April Favorites

May 1, 2014

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Memorable Meals of 2013

January 2, 2014

At the beginning of the year I started writing down our Awesome Dinners/Lunches/Breakfasts of 2013 in a small notebook. I had tried a year or two before to write down every single dinner we ate but then I got bored and stopped after about 6 months. I didn’t really care about the nights we ate leftovers or didn’t feel like going to the store and made something from whatever was in the pantry, or if that was even too much work, the dinners of popcorn and beer. I’m only really interested in the highlight reel.

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In June my grandfather passed away and while my mom, aunt and I were cleaning out his closet I found this unused notebook of his from  back in the day, back when they used the term currency and people wrote letters. So I transferred all the meals I had written in the other notebook, not too many as it turns out since I was in quite the cooking slump the first half of the year, and now I keep it in my purse as my awesome meal journal. I think he would’ve liked that.

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I’d have to say 2013 was the year of Brothy Asian Noodle Soups, made most of the time by Drew. I crave it just writing that sentence. He has a great, simple recipe where you make a broth of ginger, garlic, star anise, soy sauce and fish sauce and then you add whatever you feel like to it. My personal favorites are bean sprouts, kimchi, peanuts, cilantro, lime and really good ramen noodles from the asian market. Over Thanksgiving weekend we ate this three days in a row.

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I also ate a lot of tacos this year, one of my favorite food vehicles. For a few months this summer, every other week I’d help my friend sling tacos at the farmers market using whatever was in season, straight from the farmers. One of the most memorable was when we topped the tacos with a quick pickle of radishes, every color of carrots and green onions. They were so beautiful and vibrant.

In September we went to Nashville for the weekend and while playing scrabble one night with our friends, according to my notebook we ate a dinner of snacks that consisted of brie, bread, triscuits, hummus, grapes, baby carrots, gin and tonics, reeses peanut butter cups and chips and salsa. Quite the medley.

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My notebook also says that on Monday, July 1st we cooked two dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook for dinner that night. Swiss chard with tahini, yogurt and buttered pine nuts which I made a note that it was super delicious!, and turkey zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin.

A few days later our friends came to visit for the Fourth of July and it seems that I went all out and made two more recipes from Jerusalem; pasta with yogurt, peas and chile (this is one of my favorite recipes) and a baby spinach salad with apricots, almonds, toasted pita and sumac. Then for dessert, banana cake with chocolate chips and crystalized ginger.

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I already miss tomato and peach season, there are so many recipes I never got around to making since for the most part this summer I ate tomatoes raw on top of open faced sandwiches, I made tomato basil risotto from the New York Times three times one week, gazpacho pretty much every week for as long as tomato season held out, and other than eating peaches dripping over the sink, I made peach jam twice with the idea that we’d save it for a gloomy winter day like today, but it was just too delicious for that kind of patience. Maybe next year.

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I also ate a lot of pretty spectacular meals while camping this year, since everything tastes better outside. In August Drew and I spent a couple nights in South Carolina where we made fried rice with bacon, kale, carrots, green onion, eggs, garlic, ginger and homemade cilantro mint herb salt. I remember that trip because we bought a whole bunch of peaches at a roadside stand on our way back and made peach jam for the first time that afternoon.

In October we camped with our friends in West Virginia and on the very first night we made a dinner of steak cooked over the fire inside of corn tortillas with sautéed zucchini and onions. Even though we never really plan it that way, every time we camp with them we always seem to eat steak cooked over the fire. It is one of my most favorite camping meals. The absolute best was when we carved sticks into sharp points and skewered super thin slices of steak onto them and cooked it that way over the fire. Like meat marshmallows.

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The one thing I know with absolute certainty that I will make again this year is my mom’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread, the same recipe she’d make every year on Saint Patrick’s Day. I haven’t yet tackled the corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes part of the tradition, and maybe 2014 will be my year for that, but I just love knowing that every year on March 17th I can make this bread and it will taste exactly as I remembered.

So here’s to another year of delicious meals, epic feasts with friends and more time spent cooking outside. Happy 2014 everyone!

Manney Irish Soda Bread

Mix together:

3 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

Add:

2 eggs

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup oil

1 cup raisins

Grease bread pan and dust with flour. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

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This past weekend Drew and I drove an hour north to Hot Springs, NC for an overnight camping trip. We weren’t so organized this time around. Our stuff was still all over the place after camping in West Virginia a few weeks back, plates in one bag, pots and pans in another, the leatherman, somewhere. I’m in the midst of starting to get super organized with our gear so that it’s easy to just throw in the car and not worry that you’ve forgotten a headlamp or dish soap or god forbid, salt and pepper, but I’m not quite there yet.

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Our original camping spot was closed for the season which is how we ended up camping in a treehouse, Swiss Family Robinson style.  We hiked down about 800 ft to the creek bed where there were little tree houses speckled throughout a few acres, each spaced a nice distance away from one another.

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Drew built a fire while I set up the kitchen. We thought we’d be car camping so we brought the most un-backpacking friendly meal ever, our double burner stove, my Le Creuset Dutch Oven, a chicken carcass for stock, a giant bottle of olive oil, a six pack. But man was it worth it.

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I cut up an onion, sautéd it for a while, added chopped up chicken carcass pieces, sautéd those for about 10 more minutes until they let their juices out, poured enough water to cover everything, then let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile I cut up another onion, finely diced this time, some carrots and sautéd those in another pan until soft. Then I discarded the chicken parts and onion, added the carrots and the other onion, a sprinkle of thyme, leftover shredded chicken, including some smoked chicken from the night before which brought the whole meal up a notch, a couple handfuls of egg noodles and let it cook until the noodles were done, about fiveish minutes.

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We ate our chicken noodle soup sitting on a rock in the creek looking at this view. Everything tastes better when you’re camping, especially when you’ve lugged a cast iron pot down the side of a hill. Backpacking gear is next on the list.

The highlights of last week were music & food. Drew just joined a band, Even the Animals, and they played an impromptu acoustic show at The Bywater on Wednesday. It was great fun, especially since The Bywater is the greatest bar on the planet. It sits on an acre right on the river, there are picnic tables and grills, you can even canoe right up to it if that’s how you roll. So over the course of the summer my camera and I will be accompanying these dudes and lady drummer to their shows, documenting what I see.

And later that week Emi and I tried to summon the summer produce gods with our grilled vegetables and bruschetta topped with salsa verde. I cannot wait for the impending bounty, and I am hoping that this is the year where everything in my garden grows instead of dies. Fourth time is the charm, I hear.

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Last week my friend Emi and I went out for dinner to The Glass Onion. She was writing an article on the food and I tagged along to take the photos for it. It was a super delicious evening. The two of us are quite a good duo, I must say, and we have a few interesting ideas up our sleeves that we’ll be rolling out in the not too distant future.  I love working with someone who’s as into food as I am, but has more experience with the actual cooking of it. Especially when I have a week like this last one where it seems that every single recipe I make is lame. Anyway, it’s exciting times here in Asheville. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump for the last few months which has been most unfortunate since I tend to find cooking quite relaxing. Baking, not so much. But chopping vegetables, frying onions, making something delicious out of random ingredients, satisfying a craving, it’s an important part of me.

Last week the clouds parted, certain things aligned, I had a long awaited bounce in my step again, and I found myself more excited than I’d been in months to get into the kitchen. Now I am not one who is drawn to super intricate recipes, not that I never will be, but at this point I tend to gravitate toward simple, no frills recipes that rule. Perhaps it’s a result of my upbringing, four kids, two adults and no dishwasher, so the more dishes you dirtied, well, the joke was on you.

When I was about eight or nine, my mom, the brilliant woman that she is, in an effort to even out the dinner making duties, told each of us kids that we could cook any meal we wanted to once a week and by doing so, we would be relieved of dish duty that night. She was speaking my language. I don’t remember too much of what I made during that time, a lot of Macaroni & Cheese and Spaghetti Pie I’m sure, Mexican Lasagna was also a favorite, we were certainly not the world’s most culinarily creative family. But I loved that once a week I got to make the decision and could ignore everyone else’s input, as the youngest of four you relish any chance like this you can get.

I was reminded not too long ago of these dinners when I ordered a burrito with refried beans in it and with one bite I was transported back to 1987, sitting at our dinner table starting a plate of white rice and refried beans. Nothing else, just that. You see, it was my sister Laura’s night to cook and the only rule was really, that there were no rules. You could cook whatever you wanted. And so she did, every single week. The result being that to this day, I still can’t stand the taste of refried beans.

Pickled grapes. They may sound strange but they are quite delicious. They're the perfect vehicle for rosemary, garlic and chiles.

Pickled grapes. They may sound strange but it turns out they’re the perfect vehicle for rosemary, garlic and chiles.

Spinach - Pumpkin Seed Pesto. Rules.

Spinach – Pumpkin Seed Pesto. Rules.

First strawberries of the season.

First strawberries of the season.

Dinner in the making.

Dinner in the making.

The result: Spaghetti with bok choy, red peppers & green onions with a poached egg on top. I pretty much love anything if it involves a poached egg and this was no exception.

The result: Spaghetti with bok choy, red peppers & green onions with a poached egg on top. I pretty much love anything if it involves a poached egg and this was no exception.

My love of Kodak Ektar continues.

Last Saturday we went to a skateboarding tournament that was pretty dang sweet.

Last Saturday we went to a skateboarding tournament that was pretty dang sweet.

And then on Sunday we went to our first Downlow Dinner on the rooftop of a condo in downtown Asheville.

And then on Sunday we went to our first Downlow Dinner on the rooftop of a condo in downtown Asheville. It was a delicious evening.

I will never tire of this view. The thing I love about Asheville is the view of the mountains you get from nearly everywhere.

I will never tire of this view. The thing I love about Asheville is the view of the mountains you get from nearly everywhere.

The first course was Tuna Tartare on a bed of mache, watermelon & cucumbers with a creamy lemon sauce.

The first course was Tuna Tartare on a bed of mache, watermelon & cucumbers with a creamy lemon sauce. I swoon.

Second course: Sauce American & Shrimp atop a crostini.

Second course: Sauce American & Shrimp atop a crostini.

I can't remember this couple's name but I do remember that they were super cool. I love this photo. Hope they don't mind being part of my blog.

I can’t remember this couple’s name but I do remember that they were super cool. I love this photo. Hope they don’t mind being part of my blog.