Trouble With Toast

Get kitchen stuff AND good karma!

February 23, 2009

Greetings, all!  It will probably be a light posting week, as I am about to go on vacation and am trying to clean out the fridge (which results in some less-than-blogworthy dinner choices).  The plus side is, I’m going to San Francisco, and I will have lots to write about when I come back–including a recap of my trip to The French Laundry!!!

Before I go, I’d like to mention that I am hosting a Pampered Chef online “show” to benefit my triathlon training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  If you’re in the market for some cookware, gadgets, or serving paraphernalia, this is a great opportunity to shop while supporting a great cause.  The show only goes till the end of the month, so it would be marvelous if you could peruse the online catalog and pick something up for yourself or as a gift.  Here’s the website: Just enter my name (Betty Thurber) when it prompts you, and voila!  You have done your part to find a cure for blood cancers, AND you’ve scored some loot.

If I don’t get a chance to post again before Thursday, I’ll say hello to Thomas Keller for ya!


Recipe: Honeyed Yogurt and Blueberry Tart with Ginger Crust

February 20, 2009

While I am not a gifted baker, I do have a couple of easy, go-to desserts that are signatures for me.  For example, my homemade key lime pie gets rave reviews, but it involves only a handful of ingredients and minimal time in the oven.  Unfortunately, such a simple dessert ends up boring me a little, as there is no challenge and no butterflies about what guests will think when they taste it for the first time.

The picture for this dessert in Food and Wine magazine really caught my eye, thanks to the lovely fluted crust and the bright, plump blueberries.  Thankfully, after some “meh” recipe experiences, this one totally delivered.  The crust is simple and tasty (it would have been simpler if I had a working food processor, but it still worked out), and the no-bake filling is tangy and just sweet enough.  The visual is also pretty impressive, making this a perfect way to thrill your guests without spending all day in the kitchen.

  • 10 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 cups Greek-style nonfat yogurt, drained overnight
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (9 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers with the crystallized ginger, sugar and salt until finely ground. Add the butter and egg white and pulse until the crumbs are evenly coated. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. Let the crust cool completely.

In a medium bowl, mix the drained yogurt with the honey. Spread the yogurt in the crust and arrange the blueberries over the surface of the yogurt. Cut the tart in slices and serve.


Recipe: Cilantro-Flecked Corn Fritters

February 19, 2009

This recipe had so many delicious elements, so I thought it would be a killer accompaniment to the yogurt lamb skewers.  I think that’s still true in theory, but the fritters didn’t turn out at all like I expected.  First, I don’t think I cooled the corn and cilantro mixture long enough, and it didn’t crisp up very well while frying.  Next time, I think I’ll try using my deep-fryer, as hot splattering oil didn’t make things any more fun in the kitchen.  Also, these fritters were supposed to be served with a chile-mint sauce, but it turned out AWFUL.  It called for serrano chile, mint leaves, and water, which sounded good in my head, but when it was all mixed together it was a soupy, mixed-up mess.

Here’s the basic recipe for the fritters–again, I think they COULD be great.  They definitely tasted good, especially since I used some killer local organic cilantro that was the most flavorful I’ve ever had.  I’ll work on the texture and the sauce, and I’ll get back to ya.

  • 4 medium ears of corn, shucked, or 2 1/2 cups frozen corn (I used the latter)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for pan-frying
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons whole cilantro leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the ears of corn over moderately high heat just until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cobs; you should have 2 1/2 cups. If you’re using frozen corn, boil it for 2 minutes, then drain.

In a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the ginger and two-thirds of the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the corn and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and puree. Scrape into a bowl. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Form into 2-inch patties and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  In a large, nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. Dust the fritters with flour and tap off the excess. Add half of the fritters to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until browned and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Drain the fritters on paper towels. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining fritters. Arrange the fritters on a platter. Serve right away.

Recipe: Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kebabs

February 18, 2009

Usually, I feel pretty comfortable saying that my cooking conveys the great love I have for my fiance.  Sadly, this Valentine’s Day meal…well…it probably shouldn’t be the benchmark for my feelings for Jason.  For whatever reason, I modified the recipe too much, and it ended up losing something in translation.  The lamb was tasty, but it was missing a key element–we determined that some acid, perhaps in the form of a simple squeeze of lemon juice over the finished meat, would have taken it to a higher level (and truthfully, I had bought lemon to do just that, but it never made it from the countertop to the dish).  Also, as with most grilling, it likely would have been better on an outdoor grill (as the indoor grill pan just didn’t result in the charring and caramelization that was envisioned in the recipe).  On the plus side, it was perfectly cooked, if I do say so myself.

The cilantro corn cakes served with the lamb…well, those weren’t a rousing success, either (as you can see).  I’ll post the recipe tomorrow, though, as I truly believe they have potential.

  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 pounds trimmed boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure chile powder, such as ancho
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt

In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt with the water. Add the lamb cubes, toss to coat and refrigerate overnight.

Light a grill (or, in my case, light the burners under a grill pan). Add the chile powder, turmeric, garlic, cayenne and 1 teaspoon of salt to the lamb-yogurt marinade.  Let stand for 10 to 20 minutes.

On each of 6 skewers, thread the lamb cubes and season with salt.  Grill the skewers over moderately high heat, turning, until starting to char all over, about 3 minutes. Continue to grill until medium-rare, about 4 minutes longer. Serve the lamb on or off the skewers.


Recipe: Chicken with Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Cheesy Grits

February 17, 2009

In the comments to the previous post, there was some discussion about how long it takes to roast a chicken.  That conversation was pretty timely, as I roasted a chicken the night most of those comments came in.  I got the recipe (and slightly adapted it) from Food and Wine magazine, and I gravitated toward it because a) it was roast chicken, and yum; b) it mentioned pairing it with a brut rose, which I had in the house and absolutely love; and c) it was under the category of “wonderful weeknight” or something like that, implying that it could be made fairly easily after a hard day at the office.

The meal turned out fabulously, but it ended up taking about two hours from start to finish, so I’m not sure I agree on the whole weeknight thing.  But, I would definitely make the dish again.  The bird was about three and a half pounds, and it turned out perfectly moist and flavorful (with a salty, crispy skin).  I didn’t follow any specific recipe for the grits; rather, I just cooked up some quick grits in chicken stock and then added some shredded cheddar, salt, and pepper.  For next time, I’ll cut the amount of onions just a bit, and I’ll double the amount of tomatoes–they were THAT GOOD.

  • 8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large rosemary sprigs
  • One 3 1/2-pound chicken
  • 2 white onions, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn the tomatoes cut side down and scatter the rosemary around; bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until very soft and starting to brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a roasting pan, rub the chicken all over with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the onion wedges around the chicken, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken and onions in the upper third of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 450°. Add the wine to the pan and roast the chicken for about 20 minutes longer, until the onions are well browned and the chicken is golden and the cavity juices run clear. Pour the cavity juices into the pan. Transfer the chicken and onions to a platter; let the chicken rest for 10 minutes.

Set the roasting pan over moderately high heat and add 4 of the tomato halves and 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, scraping up any browned bits and mashing the tomatoes, until reduced by one-third. Strain the jus into a saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Carve the chicken and serve with the tomatoes, onions, tomato jus and grits.  As you can see, I also served with some greens (collard and brussels sprout greens, to be exact), which I merely sauteed in some olive oil and minced garlic.


Recipe: Homemade Granola

February 13, 2009

Just like it’s theoretically possible (but not always cost-effective or practical) to eat 100% local, it’s also theoretically possible to make nearly every food item from scratch.  I personally know people who make their own bread, cheese, pasta, you name it.  Of course, while homemade almost always tastes better and is usually cheaper than store-bought, the convenience factor is hard to ignore.  I know full well that a home-roasted chicken is yummier and more economical than a rotisserie bird from my local megamart, but after a long day at the office and a tough workout, the last thing I want to do is wait multiple hours for dinner to be ready.  Ah, the modern dilemma.

I think that’s why this Bon Appetit recipe made me so very happy.  It uses common, inexpensive ingredients* and doesn’t require any specialized cooking skills.  It made my kitchen smell incredible.  It can be made up to a week in advance.  It doesn’t contain any preservatives or chemicals or weirdo industrial components.  And it really wasn’t much harder than driving to the grocery store and buying a box of granola.

Most importantly, this granola tasted awesome.  It was sweet without being cloying, which was a nice change from sugary store-bought versions.  It had great crunch, with a little chewy fruity goodness every so often from the dates.  You could certainly use raisins or dried cranberries if you prefer, and you could change things up in the nut department as well (I think next time I’ll use pecans).  I enjoy my granola for breakfast with nonfat vanilla yogurt, but it’s also great on its own as a snack.

Enjoy!  I know I’ll never buy pre-made granola again.

  • 4 tablespoons walnut oil, divided
  • 3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 cups organic old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup walnut halves, broken in half
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped or torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush heavy large rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons oil. Whisk 2 tablespoons oil, sugar, egg whites, and salt in large bowl. Add oats, walnuts, and flaxseed; toss well.

    Spread mixture evenly on prepared sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Using metal spatula, stir granola. Bake 15 minutes longer. Stir again. Sprinkle dates over; drizzle with honey. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Stir to loosen. Transfer to clean baking sheet to cool completely. Keep chilled in airtight container.

    Recipe: Pasta with Arugula and Lentils

    February 12, 2009

    On our last outlet shopping excursion, my mom bought me this cute little cookbook stand (since I complained that my recipes were getting splattered with assorted cooking debris).  Unless I’m actually preparing a recipe, I usually just keep a random cookbook up there, flipped to a pretty page.

    After looking at this recipe (from my Good Food Fast cookbook) for a couple of weeks, I decided to give it a try.  It is a healthy dish that has infinite possibilities: you could switch out the arugula for spinach, parsley, or really any green you prefer.  You could use fire-roasted tomatoes rather than fresh (for more flavor, or if tomatoes are out of season).  You could substitute another kind of pasta.  My only complaint was that the end result lacked the oomph that I was hoping for.  Next time, I’ll add some garlic and/or red pepper flakes.  Some fresh herbs could amp up the flavor, too.

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced (4 cups)
    • coarse salt and ground pepper
    • 12 ounces plum tomatoes, cored and diced (about 2 cups)
    • ¾ cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
    • 12 ounces orecchiette pasta
    • 1 bunch (8 ounces) arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped
    • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (optional)

    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and ½ teaspoon salt; cover, and cook until onions wilt, about 20 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until onions are dark brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.

    Add ¼ cup water; stir to loosen any browned bits from pan. Stir in tomatoes; remove from heat.

    Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover lentils with water by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are tender but still holding their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; stir into onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

    Cook pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta, and return to pot.

    Add lentil mixture, arugula, cheese, and reserved pasta water; toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with more cheese, if desired.


    Sherpas, serpents, and first impressions of Serpas

    February 10, 2009

    Though it didn’t make it into last week’s article, John Kessler and I talked a lot in our interview about restaurant reviews and how blogging has changed the business.  We talked about how many times you should visit a restaurant before you review it, and how the fair answer was probably more times than the average food blogger could afford.  We talked about the guilt I often feel when I write a less-than-glowing review after one experience, or after the restaurant has only been open for a short time.  So, when Jason and I visited Serpas on Saturday night (which had only been open for about two weeks at the time), I tried to keep that conversation in mind and think of our first meal as merely an introduction.

    (For those of you not familiar with the Atlanta scene, Serpas is the name of the chef/owner, who has been a fixture in the local culinary community for quite some time.  Most recently, he was the executive chef at TWO urban licks, a restaurant that we have enjoyed on numerous occasions.  I certainly respect Chef Serpas’ decision in terms of the name of the restaurant, but Jason kept calling it “Sherpas” and I couldn’t stop thinking “serpent.”  We’ll have to make sure we practice pronunciation before we return.)

    We arrived early for our 8 PM reservation in order to grab a drink at the bar.  I absolutely adore the bar space–there are plenty of stools, and it’s set up on one side of the restaurant so the servers don’t have to walk through a mosh pit of customers in order to deliver food and drinks.  As a former waitress, I can definitely appreciate a flow of movement that allows guests and staff alike to have a more comfortable experience.  The bartendress was very sweet, and she conversed with us as we drank our Abita Amber and Sweetwater 420 drafts (I was a little bummed that there were only four taps, and one of them was out).  Then there was a mix-up with another party, so two free drinks appeared before us–I’m not sure what they call the concoction, but it consisted of sweet tea vodka (!!!), peach schnapps, and not a whole lot else.  It was delicious, though you’d have to keep careful track of how many you were downing.

    Once we got to our table, we decided to start with some appetizers.  Crispy duck rolls with chili syrup and five spice were meaty and full of flavor, though they were also fairly greasy and had a bit too much of the sauce.  Texas crab toast with chipotle aioli had great texture, but again the sauce was too much (and this time it was more obvious, as the sweet crabmeat just couldn’t hold up).  The presentation of both dishes was simple and elegant, though, and we agreed that the concepts and flavors were pretty solid.

    We had a lot more appetizers that we wanted to try, so we decided to order two each instead of entrees.  Jason opted for the chopped Caesar onion ring tower, which sounded a lot more intriguing than it was.  This was my least favorite dish of the night, comprised of a stack of onion rings (which were actually pretty tasty on their own) with some chopped caesar salad in the middle.  It was just really heavy, and I’m not the biggest Caesar salad fan to start with, so the components didn’t come together well for me.  He also ordered the eggplant hushpuppies with blue cheese.  The hushpuppies themselves were absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked (I got a bite without any of the blue cheese, and it was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside), but again they were oversauced.  The blue cheese was more of a dressing than merely crumbles, and Jason felt like it really overpowered the rest of the flavors.

    I opted for the flash fried oysters with pickled chiles and mirliton, and the dish was very successful.  The breading on the oysters was substantial but not heavy, and the end result wasn’t greasy at all.  The accompaniments brought out the briny flavor of the bivalves and really created an interesting, delicious dish.  I also ordered the shrimp and crab chowder, and it was probably the best thing we ate all night.  The texture was creamy but not oppressively so, and you could really taste each individual ingredient.  There were large portions of crabmeat and shrimp (the latter of which were just slightly overcooked), and with a little bit of additional salt and/or spice, it would have been perfection in a bowl.

    We were too full for dessert, but there were definitely items that intrigued me.  Service was friendly and knowledgeable, and you can definitely have a nice night out for a reasonable sum (I think, including our drinks at the bar, we got out for about $100).  I found the beer prices to be pretty steep, but except for their reserve list, all bottles of wine are $25 and all glasses are $6.50–which I think is a great, affordable touch.

    While Serpas didn’t give me a flawless first impression, it’s very early in its journey and I believe that it will continue to develop and improve.  It pleased me enough that I want to return, probably in a few months, to see how the restaurant is growing and learning from its inaugural days.  If what the bartendress said turns out to be true and they utilize the outdoor space in the warmer weather, I’m sure that Jason and the puppy and I will be frequent visitors.

    Everyone deserves a second chance

    February 9, 2009

    This past weekend, for the first time in a LONG time, my fiance and I were both a) in town, and b) not sick.  We already had reservations for Saturday night, but we wanted to add a dinner date on Friday night, too.  When I started brainstorming about places we could try, my mind kept going back to Craft.  I wanted to revisit the restaurant, but I didn’t want the formality and expense of the upstairs dining room.  Instead, I wanted to put on my nicest pair of jeans, walk into the downstairs area, and see what the experience would be like at the bar.  So, that’s exactly what we did.

    We got there at about 7:30 PM, and most of the Craftbar tables were empty.  The bar was full, though, presumably of people waiting for their upstairs reservations.  We hung out behind the stools until seats became available, and then we bellied up.  Casey was the main bartender who was taking care of us, but his partner in crime (whose name I cannot recall, sadly) was also available to help us out.  They were both amazing–incredibly knowledgable and passionate about the food and drink offerings, honest about what they loved and what they didn’t, and friendly without being phony or overbearing.  Really, they were a great team.

    There was a lot to choose from on the starters menu, so we chose one ourselves (lamb sausages with saffron pickled cauliflower and a yogurt sauce) and went with one of Casey’s recommendations (grilled quail with turnips, apples, and smoked bacon).  The former was very tasty, with a great salty kick and a nice cool finish thanks to the yogurt.  I believe my fiance actually said, “I would have this sausage’s baby.”  The saffron pickled cauliflower made me so very happy–I think I’m going to have to experiment in the kitchen to see if I can recreate that part of the dish.  The quail was a little less punchy in terms of flavor (it had a sweeter tinge), but it was cooked absolutely perfectly and had a lot of meat for a little bitty birdie.

    For entrees, I opted for the veal ricotta meatballs over papardelle and tomato sauce.  This was comfort food in a bowl, people.  The simple, rustic preparation was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten over the past six months.  The pasta was flavorful and impeccably cooked, the sauce was tangy (and not over portioned), and the meatballs were substantial without being heavy.  I mean, I wish I could convey to you how this dish smelled–it was so fantastically homey and happy that it attracted the attention of the diners to our right AND left.  Bravo.  Jason ordered the pulled pork, country ham, and swiss cheese panini (with house made mustard and pickles).  Casey approached us after we ordered and said the panini had been taken off the menu for the night (I guess they were saving stock, as it is one of their popular lunch items), but that chef was making it for us anyway.  Good thing, because it was quite tasty–stuffed with piggy goodness, it reminded us of a Cuban, especially since the bread was pressed nicely and had a great crunch.

    We were almost too stuffed for dessert, but it was a highlight of our meal upstairs, so we wanted to try one more thing from the sweets menu.  We decided to order the s’mores, but Casey saw Jason’s disappointment at not being able to order the carrot cake (because I hate it) and decided to bring him a slice on the house (and in the interest of full disclosure, he had already bought him a round earlier in the evening).  The s’mores were messy and yummy, just the way s’mores should be.  My only complaint was that the marshmallows were a little heavy on the char, but that was a minor quibble.  Jason loved the carrot cake, and I even tried it because it didn’t have raisins in it (one of my main objections to the dessert).  I still didn’t like the flavor (too spicy for me), but the texture of the cake was lovely and the cream cheese icing was great.  The toasted pecan ice cream that accomanied the dish was amazing–ice creams are definitely one of the strong suits of Craft’s pastry chef.

    For all of that food and drink (three cocktails and two beers in all), the pre-tip total was just over $90.  So, while our Craftbar experience wasn’t cheap, I walked out feeling like our money was well spent and that the experience, both food- and service-wise, had lived up to its pricetag.  We may still be hesitant to return to Craft (unless someone else is paying), but Craftbar definitely made up for its sibling’s missteps and created two loyal fans in the process.

    To everything there is a season

    February 6, 2009

    In a previous post, I mentioned a corn dish from Ina Garten’s “Back to Basics” cookbook that my mom made over the weekend.  Instead of giving you the recipe (largely because I can’t find it on the web, and I didn’t have time to type it “from scratch”), I thought I’d use it as a springboard for conversation.

    The recipe called for many things, but the main ingredient was (duh) corn.  Specifically, it featured the kernels from about 5 ears of fresh corn.  When my mom suggested that we make the dish, I reminded her that it was January in Georgia, but she wanted to make it anyway.  No biggie–there was definitely corn to be had at the local megamart, albeit from somewhere in South America.  I picked it up, we cooked, and the recipe turned out just fine.  However, the kernels were very small, and I didn’t think they had much flavor (the oomph came largely from other ingredients, like onions and herbs).  I bet the dish would be killer in the summertime, when corn is at its sweetest and most succulent.  Then again, when corn is at its sweetest and most succulent, all it needs to be delicious is a little salt, and perhaps a few moments on the grill.

    The truth is, sometimes you just want a tomato in December or a sweet potato in July.  And, thanks in large part to the southern hemisphere, we have access to traditional summer produce even in the thick of winter.  But just because we CAN get it, doesn’t mean we SHOULD–right?

    I’m not trying to get into the socioeconomic and environmental implications of local (or non-local) eating; there are far more educated and passionate people to talk to if you’re interested in those discussions.  I’m not trying to tear down the global industrial farming institution, or to convince you never again to eat corn syrup, or to presume to understand how each individual reader of this blog makes decisions about food for his/her family.  What I am doing is simply asking–how does seasonality factor into your cooking and dining decisions?  Why?  What are the challenges and consequences of your decisions?

    I am interested in reading the responses, as I am constantly waffling between a commitment to eat seasonal and local and a desire to have fewer and fewer limits in my kitchen and in my diet.  It’s patience and temperence versus impulse and instant gratification, and I could definitely use some more ammunition in the fight.

    Let the debate begin!

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