Thursday, May 28, 2009

Picnic Perfect

Picnic season is here in the Pacific Northwest and I couldn't be happier! We've been making the most of sunny days with lots of outdoor meals. I love to pick up little containers of delicious things at the New Seasons deli but that adds up pretty quickly so I'm trying to keep that to a minimum (though their smoky/peppery fromage fort is a new addiction).
When we packed up to celebrate my husband's birthday last weekend, we had so much good food: bread, lentil salad, cheeses, carrot salad, crackers, chips, fresh fruit and a few different spreads and dips (also a fabulous cake--more on that soon). This wildly diverse feast had no particular theme--it ranged from Tex-Mex to Mediterranean and it was all good.
The recipe I want to share with you today is always a huge hit. I was given this recipe years ago by a lovely homeschooling mom who has since, sadly, returned to Texas where this dish is apparently quite common. The recipe she shared for Cowboy Caviar is made with black eyed peas, avocado, tomato, and other tasty additions, along with a liberal splash of Louisiana style hot sauce and the resulting mixture is about the best thing you could ever put on a corn chip. This stuff is crazy good and a snap to make. I hope you'll try a batch soon, ideally on a picnic blanket beneath the shade of old trees on a sunny day. The recipe is here--enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cake, Anyone?

Epicurious just posted thirty top-rated cake recipes. Coconut layer cake? Rum Scented Marble Cake? They all look good, but could anything beat Persian Love Cake? Oh, my!

Chocolate Financiers

Usually when I make meals to take to friends in need, I stick with the tried and true and rarely branch out. But this particular friend, in addition to needing a meal high in iron, also sticks to a gluten free diet. The beef stew was an obvious choice, as was the spinach salad but what about dessert?

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen ages ago. In the weird circularity that it The Interwebz, she pulled the recipe from Gluten Free Girl who pulled it from David Lebovitz. With all those links, I'm not even going to type up the recipe as you should have no trouble looking it up.

And you should. These tasty little bites are worth all of the 5 or 6 minutes you'll spend in prep time. Seriously--these are a snap to make, involving little more than almond meal, cocoa, sugar, butter, and eggs. Almond meal is usually on the shelves at Trader Joe's, but you can also throw blanched almonds in the food processor and make your own.

Your result will be like a mini-brownie, but with a chewy texture and rich, nutty flavor. They're fairly sturdy and should travel well, but none of mine have made it too far as everyone here has hoovered them down immediately. I had to sneak out the batch for my friend under high security.

As for the name--financiers--does anyone out there have any idea where this comes from? I picture serious men in pinstripe suits heading off to the bank, but that just seems so wrong for these tasty treats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dairy Magic

I recently had the opportunity to take a class called Dairy Magic from Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen in which a small group of students met in her home kitchen to learn the secrets of making yogurt, mozzarella, and cream cheese. Classes at Lost Arts Kitchen focus on teaching basic cooking skills to those looking to incorporate slow food traditions into modern life.
I've made mozzarella before but my results aren't always consistent. I haven't made yogurt but I know homemade is delicious. And home made cream cheese sounded absolutely heavenly. I got a few friends together and we all signed up to spend an evening in the kitchen.

Chris gave us a general introduction to the properties of different types of milks and talked about different specialty supplies. Then we began heating milk, straining, scooping, pouring, and tasting. I enjoyed the class immensely but my favorite part was, unsurprisingly, the part at the end where we got to sample our fresh mozzarella on Chris' still-warm-from-the-oven bread with a selection of tasty chutneys. I brought home a stack of recipes, and samples of each thing we made. The cream cheese was absolutely heavenly on Tastebud bagels the next morning.
I've already ordered one of the recommended books and will begin tracking down the culture for the cream cheese soon as that is something I particularly want to make again, perhaps for this year's Shavuot blintzes.

I can't wait to see what's up next on the class schedule for Lost Arts kitchen. I really enjoyed my first ever cooking class and hope to return soon.