Secret Ingredient

Do you ever watch Iron Chef? Okay, so I don’t really watch it much either, but I’m fascinated with the premise. The “food battles” are themed around a secret ingredient, which is revealed at competition start. (This video will give you the gist.) The ingredient may play a starring role, or it may be hidden the dish.

I’m on a secret ingredient kick lately, in the hiding sense. It’s so fun to be sneaky! How about an example? Let’s say we’re making ice cream. The ingredients are:

Cream, egg yolks, sugar and…corn! Zinger!

Will you join me as I chat about my personal Iron-Chef-ery? In the words of the nimble chairman: Allez Cuisine!

Secret Ingredient 1: Battle Corn!

Not too long ago, I saw Stacey post that she had tasted One Vanilla Bean’s fresh summer corn ice cream, saying it was “one of the most surprising dishes I’ve eaten – ever!” You know I had to try it.

My crazy family was due for one of our themed-parties. This time: “Farmer’s Market.” Corn ice cream seemed the perfect fit.

The family, always up for an experiment, gave this two sticky thumbs up. The corn is there, but it’s not overpowering. And veggies in your ice cream? That’s health food.

Secret Ingredient 2: Battle Cauliflower! 

Let’s face it: using cauliflower as a shape shifter isn’t the world’s newest concept. Atkins Diet “mashed potatoes” anyone? But I do LOVE cauliflower. Wheat pizza crust LOVES to stick to my hips. So when I saw Brittany post this recipe for cauliflower pizza crust, I decided to give it a whirl.

I made the crust as instructed, then topped with an eggplant, cherry tomato and onion roast + blobs of goat cheese. Yum! I don’t think you’re going to fool anyone to think this is normal pizza crust, but it’s an absolutely wonderful alternative to traditional pie.

Secret Ingredient 3: Battle Beans! 

I saved the sneakiest ingredient for last: beans! More specifically, beans in cookie pie.

Yes, I’m serious. Now pick your jaw up and hear me out. I finally caved and tried Chocolate Covered Katie’s Deep Dish Cookie Pie. Then I did the unthinkable. I served it to the husband without saying a word. Vore…you’re getting sleeeeeeeeepy…

He was mesmorized by this cookie pie. And I was too! I used dry beans cooked without salt, and I promise, there wasn’t even a hint of beany-ness. Just delicious pie.

Now then, I must know: What’s your go-to secret ingredient? 

Teasy’s Mar-TEA-ni Shake Method.

Class, I’d like you to meet Marshall.

{ This is the part where you give an exuberant, “Hi, Marshall!” }

Marshall owns a company called Teasy Teas. He’s from Birmingham, but he ventured off to New England for a while. After 14 cold winters, Marshall decided it was high time to get back to the Heart of Dixie. I’m over at The Magic City Post today, telling you all about that journey. Here, I thought it would be a blast to talk iced tea, a Southern specialty.

Last week, Marshall and I met up at Homewood’s Hart and Soul, his newest cafe customer, for a tasting. He made me three fabulous cups:

It was hard to choose a favorite. They are all so different and wonderful! So instead of focusing on a flavor, I’m going to fill you in a method. Want to know how Marshall makes loose leaf iced tea? Hint: it’s all in the shaker!

That’s right, friends. Marshall treats his tea like a cocktail. That’s my kind of beverage!

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Bring water to a boil, then add loose tea leaves directly to the pot. Marshall recommends 2 teaspoons tea to one cup water. That’s 1/2 cup tea for a gallon of concentrate.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the tea to steep for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Pour the liquid through a mesh strainer to remove the tea leaves. If you’re into sweetener, now is the time to add it.
  4. Add ice to a martini shaker. Pour the desired amount of tea in and shake like crazy.
  5. Pour your delicious iced tea over fresh ice and enjoy!

That sounds easy enough, but can Veggie do it? You know I had to try. Marshall sent me home with prizes: Watermelon, Almond Delight, Peppermint Pat-Tea and Vitalize. I decided to make a concentrate from both the Watermelon and the Almond Delight.

I added 1/4 cup loose leaf tea to 4 cups boiling water. I steeped for 4 minutes (the magic in between number!), strained and added one tablespoon of stevia to get my mix sweet, but not tooooooo sweet.

I’m proud to report that I’m sipping a glass of perfectly balanced iced tea as we speak! Giving the tea a good shake “shocks” the beverage, intensifying the flavors. When it reaches your glass, the ice melts into the concentrate so it’s just the perfect strength. No watered down, boring iced tea for this girl!

I have great visions for the remaining concentrate. Add to almond milk for a latte? Use it to spice up a recipe? I might just splash a little alcohol into that iced tea shaker tonight. Would you blame me, really?

What my grandparents taught me about food.

Meet my family, circa 1940s:

I love these pictures! They are all framed and displayed on the bookcases in our den.

I was blessed with the most amazing grandparents, and even more fortunate they were local. I spent loads of time with each of them. To say they were a big influence would be an understatement.

I thought it would it would be interesting to look at one big way each of them is still a part of me through their outlook on food. Without further adieu:

Sara, aka Gran: Be resourceful, never wasteful.

This photo is a teeny-tiny me. Gran is a baby whisperer. She loves rocking little ones and they love being in her lap. I’ll admit that I plopped myself on her chair well into college. She’s only 5 feet tall, so I fit! One should be careful–she keeps scissors in between the cushions for her needlework.

My mom’s parents farmed on a portion of their 80 acres. Granddad had a long and successful career as a business owner, but he came home to work the fields as “relaxation.” Gran is a wizard at canning that produce so that nothing goes to waste. She also taught me to reuse leftovers. You’ve got some random veggies in the fridge? Gran will make you vegetable soup, served alongside her famous cornbread.

Glenn, aka Granddad: The fresher the better.

Here I am with Granddad. We’re picking vegetables with my cousin in the first picture and holding my namesake goat in the second. (What? There were too many goats and we ran out of names!) It’s from Granddad that I get my love of all things outdoors and my sense of curiousity. He was forever experimenting, and I was often first assistant.

Granddad loved to eat straight from the vine. He was the first person I ever saw making a smoothie, but I don’t think the word “smoothie” existed at that point. He called it his “health shake.” Carrots + bananas? I was horrified! Granddad said it was all going to the same place. He was ahead of his time!

Together, we ate raw green peas straight from the pod, and peaches still warm from the sun. They broke the mold when they made that man. I miss him every day.

Edward, aka BigDad: Mealtime is for family. Don’t be in a rush.

When Big Dad was working (he and my Dad owned a business together for years) he was working hard. And when he was relaxing, he did that right too.

As a World War II Army engineer, Big Dad built air strips in exotic places. He was appointed wait staff and learned to appreciate finer things. Back at home, Big Dad took his time, enjoying the beautiful meals my Gramsie cooked. He sat at the head of the table, carefully selecting, then seasoning his food. It was a family pun that Big Dad would start eating when the rest of the family was halfway finished. He savored his food and the people he ate with.

Kathleen, aka Gramsie: Presentation counts. 

Isn’t my Gramsie lovely? She was born in England and married Big Dad during WWII. She was promptly shipped home to his family farm in Mississippi. Can you imagine the shock?

Gramsie carried her elegant British accent all the way through her life. She had a knack for making things beautiful and special. In the picture above, she’s relaxed in the kitchen cooking a Christmas dinner. Looking at her there, you’d never know the amount of work she put into setting a gorgeous table filled with old family recipes.

I’d like to think I inherited Gramsie’s love of entertaining. After we lost her, I was the recipient of her fabulous dining room suit, crystal and sterling flatware. I hope I can give my family the same kind of beautiful holiday memories she gave us.

Did your grandparents live close by? How did they influence the way you eat? 

Figgsin’ To Have Breakfast.

I have a master’s degree in English Rhetoric and Composition. Sounds fancy. It pains my father that, despite my education, I still say “I’m fixin’ to ____” on a regular basis. He corrects me every time. If you had ever heard his gentlemanly, t-h-i-c-k Southern drawl, you would find this as hilarious as I do. Hey Dad: I’m fixin’ to write a post about fixin’ figs!

Moving along…Let’s talk about the chain of events that led to a fabulous Saturday breakfast. Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods in search of fruit. Sadly, gone are the days of juicy peaches and plump blueberries. I can take respite knowing fig season is upon us. A pint of Black Missions found its way into my basket.

Then, in a moment of serendipity, I went home and posted the following tweet:

Cinnamon is magical. ow.ly/dJcJx

A few minutes later, my friend Ben (remember him? Mr. EZ Tofu Press?) replied like so:

@BrittBook yes…i took some figs and pan fried them yesterday with honey and LOTs of cinnamon!!!

I was inspired! I had to pan fry some of my figs with breakfast this morning. Here was the plan: I made a batch of Vore’s Favorite Weekend Oats. Then I topped them with some fantabulous figs:

Coconut/Honey Pan-Fried Figs

5 black mission figs, sliced into quarters

1/2 tsp. coconut oil

1/2 tbsp. unsweetened coconut, finely shredded (I used this.)

1 tsp. local honey

a good sprinkle of cinnamon

*Melt the coconut oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium high heat.

*Add your figs and sauté for a minute or two.

*Shake on the coconut, sir and sauté for a moment more.

*Drizzle the honey on top, stir and continue to sauté until your figs and coconut are golden.

*Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

I added a few chopped walnuts to my bowl, then ate every last bite! This topping was delicious on the oats, but I can only imagine what would happen if you poured it over vanilla ice cream. Swoon! Happy fig season, y’all!

 

 

Costa Rican Mixology: The Mojito

Before we left the resort in Costa Rica, I did what any normal food blogger would do. I took pictures of drink menus–section by section–so I could replicate the concoctions at home.

Since these were posted at the swim up bars and I was fully clothed, I had to do some manuevering. Vore hid in a corner as I stepped on top of the bar and walked over to a place where I could get a good shot. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

What? It was 8 a.m. No one was actually sitting at the bar.

Here are the most interesting combos I gathered, just for you: 

  • Peach Spritzer: White wine, peach liquor, Seven Up
  • Pura Vida: Cacique, triple sec, pineapple and orange juice, grenadine
  • Oasis: Cacique, amaretto, cranberry, passion fruit juice
  • Pineapple mojito: guaro, pineapple juice, mint leaves, basil, sugar, soda
  • Asian mojito: guaro, mint leaves, basil, fresh ginger, sour mix, soda
  • Coconut mojito: guaro, mint leaves, coconut water, sour mix
  • Costa Rican caipirinha: Cacique, lime, sugar
  • Dirty Monkey: creme de cacao, golden cream liquor, rum, coconut cream, milk

You’ll notice a theme here: “guaro” or “cacique” is in pretty much everything. Am I the only person who’d never heard of these? Let me enlighten you, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Guaro is the name of a kind of liquor in many places in South and Central America. It is a clear liquor made from sugar cane, and has a slightly sweeter taste than comparable liquors.

Cacique Guaro is a brand of guaro produced by Fábrica Nacional de Licores or “FANAL.” The Cacique Guaro is a sugar cane liquor of high purity and is the best selling distilled spirit in Costa Rica.

Knowledge is power!

I had every intention of buying a couple of bottles of this at the airport, but apparently Liberia is the one airport in the world that doesn’t do duty free alcohol. Coffee–sure–but no booze. Hear my plea, Costa Rica: sell liquor at the gate!

Fortunately I had plenty of cocktails at the resort and am privy to the taste of guaro. It’s not the same, but I maintain that rum, also a bi-product of sugar cane, makes a fine substitute.

Asian Mojito for One

10 large mint leaves, chopped/muddled/otherwise maimed

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons rum, more if you had a bad day

1/2 cup ginger ale

1/2 cup sparkling water

ice

*Muddle the mint in the bottom of a highball glass. I used the bottom of a shot glass to do this. Very resourceful.

*Add in the lime juice, rum, ginger ale and sparkling water. Stir, then top with ice.

*Serve with a straw, so you don’t get mint on your lips. That’s not cute.

This little cocktail is super light and clean. The ginger ale replaces both the sour mix and the fresh ginger, which has a touch too much zing for my taste. They go down a little too easy. Beware.

Costa Rica, and How We Survived the Buffet at an All-Inclusive Resort

This time last week, Vore and I were landing in Costa Rica. Sniff, sniff.

We had the most amazing time! We went rock climbing…

and rafting…

we swung from trees…

and rode horses on the beach…

And back at the resort we ate…

our…

faces…

off…

Have you ever been to an all-inclusive resort? The basic premise is that you pay one price for room + board, then food/drinks are already taken care of when you arrive. That includes booze. Oh baby. You can see how this could easily turn into a smorgasbord of debauchery.

Vore and I love this kind of vacation. We definitely venture off the resort for tours, etc, but we do a lot of our eating on property. It cuts out worries about food safety, and it makes budgeting for the trip a whole lot easier. We’ve stayed at these all-inclusives:

RIU-Negril

Excellence-Playa Mujeres

Westin Playa Conchal

At this point, we are old pros at navigating the food scene. For the most part, buffets are the main features of breakfast and lunch options. At dinnertime, the white tablecloth restaurants open, but honestly…who wants to do fancy food in a bikini? We’re totally cool with hitting the buffet earlier in the day and saving dress-up time for supper.

These buffets are nothing to sneeze at. (Sneeze guard pun totally intended.) This ain’t the Shoney’s breakfast bar, folks. So how do you navigate all that food and keep from having a big old gut in your bathing suit pics? A few tips:

  1. Eat local. Why on earth would you fill up on pancakes and pasta when you could have those at home? It’s liking going to Paris and eating McDonald’s! For shame! I made an effort to stay away from “American” options and choose Costa Rican fare: Fried plantains, guava and black beans for breakfast? Sure, I’ll try it!
  2. Take a small portion. When you are overwhelmed with a ton of news foods, try a little scoop of each. Give yourself time to enjoy each bite–really taste it–then sit for a couple of minutes after you finish your plate. What was your favorite? If you’re still hungry, go back for a little more.
  3. Nix the super-sugary drinks. Bring me…Two pina coladas…One for each hand. It sounds nice and all, but I’d rather chew my calories. Perhaps in the form of dessert!
  4. Don’t beat yourself up. For the love of goodness, you’re on vacation! Don’t whip out your Weight Watcher’s point guide. Unless you have superhuman eating powers, I can’t imagine you undoing a whole year of good habits by splurging a little for one week. Food is a big part of the local culture. Soak it up!

Are you a fan of all inclusive resorts? Do you have any tips to share?

Cake Batter Ricotta Pancakes

What should you eat on Saturday morning? 

Pancakes, obviously.

I’ve had pancakes on the brain lately, thanks to this staple recipe and this fabulous adaption from Stacey at Every Food Fits.

My latest twist is rich and decadent, more creamy than fluffy. The flavor reminds me of cake batter. That’s never a bad thing.

Power Pancakes: The Cake Batter Edition

2/3 cup oats, ground into a fine flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons stevia in the raw, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/4 cup milk

Combine the dry ingredients (through salt) in one bowl. Mix the wet in another. Add wet to dry, mix and voila! Batter.

Pour the batter into silver dollar sizes on an oiled griddle or skillet. Cook until you see bubbles on the raw side. Flip, then cook until golden.

You should have two servings of high protein, gluten-free pancakes. Enjoy!