Sunday, September 30, 2007

crazy pickle chomp

Apparently Sadie loves pickles. We were enjoying "free" black and tans at Sea World's Hospitality Center when we came across the world's biggest pickle. She would chew off a big bite, suck the pickle juice out of it and then spit the rubbery piece onto her shirt. Too funny. I need to get that garden going again so I can make her my barrel cukes!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hello Lillie

Hello Donuri
Originally uploaded by Tea Priestess

The Bento Box revolution has begun. This is one culinary art form that I knew nothing about before doing research for the blog. I thought bento boxes were just sushi to go. Flickr is filled with so many great examples of these imaginative packed lunches. Here are some groups to be inspired on the names to visit these fun galleries.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

going bananas!

These dense nuggets of banana goodness are the perfect snack. They were handing out samples at Whole Foods and both Lillie and Sadie couldn't get enough of them. The entire produce section smelled like a monkey's pocket.

Unlike a crispy banana chip, these moist and chewy pieces have a powerful and intensely concentrated banana flavor. They almost tasted caramelized and reminded my taste buds of banana bread. We wolfed down the whole bag - I think next time we should try cooking with them. Maybe some chocolate chip banana cookies or a new twist on bananas foster.

Martin the monkey says "banana bites are good!"

The story behind Kopali and their organic offerings is a good one.

Here is the quote from the website: "Made from 100% organic dried bananas grown on living soil free of harmful chemicals, under the shade of fruit and rainforest trees. By enjoying this healthy and delicious snack, you support indigenous and Afro-Caribbean organic farmers and help them care for the ecosystems that support all life on our planet."

Saving the world, one banana nugget at a time.

They have a banana vinegar that sounds too odd not to try. It is described as "exotic, sweet and tangy." More on that later...

Bill Cosby wants his sweater back...

What do monkeys like to eat?

Lillie: (silence)

Me: What does Martin the monkey eat for breakfast?

Lillie: Yellow!

Me: (silence)

Lillie: Yellow banana food!

Me: On a plate?

Lillie: Nooooooo. In his hand!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Country Bears Benedict

Herbed biscuits topped with maple ham,
poached eggs, and a key lime hollandaise

Lillie's favorite blue fork

Brunch is served!

The best meal of the week is, without question, Brunch! Its a required start to any lazy day set aside to relax and decompress. A fritatta, some fresh fruit and a spicy bloody mary - what else is there in life? I'll tell you what else.....a good benedict.

This recipe was inspired by the "country benedict" found on the menu at Stephen Anthony's Restaurant and Sausage Co. in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Victoria and I spent many a brunch there sampling the homemade maple sausage and benedicts. Unlike a traditional benedict that uses English muffins and Canadian Bacon as a base, this southern-fried variation relies on a hearty biscuit and a sweet and smokey slab of REAL ham.

After trying to eat "right" all week, it is time to throw caution to the wind and indulge a little, for crying out loud.

Grab the washboard and fetch me my fiddle - its time to "rustle up" some Country Bears Benedict.

that's not my daddy!

Country Bears Benedict
serves 4

4 biscuits
8 poached eggs
sliced maple ham
1 tablespoon white or white wine vinegar
hollandaise sauce

I cheated a little - generally I make my own but these herbed biscuits from Whole Foods caught my eye and begged to come home with me. Just a little crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle. The fresh herbs baked throughout complimented the flavors of the benedict perfectly.

Here is an easy biscuit recipe to get you to the next step:

Hollandaise sauce is a decadent but integral part of the Benedict. Use sparingly.

Key Lime Hollandaise

1/2 cup butter
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon key lime juice
1/2 tablespoon key lime zest
pinch of salt
splash of hot sauce (Tapatio or Tabasco Chipotle)
2 tablespoons hot water

Heat butter in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks with lime juice, salt, and hot sauce. Very slowly mix in butter, then water. Return mixture to saucepan and whisk over very low heat until hollandaise is slightly thickened. Sprinkle zest over the top. Serve immediately or let stand over warm water for up to 30 minutes.

Before poaching the eggs, prep each plate with a sliced biscuit. I popped these in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm them up a little.

The next layer is the maple ham. Warm in a skillet or microwave and place a generous portion on each slice of the biscuit.

Step 3 is to poach the eggs. I have a few tricks. The first is to add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the boiling water. This helps the eggs keep their shape. The next trick is to use teacups to transfer the eggs to the large skillet of boiling water - 2 eggs per cup, up to 8 eggs cooking at the same time. Slowly tilt the eggs onto the surface of the water, gently guiding all the eggs into the pan and the same time. Be careful! That steam is hot!

Cover and turn the heat off. Let them sit for 3 minutes for medium-firm yolks. 2 minutes longer if you want them cooked all the way through. Remove each perfectly poached egg with a slotted spoon and gently place one on top of each side of the sliced biscuit.

All that is left is a little drizzle of hollandaise. Give it a good whisk before spooning onto the poached eggs.

Eat them quick before they get cold! You do the dishes, I'll be in the hammock.

Lillie contemplates her next bite

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Blackberry Balsamic Vinegar

Lillie tested. Lillie approved.

Here is an easy way to get your fry fix without the guilt. These delicious sweet potato fries are jam-packed with the "good carbs" and a ridiculous amount of beta-carotene. Check back soon for a recipe for Gordon Biersch inspired Garlic Oven Fries.

garnet sweet potatoes are in season

2-3 large sweet potatoes

Kosher salt

Garlic powder

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel potatoes and cut into fry-shaped wedges. In large bowl, toss sweet potatoes with olive oil. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and garlic powder. Roast in the oven for about 40-50 minutes, turning once or twice. I usually use a spatula to flip and move them around - you want to expose all the sides of the fry to maximize crispness. Keep in mind, the fries towards the outside will cook faster. The last 10 minutes are crucial - keep an eye on them. Taste a few to see if they are ready - go ahead, its ok. There is a fine line between crispy and burnt. Once you make them a few times, you will get into a rhythm. When they are done, throw them in a bowl and toss with an additional pinch of Kosher salt. Eat them immediately. Serve with your favorite colored mayo, ketchup or a ramekin of blackberry balsamic vinegar to dip in.

Click here for the Blackberry Balsamic Vinegar recipe

Blackberry Balsamic Vinegar

This robust vinegar can be used just about anywhere - use it on grilled fish or mix with herbs, minced shallot and some olive oil for a fresh vinaigrette.

2 cups aged balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

Bring vinegar and berries to a boil, reduce to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool. Strain into small bowl, using the back of a serving spoon to push all the berry goodness and vinegar out of the fruit pulp. The vinegar should reduce a little, giving it more of a syrupy consistency.

Cover and chill until ready to use. Put it on everything. Will keep for at least a month in the fridge

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

White Mayonnaise

Lunchtime during the week must include at least one visit to the best sub shop this side of the Mississippi - Jersey Mike's. I mean, come on, they slice the meat right in front of you as your order your sandwich! Does it get any better than that?! Its true, their delectable "fresh" subs are amazing but the same can not be said about their sanitary-gloved employees. During the latest visit, our attentive "sandwich artist" asked Drew if he wanted some "white mayonnaise" on his giant bacon and pepperoni sandwich. It caught us off guard.

White mayonnaise, you say? What other colors of mayonnaise do you have behind that counter? Yellow mustard maybe. Red ketchup? Now you are pushing it. White mayonnaise? You're just talking crazy talk.

The truth is, like most people, I love mayonnaise.

Maybe not as much as this guy...

or these guys...

...but its fair to say its a very important part of my life. Although we generally reach for the Hellman's Canola Mayo for sandwiches and salads (potato, chicken, k-rab), occasionally there is a need for something a little fresher. The truth is that mayonnaise is relatively easy to make - its simply a cold emulsion of vegetable oil, egg yolks and your choice of an acid. Once you have a mayonnaise base you can literally flavor it with any ingredient - from chipotle to garlic and fresh herbs. Remind me to have a mayo contest - that would be fun.

Here is a simple mayonnaise base to get you started:

White Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

pinch of Kosher Salt (to taste)

1/3 cup of olive or avocado oil

2 egg yolks

Add the Dijon mustard to the egg yolks and beat with a whisk until slightly thickened, then slowly drizzle the oil into the egg mix. If it gets too thick, add a little vinegar or lemon juice to thin out the mix. Once all the oil is added, whisk in the remaining acid. The consistency should be that of, well, mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Store in the fridge up to one week.

Spice up your mayo! Use your imagination, for crying out loud...

Yellow Mayonnaise (Lemon)
increase lemon juice to 2 tbsp and add 1 teaspoon freshly microplaned lemon peel

Mayonnaise (Garlic and Herb)
1/4 cup chopped fresh soft herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, etc.) and three cloves of roasted garlic

Orange Mayonnaise (Chipotle)
1 finely chopped chipotle chile in adobo, 1 teaspoon adobo sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Brown Mayonnaise (Ginger-Sesame)
add one finely chopped scallion, 1 tsp minced fresh ginger, 1/4 tsp toasted sesame or peanut oil and a splash of low sodium soy sauce

Friday, September 14, 2007

five years ago today

September 14th, 2002

Victoria and I were married on the first day of harvest in 2002 at the Westport Rivers Winery. It was a perfect day. I nervously sang my vows under a vine-covered trellis, Todd Halstead performed the ceremony and Chef Kerry knocked our socks off with a 5-course wine paring reception. If you would like to try a bottle of the sparkling wine made with the grapes harvested on our wedding day, click here and select the 2002 Brut Cuvee from the sparkling wines collection. It was just recently released after aging for about 5 years using the champenoise method. You won't regret it. Sweetest grapes ever.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hello cake

Hello cake

This lemon tartlet is too cute not to pass along. I could eat about 10 of these suckers. Click here to see more amazing photos of hedgie's edibles on flickr.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Seared Prawns over Quinoa Conchiglie tossed with Salsa Cruda

or Shrimp with Fresh-Sauced Shells

Who says tomato sauce needs to bubble on the stove for hours before it reaches perfection. This fresh “no-cook” tomato sauce uses all the flavor of the ripe summer tomato to elevate your pasta to the next level. Salsa Cruda translates into "uncooked sauce" in Italian.
The secret ingredient in this dish is fresh, fragrant basil.
My African Blue Basil plant grows like a weed and is the only welcomed living thing still thriving in my spring garden.
Of course, Lillie was more than happy to help me harvest some for this recipe.
Garlic cloves pulled straight from the head are important too. Never use jarred garlic.

I used Veronica's Quinoa pasta for the first time and loved its rich and nutty flavor. Quinoa has been cultivated for over 5,000 years (Go Incas, its your birthday, have a party, woo-hoo) and its the perfect grain for anyone trying to incorporate “good carbs” or “gluten-free” into their diet.

4 cups of fresh, ripe tomatoes, roughly seeded and diced into ¼ inch chunks
2 tablespoons of fresh minced basil
1 generous teaspoon of fresh garlic
¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp of toasted onion powder
1 tsp of garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
1 pound of pasta (short and stubby like penne or shells will grip the flavor better)
1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano - shredded or microplaned
1 ½ pounds of large prawns

Combine tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Let it sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 45 minutes for the flavors to combine. Have some time? Give it 3-4 hours and it will taste divine.
Peel, rinse and pat dry the prawns.
Toss with onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper (Obi John Cannoli would be proud) Heat wok or pan to medium high heat and add a light coating of canola or grape seed oil. Sear for just a few minutes until the edges start to turn golden brown. They cook fast and will turn tough if you overcook them.
Drain the hot pasta, transfer into a large mixing bowl and immediately fold in the sauce. As the temperature of the fresh sauce rises, the tomatoes wilt and the flavors are enhanced.
If it seems too thick, add a little pasta cooking water to thin the consistency. Spoon pasta into bowls and top with seared prawns and the parmesan. Manja!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Alex the African Grey

Irene and Alex

RIP Alex the African grey parrot. He passed away suddenly last week at the age of 31. The average African Grey lifespan is 60 years old and they can live to be 100! A few years ago, Victoria and I had the chance to meet Dr. Irene Pepperberg - Alex's owner and the scientist (from Harvard and Brandeis) doing studies on the species and their cognitive abilities. According to Irene, Alex could "identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept." Research by Irene Pepperberg was said to have "shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry." Her work showed that Alex had "the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old."

Alex has been a source of inspiration to our family and a huge influence in helping us better understand and challenge our own grey and bestest friend, Percy.

Lillie and Percy

Alex's amazing abilities reminded us not only of Percy's potential, but of our own as well. Sorry to see you go, buddy.

Percy Loves Grapes

For more information on Alex and the incredible research Dr. Pepperberg has been working on since 1976, please click here.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Piggies Went to Market

Winter Park Farmers Market

The girls and I wolfed down some breakfast (Clifford the Big Red Dog-o's, Bananas and Oatmeal) and got out of the house early (10:45!) so Mama Victoria could get some well needed rest. Our favorite nighttime nursery nurse needed to recharge her batteries after another 12 hour shift. Although disappointed we weren’t going to “Mickey Mouse House” again, Lillie was motivated by the promise of a giant sprinkle cookie.

Visions of blogdom filled my head all night so I was a little groggy and in need of some inspiration. I figured a farmers market and the ever popular Whole Foods would do the trick and get this blog off on the right foot.

We headed out from Clermont and the 45 minute drive took no time at all thanks to I Spy...

Lillie: I spy with my little eye.....something white!

Me: Is it the clouds?

Lillie: Nooooooo.

Me: What about the lines on the road?

Lillie: Noooooo. Try again.

Me: I don't see anything else white.

Lillie: Keep looking!

We parked by Hot Olives and burned umbrella stroller rubber towards the market. Halfway there, Lillie found the LOWEST Lowrider ever, so we had to stop for a photo opp.

more cowbell, please!

The farmer's market was filled with exotic plants, gourmet foods and organic offerings. "Aromas and laughter filled the air."

organic vegetables are hilarious!

We crunched on some fresh kettlecorn and invested in some spicy Tupelo honey from Winter Park Honey. Van Morrison would be proud. The samples came on little popsicle sticks and Lillie couldn't get enough of them. She probably tasted 15 out of the 20 local honey varietals. Her favorite was Key Lime.

"Shes as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee" - Van Morrisson

Next stop was Pappardelle's Homemade Pasta stand. Their handmade pasta selection was too fun to pass up. After careful deliberation, we selected the Pacific Rim blend, Harvest orzo and the Yellow Bell Pepper pappardelle - check the website for all their imaginative flavor combinations.

Pappardelle's Homemade Pasta stand

Tiffany was kind enough to let Lillie and I try the Dark Chocolate linguini and she was totally fine with me taking a million pictures of the pasta for the new blog including this one of their fruit medley. It smelled remarkably like Fruity Pebbles.

Silly Rabbit! Pasta's for kids!

By now we were melting in the sun, so we grabbed as many fruits and veggies we could carry and scampered back to the air conditioned haven in the Highlander. Sadie's little hat was stuck to her head by the time she hit the carseat.

Goodbye Market!

Now it was time to head over to Whole Foods for some climate controlled food appreciation. On our way in, Lillie pointed out the birds nest in the letter A. Nice catch!

Today's Blog is brought to you by the letter A

It seemed like a good time to get the camera out and take some blogworthy food photos. After we secured a mini-shopping cart for Lillie, it was time to camp out in the produce section.

heirloom tomatoes

20 pictures later...

Apparently, you can't take pictures in Whole Foods. Not even of pomegranates! Here is how the confrontation went down...

Manager: Sir?

Me: (trying to squeeze out one more picture of stacked fruit for the blog)

Manager: Excuse me, sir.

Me: (stupid Sony Handycam crappy autofocus taking forever, hurry!)

Manager: Sir!

Me: (flash!snap!) Hi!

Manager: You can't take any pictures in the store, sir.

Me: Not even of the fruit?

Manager: Unfortunately, if we let one person take a picture in the store, we would have to let everyone. Its a slippery slope. Sorry.

Me: Slippery slope?

This is the last known picture ever taken inside a Whole Foods. It was worth it.

top secret pomegranates

We reluctantly put the camera away and they left us alone to taste cheeses, granola and baba ganoush. Sadie was starving (as usual) so the samples on each aisle came in handy!

We filled up Lillie's "shopper in training" minicart with two stunner tomatoes (7 bucks!), some butternut squash bisque for Sadie, golden beets, samplings from the olive bar, strawberry lemon seltzer water and the biggest sprinkle cookie Lillie had ever seen.

I even picked out a nice fruity beer for Victoria. Peach German fancyWeiss something or other. She will love it.

Magic Hat #9, eat your heart out!

All that was left to do was hop back into the car and head home (while eating the coveted Sprinkle cookie.) "that was one good cookie, Daddypie." Halfway there, we hit up the roadside shrimp stand

shrimp scampi. shrimp gumbo. fried shrimp. coconut shrimp. shrimp sandwich...

and grabbed 3 pounds of huge gulf prawns and a pint of fragrant plums from Pauleen. I was short a few dollars so she told me to bring it by next time. "Mahma take care uv yuh." I think she suffering from heat stroke! What a day!

stop looking at me!