Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I would go door-to-door every year until, well, let's just say I was probably way too old to go trick-or-treating. I don't even really like candy that much. Don't get me wrong, I love certain types of candy (mainly anything with chocolate and peanut butter) but for me trick-or-treating was always about the hunt. I'd grab a pillowcase from the linen closet and throw on my walking shoes and head out for a long and adventurous night. I didn't want to return home until that bag was full (or as close to it as I could get). When I returned home I would pour the contents onto the living room floor and take inventory of what I had received. I loved to see what the popular choices were that year and try and figure out why people still handed out those creepy plain orange wrapped "candies". What were those? I'm not really sure because I was too afraid to try. I would snack on a few of my favorite treats throughout the next couple of days, but I would inevitably hand over the collection to my dad (who has a real sweet tooth).

Now that I'm older and have left my trick-or-treating years behind me I bake my treats to share with my friends. And just as when I was a kid, one type of confection is never enough. So for the Halloween party this year I baked cookies, cupcakes, and cake pops in different flavors and many different decorations. For all of those who tried them at the party, I hoped you liked them! To those of you who didn't I hope you get some delicious treats tonight. Even if you have to sneak some from that giant bowl you left out for trick-or-treaters.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween and Autumn Baking

Cookie baking season has begun at our house! Halloween marks the beginning of our kitchen being consistently coated in flour and powdered sugar, well not just the kitchen, I'm usually covered in it as well. It's been a while since I decorated cookies with royal icing. I always find it too hot and humid in the summer to be hovering over cookies with a piping bag in hand. But now that the weather has calmed down become a little milder I'm happy to be back at it.

A couple weeks ago I made some Autumn leaf and acorn cookies for the beginning of the Autumn season. I wanted to add a little spice to my usual go-to sugar cookie recipe so I added 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice.  Wow. Phenomenal. Plus, it makes the whole house smell like pumpkin pie. Everyone seemed to enjoy this new twist so I decided to make these cookies for the Halloween party. Hopefully they'll invoke the Autumn spices.

I decided to get an early start on the baking for the Halloween party, which takes place this weekend. I'm planning on bringing not just cookies, but cupcakes as well. So I figured I would get the cookies out of the way so I can focus on cupcakes for Saturday. I spent the morning yesterday rolling out dough and trying to decide on which of my many cookie cutters would be put to use this Halloween. After focusing on a few shapes I baked them up and spent the morning decorating. All done and now I just have to make the cupcakes. I'm super excited to share the pictures from the party!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Red Beans and Rice

I've recently started buying dried beans rather than canned beans. First of all, they're cheaper. Second, you can control what goes into them. Third, they produce less waste. So I'm a big fan. I always thought that you had to soak them overnight, so this always deterred me from cooking them because I never knew when I was going to need them unless I had been planning the menu for the week a little better. While reading How to Cook Everything I discovered that you could skip this step. I'm sure that if you soak them they will cook faster, but I can never remember the day before to soak them.

After making homemade refried beans a few times I thought I would change the recipe up a little bit and make my own red beans and rice. During my teenage years I was a vegetarian and one of my favorite restaurants was Bon Temps, a Cajun restaurant in San Luis Obispo. On their menu they had a great vegetarian option, which was red beans and rice, collard greens, and fried green tomatoes. Yummy. I thought reproducing this menu option would be delicious homemade. So I gathered up some ingredients and got to work creating my own recipe for red beans and rice.

Red Beans and Rice
1 cup red beans
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 Serrano chile, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
Cayenne to taste
Salt to taste

1) In a large dutch oven add the beans and all remaining ingredients except tomatoes, cayenne, and salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil
2) Let beans simmer until tender, this can take anywhere from 45 to 2 hours. You just have to keep checking. Add more water to keep barely covered
3) When the beans are tender add the salt, tomatoes, and cayenne
4) Mash some of the beans to thicken them
5) Season and serve over white rice and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hot Chicken

When I first moved to Nashville I expected great barbecue. I thought (generically) that every city in the South was known for its barbecue. Well, I learned that for great barbecue you better keep moving to Memphis. Don't get me wrong, you can get some great pulled pork, but this isn't a city known for its ribs or distinct sauces. But I did learn that Nashville as its own twist on making fried chicken: hot chicken.

If you don't know what hot chicken is, well, you should. Instead of plain, mild, fried chicken you get a crispy, red, spicy coated, perfectly crunchy piece of fried chicken. This stuff will burn. If you don't like spicy food then don't even attempt. Your lips will be burning long after you've finished your meal. But the flavor is so insanely good and satisfying. I don't know how hot chicken is made, but I do know that people have their favorite hot chicken places and debates are made on who has the best.

You may prefer Bolton's to Prince's or Pepperfire over 400 Degrees or whomever has your favorite. I'm not here to get into the middle of that conversation. People like what they like for different reasons. But there is a new hot chicken restaurant on the scene: Hattie B's. The advantage this place has over the others for me: location. It's within walking distance from my house and is a lot easier than getting in my car and driving over to East Nashville. They also have beer and a patio. Trust me, beer is practically a requirement to keep the flames at bay. I don't think that their chicken is as diabolically hot as Bolton's or Prince's, so I say go one level higher than you're used to. We've gone twice in the past couple of weeks. The first time I had hot, but the next time I got damn hot. The chicken is super moist and the skin is crunchy, crispy, and on fire. Great flavor and great heat. Plus, they have great sides. So if you're on the lookout for a new hot chicken place to try I strongly recommend Hattie B's.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Tacos are amazing. You put practically anything between a corn tortilla and it will be delicious. But my favorite filling for a taco is none other than carnitas. Little bits of pork fried in its own rendered fat. Throw some onions and cilantro on top and I couldn't be happier. I may love many elaborate dishes, but sometimes simpler really is better.

I had never made my own carnitas before. Frankly, I thought they were so simple that I would inevitably mess them up. I wouldn't season them properly, I wouldn't cook them right, and I wouldn't use the proper method. So when I came across Diana Kennedy's recipe for carnitas I knew that this would be the recipe. I came across her book The Cuisines of Mexico at the used book store a couple weeks/months ago. It contains great recipes and explanations on regional cuisines of Mexico, as well as ingredients and techniques. Her recipe couldn't be simpler. Seriously, there are three ingredients: pork, water, and salt. I know. I was shocked too. Where does all that flavor come from? I swore that there must have been chiles or cumin, or something? Trust me. This recipe really does the pork justice.


3 lbs pork shoulder, bone and skin removed, cut into small pieces (about 2 x 3/4 inches)
Cold water to cover
2 tsps salt, or to taste

1) Place the meat in a dutch oven and cover with the water, not too much, just enough to cover, then add the salt

2) Cook the meat with the lid off until all the liquid has evaporated, then lower the heat and continue cooking the meat in its own rendered fat, letting the edges crisp up, turning the meat to brown completely, this should take about 1 hour or so

3) Once the meat is browned it should be crispy and fried and falling apart a little. Heat some corn tortillas, chop some cilantro and onion, and you have yourself an amazing dinner!