Sunday, October 31, 2010

Foodie Headline of the Week

Happy Halloween! 

This festive display greets customers outside Trader Joe's, Norcross, Ga.

No contest, here's last week's headline winner:

Idaho Family's Pumpkin Stand Out of Its Gourds

Friday, October 29, 2010

Scare Up Some Pasta

Once upon a time, I went to a neighborhood Halloween party in my former 'hood in Georgia and contributed to a scary-food buffet.  I don't recall exactly what snacks I made, but they looked incredibly gross.  My kids were even grossed out and they watched how I made these creepy, yet tasty, morsels, knowing the ingredients were nothing unusual.  I think monster eyeballs was the name of one of the creations.  I was impressed by the hideousness of my offerings, and the neighborhood kids were, too.  Turns out they thought they looked too horrible to eat!  Hardly anyone at the party touched my stuff (don't you hate when that happens?) and I vowed never to make deliberately ugly food again.  

Well, I broke that vow this week when I prepared  Michael Chiarello's recipe for Spaghettini Cooked in Red Wine with Spicy Broccoli Rabe, which I ripped from the pages of the Oct. 31 issue of Wine Spectator.  Michael, a Napa Valley vintner, "Top Chef Master" runner-up and host of "Easy Entertaining" on Food Network and Cooking Channel, had a nice feature story that included a few of his recipes that "reinterpret Italian ideas with California ingredients and a modern American style."   I had never made any of his stuff before and this looked promising, albeit revolting.  I think the full bottle of Zinfandel it required convinced me to try it.

Presented in our big pasta bowl, this dish puzzled the starving 'Meisters. Studying it quizzically, Son of Hubmeister threatened to bolt for the peanut butter and jelly.  I reassured the skeptics that the pasta had cooked in a bottle of red wine and, using Ina's favorite phrase - "How bad can that be?"-  I started plating it up.  It's a yummy break from pasta monotony, and I can vouch for it being a great leftover, either hot or cold.   Despite remarking that it looked like worms, Son of Hubmeister wolfed it down.  Mmmmm....worms....perfect for Halloween. 

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.
Spaghettini Cooked in Red Wine With Spicy Broccoli Rabe
(Wine Spectator)

1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe (rapini)
1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine, preferably Zinfandel
1 T. sugar
1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. (about 4 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. Calabrian chili paste or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt or sea salt, preferably gray salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C. grated pecorino Romano cheese

1.  In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the broccoli rabe for about 3 minutes.  Transfer the broccoli rabe to a baking sheet and spread it out to cool.

2. In the same boiling water, cook the spaghettini, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes if fresh, 3 to 5 minutes if dried; if using spaghetti, cook 2 minutes if fresh, 6 to 8 minutes if dried. (You'll do the remaining cooking in the Zinfandel.)  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set it aside.  Return the empty pasta pot to the stove.

3.  Add the wine and sugar to the pasta pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the pasta to the pot and gently stir with tongs to prevent the pasta from sticking.  Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente, about 3 minutes for spaghettini and 4 or 5 minutes for spaghetti.  Tasting tells you when your pasta is ready better than the clock can.

4.  While the pasta cooks in the wine, heat a large, deep saute pan or skillet over high heat.  Add the oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute the garlic until pale golden, about 3 minutes.  Add the chile paste or red pepper flakes, blanched broccoli rabe, and salt and pepper. 

5.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water.  Add the broccoli rabe mixture to the pasta, toss gently, and transfer to individual pasta bowls or one large platter.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Serves 8 as a first course. 

Notes:  This would be a pain in the butt to serve as a first course, unless all of your other courses were ready to go.  This will only be an entree at my house and it serves at least 5 adults.  I would add extra red pepper flakes next time and cut back a little on the olive oil.  Before using, trim the stringy stalks from the broccoli rabe.  Michael didn't mention this, but I would definitely get rid of them unless you like stalks.  The leaves are nice; they taste a lot like sauteed fresh spinach.  I had 1/2 cup of the pasta water leftover; why he lists a full cup in the ingredients is a mystery to me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Zagat Reveals Tampa's Top Restaurants

By now you know that I'm a fan of the Zagat ratings, so it won't come as a big surprise when I tell you how psyched I was yesterday to read in Jeff Houck's Tampa Trib food blog that he had possession of Zagat's America's Top Restaurants 2011.  It features diner ratings and reviews of over 1,500 of the top restaurants around the country, and Jeff, the Trib's food editor, was none too happy with some of the restaurant omissions in the Bay area.

The big surprise to me was that Donatello beat Armani's for a place in the top 10.  We dined at Donatello a few times - over 15 years ago - and it was very good, but we haven't thought about the place since moving back.  It is sort of a forgotten landmark on S. Dale Mabry.  Nobody in the area ever mentions it anymore, but I bet they will now.   Armani's did, however, make the list of recommended establishments. 

Then, of course, there's Bern's and Mise en Place.  I've dined at Bern's a few times, but again, years ago.  Mise en Place was a wonderful anniversary destination a couple of years back.  It's been around a long time and manages to stay innovative; I'm glad to see its name on the list.  Pane Rustica, which I reviewed here, also made the top 10.  Awesome!   Roy's and Capital Grille, both upscale chains, round out the Tampa spots listed. 

Is it fair to include the chains?  I don't know.  Are they among the top restaurants in Tampa?  If so, then it's fair.  What does it say about the food scene in Tampa when Bonefish Grill joins Armani's and SideBern's on the list of "noteworthy restaurants?"  Good for the locally based OSI corporation for getting them there, but I'm shaking my head at that one.  Where is the creativity?  Bang Bang Shrimp is the same here as it is anywhere else.  Is this list representative of the best we have to offer?  I think not.   

See Jeff's blog, The Stew, for the complete list, which also includes a few Sarasota and Clearwater eateries, and for his commentary about who's missing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Apples #3: Rustic Apple Tartlets

Time for another apple recipe!  This is a great one if you are having a dinner party.  It meets three crucial criteria for entertaining:  you can prepare it in advance, it is delicious, and it makes a nice presentation. 

Have some napkins handy - your guests will be drooling over this one.

These free-form tartlets are basically apple pie without the runny mess or breaking crust that sometimes screws up the apple pie presentation.   I love this tender, moist and flaky crust!  It must be the cream cheese addition.  It required some patience and lots of ins and outs from the fridge, but the end result justified the extra effort.   If you hate working with pastry, skip it.  Just sayin'.  But this was the first time I attempted these tartlets and they turned out beautifully, so try them when you feel mellow and creative.  Do not attempt while experiencing PMS!  You know what I'm saying.

I discovered this recipe in The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008.  Since snagging this cookbook off the library shelves several weeks ago, I have renewed it and find myself consulting it often.  Have you ever caught the PBS show of the same name?  It offers practical advice, which I now find sorely lacking on the food channels.  I like this cookbook because it gives the reasoning behind procedures and techniques, and it recommends products that the chefs have tested, such as pots, pans, bake ware, flours, canned and jarred products, etc.  Every year they publish a compilation of their best recipes and this is one of them.  Treat yourself and go for it! 

Rustic Free-Form Apple Tartlets
(The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008)
Makes 6 tartlets

1 1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into 1/2- inch pieces and chilled
1-2 T. ice water
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 small), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/4 pounds McIntosh apples (about 3 small), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick-slices
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/4 C plus 2 T. sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 egg whites, lightly beaten, for brushing

For the Dough:

1.  Process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined.  Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 one-second pulses.  Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

2.  Sprinkle one tablespoon water and the lemon juice over the mixture.  Stir and press the dough together using a stiff rubber spatula until the dough sticks together.  If the dough does not come together, stir in the remaining one tablespoon water until the dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains.  (I had to use the second tablespoon of water.)  Turn the dough out onto the counter and flatten into a rough disk.  Cut the disk into six equal pieces using a chef's knife.  Flatten each piece into a three-inch disk.  Transfer the disks in a single layer to a flat dinner plate.  Wrap the plate in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Roll out each disk between two floured sheets of parchment.

3.  Remove the plate from the refrigerator and roll each piece between two pieces of lightly floured parchment paper to a six-inch circle.  (If the dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return it to the refrigerator until firm.)  Remove and discard the top pieces of parchment paper.  Stack the rounds on the plate with the parchment between each layer.  Wrap the plate in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the fruit.

For the Filling:

4.  Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the apples with the lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and cinnamon.  Arrange the parchment-lined dough rounds in a single layer on the counter.  Arrange approximately one cup of the apple slices, thick edges out, in a circular round on each dough mound, leaving a one-inch border.

When you mold it with your hands, the apples will fill in any holes in your layering.

5.  Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit.  With cupped hands, gently press the dough to the filling, reinforcing the shape and compacting the apples.  Slide three tartlets, still on top of the parchment, onto each of two baking sheets.

Slide each tartlet onto a baking sheet, three to a sheet.

6.  Bake until pale golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Brush the surface of the crusts with the beaten egg whites and sprinkle the apples evenly with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar.  Return to the oven, rotating the baking sheets, and bake until the crust is deep golden brown and the apples are tender, about 15 minutes longer.  Cool the tartlets on the baking sheets for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool until warm or room temperature before serving.

A little patience can result in a lot of love.

(This is one of the things I love about this cookbook:  it includes hazard warnings and things you can do ahead of time.)

*Where Things Can Go Wrong - The amounts of cream cheese and butter used in this dough make it soft and delicate.  For easiest handling, make sure that your ingredients are cold and that your kitchen is cool.

*What You Can Do Ahead - The tartlets can be cooled completely, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for up to two days.  The disks of dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen up to a month.  Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator.  Before rolling, let frozen dough stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. 

Having lots of people to dinner?  You can double this recipe, making two batches of dough and baking the tartlets in two batches.

Notes:  Spruce up the presentation with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce, or a scoop of ice cream.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eating Up Athens: Five & Ten

Food and Loathing and the 'Meisters took to the road last weekend to see Daughtress in a play at UGA in Athens, Ga.  For a small college town, Athens is surprisingly foodie friendly.  Tucked into the nooks and crannies of 19th-century brick buildings are numerous independently owned bistros, pubs, diners, coffee shops, pizza joints, dive bars and, yes, fine-dining establishments. 

I love the vibe in Athens, and the town's plethora of noshing alternatives satisfies a colorful mix of folks responsible for this vibrant scene:  artsy intellectuals, prepped-out fraternity and sorority kids, inebriated idiots, scholastic nerds, aging hipsters and musicians, grungy street people, and grungy street-people wannabes.  We peg the wannabes as wealthy kids from Atlanta 'burbs who strive to look impoverished and unwashed.  Not to be overlooked in this multifarious populace are obnoxiously enthusiastic Bulldog alumni and parents who demand good grub while visiting their studious offspring.  Since that's my category, allow me to jump to our fine-dining experience last Saturday night.

While living in Georgia, I read about Five & Ten and its lauded chef, Hugh Acheson (named Best New Chef in 2002 by Food & Wine magazine).  This restaurant was ranked "worth the drive" from Atlanta - in fact, it was the AJC's restaurant of the year in 2007 - and since Athens is an hour's drive from the ATL, I knew I had to eat here at some point during my kid's college days.  Saturday night was my second time, the first being an evening last winter.  That night I ordered a prix fixe three-course dinner, which I recall as good but not memorable enough to tell you what I had.   This time, our table of five ordered off an ever-changing menu. 

Since a home football game packed the town, the place was hopping when we arrived for our 9 p.m. reservation.  This white-tablecloth but unpretentious restaurant is divided into two sections, a brightly painted sun-room-type space that overlooks the street scene in Five Points, and an interior room that contains tables and a long bar.  One thing I noticed this visit was the decibel level - this is a noisy place, enough that I found myself yelling across the table to make myself heard over a boisterous woman at the bar.  My first time here, I was seated in the sun room, and I would suggest requesting a table in this area if you wish to converse or if you have hearing issues.

Despite the lofty ceiling - the kind with the exposed ducts - the dining room is inviting, thanks to billowing sheers looped overhead.  The contemporary restaurant occupies a space that was once a five-and-dime store, thus the name.  An odd assortment of black-and-white prints adorns the walls, some Asian influenced, and others - like those above the rest rooms - resemble head shots of blond models or actors from the 1960s.   Hanging on the wall of the women's bathroom is Chef Acheson's membership certificate from the Confrerie de la Chaines des Rotisseurs.  I had to smile at the absurdity of reading about this prestigious gastronomic organization while sitting on the commode.  This guy must have a sense of humor.  Interestingly, none of the eclectic decor has anything to do with the theme of the food, which is a sophisticated take on Southern cuisine.

We began with a cheese tray and a pate appetizer for the table to share.  Hubmeister solicited the server for recommendations and received nothing but nods as he inquired about a few of the cow, sheep and goat cheeses.  This was the first in a series of service missteps. The server was clueless when it came to the cheeses, which were delicious and accompanied by sliced apples, grapes and sugared pecans.  The pate was served with toast points and sweet chutney.  The pate was mild and the cheeses sharp, so we ended up with a good balance of flavors to start things off. 

I ordered Frogmore Stew, a lovely Low Country concoction of large, tender shrimp, spicy andouille sausage, delicate fingerling potatoes, leeks and sweet corn on the cob.   Accompanied by a thick piece of buttery, grilled bread and served in a bowl, the shrimp, sausage and vegetables were cradled in a light, tomato-based broth.   This seafood "boil" was as pretty as a picture, and I am sorry I don't have one to show you. 

The other standout entree at the table was Crispy Trout wrapped in Benton Country Ham, served with Red Mule Grits.   Son of Hubmeister, who claimed he wasn't hungry, never looked up from the plate as he ate every bite.   Additional savory selections at our table included redfish and a pork chop with collard greens.  Hubmeister remarked about the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

Unfortunately, I must return to the service stumbles.  The wait staff mismatched the entrees and the diners, and never removed all of the used dishes before dessert arrived.  When presenting the cheese plate, the server plopped it down without identifying the cheeses, and ignored the mess of bread crumbs that remained on the tablecloth throughout the entire meal.  These details are significant when considering the cost of dining at this establishment, and the lack of professionalism in the front of the house is an insult to the high-quality creations emerging from the kitchen. 

This brings me to the sweet finale.  We ordered two desserts and passed them around.  Daughtress selected the Chocolate Nemesis Cake with Salty Caramel Ice Cream, Bruleed Bananas and Roasted Peanuts; and Son of Hubmeister, whose appetite was miraculously revived by the superior efforts of the chef, ordered Pumpkin Mascarpone Mousse with Toasted Pepitas, Whipped Cream and Maple Reduction.   The rich chocolate cake was lavalike and Daughtress enjoyed the counter-balance of the ice cream touched with salt.  After tasting the pumpkin mousse, I was ready to wrestle Son of Hubmeister for it and return the following evening just for dessert.   For pumpkin lovers like me, this was the epitome of an autumnal treat.  The maple drizzle on the plate, the crunchy pumpkin seeds, the creamy mousse - it was an extraordinary combination and presentation.

Five & Ten has earned a stellar Zagat food rating of 28 every year since 2004.   I give the food high marks too, but service is another matter.  Perhaps the chef/owner is getting too busy - he currently co-owns another Athens restaurant, named The National, a wine shop, and he recently opened Empire State South, a restaurant in Atlanta.  I can't wait for my next trip to the ATL.   

Restaurant Info:
Five & Ten
1653 S. Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA

Five & Ten on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jeffrey's Roast Chicken: What the Cluck!

After watching Jeffrey salivate over Ina's roasted birds all these years, I decided to give the Barefoot Contessa's roast chicken a try. 

Within the past few weeks I have made it twice.  The first time I screwed up the vegetables and burned them to an inedible crisp, going beyond caramelized to something that resembled scorched earth.  Then I watched the show, which was replayed yet AGAIN, and Ina mentioned in a quick aside that the pan shouldn't be too large or the veggies will burn.  Well, she's right!  But that didn't affect the moist and flavorful bird, so I couldn't wait to try it again. 

This week, instead of using my large roaster, I filled the bottom of a 9- X 11-inch baking dish with the vegetables and placed that clucker on top.  Success! 

Keep the vegetables close to the bird to prevent burning.
I followed most of the steps and ingredients closely, with the exception of stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, which has long since met its demise in our garden.  I sprinkled dried thyme over the chicken and the veggies and crammed in some fresh Italian parsley. 

The verdict is in:  this chicken is exceptional.  Its juicy and tender interior is enveloped by a crispy, buttery skin that you know you should discard but you just can't.  I recommend purchasing a good-quality chicken, not the crappy grocery store fryer.  I am not a freak about organic food, but when it comes to chicken, there is a difference in both taste and consistency.   

The vegetables are delicious as well, although the discriminating testers in The Best of America's Test Kitchen cookbook dislike cooking the vegetables in the same pot with the chicken.  Because the chicken fat drains into the vegetables, the experts found them greasy and unappealing.  I brought this up to Hubmeister, who stated flatly, "But that's what makes them good."   Some may not like this method, and I admit I was skeptical, but we shoveled in parsnips like there was no tomorrow.  I didn't have fennel on hand, so my veg assortment included red potatoes, carrots, parsnips and a gigantic sliced onion.  I love fennel and will try that next time.

So there you have it.  This is what keeps Jeffrey returning to the Hamptons each weekend.  Oh yeah, and Ina and her gang of merry men. 

Here's Ina and the play-by-play video:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Blue (Crab) Heaven

Look at the size of this guy! 

I brought him and 11 of his monster-sized friends back from Punta Gorda a couple weeks ago.  They were still clawing for life when they hit the steamer basket.  It was somewhat sad, but that was a fleeting sentiment as I watched these gifts from the sea turn an angry shade of orange.  Humans are hungry, after all. 

Son of Hubmeister and I had a finger-lickin' mini-feast, thanks to the craberrific efforts of the team at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda.  I couldn't have asked for a fresher crab if I pulled it from a trap myself.  You can purchase live crabs from this cute little spot off Highway 17, or sit in the Old-Florida-era-house-turned-restaurant and pound away till your heart's content.  Prefer to see the shells fly outside?  Request a table on the inviting deck shaded by majestic oaks.  If the kids get antsy, send them out back to visit the goats and chickens.

It's a crab shack off Highway 17, where we can get together....a crab shack, baaaby.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Food and Loathing has a special place in her heart for the purveyors of this establishment, so I'll let these hefty crawlers and folks crowding the laid-back eatery speak for its amazing fresh Florida seafood and fun and funky crab-shack groove.  You can also check out this blog for additional restaurant photos and opinion: 

If you are passing through Punta Gorda (the restaurant is one mile east of I-75, Exit 164), and you have a hankering for crab, you are guaranteed to get the freshest crustaceans imaginable here.  Local fishermen make daily deliveries of their catches, which also include clams, shrimp and a variety of fish. 

A thriving wholesaler, Peace River Seafood ships its bounty to restaurants throughout the United States.  Crab aficionados in the Northeast are probably unfamiliar with the Peace River, but the sweet and meaty crabs on which they feast knew it well. 

Restaurant Info:
Peace River Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market
5337 Duncan Road
Punta Gorda

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Putting Out the Pumpkin

Throughout my childhood, the word curry made everyone in the house shudder.  This innocent spice blend was ostracized from my Irish/English/German household.  I think there was a dish that my Irish grandmother made in which she used curry and my mother warned us about it, as in, "Watch out!  Nana always puts curry in her..." 

To this day, curry will evoke an "ewww" from most of the bunch, except for my adventurous foodie sister and me.  She's the one who turned me on to it after she discovered an affinity for Indian cuisine.  Following her lead, I began trying some Indian dishes and realized what I had been missing all these years.  Curry!  

According to McCormick's New Spice Cookbook, curry powder is a blend of 15 or more ground spices.  It originated in India, where people mix their own spices for different curries.  The golden color results from turmeric, but a blend may also contain ginger, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, and pepper, as well as other spices.  It can be mild or spicy - dominate a dish or simply enhance it - depending on how heavy your hand is.  It imparts an earthy flavor and pungent aroma. 

In this recipe for Curried Pumpkin Soup, curry provides a warm undertone for the sweet pumpkin.   This soup is ideal for a crisp fall day, and the perceived richness of it belies the fact that it is good for you.  You can use regular evaporated milk, but I used fat-free with great results.  You'll notice that I included mushrooms in this recipe and that's because I made this soup for ME!   Now maybe you'll make it for YOU - except the curry haters, and I see you grimacing!

Curry pumps up the flavor of this satisfying pumpkin soup.

Curried Pumpkin Soup
(Southern Living - 1996 Annual Recipes)

2 T butter or margarine
1 (8-ounce) package sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 C chopped onion
2 T all-purpose flour
1 T curry powder
3 C chicken broth
2 C canned pumpkin
1 T honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp pepper
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
Garnishes:  sour cream, chopped fresh chives

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan; add mushrooms and onion, and cook until tender, stirring often.
  2. Stir in flour and curry powder; gradually add chicken broth, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened. 
  3. Stir in pumpkin and next 4 ingredients; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in milk, and cook, stirring constantly until thoroughly heated.  Garnish, if desired.  I like chives.
Notes:  I used low-sodium chicken broth and found I needed to add more salt, so taste and see.

Yield:  6 1/2 cups.

Foodie Headline of the Week

Pizza driver falls for 'mom is in the shower scam'

Need I say more?  For further explanation:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All Hail the Return of the Shrimp

Hubmeister is finally eating shrimp again after an unfortunate pad thai experience at a local restaurant in March.  He and Son of Hubmeister both ordered the same shrimp dish and only the older Meister got sick, so I can't totally blame the restaurant (but he does!). 

This pukefest happened the night before coaching a morning game in Orlando, then driving back to Tampa, flying to Atlanta and shuttling to Athens to see Daughtress in a play - all in the same day.  It was the worst timing imaginable, not that food poisoning ever comes at a good time, but traveling with the remnants of bad Thai food in your gut literally blows.  I guess I'd hold a grudge against shrimp, too.  I've held a grudge against bourbon since my college days.

For the shrimp homecoming celebration last night I made a shrimp and asparagus dish out of my trusty low-fat Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook.  Hubmeister bought me this book years ago - the copyright is 2000 - because my food hero Sara Moulton graces the cover.  I didn't start using it until we moved back to Florida and I weighed myself.  It turns out I was having too much fun living in Georgia, making and scarfing down biscuits and fig cake, to be concerned with the tightening of my clothes and the widening of my butt.

I attribute this cookbook with much of my dieting success.  When you love to cook, it's hard to sacrifice all the wonderful fat that makes everything taste so good, but this book showed me that you can still be creative and make tasty meals with lower calorie ingredients.  Sara, who co-edited the book, chose the best low-calorie, low-fat recipes submitted by more than a thousand "Good Morning America" viewers. 

Among the 120 recipes selected is the one below for Shrimp and Asparagus Casserole.  It's a really fast one to whip up - the speediness of preparing shrimp always a big plus - and I especially like the sherry, which brings out the sweetness of the shrimp.  I didn't have mushrooms and the gang here hates them anyway, but what I lacked in mushrooms I made up for with shrimp.  A half-pound?  Come on. 

I served this light and easy meal over fragrant basmati rice.

Pretty impressive for 184 calories a serving

Shrimp and Asparagus Casserole
(Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook)

1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 pound medium-size mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 C coarsely chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium-large onion)
1 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated)
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper (or black, who cares?)
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 C skim milk
1/4 C dry sherry (buy real sherry, NOT cooking sherry)
1/2 pound shelled and deveined large raw shrimp, halved lengthwise (or don't bother halving them)
3 T freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Bring a large pan of water to boil over high heat.  Add asparagus and cook uncovered four minutes.  Drain asparagus, plunge into ice water, and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat.  Add mushrooms and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until limp but not brown - about five minutes. 
  3. Blend in cornstarch, nutmeg, pepper, and salt, then mix in milk and sherry and, stirring constantly, bring quickly to a boil.  Adjust heat so mixture bubbles, and cook, stirring all the while, until thickened - about three minutes. 
  4. Add shrimp and cook uncovered just until shrimp turn pink - about two minutes.  Meanwhile, drain asparagus well, then add to shrimp mixture.
  5. Turn shrimp mixture into ungreased one-quart casserole and scatter Parmesan evenly on top.
  6. Bake uncovered until bubbly and lightly golden - about 10 minutes.  Serve at once.
Notes:  Serves three or four.  Buy whole nutmeg and grate on a microplane.  It's the only way I use nutmeg anymore.  Pick up a bottle of sherry in the wine section of your grocery store for under $10.  Put a splash in creamy soups, seafood and chicken dishes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Apples #2: Make Up a Muffin

Nutritionist Ellie Krieger, whom I mentioned recently in my fish taco post, has a funny comment about muffins in The Food You Crave cookbook.  She says the full-fat muffins that we all know and love "are essentially cake but are called a muffin so people don't have to admit to eating cake for breakfast." 

When I compared her muffin recipes to the one I almost made from Southern Living, I saw her point.  The Southern Living recipe for pumpkin-apple muffins calls for a half-cup of butter.  That's a lot of saturated fat.  In her muffin creations, Ellie uses canola oil, which is monounsaturated and neutral in taste.  She uses only a quarter-cup of oil and boosts the moisture content with fruit or vegetable purees.  Her other trick is to combine whole-grain pastry flour with all-purpose flour, which gives the muffins a light, cakey texture and the antioxidant benefits of whole grains. 

Using these tips, I came up with my own pumpkin-apple muffin.  That's right.  This is an original.  I totally revamped that Southern Living recipe and the baking gods smiled on me.   These are good!  If you make them, and I hope you will, let me know what you think by sending a comment my way.

Pumpkin-Apple Muffins
(A Food and Loathing Original)
Makes 12 muffins

1 C all-purpose flour
1 C whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten
1/4 C canola oil
3 T. unsweetened applesauce
1 C pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C buttermilk (I used Marburger gourmet brand)
1 1/2 small McIntosh apples, or apples of your choosing, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch dice
3 T. sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.   Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.  

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, applesauce, oil, and one of the eggs until combined.  Add the other egg and whisk well.  Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk, just until combined.  Fold in the apples. 

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each about two-thirds full.  Combine the granulated sugar and remaining teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and sprinkle over muffins.  Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold.  Enjoy warm or let cool completely and store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To Market, To Market - Downtown

Yesterday was a beautiful, breezy Friday and an ideal time to visit the Tampa Downtown Market

Office workers emerge from their cubicles to stroll through the market.
The vendors at this once-a-week outdoor festival could not have asked for better weather to kick off their 2010-2011 season.  Open 10 a.m. till 2 p.m. every Friday from October through May, the market is a parade of food trucks and mom-and-pop tented booths featuring cheeses, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, colorful orchids, hand-crafted breads and baked goods, hot-popped kettle corn, produce stands, and restaurants that have set up mini-shops on a cobblestone street blocked off for pedestrian traffic. 

The distinct aroma of kettle corn wafts through the air.

Some guy in the crowd was ecstatic over his knish!

This is a fun way to spend your Friday lunch hour if you work downtown, and it's enjoyable even if you don't work there because you are reminded that we still have some brick streets and historic landmarks in this city, and that it's still possible to experience a sense of cohesiveness and vibrancy in a city that often feels sprawling and ...well...depressed.   Good for Tampa for livening things up downtown.

Can you guess which stands I hit?  On my way in, I saw one lady carrying an armload of what must have been a dozen baguettes and another couple with loaves sticking out of their "green" tote bags, a sure sign I needed to visit the bread guy.

His booth was a mess (because he was the one slammed), but he had the most enticing products by far.  This gentleman drives 2 1/2 hours from Port St. Lucie to market his son's baked goods.  As he gave me the cook's tour of breads, croissants and rolls, a lady approached him excitedly and exclaimed, "You're back!"  Then she looked at me and said, "You will just love these breads."  She also recommended the chocolate croissants, but I'll save those for the next visit.

I bought a pull-apart baguette, designed to separate into individual pieces, and a loaf of the "Italian medley," containing sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and a bunch of garlic and herbs.   The Italian loaf tastes just like pizza. 

This man had been working hard, so hard in fact that he never had time to post signs identifying the products.  He was genuinely happy to be there, remarking about Tampa, "The people here are nice."   I got a chuckle out of his comparison to the market in Boca Raton, where he said people fight with each other in line.  Those of us who have lived in South Florida can relate.

For a friendly Friday excursion or a quick lunch outside on a pleasant day, check out the Tampa Downtown Market.  For more information, including directions and parking: