11.25.2014

Field of Dreams


While I am patently aware of the dearth of new content on F for Food, it nonetheless hit me hard to receive an e-mail last week with an offer to buy the blog. Someone clearly took notice of the lack of activity and exhibited interest in taking it over and 're-aliving' it, so to speak.

Well folks, F for Food isn't for sale. Even though I have not been able to find the time to put the proverbial pen to paper consistently for over a year, I really, really plan to. I think about it all the time. Not only did this blog keep me relatively sane, relatively grounded, during some very bumpy periods for half of a decade in LA, but it has also been huge part of my identity, my creative outlet, my escape, my happiness and, now, my new career.

My New Career.

If you build it, they will come.* Whether you are referring to a ghost to play catch with in a field of dreams or a version of yourself that you are projecting, creating or recreating, I find this mantra, if you will, to be true. Sort of a fake it 'til you make it kind of thing, you know?

First jobs tend to always be this way. Waitress? Gotta start somewhere. Just fib a little bit in the interview, say you've done it before. At that little cafe. They're closed now, though. You get the job, and after a few months, you're Flo. In my own life I have found myself in this field of dreams scenario quite a few times. It seems that I usually hit the ground running and end up taking off just fine. A few hiccups here and there, of course, but that is to be expected. (Dig the mixed metaphors, here.)

Upon moving to Richmond I decided a few things. One of them was that I was going to be a Food Stylist to Fred's Food Photographer. Or rather that we already were. So we had cards printed up saying as much. Done.

Cut to a few months back, standing in a studio with Fred, each of our assistants, one for styling and one for photography, a production assistant scuttling around, and a cluster of people from The Martin Agency looking over our shoulders as we style and shoot a holiday ad campaign for Oreo Cookie Balls. Surrounded by dozens and dozens of said balls for days with little rest and trying to care for a six week-old baby, you can imagine the slap-happy-terrible-taste ball jokes flying around.

And then jump ahead to a week ago: I'm alone – that is, sans Fred, standing in a frozen yogurt shop, after hours, filled with twenty people, cast, crew and clients, along with truckloads of cameras, equipment and gear for a Hamilton Beach blender video shoot. I was The Stylist.

In addition to these high falootin' gigs we've kind of become the go-to food photographer/stylist team for our local magazine's food spreads and we even spoke at a local event recently, giving a how-to workshop on food photography and social media. Like, suddenly we're the experts, for crying out loud!

If you build it they will come.*

So, between all that stuff and our five month-old baby girl, the blog has gotten a little dusty. But not forgotten! I have been bugging Fred every week about us needing to get new work up here, and we keep saying we will. Life will regulate again at some point – I know it will. Bikes will be ridden. Books will be read. Maybe even a movie. In a theater.

A couple of days after the offer-to-buy email, I received an email with an offer to publish sponsored content. Us bloggers receive these with some frequency and with varying degrees of appeal, but this one caught my eye for a number of reasons. First of all, I know and respect the source. Secondly, the company, Rakuten, to be sponsored was new to me and I was pleasantly surprised with its bounty of offerings. Third, the post was to be Thanksgiving-themed.


That's right! It's Thanksgiving!

How could this have happened? How could it be this close to Thanksgiving with my hardly given it a thought? I am a food writer! A food stylist! This is the food holiday! Even though I have never had a tradition for this holiday, that is I have never really done the same thing twice, I always host and always cook. A lot. Except this year. This year Fred, Emerson and I will be flying back to LA. On Thanksgiving day no less. I don't know what we will be doing or what we will be eating. I don't even know if Emerson will allow for much anyway, it being her first flight, her first new time zone.

At best we will be able to make a humble, yet noble, side dish for the holiday. So we turned to the beautiful new cookbook Heritage from fellow Virginia native, Sean Brock, for inspiration. We didn't have to look far. He had us at Farrotto. To be specific, Farrotto with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale. This dish is all kinds of Autumnal, it's healthy and with kale and farro, it's super IN. A perfect winner of a choice for Thanksgiving, if I do say so.

It will be interesting to return to LA, to my old friends, my old stomping ground, as a new mother with a new career, a new life. It will be interesting to head right into a Thanksgiving I have no concept of and no control over. I guess Thanksgiving's tradition for me is its non-tradition. That works. Thanksgiving is the holiday that I am constantly projecting, creating or recreating. If I build it IT will come.*

In addition to the cookbook, many of the key tools and ingredients for this recipe are found on Rakuten's website.


*The original quote from Field of Dreams is "If you build it he will come."


Farrotto With Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale
(Recipe from Heritage by Sean Brock)


Servings: 6 as a side or 4 as an entree

Ingredients

Acorn squash
1 small acorn squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Scant 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 cup vegetable stock
1 bunch Red Russian or other kale (about 3 pounds)

Farrotto
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced white onion
1 garlic clove, sliced paper-thin
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese



Directions

For the squash:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the squash in half. Remove and discard the seeds and rinse the squash under cold water. Place the squash cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the butter between the two halves and sprinkle with the salt and white pepper. Roast the squash for 35 minutes, or until fork-tender.

While the squash is roasting, prepare the kale: Remove the stems and ribs from the leaves. Make stacks of the leaves, roll them into cylinders, and cut them into very thin ribbons. Wash the kale in a sink of cold water, changing it several times, to remove any sand. Drain and dry with paper towels.

When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and pour the butter and juices from the cavities into a container. Let the squash cool enough to handle.

Warm the stock in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and juices from the cavities of the squash.

Peel the squash. Place the pulp in a blender, add the warm stock and juices, and blend on high to a very smooth puree, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

For the farrotto:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Heat the stock in a partially covered large saucepan over medium heat; keep warm over low heat.
Heat the canola oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the farro and stir to coat it with the oil. Place the skillet in the oven and toast the farro for 8 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes. Transfer the farro to a bowl and reserve. Wipe the skillet clean.

Put the empty skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, about 2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the butter and reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to high, and cook until the wine is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the toasted farro to the pan and stir to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the warm stock, reduce the heat to medium, and stir until the liquid is almost absorbed. Continue cooking, adding 1/2 cup of warm stock at a time, stirring to prevent scorching and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until the farro grains have expanded and are al dente, about 1 hour. The farro will look creamy like risotto. (The farro can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat before proceeding.)

To complete:

Remove the farro from the heat, add the squash puree and kale, and stir until the kale is wilted. Put the skillet back over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cheese. Stir and serve.




Three years ago: Cranberry Nut Bread
Five years ago: Bouchon Beverly Hills

10.20.2014

Piece of Cake.


Ever since Emerson was born I have felt my own insistence to get her to Roanoke to meet her, my, extended family. And then one night recently, my new friend, Stephanie, and I were talking and getting to know one another over some food and wine and words and I discovered she grew up in Roanoke. She spoke of writing a Roanoke food roundup sort of thing. And, like that, my brain went all Rube Goldberg. It was perfect. Emerson and I would drive to Roanoke for a beautiful Fall weekend; mother and daughter, on our first - just us - trip together. We would visit our whole family, everyone would ooh and ahh over her and I would meet up with Stephanie for wine and food and ten cent words about said wine and food. Like I said, perfect.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well first off, let it be said that Emerson is not exactly that quiet, docile, easy baby. I seem to keep forgetting how many times seemingly simple, banal undertakings must be aborted because of my cherubic, smiling beauty turned frowny-Stay-Puft-Marshmallow-Man-faced daughter's protests. How so many people look at me sympathetically while offering up their advice: 'try some cereal with applesauce,' or 'mine did that until eight months and then, poof, it was over' or 'I would stand over the sink with the water running while mine was strapped to my chest to calm her down' or 'rub some brandy on her gums and then pour the rest for yourself.'

*sigh*

Okay. So I would definitely need help to pull this weekend off. Fortunately my mom readily signed on. Wait, this would be even perfect-er: three generations of women, on the road, visiting their family. I could already see the movie version, starring Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron and Dakota Fanning (playing the older version of Emerson). There would be laughter and tears in the profusion of colorful fall leaves. And, at some point, there would be a scene with us all reminiscing the adventures of that weekend and laughing – all culminating with us singing to I Hear a Symphony using hairbrushes as microphones.

What could possibly go wrong?

I saw the drive as a great sign for the weekend ahead: smooth and peaceful, mountainous with beautiful fall colors. Emerson slept most of the way to Roanoke, waking up just as we pulled up to Aunt Connie's. After changing Emerson's diaper and feeding her, I settled in and asked Connie if she had any wine. A cute, individual-sized box (pre-portioned to be the equivalent of no more than three modest glasses of wine) of merlot appeared before me.

*Two arenas in which I am definitely not a snob: coffee and wine. Bring on the box.


After that glass of wine, it was time to get in touch with Stephanie and figure out the dinner plan. I mean, once I got Emerson to sleep, around right before I left, it seemed perfectly reasonable that I could run out and meet up with Stephanie for a nice meal at a sweet little spot I liked the last time I visited. Mom and Connie could catch up and look after the sleeping baby. Piece of cake.

So I headed out to meet Stephanie – kind of already grasping that this seemed better on paper... In the car I immediately realized how unfamiliar I was navigating Roanoke; my destination was a good thirty minutes away. Damn. I was late. And once I arrived, though we had a reservation, there was a wait. The restaurant was slammed. After almost another thirty minutes we were seated at the bar and I ordered a glass of lovely bordeaux, I get the text from Connie, “Sorry but we can't calm her down.

I put the phone on silent, face down on the bar and took a slug of the wine. And then I can see it - though it probably wasn't the most brilliant plan of plans, and yes, we both wanted to see each other (how fun to have dinner in a whole different city together!) - this was perhaps one of those 'best laid plans' kind of situations.

Then another text from Connie, “Hold on! She's asleep.” The sweet relief washed over me just as our foie gras appetizer appeared. Then Stephanie announced her stomach didn't feel so good. 

*sigh*

At least I got to house that foie gras...


Another thirty minute drive back. Back to Connie's finish off my little box of merlot while I did the math: thirty minutes there, thirty minute wait, thirty minute 'dinner', thirty minutes back. Best laid plans indeed.

And then cutting through the quiet, Emerson woke up crying. My desperate, sleep starved heart ached as I knew then we would both be up through most of the night. 

The next day rolled in and was impressively, vividly difficult. Both Emerson and I were utterly exhausted after our sleepless night, but this was our one full day in town and we had people to see. Things to do. Like go visit my mom's long lost cousin, Kelsey. They hadn't seen one another in decades and decades. So much to catch up on! So much family history to talk about! Emerson wasn't having any part of cousin catch-up. Time to leave. 


While driving away I realized I hadn't eaten a thing and was beginning to shake with hunger. It started to rain. Emerson had settled down in the car, seemed as though she was finally getting some sleep, so I wanted to go to a spot, Wildflour, where I had lunched on a previous visit. Memories of a nice, fresh salad, sandwich, and a coconut cake that I never could get out of my head sounded dreamy. Turns out this was also one of Stephanie's favorite places in town. Turns out she was going to be there at about the same time. Perfect? (I was becoming dubious) We parked and got snoozy Emerson all loaded up in the stroller – in the rain – when, of course (because my daughter has comedic timing), she began to cry. Volume increasing. Nonononono. I couldn't have Stephanie see me, us, like this. Hell, I couldn't foist this upon the peaceful, little cafe.

We got back in the car and drove off, my fingers white knuckled around the steering wheel.

I drove around, lost, looking for food, crying (both Emerson and me), delirious with hunger (both Emerson and me) and sleep deprived (both Emerson and me). We pulled into a shopping mall where, surprise!, there was another outpost of Wildflour. Mom ran into the restaurant, cut in front of the line to order “Anything! Now! Fast! And a slice of coconut cake! My daughter is in the car in the parking lot with a crying baby and hasn't eaten all day!” Somehow, for her, they parted the line like the Red Sea.

You know those moments in life where, even then you know you will absolutely look back and laugh? You have to. You know that you are presently in a memory, a story? Well, when you're spending a Saturday afternoon sitting in a running car, in a mall parking lot in Roanoke, Virginia, in the rain, with your left breast out, nursing your inconsolable baby, cramming a cold grilled cheese sandwich and coconut cake into your mouth with your free hand that your Mommy went and practically killed for to get you...


And then Emerson slept on the way back to Connie's.

Connie, as it turned out, had already made the executive decision to cancel dinner plans with the rest of the family. She recognized that I was cracking and Emerson was not having any part of family functions (functionality?). Instead, there was a very brief family visit during which I received sympathetic glances as I passed her around... And then they were gone.

That night, Emerson went right into a sound sleep. Connie, Mom and I ate microwaved Marie Callender's chicken piccata, watched The Hunger Games and gabbed about guys and life and girl stuff. And how thoughtful that Connie picked me up some wine; pinot grigio in my own little box. Emerson and I both slept all the way through to the smell of coffee brewing the next morning. Mom made us all breakfast and we were on our way back to Richmond. And, of course, Emerson slept all the way home. Actually, so did I. Thanks, Mom, for driving.

So, maybe Emerson wasn't quite ready for her journey. Or maybe I wasn't. Or maybe babies are babies – they cry - and no one expects any different. Maybe I was the only one feeling exasperated and defeated (apparently only when it's your own does your baby's cry make you feel as though you're trapped in a room with an alarm blaring and no way to turn it off).

It all makes one hell of a story. One that could, perhaps, be directed by Lawrence Kasdan, or Chris Columbus. Or, if we want to take it in another direction, Martin Scorsese ala After Hours... I'm still thinking Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron and Dakota Fanning. Connie would be played by Jane Fonda and Stephanie would be played by either Ellen Page or Natalie Portman. 

There would still be laughter and tears amongst all those colorful fall leaves. And at some point there would be a scene with us all looking back at that time in the mall parking lot with my boobs out and laughing. I'd buy a ticket.

Once we got back, Fred gave me a day off, of sorts, because, of course, me, all I wanted to do was make that coconut cake. And that day – which turned into a week and multiple coconut cakes (also starring Stephanie!) we will save for the sequel.

Until then...


The World's Most Amazing Coconut Cake


Ingredients

For the cake:
8 egg whites
1/2 cup whole milk
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon coconut cream
1 1/2 tablespoon coconut essence
4 1/2 cups cake flour
3 1/2 cups sugar
6 3/4 teaspoons  baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups unsweetened coconut milk

For the frosting:
1½ cups granulated sugar
6 egg whites
1½ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup sour cream
⅔ cup coconut milk

For the Garnish:
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted

Directions

To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 8-inch (or 9-inch) cake pans, line with parchment paper and dust with flour.

Put the egg whites in a bowl and lightly whisk. Add the milk, sour cream, coconut cream and coconut essence and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and coconut milk and combine on low speed until moistened. Jack up the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg white mixture in 3 parts, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing just long enough to incorporate between additions.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

To make the frosting:
In a small, heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Place the bowl on top of a saucepan with about an inch of simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Heat the mixture, whisking occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the bowl from the heat and transfer the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a couple of pieces at a time. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the butter is thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is smooth and glossy. The frosting may initially look curdled after adding the butter, but continue beating and it will come together, looking smooth and creamy by the end of the mixing time.

Add the vanilla extract, salt, sour cream and coconut milk and whip for another few minutes on medium speed, or until the coconut milk is thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is smooth. Again, the buttercream may look thin and separated, but continue mixing until it comes together. It will end up being quite satin-like, light and lovely.

Note: Use the frosting within 30 minutes, or transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 day, then beat with a mixer until smooth before using. You can also store the frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, then bring to room temperature and beat with a mixer for 6 to 8 minutes until smooth before using.

To assemble:

Remove the cooled cakes from their pans and level the tops, if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake stand and top with 1 cup (or so) of the frosting, using a spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.

Place the second layer on top, top-side down and top with 1 more cup (or so) of the frosting, using a spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.

Repeat with third cake.

Spoon the remainder of the frosting onto the top of the cake and use a large offset spatula to spread the it on top and over the sides of the cake, covering it with a very thin layer. Press the shredded coconut onto the top and sides of the frosted cake. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Store in the fridge or an airtight container at room temperature and cake will keep for about three days.


Printable recipe.


Two years ago: Pimiento Cheese Burgers
Three years ago: Cream Biscuits
Five years ago: Lumples





8.04.2014

Hubris.


The most amazing thing has happened. And even though, for eight and a half months I knew it was inevitable, it was going to happen, nothing could have prepared me for that exact moment when it did. The moment Emerson was born. The moment I became a Mom.

I'm not sure that I'm one of those people who always knew I would be a mom some day, or dreamed my whole life of having a baby. To tell you the truth, it was never something that was all that important to me until it was. And that was not all that long ago. And now there is absolutely nothing that is more important. Not even close.

Though it's been just four short/long/short weeks since Emerson was born, one minute it feels like yesterday and I'm lost without a clue, the next it's like I've been doing this, like I've known her forever. Time has never expanded and contracted at this level for me before. And don't even get me started on the hormonal scatting my body has been performing. I was recently talking casually about the weather or some such thing with Fred as tears streamed down my face for seemingly no reason at all. Pay no attention to any tears you see. Unless, of course, you disregard the wrong tears. The real tears. How dare you be so glib about how I'm feeling – what I'm going through?! I don't understand. Everything's changed!*

I constantly vacillate between “What am I doing?” and “I got this.”

Regardless of the tears, legitimate or absurd, and whatever side of confidence I happen to be on at any given moment, every droplet of me knows I have never loved anything like I love this little person. And every part of me knows that I will do anything and everything I possibly can to keep her safe and happy for as long as I live. That yes, everything's changed.* And that I would not want it any other way.

That alone is enough to put someone through a ricochet of emotions from pure, ethereal bliss to sheer, paralyzing fear. And don't even get me started on the hormones... again.


Fred says I'm like a shark; I must constantly be moving and doing. He's right. Though I have spent countless still and quiet hours just staring at Emerson in awe, disbelief and appreciation, it has been a challenge to be so motionless in all of the exterior elements of my life. Work, friends, chores, errands, cleaning, reading, emailing, crosswording, gardening, phone calling, self-grooming, cooking and writing have all had to be put in the back seat. (I do pat myself on the back for being timely and up to date with thank-you cards. I am a good southern girl, after all.)

I have learned am learning to stop, let go and rely on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors - and have been overwhelmed to the point of tears (of course) by all of the thoughtfulness, selflessness and generosity (and food!) that have poured in for me and my family (family!!). Fred who has continued to do so, so much – has added witnessing his partner in life morph into Sybil meets The Excorsist... and still manages to say I'm beautiful and strong and that he loves me (#keeper).


The other day we decided it was time to do 'something normal.' You know, like cook something new and fun and take pictures of it, normal. I was pretty sure I wanted to play with this extraordinary, ginormous burgundy okra we have growing in our garden. Considering I haven't done much of it, pickling was the obvious choice. On the weekend before the okra pickling was to take place, Paz came over for a practice session. We used squash, cucumber and red onion (also from my garden) to make a bread and butter pickle in addition to a standard dill pickle. They turned out pretty great with a couple of little tweaks I would make the next time – like peel the squash.

With my new pickling confidence, I began to think about the okra and what exactly I wanted to do with it. It occurred to me that I had recently had some pretty memorably delicious pickles prepared by Travis Milton, chef de cuisine at Comfort here in Richmond. Coming from rural Southwestern Virginia with the culture of Appalachian food, Chef Milton is known for preserving and furthering the foodways of his old stomping ground and is heavily involved with the Central Appalachian Food Heritage Project, and the Appalachian Community Table. He was even featured in the most recent issue of Garden & Gun Magazine for his Cast-Iron Green Tomato Pie.

So I emailed him and got his Grandmother's recipe for pickled okra. Booya!

Being back home in Richmond has not only brought me back to my mom and dad, but also the other people that I call family. One of these people who I am so grateful to have back in my life is Mary. Mary is Sam's mom and she is family to me. Her house is one I know very well - one overflowing with wonderful, euphoric memories of youth. Now I can add to that a recent Christmas Eve filled with just everyone, a beautiful ladies lunch (just the two of us), an al fresco early Summer dinner in the yard with friends of Sam near and far and new memories we are adding all the time. Speaking of new memories, Mary is pretty excited about little Emerson, too. Oh, and Mary also has one of my all-time favorite kitchens. 


So Fred, Emerson and I packed up our okra fixings, camera equipment and diaper bag and headed to Mary's house for the afternoon. While I pickled, Fred photographed and Mary happily looked after Emerson (though I did find myself scurrying out of the kitchen to peek in on my baby every so often). In a way, I think Mary, Fred and I all got to do something that felt kind of normal. Comfortable. Happy.

But as a thank you for the use of her kitchen and for looking after Emerson, we left the pickled okra in Mary's fridge. Maybe for her to enjoy – or maybe we'd find it there on the next visit, for us all to snack on together.**

Look at me, I so got this.


*A favorite line from Raising Arizona (among so very many).

**Mary ate the okra the next day and said it was delicious!


Pickled Burgundy Okra
(Recipe by Chef Travis Milton)

Okra is one of my favorite things to pickle or can, as it's insanely simple. A lot of people try to over complicate it with different ways to get rid of the "snot", I don't bother with any of those methods and it always comes out great. With burgundy okra you will loose some of the color in the pods, but it will color the vinegar nicely.” -Chef Milton

Ingredients
5 Pounds of okra, trimmed at the cap
2 Red cayenne peppers, de-seeded and sliced into thin rings
1 1/2 Tablespoon dried dill
6 Cups of apple cider vinegar
1 Cup chardonnay
1 1/2 Cups water
4 Shallots, thinly sliced
2 Heads of garlic cloves (about 20 cloves) sliced thin
2 Tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 Tablespoons yellow mustard (By mustard I mean just straight up yellow mustard. It may sound weird, but its something my great grandmother did.)
3 Tablespoons black peppercorns

Directions

Place okra in a large metal mixing bowl.

Bring all the other ingredients to a boil and pour over okra. Let the okra sit for 45 minutes.

Pack in Mason jars and cover with liquid up to 1 1/2 inches below the lip of the jar.

Process or not at this point.


Printable recipe.

One year ago: Fried Green Tomato Benedict with Smithfield Ham & Pimiento Cheese Hollandaise
Two years ago: Anuradha Rice
Three years ago: Yerp: Part 7 - The End.
Four years ago: Great Balls on Tires
Five years ago: For the love of TOMATOES!


7.05.2014

My Americana.


It was hot. Very hot and very humid. In those dog days of summer at Dad's house, we would turn on the one air conditioner window unit we had downstairs and pretty much camp out down there. I can remember Wimbledon playing on the tiny TV that traveled around to whichever room my dad, barefoot wearing cut-off denim shorts and a perfectly worn in red Adidas t-shirt, was situated in. In the kitchen, also barefoot, with the back door open the sound of the cicadas and the smell of the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms through the screen door, I would be standing over the sink with a tomato sandwich in my hands and the magical mixture of salty mayonnaise and the seedy, juicy mess of the perfectly sweet and ripe tomato running down my face and wrists.

After wiping my face with the back of my hand and throwing on some flip flops, I would run out the front door to meet up with neighborhood friends and roam around streets, parks, alleys or the river until the light began to shift, the cicadas got ear-piercingly louder, and the fireflies began to light up the dusk, signifying the end of our day. All of us kids, with our hands and feet brownish-black, covered with dirt and muck, would scurry home for baths and dinner. And in those beautiful, nasty, hot, humid dog days of summer, the deep red, ripe tomatoes would most assuredly be on the plate at dinnertime as well. Perhaps served in chunks with some raw sweet corn kernels, in a mixed salad or most often, simply thickly sliced and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper.


I couldn't tell you my favorite color. I couldn't tell you my favorite ice cream flavor or my favorite band. Shockingly, I couldn't even tell you my favorite dish or meal, though sea urchin and extra salty movie theater popcorn would invariably be in the running (but not together). But I can tell you this: the tomato is my favorite food. I will eat a tomato any way it can possibly be made to exist, even in jam form. And unlike my dad, if I'm desperate, I will even eat a wintery, mealy out of season tomato. I just can't turn one away.

The perfect tomato – at least in Virginia - is a singular yet fleeting experience. Its prime season is short and very sweet. Even after spending more than a decade in Southern California, with its vast array of year-round beautiful and amazing produce, I never came across a tomato to rival the ones in Virginia in July and August.


It's 4th of July weekend – America's birthday – which harks to a lot of tradition and nostalgia for many of us. With all of our senses: smells, sounds, textures, sights and tastes in overdrive, we think of apple pies cooling on the windowsill, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grill, baseball, parades, picnics on the grass, music and fireworks. But for me, my Americana, though it can and does include those things, is really that tomato sandwich and its gorgeous juicy mess running down my face and wrists as I triumphantly devour it over the kitchen sink as the cicadas sing and I can smell the 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms just outside the screen door. 


The Perfect Tomato Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches

The perfect, transcendent tomato sandwich is so extraordinarily simple that it requires considerable restraint to not mess it up, to not gild the lily. There is a place and time to add the avocado or to toast the bread - or to even go full BLT - but that is a different thing entirely. For the sandwich I speak of you will need only five things and napkins and plates are not on the list.


Ingredients:
4 slices of soft, white bread
1 large, perfectly ripe tomato, sliced about 1/4” thick (the quality of the tomato is 99.9% of what makes this sandwich great, so select yours wisely)
Duke's mayonnaise
Salt & pepper (no need for the fancy stuff)


Directions:
Go ahead and be decadent with the mayo. Smear it liberally on each piece of bread. 

For that matter, go ahead and be decadent with the salt and pepper as well. Salt and pepper each slice of the mayo-laden bread.

Ideally the tomato is large enough that you will only need one, maybe two slices for the whole sandwich. Put the tomato on one side of the bread and place the other piece of bread on top.

The mayo and the juices of the tomato will quickly create a beautiful pink, milky liquid that renders the sandwich a drippy, wet mess. Embrace the mess but eat fast and deftly - I suggest over the sink. While the last bite is still in your mouth, slurp juices off hands, wipe face with back of now 'clean' hands and promptly run outside to play with your friends.


Five years ago: Pimiento Cheese


6.15.2014

The Legend of Jammin' Raku


I have wanted to publicly share the story of Jammin' Raku going on a solid fifteen years - waiting semi-patiently for just the right time and place. And I've found it with my first Fathers' Day back home with my dad. So he can berate me in person once he reads it.

This story began back in the mid-nineties - an era where I primarily listened to and consumed all things hip hop. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and vividly remember the phone call from Dad asking, rather excitedly, if I had heard “the new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku.”

As my eyes rolled out of my head and down the block, I replied that I had not.

Well, you would love him,” he told me. I was dubious to say the least. I thought I was extremely cool – cutting edge, even, with my musical tastes. Considering I was listening to Organized Konfusion and my dad, Alison Krauss, well, that kind of nailed it for me. Let's just say I didn't exactly follow up on the Jammin' Raku tip.

Some time passed, a few months or so, and Dad came to visit in Atlanta. “So did you ever find that Jammin' Raku I was telling you about? No? Well, I'm really surprised. He's really hip right now and I know you'd love him.” During his visit he would ask my various friends if they had heard of the hip, new rapper, Jammin' Raku to no avail. Then, much to my horror, he wanted to go to the local record store to get to the bottom of the mystery. I'm sure you've read or seen High Fidelity? Criminal Records was like that. I never went in not knowing what I was looking for and I certainly never went in if I was going to buy anything less than cooler than cool.

I hustled Dad straight to the hip hop section to look under the Js. Nothing. Then the Rs nothing. Then that sinking feeling when I heard him say, “Well, let's just ask someone who works here.” After my dad, quite audibly (and, in my opinion, shamelessly) asked a staff member behind the counter (the back of the counter was elevated about two or three feet so that the staff literally looked down at you) about the new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku. With no results, we moved on. But not before I bought an actual new, 'hip' album that I thought would redeem me from that excruciatingly uncool moment.

I thought the matter was dropped.

About a year later, I was visiting Richmond and having lunch with my dad when I heard those words again: “So did you ever find anything out about that rapper, Jammin' Raku?” If only the three little letters existed together then – OMG.

No, Dad,” I said, and tried desperately to change the subject. “Well, let's just drop into the record store here and try one last time. I swear you'll thank me. This guy is right up your alley.” So, of course the record store he was referring to was essentially right up there with the one in Atlanta on the High Fidelity cooler-than-thou scale. Christ, I had spent my entire youth trying to establish my coolness with the staff there, going as far as wearing my Gwar-blood-covered white v-neck tee shirts whilst perusing Fishbone vinyl throughout high school. I still had a crush on a boy that worked there!

Do I even need to tell you that it was the exact same story as in Atlanta the year before? I was even more mortified that even IF there was a new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku, he couldn't possibly still be new or hip an entire year later.

Once again, I thought the matter was dropped.

Back in Atlanta, another six months or so passed when I received a care package from Dad. With a CD in it. There was also a note: “This is the guy I've been trying to tell you about!”

I looked down at the stark white CD with a silhouette of a cartoonish figure of a man in the familiar large, fuzzy hat with horns. No, not new, not hip (sorry Dad), and certainly not a rapper. Jammin' Raku?

It was Jamiroquai.

That's my dad. And that's the story of Jammin' Raku.

And today is Father's Day. The first Father's Day I have been able to actually spend with my dad since before the Legend of Jammin' Raku. So we are going to do lots of stuff together. With Fred, too. One of the events is, of course, cooking.

From left: Dad, Janie & Uncle Doug
For a long time now I have been hearing about my dad's favorite meal that his mother, Janie, used to prepare. She made it for the whole family often, but when Dad first came back come from the Navy to visit and she served it, he told her it was his favorite of all meals. She then made it for him every single time he came home.

It's pretty weird sounding and has a host of seemingly disparate layers together on a plate: green beans (snap beans) with pinto beans cooked forever with ham hocks, fresh creamed sweet corn, cucumber and green onion salad in iced vinegar, thick slices of ripe tomatoes and cornbread. Oddly, I have never been served this meal. I sort of thought it was a myth, actually. It's very southern and very summer.

Over lunch with my dad and his brother, my Uncle Pat, recently, the two of them chatted about this meal. Pat remembers it well. He ate his with all of the components on the plate together but separated. My dad liked to pile everything on top of everything, in his own special order, in the form of a gloppy strata. This meal was always served with the sweetest of iced tea.

So, tonight, on this momentous Father's Day reunited with my dad, back in the south and knocking on summer's door, we will have his Favorite Meal. I will get to hear wonderful stories of his childhood, family and Janie while we chop and stir and eat.

And maybe we will listen to some of that new, hip rapper, Jammin' Raku's music, too.

~~~~~~~~~~

I love you so much Dad. You have always been and still are my hero. I couldn't be happier to be spending this day with you again. Happy Father's Day.


Janie's Summer Harvest

This meal was probably so frequently seen on the dinner table in the summer months because Janie, and I imagine many southern cooks, could harvest nearly all of the ingredients in her backyard garden. The entire meal is compiled essentially of five side dishes. Serve them family style and plate them separately or, like my dad, all piled on top of one another (from bottom: green beans, creamed corn, cucumber salad, tomatoes and then cornbread).

Let me add that all dishes are heavily salted and peppered.


Everything serves 4


Green Beans with Ham

Ingredients
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed & rinsed
1/2 pound of pinto or cranberry beans soaked
4 cups water
1/4 pound diced salt pork or 1 ham hock
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Put water in a 2-quart saucepan; add pintos and diced salt pork. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add green beans, salt, and pepper; cover and cook green beans over medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until green beans are tender.

~~~~~~~~~~

Creamed Corn

Ingredients
8 ears of corn
1 1/2 cup of whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
In a large saucepan, melt butter on medium heat.

Remove the kernels from the corn. Stand a corn cob vertically on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, use long, downward strokes of the knife to remove the kernels from the cob. Add corn to saucepan. Use the edge of a spoon to scrape the sides of the cob to remove any remaining pulp into saucepan.

Add milk and bring to a low simmer, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 30 minutes until the corn is tender.

Salt & pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cucumber & Spring Onion Salad

Ingredients
1-1 ½ cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut in half width-wise
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup of ice cubes
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Toss cucumber, onion, vinegar and ice cubes in a bowl and let sit until well chilled. Salt and pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Thick Sliced Ripe Tomatoes with Salt and Pepper

Ingredients
3 large, ripe tomatoes
Salt & pepper taste

Directions
Slice tomatoes about 1/4” thick

Arrange on plate and salt & pepper to taste.

~~~~~~~~~~

Classic Skillet Cornbread
(recipe adapted from Deep South Dish)

Ingredients
1/4 cup of oil, shortening or bacon fat
1-1/2 cups of all purpose white or yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 cups of buttermilk, more or less
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add the fat to a well seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet into the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet. In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat around to coat the skillet.

Pour the fat from the skillet into the cornmeal mixture; stir. Stir in half of the buttermilk and add the egg; add more buttermilk as needed to make a thick but pourable batter. Depending on the grind of your cornmeal and the type of buttermilk you use, you may not need it all. Fold ingredients and don't beat the batter. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet. Place directly into the oven and bake at 450 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate or platter to preserve the crust.




Two years ago: An Evening in Gruissan.
Three years ago: Shiso Leaf Butter

5.25.2014

For Those About to Cook, I Salute You.


I've been at this blogging thing for six and a half years now, and it's been good to me. It began as a whim and, yes, my timing was pretty perfect. The whole food blogging thing was becoming... a thing. I didn't know anything about blogging, or even what the word meant exactly. I knew I loved food. I loved to think about it, talk about it, read about it, make it, eat it and share it. My friends couldn't help but notice the interest-turned-obsession and one in particular urged me to start what has become F for Food.

I read many other blogs and have become enmeshed in the blogging community. Many of my closest friends, even now, are fellow food bloggers. There are quite a few different flavors of us: the restaurant bloggers and the recipe bloggers are the two broadest groups. I fall more into the recipe category with the occasional restaurant discussion. Some of us recipe bloggers like to flex creative writing and storytelling with our recipes and some write the straight dope about the recipes, the seasonality, the use of ingredients. Again, I fall more into the creative writing/storytelling camp, with some dialogue about The Food.

For the dishes I share on F for Food, I use some of my very own brainflowers, but I also pool from the world-wide world of recipes; cookbooks, online references and, often, other bloggers. I frequently read a recipe that I find alluring and then riff on it in my kitchen. If it works, I will likely share the results. I often tell the story of how I found the recipe and from whom it originated. I have written consistently about Alice Waters, Marion Cunningham, Suzanne Goin, Melissa Clark and Molly Wizenberg (funny, all women) to name a few - their food, and their influence on my own. Usually in the paragraphs leading up to the actual recipe.

In some instances, Fred and I create a dish from nothing and then research to see who has also created the same dish, or something similar, in the past to use as a recipe model. As it would appear, very little is truly original or not inspired by something that has already been thrust into the world.





Here's what I have not done. I have not properly transformed the instructional parts of the recipes. And more importantly, in the proper instances, I have not placed the attribution under the title of the recipe – resulting in not giving credit where credit is due. For example, when I rambled on about hearing an episode of The Splendid Table where Melissa Clark tells the beautiful memory of her childhood and the pan bagnat (though I included hyperlinks to both The Splendid Table episode and Melissa Clark), I did not type 'adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark' at the top of the recipe.

First, I would like to apologize for this oversight and, second, let you know that I am in the process of going back through the archives of F for Food to make certain the appropriate due credit is given. I have nothing but respect and admiration for chefs, food lovers and recipe creators of all kinds. My blog began as, and continues to be, a testament to my reverence, love and appreciation of everything about food and those who feel the same way that have come before me, are here now and those who will pave the yellow pound cake road of the future.

So this is Memorial Day weekend. Let's go outside, drink cold adult beverages by a body of water of some kind and eat some sort of thing from a grill – or, in my preganant-self's case, enjoy some cold, refreshing popsicles in my back yard with Fred. Let's all get to it, shall we?


Watermelon-Mint Popsicles with Lime
(This recipe is a Fred + Elliott original)

Makes 10 popsicles

Ingredients
4 cups of watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes, plus 1 cup 1/4-inch cubes (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves, tightly packed
Zest & juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions
Puree 1-inch cubes of watermelon & run through sieve into medium bowl. 

Muddle mint & sugar together, add to watermelon liquid along with lime zest & juice. Stir well. 
Refrigerate mixture for about 30 minutes to allow sugar to melt and let flavors infuse. 

Divide the 1/4-inch watermelon cubes evenly between the 10 sections of the popsicle mold, then using a pitcher with a spout, carefully fill molds, leaving about 1/4-inch of room at the top as the popsicles will expand as they freeze. 

Insert popsicle sticks and freeze away (approximately 3-5 hours, depending on your freezer). If you are using wooden popsicle sticks and your mold does not have a guide, freeze for 1 hour and then insert the sticks.

*FYI - We used this type of popsicle mold.