Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Hope you are all surrounded by family, friends, and good food!

I'm off to start the roast beef and Yorkshire puddings! (More on that later!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pimento Cheese: My Latest Food Obsession

Pimento Cheese is an iconic food in the South. Most Southerners have idyllic childhood memories of eating Pimento Cheese Sandwiches on a hot summers day. This is one food that most people are passionate about, I've heard few negative comments about Pimento Cheese. My recent run in with the stuff at the Happy Tomato Cafe in Fernandina Beach has sparked my latest food obsession. Lucky for you, you don't have to live in the South to eat it, and it couldn't be easier to make. Ingredients:
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Mayonnaise (Dukes is THE only mayonnaise in my opinion!)
  • Jarred roasted peppers, chopped
  • Olives, chopped
  • Hot Sauce (Cholula rocks my world)
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Mix it all together:

You have probably noticed that I don't give measurements. That is because you really don't need them. You can make this with any amount of cheese you have on hand, though you will probably want to use at least one 8 oz block to start with.

Put cheese in a mixing bowl and add a little bit of mayonnaise to bind. Stir, if it seems dry, just add a bit more.

Next I add the chopped pepper (pimento) and olives. For 8 oz cheese, I use about 1 whole pepper from a jar of roasted peppers. Adjust to your taste. This also goes for the amount of olives you use. I just use a few olives to enhance the flavor, but not overwhelm the taste of the cheese mixture.

Once the pimento and olives have been mixed in, add a few dashes of hot sauce and fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Mix well.

At this point, some like to process the mixture in a food processor to blend into a smooth mixture and create more of a uniform taste. I like to keep mine rugged. The good thing about Pimento Cheese is that there really is no right or wrong way of making it, add or omit what suits your taste buds. I've seen many recipes that call for chopped dill pickles or absolutely no extra add ins at all. In true Southern fashion, just have fun with it and enjoy!

What to do with Pimento Cheese?

Pimento Cheese is traditionally used as a sandwich spread. In fact, the Pimento Cheese sandwich is the official food of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Served with a little chopped sweet onion and some watercress, this is a sandwich even non-sandwich lovers can't resist. You could also use it as a dip for chips, or even top a steak with it.

A new favorite of ours is to have it on a pulled pork sandwich. You'll have to excuse the quality of my photos (or lack there of), my priority was getting to the main event of delighting my taste buds:

The next night we had it on a burger. That was divine! Seriously divine. My one tip would be to put the cheese on the top of the bun, then add lettuce, tomato, pickle, etc. so that the cheese does not come in direct contact with the burger. I put the cheese directly on the burger and the heat from the meat melted the cheese, causing most to run off. Yum, can't wait to try that again!

Spicy Boiled Peanuts at the Palace Saloon ~ Fernandina Beach

Centre Street on Fernandina Beach is the very well preserved main corridor of this lovely Victorian seaside Island.
One of our favorite places to visit is the Palace Saloon. The Palace Saloon proudly boasts itself as being Florida's oldest continually operating saloon, serving suds under that name since 1903.
The interior completely fits in with the Victorian exterior feel of Centre Street. The staff and local patrons are very warm and welcoming, making you feel completely at home.
My main goal for the day was to stop and buy some boiled peanuts from a roadside stand on the way home. Jane's trip wasn't going to be complete without trying the Southern staple of boiled peanuts. While I've never been a fan, it had been 20+ years since I had tried them so thought it would be fun to experience them together. On the way up we had passed a few stands, some of which advertised spicy boiled peanuts. As a lover of all foods spicy, I thought this might make a more palatable option. Our wait was over when a man entered the saloon with a basket selling none other than spicy boiled peanuts!

At first bite, Jane wasn't completely convinced. Its mainly getting over the initial sock of the texture, being softer like a bean instead of crunchy like we're used to eating peanuts. After a few bites, we were all hooked. They were amazing*. The heat level was just right: enough to compliment the peanut but not too hot. Between the four of us we happily polished off the bag.
We liked them so much that we flagged the man down that was selling them and bought some more to take home with us. If you are in the Centre Street area of Fernandina Beach, be on the lookout for this man and give his spicy boiled peanuts a try, you'll be glad you did!

* If you like hummus, chances are you will like boiled peanuts. They reminded me a bit of hummus, only in a shell. Saying that, I don't think I would like plain boiled peanuts nearly as much, the flavor of his boiling brine completely made these peanuts a success.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Happy Tomato Cafe ~ Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island

The first week of November was very exciting for me. My friend Jane (from Cakebook) came over from England to visit us for 10 days. Our friendship formed 10 years ago over our mutual love of food and we've been great friend ever since. While I haven't seen Jane in 4 years, there is rarely a day that passes that I don't speak to her in some way; e-mail, Facebook - it's amazing how you can keep in touch these days. We had been planning what to do for months and seemed to come up with a Southern food theme. We took a trip up to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island (close to the northern boarder of Florida's east coast) and had great expectations of a lovely Southern lunch.

Noon rolled around and we were in search of somewhere to eat. While on the way to a place on 3rd Street I wanted to try, our noses were treated to the most heavenly, smokey BBQ smell. It was a good thing the place I wanted to go to was closed for the day, as it gave us no choice but to follow our noses back to the Happy Tomato Cafe...
The cafe itself is in a small wooden building with an outside deck...
... and courtyard seating...
We had a quick look at the menu and got in line as the place was quickly filling up. This place seemed to be very popular with the locals, which is always a good sign.
My Dad and James were with us and there was one item on the menu that caught all of our attention: THE WORKS. The Works is a pulled pork sandwich with pimento cheese! Yes, pimento cheese!!! This isn't the sort of thing I would eat on a daily basis, but it did sound good and we were on vacation after all. It's not everyday I get to have lunch with Jane! We were all very happy with our choice. The Works is served with a side of BBQ sauce (I highly recommend the Mustard based sauce) and dill pickles. Jane ordered a side of coleslaw, which was also very good.
Enjoy a close up glimpse...

The sandwich was so filling there is no way I could have eaten anything else. Sitting outside on a sunny day with great company was the icing on the cake. I can't wait to go back!

The Happy Tomato Courtyard Cafe & BBQ

7 S. 3rd St, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

(904) 321-0707

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fancy a Cuppa Up Top of Java Dawg's Double Decker Coffee Shop Bus?

Several weeks ago the most popular coffee vendor at the Sarasota Farmers Market turned up in a 1978 English Double Decker Bus! Java Dawg's Double Decker Coffee Shop Bus is a great place to grab your morning Cup of Joe while enjoying a bird's eye view of the market. It is a very welcomed addition to my favorite market.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aunt Barb's Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are a bit of a family institution. For as long as I remember, no Birthday or Christmas was complete without a batch. My Aunt Barb gave me the recipe and after about 5 years of disasters, I've finally mastered her level of yumminess. I should mention that baking isn't my fourté. I should also mention, a couple of years ago I also discovered that these cookies weren't exclusive to my Aunt Barb - the recipe was also familiar to a few of my friends. Regardless, they will always make my think of my special Aunt and the smiles of many years opening packages to find these soft cookies. I hope you enjoy.
  • 1 & 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup shortening (yes, I know it is horrible for you - but you really must use it)
  • 1 egg - well beaten
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (I find that 3 come to exactly 1 cup. Also, I use a pastry cutter to mash - easiest way that I have found to mash bananas.)
  • 1 & 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 package of chocolate bits

Sift together flour, sugar, soda, salt, and spices.

Cut in shortening.

Add egg, bananas, rolled oats, and chocolate bits.

Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400F, about 15 minutes. (12 minutes in my oven)

Makes about 3 dozen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Must Make Martha's Macarons!!!

French Macarons, or Macaroons as they are more commonly referred to by English speaking people, are the most heavenly, sublime, wonderful treat on the planet. To my taste buds, at least. They are so delicate, the colors so sweet. Eating a macaron honestly feels so indulgent. Despite my recent discovery that Morton's Market now sell them, I really need to get over my intimidation and learn how to make them. As I'm notorious for losing or forgetting about recipes that I intend to make, I'm "archiving" this recipe on my blog from Have you made macarons? Do you have any advise to share? I would love to hear from you!

French Macaroons
The basic batter and the fillings for these delectable little desserts can be varied endlessly simply by adding different flavorings and colorings; for starters, there's chocolate, coconut, peanut, pistachio, raspberry, and vanilla bean.

Makes 35 macaroons.
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam, for filling

Chocolate: Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the almond flour.
Coconut: Substitute 2 tablespoons desiccated unsweetened coconut for 2 tablespoons of the almond flour, and add 1/2 teaspoon rum; sprinkle with additional coconut before baking.
Peanut: Substitute an equal amount finely ground unsalted peanuts (peanut flour) for the almond flour.

Pistachio: Substitute 1/2 cup finely ground unsalted pistachios (pistachio flour) for 1/2 cup of the almond flour, and add 2 to 3 drops forest-green gel-paste food coloring.
Raspberry: Add 1 tablespoon fresh raspberry puree, strained, plus 3 to 4 drops dusty- rose gel-paste food coloring.
Vanilla Bean: Add 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use.

Chocolate: Chocolate Ganache
Coconut: 1 cup Swiss Meringue Buttercream, mixed with 1/3 cup angel-flake coconut.
Peanut: Chocolate Ganache, or store-bought dulce de leche, jam, or peanut butter.
Pistachio: 1 cup Swiss Meringue Buttercream, mixed with 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios.
Raspberry: 3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam.

Vanilla Bean: 1 cup Pineapple Buttercream , 1 cup Swiss Meringue Buttercream, or 3/4 cup store-bought jam or preserves.

1. Pulse confectioners' sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.
3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macaroons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.
4. Let macaroons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macaroons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macaroons.)
5. Sandwich 2 same-size macaroons with 1 teaspoon jam. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Copyright 2009 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Want to give as a gift? One reviewer of this recipe, AmberLee, also left a link to her blog where you can get the cutest template for labels that she designed for a bake sale. Her blog was such a fun discovery with loads of gift ideas. French Macarons would make a great gift.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saffron Potatoes with Chorizo

I first made this for Mother's Day and it has quickly become one of our favorite warm weather dishes. It makes a nice, easy weeknight dinner. It is also great on the weekends when you can't be bothered to get out of the pool and need something simple for when you finally do drag yourself out. On either occasion, I like to simply serve with salad. What you'll need:
  • 1 lb new potatoes, baby Yukon Golds are divine if available
  • good pinch of saffron
  • 4 oz Chorizo sausage
  • olive oil, salt, pepper

Cut potatoes into large bite sized pieces and place into pot of water with saffron. Add a pinch of salt and boil until soft, but not overcooked - about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and return to pot with a good drizzle of olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until potatoes start to crisp and skins start to brown.
Next add the Chorizo in chunks that are similar in size to the potatoes. Let cook just long enough for the sausage to release its oil to coat the potatoes, about 3-5 minutes (over medium heat). At this point the Chorizo will be warmed and it is ready to serve. You could also serve this as an hors d'oeuvre by putting one piece of potato and Chorizo each on a cocktail stick.
My favorite dish to serve with these potatoes is the 1905 Salad from the Columbia Restaurant. What a great combination for a lovely summer meal.

Times Grill World Famous Burgers, Jacksonville

Times Grill was founded in 1994. While they claim to be world famous, I had never heard of them, but am happy that my dad suggested that we go there. With 20 burgers on the menu, it is next to impossible to chose. The most unique to me was the Cajun Sunset®. This burger is seasoned with Creole spices and is topped with a fried egg. Thankfully I don't eat eggs, so was not tempted by this heart attack on a bun. After combing the menu over and over again, narrowing it down to about 5 burgers, James and I decided to order 2 and each have half. This proved to be a great idea as we sampled two amazing burgers. My choice was the El Camino Burger™. This burger is topped with a Chorizo con Queso sauce, salsa, and jalepeños slices. It was love at first bite. I was very happy that I followed my gut instinct and chose this spicy burger.
James chose the Buffaloaded Burger. This burger is flavored with a mild buffalo BBQ sauce, blue cheese, and topped with fried onions. I can feel my arteries clogging just thinking about it. This was also an excellent choice.
My Dad and Kathy went with their usual, the Swisshroom. As the name suggests, this is topped with Swiss cheese and mushrooms. You'll notice from this photo that you can also order sweet potato fries.
I don't think they have a bad burger on their menu, however, this was a bittersweet lunch: while we were so saddened by the fact we live 4 hours from Jacksonville and Time Grill, we were slightly relieved as this tempting place would be too hard to stay away from. It will be something to look forward to on our next trip to Jacksonville.

Benny's Steak & Seafood, Jacksonville

Two weeks ago we went to visit my dad and step mom, Kathy, in Jacksonville. My favorite place to eat in Jacksonville is Benny's Steak & Seafood.Benny's is located downtown in the Jacksonville Landing on the St. John's River.
The fountain at the center of the Landing adds a fun daytime place for kids to play, giving into an adults playground at night. Surrounded by various bars and a performance stage, this is a great place for live entertainment at night. The last time I was in Jacksonville, I missed seeing Eddie Money perform by one week. For free! Can you beat seeing Eddie Money perform for free? Don't answer.
We were lucky enough to get my favorite table next to the window. By day or night, this is a great spot to take in the views of the St. John's River and downtown Jacksonville.
The Caribbean Jerk Chicken my favorite thing on the menu at Benny's. I am such a sucker for jerk chicken, and this is the best I've ever had. It is the only thing I've ever ordered at Benny's, and so far I show no signs of getting tired of it. It is amazingly seasoned with a nice touch of heat. The mango and tomato salsa compliment the jerk seasoning perfectly. Served with nicely steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes with a Chardonnay - lemon sauce, this is guaranteed to keep me quiet until my plate is clean!
While I'm always full after the chicken, I've never been able to resist sharing a dessert. James and I had a very generous slice of their Red Velvet Cake.
I can't wait to go back!

Lavender Sage

A few weeks after finding Lavender Mint at the Farmers' Market, I found Lavender Sage!!! The taste is a bit stronger than traditional sage, and it really does smell of a lovely combination of lavender and sage. Every week I so look forward to what exciting things await to be discovered at My Mother's Garden. What could it be next week: Lavender Thyme???

Morton's Market Has True French Macarons!!!

This was a very excited discovery for me. Ever since my first taste last October in France, I have been obsessively searching for macarons. Imported from France, these were slightly stale, but are more than adequate to fill my craving until I can next return to France. Morton's charge $1 per macaron, which isn't bad considering I was paying €1 each in France. The lemon has been the best, least stale flavor of the ones I've tried so far. Fingers crossed that they keep them in stock, or better yet, start making their own!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rose and Herb Posy

When I find myself inundated with roses and my herbs are growing faster than I can cook with, I love to make posies. Not only are the colors beautiful, but the scent is divine. Placed in a sunny window, these sweet little nosegays will fill a room with a luscious floral/herbal aroma, making it an eco-friendly air freshener. For this arrangement, I used my sweet little yellow roses, tarragon, rosemary, lavender mint, and lavender sage. Many of these herbs are also natural bug repellents, which come in handy during the muggy, bug infested summers of Florida.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lovely Lavender Mint Pimm's

I found the most fabulous thing ever at the Farmers' Market last Saturday: Lavender Mint! This is the most amazing herb, it really does smell of both lavender and mint. Excited about my new find, I had to try it in my favorite summer drink: Pimm's. This is a variation of my favorite version, using 7-Up instead of Ginger Ale.

  • 1 part Pimm's
  • 3 parts 7-Up, or your favorite lemon-lime soda
  • 1 sprig of Lavender Mint
  • 1 slice of peach
  • 2 sliced of pear
  • 1 spring cucumber

Muddle mint, cucumber, and Pimm's in glass. Let sit for 1/2 hour to blend flavors. Next add fruit, a few ice cubes, then 7-Up. Stir gently and enjoy!

PS: I was in the local paper this week talking about Pimm's! Not front page news, but it's a start... :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Culinary Creation: Amy's Basquaise Chicken

Having never been to the Basque Country obviously makes me an expert in their cuisine. I have seen several recipes in the past, which have given me just the right amount of ammunition to attempt to make this on my own. To me, a little bit of French combined with a little bit of Spanish obviously equals Basquaise. And since it's my kitchen, what I say goes :-) That, and we really enjoyed this dish. Please note that this recipe is for two.* 1/2 pound fingerling potatoes
* Good pinch of saffron
* 1 chicken breast, cooked and thickly sliced
* 4 oz chorizo sausage, sliced
* 1 can Adobo Fire Roasted tomatoes
* 1 small onion
* 2 small different colored bell peppers (I used cubanellos), roughly chopped
* 1 zucchini, sliced thinly on the diagonal
* 1 yellow squash, sliced thinly on the diagonal
* 1 clove garlic, chopped
* Splash of rosé wine
* 4 sprigs of thyme
* 1 bay leaf
* Small bunch of basil
*olive oil, sea salt, pepper

Boil potatoes in water with a good pinch of saffron for around 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but not over cooked.
Sauté the zucchini, yellow squash, onion, garlic, and peppers using a drizzle of olive oil on medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes and chorizo and continue sautéing for another 3 minutes. Next, add the can of Fire Roasted tomatoes. Fire Roasted tomatoes add an amazing flavor to this dish. If you can't find one that is adobo seasoned, add a pinch of dried chili flakes. Regular diced tomatoes can be used, just use 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to get the roasted, smokey flavor.
Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes before adding the chicken, thyme, bay leaf, and wine. You don't have to use rosé, both red or white wine are also fine to use.
Stir to evenly coat and simmer, covered, on medium low for 20-30 minutes.
Just before serving, mix in the basil. Now this is where my hunger took over. The smell was amazing and I was so eager to try it that I completed skipped taking a photo of the finished dish. I can assure you that we thoroughly enjoyed and definitely will make this again.

~ Topa! ~

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Prepare Fresh Artichokes

What better way to spend a rainy Sunday than to sit in your dry kitchen, eating fresh artichokes? That is exactly what I did today. Fresh artichokes are so easy to prepare and are such a treat.

You first start by trimming off the bottom stem, leaving about ½ inch. Next, pull off any loose leaves around the bottom. You’ll also want to snip off any thorny tops on the petals. I was pretty lucky with this one as there were only a few. One fairly important step that I forgot today is to slice off a bit of the top of the artichoke. Not too much, but just flatten the top rounded part. When ready to cook, I first rub with lemon before putting into water.
There are several ways to cook, with steaming being popular. My favorite way, however, is to put the artichoke in a large pot, add a little water, cover, and boil for 30-35 minutes.
The artichoke is ready to eat when you can easily insert a knife in the bottom.
Your choice of dip is a matter of personal preference. While herb butter or garlic mayonnaise are popular choices, I like mine best with a simple vinaigrette.
Make sure you have a bowl or plate for the discarded petals. Getting to the choke is almost like finding a hidden treasure.I'm not very graceful at this stage, but removing the hairs from the center and getting to that tender choke is well worth the effort. Even if the effort is a bit clumsy.