Category Archives: foods

Oui, oui, Paris! (Wanderlust #1)

A few weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and broke my foot.

This will surprise no one, seeing as I’m remarkably prone to tripping over my own feet or in this case, tripping over nothing at all.

It’s not a bad enough break to put me on crutches (thank goodness), but it has landed me on the couch even more so than usual. And recently—during one of many sedentary hours—I ran across the first episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain hits Paris.

Tony with Eric Ripert and Joel Robuchon (from travelchannel.com)

Have I mentioned before how much I adore Tony B? He has the most perfect job in the world, if you ask me (travel + food + great company); and to be honest, my crush on him is not small. A friend of mine told me she met him at a book launch party one time, and I nearly had a heart attack.

This episode was perfection, and set the standard for the show’s success. Between trying absinthe and hallucinating in the hotel bedroom where Oscar Wilde died, and enjoying  a croissant for breakfast in one of Paris’s many cafes, Tony cruises up and down French streets taking in the daily atmosphere of one of the world’s most luxurious cities. Heaven on Earth, I say. I can almost taste the cheese.

SatC - "An American Girl in Paris"

Paris fascinates so many of us Americans for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s mostly because we think Parisians live a life that is diametrically opposite to ours. The slow, daily romance of Paris stands in contrast to the American grind. Long Starbucks lines versus a leisurely pastry and cup of cappuccino in the morning. Aged wine versus Coca-Cola. Utilitarian office buildings versus Montmartre.

Like most girls my age, I wanted to visit the Paris of Amelie.

And that’s exactly what I did in 2002.

I spent my twentieth birthday in Bayeux, Normandy, and Paris, eating quiche and frolicking along the Seine like a fool. We gawked at the lights along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and ate nutella crepes until we wanted to barf. My friends and I stalked photo booths in Paris Nord, looking for our own version of Mathieu Kassovitz. We spent five hours at the Louvre, though we could have spent five days. I was so exhausted from taking it all in that I fell asleep against a wall in the Musée d’Orsay. It was an incredible time, and looking back on it now, I cannot believe how it was almost ten years ago.

So as I sat on the couch feeling sorry for myself because I could barely walk down the street (let alone travel anywhere), I thought bringing Paris to me would be the next best thing to being there with Tony. And what says “Paris in the morning” more than a hot, flaky butter croissant?

I’d made these once before and had been so impressed with the recipe that I tried it again. You can find it all here at Epicurious.com.

It’s not a quick procedure, making croissants. It basically takes two days, and lots and lots of rolling. But once the dough is ready to take shape, it rises and rises on its own, which gives it that light-and-airy quality.

After being shaped on a baking sheet and allowed to sit (in a garbage-bag balloon contraption) for a few hours, the dough rises beautifully. You can already see the layers forming.

The first time I made these, I could not believe how well they turned out. They looked like the real thing, and they tasted pretty good too. This recipe is a labor of love, but it was worth the payoff. And if I can do it, you most definitely can too.

Anyone else feeling wanderlusty right now? Any tips for taming the anywhere-but-here beast?

Au revoir, mes amis!

*Joce

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Got a Texan in Your Life?

If so, make ’em one of these!

If you know any Texans, you know that they are in love (obsessed?) with their state. I mean, I think the world of my beautiful home state of Tennessee, but apparently (according to what I’ve heard from Texans) God lives and manufactures goodness in Texas. So—to pay homage to this supposed greatness—I’d originally hoped to make a Texas-shaped cake for my roommate Nancy’s birthday. But there was no way to get a Texas-shaped cake pan in time for the party, so I decided to improvise with the round cake pan I actually had.

This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but I was pretty proud of it because it turned out just as I’d hoped it would. Nothing here is homemade: The cake is a white cake mix, and the icing was supplied by my reliable boyfriend, Duncan Hines. But I’m proud to say that I managed to make this thing without ever having taken a cake decorating class in my life.

Start out with two layers of cake that have cooled completely. Use white icing between the layers and on the outside (I used 1.5 containers of store-bought icing in toto).

Dye some of that icing blue, and some of it red, but remember to leave some white. With a big piping bag and a flower-shaped Wilton tip (I think mine was #108 or #109), pipe the left half of the cake with blue.

I also piped a few little flowers on the NSEW sides of the cake, just because I had extra icing to use. Next, pipe the lower right corner with red; the top right with white; and a big, important, Texan lone star (“emblem of freedom!”) on the left with the remaining white.

Holler, it’s like the flag of Texas! Seriously, if I can do this, anyone can. The best part, though, was the inside.

SURPRISE! I dyed the layers red and quasi-blue, just to up the Texas ante. It was almost as good as a dinner of Texas-shaped waffles and chips.

Anyway, it’s an easy way to show a Texan you truly care. I think Nan had a good enough time.

What about you all? Have you got any creative ideas for how to spruce up a cake mix?

xoxo,

Joce

*Disclaimer: do not attempt if you (or anyone else coming to partake-of-cake) is allergic to dye. This cake includes about ten lbs. of Red-40.

On Plastic Cheese and Crockpots

*WARNING: This post has its disgusting moments, and after reading it, you may think less of me.

This morning my folks took me to the Waffle House, where I ordered my standard Cheese-N-Eggs and coffee. When I asked our waitress to “hold the yolks” on my eggs, she looked at me and said, “So you’re telling me  you want me to take out the protein so you can have more of our plastic cheese?” Even though it was embarrassing when she put it like that, “more plastic cheese” was exactly what I was asking for.

It’s no secret to those who know me well that my eating habits are occasionally gross. Fast food and vending-machine snacks make up a larger portion of my diet than I’d like to admit. But I must say that the “experiment” I’m about to describe has made me think just a little bit harder about the garbage I’ve been consuming lately.

It’s February 2010. Super-Bowl Sunday, to be exact, and I made Rotel dip in the crockpot (1 brick of Velveeta + 2 cans of Rotel tomatoes). I guess the crockpot got too hot by the end of the night, so the dip got a bit dry and thick. Instead of cleaning up the crockpot that night, I turned it off and left it until the next day.

I didn’t clean it the next day, either. Nor the next day, nor the next year.

The crockpot became this disgusting experiment in my house, as my roommate Nancy and I vowed to see how long it would take for the thing to grow mold. Several people offered to clean it for us, but I guess the disgusting part of me was amazed at the cheese’s refusal to change from the exact same form it took that night of the Super Bowl party. I thought that surely it would eventually sprout something or, I don’t know, implode? Rip a hole in the space-time continuum?

It became clear after the one-year anniversary of the crockpot that the plastic cheese was never, ever, going to turn into anything other than the hardened mass of plastic that it was. So, we agreed to let Petey, Nancy’s dad, take on the challenge of cleaning the crockpot.

So, this May—an entire fifteen months after Super Bowl 2010—Petey attacked the crockpot with a knife, a screwdriver, and the courage of a tiger.

I expected Petey to find a fungi forest hiding underneath all of this. We’d taken care to leave the science experiment completely alone, so even the cheap plastic spoon stayed put. Lo and behold, it only took a couple shakes of the spoon to dislodge the mess.

Blammo! A fifteen-month-old piece of plastic cheese. We think Petey was disappointed that his task wasn’t more challenging than it was.

I guess the moral of the story is that some foods aren’t really foods. Velveeta, for example, even when infused with canned tomatoes, will exist like a fossil on your kitchen counter forever, so there’s no telling what kind of misery the body goes through to digest it.

We scrubbed and bleached the crockpot back to life, so I thought it would be fitting to re-christen it with another cheesy dish after its fifteen-month break. But this time, I made sure to use the kind of cheese that wasn’t 50% wax, as well as ingredients that—although not entirely healthy—are at least perishable.

Easy Crockpot Mac-N-Cheese (adapted from Paula’s Home Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 10-oz. bag of grated cheddar cheese (or, grate your own)
  • 1 can cheese soup
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • S&P

 
Boil the macaroni until al dente, then drain. Meanwhile, in a saucepan or whatever-you’ve-got, melt the butter and the cheese together.

Stir everything together in the crockpot, and set the temperature on Low. Make sure everything is incorporated well before leaving it alone to do its crockpot thing.

Cover, and let sit for 2 hours. I stirred it once or twice over the course, but this recipe is supposed to be low-maintenance. By dinnertime, you’ll have a hearty side dish.

I never said it was healthy, but at least it’s not that blasted plastic cheese.

How about you all? Any foods that gross you out as concepts, but you just can’t resist?

In the name of transparency, I’ll admit that I ate some Cheetos during the making of this post.

xoxo,
Joce

. . . and Kate Saved the McQueen

Ay-up, bezzy mates! Is anyone else still experiencing post-royal-wedding ennui as badly as I am? If so, read on. But if any of you feels/felt the same way that internet sensation Mad Melvin felt about the royal nuptials, then this post is probably skippable.

Aside from the mini-breakdown I had midday on that Friday upon realizing that Prince William had actually, really, truly married someone who is NOT me, I’d say the whole royal-wedding-shebang was as much fun as I’d hoped. Like millions of other crazy people, I woke up at 3:00 in the morning to watch the ordeal of the arriving guests, the hats, the tails, the fancy cars, and—of course—the dress. Though I’m pretty sure I slept through the wedding homily, I think I saw the most important stuff—including, but not limited to:

The Queen, who I must say looked just adorable and cheery in yellow Angela Kelly:

Beatrice and Eugenie, in Valentino and Vivienne Westwood respectively, taking some risks with unforgettable Philip Treacy hats:

Of course, these dudes:

Pippa M., whose derriere has now garnered international fame:

And the star of the day, Kate M., now the Duchess Catherine of Cambridge:

I must say: WELL DONE, PRINCESS KATE! Though the press had done a pretty good job sleuthing and figuring out that Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen was going to be designing Kate’s gown, I still found it to be a lovely, lovely surprise. I adored the combination of the lace sleeves with the sweetheart bodice/neckline, as well as the manner in which her veil never obscured her face. Without going into much detail, I thought it was very dramatic and elegant, yet simple at the same time. And good grief did it photograph well!

So basically, I had already watched the royal wedding before our royal wedding watch party ever began; but it worked out well, because then I could tend to all the party goings-on. And the party was great, by the way—thanks mostly to great friends who brought great food. It’s my philosophy that any party will be successful if you have at least those two key components.

Here are some of the early arrivals posing with the gigantic Union Jack we hung from the front of the house:

We set up the table with red roses and white tulips; our Union Jack bunting and runner; some very hilarious diamond-ring doodads; and of course, the nosh.

Our friends brought everything from tea cookies to cucumber sandwiches to delicious cheeses and nutella. We served Irish soda bread, sausage rolls (recipe included below), stewed mushrooms, Framboises St. George, and Cottage Pie (Will’s childhood favorite). Everything we cooked came straight out of the book Eating Royally by Darren McGrady, who was at one point private chef to Diana. I was most proud of my super-easy raspberry dessert, which was supposed to look like St. George’s Cross.

The party flowed smoothly between the kitchen, the makeshift drink bar, the watching area, and the yard, where we had a lively game of nighttime croquet. Of course, my friends let me win because they have royally good manners.

All in all, it was a capital day! I think I can say confidently that we had a better time than Grace Van Cutsem.

Recipe for Sausage Rolls (adapted from Eating Royally)

I’ve made these twice now, and they are extremely easy and tasty. And they look kind of fancy, too, so I’d recommend them for any event that requires posh-looking finger-foods.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. pork sausage
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 package of puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 375F. In a big bowl, mix together one egg with your sausage and dried herbs. Add salt and pepper. Make sure the herbs are incorporated thoroughly into the meat.

Take your puff pastry (make sure it is somewhere between frozen and thawed) and roll it out a little. Cut the pastry into thirds, along the fold lines. (I placed the pieces I was not working with in the freezer, to keep them from getting too mushy.) At one long edge of the pastry, begin forming a log of sausage about 1-inch thick. Once your log is in place, brush the other long edge of your pastry with the other beaten egg. Carefully tuck the sausage log into the pastry, rolling it up tightly. The egg wash should help to seal pastry into a sturdy roll.

If the roll is too mushy, place it back in the freezer for a while. If it’s still cold enough to handle without sticking, begin cutting the log into half-inch pieces. (A very sharp knife helps here.) Repeat this entire process with both pieces of pastry (6 rolls in all). Place them on a baking sheet (no need to grease it), and bake for 15-20 minutes. Before you know it, you’ll have 50+ little appetizers that look like this:

from clairesyummyrecipes.blogspot.com

So what about all of you? What did you think of the wedding? Beatrice’s hat? The Archbishop of Canterbury’s glorious eyebrows?

Cheerio, loves!

*Joce

A Royal Wedding Countdown!

It was just a few weeks ago when I woke up, turned on the television, stumbled out of bed, and yelled down from the banister to my roommate: “Nancy, it can’t be true!”

Nancy—ever more productive, efficient, and ahead-of-me-in-every-way—replied something along the lines of, “I’m devastated! My plans have failed! WhatEVER will happen to my plans for a Pottery Barn lifestyle?!”

I remember taping cut-outs of Prince William inside my high school locker; and Nancy, upon seeing the Prince himself in London last summer, got so frazzled with joy that (rather than snapping a photo of him) she instead took a photo of the sidewalk. So it only seems fitting that we celebrate the death of a dream with an enormous party, surrounded by friends, food, and festivities.

Remember this, girls? Be still my teenage heart.

To get ready for our “Watch Party,” I’ve been scouring the internet for party ideas and any new information I can find about the royal fashions. Though I had read earlier (and blogged about the possibility) that Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen might be designing Kate’s dress, I also read that Sophie Cranston of Libélula might be in charge.

from Vanity Fair's website

While the dresses from the Libélula website are just lovely, I’m still hoping for something gigantic and dramatic. You know, like Queen Victoria’s:

Or Carrie Bradshaw’s:

Or the dress Project Runway winner Leanne Marshall envisioned for Kate:

Or even Princess Giselle’s:

Just kidding. (Sort of.)

Anyway, I guess we’ll find out at our party on Friday! On the docket for the shindig:

  • food and drink, including: Cottage Pie, Irish soda bread, Croque Monsieur, and Buck’s Fizz
  • a DVR-d replay of the coverage, since we aren’t dedicated enough to watch it in the wee hours
  • royal wedding bingo
  • maybe a hat-and-jewels contest
  • tea sampling
  • croquet in my SUV-rutted yard (weather permitting)
  • probably lots of fake-English accent-speaking (although we can’t go too far, since our friend Victoria—who is bona fide British—will be there, and might get sick of us)
Right now I’m working on some Union Jack bunting to hang around the house. If I can make it, so can you. All you need is:
  • blue fabric
  • red and white ribbon of various sizes
  • hot glue (with gun)
  • scissors
  • white bias tape
  • and a rotary cutter

I’m making at least one or two more strands of the flag buntings, but here’s the first one:

What about you all? Are you geeking out as much as we are, or are you over it already? Are you going to watch it live, or will you wait until morning?

Cheerio, loves! Will check in with news or updates—

*Jocelyn

Bad girl.

This came in the mail on Tuesday.

“What is inside?” you wonder. “That wrapping is too cute!”

What could it be?

Well, heavens to betsy. It’s an entire box of macarons!

Holy crow, these things are cute! Aside from the few that were a little bit crumbled, the box arrived mostly intact, with fifteen adorable little puffs in 8 different flavors. Some had mousseline filling, some had flavored cream, and the strawberry ones (seen here) had a pretty glitter coat on one side. Almost too pretty to eat, really.

But that didn’t stop me!

*Chomp.*

In case you’re wondering who my generous benefactor is—the person who decided once and for all that I needed to know firsthand the mystery that is “the French macaron”—I can tell you with only a little bit of shame that I ordered this entire box of treats for myself. That’s right—I am OWNING this one, folks. I figured that if I was planning on making these again sometime, I ought to know: A) how big they are supposed to be, and B) how they are supposed to taste. So I hopped onto Sucre’s website and placed an order. For fifteen macarons. Apparently they are beloved by Oprah, so I figured they might be good enough for me.

So since this was all done strictly in the name of research (*ahem*), here’s my verdict: Macarons are, indeed, precious. I found the pistachio, almond, and pecan flavors the most delicious. The shell portion is definitely solid, but flakes and collapses easily (so definitely NOT as crispy as a normal merengue). You can eat one in three ladylike nibbles, but they are easily small enough to shove into your mouth one at a time. But at nearly two bucks a pop, I wouldn’t advise such piggery. Did I mention that this was not an inexpensive science experiment?

Which leads me to the final conclusion: Macarons are not the dessert for me. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I could have eaten this entire box all by myself in about ten minutes (piggery, much?). I tried to space them out, enjoying two or three per day, but I generally went for the box of thin mints right afterward. Perhaps I’m not dainty enough for these pretty little air puffs, and not wealthy enough to take down a box at a time like Blair Waldorf. Or perhaps I just have an eating problem (most likely true).

Thanks for indulging with me, friends. If you have any other ideas regarding sweets and using me as a guinea pig, I’m all ears. 🙂

Love love,

*Joce

Bumbly rhubarb crumbly… hiccup.

Ok fine. This rash of 2137 activity has sucked me into its vortex! So here is an update from Jennifer, completing the crafty trio.

Since the last time we spoke (about granola and depression) I’ve made a few positive life decisions, grown in faith and in wisdom, developed as a person… and decided to make a concerted effort to drink more.

But is this a good idea, you ask?  The blood of my fathers, which runneth in my veins, says, “Ayyyyye!”

It all started with the purchase of this book in the Borders bargain bin…

…and blossomed into a new life-chapter filled with sloshy taste adventures. Who even knew there WERE 1001 cocktails?? Plus, I hear it makes those pills work better :).

Here I will begin a series of posts to open up to you a world of boozy cookery, resulting in delicious, mouth-tingling noms, and possibly an intervention. And even more possibly a scene like this:

Baby Trashes Bar

[[from neatobambino.com: “This toddler has no sense of propriety. What a mess! She’s staggering around, knocking stuff over! She obviously can’t hold her drink.”]]

ahem.

Let’s begin with dessert, since our judgment is already impaired. This is Emeril’s Strawberry Irish Crumble with Irish Whiskey Butter.

If you’ve never heard of whiskey butter, it’s like butter but sweet and with the ability to burn your nose hairs off. The perfect addition to any cold-weather treat.

To begin, collect the following for the topping:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup Irish whiskey

Whip up your butter and sugar…

Until creamy and dreamy like so:

Then reach into your cabinet and withdraw a HEALTHY DRAM OF FINE SPIRITS:

I uses Jameson because I like it. A lot.

My gracious, where did it all go? Didn’t I have more of this stuff? Why can’t I remember the month of November?

Measure out a precious quarter cup and introduce it to your butter. It is the luckiest butter there ever was.

Initially it will look a bit curdled and disgusting like runny eggs…

But give it a minute and it will start to look better and better. (This is true of many things after a quarter cup of whiskey.)

Put this fatty fireball in your fridge until eating time. (It could also do double duty slathered on a nice warm slice of Irish soda bread, if you need something to soak up all that brine in your stomach.)

For the Crumble, assemble this:

  • 5 cups quartered strawberries
  • 3 cups sliced rhubarb, about 1/3-inch thick (fresh or frozen and thawed)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

I used frozen strawberries and rhubarb. Just pop the berries into the microwave to defrost for a few minutes and then hack at them with a knife. Quartered schmuartered.

Then dump the whole bloody mess into a bowl, and add your rhubarb.

If your fingers are a bit numb after all that frozenated chopping, I recommend you do as the Russians do:

*Sip sip*A nice walk is also effective.

When you are energized and swelling with pride,  love of country, and megalomania, add your sugar, corn starch, and lemon juice:

Mix, and set it aside and let it party.

Hey, flash bulbs! Ow they hurt my eyes!

Crumble time. Extract some chilled butter cubes (nonalcoholic) from the fridge and add to your flour, oats, and pinch of salt:

Pinch in the butter with your nimble, warmed, patriotic fingers! Isn’t this fun?? Reach a consistency reminiscent of crumbs:

Now the moment of truth. Dump goop into a prepared baking pan. Douse with an extra splash of somethinsomethin if you are so inclined:

Spread crumble atop goop.

Pop goop into oven at 375 for 40 minutes. Make self a Manhattan and kick back in front of a BBC miniseries about author who drinks too much.

(Any Human Heart, btw, is a pretty entertaining series and, trippily, also features my childhood hero Agent Scully as the skanstraordinary Wallace Simpson:

And cuddly old Jim Broadbent as said tipsy author:

Somebody get that man a Pellegrino.)

After viewing, you will vow to obey the Captain and drink responsibly. Wait! Your timer has beeped! Extract crumble from oven! Let sit for 10 minutes or so! Fix a bowl of tart, sugary, crumbly mess and top it with dollops of the zingy spread.

Consume! Enjoy! Repeat! Share with friends for the promotion of general merriment!

Next time, we’ll explore some savory ways to cook with your licker cabnit, venturing into the realm of dinner.

Sloppy kisses and awkward hugs,

Jennifer