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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Salad I Keep Going Back To

So hot here last week. I'm sure that statement is like playing a broken record for the East Coast. I really do not remember a summer when the temperature has been this hot for so long. We are not even getting good rain out of it. We will get a dark sky, a rumble of thunder to set my dog off in an anxiety attack and a quick shot of rain. Not enough to cool things off. It's positively dreadful.

These days I don't feel much like cooking anything. Surprisingly I'm still hungry for meals though. I just don't feel like going through the efforts of preparation. Thoughts have turned to salad.

My routine this summer is pretty non-stressful. Two days of working out of the house where I pack my lunch and 3 days that I work from home. Those days, after dropping the minors off at camp I get a good workout in at the gym and come home wanting to eat, but not wanting to cook. Salad fits the bill.

The salad I have been making almost daily has been a goat cheese salad. Love, love, love goat cheese. Something about the texture and the tang. I also love the fact you don't need a ton of it to get great flavor. I used to make a breaded goat cheese salad as an show stopping first course, but wanted to make something a little faster and a tad healthier.

Goat Cheese Salad with Creamy Vinaigrette
1 serving

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 clove of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste.
2 heaping cups of mescalin
4 very thinly slices of a leftover baguette from dinner the night before (if you are married to someone like my husband, there is always bread, but I have to hide the leftovers)
1-2 ounces of goat cheese.
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven!) to 450 degrees

In a big bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the olive oil slowly until the mixture forms an emulsion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put the greens on top of the salad and put aside.

On a cookie sheet, very lightly sprinkle some olive oil on the bread slices. Put the bread in the oven and watch it close. Since it is cut thin you do not want to burn it. You are looking for a nice golden color. Remove the bread and divide the goat cheese on slices. Return to oven and melt the cheese ever so slightly.

Toss the greens in the bowl with the dressing and put on a plate. Arrange the goat cheese toasts on the salad and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is it Too Much to Ask?

Searching my archives for dinner yesterday I decided on a healthy chicken and veggie dish. I searched my pantry and had everything I needed for the most part except the veggies. I remembered that the Bel Air Farmers Market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so I figured I would hit it after dropping off the kids at camp for the broccoli and red pepper I needed.

Let's go back a couple years. I had been to the farmer's market before and to say I was disappointed in it was an understatement. I think there were maybe 6 vendors basically spread out in a parking lot with what looks like was picked from their home vegetable garden. There were a few produce guys, flowers, a baked good lady and a meat truck.

Well, apparently there has still been no vision to what a farmers market should be. When I picture a farmers market, I see a variety of vendors selling produce, homemade food items, dairy, meats, etc. I also see places that shoppers can sit, enjoy freshly prepared foods purchased at the said market. The Bel Air Farmers Market remains exactly as I remember it from a few years ago. A huge disappointment. I was able to get a couple of heads of broccoli, but not a red pepper to be found.

Come on people. We are in Harford County. One of the more rural counties in Maryland. I pass by tons of farms when I drive around. Yes, there has been a boom in commercial properties in the last few years and yes, we are losing some of our green pastures to chain restaurants and shopping. However, there is still so much more that can be done!

I've been to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Cockeysville several times. While this is still not the big farmers market I envision, it is closer to what I think would be a no-brainer for the county. Open on the weekends. Fridays and Saturdays. A place to shop for fresh foods for the week. A place to have breakfast and lunch. A place to have ice cream and hang out with friends. Popular vendors can have satellite markets such as Bloom Broom for dairy, Bomboys for candy and ice cream. A local Italian restaurant can sell packaged, stove to table entrees. I have so many ideas.

Indoors would be ideal. The now abandoned Giant and Superfresh in Bel Air would be the perfect location.

Anyone on board with me?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Unprentious Scone

Oh, how I love a day with nothing on the agenda. Trust me. This is a very rare occurrence in our household. Between family obligations, birthday parties, baseball games, other scheduled activities and other commitments a day off is few and far between. Today is one of those days. Nothing. I don’t even care if it stopped raining and it is sunny outside and I should go to the pool. I have a whole day to myself with my family to catch up on things at home.

Sleeping until 8:30 am was a great way to start off the morning. Even better was my kids were still sleeping. I can’t even begin to tell you how I treasure that window of time that I am up in the morning catching up on email or Facebook with my cup of coffee before the chaos sets in.

With days like this, the whole day looming ahead I think about things I can cook or bake. I really did not want to invest a lot of time with a hot oven while it’s record breaking heat out there, so It would have to be something that needed a small amount of bake time. Peering in my refrigerator I spot a pint of blueberries and a quart of open buttermilk and my thoughts turned to scones.

My husband loves scones. It is his usual "go to" pastry at Starbucks along with this coffee. However, this man is picky about his scones. He does not like them too sweet, does not want them too crumbly and they should have some denseness to them. I had the perfect recipe tucked away that is quick and easy and gets a seal of approval from him. These scones are from Tyler Florence, of Food Network fame. What I love about them is my choice of using buttermilk or heavy cream during the prep. Don’t get me started on the cream. Oh boy, does that make them good. Today, I had buttermilk in my fridge and since I am trying to eat more low fat this was the source of dairy today. Also, these scones aren’t prepped and shaped like traditional scones. They are not rolled out, cut with a cutter in traditional triangular scone shapes. Once the batter is combined the dough is a sticky mess that is just scooped out in large spoonfuls on cookie sheets to bake for 15 or 20 minutes. Presenting the more rustic, casual scone. No heirs about this breakfast biscuit.

For fast prep, I combine all the dry ingredients in my food processor. I keep my butter in the freezer, cut in little pieces and pulse it through the dry ingredients until it resembles damp sand. I then beat the egg with the buttermilk and ran that through the food tube until the dough is just combined. You could make them the traditional way that is stated in the recipe below. Personally I like to take shortcuts when I can.

The orange glaze is completely optional. I personally like it. I like my pastries to have a sweet side, and the glaze gives the not so sweet scones a little something extra. The orange complements the blueberries beautifully. My husband asked to leave the glaze off a few. He is purist and thinks the glaze was not needed. I obliged, but after he sampled it both ways, he ended up with the way Tyler meant them to be.

Orange Glazed Blueberry Scones (recipe by Tyler Florence)

Makes 6 enormous scones

• 2 cups unbleached flour, plus more for rolling berries
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in chunks
• 3/4 cup buttermilk or cream
• 1 egg
• 1 pint fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; mix thoroughly. Cut in butter using 2 forks or a pastry blender. The butter pieces should be coated with flour and resemble crumbs.

In another bowl, mix buttermilk and egg together, and then add to the flour mixture.

Mix just to incorporate, do no overwork the dough.

Roll blueberries in flour to coat, this will help prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the scone when baked. Fold the blueberries into batter, being careful not to bruise. Drop large tablespoons of batter on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. Cool before applying orange glaze.

Orange Glaze:

• 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
• 3 tablespoons of orange juice

To prepare Orange Glaze:
Combine powdered sugar and orange juice in the a small bowl. Whisk until the mixture forms a glaze.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Cake for Now. A Cake for Later.

I am of the firm belief that everyone needs a basic cake recipe. I am not talking about the kind of cake that is covered in frosting and has candles stuck in it. Cheesecakes and fruitcakes also do not fit this statement. You know the kind of cake I am talking about. The go to cake. The cake that can be brought to the impromptu barbecue. The kind to serve at Sunday brunch along side of a good egg dish and really good coffee. The one that you can always have on hand.

I have been making this cake lately. I made it for the first time from a mix (shock..gasp!). While browsing through Stonewall Kitchens website for products I ran across Ina Garten’s pantry items that are sold on the site. Specifically I scanned down to the “sale” items. An orange pound cake caught my eye. Only $5.99, marked down from $10.95. I added it to my cart along with a few other goodies and waited for my shipment.

Flash forward 3 days. My cake mix arrives and I wrinkle my brow in a bit of frustration. To the mix I have to add my own butter, egg, fresh orange juice and orange zest. Hmph. This does not sound very convenient to me. So, I gather up the needed ingredients, lugged out my juicer and got to work. The end result was very good. A very good solid pound cake.

Out of curiosity, I took out my Ina Garten Family Style cookbook. I opened to the Orange Pound Cake recipe and scanned the ingredients. I had pretty much bought a mix for everything I already had in the pantry. Sugar. Flour. Baking Powder. Salt. Confectioners Sugar. Plus, this recipe makes 2 loaves. One for now, and one for later. I don’t need a mix for this. I can do this freehand!

Once again, I set out to work. It’s a basic pound cake recipe with all the ingredients you would suspect. A small amount of buttermilk added to the mix adds the slightest tang. Orange is the star here, so if you are not a fan of orange we really can’t be friends and you probably will not like this cake. It’s a triple shot of orange. Zest running through the cake, a sweet orange syrup infused in the warm cake as it cools on racks and an optional orange glaze to adorn the top.

This recipe makes 2 loaves, so make sure you have 2 pans before you start. I suppose you can half the recipe, but really..what would be the point of doing that? The workload would be the same to make two and you end up with an extra cake that freezes beautifully for the next time you need that “Go to Cake”.

I have a big container of blueberries that the markets seem to be giving away this week, they are so cheap that would complement that cake I have in my freezer right now.

Orange Pound Cake
(adapted by Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

*If you are freezing the cake for a later use, omit the glaze.

• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
• 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
• 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 1/3 cup grated orange zest (6 oranges)
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, divided
• 3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

• 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
• 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, and the orange zest.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the orange juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

While the cakes bake, cook the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with remaining 1/2 cup orange juice in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes. Take them out of the pans and place them on a baking rack set over a tray. Spoon the orange syrup over the cakes and allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the orange juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hello Cupcake!

First, my apologize for being so lazy with the blog. What can I say? I can make excuses, but I won't. You know how life gets busy and things are put on a back burner. Yeah. That's what happened.

I'm also thinking of twisting the blog topics a little. Yes, when the blog was first created it was a place to talk about place to eat. I'm thinking about mixing it up a bit with some cooking of my own too. additions to the places to go, hopefully I can offer up some great food to make as well.

Let's get back to the original purpose of the blog. Food to eat in and about Harford County. It's exciting people. We got Wegmans coming in about a year, Famous Daves just around the corner in August and we now have a cupcake lady! Cupcakes! I am obsessed with cupcakes. Love to make them..I even dreamed of having my own little cupcake shop at some point..still a pipe dream. In the meantime I can enjoy the Flavor Cupcakery.

My first experience with the Flavor Cupcakery was at my friend's 40th birthday party. My friend Lisa had the cupcakes at her party and told me that she was going to open up a bakery on Main Street in Bel Air. Bell and Whistles...I was so excited. At the party I was able to sample traditional vanilla and chocolate ones and they were quite good.

Flash forward about 6 months. Flavor Cupcakery is supplying many of the local Harford County coffee shops with several flavors a day. She also has a website with an extensive menu for personal orders and catering. It appears that you can pick up personal orders at the coffee shops she supplies or they can be delivered to you for a nominal delivery fee. I was in Coffee Coffee the other day with my little ones and we shared a Cookies and Creme (chocolate cupcake with Oreo icing) and a Turkish Coffee (vanilla with cardamon tones with an expresso icing). Both were delish. It does not appear that she has her own walk in bakery at this point, but is well on her way to a very successful venture.

I mean, really? Who does not love a cupcake. It is relatively harmless (I tell myself this every time I peel back the paper wrapper) with only a few bites, right? It's not like eating a piece of cake, huh?