Sunday, November 27, 2011

Words of Wisdom

Truth. Remember that this weekend folks.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Michael Voltaggio

Yum!! My last post on good looking chefs was mostly me on a soap box expressing my passion for food. Now I'm back to standing on my soap box just expressing passion.

Chef Michael Voltaggio won season six of the Bravo reality series Top Chef. His new restaurant is so close that I could hop a flight after work one night to the Burbank airport and take a quick car ride to it.

Plus, he named it 'ink' so I automatically love it...along with those arms of his.

What can I say? I'm an arms girl.

Not only do his muscular appendages fit the bill but he has also covered one arm with tattoos. Both something that could wrap around me AND that I can play color by numbers to! I love when things are multifunctional. But my ability to multitask pales in comparison to his.

While he was working on opening his restaurant 'ink' in West Hollywood, he also opened a small sandwich standing room only sandwich counter a few doors down from his restaurant. WHA?!! I barely have time to blog and here this amazing hunky chef opens 2 business ventures!! How amazing is that?? Regardless of how you felt about him when he was doing his massive trash talking on Top Chef you have to hand it to this culinary genius, he can back it up yo!

Oh, did I mention that he also has a hot brother?

Don't worry, we'll cover you too Mr. Bryan Voltaggio

And yes....I am following them both on twitter. I do love posts on delicious food porn. Love love love... sigh. Excuse me, I'm going to float away on thoughts of Michael's butternut squash risotto consisting of chicken wings, egg yolk, toasted wild rice, aromatic broth. Yes, I pulled that description from his website. Yes, there is drool on my keyboard. No, I'm not sure if its from his food or from him!

Buttermilk Biscuits

A warm biscuit with fresh homemade gravy. Is there anything better? No, no there is not. And you will be wrong if you try to tell me there is. On my last day of Thanksgiving holiday, we made from scratch biscuits with creamy sausage gravy. Getting myself back to the weekly grind is almost impossible while I think of the steam rising from a plate of this flaky goodness, a delicious fried egg and a cup of hot fresh coffee.

What you need: (gravy)
One 12-ounce tube bulk pork sausage
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

What you do:
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, break it up with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes.Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet. Whisk the flour into the fat and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. While whisking, pour the milk into the skillet and bring the gravy to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the sausage and season with pepper.

What you need: (biscuits)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold 1 cup buttermilk

What you do:
Preheat your oven to 450°F. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and use a fork or pastry cutter to cut in the flour until it resembles course meal. Add the buttermilk and mix JUST until combined. If it appears on the dry side, add a bit more buttermilk but the dough should be wet Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Gently work the dough out until it's about 1/2" thick. Fold the dough about 5 times, gently press the dough down to a 1 inch thick. Use a round cutter to cut into rounds. Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet- if you like soft sides, put them touching each other.If you like"crusty" sides, put them about 1 inch apart- these will not rise as high as the biscuits put close together. Bake for about 10-12 minutes- the biscuits will be a beautiful light golden brown on top and bottom.
Do not overbake.

To Serve:
Split the biscuits in half and divide them among plates. Top each biscuit with some of the gravy and serve immediately.

Redneck Southern Pit BBQ

I went home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Here's the thing about home....its a small small small town up near the Nevada/Arizona border. When I say small I mean ssmmmmaaalllll.
Example, when I was in High School it was impossible to ditch class. Every time I did, I saw someone my parents knew. That person would inevitably report back to my parents with innocent inquiry,
"I saw Kate at Jack in the Box today at lunch!"
While growing up there were two or three places that offered palate pleasing meals but none like what opened a few years ago.

Redneck Southern Pit BBQ

(Pause. Take it in. Love it.)

I've started to get healthy within the last few months which have led me to a 90% vegetarian diet. But the moment that I head up over the last hill to get to my parents, my mouth starts to water with thoughts of perfectly smoked pulled pork, cheesy mac and cheese and pasta salad with perfectly balanced mayo and mustard dressing.
My carnivorous side starts to roar and will not shut up until I satisfy it with a meal from Rednecks.
The issue that I have with most restaurants is the lack of consistency. Not here.
At Rednecks the mac and cheese stays perfectly creamy each time. The beef brisket has a rich and robust flavor. The pulled pork is moist and tender with a slight twinge of smoke to flavor the meat. To top it all off is Ma maw's peach cobbler and don't forget the ice cream. You will be bombed with an almost custard texture, juicy peaches and sweet cinnamon. They plop ice cream on the steaming heap of heaven and place a plate on top. This makes the ice cream melt just the perfect amount so your not eating ice cream milk but a soft mound of sweet cream with each bite of caramelized peach cobbler joy. That's pretty much what it is, joy in your mouth.

Get some fried pickles while your at it! Or a giant baked potato with enough toppings to last you two meals! Add baked beans! Buy some loaded freedom fries! It's all amazing.

I love this place so much that I actually hesitate to tell you about it! I want my special meat treat to stay mine. But I also want to share the magical BBQ that exists in my small hometown.

The experience isn't just culinary by the way. The same thought and precision that went into the food was also applied to the decor. Where else can you walk into a restaurant and immediately feel as if you've walked into a family BBQ picnic someplace in the south?

So next time you make your way through the 'blink and you'll miss it' town of Kingman.
And eat BBQ joy.

Lessons from Mr. Rocky Road

It took me a few weeks to realize what Mr. Rocky Road had been telling me the whole time, that while I'm working on all the stuff I have to work on....well I should focus on that and not on dating. For the last year I've been back in school, working full time, writing a work of fiction with my sister and trying to have a personal life.

All burners on, all the time. And I'm exhausted.

This leads me to make decisions not based on facts but on only emotion. And emotion led me to think that making out with one of my closest male friends was a good decision. Which it wasn’t.

I didn’t really listen to him and I kept trying to convince him that what he needs is me. That what is best for him is if he and I date. This seemed logical in my mind. I mean, he and I had great conversations that could go on for hours, we could tease each other and make each other laugh. I could be honest with him like I've never been honest with someone before. I was sure that if he could just see me like I see him, that we would be happy.

Cut to me crying about how he didn’t like me. While I'm knee deep in some ice cream and a glass of wine.... I have this faint little glimmer someplace deep in my mind that I shouldn’t focus on men right now. It's small but it's there.

Around this time, my book club started reading 'How to Love an American Man' by Kristine Gasbarre. The book is about this young adult who returns home to help her Grandma Glo who is recovering from the death of her husband of sixty years.

The author is a lot like me, lost when it comes to men. So while I'm trying to figure out why I keep picking men who don’t want to date me, I get hit with the wisdom of an eighty year old woman.

I read the whole thing like a fish needs water. And it changed what I thought about how I dated. Basically, I've been getting it all wrong.

I do want love and I do want to get married and I do want kids.

BUT I also want to travel, I want to see plays, I want to be IN plays, I want to hike, I want to have lunch with my friends, I want to cook, I want to go to baseball games and football games and I want to experience all I can in this short amount of time that I have in this life.

To do this right, I have to focus less on trying to find him. He might never come and that's ok. I want to be a full person without out him. I want to be how Kristine Gasbarre puts it, “a woman who has goals, who knows herself and what she wants." Lucky for me, I pretty much already am and do. I just need to focus more on that!

Now, I know I won't be able to make this huge shift right away. That it will take practice and it will take time. But the thing is, I want to be the person who is free and who knows what she wants. I want my goals to take center stage and I want to be proud of who I am.

And I think I'm getting there.
In honor of my friend Mr. Rocky Road who apparently knows me better than myself, here's a recipe for Rocky Road ice cream. It will always be one of my favorites.

Rocky Road Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

What you need:
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup walnuts
½ cup chocolate chips

What you do:
1. Warm 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible, and set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.
2. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (and reaches 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer). Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (If the cold mixture is too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.) Once the ice cream has finished churning, fold in the marshmallows, walnuts and chocolate chips

Thoughts from my mom

(My one sister to my other sister) "Look! This thing on my new phone? It keeps track of your cycle. It also tells you when you can get pregnant!

(Mom, incredulously) "Is there an app for that?!!??"

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Like all great things, this cheesecake is a classic with a bit of the unexpected. I adapted this recipe from the pumpkin cheesecake on the 'The Pioneer Woman' blog. If you haven't checked it out, do so! I loved her story of how she and her hubby met. It was a blend of messy real life and romantic love.
Isn't that how it should happen? A bit reality with a bit of magic?
I guess this pumpkin pie is a bit of how my search for Risotto Man is going. I hate to tell you but I'm putting that on the back burner for a bit.Searching for him has been a little tricky lately. I keep thinking that I've found something that could turn into something better but I guess I'm just REALLY not that good at reading people. I see only the good and have trouble seeing the bad in people. Which is fine. I mean, I can pet the 'lost puppy dog' I just don't have to bring him home.
Back to the cheesecake!
The thing that I love about this cheesecake is that the flavors are so unexpected. I typically find that traditional pumpkin pie is a single layer of flavor. A classic for sure but but not too much going on anywhere in the pie. Let me break this down for you this way if pie was guy,
(BOOM, you didn't know I was a poet did ya?)
Pumpkin would be the hunky gym guy you've been looking at. When you finally work up the nerve to talk to him you realize that his favorite thing to do is drink beer, watch football for the cheerleaders and lift weights. Classic meat head.
Pretty to look at, you might want to take a bite every now and then but that single layer of personality will always trip you up.
This pumpkin cheesecake is a lot like that guy that you run into in Barnes and Noble all the time. He's quiet and shy but has a really great smile. You think that all he does is sit at home and watch Star Trek. But when you finally talk to him you realize that he's more Star Wars (this is my fantasy) has arms that could bend steel, hangs at the bar to spend time with friends instead of hitting on everything that moves and loves football for the game.
This pumpkin cheesecake is like that. Unexpectedly sexy, wonderfully familiar and perfectly balanced all at the same time. In fact, I'd like to think that I'm a lot like the female version of this pumpkin cheesecake!!
To really bring out the flavors, I recommend a salted caramel sauce instead of the traditional caramel. But then again, that's me. Traditional with a hint of flavor.

What you need:
12 ounces, weight store bought Gingersnaps
1/2 cup Chopped Pecans
6 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
1 dash Salt

4 packages (8 0z. Packages) Cream Cheese
1-1/2 cup Sugar
1 can 15-ounce Pumpkin Puree, not Pumpkin Pie Filling
2 ½ Pumpkin Pie Spice (I used Penzeys Pumpkin Pie spice)
4 whole Eggs
2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream

Top that thing off!!
Caramel Topping
Chopped Pecans
Crushed Gingersnaps
Spiced whip cream (heavy cream with pumpkin pie spice whipped till soft and fluffy!)

What you do:
For the crust:
If you have one, crush the gingersnaps in a food processor. If not you can use a ziploc bag. Add the pecans, melted butter, brown sugar, and salt, and mix until thoroughly combined. It should all come together and look somewhat like chunky wet sand. Press into bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Chill for 20-30 minutes. Chilling is VITAL so that the crust stays firm.

For the filling:
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin and spices and mix again. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each egg is incorporated. About 20 seconds between each egg. Add cream and mix until just combined. Remove crust from fridge. Gently pour cheesecake filling into pan. Even out the top with a flat spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes. The cheesecake should not be soupy but should still be somewhat jiggly. Cool on counter for 30 minutes. Cover and chill cheesecake for another four hours or overnight. The cheesecake will pull away from the sides of the pan and you will be able to remove the rim from pan and slice. Sprinkle each slice with the caramel sauce, crushed gingersnaps, pecans and spiced whip cream.