Aged Eggnog

First and foremost, my deepest apologies for my absence the past couple weeks MONTH (oh dear lord… I really thought when I sat down to write this it had been 3 weeks max… ugh). Somehow every year I forget how hectic October always works out to be, and this year was no exception. Between crazy client loads and multiple tax deadlines, there was thankfully still some wonderfully fun times with the wedding of 2 of our dearest friends, and (coincidently on the same day) the awesome experience that was Food Blog Forum. Consequently however, the combination left me with little time (or more accurately, energy) for evenings spent blogging. 

In addition to a month of my time gone bye-bye, its looking like the warm weather has finally said adios to good ole Tennessee as well. I will give Mother Nature some credit this year however, because it really did seem as though we actually experienced that season some call fall, instead of the 2 weeks we typically consider “cooler summer”. With some warm days in between, it has really been here since Labor Day - and for that I cannot complain.

But now winter has hit, as we turned on our heat for the first time tonight, and I covered up my herbs in hopes that the cold wouldn’t kill them quite yet. So in the spirit of the colder temperatures, and in anticipation of the the festivities that keep us going in this dire time of year - I figured it high time to finally post about an experiment I have been waiting all year to try - Homemade Aged Eggnog.

Consider the picture above fair warning, that while this is still an experiment in the works, I expect (with good reason) that this is going to be one boozy eggnog. The recipe comes most directly from the folks over at Chow but has certainly made its way around the interwebs. The concept is pretty simple - eggs, cream, booze - let it sit in your fridge for a while - drink.

For most people, the idea of letting raw eggs and dairy sit in the back of their fridge for 1 month+ is absolutely frightening. I, for one, am a bit more adventurous… or at least cautiously so, as evidenced by my goat cheese making experiment - but for those of you a bit more leery, the nice folks over at NPR have done an experiment just for you. The basics of it is that the alcohol, over time, kills any possibility of bacteria that could be in those eggs or that cream, making it not only delicious, but safe as well. Now if I were you I would still recommend using the highest quality ingredients you can, but rest assured that the booze will should (can’t really claim to be an expert here by any means…) save you.

It is recommended that you give the eggnog at least 3 weeks to age - but up to 1 year is encouraged. I went middle of the road here and made mine in early October - so shooting for the 2.5 month range. Please also bear in mind that, while the interwebs have proven this to be delicious (albeit booooozzyyy), for me it is still an experiment - but I would love for you to join in this experiment with me, hence the sharing!

Without further ado…

HOMEMADE AGED EGGNOG
(from Chow; yields approx 1 gallon) 

Eggnog:
12 large egg yolks
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 liter bourbon, such as Jim Beam
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 to 1 cup Cognac or brandy
Pinch kosher salt

To Serve:
10 egg whites 
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Nutmeg 


1. Combine egg yolks and sugar; whisk until well blended and creamy

2. Add cream, milk, bourbon, rum, brandy ands salt; stir until well combined and sugar mixture is dissolved.

3. Bottle. Refrigerate.  (seriously… thats it) Quart sized ball jars work great, as do empty liquor bottles.

When it comes time to serve (at least 3 weeks later!), simply whip up the heavy cream with the egg whites and fold them into the eggnog - top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Lord willing the experiment will be wildly successful and I will have some great holiday stories to share about it in a few short months!

Pad Thai

The Asian food lover in me comes out pretty frequently. Usually its calmed by a delicious array of sushi (not mad about that at all..) and when its not, pad thai is my go to dish.  I have always loved a good pad thai in the restaurant setting (and there are some pretty good ones in Nashville), but ever since finding this recipe and mastering the making of it in my own kitchen, it really is hard to beat. 

The process involves lots of tiny steps and the dirtying of many many bowls & plates, but each step is worthwhile and comes together to make one of the most delicious pad thais I have ever had. I highly suggest you get all of your ingredients out, prepped and ready to go ahead of time because once you start cooking this dish moves incredibly fast.

This particular pad thai is vegetarian, but you could easily slip in some chicken or shrimp in addition to, or in place of, the tofu. I can handle eating tofu in very few applications, but in this dish it does wonders. (I mean, its fried. You really cant complain about that..)

The recipe looks cumbersome, but trust me when I say that once you’ve given it a shot, you won’t ever regret it!

VEGETARIAN PAD THAI
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine) 
serves 4-6 

12 ounces dried banh pho rice noodles (1/4 inch wide)
3 Tbs tamarind paste (usually found in a large block at the international grocery)
1 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs Sriracha (Asian chili sauce)
1 bunch scallions
4 large shallots
1 (14-16 ounce) package firm tofu
1 cup peanut or vegetable oil 
6 eggs
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
3-4 limes, quartered
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped 

 THE PREP
-place tamarind and water in a medium bowl. warm in the microwave  for 3 minutes, then stir to combine. force this mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove all seeds and fibers. add soy sauce, brown sugar & Sriracha, stirring until combined and sugar is dissolved. 

- cut scallions in half length wise, then cut into 2 inch pieces

- cut shallots crosswise into thin slivers. Mandolin is easiest here but not necessary - you should be making rings but also not a requirement so long as they are equal sized pieces. 

- Rinse tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes. Set on a paper towel, place additional paper towel on top and finish with a plate or small cutting board on top to apply some pressure.

- Crack eggs into a small bowl, whisk lightly with 1/4 tsp of salt. 

- soak noodles in a large bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes (which is usually about how much time from when you start prepping till its time to use them)

- Prepare two plates, each topped with several paper towels for use later

THE EXECUTION
Heat oil in wok or large saute pan over medium heat until hot. Add half of the shallots to the oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Carefully strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Spread fried shallots over paper towel covered plate to crisp up.

Return shallot oil to the wok and heat to high. Fry half of the tofu, enough so they are all touching the bottom of the pan and not over crowding eachother. Turn gently, cooking until each side is golden brown, approx 5-8 minutes. Set on 2nd paper towel covered plate to drain. Repeat with remaining tofu. 

Pour off (and reserve) all but 2 Tbs of the frying oil. Add the eggs and swirl to coat the sides of the wok. Stir gently with a spatula until cooked through. Break into chunks and transfer to a plate.

Heat wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates instantly. Add reserved frying oil, swirling to coat the pan. Add scallions, garlic and remaining shallots and stirfry until softened (if adding shrimp or chicken I would add at this point)

Add noodles and stir-fry over medium heat (2 spatulas or spoons are helpful here) for 3-5 minutes. Add tofu, sprouts, 1 cup of sauce and simmer, stirring until the noodles are tender and sauce is absorbed. 

Stir in additional sauce if desired, add eggs and transfer to a large serving dish.

Sprinkle with peanuts, fried shallots and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and leftover sauce for those who want to kick it up a notch.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

One last “take advantage of those amazing tomatoes before the season is over!” post for you!

After the Tomato Salad adventure I was left with a slew of tomatoes (note: this is not a bad thing). One of my favorite things to do with tomatoes is make fresh salsa, an addiction I likely owe to my mom and her fresh pico de gallo. As mentioned in my previous post, I love the flavor of roasted tomatoes…. slightly sweet and perfectly caramelized along side its friends jalapeno, onion and shallot it is a beautiful thing.

The other important part of this recipe is cilantro. Now I know some people have a huge aversion to all things cilantro, thinks it taste like soap, blah blah blah. I feel seriously sorry for you because I L.O.V.E. it. One of the key’s to the cilantro in this recipe is including the stems. The stems of the cilantro plant contain exponentially more flavor than the leaves alone so don’t waste them! If you dislike cilantro I’m sure you could leave it out of this recipe… or perhaps just find yourself a different one because cilantro is loved and adored by this blog!

ROASTED TOMATO SALSA
(makes approx 1.5 qts) 

Approx 4 lbs of fresh tomatoes, cored & quartered
5 jalapenos, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out
2 small onions, quartered
2 small shallots, halved 
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder
Juice from 1 lime
1 bunch cilantro 

Lay all veggies out on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss until well coated. Roast for 1 hour at 400 degrees. After the veggies have cooled, place in food processor with cilantro (stems and all), garlic powder and lime juice. Pulse to combine. Season with salt to taste. Best served at least 6 hours later once cooled and flavors have had time to meld and develop.

Tomato Canning

As the end of Tennessee’s amazing tomato season approaches, I couldn’t let it pass us by without preserving the bounty to sustain us through this winter. The canning adventures of earlier this summer had gone smoothly (with the exception of my peach butter… still pretty bummed about that one) so I knew I needed to give tomato canning a go. My parents came to town for a long weekend and I figured what better time to knock this out than when I have some free labor?! So I took the day off work and my mom and I set up shop in the kitchen.

First, a stop at the farmers market to pick up 50 lbs of tomatoes. Unfortunately I failed to get a picture of this haul, but it surprisingly wasn’t that big at all. 2 half bushel buckets full and we were on our way. 

Now I am not going to sit here and give a step by step of the procedure for canning because, really, no one does it better and safer than the folks at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I urge you to follow their instructions to a T if you plan on canning, they know what they are doing. However I did change the beginning process of my canning adventure and I do not regret it one bit. 

After the painstaking peach adventure, I am really not a fan of the time and effort it takes to blanch and peel, so there was no way I was doing it with 50 lbs of tomatoes. Plus I also really enjoy the flavor of roasted tomatoes. So instead of the blanch/peel process that most canning procedures start with, we simply cored the tomatoes, set them whole on a baking sheet and roasted at 400 degrees until the skins began to split. After about 45 minutes of cooking and a few minutes of cooling, the peels came off just as easily as blanching with alot less effort in my opinion.

Pour the juice and skin-less tomatoes into a sauce pan, crush, and bring to a boil.

From that point on just follow the rest of the canning instructions carefully and you end up with beautiful in-season tomatoes all winter long!

50 lbs of tomatoes gave us exactly 20 quarts of crushed tomatoes - 18 cans and 2 freezer bags. I have already used one of the freezer bags worth to make a tomato sauce and it tasted perfectly like I had used fresh tomatoes from the get go. Cannot wait to have that all winter!

Get out there and preserve the bounty for yourself before its too late! You wont regret it one bit.

Watermelon Lemonade & the Best Food Truck in Nashville

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending my Friday evening in the company of some fellow food bloggers and food lovers. The rendezvous was inspired by a Twitter conversation (ah, the power of technology) because we all just couldn’t stop thinking about Riff’s Truck and their amazing Watermelon Lemonade.

While I would by no means claim to be an expert on food trucks in Nashville (or any city for that matter), I feel extremely confident in proclaiming this the Best Food Truck in Nashville. Riff’s Fine Street Food popped onto the Nashville scene about 4 months ago, and I am ashamed to admit that until about a week and a half ago I had yet to experience it for myself. I had heard countless raves from other food lovers around town, and when they finally were near my office for lunch I rushed over. My first visit I went for the Panzanella Salad with Grilled Salmon and a Watermelon Lemonade..

Please excuse the poor quality of my Blackberry camera, but you get the idea. Ton’s of fresh veggies from the farmers market (zucchini, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers (!) olives (!)), corn bread croutons and a beautifully grilled piece of fish. I hear I missed out on the addition of grilled peaches that day, but I wont hold it against them. For $8 it was one of the most deliciously cheap things I have had in a long time, not to mention more food than I could eat in one sitting.

On our epic Friday Happy Hour I got to try the rest of the amazing menu (between multiple glasses of the lemonade) - the amazing Caribbean Burger, complete with a slice of pineapple on top; Mac & Cheese; Thai Noodle Salad; and the Fish Tacos

I am a sucker for taco’s topped with any sort of slaw, and these were no exception - fresh and delicious, not to mention the HUGE filet’s of Tilapia on each one… so big I had to eat the tacos with a fork and knife lest I lose any in my attempt to pick it up.

Not only is the food amazing but the owners 2 of the most friendly guys I have met in a long time, and they strive to run their business in a way that is near and dear to my heart.

If we had to have a motto it would be: EAT. GOOD. FOOD. In a world where words like local, organic, sustainable and even fresh are overused marketing blah-blah we are two people who don’t use those words, we live them. Eat. Good. Food is less a motto than it is a mission statement. ”Good Food” is not only good in flavor but good in the sense that at the end of it you feel like you are glad you ate it because it lacked the empty-calorie-laden, over-processed poison so many businesses (read “corporations”) call “food.” We don’t make our food good because its cool and marketable to do so. We do it because our consciences won’t let us do it any other way! We will NOT cut corners on ingredients to hit a price point. Our food is served with pride and concern for our customers well being.”

If you don’t believe that food from a truck could possibly be this amazing then go check it out for yourself! If you agree vote for them here or here and they just might give you a free puppy... I mean, who doesnt want a free puppy..right? 

In homage to the wonderful time we had on Friday, I give you my best take on their amazing Watermelon Lemonade

WATERMELON LEMONADE
(approx 2 pitchers) 

1 small watermelon (or half of one of those honkers from the grocery store)
2 cups fresh lemon juice (from approx 2 bags of lemons, unless you have a much better juicer than I)
3/4 cup simple syrup

 Cube watermelon and place in food processor or blender, several batches will be necessary. Blend until liquified. Pour mixture through a strainer into a large bowl. Using a spoon, help push the mixture through the strainer (this will give your lemonade a bit more watermelon pulp… unless thats not your thing). Repeat with remaining watermelon. Add lemon juice and simple syrup, stir to combine. Serve chilled.

(Simple syrup is a simple 1:1 ratio. 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water - heat in a small sauce pan until sugar is dissolved, cool)

Cornmeal Crusted Eggplant with Goat Brie & Sorghum

Our trip to Spain in May was inspirational on so many levels. Not only was the country beautiful, the company wonderful and the food delicious, but there is a way of life there that is hard to compare to America. The 6 weeks mandatory vacation, stores & restaurants closing each afternoon for siesta and especially the time they take to enjoy their meals and the company around them. 

We have one of the most amazing meals of our trip the first night we were there. Staying in a small town just south of Seville, we took the recommendation of a neighbor and ventured into the heart of the town to eat at a restaurant filled only with locals. We took our time, ordered our way through the menu, drank delicious Spanish wine, and ended up with a bill far less than we would have had in the States and many great memories to go with it.

For me one of those great memories was a dish that we had early on in the meal. As soon as I took my first bite I knew this would be one of many dishes I would have to figure out how to recreate once we were home.

A slice of eggplant, battered & fried…. topped with a wedge of goat brie and drizzled with sorghum syrup.

It was amazing on so many levels. Not only was it topped with goat cheese, which of course sold me, but the eggplant was crisp and delicious, not the usual slimy mess you end up with. We loved it so much that we went back a 2nd night just to have it one more time.

2 months later, I finally got an eggplant in our CSA delivery. Oh Happy Day. Time to finally try, so we invited a couple of our friends over as guinea pigs and dubbed it “Spain Night”

For those of you unfamiliar with sorghum - it is actually a grain which is used to make the syrup, having a similar flavor to molasses but not quite as intense. 

Goat Brie is pretty much what you would expect - a perfect blend between goat cheese and brie. I personally am not much of a brie fan, but this cheese I could scarf down easily.

This dish could really justify as desert it is so sweet, creamy and delicious, but is intended to make a great appetizer.

CORNMEAL CRUSTED EGGPLANT WITH GOAT BRIE & SORGHUM SYRUP

1 small eggplant
1 Tbs salt
1 cup corn meal
1 cup buttermilk 
3 cups canola oil
1 4-6 ounce round of goat brie
Sorghum syrup

Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds. (If your eggplant is fairly large on the bottom I recommend cutting those bottom slices in half for ease of frying) Toss in a bowl with the salt and allow to sit for approx 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant thoroughly and place on a paper towel to dry. As the eggplant is drying, heat the oil in a deep saute pan or dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fill one bowl with the buttermilk and another with the cornmeal. Once the oil is heated, dip each of your eggplant slices in the buttermilk, and then the corn meal, knocking off any excess before placing gently in the hot oil. Once the eggplant has begun frying, monitor the temperature of the oil to keep it as close to 350 as possible, it will drop once you add the eggplant. Fry for approx 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oil and place on a papertowel to drain.

Immediately place slices of the goat brie on top of the warm eggplant to melt. Once the eggplant has cooled enough to touch, plate and drizzle with the sorghum syrup. Consume immediately… as if you will be able to resist it anyways.

 

The (3rd Place) Award Winning Salad: Tomato & Jalapeno Corncake Salad with Bacon Dressing

Tomatoes are a wonderful thing here in Tennessee. Our prize jewel for dealing with 100+ temps and 80% humidity for much of the summer. But I will admit that this summer is the first year that I have really come to experience and understand that for my own. These tomatoes really are incredible… for anyone who just “doesn’t like tomatoes”, I feel you cannot fairly make that statement until you have traded that picked-when-it-was-still-green-and-turned-red-with-gas Florida tomato for a juicy tomato product of a Tennessee summer. If that doesn’t convert you, I don’t know what will.

We love our tomatoes so much here that every summer the folks over in East Nashville throw the Tomato Art Fest in its honor. I think the “art” part of that equation throws people off, and I honestly cant speak much to what is involved there other than seeing lots of your usual street fest vendors hocking some pretty fun tomato themed items. But it is a fun (albeit hot) time for all with some delicious food, fantastic people watching, and interesting musical entertainment.

This year I decided very last minute (as in 2 days before the event) to enter the recipe competition. The theme this year was Tomato Salads and I had to work quick to get the wheels in motion. I already had an idea in mind, but spent the next 2 nights and early Saturday morning experimenting and taste testing. After the whole charade I came away with alot more respect for restaurant chefs. It’s one thing to come up with a recipe on the fly in your home and have it be delicious. It’s a whole other mentally tasking event to continually experiment until you feel you have it just right and are willing to present it to others and against other dishes. And then be able to regurgitate it into a recipe. (Must remember this next time the hubs and I are talking wistfully of opening a restaurant)

But all that goes to say - the hard work paid off - and I brought home 3rd place! A very special shout out to my dear friends Dana Cheng for providing her garden fresh jalapenos and to Taylor Vick and my wonderful husband for their taste buds and critiques. So without further ado I give you……

TOMATO AND JALAPENO CORN CAKE SALAD WITH BACON DRESSING

1 fresh heirloom tomato, cut into ½ inch cubes
Handful of fresh salad greens
2 small Jalapeno Corn Cakes (see recipe below)
Bacon Dressing (see recipe below)
 

Place lettuce in bottom of salad bowl, top with corn cakes and tomatoes, drizzle with warm bacon dressing.
 

JALAPENO CORN CAKE

¾ cup corn kernels
1 shallot, chopped

4 small diced jalapenos
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup white cornmeal
2 Tbs all purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp butter 

In a sauté pan heat the 3 Tbs of the oil over medium heat. Add corn, shallot, jalapeno, garlic and ½ tsp salt to the oil and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a separate bowl beat the buttermilk and egg, add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the corn mixture to the batter and mix to combine.

Heat pan to medium again, adding the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil and 1 tsp butter. Add small spoonfuls of the batter to the hot pan and cook until browned, roughly 2 minutes each side. Once cooked through, set on a papertowel to drain and cool.
 

BACON DRESSING

4 slices of good quality thick cut bacon
1 tsp honey

¼ cup olive oil
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
pinch of salt

Chop bacon into small cubes and cook in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Pour the bacon & grease into a small jar. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Serve warm. 

Why Seasonal, Local, Organic? Why not!

When we originally decided to start experimenting with the CSA memberships, organic eating was not the goal. The goal was first and foremost to learn to eat seasonally, enjoying foods when nature intended for them to grow. What came with that were several added bonuses that we weren’t exactly planning on – the ability to support the local economy, the knowledge gained from cooking things we have never dealt with, and the fact that the food was organic.

As a result I have really enjoyed learning more the food situation in our country, where it comes from, and what is in/on it. At this point, almost a year into our changed way of eating, we strive to comprise our diet of as much locally grown fruits, vegetables and meat as possible. Knowing where our food comes from has become the most important factor in our food behavior. Of course that is not always as feasible as we would like, and when its not, we try to buy organic for the slight extra peace of mind it provides and avoid as much processed food as we can.

But the term “organic” can be pretty polarizing to people. Either they are all about it, just don’t care, or feel like they are being roped in by some marketing scheme to the newest fad. I’ve heard everything from…


Whats wrong with the food I’m eating now. I grew up eating it, my parents ate it. We’re fine.

No study has ever come out to prove those preservatives and pesticides are bad for us, so what’s the big deal. 

Organic = hippy.

Whole Foods is expensive and its all a gimic.

 

To me the argument is one of common sense. Perhaps a study hasn’t come out to prove that XYZ pesticide on your tomato is going to kill you. But can you argue that eating whole natural foods, not processed and not sprayed with a million chemicals is any WORSE for you? If you know one thing is good (because it is naturally occurring, and has been a part of our diet for millions of years) and you do not yet know whether another option is bad, wouldn’t you want to choose the one you know is good? I agree that perhaps a lot of the things that are put into and on our food now may not kill us, but it could take hundreds of years before that is really known. I would rather know that what I am putting in my body is good and clean, and run the risk of living longer, than eating other unknowns with unknown risks. Worse case scenario, you end up the same either way.

Yes, while I appreciate Whole Foods and the access to unique products they bring us, I whole heartedly agree that it is expensive to shop there and at the end of the day they are in the business of making money. There are great initiatives that Whole Foods has in place as far as sustainable seafood and fair treatment of the animals which end up on your dinner table which in most cases cannot be beat (at least for me here in land locked TN, where there is not much fresh seafood I can trust). But eating seasonally, organically and/or locally does not mean you have to shop at Whole Foods. There are plenty of other, often cheaper, options out there if you can train yourself to look beyond the grocery store. Farmers markets, CSA’s, pick your own farms, backyard gardens (even if you can only manages herbs, likes yours truly).. the options are there, if you take the time to look.

If you take one thing away from my little rant, let it be that you at least take the time to think about what you are fueling your body with. Maybe you don’t care about being organic or eating locally – but at the very least strive to be more conscious – you deserve it! 

SURPRISE!

Cooking, researching recipes, enjoying restaurants, blogging and reading blogs… there is lots to learn about food. But its also easy to feel like you’ve got it all figured out, all that is left to do is experiment or enjoy someone else’s experiments. But there are few things I love more than being completely and genuinely surprised by food. 

Take, for example this cute little watermelon we got in our CSA yesterday.

Low and behold when I cut into it…

SURPRISE! 

Yellow Watermelon. Who knew….. 

Love. 

Summer is in full swing..

I’ve fallen pretty far off the wagon of keeping you updated on our Delvin Farms CSA. I figure at this point you get the gist - but I wanted to showcase some of the bounty of a Tennessee summer. If ever you were considering a move to TN, ignore the 100 degree temps, and revel in these beauties!

I can’t get over how cute this little watermelon is!