Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Strawberry Merlot Sorbet with Coconut Cream

If I gave you a tour of my kitchen, I could share a story about almost every item in it. My family has done a pretty fantastic job keeping it stocked with beautiful and unique pieces. There's the set of hand painted, ceramic serving dishes from my brother, who lives in Italy. Decorating our dining room is another painted ceramic bowl from my dad and stepmom's trip to Cappadocia in Turkey. I show off my collection of flavored salts and Italian olive oil tin on a gorgeous cutting board made from reclaimed wood that my mom bought for me from a local artist. He almost didn't get paid when my mom and I, totally distracted by our lovely conversation with him, walked off without giving him the check. Then there's my vintage copper tea kettle, a "just because" gift from my husband, who somehow found it on Craig's List for only $20.

Being the proud owner of so many unique and treasured kitchen items, when I saw this month's Recipe Redux theme was to tell the story of a kitchen tool that's been passed down through the family, I thought I would have tons of options. I started to sort through my kitchen, looking for inspiration. With each drawer I emptied, I got more frustrated. How do I not have a single hand me down? A hour and one huge mess later, I realized the only hand me down we have is a George Foreman grill that somehow came in my possession of after my sister-in-law moved to California (Hey Caroline! Were you wondering where that went??).

Exasperated, I walked over to the wet bar to pour myself a glass of red and grabbed one of our beautiful, crystal wine glasses....my grandparents 25th wedding anniversary wine glasses.

Well duh.

After my grandma passed away last year, the wine glasses were one of the few things I inherited. They're nothing super expensive or fancy, but I love their vintage shape and purple-grey tint. They were a gift from my mom, aunt and uncle for my grandparents 25th wedding anniversary. My mom remembers picking them out at B. Altman, a department store off 5th Avenue in New York and admits she mostly bought them for herself, since she was just getting into wine. My grandparents only served wine twice a year, on Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Born to recent immigrants from Eastern Europe and having lived through the Great Depression, they saw no need for fancy wine glasses and therefore served wine jelly jars before they got these. Yes, jelly jars. They were rustic chic before it was even a thing.

Although I was not happy to clean up the mess I made, I'm so glad this was picked for the Recipe Redux theme this month. Having recently made the decision to leave my well-paying, totally secure government job and take the leap into private practice, I've been stressing a lot about money. Even though we planned ahead, saved and are scrupulous with our budget, it's still pretty scary. Thinking about my grandparents drinking wine out of jelly jars was a much needed reminder of how blessed we truly are.

I often use wine and champagne glasses to serve desserts since they add a fancy flair to a dish that's otherwise simple. This dessert is easily adapted using other fruits and flavors. I'm thinking a pineapple and mint sorbet with a effervescent vino verde or a wild blueberry and ginger sorbet, since you know how I love that flavor combination.

Speaking of wild blueberries, I'm excited to let you know about the Feed Her Wild Side Wild Blueberry Giveaway! The contest will run through May 9th and just for entering, you'll receive a free Feed Her Wild Side Mother's Day cookbook. The cookbook features Mother's Day brunch recipes from bloggers including wild blueberry corn muffins with meyer lemon curd from yours truly! During the 3-week contest, three winners will be randomly selected and have the chance to win a collection of handcrafted Edgecomb pottery from Maine, a sapphire and diamond necklace or a wild blue Schwinn Beach Cruiser bike - perfect gifts for mom. The Grand Prize is a $1000 visa gift card. Head on over to their facebook page to enter!

Strawberry Merlot Sorbet with Coconut Cream

Serves 4-6

1 lb frozen strawberries
1/2 cup merlot or other fruity red wine
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 can coconut cream, refrigerated overnight
1 tablespoon natural sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the strawberries and merlot in a food processor or blender and blend until pureed. Scoop out into a bowl and stir in the chia seeds. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the coconut cream.

Open the can of coconut cream. Scoop out the cream into a large bowl, leaving the clear water behind. Stir it a bit with a fork, which helps to soften it. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and whip with a hand mixer for 3-5 minutes, until fluffy and light with soft peaks.

Scoop the sorbet into a wine glass. Top with a scoop of coconut cream.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Eats in Austin & Stuffed Artichokes

Last weekend, I spent three days in Austin with my two best friends from high school in Virginia, Miriam and Malia. Originally, we planned to go on a trip to celebrate turning thirty, but when Miriam moved to Austin and got pregnant, our plans changed a bit. No matter. I got to do what's really important - spending quality time with lifetime friends and supporting Miriam as she starts the biggest and most important job of her life, becoming a mom.

I feel a little silly sharing a post on good food in Austin. This is by no means a definitive guide since I really didn't explore much of the city. Apparently, a three-month-old cramps your style. Normally when I travel, I spend hours researching my destination to figure out everything to see, do and eat. But this time, I hopped on a plane with absolutely no plans in mind. When Miriam asked me what I wanted to do in Austin, I replied "eat tacos." So, we ate tacos.

Torchy's Tacos

If I could complain about one thing at Torchy's, it's that everything on their menu looked delicious and there wasn't nearly enough room in my stomach to try everything I wanted. Luckily, the line was short, which forced me to quickly make up my mind. My first choice was easy - the fried avocado taco topped with pico de gallo and a poblano sauce. Obviously. But for my second taco, I waffled. Should I go with the blackened salmon with avocado relish? Or maybe the fried portabello with roasted corn, escabeche carrots and queso fresco. Ultimately, I chose Mr. Pink - a guajillo seared tuna topped with cabbage slaw, queso fresco and chipotle sauce. Super spicy, but I loved it! We also split an order of queso for the table. Normally, I'm not a fan of queso, since it usually tastes like hot cheez whiz, but their's was pretty addictive! The scoop of guac hiding underneath melted cheese was nothing short of genius.

South Congress Cafe

My favorite meal of the trip was at South Congress Cafe, located on South Congress Street, an eclectic neighborhood right outside of downtown Austin. I started with a Bloody Mary, apparently ranked #3 in the US. I don't know who was ranked #1 and #2, but good for you, cause I have no clue how you managed to top this one. For an appetizer, I ordered a kale and avocado salad, which was topped with a soft poached egg. I've had many a kale salad in my life, and this was one of my favorites! Then I enjoyed a half order of vegetable migas. The eggs and black beans were so perfectly creamy, and it came with this awesome smoked gouda potato pancake. After eating the tortillas it came with, I don't think I will ever be able to eat store bought again. I was stuffed, but when Miriam started raving about the Amy's Mexican vanilla ice cream that came with the brownie, we caved to peer pressure. Worth it. I consider myself a vanilla ice cream connoisseur. Even as a child I refused to eat vanilla ice cream that didn't have real vanilla beans in it. I don't know what they do to the vanilla beans in Mexico, but holy smoke I've never tasted a vanilla ice cream like this! Dietitian confession - I got another scoop at the airport on my way home. The brownie was dense and fudgy, drenched in a bourbon sauce and served with toffee studded with - get this- more chocolate! It would be remiss of me not to mention our fantastic service. Our server was super friendly, constantly checking on us, and even made little baby faces for Miss Anastasia when she was cranky, which cheered her right now. Apparently she likes guys with tattoos. Watch out dad. I think his name was Christopher? Had a pretty awesome beard...although in Austin, I don't know if that narrows it down.

Salt Lick Barbeque

I will always be partial to South Carolina's mustard barbeque and carry out a not-so-secret love affair with North Carolina's pepper vinegar sauce, but I had to know what Texas BBQ is all about. From what I understand, it's all about brisket and sausage, so I got a sampler plate (off the 60 and older menu thank you very much). The barbeque was awesome, flavorful and tender. But off course, in typical Rachael fashion, my favorite part was the coleslaw and potato salad, made with tangy vinegar based dressing rather than mayo.

I can't wait to go back to Austin again. I plan to visit Miriam and her family in another year or so and take Scott along with me. With Anastasia a little older, we can spend more time exploring the city and even take a few day trips to the surrounding hill country. To my readers in Austin, what are your favorite places to eat? Any off the beaten path sites in and around Austin? What are your favorite day trips? Would love to get your feedback!

Before heading off to catch my flight back to Columbia, the three of us cooked lunch together at Miriam's beautiful home. We saw a quick commercial for these stuffed artichokes on the Food Network and couldn't stop talking about them. When we saw beautiful, fresh artichokes at the grocery store, we knew exactly what we wanted for lunch. Preparing fresh artichokes is usually a bit of a task, but it's much easier when working in a group of three!


Artichokes Stuffed with Parmesan, Capers and Olives

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4

4 medium artichokes
1 lemon, halved
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
2/3 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prepare the artichokes. 

First, cut off the top inch of each artichoke, then trim the bottom half inch of the artichoke stem. Using a vegetable peeler, shave away the outer layer of the stem. With kitchen shears, trip the spiky ends off the artichoke leaves. Carefully cut the artichoke in half. With a paring knife, cut away the interior purple leaves and choke, the spiky part just above the artichoke heart. I found the easiest way to do it was to take the paring knife and run it just below the choke, then carefully using the paring knife to separate it. As soon as the artichoke is prepared, rub it with the cut side of the lemon to keep it from browning. 

Once the water has come to a boil, add the trimmed artichokes, cover and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain a colander with the stem sides facing up, so the extra water is able to drain off. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes, then remove and discard. Add the artichoke hearts, cut side down, and cook about 6 minutes until golden. Remove and place in a large baking dish.

While the artichokes are cooking, mix the olives, capers, parmesan and bread crumbs together in a medium bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. 

Preheat the broiler. When all of the artichokes are pan-fried and situated snugly in the baking dish, spoon the bread crumb mixture into the center of each artichoke, where the choke used to be. Drizzle the leftover olive oil over the artichokes and broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes.