Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Give The Gift Of Blondies

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift for someone? Instead of braving the mall, just give the gift of food.

The food-in-a-jar gift idea is a universal present since everyone has to eat, plus you can add a piece of fabric and ribbon at the top to make it more festive. The dry ingredients look like little sand sculptures, and different ingredients or recipes provide a different look. I'm sharing a simple Blondies recipe since the items are most likely to be in your pantry - and I've included a printable recipe card! Remember to set your print settings to landscape and you'll have four recipes printed onto one piece of card stock. Slip the recipe into a Christmas card or add a hole punch and attach it to the jar's rim with a tied ribbon.

You'll need the following materials (available at a local hobby shop):

1 quart mason jar
Card stock paper
Fabric (optional)
Ribbon (optional)

Dry Ingredients (per jar, in order of bottom to top):

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup turbinado
1/3 cup butterscotch chips
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

I found that taking a piece of paper and making a funnel prevented any of the ingredients from spilling, as a regular funnel would get clogged. You will also need to pack down the brown sugar really tight to ensure the other ingredients will fit into the jar.

This gift allows you to share a delicious recipe with others without the worry of finding time to cook and wrap a baked good.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wonton Crusted Chicken Tenders

This blog is my happy place.

I am able to meet other like-minded people, share recipes and photos, and learn new things about food and life. It's a place where I escape the monotony of life and its negatives, which is why I rarely mention piddly little things I do not care to remember or bother other people with. I like to keep things positive and focus on my blessings.

(wait for it...) BUT

If you've seen my comments on Twitter, you'll know life threw me a curve ball the other day and I felt like you all deserved the whole story rather than my limited comments.

Last Wednesday evening, I was coming home from the dog park with Aurora. It was a busy night with people out Christmas shopping and the roads were full of cars, but was an otherwise cool, calm evening. I had just stopped at a red light and my cellphone's calendar alarm went off. Thinking it odd, since I knew I didn't have any plans, I held down Aurora with my right arm, reached down onto the passenger floorboard with my left arm, and picked up my cellphone.


Rear-ended by a Cadillac.


My car was shoved several feet into the car in front of me. Also a Cadillac.

My now oversized-accordion-formerly-known-as-a-car didn't make it.

My little Toyota Echo. My first car. My only car. I've had it since it had 6 miles on the odometer in August 2001 - 10 years. It's been with me through everything in my adult life.

I didn't think it'd go out like that.

My right arm is what prevented Aurora from being injured, so she thankfully escaped unharmed. I was in shock since I didn't see the other car coming. I grabbed my dog, attached her leash, and made our way to the sidewalk. I had to sit down as I was out of it and also shocked that I was in immediate pain. Being sore the next day was to be expected, but as I sat there in the cold darkness feeling pain slowly spread throughout my back and up my spine, I knew something was wrong. I was thankfully not bleeding, but I couldn't keep a clear head and was trying to sit still so I could decide how bad of shape I was really in.

The gentleman that caused the accident was kind and kept checking on me (the same with the other person in the front car), but Aurora was not having it. For the entire time we waited on law enforcement to arrive, she kept vigilant to keep everyone away from me. 

My warrior.

Guy arrived soon after the accident since I called him right away, and then Aurora thought it was a party. I felt relief emotionally to have him with me so soon, but the physical pain wasn't going away.

When law enforcement and the wrecker arrived, I declined taking an ambulance ride since I knew the wait would be long and the only thing they could probably do for me was prescribe medication; plus, if anything didn't feel right, I could always change my mind. Guy and I emptied a few necessities from my car, loaded everything into his car, and headed home. I had a panic moment soon enough when my neck and left jaw started going numb. I changed the position I was resting in to keep my spine and neck straight to prevent it from getting worse due to the swelling. Guy and Aurora kept watch over me that night and we made it through.

I waddled around the next day making necessary phone calls and setting up appointments. I was able to see a specialist right away who confirmed I had some injuries, and was scheduled for an MRI later that night for my neck and lower back. I had to rest over the weekend since it was too soon to start moving anything around. It was a long weekend, with more things becoming sore and being unable to find any position to offer relief from whatever was going on with my spine. I've never had to deal with an injury before and this foreign experience has not been pleasant.

Today I made my way back to the doctor who read me the results of the MRI. I was nervous. I was biting my lips. I was trying not to cry. I wasn't myself.

He spoke of technical terms and my spine, which basically translates to this: two bulging discs in my mid-neck, loss of curvature in my lumbar discs, two bulging discs in my lumbar spine, and one herniated disc in my lower lumbar with a torn annulus that is touching some outer nerves, which has me very, very close to needing surgery. Due to my young age and previous great health, we're going to try everything to avoid surgery. It's still too early to begin intensive treatment, which will involve extending my spine to relieve pressure and hopefully move the spinal cord back into place. I am scared of what this means, as I've been warned I will feel worse before I feel better. I will remain optimistic and do whatever I can to heal, dealing with anything that occurs as best I can. I keep telling myself it could be worse and reminding myself of the blessings I have.

Many of you have already expressed your concern and sent me well wishes, which has really touched me. Thank you for your kindness that extends beyond these pages. I will keep you all up to date with my progress, but I also do not want to hijack my blog with this event. I do not want to come across as a complainer, plus food is far more interesting.

The only recipe I have ready to share are these crunchy chicken fingers. As Andy on The Office would say, "They're finger lickin' delicious!"

The crushed wontons provide a thicker, heartier crunch than breadcrumbs and they do not require you to pull out a fryer. The baking keeps the wontons crunchy without chancing them getting soggy from any oil. You can add any spices you like to the coating to meld them to your liking. I actually didn't use any spices in my first batch since I ate them with my mustard, which provides plenty of flavor on its own. The chicken finger recipe I'm sharing has spices added until you can whip up a batch of mustard yourself. It's worth it!

Wonton Crusted Chicken Tenders

1 lb chicken breast
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp curry
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup wontons, crushed

Trim off any excess fat from the chicken breast and slice into equal strips so they will cook evenly.

In a medium bowl, add the chicken and pour in the buttermilk, tossing to ensure the chicken is well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Drain the buttermilk and add the flour through curry, mixing well. Place the egg and wontons into their own individual bowls.

Preheat the oven to 475*F and butter a baking sheet. Dip the chicken pieces one at a time into the egg and then into the crushed wontons before placing them on the baking sheet.

Bake for 4 min. Use an oven mitt to remove the pan and flip each piece with tongs. Place back in the oven and bake for 4 min more.

~Yields 8 pieces.

~Original by Brie.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crescent Cookies

The Christmas cookie season is in DEFCON mode.

Recipes and cookies are flying all over the place.

I guess it's time to contribute my part to this madness.

Last year I shared my most prized recipe and tradition of Potato Chip Cookies. This year I'm going with another classic: Crescent Cookies.

These cookies are known by many names and treasured by cultures around the world: Wedding Cookies, Tea Cakes, Kourambedes, Mantecados, Pastelitos de Boda, and the list goes on.

The ingredients may differ slightly, but the result is the same - a crisp, sweet cookie that melts in your mouth like snow on your tongue. It's heavenly.

I actually received this recipe last year around the holidays while visiting family in Central Florida. A sweet neighbor brought over a tray of these cookies, which were some of the best I've ever taste. I gushed over their delight. To my surprise, the lovely lady flagged me down and provided me with the recipe just as we were heading out of town in the car. I was both shocked and grateful. I pulled out the recipe from my cabinet this week and thought I should continue passing along the gift.

It has me thinking about legacy and history. Not everyone is taught how to cook by their grandmother from a foreign land, full of tradition. Sometimes treasures are discovered in other ways, like cookbooks or other literacy.

You may remember I am a book club member and love reading. Not a fan of e-readers, I prefer the old school method of going down to a local book shop, thumbing through a seemingly endless selection, and buying a physical representation of someone's heart and soul. I love the smell and wonder of reading a new book. Feeling it in my hands. Learning and interpreting something new. Reading is so important, as the tradition of passing down history and knowledge is like a fountain of youth.

I have discovered by reading other food blogs that many of my fellow recipe authors also enjoy a good book. This has led to my decision to start an online food book club. Once a month, those who would like to participate, may post a book review that contains a recipe inspired by the chosen book for that month. The inspiration can by anything related, from a recipe mentioned in the story to a period dish that represents the time frame of the characters and settings.

I want this experience to be enjoyable. The books and recipes will not be restrictive, so the reviews will not be limited to cookbooks, nor do the recipes have to be something ancient. I would like other food bloggers to experiment with natural ingredients to make over a recipe or try an old dish for the first time. Just real food inspired by real books.

If enough people are interested, we may work out a system to have others pick book selections or come up with additional ideas. For now, we'll just keep it simple and see how it goes.

The first book will be Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life. I have not read this book, but the reviews are positive for both the charming portrayal of Southern American life and recipes. The author writes about her misunderstanding of healthy fats and cooking, while sharing classic Southern American recipes. I am interested to see the reviews from other food blog authors and whether they agree or disagree with the author's thoughts of fats and cooking styles.

The Food Book Club will "meet" on the 15th of each month, thus posting their book review and recipe at 3pm EST (convert to your local time here). If you'd like to attend the first "meeting", just add your blog to the list below! I must be able to contact you via email to share the linking code, as this must be on all participants' blogs.

Now that the big announcement is over, it's time to get to cooking.

Crescent Cookies
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/4 cup turbinado
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup pecans, finely minced
1/2 cup walnuts, finely minced
1/2 cup powdered sugar

First cream together the butter, turbinado, and vanilla.

Then slowly add the flour and nuts, just mixing until combined.

Spoon the dough onto plastic wrap and mold into a log. Wrap tight and refrigerator for at least 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/2" circles (the dough freezes well and not all cookies need to be baked immediately). Use your hands to gently mold the cookies into crescent shapes. The dough is loose and can crumble easily, so take your time with this step.

Bake for 12 min. (I like the ridge left at the top since it holds more powdered sugar.)

Allow the cookies to cool for 10 min on the sheet. Then dip into powdered sugar and enjoy. These even taste better the next day!

~Yields 22 cookies.

~Recipe by Warlene.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fried Egg Over Home Fries

Baby, it's cold outside!

Normally, Florida only experiences winds like this during a tropical storm or little hurricane. The hibernating branches have awoken from their slumber to beat heavily against the house and windows all day and night. I've discovered cracks in the window seals when the cold wind hisses through into the house and makes us all shiver. A great excuse to curl up closer in a blanket to remain warm though.

On days like this, I miss our old fireplace to help keep warm.

Which had me thinking about a dish Dante asked about the other night: Home Fries.

I couldn't remember the last time I enjoyed hot and tasty Home Fries. Obviously, this calls for a remedy.

Home Fries just refers to a simple dish of potatoes that are made at home. The potatoes need to be twice baked to ensure they are not raw and do not burn. I like the boiling method because it softens the center of each piece rapidly and helps create a beautiful crust when cooked the second time without browning too much. The accompaniments to the potatoes are endless. I've added onions and mushrooms since I had some moping about in the refrigerator, which nearly makes this dish the French Lyonnaise Potatoes, but I still consider it Home Fries simply because I can. If you choose to use bell peppers, the dish would be Potatoes O'Brien, but then I start craving spirits in my coffee, and that's not the recommended way to start a weekday morning - so I'll just stick to the potatoes.

The delicious potatoes. I love adding turmeric to this dish to make the colors pop. It accents the browned potatoes and adds a delicate sweetness to balance the salty bacon. Oh, the bacon! I cook the bacon first and use the grease to cook the potatoes the second time. This adds flavor by leaps and bounds, plus the browning is better than other fats for this dish. I recommend fresh thyme to be thrown in at the end, although I forgot to pick some up at the store and had to use dried. 

To round out the breakfast, I added a fried egg. I prefer mine over medium, which means I cook it on both sides until the yolk is barely runny. This adds just a touch of smoothness to eat bite.

So put on that pot of coffee (I won't tell anyone if you add more than cream) and get this dish started. It's a sure way to stay warm and perk yourself up on these cold winter mornings.

Home Fries

6 slices bacon
4 tbsp bacon fat (or ghee)
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 yellow onion, medium diced
8 medium crumini mushrooms, medium diced
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika

Preheat the oven to 450*F. Using an oven pan with a lip, lay 6 slices of bacon and cook for 25 min. (I like my bacon charred. If you prefer softer bacon, reduce the cooking time.)

Meanwhile, in a medium pot over medium heat, add 6 cups water and cook the potatoes at a low boil for 15 min. Drain and add to a large skillet to allow to release steam. 

Once the bacon has finished cooking, remove from the oven and lay on a plate. 

Immediately pour the hot bacon fat into the skillet with the potatoes and turn on the burner to medium heat. Leave the potatoes in place for 10 min to begin the browning process. (Begin cooking the fried eggs.)

After 10 min, stir the potatoes, add the onion and mushrooms. Allow to cook for another 7 min, without stirring. Then add the turmeric and paprika, mix to combine and allow to cook for another 3 min. Lastly, crumble in 4-6 pieces of bacon (I ate 2 of the slices before they could make it into the dish.)

Fried Egg

2-4 tsp butter or olive oil
2-4 eggs, room temperature
2-4 oz smoked gouda, shaved
pinch fresh black pepper & smoked sea salt
1-2 tsp fresh or dried thyme

In a small skillet over medium-heat heat, add 1 tsp butter or oil. Then gently crack an egg over the skillet to ensure the white stays close to the yolk. To cook the egg over medium, allow to cook for 3 min on the first side. Then use a spatula to flip over and cook for 2 min. Remove from the skillet to a plate and cook the remaining eggs.

On each serving plate, add the desired amount of home fries, then top with a fried egg. Garnish with smoked gouda, fresh pepper, smoked sea salt, and fresh thyme.

~Yields 2-4 servings, depending on desired serving size.

~Original by Brie.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tupelo's Bakery & Café

Sometimes you get lucky and discover a road that leads to your escape.

One of those legends of a road your grandparents spoke about, taking you to Smalltown, USA. 

A place where you can sit on main street and read the local newspaper. A little café that serves fresh baked bread, homemade soups that warm your soul, and locals who may saunter by with a tip of their hat and address you by your name.

Although the hustle and bustle of city life provides excitement and opportunity, a point usually arrives in life in which you need a moment. A break.

The importance of knowing how to find one of these mythical back roads that can take you to your place of solitude is imperative when that moment arrives.

Tallahassee may not exactly fit the definition of a big city, but it also still harbors the need to get away for a while. It is uniquely the origin of discovery for little gems tucked away in the countryside of Florida's Panhandle.

It is no secret the road you need to take is Highway 90. Lined on either side by pear trees stretched as far as the eye can see, twisting upward as the road winds through the rolling hillside.

Just east is the town of Monticello.

A town in tribute to our forefathers. Full of historical houses and a yesteryear way of life. The town, really only a few blocks wide, centers around the historical courthouse wrapped inside a round-a-bout.

One café on Main Street stands out from the rest: Tupelo's Bakery & Café.

Nestled inside this sleepy town is a café vibrant with two passionate women dedicated to organic food and way of life.

Tupelo's, in tribute to one of the owner's dog who loved to eat anything, is owned by Kim Davis and Claire Olson. Their moto is, "Organic first. Local second.". The priority to serve their families and customers with organic food is at the heart of their eatery. The farmland in the community may be centuries old, but the practices have changed. May of the local crops have been replaced with GMO seeds, like cotton and soy. 

For this reason, the promise of organic foods comes first; however, their dedication to the local community is not in question. Their café is filled to the brim with local artwork for sale, honey used in their recipes, and even a miniature lending library for everyone to enjoy.

The full service café and bakery is an open book, and if for some reason an organic ingredient was unavailable, they will honestly answer any question you may have. In fact, on a given day, you may hear them chatting over which local organic farms to visit to pack up the kids and pick up supplies.

Plus their love goes beyond us mere mortals. Every first Friday of the month, they donate a portion of their profits to the local Jefferson County Humane Society. Our beloved furry companions are even welcome on the front and back patios of the café. If you call ahead for a special order, they'll have some dog friendly baked goods waiting with a refreshing drink of water.

When you stroll up to the counter, their message is quite clear...oh, and the saying is catchy, too.

But that soup is calling my name.

Claire greeted me with a warm smile at the counter and I promptly ordered a bowl of the Tomato Fennel Soup. I asked her for a recommendation on a sandwich choice, to which she replied the Turkey & Swiss Press; a pleasing blend of honey maple turkey, warm and gooey swiss cheese, with fresh spinach and garlic cream cheese.

She hesitated and changed the option to their BLT; crisp, Thompson Farms bacon, baby green spinach, and thick cut tomatoes pair with freshly baked multigrain bread and homemade horseradish mayo. I thought that would go beautifully with the soup and went with her second choice. Plus a cool glass of sweet ice tea on this unusually warm winter day.

This modest lunch typifies an average meal a wanderer may seek on a sudden journey, or even just a craving of something homemade. A fancy meal might sound amazing, but those are rare in people's daily lives. The recipes and dishes served at Tupelo's seeks the restoration of purely made foods with love, that satisfy the body and soul.

Soon, my name was called and it was time to eat.

This simple basket oozed with beautiful aromas. The crispy bacon. The creamy soup. The warm, toasted bread.

And I would like to start with the bread. It. Is. Perfect.

I've used the word 'perfect' before to portray the essence of a dish reaching towards perfection. But this multigrain bread is perfect. The crust is firm, but not harsh. The multigrains are dense and filling, but still light and airy. The flavor is rich and ancient, plus it pairs with any dish served. This bread is the peak for which all bread should strive to be.

The Tomato & Fennel Soup is heavenly. The tomato is not the only flavor, which is a difference I enjoyed. The cream and fennel play an even role, which lends a balance to eat bite. Plus the finely minced fennel provides sweet anise kiss after each taste.

The soup is thick enough to coat the bread, adding a new taste to the palate. The undertones of sweetness from the bread play wonderfully with the tomato in the soup, and every bite makes you yearn for more.

I remember to pause and take a deep breath, when my nose catches the lingers of bacon in the air.

On the first bite, my tongue immediately senses the hot bacon, and my body just slips into bliss. The soft bread melts into my mouth together with the warm cheese. The replacement of spinach is surprisingly pleasing, since I normally only enjoy the spice of arugula. Every piece of the sandwich is as rewarding as the first, a rare accomplishment.

I switch between the soup and my sandwich to keep my taste buds guessing, and the meal is one of my most enjoyable I've had out in a while.

The options for dessert are vast. The Caramel Pecan Bars. The Pecan Sticky Buns. Scones. Cranberry Bagels. Chocolate Crack Cookies. My sweet tooth was leaping for joy. Plus, Tupelo's is the only organic bakery in the area creating elegant wedding cakes or other specialty goods on request.

The only critic of the café is that they do not cater to my schedule - but then again even I cannot keep up with my schedule, so that doesn't really count. The café is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7am until 2pm. They take a break during Christmas to revamp the café's menu and even spend the month of August with their families, which customers find charming. The ability for them to be with their loved ones while nurturing the passion for their business is something this type of community can uniquely support. Plus, if you catch them on the right weekend, Kim & Claire offer cooking classes of all varieties so their homemade techniques can be passed on to others looking to create delicious eats.

Just remember to say thank you and sign the guest book on your way out.


This review is in dedication to Project Food Blog, as my potential 9th entry. Thank you again to everyone for your support. Please keep voting, as the winner is only a few weeks away from being announced. You can also review other Top 24 "eliminees" below:

Tupelo's Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

North Florida Wine & Food Festival - Grand Tasting

The last evening of the North Florida Wine & Food Festival was quite a sight to behold. Hundreds of participants crammed into the elegant ballroom to savor dozens of wines and aperitifs from local vendors.

One of the head chefs, Greg Fountain, at the University Club Center even showcased his food sculpting techniques to commemorate the event.

I was able to savor cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy before I visited their farm for the first time on the New Leaf Annual Farm Tour. The richness and earthiness of their soft cheeses is still some of my favorite from the area.

Bacon wrapped steak was a popular item from a local restaurant, although I opted to look and not touch.

This tasty bite was a creation of local students, like an open faced taco salad.

However, one of my favorites was this vegetable mixture in phyllo dough from Mozaik. The taste was complex, but light and airy. I went back for seconds...and thirds.

Several vendors showcased regional bayou tastes, like this Shrimp Bisque, which was my preference of the lot. The seafood flavor was mild and melded well with the creamy broth and vegetables.

But let us not forget the star of the evening - the wines.

I sipped on many throughout the evening, but one of my favorites was this Jermann Pinot Grigio. An elegant wine that had a clear taste from its balance between the grapes and the northern Italian soil. I wish I had found it earlier in the evening so I was able to savor more than half a glass, as I discovered it just before the last bottle was poured.

And my favorite appetizer pairing of the evening was again from the University Club Center. The double seafood cocktails and open truffle danced on my palate and warmed my soul. I was happily surprised by this trio.

However, my heart truly belongs to Cluster's & Hops - a local French food specialty shop and restaurant. I have been purchasing items at this shoppe for years to supply unique and uncommon ingredients when I prepare foreign recipes. The owner, Kent, and his staff have always been helpful and I highly recommend them. I was thrilled to see them featured and so happy to see he recognized me in the crowd. His ostrich medallions just melt in your mouth and had a rich, savory chutney to accompany it. Perfection.

And he's one of the only people that can prepare duck and I enjoy it. Usually duck is too gamey for my palate, but his cooking methods make it a pleasurably savory dish to enjoy.

The top dessert in my opinion was this Guava Cheesecake by Sage. It. Is. Breathtaking. I ate more pieces than I am willing to I lost count.

Thus ends the four day wine and food festival in Tallahassee, FL. (Day 3 was a golf tournament, which was fun and laid back, but I doubt anyone really wants to look at photos of fancy wine bottles in the grass on a food blog.) I had an amazing time covering my first food festival, and learned a plethora of information about local vendors, wines, foods, and photography. Thank you very much to Dr. Bonn and Brianne at FSU's Dedman School of Hospitality for allowing me to attend and cover all their events. Everyone was such a pleasure to be around and made me feel welcome the entire time. I was able to experience some very talented chefs, wine conosurs, and students during the festival who really showcased the variety of talent Tallahassee has to offer. I was glad to see a great showing of organic dishes and an emphasis on locally sourced foods. If you're ever in the area, please take a moment to enjoy some of these delicious eats.