Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Graduation Celebration

Just a short post for today - I am already gearing up for what promises to be a busy but really fun weekend.

I wanted to post this picture simply because it contains beautiful food. I didn't make it, didn't have the brilliant idea behind it, or really even thought I was going to order it while I was reading Brio's menu. But after it arrived in front of me, I quickly became "that person who takes pictures of her food in a restaurant" and thanked my lucky stars I changed my mind at the last minute. This is way better than salad.

Behold: a Tuscan chicken, avocado, and feta open faced omelet, topped with crispy lavoush and served with a fresh fruit salad. 

What a wonderful way to celebrate Shelby's graduation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grilling, Picnics, and Bubble Tea

I hope this blog post finds you all enjoying your summertime to the fullest: the weather has gotten decidedly warmer around here which makes staying inside virtually impossible; farmers' markets beckon to me from every street corner; swimming pools and sprinklers become necessities and sun kissed tans are quickly building to darkened tan lines. Oh how I love summertime. 

I've also been enjoying the many pleasures of alfresco dining with my man. We are quickly become grill masters and have used his barbecue to cook the majority of our meals as of late. This was actually one of the first meals we made together.

Spicy grilled chicken, spring greens salad, par-boiled and grilled potatoes, and an orange salad.

A little red wine never hurt anyone either...
 There has also been a ton of picnicking too, a traditional summertime staple. Here are some pictures from our very first picnic together. We ended up staying at the park until way after the sun went down, just talking and snacking.

Macadamia crusted tapalia, veggie basil brown rice salad, lots of sliced watermelon, homemade pecan honey bread, and chocolate dipped strawberries. A picnic fit for sharing!
 And we have been blessed enough to have shared many many breakfasts together as well. He is in the process of perfecting my soft boiled eggs, something which I had never tried to master before meeting him. This is just one way in which we spend our mornings together.

 And last but certainly not least, I have now officially tried Bubble Tea! For those of you out there who have no idea what I am talking about, let me break it down for you, because it is an experience everyone has to have at least once. Picture a smoothie, in whatever flavor floats your boat, that has been blended with green tea and a little protein powder. So far, pretty awesome sounding right? But it gets better! They then add boba to the bottom of your glass. What is boba? Little spheres of heaven that burst in your mouth and provide an incredibly sensational and yet almost unrepeatable sensory overload! Really, they are like nothing else I've experienced, especially in a drink. Some people don't enjoy this overall sensory overload, but I quite enjoyed it. The protein powder kept me full and focused (I sound like a Shredded Wheat commercial, but when the shoe fits...) and the flavor combination was refreshing and ultimately a treat. I shall be visiting that place again real soon. 

I highly recommend a mango Bubble Tea when you go... which should be now... go get your keys... or better yet walk to the nearest Bubble Tea shop and enjoy the summertime weather!
I'll end all this with a recipe that I am sure Peter, my boyfriend, would be ecstatic if I shared with you all. It has been his favorite thing we have made together so far (and trust me, we have dabbled in a lot of noms.)

Spicy Orange Salad

2 oranges, peeled and sliced whichever way you choose
1 TB freshly minced parsley, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp salt

Place oranges in a bowl (the easiest way to peel an orange for a salad like this is just to cut of the rind with a sharp knife.) Sprinkle on the remaining ingredients, adjust the seasoning for your taste, toss with your fingers, and serve.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summertime Strawberry Jam

One often thinks of orchards only in the fall, when apples are being picked and pressed into apple cider, and hay rides and pumpkin patches need to be explored with cold hands and hearts warmed by the festivities. However, the springtime is also a great time to visit an orchard because many times they have berries and tender spring vegetables, ripe for the picking. I visited early last week and walked away with a most peculiar but ultimately pleasing purchase - organic strawberries. Usually not my M/O, but I simply couldn't resist.

Strawberries, fresh from my favorite orchard in Lexington, still warm from the sun.
It is a wonder any of these beauties made it home; I swear I couldn't keep my hands out of them, they were that deliciously tender and explosively sweet. Their little seeds never lodged themselves in my teeth like their more annoying commercial cousins tend to do, and they had the most delicate and fanciful outer skins that almost melted on your tongue, making it difficult to just eat one. I had never had strawberries as wonderfully provocative as these, I simply couldn't get enough.  

Besides eating all of them as quickly as possible, what was I going to do with these little bundles of sunshine? They were altogether too tender to hold over for the next week and savor a few a day, so why not preserve them? Strawberry jam it is!

It really did hurt to have to dismember these - more than a few were spared their fate in the pot and made a B-line for my mouth instead.

To really drive home the summertime flavor, I added lemon zest and stirred in a splash of really good vanilla extract right at the end, just to round out the flavor. The zest was refreshing and indicative of strawberry lemonade, and the vanilla added a subtly sweet, holistic flavor, which is completely devoid in a standard store-bought jam.

Big jars of this jam was a necessity, for sharing, gifting, and one partial one for me to savor.

Lemon, Vanilla, and Strawberry Jam

2 2/3 cups fresh strawberries, washed and cut in half
3 TB Real Fruit Pectin
2 cups sugar
3 TB fresh lemon zest
2 TB good vanilla extract

Place strawberries in a large saucepan and crush with your hands (you can also use a potato masher, but really, use your hands.) Add fruit pectin, stirring to completely combine, and bring to a full roiling boil that cannot be stirred down. Stir the entire time. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, boil for one minute, stirring, then remove from heat. Cool slightly, stir in lemon zest. Cool almost completely, then add the vanilla (that way the vanilla won't cook off from the residual heat in the jam.) You can now either can in prepared jars and seal, or, if you are like me, just place in sterilized jars and place in the refrigerator to consume within a week. (Trust me, it won't last that long.)

Side note: I have adopted a family of geese (and by adopt I mean gawk at every time I work in the downstairs kitchen...) Aren't they precious! They live at Woodford Reserve, back behind the aging houses, in the creek that runs behind the distillery, and I feel like they are mine because I have watched the four babies grow up from eggs just a month ago. So cute!!! I have yet to name them, not for lack of trying, but because I need the perfect names for such cute babies (while the goose parents just stare at me daringly.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In Continuation of my Tardy Mother's Day Theme

I figured I should get on posting about the actual meal that we enjoyed in order to commemorate another wonderfully spectacular and festively embraced Mother's Day.

What was on the menu? Why, a traditional backyard barbecue feast, certainly fit for my mom - 
Grilled Chicken Sausages and Hamburgers, with all the messy fixin's
Potato Salad
Grilled Asparagus
Cabbage Salad
Ice Cream and Brownie Sundaes

I owe you all the recipe for the cabbage salad - I have not yet memorized it and am back in Lexington, thus far away from mom's recipe box. It's delicious and simple though, definitely something up my alley, not to mention not that bad for you. The kicker? Dried ramen noodles, a food completely banned from my diet and yet, in this salad, it seems so right that I can overlook the sodium, fake ingredients, and overall "blah" just this once.

No barbecue plate is complete without Izzy's pickles - if you have no idea what I am talking about, then you have been sorely missing out your entire life... look them up now!

Doesn't this look like a kitchen island full of heaven?!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bourbon Balls for Mother's Day

I am getting into this bad habit of posting things way after they happen. I am going to blame it on the warm weather, summertime mind set, lackadaisical attitude with which I approach my free time now, and my inability to go inside until it is way too dark to be outside. Isn't that what summer is all about anyway? Grilling out, eating watermelon until juice drips off your chin, showing off farmers' tans with pride, and camping outside so you can (attempt) to count all the stars in the night sky. That is at least how I choose to spend my summers. Regardless, however, I apologize for my absence and promise that this post will make up for my dropping the ball (get it?! Dropping the ball... Bourbon balls... I have jokes today.)

As you know, I love to give homemade presents, and since I really am not much of a crafter, I tend to make presents in the kitchen. Quick breads, someone's favorite meal, jams and preserves, and in this case, chocolates! As you all know I work at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and thus decided to make some of the recipes that I have internalized for my mom for Mother's Day which, of course, features our namesake libation. This bourbon ball recipe, however, has some slight variations made due to my ill-equipped kitchen.

Woodford's own pecan bourbon balls... with my own special twist.

Pecan Bourbon Balls

1 cup chopped pecans
Woodford Reserve bourbon, or bourbon of choice
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 TB bourbon
24 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted with 1 TB shortening
Toasted pecan halves

Cover the chopped pecans with bourbon and let sit overnight. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, set aside. Cream the butter, vanilla, bourbon, and sugar until fluffy but stiff, adding additional sugar if necessary or until the mixture is pliable, like soft Play-Do. Fold in bourbon soaked nuts. Roll the dough into balls, refrigerating the dough slightly if it is too soft to do so. Dip in melted, slightly cooled, chocolate to cover; top with toasted pecan half. Allow to harden at room temperature.

This is the best way to say Happy Mother's Day if you ask me.

Homemade vanilla: vodka, two vanilla beans, split but not scraped, and 2 weeks of steeping.

I might have spiked the chocolate a bit too... the more the merrier right?!
What homemade goodies do you like to gift?