Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The week that will not end!

Hello again, friends. Ok, so I had a great time in Nashville, but since I got back, I have gone from playing catch-up like crazy to doing a big old belly-flop into a bottomless pool of final papers and (exams. That's right, this is the last week of spring semester and the school year, and yet it feels like that dream where you are running down a hallway that just keeps getting longer...and longer...and longer. So I hope that explains my lack of blogging here of late. But as I am already losing sleep tonight by beginning my farmers' market baking (that's a whole 'nother story for another time), I'd figured I'd try to bring you up to speed on my culinary goings-on.

You'd think that I'd have great food stories to tell from Music City, but I was at a conference of sorts at a big hotel that I rarely left (I didn't have a car there). I won't bore you with tales of overpriced and underwhelming hotel restaurant and banquet food, but I will tell you about the BEST meal that I had when I managed to go out with some friends one night. Indeed, it was the best meal I've had in years!

A nice gal at the concierge desk recommend a restaurant called The Yellow Porch, and it was fantastic! The emphasis was on fresh, seasonal, locally-grown ingredients (be still my heart!), and their insistance on simple but superb ingredients really shined in the resulting dishes. They started us off with some wonderful bread--crusty and floury on the outside but so tender in the inside--that we dunked in some sort of flavored, herby olive oil. It was so delicious that I almost spoiled my dinner on that! But I had to try a salad that was one of the evening's specials. It was made with Farmer Dave's bibb lettuce (not sure who Farmer Dave is, but I love him for his soft, buttery greens!), local radicchio, crispy onions (not those horrible things from a can, but onions lightly fried in something like a tempura batter), shaved spring radishes, hard-cooked eggs, Point Reyes bleu cheese (divine, as always!), and candied bacon. Now I ask you, what kind of damn genius thought to CANDY bacon? May he live a thousand years! (He may need that blessing if he candies a lot of bacon!) And all of this was lightly dressed in a house-made champagne vinaigrette. HEAVEN HELP ME, it was the best salad I've ever had in my life, and don't think that I won't be attempting a home version of it very soon.

Of course, I was quite worried that my entree would never live up to my first course, but it was also incredible. I ordered a house favorite, the marinated flat-iron steak. I have tried before to get on the flat-iron bandwagon, but so far, mine have always been on the tough and tasteless side. But this was so amazingly flavorful and tender, and it was served with sea salt-roasted fingerling potatoes and seasonal vegetables, including zucchini, yellow squash, haricots verts, and tomatoes, with a mustard vinaigrette and spiced brown butter. TO DIE FOR! Ok, the tomatoes were the low point in the dish . Yes, I was in the Southland in the springtime, but even so, their tomatoes aren't ripe yet down there either! Nevertheless, it was just a superlative meal. I can't say enough about it. I don't want to sound full of myself, but you other cooks out there know, it gets to be very disappointing to eat out sometimes when you pay good money and end up with food that you could have made better at home! So this meal was surprising and marvelously so! If you live in the greater Nashville area, RUN do not walk to The Yellow Porch at your earliest convenience. You won't be sorry.

Of course, I've been up to my eyeballs in grading papers since returning home, so there hasn't been a lot of exciting cooking. But the weather has been so lovely that we managed to have the first cookout of the season this past weekend. We had spice-rubbed ribeyes, and I also made some of my pal Randi's Coal-Fired Wings (delish!). I served the grilled meats with mashed potatoes and a yummy marinated bean salad fashioned from odds and ends in the pantry and produce drawer. And I also made some rolls and a dessert from the latest issue of Taste of Home magazine that I impulsively bought at the grocery checkout recently. You know, I don't know why I've let my subscription lapse, because I started with issue #1 of that excellent publication, and I just love it. It's so homey and comforting, and all of the dishes are like something your grandma would make or that you'd get at the best church potluck.

The two recipes that I tried this weekend were poppyseed cake which I made into cupcakes for our dessert, and honey muffins to go with dinner. The texture of the poppyseed cupcakes was a little on the heavy side for my tastes, but they were very flavorful and topped with a luscious cream cheese butter frosting that, like the cake itself, was not overly sweet. They also held up really well, and I took the leftovers to share with my trivia team tonight. Everyone thought they were very good. But I must tell you about the honey muffins. Man, were they awesome! The recipe made a dozen, and we had half of them polished off (warm from the oven--YUM) before dinner was even done! Tee hee. They are feather-light and with a pronounced honey flavor and sweetness. They also reheat very well the next day. You can be sure that I will be making this recipe again and again. You should try it, too!

Grandma's Honey Muffins
(Source: Taste of Home, April/May 2007)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup honey

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk, butter and honey; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fill sprayed muffin tins three-quarters full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool. Yield: one dozen

Poppyseed Cake
(Source: Taste of Home, April/May 2007)

1/3 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk
4 egg whites
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

In a small bowl, soak poppy seeds in milk for 30 minutes. Place egg whites in a large bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the shortening, sugar, and vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder and add to creamed mixture alternately with poppy seed mixture. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then fold gently into batter.

Pour into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish (or muffin tins lined with cupcake papers). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes (or less for cupcakes, of course) or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

For frosting, in a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Spread over cake(s). Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 12-15 servings (I got 18 cupcakes)

1 comment:

Randi said...

I wanna see a pic of those wings!! I havent cooked at all this week at home because I've been cooking at work. I'm leaving town on Monday for a week so I wont be blogging or cooking( I might cook at my sisters in FL though). I bought one of those taste of home magazines( the big issue of contest winners) and our friend Anna was in there for a recipe. Whats on the farmers market baking agenda?