Monday, June 26, 2006

Girls' Weekend -- Part I

I spent this past weekend visiting friends in Lexington, Kentucky. The entire trip was instigated by my good friend, Kristin. She wanted to have a "Girls' Night In" cocktail party since her hubby was out-of-town. The entire weekend turned out to be fantastic and revolve around food (what else, of course?!?). I have decided to split this into two posts because of length and pictures -- and I want to stretch the fun a wee bit longer! So, please indulge me!

Friday -- left home super early (7 am CST!) to arrive in Lex. to pick up two former co-workers (donna and nancy -- who was celebrating her b-day) to go to the girliest restaurant in town (and not be late for our reservations -- which is a no-no, and might get you blacklisted, seriously!). Flag Fork Farm's Garden Cafe (sorry, the don't have a website -- which is soooo 1990!), a few miles from downtown Lexington is one of my favorite lunch-time destinations. All of the menu items are made on the premises, fresh, and full of flavor. The two-story brick building (which has been described as a cottage) is part cafe, part store, part flower and herb garden. They sell everything from antique linens and children's clothing to furniture, locally made jewelry, mass-produced tapestry and scarves, unique purses, dip mixes (their own line), to local art (can be found upstairs). I always purchase something when I am there, whether it be notecards, earrings, scarves, or plants! Out back they have a 1/4 acre flower and herb garden. This past weekend they were selling all plants at 40% off. I didn't get any b/c we are quickly running out of room for anything in our yard until we construct additional beds.

My favorite part of Flag Fork (as we all have always called it -- for a time we had the reservation phone number posted on the wall above the phone, yes we went there often!) is the food. The menu is printed on both sides of a pink laminated card that is probably 4" x 11". There are also daily specials, which I will get to ina minute. Items on the front side range from appetizers (beer cheese & crackers, bourbon blue cheese & crackers) to pasta salads to sandwiches. The sandwich selections are always the same: pimiento cheese, beer cheese, olive nut, turkey, ham, tuna, chicken salad, or PB&J. Each sandwich comes with a choice of two sides (potato salad, fresh fruit, fresh veggies and dillicious dip, jello and fruit, pumpkin bread, pasta salad). All of these sandwiches are simple, yet excellent and tasty. As for specials -- one can choose from the soup of the day (on Friday these were: Burgoo, Fresh Tomato and Basil, or Carrot Leek with Ginger Cream); quiche of the day (Friday -- only one choice -- spinach and feta); pasta salad of the day (on Friday these were: fettucine with crab meat and a bunch of other stuff; and one vegetarian with olives and other stuff -- I can't remember!). There are also desserts of the day, tea of the day, and coffee of the day. The tea of the day was Ginger Peach (donna got this and said it was really good).

The dessert list includes: Lemon Geranium Pound Cake (I really need to get this recipe), Bourbon Chocolate Cake, Bourbon Bread Pudding, Key Lime Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Carrot and Chocolate Chip Cake; and a few others I am forgetting.

Anyway -- I had a 1/2 pimiento cheese sandywich w/ a cup of the Carrot Leek w/ Ginger Cream Soup (SO EXCELLENT!), and fresh veggies. I had the Bourbon Chocolate Cake (served warm) and regular iced tea. The food was outstanding and worth the drive!

Friday night -- Kristin and I went to the Good Foods Co-op for dinner and shopping. They have a fabulous hot bar and cold/salad bar, plus desserts and a variety of drinks not found in most places. We both had these really yummy black bean cakes with some sort of aioli that we are going to try to reproduce. (I'll let you know if we are successful!). We then spent the rest of our time shopping. I indulged in fresh ground peanut butter and almond butter; bulk whole wheat cous cous; and an assortment of bulk spices (I so wish we had a place in M'boro that sold bulk spices....).

We then headed home to begin food preparations for the Saturday night cocktail party. Kristin worked on appetizers (olive nut, hummus, lemon dip), and I set about making the Guinness Chocolate Cake . What can I say -- I LOVE this cake!

After the cooking was done we stayed up chatting and watching a chick flick (13 Going on 30 ...cute and light).

Saturday A.M. -- First stop -- the Lexington Farmer's Market. I purchased a Lavendar Sachet and Ground Ginger from Herb N' Renewal , and a bottle gourd to turn into a birdhouse (sorry -- I can't remember the name of the farm that grows these). Kristin loaded up on veggies and more veggies. Here is a picture of some of the items for sale:

Check back tomorrow for Girls' Weekend-- Part II: Berry Picking and The Cocktail Party!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


and it is damn good! We get more milk than we can drink with our weekly CSA delivery. Our friendly farmer Jordan sent me a recipe for ricotta that is super easy, so I used the milks (cow and goat) from last week and this week to make about 2 cups of ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta (from the kitchens at Short Mountain Farm)

1 gallon milk (16 cups) [I only had 14 cups]
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 tsp. salt [this is my addition to the recipe]
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Heat milk to 195 degrees (I did this on low to medium-low heat, so it took a while. I also kept a constant watch on the thermometere -- didn't want it to boil and get all weird!).
Slowly stir in vinegar, which will separate the curds from the whey. Don't stir too much or the curds break up and it becomes a real challenge to scoop them out of the pan.
If needed, you can heat the mixture to 205 degrees, but I didn't.
Ladle curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander (over a bowl), and let drain. I then tied up the cheesecloth w/ a rubber band and hung it from a long-handled spatula across my sink for about 15 mins.
Mix the drained curds with the melted butter, salt, and baking soda (I did this in a metal bowl with a fork -- works really well).
Let cool before refrigerating. Use with in 3 days.

Macaroni-and-Ricotta Cheese (from Tanya's kitchen)

I made this recipe up to use what we had on hand for a quick and tasty dinner.

1/2 pound macaroni (I used short tube-shaped pasta)
1 cup homemade ricotta (I used all the ricotta I made, which was a bit too much!)
2 cups broccoli (or spinach, or asaparagus would be good, too)
1 tbsp. EVOO
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup parmasean or romano cheese, freshly grated
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I didn't have any, but this would be so good with tomats!)
fresh basil, sliced, to taste
minced fresh garlic (one clove per serving)
red pepper flakes, optional

Cook pasta according to directions, adding broccoli last 2 mins. of cooking time. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
Mix ricotta, EVOO, S & P, 1/2 cup par. cheese, and 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid.
Add hot pasta and broccoli. Stir until combined. Add more liquid if sauce is too thick.
Serve topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and additional parm cheese, if desired.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Refrigerator Calzone

We had a bunch of veggies and fresh ricotta to be eaten or abandoned, so I chose to make them into a yummy calzone (as we had pizza dough sitting in the freezer). I have never made a real and true calzone before, and was a little nervous about getting it on the pizza stone all filled up with goodies. Well, it slid off the peel like a champ, and all my sweating and worries were for naught. So here are some pictures of it in the oven, and thne cut in half. Contents included: fresh cow milk ricotta (from our CSA), spinach, roasted garlic, barely-carmelized Vidalia onions (I couldn't wait long enough for them to be fully carmelized!), squash, green pepper, mozzarella, fresh basil, S & P.

Of course, you cannot have calzone without some sort of marinara. I used one 28 oz. can of peeled whole roma tomatoes, and then added a bunch of the veggies that wouldn't fit in the calzone. All in all a very veggie-friendly dinner, and hubby even had leftovers for lunch. YUM!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Guinness is Good For YOU!

[If loving a cake is bad, then I don’t want to be good!]

Last Friday night was a Bon Voyage party for one of my students (Jessica, pictured here). She was about to embark on 30-day trip to Scotland, where she will be participating in the excavations of a really cool archaeological site! I leaped at the chance to make her a cake for her party. I have been dying to make this Guinness Chocolate Cake (recipe by Nigella Lawson), so I thought what a perfect crowd to serve it to! (Yes, I do know that Guinness is Irish and she is going to Scotland, but who cares?!?!?!?!)

All I can say is this cake is absolutely fantastic! Jessica’s husband, Daniel, gave the cake two thumbs up, and proclaimed that “The cake and the hummus [another treat I brought a long] were wicked!” THANKS! The cake is wicked. I am in love with this chocolate cake like no other, perfect density and crumb, and the icing sets off the cake PERFECTLY! Okay, without further ado, here is the recipe (with my comments in parenths.)

Chocolate Guinness Cake -- Nigella Lawson’s
This cake is magnificent in its damp blackness. I can't say that you can absolutely taste the stout in it but there is certainly a resonant, ferrous tang which I happen to love. The best way of describing it is to say that it’s like gingerbread without the spices. There is enough sugar - a certain understatement here- to counter any potential bitterness of the Guinness, and although I've eaten versions of this made up like a chocolate layer cake, stuffed and slathered in a rich chocolate frosting, I think that can take away from its dark majesty. Besides, I wanted to make a cream cheese frosting to echo the pale head that sits on the top of a glass of stout. It's unconventional to add cream but it makes it lighter and frothier which I regard as aesthetically and gastronomically desirable. But it is perfectly acceptable to leave the cake un-iced; in fact, it tastes gorgeous plain.

For the cake:
1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 two tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar (I used 1 cup regular sugar and 1 cup brown –that’s all I had!)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking soda

For the topping:

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (whoops! Forgot to buy this so I subbed maybe ¼ cup full-fat goat’s milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and line a 9-inch springform pan. Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter - in spoons or slices - and heat until the butter is melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar.

Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake's cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the frosting. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioner's sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsifted confectioner's sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese. Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint. Makes about 12 slices. (I would say that this cake served a lot more than 12 folks. It is so dense the pieces don’t need to be huge!)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

D is for dough

Here is my very pretty dough all ready to be shaped into 2 yummy pizzas. I made pizza for the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend. We had a house full of folks, and the food was yummy! Three of the pizzas were destined to be topped with goat milk ricotta (SO GOOD!), and one had tomato sauce and asparagus. All my favorites. I promise to post some non-pizza stuff soon....