Friday, May 31, 2013

Spice is Nice

TGIF!!! Is it just me or do "short weeks" following a long holiday weekend always seem brutally elongated? I couldn't be happier that Friday has finally arrived, and I have the perfect suggestion for how to kick off the weekend.

I've always liked spicy foods, but in the past few years, I've really gotten into spicy drinks. I don't know if that's a California thing or not, but I think it would be a welcome idea in a lot of places. From beer to martinis, spicy is in. But like any good dish, it needs to be well-balanced. It's not a contest like this one or this one to see who can survive the heat. It's a delicate meld of ingredients to create the perfect concoction that delights the palate.

I'm well past the age where I'll drink anything come the weekend—like the Friday Afternoon Grain Society at W&L. Thankfully, I've graduated from Purple Jesus. Not the most palatable concoction created, but probably not the objective. And to clarify, Purple Jesus is not a reference to the Viking's Adrian Peterson, but rather a horrid grape juice-based punch heavily laced with Everclear mixed in a 30-gallon trash can.

Some days, I think, call for a cocktail versus a chilled glass of Chardonnay or an ice cold beer. Some days, like the Friday following Memorial Day, call for something a little more special. Enter the pineapple-jalapeño margarita.

In my opinion, it elevates a traditional margarita on many levels:
1. It's not cloyingly sweet like a typical shelf margarita can be, often putting people into a diabetic coma
2. The pineapple and mint is a super refreshing twist on the traditional lime margarita, especially on a hot day
3. The jalapeño offers a surprising kick—in a "Wow, I could've had a V-8!" way not "Wow, where is the nearest gallon of milk?!" way
4. I'm pretty sure there is a higher nutritional value in this version (Yay, Vitamin C!), so you can feel good about getting your vitamins while you drink. No scurvy for you! 
5. You can truly imagine yourself in Mexico sipping this libation on the beach with the sand between your toes.

So, I rest my case. You need to whip this up this weekend. It's easy to make, feels sophisticated and definitely kicks things up a notch (even though I hate that phrase from Emeril).

Welcome to the weekend!

Jalapeños and pineapple: a refreshing combination!
Fresh lime juice. There frankly is no substitute.
Some agave syrup to sweeten it
Fresh mint helps balance the heat
I'm a dork, but this drink is fantastic!

Pineapple-Jalapeño Margarita

5 cups pineapple, chopped
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced (remove the seeds for less heat, but I'd leave at least one in tact)
2 cups tequila
6 Tbsp agave syrup (or could substitute simple syrup or sugar)
4 limes, juiced
1-2 cups sparkling limeade (I bought this at Trader Joe's but you could use Sprite or lime-flavored sparkling water)
1 small bunch of mint, chopped

Throw everything, except the sparkling limeade and mint, in a blender and puree until smooth. It will be kind of thick like a daiquiri. Add the limeade to thin and stir in the chopped mint. Taste and add more limeade if needed. If it's really too hot for you, blend up a little bit of cucumber and add to the mixture. Pour over a glass only half filled with ice and enjoy! Serves 6

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Peaches & Bourbon

I'm not a huge TV watcher but it seems like lately every time I turn it on ABC, I see the promo for the new series called Motive. There is this cool chic detective who says, in this sing-songy voice, "Nothin' says Friday night like a hom-i-ciiide." [You can hear what I'm talking about here in the opening of this clip after you make it through the 15 second commercial.] I can't get the verbiage or the cadence out of my head. So when I was thinking about this post, all that came to mind was, "Nothin' says sum-mer time like peach ice creeeam." Now it's kind of stuck in my head, so I'm hoping by sharing it with you, it will now be in your head and not mine. 

Seriously, though, summertime does equate to peaches in my book. The peach is my favorite fruit and I get so excited thinking about the prospect of enjoying them all summer long. I feel like summer should kick-off with Memorial Day weekend and am pleased to report that it actually felt like summer had arrived. Finally it was nice and sunny and warm in Santa Barbara....and smokey and ashy because a wild fire started. I was hosting a BBQ, so the raining ash wasn't that conducive for outdoor food and beverages, but made for a beautiful if not eerie sky. 

Anywho......It's no secret that one of my other loves is bourbon. So when I saw a recipe for peach cobbler ice cream with bourbon-caramel sauce, I was like, "Done." I literally planned a whole menu around it. I always liked the concept of homemade ice cream but it requires a lot of time and effort to make (hand crank and large bag of rock salt, need I say more?). This recipe is like the lazy man's version, using just whipped topping and sweetened condensed milk as the ice cream base. You add to it fresh peaches, peach schnapps and baked cinnamon-suagared pie crust. Then you drizzle it with a healthy dose of bourbon-caramel sauce. Ridiculous, I know! I was literally giddy with anticipation. 

I was surprised by how quickly and easily this came together, especially for someone who is adverse to making desserts. I think this is homemade ice cream for dummies, but whatever. I can assure you the output is nothing shy of genius. My only complaint was that I think the caramel sauce was a little thin (even after refrigeration), but perhaps I was too generous with the addition of bourbon? That's highly possible. You can easily whisk in a little cornstarch mixed with water, but honestly, I could just drink it through a straw and be really, really happy. You do need to give the ice cream a few minutes to set out and soften before serving. Otherwise the ice cream has a slightly crystalized texture that feels less creamy. But again, with a little softening, it's perfect. 

In case it's not clear, I am very enthusiastic about this dessert—and this is coming from a non-dessert enthusiast. I am actively campaigning for you to make it—as soon as humanly possible. It is the perfect trifecta of ingredients for ice cream: crunchy pie crust, bourbon (which often has a caramel note), and peaches. 

The only apparent negative: I didn't want to stop eating it. That probably explains why I have done a double workout every day at the gym since Memorial Day. 

Peach Cobbler Ice Cream with Bourbon-Caramel Sauce 
from Cooking Light

Ice cream: 
8 oz refrigerated pie dough 
Cooking spray
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
2 cups peeled peaches (which I forgot to peel), divided (about 4 medium peaches)
1 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk (I couldn't find so used regular)
4 Tbsp peach schnapps
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Generous dash of salt
4 cups frozen reduced-fat whipped topping, thawed
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp light-colored corn syrup
Generous dash of salt
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp bourbon

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 
2. Place pie dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lightly coat with cooking spray. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle mixture evenly over the pie dough. Using a sharp knife, deeply score dough at 1-inch intervals. Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes or until browned. Cool completely and break into 1/2-inch pieces. 
3. Place 1 cup peaches in a medium bowl and mash until almost smooth. Add the remaining cup of chopped peaches and the next 4 ingredients (through dash of salt); stir well. 
4. Gently fold in the crumbled piecrust and whipped topping. Scoop the mixture into a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze overnight or at least 8 hours. 
5. To make the sauce, combine 1 cup sugar, 4 Tbsp water, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring just until sugar melts; bring to a boil. Cook 12 minutes or until amber, remove from heat. Drizzle in half-and-half, quickly and continuously whisking. Add butter and bourbon and whisk until smooth. Serves 8. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hold the Mayo

I know there is a strong cadre of mayonnaise haters out there. You're really passionate people. I wouldn't exactly call myself a hater per se, but I only care for mayo in small doses. Maybe that makes me mayo adverse? I love chicken salad, for instance, but I end up grilling the poor waiter about how much mayo is in their recipe and am usually filled with great distrust when the server assures me "it's not too mayonnaise-y." And for the record, most of the time they're liars. Typically I'll take a good mustard on a sandwich, and eschew most mayonnaise-based salads because someone in the kitchen is usually mayonnaise happy. [Btw, I think these are also the sample people who dress the salads.] With most dishes, I think the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts. Therefore excessive mayo doesn't work in that equation—and I'm not even that good in math. 

As the weather warms and summer nears, I've had picnics on my mind. On the weekends, I usually run by the Santa Barbara Mission, which has a beautiful rose garden adjacent to it. People tend to flock there on the weekends to picnic. It's the kind of place that invites you to linger and never really feels crowded, with people somehow carving out little slices of privacy to enjoy the views and the company of friends or family along with a nibble and a glass of wine. But picnics can kind of be tricky because you need dishes you can make ahead of time, transport easily, are unfussy to serve, and can hold up for a few hours. The classic Waldorf salad is often suggested, yet often causes me to raise my eyes. Do people really eat that? 

Yes, I know it's a famous salad concocted by Oscar Tchirky, the maître d'hôtel of New York's Waldorf Astoria, in 1893 and is now served by many restaurants and delis as a lunch staple. My narrow-minded opinion is that it's a few fairly uninteresting ingredients, such as red apple, celery, and walnuts, slathered in mayonnaise. Oh and it also has raisins in it. The only time I really want to eat raisins is in an oatmeal cookie and even then I'd prefer chocolate chips. 

But the recipe in the June issue of Ladies' Home Journal made me reconsider. Well, maybe I should give credit to the food stylist and photographer. They presented their "All-New Waldorf Salad," which appeared to contain nary a drop of mayo in it. Whereas I'd usually be thinking, "Next..." as I turned the page, this vibrant salad caught my eye. This interesting version was comprised of colorful pieces of apple, radicchio, and dried cranberries tossed with the requisite walnuts and celery but mixed with a hint of honeyed Greek yogurt dressing instead of the usual mayonnaise. OK, that sounded like something even the mayo adverse might like.

So I made it last weekend. And guess what? I liked it. A lot. And so did a lot of other people—even kids. As such, I must rescind my previous position on the Waldorf. It is something people eat. And even more people—including the mayonnaise haters of the world—would probably eat it and enjoy Waldorf salad if this recipe was used.

Happy Memorial Day weekend! In the words of Joseph Campbell, "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself." Thank you to all the heroes who serve or have served. You are appreciated and remembered by this Army Brat. 

All-New Waldorf Salad

1/2 cup (4 oz) plain Greek yogurt (non-fat is fine)
2 1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 ground black pepper
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 head of radicchio, roughly chopped
1 sweet apple, cored and chopped

Whisk together the yogurt, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Chill until ready to eat. Serves 8
Note: I did have to do a little "maneuvering" on this recipe. I added more celery and apple to get the right ratio and then added some more honey and lemon juice for my personal taste. So start with the recipe as a base but be prepared to tweak if needed. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Last weekend I was in LA with my family. That's Lower Alabama not Los Angeles for those who aren't that familiar with the Redneck Riviera. About 40 of us descended upon my grandmother's house outside Mobile for the Harwood family reunion, which we always celebrate on Mother's Day weekend. 

It's a trek for me to get there, but it's worth it! Here are a few reasons why:
1. I'm so lucky to be able to hang out with my 93-year-old grandmother. 
2. I get my Southern food fix.
3. People talk just like I do there. 
4. No one thinks it's weird to drink a Coke for breakfast.
5. It's like being on set during the filming of Duck Dynasty. My sides hurt from laughing so hard.

While the main event is the fish fry on Saturday for dinner (which down South is actually lunch because dinner is called supper—confused yet?), I timed my arrival on Friday perfectly and pulled up right as the Low Country Boil was being served. Well, I guess to be geographically correct, you'd have to call it Low Alabama Boil. This one-pot wonder is comprised of potatoes, corn, smoked sausage and shrimp (or crawfish if they're in season) boiled in a spicy broth. It doesn't hurt to add some herb butter to it either. 

With a crew this large, there is no such thing as a little amount of food. My grandmother says she "just makes a lot" because God forbid anyone leaves hungry. In truth, the only thing anyone leaves with is an extra 5 lbs. I don't know how large a pot we used but I know we had 15 lbs of shrimp alone in it. This dish is great for a crowd and is downright effortless to make—not to mention effortless to eat. Well, I mean you do have to peel your own shrimp but that doesn't really take all that much effort.

And we do it classy down in LA with newspaper table cloths and rolls of paper towels for napkins. It's been a long time since I had a Busch Light beer (read the ratings here and see what you're missing), but it was actually the perfect beverage for such a feast.  

Other highlights of the weekend were:
The family tree we made on a paper napkin

The four Harwood sisters

Fresh oysters on the half shell

"Now we're cooking in peanut oil!" which means it's all good, like jalapeño hush puppies

The perfect plate

Homemade peach and blueberry cobbler 

I hope you had as much fun celebrating moms as I did! 
Love you, Monk!

Low Country Boil

1 3-oz package extra-spicy boil-in-the-bag crab boil 
1 12-oz bottle pale ale beer
1 lemon, cut in half
3 lbs baby red potatoes 
2 lbs mild smoked sausage (i.e. keilbasa), cut into 2-in pieces
6 ears of corn, cut into thirds
4 lbs unpeeled, uncooked medium shrimp
Cocktail sauce for serving

Combine the first three ingredients and 5 quarts of water in a 12-quart covered stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add potatoes and sausage; cover and cook 10 minutes. Add corn; cover and cook 5 minutes. 
Add shrimp; cover and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand covered for 10 minutes. Drain. Serve with cocktail sauce. Serves 10-12.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cake to Covet

Some people fantasize about dessert. I'm not one of them. I fantasize about pizza and Pappy Van Winkle 23-year old. But dessert? Not until now. I've long believed there are two kinds of people: sweet or savory. I'm definitely in the savory camp. I'd covet a croissant over a cupcake any day. But then I was introduced to the olive oil cake....

I'm perhaps the anomaly who prefers the after dinner drink instead of the after dinner dessert. But a few months ago I lunched with some ladies who are foodies with impeccable taste and when they ordered a dessert to share I half sat up with interest. I knew it would be good because they only do good. But still it had to be a really good dessert to get me to dig my fork into it. Plus it seemed too borderline alcoholic to order an "after dinner drink" when it was only 1 pm.

They brought this out . . .

. . . and I literally almost came fisticuffs with my lunch mates over who could have the last bite of this olive oil cake. It was served over a pistachio pesto, I think, with some perfectly sweet yet firm pears on top. It was amazingly sublime. For me, the perfect amount of yummy savory with the right kiss of sweetness. It was dense yet airy unlike a pound cake but the olive oil added a richness to it you normally don't find in a pound cake. It was incredibly delicious and also incredibly memorable. 

So when I saw a recipe for a blood orange olive oil cake on this site shortly after my olive oil cake introduction, I felt like it was a sign from the gods. I needed to make this cake.   

Although I consider myself a polished person, I'm very drawn to rustic desserts. Nothing too fancy or frilly (as if the added icing and panache is covering up for a lack of taste). But the truth of the matter is I'm lazy and don't like the fussiness and precision required of most baking. So I love trying to capitalize on the concept of the homemade dessert being less than perfect in presentation but over the top in taste. Honestly I think this delivers. It's kind of a stroke of genius. It feels very grown up and sophisticated. The crunchy outer layer and super moist interior offers the right amount of indulgence yet is so light. The addition of blood oranges pretty much seals the deal. 

I do admit I'm a bit enamored with anything involving blood oranges. I don't know why but God are they sexy. Seemingly exotic and a tad out of your (fruit) league, they offer a unique favor profile. As expected they are citrusy but have an almost raspberry flavor. And don't even get me started on their gorgeous color. This recipe showcases the blood orange in a number of ways: the zest, the juice and the segments. It's easy on the eyes for sure and also easy on the palate.

It's a cake with character and class but like your friend who rolls out of bed, dresses effortlessly and looks enviably cool (not a cake with a stylist and crew who spent hours fawning over you to make you look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine).

While you should use a good olive oil in this recipe (because the quality does influence the taste), the actual cake doesn't taste like olive oil. It's more of a cross between an angel food cake and a pound cake. But way more interesting—in both taste and texture. I'd go with something light and fruity, and definitely nothing peppery. And I stole the idea from the restaurant to drizzle the cake with good honey for serving. I personally love this brand. I think it does add a final note of perfection. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but it's pretty great solo too. 

In the south, butter is the standard for cooking and baking, but in the Mediterranean cooking with olive oil is common. And cooking with olive oil makes it seem healthier than butter because it's a "healthy fat," right?! That's the lie I told myself as I ate my third slice....

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
from Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

6 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt (less than a cup)
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Honey and vanilla ice cream (or whipped cream) for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Grate the zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with the sugar. Using your fingers, rub the ingredients together until the orange zest is evenly distributed in the sugar. 

2. Peel and cut the orange segments from 2 blood oranges. This technique is called "supreming." This is done by cutting off the bottom and top of the orange so the fruit can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away the peel and pith, following the curve of the fruit with your sharp knife. Cut the orange segments out of their connective membranes and place in a small bowl. 

3. Half one of the remaining oranges and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. You should have about 1/4 of a cup of juice. Add enough buttermilk or yogurt to the juice until you have 2/3 cup of liquid. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the sugar and whisk well. Whisk in the eggs until well incorporated. 

4. In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Gently whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in the olive oil a little at a time. Fold in the orange segments and then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. 

5. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes, or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. I'd start checking around 50 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right side up. 

6. To serve, supreme the remaining blood oranges and mix them with 1 Tbsp of honey. Spoon the ice cream (or whipped cream) onto a slice of cake, top with some blood oranges and drizzle with more honey.