Sunday, July 18, 2010

lemon curd cakes & vanilla bean paste

Picnics. Ahh...lovely picnics.

I adore the prestige of these glamour-soaked outings full of chic wide-brimmed hats, tanned gams and wooden-laced picnic baskets with modern, funky plastic silverware.

Stylish sporks? Yes, please!

Time to divulge...

I haven't actually been on a traditional red gingham-draped affair but the idea of hip picnic cuisine sets me on a marching ant-friendly frenzy!

Whether an event involves a beach house balcony, fireside stools or a cashmere throw on the living room carpet, these picnic treats are lovely bites perfect for transport.
Fab No-Bake Granola Bars

This recipe was compiled for a teambuilding event with children. After kid-approved recipe attempts (sans freezer), the bars didn't harden completely. Despite our minor roadblock, the bars were painstakingly simple, addictive, and the children inhaled them.

Although the mixture was mildly sweet, crunchy and chewy, I added a salt enhancement and dried pineapple for spice and flavor balance.

1 c puffed cereal
3/4 c rolled oats
1/2 c coconut flakes
1/2 c dried pineapple
2 T pumpkin seeds
2 T sesame seeds
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c light agave nectar
1/3 c cashew butter
10 medjool dates, pitted and minced
1/4 t kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly with hands. Transfer mixture to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Freeze to harden. Cut into desired shapes and enjoy!

Watermelon Cucumber Skewers

No formal recipe needed for this healthy, bright & cheery-skewered treat.

Simply rotate sliding cubes of seedless watermelon, chunks of English cucumber, fresh mint leaves and halved yellow plum tomatoes with chunks of feta on wooden skewers. Drizzle with fine olive oil, a sprinkling of salt & pepper and a squeeze of lime juice.

Other favorite watermelon combinations compiled by hungry friends & family:

watermelon + vodka/everclear (take yo pick!)
watermelon + salt
tostada + tuna + watermelon salsa
jicama + ancho chile powder + watermelon
watermelon + cucumber + feta
smoked sea salt + seared scallops + basil + watermelon
kalamatas + purple onions + feta + watermelon + lime + mint

Finally, a picnic is never complete without a bottle of red, crusty baguette, fine cheeses and fresh fruit. Why not roll them all into one? Wine on the side, please.

Grilled Chicken Melt with Figs, Havarti, Charred Corn & a Smoked Paprika Aioli

These sandwiches combine sweet, smoky, creamy and chewy. Can you say delicious?

Although these are melted sandwiches, they are perfectly delightful served room temperature for a road trip or picnic. I chose over-sized, rustic sourdough rolls to prevent the horrible soggy bread plague. If figs aren't available or in season, sliced apples or pears would be quite lovely.

Serves 2.

2 organic, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 c California figs, sliced thin
4 slices havarti cheese
2 ears of corn, kernels sliced off
1 t olive oil
2 T fine mayonnaise
1/4 t Spanish sweet smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
handful of arugula
2 homemade sourdough rolls
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.Toss corn with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, season chicken breasts on both sides with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of smoked paprika. Sear in a hot grill pan (over medium high heat) to develop grill marks (about 3 minutes per side). Finish breasts in the oven until just cooked through, approximately 5 more minutes. Set chicken on a cutting board to rest.

Slice sourdough rolls horizontally and toast in the oven to warm approximately 3 minutes. Meanwhile, combine smoked paprika with mayonnaise and a pinch of salt to form aioli. Spread on all toasted roll halves.

Assemble sandwiches starting on the bottom with a slice of havarti, sliced chicken, figs, another slice of cheese and a sprinkling of roasted corn. Melt bottom half of sandwich in the oven set on broil approximately 3 minutes. Top with arugula and second half of the toasted sourdough bun.

After savoring these luscious melts, wash them down with some ginger sodas then get cracking on dessert. These fruit-filled sweet loaves would be equally delicious warmed for breakfast with a shot of espresso or sliced at room temperature for afternoon tea time.
Fresh Strawberry Bread with Creme Fraiche & an Orange Glaze
Moist, sweet, tangy and luscious with a smoky cinnamon aroma.

Yields 2 large metal loaf pans (9x5x3 inch)or 4 mini-loaves.

3 and 1/4 c AP flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t kosher salt
4 eggs, room temperature
2 and 1/3 c granulated sugar
1 c vegetable oil
2.5 c ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 c crème fraîche
1 T vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter loaf pans then dust with flour.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Beat together eggs and sugar in an electric mixture on medium high speed until very thick, pale and ribbon-like (about 10 minutes). Reduce speed to slow and stream in oil, crème fraîche and vanilla. Remove bowl from mixer. Toss together strawberries with flour mixture then fold into wet mixture until just combined.

Divide batter between pans and bake on middle rack until a toothpick comes out clean, approximately 1 hour for large pans and 45 minutes for mini-pans. Cool loaves in pans on rack 10 minutes then invert onto rack. Cool completely before glazing.
Orange glaze:

1 T orange zest
juice of 1 orange
1.25 c powdered sugar
Combine juice and zest. Slowly whisk in powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.
With a spoon, smooth or drizzle glaze atop cooled strawberry bread letting glaze fall down the sides. Let glaze harden, approximately 5 minutes then package loaves in parchment or slice and serve.

Recently, I was able to peruse a new-to-me Farmers Market just minutes from my downtown abode: Beach Street Local Market. The modest market was lined with diverse stands including all natural, dry-aged beef from Texas Heritage Beef Company and gorgeous homemade soaps and luxe body scrubs from Soap Addict.

After gathering fresh from-the-oven, warm Challah rolls and a modestly-priced container of luscious local honey from Weatherford, my sweet tooth led me to Le Chat Noir for ganache, meringue and buttercream-laced confections.

I settled on the Toasty Tart cupcake with buttermilk cake, lemon curd and just-right toasted Swiss Meringue while the still-sleepy Ms. Fort Worth Foodie opted for the Morning Gal with buttermilk cake, maple buttercream and what else? Bacon.


Friday, July 9, 2010

a sexy yolk & pretzel votes

I haven't made my Saturday morning Cowtown Farmers Market visit in months.

Shame on me!

It shouldn't be an excuse but my schedule has become topsy-turvy working nights, random days and weekends. This Saturday, I brushed my excuses aside and arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (err...sweatpants, matted hair and no makeup) to my favorite market.

After arming myself with fresh baked goods, lovely tea blends and an armful of my favorite produce, I left at peace with myself muttering, "Never skip market again! Never skip market again! Never skip..."

I've always been one to cast away the "filler fruits" in fruit salads.

You know, those never ripe enough chunks of cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. After I aggressively reassemble my salads, only seldom berries, apples and bananas remain that I would choose over melon any day!

Growing up, my Mom would slice huge cantaloupe wedges over the kitchen sink and serve them with yogurt or crème fraiche. I could never get hooked on the ole' melon. I decided to re-introduce my taste buds to melons with a smoothie using a modest, green melon with a gorgeous, fragrant scent.

Market Melon Smoothie with Banana & Cinnamon

Surprisingly, the minor dash of cinnamon truly enhances the spicy melon flavor that lovingly tickles the back of your throat.

Serves 2.

1 c ripe green melon (I used local Green Nutmeg Melon)
1/2 banana
1/2 c fine grapefruit juice (I used Simply Grapefruit)
1/2 c skim milk
1 c ice
dash of cinnamon & turbinado sugar

Combine all ingredients and process in a blender or food processor until smooth and frothy. Serve cold with a melon chunk. On a recent warm afternoon, I quickly blitzed these in my cherry-red blender and sipped the entire glass over the kitchen sink-- reminded me of Mom.

After my energizing afternoon sips, I went into carb-overload with an extended patio session at Mellow Mushroom. Although the place has become a bit gimmicky for my taste with "too corporate" menus and excessive kitchen times, the homemade dough truly shines.

My beau and I sat on the misty patio (sans those pesky flies) and gulped icy Fireman's #4 with an array of hand-twisted pretzels:

garlic salted with mustard,
parmesan dusted with marinara
& cinnamon-flecked with luscious honey.

After an integral deliberation, the sweet confection reigned king for my taste buds. Go figure. After shared bites of piping hot pie with wicked pesto-draped chicken, sharp fresh garlic and delicate mozzarella, we were quickly calmed to carb zombies.

Everyone has done it.

You know, had one of those self-fulfilling prophecies when you make a homemade treat, take your first bite and think,

"Damn, I'm good."

This pasta dish triggered one of those moments for me. If you have time to boil water, you have time to make this dish-- sure to be a hit!

Farfalle with Organic Chicken Sausage, Brown Sugar, Okra & Crumbled Feta

Don't get me wrong-- I love me some fried okra.

I wanted to take a different approach with this recipe and truly showcase the starchy vegetable in a comforting environment with flavorful, seared sausage (lightened up with chicken), fresh garlic oil and a luxurious hit of brown sugar.

Serves 4.

2.5 c whole wheat farfalle (bowtie) pasta, cooked to al dente
4 organic chicken sausages, fully cooked
2.5 c fresh okra, sliced vertically
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1 T fresh garlic, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes
3 T brown sugar
splash of dark beer (optional)
1/4 c crumbled feta
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, brown chicken sausages with a bit of olive oil over medium heat until evenly seared. Set aside to drain on paper towels and slice on the bias.

Add garlic, okra and extra virgin olive oil to same hot pan. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauto combine then add splash of beer to deglaze brown bits of sausage left on bottom of pan.

Finally, add brown sugar, pasta and sliced sausage. Toss to evenly coat with sauce and readjust seasonings with salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Fold in feta. Serve hot.
There is nothing sexier to me than cutting into an over-easy poached egg.

When seeking my favorite just-broken yolk indulgence,
Tillman's Roadhouse sealed the deal with their Fried Farm Fresh Egg Sandwich (scandalous enough to make a priest blush).
I guiltily savored two sexy eggs
laid between a homemade Kaiser bun,
house-smoked bacon,
white cheddar,
peppery arugula
& sofrito mayonnaise with glee.

Take one bite with a Bloody Mary and let your eyes roll back...