a Summer of Food amid Frolics

Hey, here I am.Image

There’s a lot of summer going on between that bun!  (That special sauce can be found here.) 

And so it goes: summer’s flowing humidly by, and there’s just been too much to do and see and eat to spend too much time in front of this laptop.  [Real jobs and the after-work laze may also play a role here.]


There were a few travels. Ann Arbor, MI–you are lucky to have Zingerman’s Deli.  That place is a wonderland for all the epicures among us.  I could cry just standing in front of their cheese counter (why oh why did I not take a photo of all those ripe French cheeses?!?).  They also serve delectable sandwiches on myriad house-baked breads:Image


And Toronto, you’re awesome in so many ways–one of them being your abundance of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants.  Now that’s a great idea!



And now, how about those London Olympic Games?!  I’ve pretty much been a champion couch potato ever since the opening ceremonies, which were celebrated with a Fish and Chips dinner (complete with malt vinegar and mushy peas!), all in British style:Image

…and thanks to Cale for serving up Guinness Floats [coffee ice cream + Guinness].  (We decided to go ahead and cheers all the British Isles.)  Luscious!Image


So, that’s what’s been going on around here–lots of indulging.  Hope you are too, because that summer sun and all those veggies won’t be with us long!

Got some fresh peppers?  Stuff ’em!

Spice Oil

I’ve been experimenting with “blooming” spices in olive oil. This simmering process deepens the flavor of the spices and infuses the oil with all their savory flavors. It’s wonderful!
Spice Oil
(recipe inspired by Bon Appétit)

Simply heat a few tablespoons of oil and add in one half to one teaspoon of each spice (freshly ground is best if you have a spice grinder, though I love coriander seeds whole!). The oil will begin to simmer and make a crackling sound. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and pour the oil into a bowl (scrape all the spice bits in too!). Here are the spices I used:

crushed red pepper flakes
coriander seeds
freshly ground peppercorns
(a colorful mix)

Into the bowl of warm oil, stir a few cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp lemon zest, and fresh lemon juice and salt to taste. This is great drizzled on cooked fish or scallops.

Yesterday, lunch was yellow rice with fresh cilantro and seared tilapia with a generous drizzle of spice oil (both under the rice on the plate and atop the fish). Delicious, bright, and savory flavors!

This oil would also be nice drizzled atop a platter of hummus.

And, spice oil + flat bread = an extremely tasty snack or appetizer!

Grits, Eggs, Warm Bacon-Tomato Relish

I am your brunch, and I am Divine.

Hey you.

Are you an intuitive cook? Me too. Do you think measuring spoons are cute but often find them superfluous? Do your discerning eyes and tongue guide you smartly through your kitchen? Ok, this recipe is for you. This dish is in your future. Make it to taste. But surely, make it, because the combination is such a winner.

–See my previous post for a great grits recipe here.–

1. Start the plate with baked grits. (Hey, maybe you want to use my recipe for Cracked Pepper Cheddar Grits!
2. Top with an egg (poached, fried, heck-maybe even scrambled)
3. Finish with a generous spoonful or two of this Warm Bacon-Tomato Relish.

Warm Bacon-Tomato Relish
a recipe sans measurements
inspired by a dish I adored at the Redbud Café

chopped fresh tomato
chopped red onion
bit of olive oil
chopped cooked bacon or a bit of bacon grease
balsamic vinegar (to taste, a teaspoon or two)
minced garlic
bit of dried thyme

Put everything in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. The tomatoes should still have a bit of bite to them. Serve warm. The tang and acidity make this a great complement to cheesy, creamy grits.

Me and Mom, quite alike but differently adapted.

Cracked Pepper Cheddar Grits

In the past two weeks I’ve received not one but TWO bags of local fresh coarsely-ground corn grits (from different sources). How lucky! More on that later. But first, a simple recipe for cheesy grits to use as a side dish or a base.

These grits have sharp cheddar cheese and a bit of salty Parmesan for perk. I prefer to use a colorful peppercorn mix, but black pepper is fine too. And don’t leave out the bacon grease!

Cracked Pepper Cheddar Grits

serves 4-6

4 cups water
1 cup coarse ground grits (not quick grits)
1 1/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tbsp bacon grease
1 tsp salt
freshly ground peppercorns to taste (black/white/green/red mix is best)

Bring water to a rolling boil, then stir in grits. Reduce heat to a simmer (medium-low), cover with a lid and let grits simmer for about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid lumps. After the first 25 minutes, stir in cheeses and all other ingredients until everything is incorporated smoothly. Let simmer for a couple more minutes. At this point the grits are ready to eat (in the porridge-like form).

For baked grits, pour grits into an oven-safe dish and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

For more solid grits (like polenta), chill cooked grits until firm (overnight, to prepare a day ahead), then bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.

Think of what you could put on top!

Visit my next post to see what I put on top of those grits!

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Bacon-Sesame Brittle

Happy Easter, Happy Spring! It’s sunny out, and I’m barefoot and loving life today!

As a gift this Christmas past, Mom got me a 2-year subscription to Bon Appétit. It’s such a treat to pull a magazine out of the mailbox every month–especially one with gorgeous food inspiration! This Easter day I made these Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes inspired by a recipe from the March 2012 issue. I’ve been thinking about that recipe ever since I laid eyes on the photo and realized those sweet orange potatoes were topped with, basically, bacon candy. That’s just too fun.

Mine looked like this.

So while the potatoes were roasting I cooked up the bacon and set about making the “brittle,” which consists of bacon, drippings, sugar, and sesame seeds. Perhaps I didn’t cook the mixture quite long enough, or the BA writers didn’t explain the process in enough detail–I ended up with sugary candied bacon rather than shiny glossy brittle. But I don’t mean to say at all that the recipe was a flop-oh, no-it was still a grand success! While the texture of the topping is slightly off from what the recipe intended, it’s still an ingenious sugary bacon topping–with added toastiness from the sesame seeds–that makes an exquisite accent flavor for sweet potatoes.

It’s a hit! (that’s a song)

The flavors are great, the textures are fun, and the presentation is just so nice. Go ahead, fancy up your sweet potatoes. And if your brittle turns into candied sesame bacon, fear not, for you have not failed. Just take a bite.

Easter in food, 2012. There in the middle is the only Easter egg I saw today.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Bacon-Sesame Brittle

serves 6 (6 potato halves)
adapted from Bon Appétit

for the brittle:
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (black or white)

(These are the Bon Appétit directions.) Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook chopped bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon begins to crisp. Drain bacon and reserve drippings. Return bacon, 1 tablespoon of the drippings, sugar, and sesame seeds to the same skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar turns the color of milk chocolate, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer mixture to prepared parchment-lined baking sheet and use a spatula to spread out evenly. Let cool, then break into small shards. (As aforementioned, mine wouldn’t spread out into a glossy single layer, but I spread it as best I could. When it cooled I chipped it into smaller pieces.)

for the potatoes:
3 medium sweet potatoes, washed
1 egg
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
dash cinnamon

garnish: 1 green onion (green parts only)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place sweet potatoes (whole) on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until tender, 45-55 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. When cool, slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop most of the flesh from each half into a bowl, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer of flesh inside skins. Mash potato flesh in the bowl with the egg, butter, ginger, salt, and cinnamon–stir until smooth. Spoon or pipe filling back into reserved skins on the baking sheet. Bake potatoes until the tops are lightly puffed and golden brown, 30-35 minutes. To serve, top with bacon-sesame brittle and super thinly-sliced green onion ribbons.

Carrot Curl Salad with Black Sesame Seeds

They sort of look like bugs.

It’s an über-good Friday.

Dad bought himself a new truck, and I realized my family often celebrates with grilled hamburgers. Usually, there are homemade french fries. Tonight we passed on the fries (I think out of laziness).

In a last-minute refusal not to have a fresh vegetable on our meaty plates, I began to make carrot curls. Once you peel away and discard the rough parts of the carrot, keep shaving the clean carrot flesh into little carrot ribbons. It makes for a very pleasing salad when you add a tangy vinaigrette. Crisp. Summery. Delightful.

Black Sesame Seeds have a stronger toasty flavor than white ones, and they add a nice nuttiness to this salad. Some fresh parsley or cilantro would be a nice addition, but alas, it is not summer quite yet and the porch pots are empty.

Throw this together some night, it’s tasty!

Carrot Curl Salad
serves 4 as a side dish

4 large carrots, shaved into ribbons with a carrot peeler
1 heaping teaspoon black sesame seeds
fresh parsley or cilantro, if you have it 🙂

the vinaigrette:
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/8 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1/4 tsp sugar