Ok, so maybe a bunch of blueberries: maybe even a truckload. Since it pretty much feels like varying degrees of summer all year ’round in Florida, I rely on produce to tell me when summer has officially arrived: corn, cherries, melons, and stone fruit are in abundance. Best of all, it’s finally time when organic berries don’t cost an arm and a leg for a half-pint. Florida’s strawberry season comes sometime between December and February, but summer is when blackberries, raspberries and blueberries come into their own here. Last month, I found an entire pint of blueberries for $3.99…I bought two. I should have bought four. I went back to Publix a couple of weeks after and they were $3.00…I bought six. Six pints of blueberries; that’s about 14 cups! I laughed as they practically filled an entire shelf in my fridge. I was feeling so ambitious, I didn’t want to freeze a single one. And so the baking commenced!
Or, more accurately, a boatload of maple… Like most folks, we use our fair share of maple syrup on breakfasty things like waffles, pancakes, and French toast; I also love to use it in muffins and cupcakes and icings. On a savory note, I remember when my mom used to make chicken dipped in maple syrup and coated in crushed pecans. I even go so far as to whisk this stuff into my homemade maple mustard vinaigrette. I knew maple syrup was versatile; I had no idea how versatile until our recent trip to Quebec City.
What is your favorite spice? For me, the award goes to this crimson beauty: smoked paprika. It’s interesting because growing up, paprika had only one purpose as far as I knew: topping the cream cheese-stuffed celery boats that my Grandmother used to make. I remember it not having all that much flavor, but it made that little crudité look fancier and definitely more colorful. I always thought paprika was one of those spices that you should have on hand–you never know when you’ll get a hankering for celery boats–but despite having it, I rarely used it. My attitude towards paprika changed when I discovered its smoky cousin.
What do you see when you look at this picture? The vertebrae from an unknown species? A tree from a Dr. Seuss book? Some kind of flower bud? Actually, it is a cluster of Brussels sprouts; yep, this is how they grow! Unless you’ve seen them in a garden, chances are, you’ve never seen them still attached to their stalk. I get so excited when I find these towers of sprouts: they are a rare find in grocery stores–your chances are better at finding them this way at the farmer’s market. They taste fresher than their loose supermarket counterparts because much of their moisture is retained via the stalk. So, yes, there is a bit of knife work needed to liberate them from their spire, but it’s not enough to deter me from buying them this way. The cashier at Trader Joe’s told me that his sister takes the whole stalk, oils it up and throws it right on the grill. Note to self: it’s time to deviate from my default roasting habits and try something new–I’m taking this enormity to the grill!
As promised in my You Say Tomato post, a word–or several hundred–on Caprese sandwiches.
Avocados are one of the new superfoods. That’s all fine and good, but about this time five years ago, you could have told me that eating an avocado magically turns you into a supermodel and I still wouldn’t have touched one. I never saw an avocado enter the house when I was growing up: it just wasn’t something we ate. So, it wasn’t until college that I had my first formal introduction courtesy of my best friend who loved guacamole. She smeared it on all things Mexican–and back then, we ate a lot of Mexican food–it grossed me out every time. I refused to even try it. I eventually did try it, but I stuck to my guns–yuck! As adventurous as I was with food back then, I just couldn’t get on board the avocado train and I had no rational reason why. In retrospect, it’s funny: I would eat octopus, but avocados were a no-no.
As I started to come around–which was only a few years ago–I would eat them as long as they were buried in whatever it was I was eating: tacos and sushi were the best for hiding. Now that I don’t have to resort to concealment, my favorite way of eating avocados is ordering guacamole from a restaurant that prepares it fresh tableside. I love seeing all of the fresh ingredients coming together in a giant molcajete–you know, that bowl that looks like a pestle made of lava rock–and piling that stuff onto fresh tortilla chips. It could easily be a meal for me. How’s that for an avocado 180?
Aside from desserts, one of the first things I remember cooking for other people is chili. I learned how to make my Mom’s “dump and stir” version–there wasn’t much to it. The recipe was exactly this: one pound of browned ground beef; one can Hunt’s “chili-ready” tomatoes; one can tomato sauce; and one can kidney beans. I made it often and people loved it–until one night I had friends over to my dorm room for dinner and I got busted by the RA. “No plug-in electrical skillets!” she scolded. Well, that was the end of my first dinner party era.
Confession: I don’t make everything from scratch. In our crazy lives, I’m not sure many people do anymore. Like many folks out there, I use frozen foods, canned goods and pre-made items at times. Someday, I will meet Martha and she will tell me that she cheats sometimes, too–she must! And if in fact, she really doesn’t take shortcuts, I will then persuade her to make me her protégé so that I can be privy to all of her secrets.
I take shortcuts in my day-to-day life; however, not when it comes to baking: I make my cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats from scratch. There is nothing more satisfying and relaxing than taking a few basic ingredients and turning them into something incredibly decadent. For today’s Tidbit, I wanted to share with you my top secret recipe for the best brownies in the world and—surprise!—they come from a box! Yes, I just said that I don’t take shortcuts when I bake—I’m a total hypocrite. The truth is I have just two exceptions to that rule: brownies and puff pastry.
What is it about ramen that is so darn comforting? Maybe it’s just the fact that you can slurp your way through an entire bowl and not be redirected once for being rude. In the world of ramen, slurping is actually considered a necessity; it helps cool the noodles down from your piping hot bowl of broth. There is a technique for properly eating ramen and this requires not only a spoon, but also chopsticks. More on that later…
Mention ramen noodles and most people think of the 5/$1.00 packages from the grocery store: a college student’s mainstay. There is some concern with fact that these packets of soup cost next to nothing; it makes me seriously question their nutritional value, or lack thereof. If you reap no other benefit from this post, know that there is a big world of ramen out there and it has nothing to do with those cheap packages or Styrofoam cups of soup.