Monthly Archives: February 2013

popcorn, and an ode to my puppy on her birthday

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

For the last five years, I have shared my home with a West Highland White Terrier named Riley. I would say I’m her owner, but in all honesty, she owns me.

Riley weighs about sixteen pounds. She has white fur (unless she’s been rolling in garbage or dead animals), a black nose, and bright eyes. She’s a small dog to begin with, but when she curls into a ball, she becomes impossibly and adorably tiny.

For the first few weeks of our relationship, Riley was a four-pound puppy.

Adorable sleeping Westie

Adorable sleeping Westie

Things were awkward between us from the start. When I met her, she was sleeping in a pile of urine-soaked shredded newspaper with a bunch of other puppies. That night, I brought her to sleep in my warm and soft bed, which was not soaked in urine.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don't judge.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don’t judge.

Riley would have none of it. After I fell asleep, she tumbled out of the bed – three feet high, no less than ten times her height – and nested in a pile of textbooks and not-yet-laundered clothing. Within the coming weeks, she would use her needlelike puppy teeth to shred all of those things. And for all of her distaste for sleeping in my bed, she developed a fondness for burrowing into the space underneath the bed. She lay on her back and clawed viciously at my box spring until she’d cleared an opening. Then she burrowed into the mattress, bringing with her all of the scavenged underwear she could carry. I couldn’t reach her under there. Many sleepless nights passed with me tossing and turning as I vibrated with the scratching and clawing of my little puppy destroying my bed from the inside.

Needless to say, it took approximately one year for me to love her. In that year, almost all of my belongings were chewed to pieces. Although Riley was crated when I couldn’t keep an eye on her, she managed to act like a ninja in plain sight. The destruction didn’t sit well with me. I contemplated opening my front door and letting her run away. I contemplated no-kill shelters. I contemplated finding her another happy home on Craigslist. But then I’d melt looking at her little face and change my mind.

We’re friends now. I adore her. She’s the best little four-legged furry thing to come into my life. And although she’s not allowed in the bed, she loves to cuddle on the couch.

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

She’s still a little crazy, and a little murderous. She can’t help it. Her breed was originally used as “ratters,” or rather, dogs who viciously murder rodents. She barks at every squirrel and chipmunk. When we had mice in our old Philadelphia apartment, she faithfully slaughtered them whenever possible. But underneath the homicidal maniac is a little sweetheart who would do anything for you to play fetch with her tennis ball, or toss over a handful of popcorn. She loves popcorn.

Fortunately for Riley, so do her humans. When she hears popping, she runs to the stove and will faithfully follow her person from cabinet to couch. Then she sits expectantly and patiently, completely alert, just waiting for a kernel to come flying. Her lightning-fast reflexes know it’s coming before she does. She snatches popcorn from seemingly thin air, crunches it with glee, and then leans back to wait for the next one. She’s adorable, and it’s fun to watch her catch popcorn, so the next one always comes.

RIley gettin' some lovin'

RIley gettin’ some lovin’

If you’ve only made popcorn from microwave bags, I’d recommend you branch out and try stovetop. It’s healthier – no unknown chemicals – and even more delicious. And perhaps you could try feeding it to your dog (in small quantities, of course). She might love it just as much as Riley does.

Recipe: Popcorn for Riley
2 tablespoons of oil with high smoke point (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels

In a large pot with tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high. Place three unpopped kernels inside and close the lid. Listen carefully until you hear three pops. Then add the rest of the popcorn. Replace the lid, give the pot a good shake to coat the kernels in oil, and step back.

Soon, you should hear some serious popping. Feel free to shake the pot occasionally; it helps unpopped kernels fall down and get popped.

When the popping starts to slow, turn off the heat. Move the pot off the burner and wait for the popping to stop.

Pour into a big bowl and enjoy. Remember to toss a few kernels to your pup!

Serves two humans, or one popcorn lover and their canine companion.
Recipe: Truffled Parmesan Popcorn for the Humans
2 tablespoons oil (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine (ideal is zested on Microplane)
2 tsp truffle salt
1 tsp black pepper

Follow instructions above to make Popcorn for Riley: add oil and three kernels to pot on medium high. When kernels pop, add the rest of popcorn and shake occasionally.

After all the popping has stopped, open the lid and melted butter, Parmesan, truffle salt, and black pepper.
Close it and toss vigorously.

Enjoy with a fine film and a canine companion at your side.

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thai temple: Tampa’s most unique brunch?

I’ve spent a lot of time in Tampa, Florida. It’s a beautiful city with lots of wonderful memories for me. After all, my best friend lives there and whenever I visit it’s a great time. I met Xavier in Tampa – while visiting said best friend, actually – and lived with him there for four months before we made the move to Atlanta. I was job-hunting the entire time, but unemployment left lots of time to explore the city. I guess what I’m saying is, I know Tampa fairly well. But I’d never heard of Thai Temple before our most recent trip.

I am so glad that changed.

So, what I’m referring to as Thai Temple is actually called Wat Tampa. For whatever reasons, my friends in Tampa call it Thai Temple and I’m sticking to that for sentimental reasons. Basically, it’s a Buddhist temple that opens itself up into a marketplace every Sunday. A variety of vendors set up shop, and for nominal donations to the temple, you can enjoy anything from soup to curry to orchids to a watermelon-carving class.

You leave Tampa proper, drive around the bay, and go through what seems to be a residential neighborhood. After you park, this is what you see:

The first building you see after parking

The first building you see after parking

If you care to meditate after stuffing yourself stupid with delicious food, this is where it happens. I didn’t check out the action this visit due to time restraints, but one of these days I will.

So there are a couple of buildings next door, and vendors set up their wares all around. The cooking happens out in the open. If you want fried bananas, you can follow those bananas from the peel to the oil to your dish.

IMG_3143

Fried banana vendor

We opted to get some spring rolls first. Maybe they’re not the most authentic of fares, but I can’t resist spring rolls. Perfect ones have a flaky crunchy exterior that yields to tender filling. Maybe it was because we were incredibly hungry and eating them in line, but these fit the bill.

Spring rolls, waiting to be demolished

After the fires of hunger had been tampered by delicious spring rolls, we moved into line for the most popular item: noodle soup. Everyone got the same broth and fish balls, but you could customize the toppings and noodles in your bowl. We stuck to roast pork and medium noodles for a standard experience. Garnished with chile sauce and washed down with Thai tea, it was a perfect brunch. One item I might not have enjoyed – fish balls were surprisingly tasty. They were the texture of fluffy matzoh balls with a faint taste of the sea. The soup was closer to pho than any Thai soup we’ve tried previously. I’m not complaining.

Before we sat down to eat, we put in an order for a special dessert. More on that later, because we were informed that it would be a 45-minute wait! Aly labeled a styrofoam box with her name. The vendors placed it in the long pile of boxes to be filled.

Noodle soup and Thai tea.. perfect brunch

Noodle soup and Thai tea.. perfect brunch

As nice as it was to sit and eat overlooking water and palm trees, we got up to explore a little more.

A meal with a view

A meal with a view

There was lots to see. We sampled a new fruit: the longan nut. Here it is whole.

longan_nut_whole

Then you peel it…

longan_nut_peeled

Then take a bite, but watch out for the seed inside!

longan_nut_seed

Texture-wise, it’s like a cross between a soft grape and a lychee. It’s sweet but not overwhelmingly so. The longan nut vendor also offered watermelon carving classes. While I did not partake, here’s some of her work.

carved_melons

Finally it was time to pick up our dessert! I was very intrigued about this coconut-scallion concoction, especially since there was a 45-minute wait to get some. When we arrived at the stand, there were still a few people ahead of us in line, so I spent some time watching the vendors make the dessert.

They started with a big iron tray, full of wells. This contraption rested atop a flame.

thai_dessert_pot

The vendors poured a blend of fermented coconut milk and sliced green onions into the wells. One lady led the way with a teapot, followed by her partner who ladled batter to complete each portion.

thai_dessert_ladling

After the pan was filled, they covered them with heavy domed lids. After the treats browned on the bottom, they were flipped and covered again.

thai_dessert_pots

A few minutes later, the vendors plucked fully formed cakes from the tray. They filled our labeled tray and we brought the goodies back to the table.

Dessert served

Dessert served

These were tasty morsels indeed. The skins were crispy but inside, the batter had cooked into a scallion-studded custard. Surprisingly, the sweet coconut went perfectly with green onion. It was impossible to stop with just one bite. Now I know why we waited so long for these!

Thai Temple is definitely on my list for favorite brunch spots in Tampa. Although it gets a little crowded, the food, prices, and variety were worth the minimal jostling.

And then I ran a 10K.

Legs running a 5K

Running

I can’t believe I forgot to write about my greatest athletic accomplishment to date. At this point, it was almost three months ago! No photos exist to capture the event, fortunately – by the time I crossed the finish line, I felt like I was dying in a very real way. Despite the relative warmth of the day, I was shivering and chilled – after running six miles. It was weird.

Anyway, I ran a 10K and I almost still can’t believe it.

I don’t really know what possessed me to do such a thing. I guess it started because I had fun doing a couple of 5K races and wanted to push my limits a bit. It ended because I was caught up in a steady rush of people and couldn’t just stop running. No matter how bad I wanted to, I had to keep going. And you better believe I wanted to stop.

It was kind of awful because the first mile of the race went so well. I felt like I was too slow. There was a lot of adrenaline and I was literally stuck in the middle of a huge group of people that seemed to be jogging well below my average pace. When my Nike Running app chimed into my headphones to let me know that my average pace was a full minute below what I’d intended it to be, I freaked out and tried to slow down. My fear was tiring early. Unfortunately, that fear came true. By the fourth mile, I was ready to cry. The last couple of miles were pretty painful, but I did finish and was proud to have completed the race running throughout. I wish I had been just a couple of minutes faster – then I would have broken the hour mark – but considering the course was hilly and off-road, I am trying not to be too hard on myself.

Up next? A half-marathon this weekend. I’m terrified. The bright side? The course is nice and flat, and it’s going around the bay in Tampa. During the summer that I lived in Tampa, Xavier and I loved to bike and rollerblade down that road, so it holds lots of warm and fuzzy memories for me. Hopefully those fond memories won’t be trampled by the pain of the half-marathon I will complete there. I have no delusions about a time goal. Hopefully I’ll just finish and get the T-shirt! And on the bright side, my friend and running buddy Marie will be there with me. We plan to run together, and hopefully that will make the event much more pleasant.

Wish me luck… I’ll let you know how it goes.

fondue-stuffed chicken baked in bread recipe

fondue_chicken_baked_in_bread

Fondue-Stuffed Chicken Baked in Bread

My last post was a recipe for the Wine Dive Challenge through 37 Cooks. But that wasn’t my only dish inspired by the Wine Dive. While the restaurant’s Florida location inspired my seafood dish, this one came straight from the wine. I thought about classic dishes that incorporated wine, and wondered which ones could be amped up to include something else.

One of my favorite food memories was the first time I tried fondue. It was during my junior year of college at my adviser’s house. She was a writing professor, but she managed to pull off some awesome courses that incorporated her love of fine food. In one such class, she teamed up with a chemistry professor and we learned the science of cheesemaking while sampling dozens of fine offerings from Zimmerman’s. I remember my professor pouring wine into the fondue pot, while we underage students eyed each other nervously and hoped we’d be able to try the alcoholic concoction. Of course we scraped up every bit of melty cheese using chunks torn from bread that our professor had baked herself. Man, I miss college.

This dish makes a neat package of those classic flavors. Wrapped in a bread crust, chicken and fondue make a perfect pair. You can omit the apple if you’d like but it does add a nice contrast to the savory cheese flavors. I love these chicken rolls served alongside broccoli and cauliflower, another traditional fondue accompaniment that’s even better when enlivened with garlic.

Fondue-Stuffed Chicken in Bread Crust with Garlicky Broccoli and Cauliflower
serves four

For bread crust:
20 ounces bread flour
12 ounces water
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast

In a large bowl or a stand mixer, combine all ingredients. Mix with a spoon (or the paddle attachment) until uniform. When blended, knead by hand on a floured surface for about ten minutes (or with the dough hook for five minutes or so). Mist the dough ball with olive oil and place in a covered bowl to rest while you complete the rest of the prep. You could also do this the day before. Just be sure to take the dough out an hour or two before you want to cook.

For fondue-stuffed chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 ounces Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese, or a mixture of the two
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 clove peeled garlic
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon kirsch
1/2 cup chopped Granny Smith apple
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 egg and 1 tablespoon water, optional

Slice each chicken breast lengthwise, beginning from the thin side. Cut horizontally not quite through, leaving the last part intact, so that the breast opens up like a book. Lay the breast flat, sandwiched between plastic wrap, and pound until the breast is thin and as even as you can make it. Season breasts with salt, pepper, and parsley.

Rub the raw peeled garlic clove around the sides and bottom of a medium saucepan. Add the cheese, wine, cornstarch, and kirsch to the pan. Over low heat, stir constantly until a smooth sauce forms. It will be thick due to the cornstarch.

Now, assemble the chicken rolls. Open each pounded chicken breast and spread fondue sauce and a fourth of the apple mixture on top, then roll it up.

Divide the bread dough into four portions. Stretch each portion out like pizza dough, and place a chicken roll inside. Seal the edges of the dough around the roll. If desired, mix the egg and water together and then brush with egg wash. Use a sharp knife to cut a little vent on top of each. Place rolls onto a sheet pan and bake at 300 for 20-30 minutes, or until 160F inside.

For Garlicky Broccoli and Cauliflower:
1/2 head broccoli
1/2 head cauliflower
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the broccoli and cauliflower into bite-size florets, then steam for about five minutes (until crisp-tender). Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the butter, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper over medium-low heat. When the garlic is fragrant, turn off the heat. Toss steamed veggies in the garlic oil, then serve alongside the chicken.

Enjoy!

seared scallops with shiraz-blood orange glazed beet salad and toasted walnut couscous recipes

Seared Scallops with Shiraz-Glazed Beet Salad

Seared Scallops with Shiraz-Blood Orange Glazed Beet Salad and Toasted Walnut Couscous

Let’s pretend it hasn’t been a month since my last post. Let’s pretend that, as promised, I moved through the lovely queue that had built up in my WordPress account. All the lovely stuff I worked on while I had time off from work was posted as planned, and I’m not writing about stuff that already happened months ago.

Anyway, my cooking group, 37 Cooks? We had an interesting event a couple of months ago. This Florida restaurant called The Wine Dive challenged us to create dishes – incorporating a protein, vegetable, and starch – that could be served as specials in their restaurant. The options were limitless so long as our entries incorporated wine in some way. For me, it was an easy decision to use scallops. The Wine Dive is in Florida, right on the coast, and I could imagine that people would go there hoping for delicious fresh seafood. A beet and arugula salad seemed like a nice light pairing to the dish, especially using a sauce made from citrus – another Florida specialty. Although my dish didn’t win the contest, it still tasted great!

Seared Scallops with Shiraz-Blood Orange Glazed Beet and Arugula Salad and Toasted Walnut Couscous

For the scallops:
1/2 pound large dry sea scallops
Grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)

For the wine-glazed beet and arugula salad:
1 small to medium beet
olive oil
2-4 ounces arugula
1/4 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as Shiraz or Merlot
juice of one blood orange (or substitute a regular orange if you can’t find it)
2 tablespoons butter

For the couscous:
1/2 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon butter
Walnut oil
1/2 cup whole walnuts

For all three components, you will need salt and pepper to taste.

Make wine-blood orange glazed beet and arugula salad:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Scrub your beet, wrap it in tinfoil, and roast for an hour or two until tender when pierced with a fork. At this point, the skin should slip right off. Allow it to cool, then peel the beet and dice it. In a small saute pan heated over medium, saute the beets in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper until heated through. Add the Shiraz and orange juice. Allow the liquid to come to a boil and bubble away until it coats the beets. Add butter and turn the heat down to low, stirring frequently until the beets are coated in glaze.

Meanwhile, toss the arugula in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Top with glazed beets.

Make the couscous:
In a small or medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Season it with salt, pepper, butter, and walnut oil. Add the couscous, stir once, and turn the heat off. Cover the saucepan with its lid and allow it to steam for five minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small saute pan over medium heat. Allow them to cool, then chop them finely.

Lift the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork after the five minutes are up. Stir in most of the chopped walnuts, reserving some for garnish.

Make the scallops:
Heat a large cast-iron saute pan over medium-high. Season the scallops with salt, pepper, and just a little bit of oil. When the pan is good and hot, sear the scallops, allowing them to cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Be sure to leave them alone and not nudge them until they’re good and browned! Then flip and brown on the other side.

Serve:

Plate the couscous and top with reserved chopped walnuts. Plate the beet and arugula salad, and top with scallops. This portion will serve two adults.

Enjoy.