Friday, December 31, 2010

"so this is it then?"

the best food of 2010 
the song: "Rill Rill" Sleigh Bells

As you may or may not know, I keep a meticulous record of what I eat. For example, I can tell you that the last meal I ate in 2009 was an open faced spinach and mushroom grilled cheese and sweet potato fries with Dogfish Head Red & White. I've been keeping this list for more than a year, recording every dinner no matter how embarrassing. This is not some crazy calorie counting thing. I do it to remind myself how lucky I am. 

I've spent some time looking back at the past year of food and have come to the simple conclusion that I eat really really well. In the spirit of end of the year lists (do you love 'best of' lists like I do?) I am sharing some of my favorite meals of 2010. 

First of all, things I cooked! I do that a lot, you know. These aren't in any particular do you compare chili and cookies?...but if I had to list a top recipe, it would be homemade vegetable broth. It is the reason I included 2 soups on this list.

Top Ten Recipes of 2010

*I haven't written about these! But it doesn't mean I love them any less. 

Now, meals I didn't cook. We eat out quite a bit but honestly it takes a lot for a restaurant meal to impress me. Don't get me wrong...I love eating out. I'd eat Alamo burgers and pizzas 5 nights a week with a smile on my face. But when a meal makes me think " did they do this?" it carves out a special little spot in my brain and earns a place on this list.

Top 5 Restaurant Meals of 2010

5. Pizza from Fireside Pies. Woah, woah. I'm starting this off with a (very small) chain restaurant? A DFW chain restaurant? Yes, my friends, it's true. For my step dad's birthday, we visited the newly opened Fireside Pies in Fort Worth. My socks were knocked off. Fresh herbs sit in glasses of water on the counter of the open kitchen that is the center of the restaurant. Our waiter enthusiastically informed us about 2 different types of cheeses I'd never tasted before. Also, they have handmade buttered noodles.

4. Bean & Cheese Breakfast Taco from Mi Madres. Sure, I could do this one myself. But Mi Madres does simple and delicious so well. It is important to understand this meal always includes at least one basket of salty, greasy chips with peppery salsa and three to four cups of coffee. Being so close to this place is one of the many benefits to east Austin livin'. Promises of this meal have gotten me out of bed when little else would. Plus, it costs somewhere around $3.

3. Bagel and Lox from Russ and Daughters. Is it cheating to include New York food? These lox were life changing. I say that without a hint of exaggeration. It raised my standards. It made me think $10 for a bagel was a bargain.

2. Red Snapper from Olivia. Oooooh-livia. I love this place so much. The building is beautiful, the food is exceptional, and the service is awesome. Olivia is the least surprising thing on my list, because last year it was listed as one of the best places to eat in America. I concur.

1. Beet Fries from East Side King. I list this as my number one for several reasons. First, everytime this is my dinner it means I have had an excellent time drinking beer at The Liberty with my friends. I love this bar. I love my friends that love this bar. And I love that my go-to late night drunky pants food is beet fries with kewpie mayo from a food trailer. Self, you have arrived.

Happy New Year from the bottom of my well-fed little heart! May 2011 bring even more deliciousness and happy times.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

"i gotta keep my balance"

the song: "Tightrope"* Janelle Monae

Hello hello! Long time no see. I hope everyone had a merry and bright holiday. While I was visiting family, the same question came up more than once:

"Are you going to keep blogging?"

*Sigh* I have been so neglectful of this little space on the internet as of late. I blame Facebook. I knew there was a reason I avoided it for so long. My posts have become fewer and further between since I joined in July. My words don't flow like they used to. I'm too busy now thinking of short and witty comments, it seems. So...right now, this very minute, I resolve to stop thinking in status updates in 2011. I want to get back to writing and creating and celebrating. Expect more words from me next year. 
My 2010 has been a year of big changes, overwhelming gratitude, admiration, and self reflection. It hasn't all been pretty. Some of it has been downright confusing. But overall it has been a great year for me. 

Last year, I resolved to be fearless. This year, I hope to find balance. Balance between noise and quiet. Happiness at home or on an adventure. I want to welcome whatever life may bring next with poise and resolve. Whether I'm high or low.

2011, I look forward to meeting you. We'll have some good times together.


* "Tightrope" is my #3 song of the year! If you haven't heard it, you really should.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"i don't have to leave anymore. what i have is right here."

the food: with added love!
the song: "Islands" The xx

I'm a notoriously horrible shopper. I get bored quickly. I'll never buy anything that's not on sale. Sometimes I find clothing I like but usually talk myself out of it before I leave the store. Honestly, I'm fine with this. But sometimes you actually need a new pair of shoes. And then the inability to spend money on clothing is really frustrating.

  My 13 year old Converse, on their last day of wear. RIP.

This is an odd time of year to have an aversion to shopping. Last year I swore off buying tons of Christmas gifts for family. Gifts tainted with stress are not good gifts. So, with the exception of a few smaller items (a picture frame for my MIL, a gift card for my college freshman cousin), our gifts will be homemade this year. Unlike shopping, cooking fills me with good feelings and allows me to focus on the people receiving the gift instead of if I can find parking at the next store. I am not a big fan of sweets, so instead of cookies and fudge, I'm pickling garlic and jalapenos and seasoning salt and sugar.

I did a test run of pickled jalapenos a couple of weeks ago with the aid of my best friend who brought over makings for Pimm's cups. Can you understand why I love her so? Our afternoon was tinged with Christmas magic. Or something.

I was a bit nervous going in, but I enjoyed the jarring process. The emphasis on cleanliness and the importance of following a formula reminded me of the handful of times I've helped brew beer. And that moment when the lid pops down is really satisfying. A little check mark to show you you did something right. This weekend, the husband and I opened a jar of jalapenos to test them out. Oh. Man. I can't wait to share these babies. 

My blog readers are mostly my friends and family, so I'm sorry to spoil the surprise! But please know that this week when I'm working on your gifts that I'll be doing it with love in my heart and a smile on my face. 

For more tips on pickling, this is a great resource.

Easy Pickled Jalapenos
adapted from Examiner

5 cups commercial 5% vinegar (white or cider)
1 cup water
4 teaspoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 pounds fresh jalapeno peppers (I used a mix of garden jalapenos, banana, and bell peppers)
1 peeled carrot, sliced (optional)
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled (optional)
1/2 onion, sliced (optional)

First, sterilize your jars and lids. Wash the jars, lids and rings with hot soapy water. Rinse well and set aside to air dry. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the jars completely and bring to a rolling boil. Submerge tongs in boiling water to sterilize. Then (in batches if necessary) submerge jars, lids, and rings in boiling water for 5 minutes. Carefully grasp the jars with the tongs and drain water from them before setting them, right side up, on a clean dish towel.

Keep water hot while you prepare the jalapenos for pickling.

Wash the jalapenos and slice 1/4-inch thick; discard the stem ends. If using the carrot, onion, and garlic, place 1 or 2 pieces of each in the jar. Pack the jalapeno slices into the sterilized pint jars. They should be tightly packed, but not crushed.

Make a brine. Place the vinegar, water, pickling salt, and sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan or kettle. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, and stir briefly to dissolve the salt and sugar. 

Ladle the hot brine over the sliced peppers in the sterilized jars. Clean the rim of the jar with a clean towel and place canning lids securely on jars. Place sealed jars back into boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you did it right (which I'm sure you did!) the middle of the jar lid will pop down as it seals. Cool and store up to one year.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"she don't care how the sweets taste"

the food: Blueberry Muffins
the song: "California English" Vampire Weekend

Today I present to you a cautionary tale of hubris with a happy, muffin-filled ending.

A few days ago...

Me: I went to the store today. I got you some of that good blueberry cereal.

The Husband: Oh cool. Thanks. You know what's better than blueberry cereal? Blueberry muffins.

Me: Well...yeah...obviously. [pause] Would you like me to make some blueberry muffins?

The Husband: Mmmmm! Yeah! But they have to be really good.

Me: Uh, yeah, I've made blueberry muffins before.

The Husband: But I want these to be REALLY good. Like...the top of the muffin has to be the biggest part. With some of those good crumbs on top. And I don't want anything weird in there.

Me: [silence]

The Husband: Like no maple syrup or dates or wheat flour.

Me: Ok, so just an unhealthy, fatty awesome rich muffin?

The Husband: YEAH!

Before I go on, let me assure you that I do not relate any of this to make the husband look bad. Without him, I wouldn't be half the cook I am today. He is an incredibly adventurous, supportive, complimentary, up-for-anything taste tester. But a man wants what he wants, and sometimes that includes blueberry muffins.

Needless to say, I walked away from this conversation feeling a bit challenged. Truthfully, for sweets to interest me they have to be...well...interesting. "Fine, " I thought. "How hard can basic blueberry muffins really be? If I can make flax seed and applesauce banana bread taste good, I'll have no problem with butter and sugar." I promised muffins would be on the table the next morning.

Problem one arose when I started assembling ingredients. I'd made a quick run to the store to pick up blueberries with the certainty that I had everything else I needed at home. I realized right away that I was out of muffin cups. No biggie, right? If I oiled down the muffin tin enough it shouldn't be a huge deal.

Flour, on the other hand, is a muffin making necessity. And I was running low. (By the way...what the what?? How does a girl who loves to cook only have a cup of flour in the house? The horror!). Insert "weird" ingredient number one. While I only had 1 cup of flour, I did have a 1/2 cup rolled oats. Rather than admit defeat in Muffin Making 101, I decided to work with what I had.

I took the rest of my muffin making cues from a few bakers that never run out of flour. First, I included 1/4 cup of plain greek yogurt to fluff them up and make them extra moist. I picked up this trick from Savory Sweet Life 's blueberry muffins that call for sour cream. It's a genius move. Don't underestimate the power of this trick. The second trick comes from cutie pie Joy the Baker, who includes browned butter in her muffins. Again, this step adds a rich extra layer of flavor to the muffins.

How did they turn out, you ask. Well...they needed more flour. But otherwise, they were actually very good. Like a lot of baked goods, they were even better the next day. I'm amending the recipe to include the correct amount of flour. Same goes for the topping. Our muffins were topped with brown sugar, butter, and toasted walnuts. It made for a delicious rich top that melted into the muffin and gave it a semi crisp bite. Next time, the flour will create the "good crumbs on top" as per request. I left the oatmeal in, though, because I like the additional texture. Also, it's hard for me to bake without something earthy in there.

As I was pulling the muffins out of the oven, the husband rounded the corner. 

Me: Now listen...these aren't the muffins you asked for. These don't count. I get a redo.

The Husband: Alright! More muffins next week! [takes bite of not-so-pretty muffin] MMMMM! Baby, you're amazing. These are GREAT!

And that's why I love him.

Blueberry Muffins

For the topping:
1/2 cup toasted, chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts work well)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
12/ teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the muffins:
6 tablespoons butter
juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. of vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
1 1/2 cups of AP Flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tsp. of baking powder
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

To make the topping, stir together the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Add the butter pieces and combine the mixture with a fork or your clean hands until the topping resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Keeping a close eye on the pan, cook the butter until little brown bits appear in the pan. The butter will get brown pretty quickly. Once it does, remove from heat.

Whisk eggs, yogurt, lemon juice, and vanilla until combined.  Add the brown butter and stir to combine.

Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl  Add yogurt and butter mixture all at one and stir gently to combine.  Batter will be nice and thick. Gently fold in blueberries and pour batter into muffin tin lined with paper cups 3/4 cup full.

Sprinkle topping on each muffin and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.