Monday, June 30, 2008

Grandma's Other House is a place to which you can raise your glass

There is a place in South Carolina, about an hour south of Myrtle Beach and an hour north of Charleston, called Garden City Beach. There is a woman my mom knows who owns a condo where Garden City Beach meets the Atlantic. There is a family -- mine -- that has been going down there every summer for at least 12 years to spend time on the beach relaxing, lounging, playing bocce, swimming and perhaps imbibing in a piña colada or two or more. And there are two young boys -- my nephews -- who refer to this vacation destination as "Grandma's Other House," even though Grandma has not ever and does not currently own it.

Grandma's Other House is a place to which you can raise your glass.

I look forward to the yearly pilgrimage to Garden City Beach because it is one of those vacations that does not ask anything of the traveler. No plans. No tours or activities or museums. The only activity that could possibly be construed as "scheduled" is that time around 4:00 p.m. when we all gather on the lanai to watch this rickety old "party boat" go by, so that we can point at it and laugh like hyenas.

If you want to sleep until noon, you can sleep until noon. If you want to watch "Days of Our Lives," you can watch "Days of Our Lives."

(That's "Days" up episode that ran during that boring Lucas-is-married-to-Carrie-and-Austin-is-engaged-to-Sami-but-really-Sami-is-lying-about-Carrie's-and-Austin's-supposed-genetic-incompatibility-that-would-result-in-an-unhealthy-baby-and-that-is-the-only-thing-keeping-them-apart-because-they-are-soul-mates-but-Sami-wants-Austin-for-herself storyline. That's a Bloody Mary on the table.)

If you want to sleep all afternoon and then go to Wal-Mart (hi, Dad!), you can sleep all afternoon and then go to Wal-Mart. If you want to bury your husband in the sand, you can bury your husband in the sand. If you want to watch people set off fireworks from the beach in a manner that is likely to cause bodily injury, you can watch people set off fireworks from the beach in a manner that is likely to cause bodily injury.

Vacationing at Grandma's Other House is the ultimate in what my family likes to call, "doing strictly." Which is to say, doing strictly what you want with no judgement, no one to whom you must answer. (Unless you are my husband, in which case you will be expected to do what I want to do, at least most of the time.)

Several years ago our friends Amy and Jeff joined us at the beach. No strangers to a good time, Any and Jeff fit right in with the general atmosphere of jackasserie and relaxed foolishness. Indeed, we have them to thank for one of the most enduring jokes to emanate from our South Carolina vacations.

To get to the strip of condos on the beach, you must turn off the main north-south thoroughfare (Hwy. 17) and cross an area of low-country marshland. At that turn, right next to the Kroger parking lot, there is a small farm stand that has been in operation at least as long as we've been visiting the area. They sell sweet corn, strawberries, peaches -- just about what you'd expect from a farm stand in the middle of summer. They also sell bags of ice. The hand-painted wooden sign that advertises the ice stood out to Amy the first time she saw it:


Bag ice, no space. In big red capital letters.

She turned to me and Mom and said, "Bagice? [she pronounced it, "Bag-eechay] Sounds interesting." Never one to miss an opportunity, I replied, "Bagice. It is an Italian vegetable, a Ligurian staple." I do not know why I said this, why that particular Italian region popped into my mind. But needless to say, that is how my brain works -- my mind is a strange place. "That Ligurian staple, bagice" became a recurring joke throughout the trip; indeed, the phrase persists to this day. I have a sense that we will keep laughing about this long past the time when any of us can remember the joke's origin.

(I know that perhaps you had to be there to enjoy fully this anecdote, but bear with me, here, as this story inspired the addition of one hell of a cake to my recipe box.)

Ever since that week, if/when I find a recipe that is credited as being traditionally Ligurian, I must cook or bake it. I must present it to my family, and Amy and Jeff, if only to get a laugh. The recipe that follows, however, is no laughing matter -- it is seriously delicious. I found it one day when I was searching for a not-too-sweet cake involving fruit for Dad's birthday. The name of the cake jumped off the screen: Ligurian lemon cake. I knew this dessert was destined to become a regular part of my baker's repertoire.

Ligurian lemon cake does not contain any bagice, but does call for 2/3 of a cup of extra-virgin olive oil, as well as nearly a stick of butter. Somehow -- even with all that fat -- the freshness of the lemons and the juicy sweetness of the whole raspberries suspended throughout the crumb are able to elevate the finished confection to a very light and airy place. The meringue on top is a surprising and tasty way to finish the cake, adding another layer of sweetness and texture to the dessert.

Though you might not be able to track down any bagice, do find yourself some of the finest fruit summer has to offer, bake yourself this wonderfully bright cake and toast Liguria. And South Carolina.



Adapted from "Martha Stewart Living"

The meringue topping on this cake is technically optional, but it adds such a wonderful textural dimension that I'd advocate for including it. If, however, you wish to focus on the tart lemony elements of the cake or if you like things a little less sweet, go ahead and omit the meringue -- it does bring quite a bit of sugar to the party.

If you so desire, you can decorate the top of the cake with more raspberries or other fresh mixed berries -- or if you'd like a more rustic-looking dessert, you can just leave well enough alone. But with all the scrumptious berries making their grand entrances at the farmers' markets, maybe you can't resist the extra frill....

The lemon cake can be made a day in advance. Store the cooled cake, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Make and apply the meringue shortly before serving.

For the cake:

7 T. unsalted butter, melted

1 3/4 c. flour

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1 c. sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

4 eggs, room temperature

3 T. whole milk, room temperature

1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice

2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1 pint fresh raspberries

For the meringue:

1 egg white

1/2 c. granulated sugar

Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Mixed berries, such as raspberries, strawberries or blueberries (optional)

Make the lemon cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 10-inch round cake or springform pan, dust with flour and tap out any excess. Alternatively, spray the pan with that new-fangled Pam for baking that includes flour. Since I am a trifle lazy, I find the Pam is much simpler to use (obviously), and the cake slides out of the pan effortlessly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Place the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate the two ingredients together until the sugar is moist, grainy and has absorbed as much of the zest as possible. Return the bowl to the mixer.

Using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs into the sugar-zest mixture on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on the lowest speed, and still using the whisk attachment, beat in the milk. Add the flour mixture and beat until it is incorporated. Add lemon juice, melted butter and olive oil; mix until blended, stopping the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Pour about one-third of the batter into the prepared pan. There should be just enough batter to form a thin, even layer; use a rubber spatula to distribute gently the batter across the bottom of the pan. Arrange the raspberries on top of the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the raspberries and use a rubber spatula to spread the batter so that it runs down between the berries, just covering them. (The top layer of batter will be relatively thin.)

Bake the cake until it's golden brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan, and until a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 35-50 minutes. The baking time can vary based on the type of pan you're using, so be sure to keep an eye on it, testing every five minutes or so until the skewer comes out clean. I use a springform pan and it takes about 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and immediately unmold it onto a wire rack. Invert the cake so it is right-side up and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, you can wrap and store it for serving the next day, or you can proceed with the meringue.

Prepare the meringue by first preheating the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the cooled cake on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet; set aside.

In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg white to soft peaks. (Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer for this step -- in fact, I find it easier considering you're only beating one egg, which doesn't provide a lot of volume, and sometimes the KitchenAid whisk attachment doesn't "reach" all the way to the bottom of the bowl. One of the few design flaws of an otherwise perfect machine!) Add the sugar to the egg white in a slow, steady stream; continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Using a metal off-set spatula or a spoon, immediately spread the meringue in a thin layer over the top of the cake. Using a fine wire-mesh sieve, dust the meringue with confectioner's sugar.

Bake the cake until the meringue is lightly browned. about 4-6 minutes. Garnish the cake with mixed berries, if you so desire.

Serves 10-12.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Several delicious-looking recipes

I know, I know. This month I am having trouble keeping up with the considerable demands of food blogging. You see, June is ridiculous at work -- we have major public programs and fundraising events each weekend this month, which means a lot of preparation and a lot of extra hours and a lot of "other duties as assigned." Combine that with the fact that I'm trying to get the gardens in at home, working desperately to cultivate healthy tomato plants, "supervising" a stream of painters and demolition contractors, fighting an endless battle with invasive weeds on our property, driving the pup to and fro her many veterinary appointments, updating my Facebook status, training for a 5K, taking horseback riding lessons and making sure to catch "The Soup" each week and...well...something had to give.

It's too bad that this dear forum had to suffer. Excuses, excuses.

Today I am taking the easy way out. I'd like to share another entry from my 2004 Australia diary, into which I transcribed several delicious-looking recipes from "Delicious" magazine. I wrote this on the day I left Sydney for home -- always a sad day, no matter how many times I travel to Australia. Not that I don't like coming home. I love coming home. But I hate leaving, too. Pity that I cannot somehow live in two places at once. You'd think by now we'd have the technology for that.

Wednesday, 28 April 2004

Going home is such a pain in the ass. Well, not going home, per se, but traveling home. When it's time to go, I just want to be there, already.

We leave very early for the airport, as I take in a final glimpse of the sights around me -- the house, the Loggy, the signs leading to the M4, the Panthers Club with Krispy Kreme. It's a pretty quiet trip to the airport, and so poetic that the song playing on WSFM as we pull into the international terminal car park is Men At Work's "Land Down Under." Although I'm sure this song is played at least as often as "Cleveland Rocks" is in Ohio, I still think it is some sort of romantic poetic sign.

Inside the airport, after checking my overweight-but-no-problem luggage, we have a quick coffee before saying farewell. The goodbye is, naturally, easier than it used to be, although I am hoping very desperately that another 13 years don't pass before I see them again. [Indeed: I was to return the following year on my honeymoon, and Kerrie and Greg are traveling to the U.S. to visit us this coming August!]

The flight is full, unpleasantly. I sit next to a very friendly older couple from Perth, whose friendliness is the only reason I don't come to blows with them over constant elbowing as I'm trying -- unsuccessfully -- to sleep. Not a surprise. The flight east always sucks.

I watch "Big Fish" and "Love Actually" and listen to my new You Am I CD and Wilco's "Summerteeth" over and over again. What else can I say? We land at LAX and I call Mom, Dad and Husband. The American accent is jarring -- it's amazing how accustomed one becomes to the Australian accent in just two short weeks. I kill the requisite three hours before my flight to Cleveland, but only after the customs official doesn't believe that it's my passport. Not very welcoming; I am glad, finally, when he lets me go. I'd hate to be on their wrong side. I sleep the entire flight to Cleveland, waking up over Toledo.

I watch the shoreline of Lake Erie as we land, and think of the edges of land I've seen during this one long day -- where Australia meets the Pacific, precipitously, south of Sydney; where the Pacific meets California in a smoggy foggy haze; where Lake Erie starts its inland sea expanse reaching north to Canada. I like the edges of things -- that something so large as a continent just ends somewhere, gets to a place where it can't be anymore. And then, somewhere far away, the land can start again. And I get to see all of it from my plane window. It makes the world seem a little smaller, my beloved Australia(ns) a little closer -- that if you just go far enough, the water will end and the same land will reappear.

*More recipes from "Delicious"*


Adapted from "Delicious" magazine

The roasted olives are pungent and citrusy; the marinated Pecorino is somehow creamy and spicy. These two super-easy recipes are great as cocktail party snackies, appetizers or just general treats for eating at any time. Like I need to tell you when and how to eat things.

Roasted olives

1/4 c. olive oil

6 large or 8 medium-sized garlic cloves, skin on, lightly crushed with the side of a knife

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, bruised

2 c. Kalamata olives (or other oil-packed gourmet olive such as Moroccan or Greek)

4 strips of lemon rind

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place all ingredients in a baking dish and toss to combine. Roast for 20 minutes.

After removing from the oven, smash the garlic cloves with the back of a spoon to release some of the roasted garlic. Stir the mixture together and serve warm.

Serves 12.

Marinated Pecorino

9 oz. Pecorino cheese, roughly chopped into similar-sized pieces

1 garlic clove, peeled, crushed and minced

2 T. green onions, split in half length-wise and finely chopped

1 t. dried red chili flakes (or to taste)

1/2 c. olive oil

2 t. fresh oregano, finely chopped

1/4 t. freshly-cracked black pepper

Warm crostini, to serve

Before processing the Pecorino, roughly chop it into pieces that are of similar size. This helps the cheese process evenly. Pulse the Pecorino in a food processor until the pieces are about the size of peas.

Place the Pecorino in a medium-sized bowl with the garlic, green onions, chili flakes and olive oil. Stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours, longer if possible. If you're going to let it marinate for longer than 2 hours, I recommend placing the bowl in the refrigerator. Then, allow the mixture to come back up to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Slice a baguette or other crusty white bread on the bias into pieces about 1/2' thick and toast the bread. Just before serving, add the oregano and black pepper to the Pecorino mixture and stir. Spoon about 1/2 T. of the Pecorino mixture atop each piece of bread and serve while the bread is still warm.

Serves 12 in an appetizer-like setting. Personally, I can eat just about the whole bowl, but at a cocktail party I might be more reserved. Maybe.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The kind of place you want to be in June

As any regular reader of this space knows, I grew up in a wonderful kitchen full of creative recipes, memorable meals and parents who were skilled and imaginative cooks. My life is full of many blessings for which I thank Mom and Dad; chief among them is the ability and desire to experiment in the kitchen. As often as Mom was trying a new recipe or lovingly preparing a tried-and-true favorite, Dad was braiding a loaf of homemade bread or shelling Texas pecans or baking a pie. That kitchen was (is!) a glorious place and the positive effect all that chopping and sautéing and kneading had on my life is immeasurable.

Even so, nobody is marvelously innovative and culinarily adventurous all the time. Which is to say, from time to time Mom got into ruts. Every so often she would find a new recipe that really hit the spot, and then we'd eat it seemingly night after night and serve it to each and every guest that darkened our doorstep. First there was a recipe for chicken wrapped in phyllo. Everyone in a 20-mile radius sampled those little savory parcels. Then came chicken in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. You would have thought sun-dried tomatoes were the vegetal equivalent of the second coming. Finally there were the black bean tostadas with goat cheese, which Mom served on the same plates each time -- gorgeous blue Bybee fluted pie plates that my family affectionately nicknamed "dog dishes."

The phyllo and sun-dried tomato chicken dishes will make their way to this blog in due time, but today I will focus on the black bean tostadas. They are bright and flavorful and colorful -- perfect for enjoying on a June evening.

This recipe is from the June 1992 issue of "Bon Appetit." The tostada is featured on the cover, beckoning the reader to welcome summer with some spicy beans, tangy goat cheese, grassy cilantro and zesty lime. When she saw the issue, Mom was smitten. She placed the magazine on her pull-down recipe holder underneath the microwave and there it has stayed -- 16 years at her fingertips. I am tempted to say that so much has changed since we first started cooking this dish, that the recipe itself and those blue dog dishes are constants in a dynamic world, but as I think about it, that's not true. In June 1992 I was thinking mostly about Australia: I had been an exchange student there in 1990 and returned in the summer of '91 to visit my host family again. I still think mostly about Australia: how much it rules, how and when I am going to get back there. And my host family is coming to visit us this summer! In 1992 there was a Bush in the White House and a young, slick Democratic hopeful with his eye on the job. INXS was popular. OK, two out of three ain't bad.

In truth these beauties are salads built upon a foundation of tortilla. The ratio of toppings to corn tortilla is way off, in a good way. So grab a knife and fork and dig in. The mix of taste and texture in this dish is legendary: jalapeños add a kick to the beans, radicchio contributes a slight bitterness that adds contrast to the dish, the marvelous cumin laced throughout the beans and chicken ushers in a wonderful smokiness, the goat cheese offers a tangy dimension, the avocado is rich and creamy and plays very nicely with the sharp acidity of the lime juice, the crisp fried corn tortilla brings a tasty crunch...and the cilantro! Yes, bright, happy cilantro. The cilantro elevates the dish to a light, fresh place. The kind of place you want to be in June.

Black bean and goat cheese tostadas should enjoy their rightful place in your recipe box. Just don't blame me if you cook them so often that your friends and family start to make fun of you.


Adapted from "Bon Appetit"

For the salsa:

2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped

1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 c. olive oil

2 T. freshly-squeezed lime juice

1-2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced (or to taste)

1 large avocado, diced

Kosher salt to taste, about 1/4 t.

For the salad:

4 c. romaine, sliced into bite-sized pieces

1 medium head of radicchio, sliced into bite-sized pieces

1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 c. olive oil

1 T. freshly-squeezed lime juice

Kosher salt to taste, about 1/4 t.

Freshly-cracked black pepper to taste, about 1/4 t.

For the beans:

2 T. olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced (or to taste)

1 t. chili powder

1 t. cumin

2 15-oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

2 T. freshly-squeezed lime juice

For the chicken:

2 T. olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4" chunks

1 1/2 t. chili powder

3/4 t. cumin

Kosher salt to taste, about 1/4 t.

Freshly-cracked black pepper to taste, about 1/4 t.

For the rest:

Vegetable oil

6 corn tortillas

1/2 lb. goat cheese, crumbled

6 fresh cilantro sprigs

Make the salsa, which can be done up to 2 hours ahead, covered and refrigerated. Combine the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice and jalapeño chiles in a medium bowl. Season with salt to taste, about 1/4 t. Add the avocado to the salsa just before serving.

Combine the romaine, radicchio and cilantro leaves in a bowl to make the salad. Add the olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and toss.

Prepare the black beans. Heat the olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the red onion and jalapeños and cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the chili powder and cumin; combine and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the black beans and the lime juice. Cook until the mixture is heated through, stirring and slightly mashing the beans with the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Note: the beans can be prepared up to 1 day in advance; just cover and chill.

While the bean mixture is cooking, make the chicken. Heat olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder and cumin; stir to combine. Cook for another 1-2 minutes to finish cooking the chicken and warm the spices. Remove from heat.

Pour vegetable oil into a heavy medium skillet to a depth of about 1/4". Heat the oil over medium heat until it just begins to smoke. Add the tortillas, one at a time, and cook each until it's crisp, about 30 seconds per side. Drain on paper towels or on a rack set over a baking sheet.

If you've made it significantly ahead of time, re-warm the black bean mixture over low heat, adding about 2 T. of water to thin if necessary.

Place one tortilla on each plate. Spread with a few spoonfuls of the bean mixture, then sprinkle with just over one ounce of goat cheese (about 2 T.). Top with about 1/2 c. of the salad mixture, 4 oz. of chicken, 1/4 c. of the salsa and a fresh cilantro sprig.

Makes 6 tostadas. I feel like I should mention that the avocado salsa is outstanding outside of this recipe as well. It's great as a topping for tacos, or as a dip for a big, salty batch of corn chips. I make it often just to have around -- it is so delicious and fresh-tasting.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Welcome, blessed warm months

I am almost embarrassed to post this "recipe," for it is not a recipe at all. But then I think of Rachael Ray -- and how many of her "recipes" aren't recipes at all -- and then I think about how she has created a media empire for herself based on these "recipes," and then I start to believe that the "recipe" in this post is worth publishing, after all.

Grilled corn on the cob. Happy June!

Though this is more of a method than a recipe, this deliciously simple corn has become a favorite among my family and friends. Rumor has it my uncle-in-law in Wyoming even craves it. So I feel it is my duty to share this yummy corn with you all to mark the happy occasion of the beginning of summer.

The trick with this recipe is not to skimp. Don't cut back on the butter. Don't use margarine. Don't reduce the amount of salt. Be liberal with the black pepper. Don't be afraid to keep it on the grill long enough to develop a nice smoky char. You want a pleasing balance of salty, peppery juices mingling with the sweetness of the butter and the corn itself, punctuated by the occasional blackened, grill-marked kernel. I know a lot of people prefer to grill corn while it's still in the husk, but I find that shucking the ears first, then wrapping them in aluminum foil allows the corn to cook more rapidly and lets the kernels obtain some of that amazing it's-really-summer-now color that can only be achieved on the grill. Cooking them in the husk is really steaming them -- and steaming is no fun whatsoever when compared to grilling.

I like this corn so much that I often bypass the other food items grilled alongside it, and just fill up on corn on the cob. Though tonight I did enjoy a piece of chicken sausage with spinach and feta cheese -- but the corn was still the centerpiece of the meal. The six ears that I grilled were gone before I had a chance to sit down at the table, it seemed.

It's not summer without this corn. And even though corn is not yet at the peak of its season, give this recipe a try just as soon as your grill is uncovered, propaned or charcoaled up and ready to go. Then try it again later in the summer when you can stock up on the sweetest ears imaginable at the local farmers' market. Then, after that, make some more -- because you can always cut the cooked kernels off the cob and freeze them. These little grilled gems of summer will make you so happy when you defrost them sometime in December.

So! Welcome, blessed warm months. You've already made me forget about the snow.



I've written this recipe for 8 ears of corn. Of course, you can make it for 1 ear, or 100. Just use 1 T. butter, 1/8 t. kosher salt and 1/8 t. black pepper per ear of corn. It's that simple.

8 ears of corn

8 T. butter

1 t. kosher salt

1 t. freshly-cracked black pepper

Remove the husks from the ears of corn. Tear off 8 sheets of aluminum foil roughly 12" long each.

Place one ear of corn on a sheet of aluminum foil. Top with 1 T. butter, 1/8 t. kosher salt and 1/8 t. freshly-cracked black pepper, or to taste. Tightly roll the corn in the foil, somewhat like a burrito. Repeat for each ear of corn.

Place the aluminum-wrapped ears on a preheated grill and cook, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Allow enough time on the grill for the foil to discolor in some places, which indicates that the corn inside has browned nicely.

Remove from the grill, carefully unwrap the foil and serve! I am feeling sheepish about this non-recipe, but trust me. You'll never want to cook corn any other way again.

Makes 8 delicious ears of corn.