Category Archives: Food and Drink

The Hi/Lo Book Club

This month, book club read Jen Lancaster’s My Fair Lazy.   For the un-jenitiated, JenLan writes humorous memoirs about her various projects. One book follows her quest to lose weight, one follows her self exploration after the dot-com bust, and this one follows her self-assigned directive to get some culture into her reality television saturated life.  She goes to the ballet, she eats good food, she attends the theater, she reads classic literature, and so on.

from the author’s website

Group opinion of the book varied: “Liked her at first, liked her less as she got cultured,” “Disliked her at first, liked her once she got cultured,” “Laughed all the way through,” “Stopped after two chapters,” “Barnes & Noble didn’t have it so I’m just here for the food.”

Speaking of the food, nobody debated about that point. Every month we choose a food theme, and this month we challenged ourselves to create dishes combining high and low cuisine elements to honor JenLan and her dichotomous personality. 

Feast your eyes on this.

I made bacon and cheese spirals. Hi: Artisan raspberry cheese. Lo: Pastry from a tube and microwave bacon. .

Sandy, our resident healthy person, brought vegan chili mac. Hi: Uh, vegan everything. Lo: Technically chili. And mac. But no cheese.

Sara brought a charcuterie plate. Hi: Fancy cheese and sweet relish pickles. Lo: Slim Jims, pork rinds, and Vienna sausages. (I didn’t see anything like these when I was in Austria, FYI.)

Sandy also made the 90s classic, fruit pizza. Hi: Farmer’s Market fresh fruits. Lo: It is fruit masquerading as pizza.

Madelines went more gourmet with Lemon and Ricotta Spread on toast. Hi: Lemon and Ricotta. Lo: I suppose the honey on top, which was squeezed from a bear, but I think Madeline mostly ignored the directive because she’s baller like that.

Laura brought boxed brownies with fresh raspberries. Hi: Rasberries. Lo: Boxed brownies, though we all agreed that homemade brownies really don’t taste any better, so what’s the point of that?

Not pictured: Heather’s fancy ice cream dessert– your choice of salted caramel gelato or sherbet push pop.

Next month we read Farenheit 451 to honor Ray Bradbury, but we’re eating at a restaurant because we can.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

My friend N e-mailed me on Friday and proposed that we go strawberry picking and make jelly this weekend.  N considers herself domestic when she adds siracha sauce to her mayonnaise and she only bakes things that come in a tube, so the situation seemed ripe for hilarity.  I agreed without blinking.  My grandfather used to run a farm and worked insane hours so that his children and grandchildren would not have to pick their own food for a living. The irony of picking my own food for recreation is not lost on me.

Saturday morning bloomed spectacularly with the kind of blue skies that you usually only see in crayon boxes, and the temperature never rose above a breezy 73 degrees. In short, it was the Holy Grail of Georgia Summer Days. After a few minutes cruising down some rural roads and a few speculations that N might not be the best navigator, we arrived at Warbington Farms.  The staff there advised us it would be the last day of the strawberry season and we might have trouble filling a full gallon pail.  We decided to take our chances. We are, after all, special unicorns.

If you’ve never done it, I highly suggest strawberry picking– it’s extraordinarily satisfying.   You crouch down among these green plants and push leaves to the side and there’s a magic red strawberry, just laying there bright and happy as if waiting for you to find it and take it home.  Every time you swipe aside a tangle of green and find a little splash of red, a little whoosh goes through your heart. It’s like being in sixth grade and seeing your crush from a distance at the mall.  In the end, we were champion pickers and easily filled the small plastic containers given to us by the staff.  N was named MVP for her overflowing containers until her husband pointed out she was also picking the muchy berries and disqualified her.

N’s husband B ambled down a row and commented he could get a job doing this. I bit my tongue, but it wasn’t that hard to repress my natural inclination to snark. When you’re under a wide blue sky and you’re breathing fresh air and you’re doing something productive that isn’t back-breaking with people that you genuinely like, it’s hard to work up to sarcasm.   Like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

Pleased with our haul, we started back toward the city, but we stumbled across a roadside produce stand.  Still high on sourcing and picking our own fresh food, we threw a bit of business at this nice local guy.   I felt like a character in a tv show or a movie– like the kind of person who lives in the world and not in an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted, hermetically sealed box.

We returned to the interstate with the sun roof and windows open and 90s music blasting through the stereo. With our cache of Micheal Pollan-approved produce and the glow of accomplishment about us, we flew home in the kind of bubble of happiness that doesn’t come along often in adulthood.  I don’t know if they actually spray those strawberry fields with ecstasy, but something calm and light seemed to follow us back to Atlanta.

In the end, N chickened out on the jelly, which is really too bad because I promise everyone would have been really amused by that story. I ended up using my strawberries to make a recipe I found a year ago on Smitten Kitchen for Summer Strawberry Cake.  Absolutely delicious- highly suggest it with whipped cream. As I baked it, I fancied myself to be Sarah Michelle Gellar in that otherwise awful movie where she is a chef that bakes her feelings.  I wanted this cake to taste happy, and it did.

Before

After

And yes, the strawberries were delicious, which almost seems beside the point, doesn’t it?

Cookie Dough Cake Balls

You like cake balls. If you’ve never had them, you probably don’t know this yet, but you do.  They’re basically boxed cakes crumbled up and mixed with canned frosting and then molded into little balls and dipped in candy coating.   Cake…good. Frosting… good. Candy coating… good.  My friend Marcie introduced them to me a couple of years ago, and I could probably divide my life between “Before Cake Balls” and “After Cake Balls.” 

From Marcie’s photography website. She is ridiculously creative.

If you want more thorough instructions, you can check out the blogger Bakerella. She’s basically made a career out of constructing “cake pops,” and she does all kinds of fancy shapes like The Muppets. Good for her, but I just want to eat them as fast as possible so I don’t mess with the elaborate part.

I’m meeting some college  friends for Memorial Day this weekend, and I want to bring some baked goods for the group.  While brainstorming things they might like, I started to think about my friend Chris of the Fat Picture.  He has a well documented love of cookie dough, and I thought I might incorporate that.  And then the skies parted and God said, “Let there be Cookie Dough Cake Balls.”  And the experiment began.

First, you bake a cake from a box mix and let it cool. I used plain old yellow cake and a box of fancy pink lemonade cake. I probably didn’t need to make that much cake, but I wanted to try both with cookie dough. 

Next: Clean your hands! The cake balls will not go back in the over and your eating audience relies on you not to spread your gross germs.

Non-toxic so if residue gets in your cake you won’t die.

Crumble up the cooled cake with half a can of your chosen frosting. Some people use more frosting, but I think the cake balls get too gooey and sweet. Pretend you are in preschool and mix it together with your hands. If you lick dough off your hands, wash your hands again, Disgusto.

Then get some cookie dough and roll little marble sized balls. I used the pre-fab Nestle Toll House stuff and I let it soften on my counter for half an hour or so. Don’t bother making your own cookie dough-  this works just fine and you can eat it raw. You might really want to make your own cookie dough because you’re one of those Pinteresty Do-It-Yourself types, but I say: Don’t be a hero.

Try to resist the urge to just eat the cookie dough. This will be hard.

 The next part is trickier: actually stuffing the cookie dough inside the cake balls. After trial and error, I figured out the easiest way for me. Your mileage may vary.  Get a ball of cake dough and flatten it. Put the cookie dough in the middle and then kind of smush up the sides to surround the dough. Then add another little disc to the top to cover the bald spot. If it looks uneven, don’t worry; the candy coating will cover it. But if you’re worried about that, you can roll it out to smooth the cracks.

This part is tedious. I advise drinking wine and watching trashy TV while you do this.

Once you have the balls made (ha… balls), pop them in the freezer so they will be firm when you dunk them in chocolate. You don’t have to wait that long. The times it takes for me to clean my kitchen is about right. You can also take this opportunity to advise your pet that they will absolutely not be trying any cake balls but they are welcome to clean the floor for you.

My little monster and my monster feet.

And now, we dunk! Melt your preferred chocolate or candy bits for this. I found these  neat microwave safe cups at Target with the chocolate bits already cut up. I also used some meltable candy discs I found in my pantry. Note: Melt slowly. Put your microwave on 50% power for a minute, stir, and then repeat in 30 second intervals until it’s basically melted. If there are tiny chunks still unmelted, just stir it up and they will probably melt without further microwaving.

Honestly? It’s not my favorite chocolate coating ever but it melts pretty gorgeously.

Dunking is the part where I get messy. Bakerella and Marcie manage to create nice smooth cake balls that look store-ready. Mine are more like the disheveled step-cousins to that. Whatever, they taste the same. Here’s how I do it: put a cake ball on a fork, gently drop it in the melted coating, and then use the fork to roll it around until it’s coated. Then I let the ball sit on the fork over the bowl while the excess coating drips off.

You will want to dip your fingers in the chocolate. Don’t. Then you will have to disinfect the chocolate and you will ruin it when you put in the soap.

This is what it looks like when I’m rolling it around.

I set mine on a tray with wax paper as I go and then put the whole thing in the fridge to let the coating set. This takes the same amount of time as cleaning your kitchen again.

See what I mean about being messy? They look… windblown.

And here’s the cross-section of the finished product.

This would be a great science project. The coating is the Earth’s crust, the cake ball is the mantle, and the cookie dough is the core.

Verdict: They were pretty good. I think the ones dunked in chocolate might be too sweet, but the ones with a candy shell are about what I wanted. I slightly favor the pink lemonade and cookie dough versions, but the yellow cake ones were perfectly edible.  I also made some plain cake balls for those un-interested in cookie dough (fools!), and the pink lemonade ones are the right level of sweetness. They are citrusy without being overpowering, so look for that summer-only cake mix at your grocery store.

I want to frame this and put it on my desk at work and show it to people when they ask about my children.

Ingredient list:
Boxed cake mix and the required ingredients to make it (eggs, butter, milk, whatever it says)
Raw Cookie Dough
Meltable Chocolate or Meltable Candy Discs
Can of frosting- cream cheese or vanilla or whatever

The Gratuitous Food Post

Okay, I’ll let you in on a secret- I actually got home from Germany yesterday.  Yup, a secret among you, me, and anyone who can find me on the Internet.  Due to problems with wifi and some timing issues, I’m not actually done chronicling my journey.  I’m planning to get through a few posts this weekend to make up for that.

Today, thanks to my general jet lag and malaise,  I present: food porn!  Mom, this is a term I did not actually make up. This is an accepted term for gratuitous food pictures.

First sausage of the trip! Get your head out of the gutter, friends.

 

Fresh veggies at the market. Bonus points for albino carrots.

 

Spragel! (I think it is spelled that way?) Anyway, there it is!

 

Rhubarb, which my dad says can kill you.

 

Wine and cheese is always very good looking.

 

Homemade asparagus and avocado pasta, made by Jenny WITH LOVE.

 

Pretzels. Jenny says they don’t count because we ate them in Austria instead of Bavaria.

 

Gelato tastes good in any language.

 

European breakfast: cappuccino and carbs.

 

When was the last time you ate an egg with a yolk this orange? Never.

 

I like that Austrian restaurants assume 2 people can eat 5 pieces of bread.

 

Fancy butters to go with fancy breads. Europe is the best.

 

Are you sensing a theme with asparagus on this trip?

 

Fresh fruit and coffee for breakfast, bread on the side.

 

Nothing says food porn like your first diet coke in days.

 

Mushrooms and some kind of fried gnocchi with ricotta cubes. It was mediocre but looked nice.

 

Spaetzle- German for mac and cheese.

 

More coffee, more cake.

 

You know you’re vacationing with Jenny when you have have vegetarian Italian for dinner. 

 

Good mozzarella and tomato salad? Or best mozzarella and cheese tomato salad?

 

Nothing says food love like a Bloody Mary.

 

You can’t go to Europe without eating knock off Nutella?

 

The trip started with a sausage and ended with it. Gutten appetite!

 

 

 

Red Wine & Diet Coke

I was going to write about books all last month, but instead I went to holiday parties, watched “very special” Christmas episodes on TV, and ate my weight in sugar cookies. Then, I was going to write a blog entry every day in the New Year until I caught up with my Book Report list, but that plan stalled out when I started watching Netflix Instant Queue.

But now, two days into SNOMG 2011, I find myself with some extra time on my hands. I cleaned out my closet, read a couple of books, tried to make my dog frolic (she refused), and made muffins.

 

Spicy Cheddar Pumpkin muffins from the Baked cookbook.

The natural conclusion to my day would be challenging my neighbors to a wii bowling tournament or working on The Novel. Instead, I’m experimenting with red wine and Diet Coke.

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