Monday, April 19, 2010

Salt and Pepper

This past weekend was just lovely. JavaLady, H., H.'s mother and I went wine tasting on Saturday and then H. and I made dinner for the girls. I recently bought a book called Salt & Pepper that talks about all the different types of salts and peppers and how best to cook with them. I am in the process of cleaning out my old and expired spices, and what better way to replenish seasonings than with different varieties of the basics? So that's just what I'm doing. I have bought four new things. I bought some bulk organic black peppercorns and organic white peppercorns from Whole Foods. I also bought some Himalayan pink salt-I thought the label was funny because it said as a subtitle: Primordial Salt; that's some old salt, folks. Apparently, Himalayan pink salt is harvested from 200-million-year-old-dried-up-inland seas and its pink color comes from trapped iron deposits. It's so pretty, and it's a good all-purpose salt.
The fourth item was a little difficult for me to track down. In short, I searched Charlottesvegas dry for it: pickled green peppercorns. I'd never heard of them, but several of the recipes in the book had it in them, so I hunted and called and got recommendations until the last place I went surprisingly had them. Harris Teeter. I'm an idiot. I searched every specialty store in town and no one had it except HT. Another little digression here. About a month ago, I had a dream about a mortar and pestle (That's pathetic isn't it?) and was telling H. about it because I thought it was really weird. A few days later, yours truly was the proud owner of a brand spanking new marble mortar and pestle, compliments of H., and this weekend was the first time I used it. I really shouldn't say I, because H. ended up man handling black peppercorns in it (those things are tough!). I read that if you crush them in the mortar with a pestle, they release some good oils that add great flavor, versus just grinding them; apparently it doesn't have the same effect.
Here is H. crushing black peppercorns:
We prepared sharp white cheddar, crushed black peppercorn and garlic stuffed chicken breasts...
...with roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes with fresh, garlic-infused olive oil (that H. made last weekend) drizzled over top.
And pickled green peppercorn and Parmesan shortbread (some homemade crackers with dindin): And the finished product: Here's JavaLady enjoying a glass of vino and a shortbread while we prepared dinner.
Not pictured: Chocolate chip yogurt cake with chopped pears on top....this one's becoming a regular in my kitchen. This was the first of hopefully many salt and pepper inspired dinners that will go under the belt.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


H. recently had a birthday, so we had a party on Saturday, and what birthday party is complete without birthday cake? He wanted a yellow cake, and c'mon, I just couldn't use a box mix. I'm qualifying this cake as worthy of going on the chocolate cakery shenanigans because it had chocolate icing. I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and I think it's the best cake I've ever made. So good. I did, however, alter the frosting recipe. I wasn't really in the mood for buttercream, but I didn't know how chocolate sour cream frosting was going to turn out. Using Smitten Kitchen's recipe as my base, I altered it accordingly:

1 bag Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 heaping cup sour cream
1 heaping cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
3/4 t. vanilla extract
1/4 c. light corn syrup plus some drizzle over the top

Melt chocolate chips. Combine all other ingredients. You want to have the yogurt and the sour cream mixture at room temperature (and let the chocolate cool off before adding it to when you add the melted chocolate chips) or it will kind of curdle, apparently. Anyways, mix all together and refrigerate until it's a good consistency to spread: 30 minutes to an hour. The frosting has a ganache-like consistency and it's a great alternative to buttercream if you're trying not to become a lardhead with all five sticks of butter in that frosting. It was a little tangy, but nothing a little corn syrup can't fix!

Here I am, frosting the cake, with cold spinach dip sitting in front of me, smelling the hot reuben dip and stuffed mushrooms in the oven. Sounds tempting, but when I make something or stand in a kitchen for a long time smelling the food I'm making, it makes me not want to eat it. When it's finally prepared, I don't want it anymore. I'm finding that cooking is all about the experience of creating rather than eating, for me at least. We made 14 pounds of pulled pork barbecue in some Crock Pots for the party; I couldn't eat it until the next day.

Here's the cake mid-party:

Prior to all the cooking we did for the party on Saturday night, though, H, Javalady and I went to the farmer's market, and H. bought me these lovely tulips to go in a Mason jar for the party. Aren't they beautiful! And since H. loves garlic more than life, he made 3 big bottles of garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil....while we were cooking for the party. It was an incredibly productive day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Octopus's Garden

I've been wanting to plant some herbs. For a long time. Every time I moved into a new apartment in college, my mom would encourage me to get a plant for it, that it would look homier, etc. I was always hesitant about that because well, I've always associated the buying of plants with something only adults do, maybe that's dumb. Every time I chatted with my mom about wanting a plant one day, she always told me that I could buy one anytime, but I usually responded with something like, You'll know I've become an adult when I get a plant. Well, I'm happy to say that I have planted 4 of my own plants, and in March, I helped H. plant some as well. So we've got more than 8 herbs going between the two of us! And there's also a humongo rosemary plant on the side of the house that I live in, so fresh rosemary anytime! H. hearts pesto, so he planted 3 varieties of basil, some spearmint and yesterday, he added thyme and sage to his collection. I love fresh mint in tea, so yesterday I planted some spearmint for myself, Mediterranean oregano, cilantro and allegedly, Italian parsley. I say allegedly because I'm a dim-wit that didn't read the seed packet instructions prior to sowing; apparently you have to soak parsley seeds in warm water overnight. I will be sowing the parsley post-work today.
Here's the pink dogwood bloom's view of the operation:
I painted the pots to increase their cuteness value outside my door, but more importantly, I'm really bad at the look-at-a-plant-and-know-exactly-what-type-of-plant-it-is phenomenon. I would like to be better at that. I think the labels will help, although, I think a few plants are pretty obvious.
Sorry, parsley, you'll be a day behind the others. It's ironic because you take the longest amount of time to germinate. Dangit.
I have a little tip to impart as far as potting plants goes; I read it in a magazine once. When you're planting in a pot with a drain hole, put a piece of sponge over the hole before adding the potting soil, as the pot won't drain water as quickly, thus making less of a mess and eliminating the need to add tons of additional water to a dried-out plant. Also according to the seed packets, spearmint and oregano should be kept moist. When I read that little facto, I remembered finding wild spearmint growing next to a creek as a kid and bringing it to the house, so that makes sense to me. I shall have to be wary of keeping these babies moist, as I used terra cotta pots, which dry out very quickly. There's something so wonderful about planting something and watching it grow, so I think these herbs will bring me much joy (as well as much flavor to my table)!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

I know it's been so long since I posted, but can you blame me? The weather in Charlottesvegas has been outstanding. I went home for Easter to visit the famdamily and to celebrate The Resurrection at LCF; I had an awesome weekend and I hope that everyone else did as well. I will have more goodies to share later in the week, but until then, just so you know, I ate 2 boxes of Peeps in a 24-hour period. Absolute bliss. Fluffy white marshmallowy goodness coated in all-natural sunshine yellow sugar granules. Soooo good.