Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Doesn't Love Some Vino?

In a few short days, I will be embarking on a vacation that I have been dreaming of for the past two years...a trip to the California wine country! A business trip takes me to San Francisco on Wednesday, and how could I pass up the opportunity to stay on a few days and tour the vineyards (and dine on some of the most delicate delicacies)?

I admit I'm a bit of a red wine wench. I can't help it...the way the huge bulb of glass feels in your hand, and the warmth and ease with which the wine slinks down your throat. Zinfandel, merlot, syrah, malbec - I love them all. Oh, and the white wines are divinity on your tongue. The crisp, fruity flavors mixed with the tang and acidity as they hit your tongue. Give me some chocolate and fruit, and who needs a man?!

The trip is not only special because it's something I've been dreaming of as a foodie for years (seriously, I bought guide books two years ago!), but it's the first time my father and I will be taking a mini-vacation together. We've had special father-daughter dates over the years, but never a trip to explore a region of the country we both have a slight obsession with (although neither of us would consider ourselves an aficionado by any means). I can only imagine the trouble we will get into...

I promise to blog completely about my experience, and document every excursion fully upon my return. For now though, I must pack my bags and be off!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pancakes for Dinner

Some nights, you just don't want to cook. I know, it's rare for us "foodies," but we all have those days. For those occasions, I keep a box of instant pancake mix on hand - a practice I embraced wholeheartedly in college to save pennies.

Truthfully, I'm a breakfast food junkie who could eat pancakes, eggs, cereal or any other breakfast food at any time of the day, so it's no surprise that this powdery mix is my standard fallback when culinary inspiration eludes me.

Tonight was just such a night. No meat thawed out. Lettuce was wilty (besides, I had a salad for lunch, and a girl can only take so much roughage for one day). Don't feel like pizza again. Hmmm....a few good carbs will do just the trick.

Now, I'm all about trying new things. And, we all know how much I love pumpkin. You can see where this is headed, can't you? Yep. Just this afternoon, my dad sent me his recipe for pumpkin pancakes, so I thought "let's give it a whirl!"

Until tonight, I had only ever had pumpkin pancakes from one of those $3.95 pre-mixed bags you buy at the apple stand on a crisp October Saturday in between college football games. They were delicious, but nothing that I couldn't have done on my own if I'm being honest. My problem is proportion intimidation: I am always fearful that the batter will be too runny or too dry. I don't know why I'm so freaked out since a little extra water or powder mix will solve the problem. Alas, "homemade" pumpkin pancakes were a first for me. (And, I use the term "homemade" loosely. Really it just means I opened up a can of pumpkin.)

I began with some premade pancake mix. I used Krusteaz (because I think it's delicious), but you could use whatever you have. Then, I added a bit of water and a smaller bit of canned pumpkin along with a pinch of cinnamon. It's that simple folks.

After whisking it all together until there are only a few lumps and bumps, I had this creamy, soft orange batter that reminded me of cupcake batter. How bad can that really be?

After dropping my 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot nonstick pan, I soon had pancakes that were golden brown and smelled of autumn goodness.

Add a pat of butter and watch it melt.

Now, I'm a weirdo and don't really like syrup on my pancakes. Ever since I was a little girl, I have put sugar and cinnamon on my pancakes (and french toast and waffles) instead. So, breakfast almost becomes dessert. Think cinnamon toast, but WAY better.

Now, that's dinner. Try them. Seriously.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Pancakes

1 cup of pancake mix
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup of canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Sugar and cinnamon (for topping)


Mix together all ingredients and drop mix by 1/4 cupfuls onto hot griddle or nonstick skillet, coated with cooking spray. Cook pancakes until bubble begin to form on top (or golden brown on the bottom); flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes (until golden brown). Top pancakes with butter or margarine and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Dig in!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Favorite Scones

Years ago on a long plane ride back from my first (and only) trip overseas, I came across a delicious scone recipe in Bon Appetit as I entertained myself with magazines. At the time, I had never made scones, and the idea of making what seemed like a "fancy" pastry from scratch was intimidating. I'm not a "fancy" kind of girl. It's the little things that impress me. Give me a $1.99 coffee mug, and you'd think I had just been given a diamond ring.

This recipe was different though. There was no "fancy" scone pan I had to purchase, and the ingredient list was made of things I normally have in my pantry, and relatively short at that. So, I thought, "How hard can this be?" Here goes: butterscotch drop scones.

The process was ridiculously easy, and the end result tasted of one that had slaved all day in the kitchen, churning the butter, whipping the cream, and fluffing the dough with hands of angels (ok, that's a bit dramatic, but you get the point). They were divine. Just enough sweetness, a bit of saltiness and a crumbly, buttery texture that just makes you want to sit and eat them forever.

Over the years, I've made them for brunches, lunches, birthdays, celebrations, and those "just because" moments when we all want something sinfully delicious. What's extra nice about the recipe is that it's so adaptable too. If you don't have butterscotch, use anything you like: chocolate chips, dried fruit, fresh herbs, cheese.

Since October always puts me in the mood for all things autumn, last week, I made them with cranberries and orange zest, which turned out terrifically. The sweetness of the cranberries mixed with the freshness of the citrus explodes in your mouth, and you just can't help but smile.

Sometimes I wonder if it's normal to get this excited about food.

Cranberry Orange Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cups brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoons salt
½ cups chilled butter, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon orange zest
½ cups chilled whipping cream, or more
1 large egg


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.

Add chilled butter, and using fingertips or a pastry cutter, mix together until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Mix in cranberries and orange zest.

Whisk cream and egg in a small bowl until blended.

Gradually add cream mixture to the flour mixture and toss with a fork until dough comes together in moist clumps. (Add more cream as needed if dough is too dry.)

Drop by 1/4 cupfuls onto a baking stone or baking dish lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top (toothpick will come out clean).

Sprinkle with sugar when scones come out of oven.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Until Next Time Blacksburg...

So, I've now managed to make my trip to Blacksburg last well over an extra week (impressive, huh?), I supposed it is time that I share the last meal that I ate in the cozy house on Dehart (sniff, sniff).

It was perfect: leftovers. And folks, I mean l-e-f-t-o-v-e-r-s. We had just a sliver of gouda left that we sliced up, threw together with some crispy, smoky bacon; juicy, Virginia-grown beefsteak tomatoes; and full, green lettuce on two pieces of lightly toasted bread. Smother that with homemade garlic herb mayonnaise, and you've got the perfect Saturday afternoon sandwich.

Each bite filled with tomato juiciness, spicy garlic, savory herbs, and crunchy bacon with a creamy gouda tang. (Seriously, I'm licking my lips as I write this.) Try it. You won't regret it. Really. We paired the sandwich with leftover mac and cheese, and voila - leftovers like none other. I think the mac and cheese was better the second time around (or maybe it was just the company and fabulously fun plate I was eating it off of).

On the rainy drive to the Charlotte airport, Rebecca and I reminisced about the delicious treats we had made over the days and talked of ways to spice them up or improvise for another mouth-watering twist on them. What if you added soft, sweet squash to the cheddar corn chowder? Or rich, decadent lobster to the mac and cheese? Or some sweet dried berries to the maple oatmeal scones? Really, we talked for three hours...and could have kept going.

My first visit to Blacksburg, Va. will be forever remembered fondly for many reasons, the mac and cheese being at the top of the list. I'm so thankful for dear friends like Rebecca - who are just as obsessive as I am about food and cooking - and highly recommend you all find one too!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Much More Can I Eat? - Day 3

I am sometimes surprised at the endurance I can muster up when it comes to consuming mouth-watering, tongue-tantalizing culinary delights of which I have participated in creating or observed the creation of from the ground up (literally, sometimes). Why can I not exhibit this same endurance on the elliptical machine? Hm.

Day 3 of my foodie mini-vacation began with the sounds of Rebecca in the kitchen whipping up some maple oatmeal scones (recipe also courtesy of one Ina Garten). The recipe for this is also from one of my BC cookbooks, and they certainly did not disappoint. After mixing together ingredients of flour, oats, and the like, these moist, fluffy pastries were ready for their glorious maple glaze. Mixing together powdered sugar and real maple syrup (um, yes, the kind from Vermont thanks to Rebecca's in-laws), the drizzle of deliciousness on top of the perfectly golden brown scone was begging for my fork.

Combine that with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee, and folks, I just don't know if it really gets much better.

After we had sufficiently satisfied our morning sweet tooth, we set out for the delightful little town of Floyd, Va. This town is the quintessential small town complete with friendly town's people, antique stores to fit anyone's pleasure, a Farmer's Supply store (filled with the most amazing the beautiful Virginia hardwood cutting board I brought home), and the famous Floyd Country Store.

Upon walking into the store, immediately to the left was a glass cabinet filled with desserts like coconut cake, chocolate brownies, lemon pie, oatmeal cookies and about a bazillion other sugary treats that were probably made by sweet Miss Daisy just yonder, up the road. My gracious her house must have smelled good! Yep. We'll be eating lunch here.

If that dessert cabinet wasn't enough, we knew we were going to have good eats when we saw the egg salad, chicken salad, and pimiento cheese that had clearly been made by loving hands just that morning - most likely from mama's family recipe (insert your grandmother or great-grandmother's name in lieu of "mama"). I thought I was a connoisseur of sorts with chicken salad, but this one put me to shame.

The Floyd Country Store is filled with welcoming town residents that just love meeting new people. We spent time chatting with the darling Miss Ann, who shared all about the store's legendary bluegrass and old-timey music nights. Every Friday night, there is a toe-tapping, guitar-pickin', good 'ole fashioned jamboree that draws people from homes across the region. Some of the most renown banjo-playing artists have stood on this very stage, which Miss Ann insisted we have our picture taken on.

Authentic, that's all I can say.

Driving back to Blacksburg, our future held a nap and a grilled chicken salad for dinner (eaten at a local joint called Lefty's). What can I say? After three days of carb-o-licious food, a grilled piece of protein hit the spot.

My last night in Blacksburg with my dear friends was capped off with a scrumptious bowl of warm, cinnamony, buttery apple crisp. We had intended to pick the apples ourselves, but Mother Nature had other plans, so apples fresh from the farmer's market were our very sufficient understudies.

Brown sugar, oatmeal, butter, cinnamon, apples, and a bit of lemon zest make this all-American comfort food come to life in your mouth. Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you've got a perfect 10 my friends. Now, that's something your mama would be proud of.

Each day had been filled with such foodie bliss...what could possibly capstone this culinary excursion?

Apple Crisp


4-5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed (or sliced)
1-2 sweet apples, any kind, peeled and cubed (or sliced)
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 C. granulated sugar

Mix filling ingredients together in a bowl and transfer to a buttered/greased, oven-proof dish.

Crumble Topping:

1 Cup of flour
1 Cup of brown sugar
3/4 Cup of rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick of cold butter, diced

Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, salt and 3/4 stick of butter in a bowl, cutting butter in with pastry cutter until mixture consists of large crumbles. Spread evenly over apple filling mixture. Drop remaining cubes of butter over the top of the crisp randomly.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, until crisp is gold and bubbly. Serve immediately with your favorite vanilla ice cream!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Feasting Continues - Day 2

With my tummy still warm from the piping hot, creamy cheddar corn chowder, I settled in for a good night's sleep after reading a bit of the copy of Julie and Julia I had picked up at Costco (gotta love that place for cheap reads). Yes, I've seen the movie - and rest assured it will become part of my personal library once on DVD - and still want to read the book.

I fell asleep to sweet dreams of the cup of Blacksburg-brewed pumpkin spice coffee I was going to have the next morning, laced with (of course) pumpkin pie spice creamer. Bliss, I'm telling you. Pair that with homemade crunchy cinnamon granola and some cold milk for start to your day that is certain to put a smile on your face.

After a delicious Day 2 lunch of chicken sausage, roasted red peppers and fried potatoes topped with a fried egg (that my marvelous friend just "whipped up" - see below), we headed to a local coffee shop - where of course I claimed my own 16 oz. of pumpkin spice coffee - to read a bit and spend the afternoon on the Virginia Tech campus on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, albeit a bit warm.

We couldn't stand it anymore. We hopped in the car and headed home to make what we were certain would be our crowning food achievement of the weekend: smoked gouda macaroni and cheese. The recipe came from my fabulous cookbook from the Boathouse Restaurant in Charleston, S.C.

We started by grating two rounds of smoked gouda cheese. For the record, this is my absolute favorite cheese - the smoky flavor gives a depth to the soft, creamy cheese that no other cheese can rival. Seriously. Combine the gouda with shredded parmesan and you have near perfection. (I am realizing I say that a lot...)

Shallots and garlic simmering away in olive oil, we added smooth, silky half and half, heavy cream AND cream cheese (folks, this is definitely not a dish for anyone watching the waistline...unless you're watching it expand). Add the cheese to this for absolute divinity. Lactose intolerants beware.

We poured this thick, cheesey, buttercream colored loveliness over penne and I've never tasted incredibleness like this in my life. Mindblowing (yes, I am talking about macaroni and cheese).

Careful not to detract from the personality of the mac and cheese, we paired this creamy comfort food with a spinach salad drizzled with Rebecca's rosemary balsamic viniagrette topped with pecans and tart Granny Smith apples.

Our tastebuds were thanking us from the first bite, as you can tell from the grins on Rebecca and her hubby's face as they nosh away.

Two for two...coming up next: maple oatmeal scones.