Thursday, December 25, 2008

Seaside Mac & Cheese “On ‘Da Beach”

I am in The Abacos for the annual holiday sailing vacation where each anchorage or docking puts us just a short dinghy ride away from fruity rum-riddled cocktails, unbelievable fresh grilled fish sandwiches and deep fried delights like conch fritters and grouper fingers (J the BF’s favorite). During our stop in Hope Town, J’s sisters insisted we take a long beach along the beach to a spot they only referred to as “the mac & cheese place”.
After a 20 minute stomp down an incredible stretch of beach, where we encountered no more than 3 other people, we arrived at “On ‘Da Beach”, a non-descript simple beachside bar set atop the dune attached to a small cluster of vacation condos. The menu consisted of basic grilled items (no fry-daddy here), fruity drinks laced with banana rum and an among the available side dishes on the sandwich menu, a mac & cheese option for an additional $3.

Though J the BF and I shared both a cheeseburger and an incredibly delightful jerked wahoo sandwich, we each insisted on our own order of the mac & cheese. Casserole style, the dish is served in big square hunks like a lasagna with multiple layers of almost over-cooked textured large elbow pasta, a rich custardy and cheesy sauce, diced chilis and peppers and covered with a thick layer sharp cheddar cheese on top. The dish had a pleasant heat to counteract the richness. It was an unexpected, but perfect, accompaniment to our cheeseburger in paradise.
J’s youngest sister asked the server for the recipe and, while she happily agreed to write it down for her, we never got a copy. I think I can come close with some modifications to my mom’s recipe, but without the beach, the sun and the sound of the Atlantic, I’m sure it just won’t taste the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ugly Truth of Holiday Baking

I give in to that urge this time of year to drool over pretty pictures of Christmas Cookies hand-wrapped and packaged for thoughtful gifts. Earlier this month, with a stack of recipes in hand and a freshly stocked kitchen full of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, I set out to make those lovely treat boxes I like to hand out as "winter gifts" to my co-workers at this time of year.

In looking at the recipes with their simple mixtures of basics, shaped and formed into magical treats, I fooled myself into thinking - "home-made cookies - easy - no problem." By the end of two straight nights of baking past midnight, I understood why most folks resort to charity gifts or non-descript gift cards as professional gifts. Not as personal or awe inspiring, but it leaves you with a clean kitchen, a full night of sleep and no need to apologize for getting the spice levels wrong. With that, here is my Christmas Eve list of holiday cookies that made it out of my kitchen alive:

Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries - These turn our nice, light and airy and are not at all as dense as a traditional peanut butter cookie. Do not over cook - just get them barely brown.

Spicy Baby Button Cookies - You can add your own seasonings to the powdered sugar at the end to give these cookies your own flair (or spice in my case). I over spiced mine with chipotle chile powder, so I suggest you only use cinnamon if you want some spice added. Give the cookies lots of room on the sheet - they do spread a bit.

Anise Tea Crescents - I've never cooked with Anise as I'm not a licorice fan (which is the predominant flavor in Anise) but these cookies have a sophisticated undercurrent of flavor that allow them to be well received.

Cocoa Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes - My adaptation of a Paula Deen dessert, these cream cheese brownies on steroids have 2 sticks of butter stuffed in 'em, but boy are they good!

Date-Nut Pinwheels - These are from a recipe J the BF's mom gave me for her infamous rich well spiced cookies stuffed with dates, walnuts and lemon zest. The trick to these is ensuring your cookie dough is chilled before rolling them out, your filling is at room temp and that you chill the rolls again before you slice and bake them. She left that last piece of advice off the recipe so my pinwheel ended up being date-nut blobs - tasty though!

Date Nut Pinwheels

Cookies Dough:

2 cup Flour

1 1/2 t Baking Powder

1/2 t Salt

1/2 t Ginger

1/2 t Nutmeg

2/3 c Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 t Vanilla


8oz Pitted Chopped Dates

1/2 Cup Sugar

2 t lemon peel grated

1/2 Cup finely chopped walnuts

1) Combine dry dough ingredients and spices
2) Combine sugar and butter with a stand mixer on medium - add egg and vanilla
3) Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until combined. Chill dough for at least 1 hour
4) Combine filling ingredients (except walnuts) along with 1/2 Cup watter in small heavy saucepan.
5) Heat filling on medium high until thinkened (about 8 minutes) - add Walnuts. Chill to room temperature
6) Divide dough in 1/2 - roll each half into rectangle 8" X 10". Spread with 1/2 each of cooled filling
7) Roll long side of cookies up gently to form logs. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour
8) Slice logs into 1/2 " cookies - bake at 375 until cookies are golden (about 10 minutes)
9) Cool on wire rack or consume as soon as you can handle the cookies without serious burns.

Friday, December 19, 2008

479° - Gourmet Green Popcorn that puts Movie Pop Prices to Shame -

If you think the price of popcorn at the Movies is nuts, check out what $50 bucks will buy you if you are into Haute Snackage.

479° Popcorn is offering the snack in flavors like Black Truffle & White Cheddar, Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt and Fleur de Sel Caramel. They sell these treats in variety packs that range from around $30 to over $50 for "collections". To further substantiate these prices, they tout almost embarrassingly green credentials such as organic local product sourcing, a minimized carbon footprint and "composting religiously".

I wish I had discovered these sooner as they would be a great gift for J the BF's youngest sister who consumes a diet consisting of little more than microwave popcorn and beer. This could be a way to mature her palate and maybe her outlook on life.

I learned about 479° Popcorn in this week's Springwise (a great newsletter & site full of novel product and service ideas from around the world).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Staycation Lunch at Kafe 421

I have all this extra vacation time to burn as we get to the end of the year, so I've been taking advantage of short "staycations." J the BF tells me one of his favorite gurus suggests taking a mid-week day-off once a quarter as a great way to break your frame and open you up to new perspectives. I found this is at least true with places to eat.

This month I've been able to try some spots that have been highly rated but are so off my regular path, I'd never be able to enjoy them in the middle of the day. My first "staycation" was on J the BF's 35th birthday. I took him to Kafe 421 in Dinkytown to give us both a new experience. It was rated #1 best lunch spot by Twin Cities's readers so we went through the trouble of making reservations - it seemed silly for such a casual spot popular for sandwich take-out, but we didn't want to risk wasting the day waiting for a table.

I enjoyed a delicious sandwich called the Lechon - blackened pork tenderloin, grilled onion, roasted peppers, brie, spinach and tarragon aioli on what had to be fresh baked focaccia bread. All I needed was a simple green salad and I was happy. The place had a steady stream of folks coming in for take-out for good reason. The lunch fare is reasonably priced and crosses a broad spectrum of Greek-leaning Mediterranean influences and American comfort food standards so it breaks the frame of your average lunch spot while giving some safety for the ethno-gastronomically challenged (i.e. the meatloaf eaters).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Halleluja - A new site for Food and Wine Mag

I love reading Food and Wine Magazine (my recipe binder is stuffed with clippings from each issue) but hated the website which I found to be clunky and a bit disorganized. They have recently launched a redesign and at first glance, it's a massive improvement.

Check it!

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Thai Twist on boring old Chicken Soup

It is firmly winter in Minnesota which means lots of slush, bitter cold wind and on-again-off-again head colds. There's lots of evidence floating around that chicken soup helps with colds, but I've never been able to get excited about chicken soup. Childhood scars may also have something to do with it.

I was tainted against all forms of chicken soup/broth/stock as a 17 year-old kid when I came down with a violent case of mono that lasted for about 5 months. My throat swelled nearly shut at one point such that the only thing I could consume was chicken stock through a straw. My grandma literally kept a chicken boiling for days and would bring me a "sippy" bottle of clear warm poultry juice every 3 or 4 hours which would be my only sustenance. I couldn't stand the smell of chicken broth for most of my 20s.

16 years later, I believe in using lots of chicken stocks in my cooking (usually store bought boxed broths - Progresso and Kitchen Basics are my favorites). I also love making soup this time of year but that had not extended to making chicken soup until I discovered this version from the folks at Cooking Light. It's a Coconut Curry Chicken Soup that has a light coconut milk base loaded with gentle curry spice, hearty chunks of chicken, tender rice noodles and crunchy snow peas. It gives you a great warm feeling all over and does help fight back those ugly colds. I cut time by using a rotisserie chicken for the meat (I prefer the thigh/leg meat), but you could easily poach a couple of chicken breast fillets with some stock and a bay leaf if you must and shred/chop well before adding to the soup.

J the BF and his assistant loved the left-overs. Be warned - the noodles are slurp worthy and splatter a bit. Don't enjoy while wearing that new over-priced top or over your laptop.

Can you just start where you left off

I am clearly still biting, chewing, and slurping up stuff in places near and far, but have failed to keep my blog up to date. Instead, I've been taking the quick and lazy route of Tweets, foursquare check-ins and BookFace updates to share my passion for things that I can swallow. Can I just start posting to my blog again and keep my 2 - 3 readers even moderately satisfied? We will see - stay tuned!