Friday, July 30, 2010

Mexican Corn Cakes with Shredded Pork

Some days just call out for party food.   Minus the party.

I'm having one of those weeks.  

I don't know if it is the heat or the sharp realization that my wedding is now less than three months away and I'm still casually checking off things on the list.    Well, casually, until I started to panic a tiny bit.    I so don't want to be 'that' bride.    In fact, this was a week where I've questioned, yes, out loud, for the umpteenth time, why on earth we didn't just elope in Italy?    Sigh.

We're so beyond that point now.   BUT...  I suppose this entitles me to a minor breakdown once in awhile. You know the one way venom spewing kind where you kind of feel like you are having an out of body experience and wonder to yourself (internally of course) how you could be annoyed at this man who has done absolutely nothing wrong.   But it doesn't matter, because he just happened to be on the receiving end when the stars aligned and the timing was just right.   He's so good to me.

Note to any family or friends reading this, it's okay, I'm really okay now.   No intervention needed.

Anyway, I'm just a little stressed.   Anxious.   Whatever you want to call it.   And hot.  

It is time for a little fun.   I am done with the temporary insanity bridezilla thing.

Looking at all of the gorgeous pictures in my enormous collection of cookbooks always relaxes me.       So I picked up a lovely Martha book and told myself that Martha would never be acting like me and it was time to pull it together and make something nice and fun and summery.    Sort of an apology and a party all in one happy dish.

I found this recipe in Martha Stewart's "Dinner at Home" and made very few changes.   It is fantastic.   It made us both very happy.    Next time I make this, I will make party size version by downsizing the corn cakes.   Truly perfect party food.  Fun, colorful and really really good.    Kind of like summer comfort food.    

I don't know if this is southern or mexican or southwestern or what, but I do know it is fabulous.    Plus it worked.    Little miss sunshine is back... for the moment.

Mexican Corn Cakes

1 and 1/2 cups masa harina or cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 cups free corn (2 large ears worth)
3/4 to 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 ripe avocado, halved, sliced
Tender Shredded Pork (recipe to follow)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into thin wedges

Mix together masa harina, flour, baking powder and salt.   Stir in cheese and corn.   Keep stirring and add in the water, 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture begins to hold together.

Heat oil in large skillet (cast iron if you have it) until hot but not smoking.    Form corn patties using 1/3 cup mixture.   They should be about 1/2 inch thick.   Repeat forming 8 patties total.  

Fry in two batches, turning once, until golden brown, 4 or 5 minutes per side.    Transfer to paper towels.    Top with avocado, shredded pork, 1 tablespoon sour cream and tomato wedges.   Garnish with cilantro if you'd like.    I ended up topping this with green onion.

Tender Shredded Pork 

1 pound pork tenderloin
4 cups chicken stock
2 small onions, finely chopped
1/2 jalepeno chile (I left this out)
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 dried bay leaf
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Add pork, stock, half the onions, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium saucepan.    Boil.   Reduce to simmer.   Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pork reaches 138 degrees.   This takes about 10 to 15 minutes.   (Note, mine took longer and still was too pink when I removed it, so I chopped it all up and added it back to the simmering liquid for another two minutes.   Perfection.)

Heat broiler.   Remove pork from liquid and cut into 2 to 3 inch long pieces.   Transfer to baking sheet.  Shred and add in remaining onion and mix in butter and oil.   Season with salt and pepper.   Broil pork until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.   Serve warm.

Seriously good.    The pork was juicy and full of warm flavor.    Not greasy.   The corn cakes were actually light.  I was afraid they'd be heavy, but they were light, a little crispy on the outside and bursting with freshness with the corn and feta tucked away inside.    Bright and lush accents with the sour cream, avocado and tomatoes.  A great dish.

I know I shouldn't use food as comfort, but after this weeks temporary craziness, my little party for two worked and that's all that matters!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fear Factor

Someone recently asked me, "What was your biggest fear about traveling by yourself?   What was the scariest part?"

I looked at her, honestly, and said it was all scary.

Here's the thing.   I am a 30 something year old female and up until three months ago, I've never traveled by myself.    Ever.   I have traveled extensively, but always with the comfort of others.    Traveling by yourself is an entirely different ball game, and therefore, it is all scary.   At first.

My friends all looked at me like I was crazy, thinking to themselves and out loud, "Right, so then why'd you choose to do two months alone... in Europe no less where you can't speak the language?"

In hindsight, I'm thinking to myself it is really no big deal, now that I've done it, but I answer with something I've thought quite a bit about.

"What's the worst that could have happened to me?"

Head nodding.   Approval.

Then I say something else.

"Really, so I eat something bad or end up sleeping on the street one night, it's not the end of the world."

The second part really shouldn't have come out of my mouth.   No more head nodding.  

"Seriously?  Sleeping on the street?  Lots of stuff could happen to you."

My sales pitch has fallen flat.   I kind of agree with them.   It could have been bad.  I should have picked another example.   I know full well that bad things can happen.   My brother has a great story about sleeping one night in a train station in Rome and waking up with his backpack, along with passport and any cash he had available, missing.   Cut right off his back.

Ok, so poor example.   The point is, that really, millions of people travel alone.   Many much younger than any of us and the vast majority have lived to tell about it.   More importantly, many, including myself, experienced life changing adventures which really is why you travel anyway.

I bring it back to reality.    "There were definitely a couple of really scary moments.   I was most fearful of traveling from Rome to Paris.  I don't know Paris that well, had no idea where I was and truly can't understand the language.    That day was probably one of my most intense.   Fear, anxiety, the whole thing.   But I survived, and more than that, I loved it."

The thing is, anything new is always a little scary.    I remember having an intense fear of public speaking, but with practice and time, I now rather enjoy it.   Sometimes you just need to jump in with two feet and see what happens.   If we never try, we never learn and if we never learn, really... what's the point?  

I was nervous on my first trip to the market in Rome.    Nervous to buy something.   Afraid I may screw something up.

Here's where you should be asking... "Really, what's the worst that could have happened?" and you'd be entirely right.

Anxiety takes over and until the act is done and you can look back, it is a big deal at the time.  Someone could have laughed at me which would have, at that moment, been the ultimate terror.   Tear inducing.

But that didn't happened.  I fumbled through some pseudo conversation about the use of a bag and left the store victorious.   Proud.   Hmmmm... not so bad.  

I arrive in Paris, post freak out, and what's the first thing I do?  I go to the market.   And I'm not scared.   I don't understand a word the cash register person says to me, but I just nod and smile and she sort of dismisses me.  I don't really care anymore if she's laughing at me.  I did the best that I could.  Something that was really scary for me the first time around is now not a big deal at all.  

Today I was out for my daily walk in the forest.    The heat index had lessened over night and I was excited to breathe some fresh air.   I threw on my black hat that John and I got from friends after the recent Susan G. Komen walk for breast cancer in Raleigh.   The hat means a lot as it signifies a milestone reached by one of our fellow group walkers, a clean statement of health after battling breast cancer for past several years.     The hat is also an awesome hat in itself as it has an extra long brim so it shades my face really well.   It also keeps my eyesight focused on the ground as I walk, somehow making my walks go faster as I don't see the long straight road in front of me.

I also don't see anything ahead of me.   Like the giant six foot long black snake stretched across the entire dirt path today.   I swear it had a beady yellow eye and a forked tongue.   If I were a cat, I would have leaped straight up into the air at the sight of this thing.   I seriously almost stepped on it.   Scariest thing ever.   I am terrified of snakes.   I froze and then I start running furiously, never looking back.

Every day I walk this path.   Some days it is filled with people.  Some days it is just me out there by myself.    I am so comfortable there that I forgot to pay attention.    I don't even ask myself "What's the worst that could happen to me?" because this is such a common part of my life that I don't even think about it.  I'm sure it wasn't a killer snake or anything, but I think you see my point.

So I guess the point of all this rambling today is not to let fear stop you from doing something.   No risk.   No reward.    Just don't get so comfortable that you forget to keep your wits about you.   There will be snakes up ahead in your path.   But there will also be the sweet trio of deer and that tiny little turtle waiting if you persevere.    Happy trails...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sweet and Sour Cucumber Dill Salad

It is hot.  

Like ridiculously crazy insane hot.

Yes, I live in North Carolina.   Yes, I realize that it gets hot in summer.

But seriously... really?   A heat index of 112 is just not fun.   I have been running outside periodically all afternoon dumping glasses of ice water on my wilting herbs on our front porch.    My cat, who normally loves to dart out the door after me when I leave the house, isn't.   She just stands there and sniffs the air and then turns around and goes back inside to sit on a vent.  

I'm really not complaining.  I love heat.   I actually love humidity.   I love summer.  

Except for today.  

I'm thinking about what to whip up for dinner tonight and the thought of cooking makes me a little sick to my stomach.    But I can slice up some cucumbers and splash on some light dressing without breaking a sweat.    Easy.  Fresh.   Just enough effort to make me a little sleepy again on this Sunday afternoon, but not enough to make me want to take a nap.   I'd say that's a success.

Cucumber Dill Salad.   A regular at my summer table growing up.   It was our hot weather side dish.   Perfect with anything from the grill and super refreshing all by itself.

I found this recipe on Epicurious and only made a couple of changes by reducing the sugar and adding onion.    Just like when I was little!

Sweet and Sour Cucumbers with Fresh Dill

2 hot house cucumbers sliced as thinly as you can get them while leaving them in tact
1 tablespoon salt

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

After slicing cucumbers, sprinkle with salt and then let drain in colander for at least 15 minutes.  I usually let this go about a half hour.   When time is up, squeeze excess water out without ruining the cucumber (don't squeeze too hard!)

Make your dressing by combining the vinegar, fresh dill, sugar and pepper.   Taste and adjust accordingly.  

Mix dressing with cucumbers and onion and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.   Serve chilled!

Enjoy and stay cool!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Latin Quarter, A Guilty Pleasure

Why is it that whenever I am here...

I always end up with something like this...

Which are entirely amazing at the time, but then make me grateful for these... 

And then lots of this the next morning... 

Paris, always a little bit of a guilty pleasure and a nice reminder that while generally everything is good in moderation, every once in awhile, a little excess does wonders for the soul. 

PS - For the uninitiated, and also because it is just a bad picture, that pancake-y looking blob above is a crepe.   If you look really closely, you can see a little banana slice poking out through the nutella.   

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Window Shopping in Paris

Window shopping in Paris is seriously an art form.   Actually, I suppose the shop fronts are the art form, and the act of window shopping is just seriously fun.  

It is like the shop owners have a quiet competition going on to outdo each other.    The colors, textures, lighting, props all come together to create gorgeous imagery that is hard to pass by.   I suppose that is the point.    I could spend days, probably weeks if I had the luxury of time, simply strolling past shop fronts admiring all of the fabulousness.    I admit, I did spend quite a few hours in my two weeks in Paris doing just this.

What I love about Paris if you make it beyond the window to an actual purchase, the same care and design go into the process of packaging up your item.    It never matters to me that it takes infinitely longer to finish the transaction.    The art of packaging in Paris is so worth the wait.   I love watching the shopkeepers hands wrap up a tiny little item in beautiful paper and tying it with ribbon and other pretty things.   It makes me feel special, appreciated.   I am silly that way.    

I remember my very first purchase in Paris.   Several years ago on a trip with friends.    We were strolling through Le Marais.   Had just finished our tour of the Musee Picasso (amazing, amazing, amazing, when it is open!).    Browsing shops.   Just having fun girl time.   In one of the shops I found a necklace.   Delicate, pearls strategically placed, very feminine.   So me.   I was really poor at the time but knew I had to have it.    It was so exciting to make that first purchase and even more wonderful to watch it being wrapped up in such a gorgeous fashion.     That necklace and the experience of buying it made such a lasting impression on me and is one of my favorite memories of Paris.

And... there is truly nothing better than coming home from a shopping trip and emptying all of your little packages onto your bed and spending delicious time carefully unwrapping each and every one.   Kind of like your own personal holiday.  I also just love how it doesn't matter how much you spend, you still get the same treatment.   2 euros on some small trinket and it is the same process and experience!   Love it.

I always laugh a little bit when I read the debates on etsy about packaging and whether it is okay to throw an item in some used cereal box with grubby newspaper, slap it all together and send it out to your customer.   I am all about helping environment, trust me, but I'm not about to lose that 'Parisian experience' in the process and I want my customer to feel just a little special on the other end, like they are receiving a gift.   Everything in balance.

Speaking of etsy, it is probably one of my favorite places to 'window shop' online.    Here are some of my latest Paris inspired finds from a recent trip.   Enjoy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Listen To Your Heart

We went to an absolutely amazing and incredibly moving Mary Chapin Carpenter show last night in Durham.    Here are the lyrics from one of our favorites and a couple of random pictures from Rome and Paris to keep you around until we venture back later this week.   Happy Monday!

The Hard Way, by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Show a little inspiration, show a little spark
And show that things that drew me to you and stole my heart
And tell me something I don't know instead of everything I do
And look at me as if I mean something to you
Our hearts are beating while we sleep, but while we're wide awake
You know the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way

Show a little passion, baby, show a little style
And show the knack for knowing when and the gift for knowing how
And have a little trust in us when fear obscures the path
You know we got this far, darling, not by luck, but by never turning back
Some will call on destiny, but I just call on faith
That the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, to what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way

Caught up in our little lives, there's not a lot left over
I see what's missing in your eyes; you're searching for that field of clover
So show a little inspiration, show a little spark
Show the world a little light when you show it your heart
We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard (everything we got, we got the hard way)
Everything we got, we got the hard way
(Because the world won't stop) hang on, baby... 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Candied Maple Bacon Oatmeal Muffins

Special Sunday mornings call for totally decadent outrageously imaginative breakfasts.   One of life's sweetest pleasures.

Even better when you get to share them with someone you love!   This is the first Sunday in a gazillion Sundays that John is not working and we have so many fun things planned.   The only thing is... he's still sleeping.   I believe he will sleep until noon if I let him.   Considering he's been working days and nights for months, I shall allow him this little treat.

Which means I get to play in the kitchen until he wakes up and then we get to eat bed and breakfast style.   Yay!   Minus the 70 year olds.

I was reading on line this morning that men prefer breakfast in bed to bed and breakfast.   Duh.   I think we might actually be a little weird though.   We do enjoy sitting around the table with a bunch of strangers early in the morning on our days off eating fancy little breakfast things.   It is pleasant, civilized.  

Bottom line, if John does happen to make it out of bed today, he will have a fabulous breakfast waiting for him.    Plus a very sunny happy me which is always a good thing.

Check this out... this morning I am perusing and I run across this recipe for Maple Bacon Oatmeal Muffins on FoodBuzz this morning.     A recipe inspired by imagination... gotta love that.

But better yet, listen to these ingredients.   Bacon.   Oatmeal.   Maple.

How can I not try this?   I gave it my own little spin too.   I have had in the back of my mind forever that someday I must try candied bacon.   The kind you slather in sweet stuff and bake in the oven until it turns into CANDIED BACON.   Totally crazy.  

So here's the recipe...  adapted slightly from Hot Polka Dot's very own Love Muffin:  Bacon Maple Oatmeal

3 packages instant maple brown sugar oatmeal
1 1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 strips candied bacon, cooked, chopped

Note:   I made the bacon first.   Basically just put down five pieces on a baking sheet.   Preheated oven to 350 degrees.   Painted each strip with a thin layer of maple syrup.   Sprinkled each with sugar.    Put it in oven for ten minutes.   Flipped them.   Sprinkled more sugar on second side.    Baked for another five minutes or so.   I let them cool and then crumbled it up into candied bacon goodness.   Yes, I ate some too.   How can you not?

Back to the real recipe,

1.   Keep the oven on 350.   Fill muffin tin with liners.  I used the gorgeous little silver liners that I've had sitting around since a time when some friends and I had the brilliant idea to open our own dog bakery.   Needless to say, I still had them available.
2.   Mix the packages of oatmeal with the milk and let it sit for 5 minutes.
3.   In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
4.  Add the egg, sugar, maple syrup and butter to the liquid mix.
5.   Gently stir in the flour mixture to the liquid mixture.   Add the bacon.
6.  Pour liners 3/4 the way full.   Bake in oven.   About 20-25 minutes.

If John ever wakes up, I'll let you know how they turn out.   They smell FANTASTIC though.   This alone may get him downstairs.

On another note, I think I need to put a picture of my wedding dress on the fridge as incentive to stop eating like this.    Now that we have a date in mind, I suppose I need to cut back a bit.

Wishing you a fabulous Sunday filled with yummy breakfast with loved ones.   Or if you are sitting in the kitchen, by yourself, drinking tea and hanging out with your cats while the sweet smell of candied maple bacon wafts through the house, that's fine too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cherry Pie Day

This is one fabulous pie.    In the most simplistic and yummiest way possible.   And since we've all been soooo good this week, I think we definitely deserve a little dessert heading into the weekend.

I have to confess this is only my second attempt at a pie in my entire life.    The first attempt, a well intentioned blueberry pie with cornmeal crust, just recently actually, didn't quite live up to expectation.   It tasted really really good but looked horrid.  I massacred the crust.  Wow.   It was not attractive.  I like things to look pretty.  

I also like a good challenge.    I figure I should learn how to make a pie so that when I'm old and grey and my future children talk about how wonderful their mother was they can say things like "Remember that fabulous pie we used to have?" and other similar glowing comments.  

I've been combing through recipes on blogs like crazy and was so super thrilled when I saw one that seemed so easy that it would be perfect for my next try.    And it was a cherry pie too.   And I had cherries already in my possession waiting for me to do something with them.    Yesterday was therefore deemed cherry pie day.  

PS - I love my life.   Cherry Pie Day.   A year ago, the thought would have never crossed my mind.

Back to the recipe.   I found it on a wonderfully entertaining and lovely blog, Zoom Yummy by Petra.

Check out the recipe here.

Look at that ingredient list!   Short and sweet.    And who doesn't love cherries?

The crust was incredibly simple to make.   I was momentarily horrified by the massive amount of butter I threw into my little machine, but once it started blending and the butter turned into a lovely pile of dough, I forgot all about it.   If you don't see it, it must not exist.   Sometimes that is a good philosophy.

Once I blended it all up and rolled it into a nice little circle, I threw it into the fridge to 'chill'.   Took all of maybe five minutes to bring it together.  

With the dough relaxing, it was on to the cherries.    I seriously need to invest in a cherry pitter.   I didn't think hand pitting three cups of cherries would be all that bad.    It was definitely do-able, but just really messy and time consuming.   My kitchen looked a tiny bit like a crime scene with me as the guilty party. It was kind of a soothing task, mindless chopping away, but just plain messy.  

After chopping up all the cherries, it was on to making the filling.   Unbelievably simple.  I had no idea it would be this easy.   Cook the cherries in water, throw in some cornstarch and sugar, and mix until properly thickened.    Gorgeous color and fun to sample as it reached the appropriate state.   That's it.  Filling done.

Dough is ready for me now.   This is the part I was most terrified of.   Last time I tried this, I started rolling out the dough and it just kept tearing apart.   Then once I thought I might have a sheet, I attempted to add it to the pie plate where it completely disintegrated.   It had some sort of meltdown and forgot to act like dough.  This was so disheartening.  

This time around I approached it with a little more patience.   Carefully rolling out the dough, using flour when appropriate and my favorite tip of all, curling up over the rolling pin and laying gently into the plate.   No casualties.   At this point, I was feeling pretty impressed with myself.

The recipe has some awesome instructions on how to make a lattice crust.    I wasn't sure I would attempt it when I started, but my confidence told me I could do it.     I tried to photograph the steps along the way, but really, you should just look at the one's in the original recipe.    They are perfect.   It was fun, and seriously easy too!   I was so happy with how it turned out.  

My fiance came home and looked at it and said, "Now that is a pie".  Yay!

The recipe called for 45 minutes in the oven, but for some reason, mine didn't cooperate.   I left it in another half hour or so until the top started to brown and all of the yummy cherry juice started to bubble up through the lattice.

Isn't it beautiful?

And it tasted even better.   Not too sweet at all.   Perfect cherry.   Good flaky crust.     You simply must try this recipe.  

And since the pie was so good to me, I figured it deserved a little ice cream as a reward.   Not just any ice cream, but the creamiest, sweetest tahitian vanilla bean gelato.   A perfect match.  


Next week I'll be taking you back on my European adventure with me.   I have been procrastinating telling you the rest of my story, but I think I am ready now!

Happy Pie-Day!   Wishing you all a wonderful happy summer weekend ahead!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grilled Pizza with Italian Sausage

Grilled pizza is kind of like the epitome of summer for me.    It is easy, colorful and fresh.    What's not to love?   The preparation is actually also an incredibly fun social activity if you get others involved.     Perfect for informal evening parties or family gatherings on the deck.

This is one of those foods that brings back deep memories of growing up in New Hampshire.   My mother went through a grilled pizza phase for a couple of summers.  Once you get the basics down, this is a perfect food for experimenting with and it is so flexible since everyone can choose their own toppings.    I remember those summer evenings like they were yesterday.   So much fun.  While summer in New England isn't long, those perfect summer days and nights are truly memorable.

One other note on this, if you've been following me around since Italy, you'll also know that I am a huge fan of super thin crispy pizza, the kind that can only be achieved in ovens heated to a gazillion degrees.   I have found that while not exactly the same, I can achieve a similar effect on the grill.   Super high temps help crisp the dough and prepare for toppings and it imparts a lovely smokiness that adds so much flavor and depth.

I found this recipe on   One of my favorite sites for browsing (aka time wasting).  If you search for grilled pizza, you'll find a bunch of recipes, but I'd start with this one because it is so amazingly fantastic.    It is honestly not hard, even though the instructions look super long.     I'd also encourage you to make this exactly as noted.  I have a tendency to change things around, but this recipe is seriously perfect as is.    Oh, and the fresh rosemary in here is outstanding, it really makes a difference.

Grilled Pizza with Spicy Italian Sausage

I will confess to one small variation.   We substituted mild for spicy sausage.   I love spicy.   John doesn't.   I've learned to compromise when needed!

Oops, actually two.  I used cherry tomatoes since we had those available.

John and I made this together.  I made the dough and prepped all the fun and colorful ingredients.   He was in charge of the grilling activity.   Everything came together just beautifully.

It is a gorgeous dish to look at with all of the color and contrast.     The flavors are also a perfect balance of sweet, smoky, fresh and tangy.    We looked at each other after the first bite and literally almost did a happy dance in the kitchen.  

Love, love, love this recipe.    Definitely a summer keeper, although next time we'll invite friends over for a fun evening.   Lots of versatility with wine pairing too.   This would be perfect with a crisp pinot grigio or lightly sweet rose or even a chianti to pick up the smokiness in the sausage.  

Bon Appetit!