Monday, November 30, 2009

The Four B's

You may be familiar with the 4 P's of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. But let me introduce you to the 4 B's of Traveling: Books, Bourbon, 'Boys (as in a po' boy sandwich), and Ball (as in Football). That was the finale of my Thanksgiving holiday — 8 hours of flight delays and cancelations at the New Orleans airport. But honestly, there are worst places to be stranded and, truthfully, I might be doing the 4 B's even if I was at home. 

Overall, I had a fabulous — and oh so filling — Thanksgiving holiday (more on that later) and hope you did too!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Eggo to Leggo of

It's a dark day for waffle lovers. Kellogg announced today it's experiencing a waffle shortage which should last until . . . mid-2010! Yikes! 

Heavy October rains in Atlanta forced one of the Eggo bakeries to take a production hiatus. And to add insult to injury, Kellogg's largest waffle facility (in Rossville, TN) needs extensive repairs.

A Kellogg spokesperson said, "We are working around the clock to restore Eggo store inventories to normal levels as quickly as possible. Remaining inventory will be rationed to stores across the country based on historical percentage of business."  

[Note: Seriously, people, I can't make this stuff up. When I first saw this story, I checked the link because I figured this had to be a joke from The Onion, but it is a top story on CNN!]  

My initial reaction upon hearing the story was to post an entry here. But then I came to my senses and first ran to the grocery store and bought up all the Eggo boxes I could get my hands on. I know there will soon be desperate moms with crying children and hungry, hungover college students all deep in the midst of Eggo withdrawal. So, the bidding on ebay will soon commence with the starting bid of [insert dramatic pause] one . . . million . . . dollars! Mwahahahaha!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meanderings & Wonderments

I've always wanted to invent a word. I know, most people are more interested in inventing something really important, like a cure for cancer, or an easier way to do something, like velcro. But no, I really want to invent a word. Not just any word, but a word that is super cool and people want to integrate immediately into the modern lexicon. I make up words all the time but so far nothing has stuck. Most of the words I come up with are often the combination of two words. It's like I can't figure out which word I want to say and my brain gets confused and they both come out at once in a peculiar auditory meshing. Of course my friends totally mock me for this, but I'm happy to say that at least in our little circle some of my words have been adopted (i.e. insuperior).

This summer when I was living in Spain, my confusion/invention was at it's worst/best. I was speaking Spanish all day but then would get on my laptop at night and try to write in English. The result was (1) I could only recall a small percent of my English vocabulary, and (2) my spelling became horrendous. But I did invent a word that I find myself using all the time: meandering. I know: it doesn't look like a new word, but it sounds like a new word if you combine "meander" and "wander." The phonetic pronunciation is me-on-der-ing. In truth, it was a mistake. I couldn't figure out which word to say and then pulled "a Holley" and out they both came. But I really like the sentiment behind it: to take an indirect course without a definitive purpose. I kind of wish there was more of that in life. 

Whenever I do a bit of meandering, I'm always humbled by the wondrous things I see. It makes me want to participate in more wonderment — to discover it, appreciate it, and be a part of it. Look around: there is wonderment everywhere, both natural and man-made. And what I find wondrous may be different than what you do, but that's the point really. 

I thought I might start sharing some of the wonderments I've encountered in my everyday life in a (perhaps a bi-monthly?) post. Interesting? Not interesting? Please weigh in with your comments below. The goal is merely to remind us to look for the wonderments. I know they're all around us if we just take the time to meander a bit more. 

So here are some wonderments I saw on Saturday: 

Marigolds ablaze

Chidori kale, which I've never seen before

Breakfast treasures discovered inside a delightful pink pastry box

Sunny satsuma

Fall tree in Santa Barbara

I hope your week ahead is filled with many wondrous moments, wherever you may find them. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quick and Dirty

As the weather turns cooler, I look forward to making soups. There is something so homey about the scent of a simmering pot of veggies and meat wafting through the house. It's high on the comfort food list in my book. As Auguste Escoffier, chef and one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine, said, "Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite." 

The one real drawback that often accompanies soups is how long it takes to make. Admittedly, it's often totally low maintenance. You usually just put some stuff in a big pot, bring it to a simmer and cook for three hours while you go about your business. You don't even have to be home for goodness sakes. But with that type of time commitment, making soup is often reserved for the weekend. 

I was paging through an issue of House Beautiful when a white bean soup recipe caught my eye because (A) I'm a little obsessed with white beans, and (B) it only takes 45 care-free minutes to make the soup. Bingo! We have a weeknight winner! Yes, it's also super healthy and a protein-rich vegetarian soup, but more importantly, it's delicious. You'll never miss the meat — and you certainly won't miss having to wait three hours before you eat it. But you're home will still smell delicious. 

Jewel's Favorite Soup

3 15-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, cut into small pieces
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Place beans, stock and garlic in a large pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is warm, add the olive oil and saute the onion and celery for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Next, add the tomatoes and salt and continue to cook another 3 to 4 minutes. 
Add the vegetable mixture and parsley to beans. Cook another 15 minutes to meld the flavors together. Serve with Parmesan cheese grated over each bowl. Yields: 6-8 servings. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

In Defense of Cauliflower

In the world of under-appreciated vegetables, cauliflower has to be near the top. It's one of the red-headed veggie stepchildren sandwiched in between brussels sprouts and cabbage. No doubt recollections of bland steamed vegetable medleys and cauliflower boiled past oblivion have made cauliflower the vegetable non grata in the most kitchens. 

And while I've eaten my share of dismal cauliflower dishes, at some point along my eating adventures I saw the light — and it was not eating it off a crudité platter dipped in Ranch dressing. I don't recall exactly where or when it was, but it was transformative. 

I was at one of those mega steak houses where the petit filet is 12 oz and all the sides are a la carte. To their credit, those places usually have delicious and rich side dishes. Garlic mashed potatoes or truffled mac 'n' cheese, anyone? . . .  Anyway, I went to pick a side dish and probably because the mashed potatoes and mac 'n' cheese had already been ordered, I got a wild hair and requested the roasted cauliflower. It was a client dinner so I was with a large group. Do you remember that scene in Animal House where Otter, Boone, Pinto and Flounder take their dates to see Otis Day at an all-black bar? There was total silence when they walked in, and the bar inhabitants gave the fraternity boys a look like, "Are you white boys crazy?!" It was pretty much like that when the people around the table heard I ordered cauliflower. I'm known to have a pretty discriminating palate so no one ridiculed me openly but I could tell they thought I'd lost my mind. The point of the story is that the cauliflower dish was the first thing devoured and seconds were ordered. In short, it was adored. 

There are so many ways to adore this funny-looking crucifer: whipped with mashed potatoes, layered in a decadent gratin, simmered in a spicy curry served over coconut rice, or simply slow roasted in the oven. But one of my favorites is a beautiful pureed soup that could inspire poetry. It's light yet rich, layered with luxurious textures and flavors. While I don't use this word often to describe food, this soup is opulent. There is just no other way to describe it.

But it's also like a woman who rolls out of bed and looks stunning with no make-up on. Effortless beauty. That's what this soup is. 

Cauliflower Soup with Pecorino and Truffle Oil
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 oz applewood smoked bacon (about 2 1/2 slices), chopped
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups 1-inch pieces cauliflower (roughly 1 large head)
3 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 3/4-inch cube Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional cheese shavings for serving
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
White truffle oil (for drizzling)
6 sea scallops

Saute bacon in heavy saucepan over medium heat until golden brown and some fat renders. Add onion, celery and garlic. Cover and cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Add cauliflower, 3 1/2 cups chicken broth and cheese cube. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. 
Puree soup in batches in processor (or use an immersion blender and leave in the pan). Return to pan and add cream. Bring soup to a simmer. Thin with more broth as necessary or desired. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. 
Wash and dry scallops and lightly salt and pepper them. Sear them for 1 1/2 minutes in a hot skillet drizzled with olive oil. Flip them over and cook another minute until they are opaque. Don't overcook them. This is what makes scallops tough. And they'll continue cooking when you remove them from the pan. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and drop one scallop in the middle of the soup. Sprinkle with cheese shavings and drizzle with truffle oil. Yields: Six servings. 

Notes: I think the bacon can be overwhelming if you're not careful, which is why the applewood smoked bacon is suggested. I would start with 1 1/2 slices first and see how you like it. If you think you want a smokier flavor, I would go with the full 2 1/2 slices but it will definitely have a more pronounced bacon flavor, which I personally wasn't going for. A little of the truffle oil goes a long way, so be judicious with this. You can always add more. If the scallops are particularly large, I usually score them so they'll cook more evenly. This could be converted into a vegetarian dish by omitting the bacon and scallop and using a good vegetable broth. It would still very rich in flavor. The soup can be made a day ahead. Cool slightly; cover and chill. Rewarm slowly and then add the cheese shavings, truffle oil and scallop. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Border

Friends are the family you choose. My mom used to tell me that when I was young. Growing up as a military brat, I often found myself far from my relatives but blessed with a network of surrogate aunts, uncles, and cousins. This was most pronounced when we lived in Panama where we met a group of families that affectionately became known as the Panama Connection (a.k.a. the PC). For three years, it seemed like all of our holidays, trips, weekends, and even afternoons were spent together. 

It was an amazing place to be a kid. The jungle was our sandbox with monkeys, sloths, iguanas and agoutis around us. We would buzz by the Panama Canal in our little ski boat on the way to our island bohio (thatched hut) to catch rainbow bass on the weekends, watching the QE2 scraping through the locks. We would get in these huge mango throwing fights. The green ones hurt worse than the ripe ones, but you'd be sure to get a poison ivy-like reaction from the sap so it was a trade-off. But more than anything, it really was the people I shared this with, my "chosen family," that made these experiences so special. 

It's been about 30 years since we left Panama. The PC is now spread all over the U.S. but still gets together regularly. It's rare, though, for the entire group to make it to a gathering. But when a PC wedding rolls around, well, that's something not to miss. A few weeks ago, we all convened in El Paso, TX to celebrate the marriage of Mike and Shelly, but it also felt like a family reunion. 

It was my first visit to El Paso, which is a wonderful city. However, I didn't realize how close it is to the border of Mexico. It's literally a stone's throw. 

The Mexican influence is pervasive, resulting (happily!) in lots of really good Mexican food. Real tortillas, salsa that makes your tongue burn, tender chili rellenos. . . . And for whatever reason, the margaritas tasted better too. 

With any large group in tow, you need to keep them busy. So the groom's parents suggested the PC hit the Indian and Mexican market festival. I must admit I'm usually most interested in casing the food stands at events like this. I'm not a "fair food junkie" but, seriously, who can resist a funnel cake?! Unfortunately, nary a funnel cake did I see. Actually not even a hot dog or cotton candy could be found. No, it was way better! 

There was Apache fry bread (the Southwest's version of a funnel cake) and grilled corn on the cob with a dusting of delicious spices. But what stole the show for me was the asadero cheese and green chili quesadilla. I know what you're thinking: How can a cheese quesadilla be anything to get excited about? For one, the tortillas do not have a shelf life of six month. Secondly, the green chilies have an amazing depth of flavor even though they look totally unassuming. And lastly, I'm wondering how I've made it through three decades of my life without asadero cheese. The end product is this heavenly toasted pocket filled with gooey cheese and fiery green polka dots. The photos do this no justice sadly. 

The genius is in the simplicity. It's not trying to be high falutin'. It's just comfort food at its best. I'm quite certain if I'd gone to college in El Paso, I'd be eating this on my way home from every party I ever went to.