellman's Mayonnaise. I don't eat mayonnaise often, but when I do, it has to be Hellman's. I hear all you Southern cooks crying foul that I don't use Duke's, but I stand firm. Hellman's it is. Freshly cracked pepper on both sides. And turkey piled high (just the white meat, I'm not a fan of dark meat). No embellishments. No arugula to give it punch and crunch. Nothing except the ingredients listed above. It's my perfect sandwich, and the only way I want to eat my turkey after the feasting is done. With maybe a dollop of my Mom's Cranberry and Orange Relish on the side. Everything else pales in comparison. Pales in comparison to a sandwich! Yes, I know how silly that sounds.

So how about you, readers? What's your most favorite way of using leftovers from Thanksgiving? Leave it in the comments!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Top Of Your Guest List - Thanksgiving Edition

"If you could have dinner with a famous person, either dead or alive, who would it be?"

That question. It gets thrown out during icebreaker games, first dates, and sometimes when everyone is just plain bored. It sounds like a simple question, but it's deceptive. Usually the person asking is trying to decipher your interests; and your character. The answer to this question could potentially say a lot about who you are as a person.   I've recently asked it of myself after reading a particular article in Bon Appétit.

As a Christian, I feel like I would be expected to say that the famous person I would have dinner with is Jesus. And while nothing would please me more, He wouldn't be my answer. First, you know the story of Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus? When Jesus came to visit, Mary sat patiently listening to Him, while Martha futzed around, trying to make things perfect and grumbling about why she was left with all the work. Jesus told her not to sweat the small stuff and just relax, but it was hard for her.

I'm a Martha. I like to lie to myself and say I'd be like Mary, but I'm totally a Martha, especially when it comes to holidays. Things don't have to be perfect (I know there's no way they every could be), but they have to be close. I would be way too nervous with Jesus there at the table. I would over-think absolutely everything about the food. And while I know in my heart He wouldn't care, I would. Secondly, I would want to ask Him a lot of hard-hitting questions. Nit-picky questions. And I have no idea if He'd answer them or not, since in this scenario I'm very much alive and not throwing Thanksgiving dinner in Heaven. I would monopolize the conversation like no one's business. I'm pretty sure my other guests would get angry. They might even leave.

So what famous person would I most like to have dinner with? Is it M.F.K. Fisher? Judith Jones? Hemingway? Jane Austen? Bono? Nope. It would be this guy:

Nick Offerman, who plays the hilariously stoic and awesome Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation." I recently read his Q&A in Bon Appétit in their Thanksgiving edition, and after reading it I thought, "I would LOVE to have Thanksgiving dinner with that man." First: Because he's so hilarious, and laughter is a very important part of any dinner party. Secondly: He seems to enjoy good, but simple food. His "Corn...My Way" sounds terrific, and he could bring it as a side dish. The burgers he likes to make also sound amazing (lamb and sirloin with grated Gruyere or Parmesan), so I imagine we'd get along so well he'd invite us all over for a cookout sometime. And make those burgers. Thirdly: He owns a woodshop in L.A. He could whittle a tablescape for my Thanksgiving table. Maybe some carved Tom Turkeys?

Read his Q&A here, and tell me you don't think he would make an awesome guest. Who's at the top of your list? Leave it in the comments, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food and Politics

*This post is in no way intended to endorse either candidate.*

One more day. That's what I keep telling myself every time I turn on the television or radio. The noise from the political ads has gotten so loud, and so annoying. Is it just me or do they seem to be gaining in quantity? Over the weekend I counted too many times my husband and I shouted at the TV screen when a political ad came on. We didn't care who the ad was supporting, we just wanted it to stop.

The truth is, no matter how much our commercials have evolved and gotten slicker, political ads to me will always be the equivalent of a Hollywood actor proclaiming, "If so-and-so wins, I'm moving to Canada!" It gets your attention, and it's interesting, but there's not a whole lot of truth behind it. Mostly these ads are just a nuisance in the background that don't sway me either way, even when they're using real people. Some are heartfelt ("My wife died of cancer, and it's that guy's fault!"), and some are downright silly ("Welcome, daughter...this is what your life is going to look like if that guy wins...and FYI, it will STINK."). Of course, I'm paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

Bill's Barbecue, a Richmond institution.
Then I came across this article written about one of Mitt Romney's ads that focused on the former owner of a Richmond food institution, Bill's Barbecue. Bill's Barbecue, for those not in the know, was a chain of barbecue joints that kept Richmond in barbecue, pie, and limeade for more than 80 years. I will say this, right off the bat: I used to love Bill's Barbecue. Whenever we had a half day in high school, my friends and I would head to Bill's where I always got the same thing: A pork barbecue sandwich, no slaw, onion rings, and a lemonade. At the time there weren't a lot of other barbecue choices.

Regrettably for a lot of die-hard Bill's Barbecue fans and nostalgia enthusiasts, the owners closed up shop this September. The overwhelming feeling was that it was sad, but it was time for Bill's to go. The political ad Romney's camp put on TV, however, features Rhoda Elliot, the company's owner (and daughter of its founders) talking about how President Obama's policies put Bill's Barbecue out of business. That they just couldn't keep up with "market changes and the high cost of upgrading operations."

Well, that's simply a lie. (Shocking, politicians lie? Gasp!) I have no doubt that the economic collapse of 2008 hurt Bill's, just like it hurt all of us small business owners. But to claim in a national television spot that it was the President's policies at fault is sheer folly, and I'll tell you why:

First, just as the article says, Richmond over the last 5 years has seen its food scene explode. Yes, many restaurants have closed, but many more have opened in their place. Within that boom of new restaurants we've seen more barbecue places open that simply do it better than Bill's: Alamo BBQ, which is nothing but a hole-in-the wall, but so good that people make the trek all the way to Church Hill just to eat there; Buz and Ned's (my personal favorite) who took on Bobby Flay on "Throwdown" and won, and recently expanded their restaurant to a second, hipper branch; and Q's, a simpler operation with pretty good barbecue, and a huge following.

Here is my second point about why this ad is false: Those restaurants I mentioned did what Bill's has refused to do for decades - change. The last time I ate at Bill's was the spring right before the girls were born and we were on our way to a baseball game. The place was dirty and dingy, the décor had not changed one bit, the service was sub-par, and the food was disgusting. We could barely choke down our sandwiches. Rhoda Elliot can claim that it was the President's fault, but the truth about Bill's is this: Better operations came along and upped the ante in the barbecue game, and Bill's failed to respond in the market by being smart and changing its ways. Maybe they thought Richmonders would be upset if they changed their institution. Maybe they were just lazy. Maybe they had terrible business advice. But whatever the case, all of it added up to them closing their doors. Richmonders sank their teeth into other barbecue and declared it tastier.

I want to explain why this ad, above any of the other nonsense from both sides matters to me. I really, really care about Richmond's food scene. I love that it has grown and gotten recognized nationally, and I want it to continue to grow and shape into its very own tourist attraction. I want RVA to be known as a destination "Food Town." I recently attended a wonderful panel of speakers comprised of Richmond restaurant owners, and they all agreed that while Richmond is very slow to change, and is behind cities like New York City or Austin, we will certainly get there in the near future. The ambition and desire is there. I think we're witnessing that change right now and it's exciting to watch it all happen (and also taste it!).

I also really, really care about barbecue. I love it, and am very passionate about it. I hate that Richmond was thrown into the spotlight because of this ad, which is false, and not because of our other non-chain restaurants that are working so hard to make this town a rising star in the food scene.

I know politicians lie. They ALL lie, and all their ads are ridiculous. I just wish this one hadn't received so much press when it's so false and involves my town.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Halloween Tale For You

I apologize for the lack of posts recently. Remember how my camera broke at the beginning of the summer? Well, I got a new one and it takes gorgeous pictures. Especially of food! And then I went and lost the computer cable it came with to upload photos. In the midst of that my phone broke down with complete finality, and also my computer decided to get in on the act and start working against me. I had to send it out to get it fixed (thanks Kristen and Carter!). It seemed as though technology was literally fleeing from me, but now I have my computer back, and I give you this, without pictures:

As it nears Halloween, visions of cute pumpkins, darling cut-out ghosts, plenty of treats and candy, and maybe even setting up a “spooky” graveyard in the front yard come to mind. Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie! Dressing up babies in adorable tiny costumes.

And zombies.

The living dead, walking the earth bloodied, mangled, and with bits of flesh hanging from their lurching (or sometimes incredibly fast, depending on which movie you’re watching) bodies. Certain doom to those who have a pulse.

Zombies are kind of a new thing when it comes to Halloween. For centuries it was all about devils and witches and goblins. And then Hollywood came calling, and with it the horror industry, playing on our darkest fears. Things that used to be alive, and who no longer are, who want to eat your brains. BRRAAAAIIINS!!! That’s really scary stuff. At least, it’s really scary stuff if you’re me.

So, here’s one story I always think of around Halloween: The year was 2005, and Buck and I were engaged. I had declared this year, in addition to my impending nuptials; “Comfort Zone 2005!” This declaration meant that I was supposed to do stuff outside of my personal comfort zone. These were tasks that I had declared too uncomfortable or scary to try. Included in this list was trying sushi (had it, liked it within reason), oysters (hated them), climbing Cadillac Mountain in Maine (accomplished!), and walking a half marathon (also accomplished!).

Also, to watch a zombie movie in the actual movie theater where I could not turn it off, or just get up and go to another room when it got too intense. This was a really hard one for me, but I was determined. I chose the remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” and I was actually kind of excited about it because one of the stars was Sarah Polley, and I loved Sarah Polley! At least, I loved her when I was a little kid and watched “Avonlea” on the Disney Channel (which didn’t have any zombies in it). She’s a great actress, and has matured into an even better director.

So what was the big deal? The big deal is that zombies really, truly freak me out. More than any imagined horror out there. I watched the original “Night of the Living Dead” with my Dad when I was in middle school and I never really recovered. That’s right. I never fully recovered from a cheesy, shaky black and white movie when special effects were but a twinkling in Hollywood’s eye. But there was a particular scene that was my undoing: When the little girl becomes a zombie and kills her mom with a garden trowel. I swear I cannot look at a trowel now without thinking of that scene, and that’s rather unfortunate because I’m an avid gardener.

This new movie wasn’t so bad. I mean, it was intense and I had a hard time not hiding behind my hands all the time. I even stayed to the end past the credits, when they showed how our previously thought saved heroes were, in fact, doomed. And some more gross stuff.  Spooky, but manageable.

Oh, who was I kidding?? It was horrifying, and I was exhausted from how tense I had been for the full two hours. Anyway, on our way home we had to stop at Sheetz to get gas. This was okay. A brightly lit place. The windows were down and I remember that KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” was playing on the speakers. I bopped along, trying to shove the images I had just seen out of my head. I was going to be okay. Right. The reality was, I was completely freaked out.

Little did I know, but Buck had somehow decided that a little joke should be played on me. A prank, if you will. So there I was, completely strung out in the front seat, and there he was, creeping along the back of the car, staying out of sight. He got to my window and then popped up suddenly, plastering himself against the frame. I screamed so loud that everyone around us looked over, and then I burst into tears. I could not stop crying because he had scared me so badly, and because I was still so tense from the damn movie. Buck felt really bad, opened my door and started comforting me immediately. Well, comforting me and laughing. A lot.

Needless to say, I haven’t seen a zombie movie since. I can barely look at a magazine if it features shots from AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” And if my kids ever want to watch one with me, I’m going to feed them my mom’s line from long ago, which I always thought was lame and in the fraidey-cat category: “No thanks, those things give me nightmares.”

Now go make these cute Ghostly Cake Pops. Happy Halloween. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Great Sauce-Off!

My dear friend Kiki over at I Still Hate Pickles threw this challenge to me last week: We both make each other's tried-and-true sauces, the ones we've been talking about forever, and see which one is better. Then we open it up to our readers to learn your secrets for successful tomato sauce, and maybe even have a throw-down where you make both our sauces and tell us which one is the winner.

So here it is, The Great Sauce-Off! I wish we had been able to do this together, maybe even in a more dramatic, Mad Max and the Thunderdome type of setting. But since she lives in Houston and I live in Richmond, we settled for our own boring kitchens instead.

Here are two differences right off the bat between our sauces: Hers was created completely in her own beautiful brain, and mine was ripped straight from the pages of Bon Appétit. I have to give Kiki major points for this. She futzed (yes, that's a word) with it over years and finally accepted it for what it was: A great sauce.

Anything with wine has to be good!
There are other major differences too, like consistency, flavor, richness, and acidity. Kiki's base starts with sweating onions and then tossing in garlic and finally deglazing with red wine. Anything that starts with red wine could never be bad. I chose one of my favorites, Cline Cashmere. The wine adds a depth of richness and aroma that is so very good. Long after all the other spices were added and it had simmered for 45 minutes, I still got hints of the wine working its way in through every bite.

She also adds in yummy herbs where mine does not; basil and italian seasoning. And then came the weird part. Sugar (okay, that's not so weird), and baking soda. She says the baking soda is to take the edge of the acidity, but I've never heard of that. I went along with it, and thought it was weird, but fine. I'm dying to know what it tastes like without it. The only thing in the world I would change is the sugar content. Kiki uses 1 Tbsp., and I think you could get away with much less, like maybe 1 tsp. Crushed tomatoes can be especially sweet, and the sugar can kick that into overdrive. It isn't cloying or anything like that, but it does end up being a little sweet for my taste.  I also tossed the spaghetti into a large skillet with about half of the sauce and simmered them together making sure all the strands were coated.

Kiki's sauce, simmering away.
Otherwise, her sauce is delicious. It's hearty and substantial, and I love that you can use it for more dishes than just spaghetti, which I really believe is pretty much the only thing my sauce can tackle. Together with the spices and the wine, every single mouthful was delightful. And here's the major difference: I could see enjoying this on a crisp Fall evening, or even a bitterly cold one, whereas mine feels more like a Spring/Summer type of sauce because of its lightness.
The finished product!

So readers, I'm dying for someone to take on this challenge! Kiki's recipe is listed below, and she will post my recipe on her site. Click the link below the recipe to enter the challenge and post to your blog! Or, feel free to leave your own favorite recipe in the comment section.

Kiki's Sauce

2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes 
1/4 c red wine 
1 sweet yellow onion (vidalias are great)
A ton of garlic (about half a head)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp crushed red pepper 
1/2 tsp baking soda
 salt & pepper to taste

I start by chopping the onions.  I don't mince them, but chop them smaller so they aren't ridiculously chunky.  If I am using fresh garlic, I will also chop that.  Saute the onions in the olive oil til soft and almost clear, then add the garlic and let that cook in for a few minutes.  Pour in the wine and stir to get anything stuck on the pot unstuck.  Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes and stir.  Add the sugar and seasonings and bring to a simmer.  Add the baking soda.  It has a chemical reaction and will get all crazy bubbly.  Let it do that, then stir. (It helps cut the acidity, which the sugar also does.)  I typically lower the temp once it simmers and let it cook on a lower-medium heat for a while. If I'm in a hurry, less time, but I like something like 45 minutes.  Serve over whatever pasta you like or use anywhere you'd use a red sauce (covering manicotti, etc).  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Feast Even The Romans Would Envy

A $17 million restaurant. Nine kitchens. 500 food items to choose from.

You basically know what you're going to get when you sign up to eat at a buffet, and the line above is not it. Rarely is anything ever fresh. Most dishes languish sadly under heat lamps, and despite the right price and the beckon of tempting desserts and chocolate fountains, you know it's not going to be a lavish affair. Buffets rarely are. Unless you're in Las Vegas, that is.

Vegas has been known for a long time for their buffets - places to fuel you up and overindulge you before spitting you back out into the casinos where you have no idea what time it is, and your money seems to disappear mysteriously from your wallet. When you talk about Vegas buffets, you talk about them with a sort of nostalgic fondness. And the two I've been to have been quite good.

The Bacchanal Buffet in Caesar's Palace promises to be more than "quite good." It promises to take hedonistic gastronomy to a level previously unheard of. At around $40 per guest, you can sample all ranges of fair featuring only the freshest ingredients, with many dishes being made out on the open so you can enjoy their creation. Most dishes will rival anything you'll find in other high-end eateries. But it's not just about the fare - the chefs have been professionally trained to interact with guests, and the number of staff is around 180. That's more than enough people to cater to your every culinary whim.

Of course, there are already many high-end buffets in Vegas that have the same type of concept, but Bacchanal hopes to edge out the competition with its decor as well. Roughly the size of half a football field, it will overlook the Garden of the Gods pool complex in a thoroughly modern setting.

I'm not one to usually raise my hand when asked who wants to go to a buffet to eat. My favorite breakfast spot in Las Vegas is Society Café in the Encore, with its not-to-be missed gigantic cinnamon bun that your table can share. But even I have to admit that the fare offered at The Bacchanal Buffet sounds too sumptuous to pass up: Red Velvet Pancakes, house-smoked BBQ, dim sum, and miniature fry baskets holding a serving of waffles and fried chicken are just a tiny fraction of what's being served.

But my question is, would you be satisfied shelling out $40 for a meal when you know that you'll only be able to gulp down a fraction of the offerings? Would you be willing to go back again and again at that price during what is usually a short stay in Vegas? Caesar's Palace is betting that you will, and I feel certain that the next time I'm there, it will be on my list of things to do.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Pleasure of Reading M.F.K. Fisher

When asked why she chose to write about food and hunger, prolific writer M.F.K. Fisher replied, "When I write about hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth, and the love of it...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied."

M.F.K. Fisher
Such a beautiful, simple, elegantly stated answer to a complex question. And that in a nutshell is what Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher was all about. But my foray into Fisher's writing didn't start with her. It started instead with Judith Jones, cookbook publisher extraordinaire; the woman who finally brought "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" into fruition, and with it catapulted Juila Child into stardom. She also, incidentally, was the person responsible for getting "The Diary of Anne Frank" published here in the United States. Jones's own memoir, "The Tenth Muse," is one of my most cherished books, and in it she talks briefly, but reverently, of M.F.K. Fisher. Not really knowing Fisher (I vaguely remembered hearing about her somewhere before), I was struck how she kept popping up in the subsequent memoirs I read from other famous chefs and restaurant critics.

Who was this writer? I wondered. Why did people in the food world speak about her so reverently? Why was she so important? I was determined this summer to find out, delving into the huge tome "The Art of Eating."  This compilation of five of Fisher's most loved works (Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet For Gourmets) shows off the créme de la créme of her genius. Although I've only gotten through three of them, it was more than enough to help me understand why Fisher is so revered.

She is one of the most brilliant food writers I've ever read. Scratch that. She's one of the most brilliant writers I've read, ever. So what's so fantastic about her writing? How very uncomplicated it is, and yet how sensuous, witty, clever, and genuine it is all at the same time. Take her sublime "Serve It Forth" for instance. She effortlessly weaves a tapestry of the history of gourmet food and its evolution with memories of her culinary pursuits while living in Dijon, France. I learned so much, felt so much hunger, and even laughed aloud a few times. I was never once bored or itched to get to the next essay. I found myself lapping it up, and exclaiming tidbits to my husband - for instance, did you know that French cuisine, which is regarded around the globe as the finest cuisine, got its humbled beginnings not from French chefs, but Italians? In 1533 Pope Clement VII married his niece Catherine de Medici to Henry II, and she brought her Florentine cooks with her to Paris. Their innovations in her kitchen ignited a fire and lust for good food in France that has continued to this day.

Fisher in the kitchen, doing what she loved best.

Just like those Florentines who changed everything, so did Fisher with her writing. She was the forefront of a movement starting in the 1940s that demanded food to be regarded as something more than just sustenance. To read her now, decades later, is still a fresh, new joy. Ruth Reichl sums it up beautifully:

"Mary Frances has the extraordinary ability to make the ordinary seem rich and wonderful. Her dignity comes from her absolute insistence on appreciating life as it comes to her. You'll see."

"The Art of Eating" is a good place to start, but if you want to take smaller bites, you can purchase her books individually ( is a good place to look) for a small price. If you love reading about food, there is no finer food writer than Fisher. As Reichl says, "I can't tell you how much I envy you the joy of reading Mary Frances for the first time. It will change your life."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Baptism and Tea Sandwiches

This past Sunday we had Savannah and Delia baptized! The girls did a wonderful job. We were really nervous for them leading up to it because they have been going through a pretty lengthy phase of "Stranger Danger." Since these days they're mostly in the nursery at our church, we were scared that all heck would break loose in the church during the baptism, especially when Father Steve went to hold them.

Liam was clearly not as thrilled as we were.
They proved us wrong and shone like the little superstars they are, not crying one bit. I dare say they actually kind of enjoyed it. Maybe that's because we had been prepping them during every bath time by dribbling water over their heads. Hey, it never hurts to be prepared! Anyway, it was such a beautiful, wonderful moment to see our girls finally be baptized and marked as Christ's own forever. We definitely missed Buck's parents who sadly couldn't make the trip from Hawaii, and Savannah's Godparents, Buck's brother Louis and sister-in-law Audra (she's due with twins of her own any day now!). We were thankful that Buck's best friend Shane stepped in for them to sponsor Savannah. My best friend Kiki came all the way from Texas and pulled double-duty as Delia's Godmother (she also stood in for her husband Rob, who is Delia's Godfather). We were so thankful for all our family and friends who came out to share the girls' special day.

Father Steve with Savannah (L) and Delia (R)
The luncheon afterwards was held at my mother's house, and the table setting for the buffet was very special as it boasted both my Grandmother's (Grammy Jeanne) tablecloth and my mother's Grandmother's table cloth. We served the usual crackers and cheeses, and fruit, along with my mother's amazing Gazpacho, and chicken salad sandwiches on yeast rolls. I also made an orzo salad and some tea sandwiches from Southern Living's May issue. What I liked so much about these sandwiches was that they were relatively easy, but they also weren't simple, boring flavors as tea sandwiches can sometimes have. The first was a traditional cucumber sandwich but the flavor was bumped up and more complex (and delightful in my opinion) thanks to some finely diced red onion, lots of fresh basil, and strawberries. The second was even simpler with cream cheese, orange marmalade and dried cranberries put together with turkey and a spring baby salad mix. I was nervous about the marmalade because it's not something I typically enjoy, but it worked well here. Perfect for a tea, or a light lunch, or even to snack on, the fillings can be made the day before.

Some Notes: On the cucumber sandwich, I would not dice the strawberries finely again. I'd slice them instead, allowing for a greater burst of flavor. I know it doesn't seem like the cut would make a difference, but I really believe it would. On the second, I went with a pre-packaged turkey. I would actually see next time if I could get some real roasted turkey (or chicken) to slice slightly thicker for a more robust flavor component. It also calls for pumpernickel, but I hate pumpernickel, so I just used plain white/wheat bread. I also omitted the nuts since we have a lot of nut allergies in our family. Be sure to freeze the bread slices until hard to make slicing the crusts easier. Each filling makes 2 cups, and each whole sandwich should use about a 1/4 cup filling.

Cucumber and Strawberry:
Stir together 1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened,; 1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and finely chopped cucumber; 1/3 cup mayonnaise; 1/4 cup minced red onion; 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil; 1/2 tsp. finely ground pepper; and 1/4 tsp. salt. Spread on: white bread; sandwich with diced fresh strawberries.

Orange and Cranberry:
Stir together 1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened; 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries; 1/3 cup orange marmalade; and 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans. Spread on: pumpernickel bread; sandwich with thinly sliced smoked turkey and fresh arugula.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pie Safes! Keeps Your Pies...Safe!

You may have noticed that I haven't been very good about posting, and believe me, I feel like a blogging slacker. There are a few reasons for this:

1) It's summertime and my brain has turned to a sluggish ball of mush wherein no creativity shall spark forth. Instead, it is replaced by trying to come up with ways to keep 1 preschooler and 2 babies entertained (and thereby using up my quota of creativity), and how best to beat the ridiculous heat. The rest of my brain is occupied with the overwhelming desire to be at the beach, apparently its natural habitat.

2) Our camera broke at the beginning of the summer and we still haven't replaced it (and apparently fixing it would cost just as much as a new camera. Fun!). Knowing that blog posts aren't really that interesting without some sort of picture leaves me floundering. If I can't take a picture of the food, I probably shouldn't blog about it either.

However, I finally had some inspiration that I don't need to even take pictures of! What is this glorious inspiration?

The Pie Safe.

What's a Pie Safe you ask? (Or maybe you don't ask this because you already know what one is and are now snickering at the fact that I didn't know what a pie safe was until recently) Anyway, this is a Pie Safe:

It keeps your Like a vault of money at The Bellagio. Just kidding. Basically, it keeps the bugs out while allowing air to circulate through it thanks to the many little holes in a (usually) tin front, keeping the pies from getting moldy. They first arrived on the scene around the beginning of the 19th century in the homes of Pennsylvania German women who used it to store breads, pies, cakes, and cookies, and have now generally become antiques thanks to a little invention called the ice box (known to you now as the refrigerator). They really are beautiful to behold, and in some homes of people who enjoy collecting antiques they are used as cabinets to store all sorts of sundries.

For the record, if I owned one, I would only put baked goods in it. But I don't own one. Do you know how much these suckers cost?! Thousands. You read that right. At one point in time, most homes in America had a pie safe in the kitchen, which means that they could not have been very expensive. Yet now if you want to own this piece of authentic Americana, it could potentially cost you upwards of $3000. I don't know, to me that is simply ridiculous.

But what made me interested in the Pie Safe in the first place was a featured Pie Safe seen in Garden & Gun Magazine. This new Pie Safe was constructed to look vintage with heirloom type quality, but it was also a simple countertop job. And it was only $42. I've been obsessed ever since.

When I told my Mom about this she promptly related that my Grandma Hazel had a beautiful antique Pie Safe that sat for decades in her basement that was owned and used by her mother. When my Grandma Hazel passed away, my Mother begged my Father to save that Pie Safe, knowing it would be valuable at best, or at worst, a wonderful family heirloom. But I guess my Dad didn't see the beauty in it. How could he have guessed that his daughter would someday be obsessed with not only making pies, but something to put them in as well?

I like to think that somewhere out there someone bought that Pie Safe and cherished it, realizing that a true, beautiful Pie Safe should be put to good use. I hope that person was inspired to bake their little hearts out, and filled the Safe up with the best pies, cakes, and cookies they could muster.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Best Doughnuts Ever (Period)

When I was a kid we would go to the Outer Banks and stay in Duck for a week during the summer. I loved it so much. Everything was better at the beach. Of course seafood tasted better at the beach (being so fresh and all), but even pizza tasted better at the beach. Shopping was better at the beach, in that it was fun to begin with (I have always hated, and will always hate shopping). And you could always count on the fact that there would be treats. I mean, that's what going to the beach is all about, right? One of the treats my Dad always insisted on was taking us to a place called "Stack 'Em High Pancakes," a veritable pancake paradise near Kitty Hawk.

This was before IHOP and Denny's had invaded my hometown of Richmond, and the closest thing we had was the Waffle House. Stack 'Em High was so much better than the Waffle House. Pancakes by the dozen (or at least that's how it looked to a kid), any and all toppings you could think of, and more syrup than you could shake a stick at. You were also sent off with a lovely parting gift: Those pancakes would sit in your stomach like a hot rock for the rest of the day. And that's literally what we would say: "Man, those pancakes were good, but boy, are they sitting in my stomach like a hot rock!" Usually followed by some guttural utterance like "Uuuuuuurrrrgggghhh."

Well, times change, and so do traditions. We stopped going to the beach for a week stretch for a long time, and then when we finally had our own families and we decided to pick up the tradition again, we went further South on the Outer Banks by way of Salvo/Waves and Avon. The surfing is better down there for my surfer dudes husband and brother. But boy, were there drawbacks. Having to schlep your stuff through a quarter mile of piping hot sand dunes, driving a half hour to the grocery store, and no Stack 'Em High.
Their motto says it all.

This year, we were bound and determined to do it different - we were going back to Duck, where our love affair with the Outer Banks began. It was awesome. I had forgotten how truly charming the little town of Duck is, and how fun it is. Our house was literally right on the beach which made things so much easier. Their town Fourth of July parade was spectacular, and I have never in all my life seen that many people turn out for a parade before. Liam made off with so much candy we considered calling him Willy Wonka for the day. We had beautiful weather, and the grocery store was close with great selection, as was a local seafood market.

But the highlight of our beachy culinary pursuits was...doughnuts. Not just any doughnuts, Duck Donuts. We had heard from people before we went down that we absolutely had to get some, as they were the best doughnuts anyone had ever had, ever. That's a pretty good billing. My mom picked some up within the second day we were there, and related that she had to stand in a line that went out the door and down the steps. These might just well be the most popular doughnuts anywhere as well, but I was skeptical. I mean, I like doughnuts just fine, but I'm not one to wake up and say "I need to have a doughnut now!" Duck Donuts changed that in me, for sure. With one bite, I understood immediately what everyone was talking about. These were beyond fresh - possibly the freshest I've ever tasted. Warm, chewy, with just a bit of crunch on the outside. They were outstanding. And unlike the pancakes from Stack 'Em High (which still exists by the way), there was no residual hot-rock feeling.

And obviously we weren't the only ones who loved them. Remember that parade I was talking about? We watched as hundreds of people trekked up the hill to get a good spot to watch from, and what were most of them carrying? A box of Duck Donuts. We were jealous, and almost made a break for it to go get some ourselves, but decided that in the heat that morning it wasn't worth it.

At the end of the week we decided we had to have at least a half dozen more, and this time I went along. Sure enough there was a line out the door, but the interior of the operation was small, so there wasn't a lot of standing room inside. The line went quickly though, and inside I watched the machine making the doughnuts, which was kind of fascinating. They're not super fancy - there are only a couple of flavors that go beyond the normal glazed, powdered, and chocolate, but I think that's the genius behind the operation. They don't need a lot of fancy flavors or variety because what they do produce is brilliant. I will say, however, that their coffee was a big disappointment, but not being a big coffee drinker in the first place that's neither here nor there.

Duck Donuts has four locations: one in the town of Duck, one in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, and one in the town of Corolla. Most locations open at 6:30 a.m. If you're headed that way this summer, be sure to stop in. Take a friend you can chat with while you wait, and get ready for the best doughnuts you've ever tasted.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Very Happy Birthday Cake

I wanted to make something very special for Savannah and Delia's 1st Birthday party. On their actual birthday I made two small individual chocolate cakes with fresh homemade whipped cream sweetened with just a little bit of confectioner's sugar. They loved the whipped cream, but didn't want much to do with the cake, so I figured for their party not to bother. It was way too much work. They got Birthday Pudding instead and loved every single bite.

But months ago I got this idea in my head that I was unwilling to let go of. I had to make the cake that was featured on Better Homes and Garden's May cover, the Pink Lemonade Cake. Even though they couldn't eat it, it would be really special for their party, and I knew the adults would get a kick out of it. After reading over the recipe, I realized I could do this! The cake portion I could actually make days ahead and freeze (up to 3 months in fact!), and it was really easy to do, even when it came to making the different color layers. It smelled like heaven in the oven and I really thought I was super clever.
It looked better in person, trust me!

Then the day of the party dawned and all hell broke loose (as they usually do when you're trying to get ready for a big party). I got the cakes out of the freezer early and they defrosted beautifully. And then I noticed it: One cake was significantly smaller than the other height-wise. What the what? I had followed the directions perfectly, measured perfectly, but there it was; an inferior cake stacked up against the way it should have looked. Slicing the cakes into four equal layers confirmed my fear: the dark pink layer would be uneven.

Whatever, I had to press on and get to making the Lemonade Buttercream. I have made a lot of buttercream in my time, but this one was really different: namely that it requires a ridiculous amount of marshmallow creme. When I say a ridiculous amount, I mean ridiculous. Like 32 ounces worth of ridiculous (and 6 sticks of butter, but that's neither here nor there). I don't know if any of you have ever worked with marshmallow creme (supposedly you can make fudge with it), but it is really hard to get out of the jar.

By the time I was scraping the bottom of the first jar, the marshmallow creme started fighting back, grabbing my spatula and holding on for dear life. It was sticking to the jar, my hand was stuck to the spatula, and some fell on the floor and my flip flop then got stuck to the floor. Seriously, I actually had to stoop down and pull my shoe off the floor with force, and I still had a jar and a half to go. Meanwhile, Buck is marinating his chicken and basically staying quiet as I sweat, cursed, and fought with the stuff. I was really worried about how it would go down trying to turn all of this into buttercream, but I shouldn't have.

It turned out beautifully. And it made so much that even with four layers I still had plenty leftover (something I always worry about when making layer cakes, that I'll run out of frosting). And it was delicious. The cake was moist and light with hints of lemonade coming through, and the buttercream was to die for. It didn't look anything like the cake on the cover of the magazine, because let's face it, I'm no professional, but it looked really fun, and it got great reviews from the partygoers.

Would I make it again? Yes, but only for special occasions, and I would definitely do the final steps of slicing the cake and frosting when I have ample time and don't feel totally rushed and stressed. Baking the cake was no problem, assembling was dicey. I'd love for someone else to try the recipe and tell me how it went. You can find the recipe here: Pink Lemonade Cake.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Savannah and Delia!

This year has certainly flown by. One year ago this morning I was 34 weeks pregnant, sporting a big torpedo-like belly and standing in a Barnes and Noble looking at books and thinking how truly weird it was that I was looking at books just one hour before having a C-section to give birth to Savannah and Delia. It was definitely a surreal moment, knowing that in just an hour our world would be turned upside-down by not one, but two babies.

The belly. Oh, the belly!
If you look back at my posts from that time, you can tell that I was nervous about how it would all turn out. I was nervous that the girls, and especially Delia (who was the littler of the two) would be okay. I was nervous about how to take care of two babies. I knew how to take care of one just fine, and had done a pretty good job so far, based on the facts that he looked well-fed and usually sported a happy smile. But two? I was plagued with doubts ranging from logistics to scheduling to wondering how our 3-year-old’s emotional state would be when faced with two little lumps who would need me constantly.

Delia (L) and Savannah (R) in the Step-Down Nursery in the hospital.
I’m happy to report that it all turned out fine, though not without hitting some major speed bumps, the occasional outburst (on all 5 of our parts), tears, and sleeplessness. At my worst during this year I will be honest: the thought, “I don’t want to be a mother anymore” crossed my mind several times. The terrible times usually involved trying to feed one baby who was being really difficult, only to have to turn around and feed the other baby. When the bad times were bad, they seemed never-ending, like when all of us were sick this winter and spring with bad colds, and then the stomach virus.

At those points, my state of being can best be summed up by Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Rings: “Why I feel all thin, sort of stretched; if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”

Of course, Bilbo is talking about the way an evil ring is taking a hold of him, and I’m not at all suggesting that I think the girls are evil and are always trying to take me back to Mordor, or anything like that. But when I read that line, I thought: Bilbo, I know exactly what you mean. I think every mother ever knows exactly what you mean.

But we survived. And here we are at a place I could never envision in my mind: The girls turning 1 year old. Throughout the year we were so blessed with family and friends who pitched in to help, provided countless hours helping us shoulder the burden of feeding, and listened to our frustrations and joys with open ears and open hearts. We would not have been able to get through this year if not for those people. We were able to power through those tough moments, and it all led to this, June 13th, one year later.

Delia (L), and Savannah (R) playing their favorite game.
Our sweet girls have come so far. From the teeny tiny babies they were in the NICU, to the boisterous, sweet, funny, and adventurous girls they’ve grown into, these girls constantly amaze me. Take the last two months. In the span of just three weeks, Savannah learned to sit up on her own, then crawl, then pull up, then taking her first tentative steps in cruising. As is often the case, Delia followed suit a couple of weeks later (except for pulling up and standing, she’s not so sure about that yet). Now they follow each other around the house (not going in separate directions, thank God!) at top crawling speed, squealing and laughing and having so much fun. They love playing with Liam and have so much to say to us, and each other in their baby babble. Their favorite game is to sit on either side of the sliding glass door, leading out to the sun porch, and talk through the glass, and they love to cuddle with us and don’t seem to mind our smothering kisses one bit.

Their other favorite game: Attack the Photographer.
We thank God for our sunny little girls and can’t wait to see the women they grow into. This year may have had its share of long, tough moments, but it truly did go by in the blink of an eye. Learning to cherish every single moment is something having twins is teaching us every day. Happy Birthday Savannah and Delia, we love you so much!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Measure for Measure

There is a scene in the great movie Juile & Julia in which Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle are setting up Child’s kitchen to get ready for a cooking lesson. Child relates that she had a hard time making the conversion for the measurements on the recipe they’re about to make. Beck says that the argument over measurements was the biggest one she and Bertholle had while writing their cookbook, and Bertholle agrees, replying that, “measurements do not matter.” Child tells her that they absolutely do matter, and holds up a stack of measuring cups as much as to say, “Look, if they didn’t matter so much, why do we have all these tools? Measurements matter enormously.”

It’s an understatement to say that I agree with Julia Child on this issue. Measurements matter. At least, they matter to me. And that’s a big distinction, as we’ll see in a minute.
Julia Child (as played by Meryl Streep) is excited because she knows measurements matter. A lot.

It’s no secret by now that I love to bake. I love the science of it, and when things go wrong (and after the frustration has settled down), I love going back and trying again to figure out where it went wrong.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending which side of the debate you’re on) for me, the amount of time I spend baking and creating sweets where measurements absolutely, 100% matter, means that when it comes to cooking I rarely ever go off script. It used to make me incredibly tense when I would make the wrong measurement in cooking, or if I didn’t have all the correct ingredients. I have been known on more than one occasion to freak out, throw in the towel and call for takeout when it’s discovered that I’m missing one or two components of the dish I’m making.

Enter the other side of this debate, my husband, who has that rare and uncanny ability to look in the fridge and cupboard and use whatever is in there to whip up an impromptu gourmet meal. He is also, like so many males, very adept at looking at a recipe for the first time and then going off on a tangent and making it his own on the first go-round. He most definitely does not believe in measurements. But then, he doesn’t do much baking either. And sometimes his anti-measurement stance gets him into trouble. For example, when we threw that Kentucky Derby party, I was in charge of making the Mint Juleps. It’s a recipe I’ve worked hard to perfect (and one that is actually a compilation of a couple of different recipes together) and for the first half of the party I was solely in charge of doling them out. But by the last half we were running after little kids hopped up on sugar, and my husband took over the Juleps.

Not really understanding the ratio of Mint Simple Syrup to Bourbon, he made the drinks, well, a little too strong. Like gasping and spluttering type of strong. Even he had to admit that I should stick to mixology, and he should stick to wine pouring (that’s actually a compliment, his knowledge of wine is impressive).

The thing is, I want to get better at improvisation and creativity when it comes to recipes. I want to go off course without getting crazy tense about it and worrying so much about how it’s going to screw everything up. Knowing that there are things you can’t compromise on (oven and range temperatures for one, and having a basic knowledge of how the ratio of sweet to savory works) and things that you can (certain ingredients, and if one would taste better than another) is a good place to start. I think that a good compromise would be to try the recipe the right way first, and then go off on experimentation, as long as measuring spoons and cups were handy.

In that spirit, I submit a recipe my husband made the other weekend by researching a few different recipes and coming up with his own. When he initially told me about what he did to make these chicken drumsticks I was really skeptical. It sounded crazy, like too many ingredients that probably wouldn’t mesh well together. Since it was a dish we were serving for friends, I was especially worried, but kept my nose out of it. They turned out perfectly. Beyond perfect. They were so good it was enough for me to want to never question my husband in the kitchen again (mostly).  So in the spirit of being laissez faire (sometimes) when it comes to measurements, or at least attempting to, I give you this recipe. They are crisp, flavorful and so juicy and tender. And hey, you just might look at it and discover a way to go off on a tangent and make it even better.

Buck’s Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue

• One large package chicken drumsticks (about 12)
• One bottle of Italian Dressing
• Sea Salt, Pepper, Paprika
• ½ cup Panko Breadcrumbs
• 1 cup Flour
• ½ cup Italian Breadcrumbs
• Any mild Barbecue Sauce

Put drumsticks in a Ziploc bag and pour the Italian Dressing over them. Let marinate for 4 or more hours in refrigerate.

Take drumsticks out and add salt, pepper, and paprika. Mix flour, breadcrumbs and panko together. Dredge drumsticks in mixture, being sure to coat evenly. Shake off excess.

Place on a grill with the heat at medium. Grill for 40 minutes, turning as necessary to avoid burning. (Note: Buck didn’t use a thermometer, he could tell they were done when the meat started to pull away from the bone. Use your own discretion in this area)

In the last 5 minutes, baste the drumsticks all over with your favorite barbecue sauce. We love Stubbs Mild Barbecue Sauce. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Refreshing Summertime Treat

Around Christmastime I posted about the Peppermint Meringues I had made that were so delicious. The recipe was from Bon Appétit, and to date, it was the recipe that the most people had contacted me to tell me they made and loved.

I was interested in making more meringue desserts, but the classics like a Pavlova (a fluffy meringue piled high with fresh whipped cream and berries). Then, about a month ago, I was in the supermarket checking out when I spotted a picture on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. It was the Peppermint Meringues, except these were striped with orange and yellow. Lemon and orange meringues! How clever! Why hadn't I thought of that? About a month later I finally got around to finding the recipe online, which you can read here

There is something about the recipe that seems overly complicated to me, much like all of Martha's recipes. First of all, what's the big difference between simmering the egg whites, and other ingredients until the sugar dissolves, versus Bon Appétit's version where you simply whip the ingredients together in increments over the same amount of time? Plus, not having vanilla seed on hand (which is not as easy to procure as one might imagine), and also not owning a pastry bag, or a "small paint brush" that hadn't already been used in toddler art projects was going to be a challenge. This recipe also wants you to use gel food coloring, which I tried, and is devilishly hard to use, especially when mixing colors to get something like orange. They then want you to "paint it" on the sides of the pastry bag to make the swirls.

The Ziploc Bag. It's not professional, but it'll do.
Which sounds easier to you? Mixing regular food coloring and dotting it over the surface of the meringues before putting it in the bag, or struggling with gel food coloring and painting the bag just so to make perfect stripes?

However, I loved the addition of the orange zest, and was very curious to know if it would really taste like orange, and if the zest would change the texture of the meringue. So what I did was this: I took my tried-and-true easy Bon Appétit recipe, and right where you would normally add in peppermint extract, I put in 1 teaspoon of orange zest.

They turned out perfectly. They were so refreshing, and light, and the orange flavor was present but not in an overpowering sort of way. I made them for a very impromptu Kentucky Derby party we threw for some neighborhood friends, and by the end of the race, they were all gone (which kind of posed a problem because the race is only 2 minutes long, and the party stretched way on into the evening). Later, I also tried out the same recipe with 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest and lemon food coloring, and those came out just as well. Plus, if you're like me and don't own a pastry bag you can use a Ziploc bag to pipe the meringues. True, they don't look professional, but they still look pretty.

So here it is, my version of Orange and Lemon Meringues. They make excellent summertime desserts, especially on buffets, and also wonderful treats for teachers, neighbors, and Moms who babysit for you when you need them most (thanks, Mom!). 


  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange or lemon zest
  • 12 drops food coloring (red and yellow mixed for orange - instructions on box, or yellow)


  • Preheat overn to 200°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute. With mixer running, gradually add suger in 3 additions beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. Add powdered sugar and orange or lemon zest; beat to blend, about 1 minute.
  • Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip. (alternatively, spoon into a plastic freezer bag, then cut 1/2" off 1 corner.) Twist top; pipe 1" rounds onto prepared sheet, spacing 1" apart.
  • Bake meringues until dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Let cool completely, about 1 hour (meringues will crisp as they cool).