Saturday, February 28, 2009

Oatmeal cookies for a rainy day

Before today, I had never made oatmeal cookies of any kind. However, the weather and my curiosity came together quite nicely to encourage a pleasant experiment. In the span of 7 days, I ran across 2 separate oatmeal cookie recipes that I filed away "to try later." But when I woke up this morning and looked out the window, I knew today was the day. Besides, I had everything in the cabinet.

The first cookie recipe came from Smitten Kitchen - Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies. The second via Adam Roberts' cardamom fixation - "Baked" Oatmeal Cookies with Cardamom.

(sidenote: I cannot wait to order Baked: New Frontiers in Baking but I'm forcing myself to be patient because Bittman's Bible just came in the mail today!)

My end result was a wacky hybrid that just works.

I based my recipe's basic ingredients off of Deb's recipe, except I omitted the salt on top, halved her amount of white chocolate and added 1/2 cup of dried sweetened cherries, my nod to the Baked recipe. I was 4 Tablespoons short of the recommended butter (I ran out!) and in the end, I could tell.

All in all, delicious, and this recipe was a good excuse for me to try out my ability to sprinkle in some pictures. You let me know if it works.

White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
inspiration due Smitten Kitchen


1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I only used 10 T and could definitely tell. This is a recipe that needs the butter!)
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 vanilla sugar and 1/2 regular)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/3-1/2 cup dried cherries, rough chopped (I tried to have even amounts of chocolate and cherries, so the amount is not exact)
1 white chocolate bar, chopped into small chunks (I used Green & Black's. Yum. Love their chocolate!)

To make the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into medium bowl.

In a large bowl, add white and brown sugars and butter (cut into large pieces). Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl down and add egg and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.

Add flour and beat until incorporated and the dough is smooth.

Gradually add oats, white chocolate and cherries and mix until well incorporated.

(This step almost killed my hand mixer. If you aren't using a stand mixer, use your hands for this step. It works just as well and you aren't picking dough out from in between your mixer blades every 30 seconds.)

Use about 2 Tablespoons of the dough to make balls by rolling them between your palms. I ended up with 27 cookies, but yours may vary.

Space out dough on a baking sheet. You can use parchment or a Silpat if you have one. I spray my baking sheets down with canola oil. To each their own. Press the cookie balls down gently into rounds.

Bake for 13-16 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. You're aiming for a golden brown color.

Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute when you remove them from the over before you transfer them to a cooling rack. It helps them stay together. I had a few cookies crumble on me before I realized this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25 (edible) Things To Try In Asheville

A mashup of the "25 Things" meme floating around Facebook and the 100 Things To Try Before You Die extravaganza, Asheville-style.

(See the 100 item San Fran list here.)

25 (edible) Things to Try in Asheville

Note: This is definitely not meant as a "Best Of." By no means exhaustive OR exclusive, you might turn your nose up at some of these. Better yet, remind me what I left off. I have a feeling this list will grow.

1. Sweet potato fries, Rosetta’s Kitchen
2. A tour and tasting at the Biltmore Winery (on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate)
3. loaf of French Bread (or ANY bread) from City Bakery
4. Shepherd’s pie with a pint of Green Man Porter, Jack of the Wood
5. Duck confit quesadilla and the margarita caliente, Limones
6. Spinach and goat cheese naan, Mela Indian Restaurant
7. On a warm summer evening, dinner on the Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn
8. Three words: Pisgah. Pale. Ale. I’ll say it again: Pisgah Pale Ale.
9. Ecstasy truffles, The Chocolate Fetish
10. Fried green tomatoes with goat cheese grits, Tupelo Honey
11. Calzone, Barley’s Taproom
12. Warm almond croissant, Paris Bakery
13. All of the weekend breakfast specials, Over Easy Cafe
14. The house salad dressing at Marco’s Pizzeria
15. Blueberry streusel muffins, West End Bakery
16. Flirtini, Tressa’s
17. Moussaka, Jerusalem Garden
18. The Usual Burger, Usual Suspects
19. Ginger Florentines, the bakery case at Greenlife Grocery
20. Dinner at Gabrielle’s, Richmond Hill Inn [RIP Richmond Hill Inn, 1889-March 19, 2009]

21. Flavored sipping chocolate, The French Broad Chocolate Lounge
22. Albondigas tapas with a glass of Rioja, Zambra
23. Double mocha, The Dripolator
24. Sunday brunch, The Corner Kitchen
25. Basket of fish ‘n chips,
Hannah Flanagan’s

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dinner, improvised: Pasta alla Vodka

My first experience with pasta alla vodka was as a teenager, while out to dinner with my parents at a fancy restaurant. At the time, my thought process was probably something like: Hey, it has alcohol in the title!

Being too young to drink, I suppose it was some misguided attempt at rebellion.

Since then, I've ordered it out many times and love the creamy, garlicky carb-loaded sense of pleasure I get after eating it. My current favorite place to order it here in Asheville is Eddie Spaghetti, topped with broccoli and loaded with parmesan.

I never tried to make it at home because I automatically assumed there was some trick to it that would preclude my success.

I was half right. Pasta alla Vodka is my current kitchen nemesis. I've tried The Pioneer Woman's recipe as well as one from Lidia Bastianich, two individuals I trust when it comes to delicious and simple, if cream-heavy recipes. Both recipes have a straightforward, fairly short list of ingredients and yet... I cannot get the taste balance right to satisfy my picky palate.

My downfall, I believe, with Ree's recipe was that I ignored her advice and reached for the half-and-half instead of the cream. I ended up adding an entire pint of half-and-half and a whole can of tomato paste, without achieving my desired results. My Kitchen Guinea Pig loved it. I thought it was meh. With Lidia's recipe I followed it to the letter, having never been disappointed before. I liked it better than Ree's. Kitchen Guinea Pig liked Ree's better. I couldn't win. I need to try Ree's to the letter next time.

I can’t help but think that mom’s solution in this case would be to add butter by the stick until it worked.

All of this adventure and torment came after I discovered a delicious and amazing shortcut to authentic pasta alla vodka.

Well, okay...

It's not a shortcut. It's a total cheat.


I've tried to spruce it up, but the reality is that this ends up being like a "Pasta Helper."


But it is really tasty! And easy! Perfect for nights when I'm just not up to fiddling with a recipe but I want my pasta alla vodka, damnit.

Until I can nail an original recipe to the wall and make it beg for mercy, it will have to do.


(PS – If you happen to have any suggestions as to the tomato/cream/cheese/garlic balance that results in the Ultimate Pasta Alla Vodka, please do share.)

Pasta alla Vodka for Cheaters
serves 2 with some leftovers

1 jar of Newman's Own Vodka Sauce (or sauce of your choice, I’m not endorsing…)
splash of vodka (for good measure)
1 mushroom/swiss hamburger patty*
head of broccoli
½ cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
½ pound pasta of your choice (I typically use whole wheat penne or thin spaghetti)
olive oil
1/2 a sweet onion, large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (I *heart* my garlic press)

*You can find these at the more boutique-y grocery stores (Earth Fare, Greenlife, etc.), but you could also just take 1/2 pound of ground beef and season it however you like. Same dif.

Directions for deliciousness:

Steam the broccoli and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water with a healthy dose of salt to a boil. Add your pasta and cook according to directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and return to the pot.

In a frying pan, cook the hamburger patty as you would normal ground beef, breaking it up and browning the beef thoroughly. Transfer the beef to some paper towels and drain.

In a separate large sauté pan, add some olive oil and heat it over medium-low heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Add garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the jar o’ sauce, splash o’ vodka, Parmesan cheese and the drained ground beef.

Simmer the mixture for 5-7 minutes or until hot, stirring occasionally to incorporate and to get the cheese all melty.

Add the pasta to the mixture and stir it around to coat. Simmer a few more minutes.

Divy into bowls and serve with some warm garlic bread.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Polish Pierogi

(photo* courtesy Christopher Greene)

Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania and being of Polish descent on my father’s side, pierogi were a cornerstone of my childhood. Everybody ate them and loved them with the sort of fierce passion normally reserved for a favorite pizza joint. (Old Forge pizza is a story for another time.)

Everybody’s grandmother made them. Everybody’s grandmother sold them at the ubiquitous summer church block parties. And you better believe that everyone thought their grandmother made the best pierogi. I took their doughy potato stuffed goodness for granted. Until I moved to North Carolina.

“What do you mean, peerowgee?”

Ah, cultural differences.

A brief explanation: pierogi are basically dumplings. Unleavened dough rolled out and cut into circles and stuffed with a choice of filling. The Polish use potatoes with butter and cheese, sometimes onion. First you boil them, then you sauté or deep fry them in butter or oil. I like mine with a simple potato and cheese filling, sautéed in butter with sautéed onions on the side.

One word of caution, however: even if you love sauerkraut (as I do), do not eat sauerkraut pierogi. They are an abomination.

Like thick cut French fries with salty brown gravy and Weaver’s breaded chicken patties, pierogi were impossible to find in the South. White gravy, redeye gravy, Tyson’s chicken and barbeque in spades, but no pierogi. Now, in the interest of being a fair and balanced Yankee, I didn’t know the difference between vinegar and tomato based barbeque until 12 Bones set me straight a few years ago. Eventually I was able to locate some Mrs. T’s in the freezer section at Ingles, but they were a poor substitute. I added pierogi to my list of foods to indulge in when visiting home, but I generally put them out of my mind for a good long while.

Until now…

While poking around with a friend at the newly open Montford Books and More (formerly The Reader's Corner) a few weeks ago, I found a cookbook that looked too promising to pass up – One Potato, Two Potato by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens. Nearly 600 pages of potatoes! The typeface was clean, the pages uncluttered and the book was helpfully sectioned by all the ways you can cook a potato: mashed, fried, baked/roasted, soups and more. I dove right in and started dog-earing recipes. The next weekend, I was geeking out and sharing recipes I wanted to make with my mom. When I got to the pierogi recipe, mom took out a pen and wrote in the book the ultimate secret of good pierogi dough – sour cream. Learned from my grandmother, of course.

I was intrigued. Sour cream in dough? Dough and I already have an iffy relationship. (My first attempt at a loaf of bread went something like: Wait…knead for how long? Leavening? SECOND rise? 18 hours??) I wasn’t sure I was ready for this.

Two nights ago, I bit the bullet. And now my heritage requires that I pass this recipe along, “secret” and all.

The recipe was simple. Lots of steps, but each step is really easy. You can’t screw this up. And, they are amazingly delicious!!! Took about three hours to make, including letting the dough rest for an hour and all the cutting, stuffing, pinching and boiling, BUT! After you boil them they keep well in the fridge for a few days and freeze like a dream. These are worth every second spent on your feet. I promise. You can make a double batch and get a season’s worth of pierogi made in an afternoon.

adapted from One Potato, Two Potato

The recipe says it makes about 4 dozen dumplings, but I came up with just under 3 dozen with minimal dough scraps.

For the dough:

1 large egg
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. coarse salt (I use kosher)
2 Tbsp. sour cream
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

6-8 medium to large potatoes, peeled
coarse salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1-1 ½ cups grated cheese (I used Cabot Extra Sharp White Cheddar with great success)

To make the dough:

Combine ¼ cup warm water, the egg, melted butter, salt and sour cream in a standing mixed fitted with the paddle (I used a hand mixer, no problem).

Add the flour all at once and beat on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium low and continue to mix the dough until uniform and elastic, about 4 minutes (it took me less than two minutes total).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth. Put the dough back in the bowl you mixed in, rinsed out and lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for an hour.

To make the filling:

Peel and dice the potatoes (in this attempt, I used Yukon Golds and mistakenly left the skins on. No harm, no foul, but peel your potatoes as a matter of consistency), put in a large saucepan and cover with water by an inch. Add a pinch of salt and bring the potatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are fork tender.

Drain potatoes and return to saucepan.

Cook the potatoes in the saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes to dry them out some. Stir them around as they cook off the moisture so they do not stick. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the potatoes with a hand masher or wooden spoon. Add the butter and salt to taste and whip into the potatoes. Add the cheese and mix until combined. The heat of the potatoes should help melt and incorporate the cheese. Let mixture cool to room temperature.

Alternate filling instructions:

A mom suggestion to try next time: bake potatoes in the oven until fork-tender. Remove from oven, let cool, cut in half and scoop out filling into a bowl. This eliminates the extra step of drying out the potatoes as well as a need to peel the potatoes beforehand.

To make the pierogi:

Cut the dough in half, setting one piece aside for later, covered. Roll the other half out as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. Cut circles from the dough with a 3-inch cookie cutter (I used an inverted glass to great effect) and gather up the scraps to be re-rolled.

Spoon a heaping teaspoon of mashed potatoes into the center of the dough circle and fold the dough over into a half-moon shape. This dough is stretchy and pliable…I was pleasantly surprised. Do not be afraid to play with it. Pinch the edges together to seal and set the dumpling on a floured towel or floured corner of your work space. A lesson I learned is that the filled pierogi will stick to one another, so please don’t set them on top of one another. As an alternative, you could add the pierogi to a bowl with some oil or melted butter and coat each as you add them, but that seems like an unnecessary step. The dough should seal under the pressure of your fingers, but feel free to wet seal the edges with a little water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add a tablespoon of canola oil. Cook the pierogi in batches for 3-4 minutes. I did 6-8 pierogi at a time. Using a skimmer, remove the pierogi to a bowl.

After the pierogi are boiled, you can either sauté them right then, or refrigerate/freeze for later.

*This is not a staged photo. I held the pierogi for ransom until Chris took a picture. Hence why the silverware are on the other side of the plate, in reverse order. Obviously.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jumping without a parachute

Hello and welcome.

After keeping a personal blog for many years, I began to realize that the majority of my posts were now food-centric. This coincided, unsurprisingly, with my learning how an RSS feed works and a newfound obsession with food blogs. (See left hand column) Not to say that life took a backseat to food, but that food has become more tangibly integrated into my life, this past year in particular.

I found myself posting restaurant reviews, new recipes that I stumbled upon and just had to try, adventures at the grocery store and farmer's market, love letters to a particular dish that turned my knees to jello and made my mouth water at the memory, queries about substitutions and updates on whether a particular recipe turned out as promised or turned my kitchen into a flour-covered, dough-spattered wasteland. And does anyone know how you get canola oil out of a favorite shirt after adventures in french fry making?

These posts generated response, reflection, suggestions and shared joy from my community of like-minded (read: food-obsessed, or at least food-enjoying) friends. And it made me smile. Me, the girl who dreams of dinner parties (yet can't seem to coordinate one effectively) precisely out of that desire for food-as-community building.

I've also found myself reflecting on my abilities as a writer. I am fortunate to be surrounded by those who write, who truly find themselves called to the craft. I do not classify myself as "a writer," but I have been craving a structured environment that holds me accountable for what I'm putting out into the digital world. Perhaps this venue will rein in some of my sloppier writing habits.

All that said, my goals for this blog are these:

1. Have fun. Learn something. Do some good.

Penguin, my loyal kitchen mascot.
She helps out sometimes, from her perch high atop the refrigerator.

(photo courtesy Christopher Greene)

2. Create community through open discussion with all who choose to participate. I have only been able to find a handful (Less than 5! Surely there are more... No, I don't count the Asheville-dominated Chowhound South thread) of Asheville based food blogs. Several of them are not currently active. There should be more. Asheville is a city with amazing food and deserves to be recognized, indulged in and shared.

3. Share my personal food experiences. Eating, creating, dreaming, dining, researching, and learning new things about food. My new things may be your old hat. That’s okay. I love introducing people to new food experiences and I love being introduced.

4. Documentation. The successes! The failures! The odd condiment pairing or wine revelation! This is purportedly one of the worst reasons to start a food blog. I don't care.

5. Hone my writing skills. Be a better writer. Period. Feel free to call out my gratuitous comma-splicing, use of ellipses and adverbs, as well as my devotion to contractions at any time. I’m trying to quit, alright?

It promises to be an exciting challenge. My intended goal is to update 2-3 times per week, with at least one photo per entry. Between work and graduate school, we'll see how long it lasts.

My caveats:

1. In addition to not being "a writer," I am not "a photographer." Pictures taken by me will be taken with a point and shoot digital Canon Elph. No frills. No fancy lighting. No "Food Photography for Blogs 101." Just a (hopefully) decent depiction of whatever it is that's being talked about in the post. However, I am very fortunate to have "photographer" friends. You'll know their pictures when you see them, but I'll always credit just the same.

2. As I mentioned, part of my impetus for beginning this journey is the warm happy feeling I get from the community that is generated from talking about food with people I care about and strangers who share my passion. That's y'all. I can't do this without you. Comment, critique, challenge, share, swoon, dissect. Practically everything is welcome. I draw the line at pointless spammy or hurtful comments. I can draw down the wrath. Don't push it.

3. This is a work in progress. It may not be pretty and shiny right now, using canned default templates and limited navigation features, but as I get more content and familiarize myself more with the limits of the medium, the shiny will come. Until then, patience requested, suggestions welcome.

4. I classify myself as neither expert nor amateur. The continuum between the two is vast, but it is safe to say that most everyone loves a good meal and a good drink, with pleasant company, regardless of taste and experience. I’m just a girl who loves to cook and loves food, who was cheerfully surprised when meals started coming together and I could differentiate between braising and searing. I come from a matriarchal family of talented cooks, but it took years for even some of that knowledge to sink in.

5. Observing proper Netiquette is important to me. I have no intentions of stepping on existing cyber-toes or plagiarizing anyone. Where appropriate, I’ll either link to the origin of a particular recipe or cite the cookbook and author. I can’t say for sure whether I’m going to end up a filter blogger or a food blogger. I’m striving for original content, but there’s nothing new under the sun. Especially with all of the amazing talent currently out there creating deliciousness: Heidi Swanson, Adam Roberts, Amanda Hesser, David Leibovitz, Mark Bittman, Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and so many more. They are a source of so much inspiration.

This is simply my take.

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” ~ Helen Keller