Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let the Feast Begin - Day 1

I have just returned from four days of culinary mania with my dear Fungirl friend Rebecca who lives in the most adorable cottage in Blacksburg, Virginia (see the adorable cottage below).

For foodies like us, this was nirvana. We had been salivating and dreaming of ooey, gooey, scrumptious food since I booked my ticket in mid-summer. For weeks leading up to my mini-vacation, we scoured our recipe books and Web sites, searching for the perfect lip-smacking delights to whip up in the kitchen using fresh and homegrown ingredients from local VA farms and markets (which is in fact where this adventure began).

Over the next several posts, I'm going to indulge myself (apologies in advance) and relive these blissful, carbohydrate-filled days in living color.

Day 1: Cheddar Corn Chowder

Being the Barefoot Contessa fan that I am, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have not made more than a handful of recipes from the two BC cookbooks I have. Oh, I drool over the pictures frequently and have good intentions, but have not actually made many. Naturally, when I saw her recipe for Cheddar Corn Chowder, I knew we had a winner. The glimmering, golden color of the broth combined with sweet corn and soft potatoes made this a perfect contender for a "light" evening dinner my first evening in VA. After crossing everything off our lists and filling our cart with delicacies at the store, we headed home to get started.

The recipe calls for 4 large onions (see Rebecca choosing just the right ones below at the local farmers' market). Let me just say, it would be worth investing in some onion goggles if you plan to make this recipe frequently. By the time I had chopped the onions, we both looked as though we had just watched "Steel Magnolias" a dozen times. (I had read somewhere that lighting a candle helps, so we attempted, but failed miserably when the paper towel it was sitting on caught fire. Do not set candles on paper products. Duh.)

A sure sign the soup would be amazing: bacon, bacon, bacon. The recipe begins with crisping bacon in the bottom of the stock pot and then adding the onions and other goodies directly to the flavorful drippings. (Good thing I don't have high cholesterol.) With the savory scent of bacon and onions wafting through the house, we poured a second glass of wine and licked our lips awaiting the prize.

This recipe called for turmeric, a spice that I am not all that well acquainted with (and honestly, was a little hesitant to use). But, I soon learned that adding just a tiny bit of this spice lent a deliciously fresh and unique brightness to the dish that made my taste buds ring with excitement.

Now came the fun part: adding the stock, potatoes, and delicious sweet corn and seeing the soup come to life right there in the stockpot. Earlier in the summer, Rebecca had frozen fresh sweet corn right off the husk for just such an occasion as this one. How much difference does fresh corn make you ask? I too was once a skeptic, but am here to testify that it makes ALL the difference in the world. There is nothing like the soft, juicy sweetness of yellow divinity from the husk.

By this time, the kitchen was smelling fantastic - filled with aromas of summer days of corn on the cob and the comfort of potatoes and bacon on a cool autumn evening. (Word to the wise: this recipe makes a ton, so if you're cooking for less than a small army, you may want to consider halving it.) For the finishing touch, we added the freshly grated cheddar, whipping cream and bacon crumbles for a garnish.

Voila! Paired with a (third) glass of wine and some moist, doughy artisan bread and it just does not get much better than that. Or so we thought...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bring on the Leaves

Looking outside my window, I see rain, rain, rain...and it's still humid and sticky (i.e., always a bad hair day), which is much more common for my fancy with a Georgia summer. Every year, sometime in late August, I get this angst down inside for the refreshing, cool days of autumn. You know the kind. When the crisp mornings give way to the warm afternoon sunshine followed by the delightfully cool and refreshing evening air.

Not only is autumn a season ruled by college football, mountain hiking, and my favorite sweatshirt and jeans, but, it is the season for pumpkin everything! (Can you see the grin from ear to ear??) It's true. I covet a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks like nobody's business. And, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, pumpkin get the picture.

But, even more than that, I just plain love the season of fall. The leaves, the sunsets, the freshness in the air, the holidays (who doesn't love two months in a row with days designated for eating?), and the decorations. Oh, the decorations make me giddy. The oranges, and browns, and reds and yellow.

Simply put: I love everything about autumn.

In my longing for these long days of summer to end, I couldn't pass up the 50% off sale at my local Hobby Lobby on autumn leaf cookie cutters and decided to engage in a little baking therapy (every girl needs it now and then). With my orange food coloring and chocolate sprinkles in hand, I headed home to listen to the sweet hum of the mixer and whip up some yummy treats.

Of course, I had to start with the sugar cookie recipe to end all recipes - the Fungirl cookie recipe with Fungirl icing. (Note: this recipe belongs to one of my dear friends from college, and she brings a plate to every Fungirl event because we devour them.) I proceeded to spend the next two hours rolling dough, baking, cooling, frosting and decorating until I collapsed in a satisfied heap covered in flour at the end of the evening.

Just try and convince me life gets better than that.

For those wondering, yes, more dough made it into the oven than into my mouth (come on, I had to make sure they tasted right). The result was deliciously soft cookies, perfectly baked and frosted with creamy orange frosting kissed with chocolate sprinkles. (I threw in a few chocolate ones too.)

My air conditioning is still running, but all I'm thinking is "bring on the leaves!"

Fungirl Sugar Cookies

1/2 Cup butter
1 Cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 and 3/4 Cup flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to the sugar mixture.

Cover and chill.

Roll out cookies into desired shapes and bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees. (Don't let them get too done!)

Fungirl Icing

1/4 Cup soft butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 to 4 tsp. milk
food coloring

Mix all ingredients together in the order given. Frost completely cooled cookies as desired!

Monday, September 7, 2009

All Things Great and Grilled

Labor Day 2009 has now come and gone. The unofficial end of summer. This weekend was a momentous one for me - I bought my first grill! Oh, I've had a grill for several years, but just had never actually purchased one myself...the one I wanted that looked nice and shiny in the store and even more pristine sitting on my back patio.

Behold: The Grill

Having been raised in a family that believes only perfection comes from these grates, there was significant pressure to prepare my inaugural meal and report back to my father (who I'm fairly certain couldn't sleep last night waiting to hear about the culinary experience). I set out this morning, marinating chicken breasts in a bit of soy sauce, dijon and whole grain mustards, and garlic. Just soaking up the saltiness and sweetness every moment in the crisp fridge air.

A bit later, I headed to the market where I stocked up on some of the last of the season's sweet corn and fresh green beans. The smell of slowly simmering beans (mixed with a little bacon, sweet onion and S&P) wafting through the house brought back memories of snapping beans as a kid into the colander. A job my mom gave me to keep my tiny hands busy - and out of her way - I'm sure. In final preparation for the inaugural moment, I husked the corn, coated it with a little butter spray, salt and chili pepper, and then wrapped it in foil for the big moment.

The grill had been heating up for about 15-20 minutes, so I knew it was ready. The moment of truth. Hearing that first sizzle when I positioned the chicken just right was like an ode to the greatness of grilling. The smoky smell of the soy-dijon mix as it hit the flame, mixed with the ensuing crispiness of the grill marks in the chicken were nearly more than I could handle.

Pair that loveliness with a cold glass of sweet white wine, and the result is a summer-filled, grilled feast fit for a queen (and her pup).

Asian-Mustard Marinade
3 tablespoons of dijon mustard
2 teaspoons of whole grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Whisk together and spread over meat or fish.