Family + Food = Vacation!

Money is tight these days. Our summer “vacations” have been as simple as a nice dinner out, fun with visitors, or country drives. We also managed to get in a couple recent family visits. One such trip to upstate South Carolina to visit my family produced some excellent culinary memories for me. My Sis took me out for an early Birthday celebration at one of the best restaurants the South has to offer, American Grocer, in Greenville, S.C. (recently reviewed in Garden & Gun’s profile on Greenville, too). We had an amazing meal. They source as much local produce and meat as possible. Their menu is well thought out and very seasonal. Each course was paired with a special wine selected especially for us. The service was stellar and the food divine. What a treat- I love this place!

Sadly, the only photos I captured. I was too preoccupied with the food!

The next morning, my brother-in-law took me to the big farmer’s market in the old, newly renovated downtown area of Greenville. He warned me ahead of time, “It isn’t that big really.” Boy was I surprised. This was one of largest local farmer’s markets I have ever seen! True to Greenville’s nature, it seemed well organized, too, with little printed banners for each farmer’s stall. There was a fantastic looking stall with homemade pasta, tons of heirloom tomatoes, corn, artisan cheese, and some of those famous South Carolina peaches- a personal favorite of mine. I also realized Greenville has a couple other weekly farmer’s markets- a “slow food” one and an organic one at the Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University. Go Greenville!

Greenville's downtown Saturday farmer's market.

The next day, I got to help my Mom make one of her famous pound cake recipes! Growing up, we spent many weekends in the mountains of Virginia with my Mom’s family. She would always bake a homemade pound cake to take my Nana. One of my favorites was her brown sugar pound cake with caramel icing! Not being much of a cake baker myself, I thought it was high time for me to start learning all of her secrets so I asked her to let me help her bake one. We had so much fun! And, we decided to serve it that night with some of those S.C. peaches I had brought her from the farmer’s market. Delicious!

Mom's kitchen.

Mom’s Brown Sugar Pound Cake

½ lb butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 box and 1 cup brown sugar
5 eggs
1 cup milk
3 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Bake in well greased and floured tube pan at 325 degrees for 1 ½ hours.
(I don’t usually use vegetable shortening but I am not an experienced cake baker and haven’t yet experimented with ways around this… stay tuned for more details or if you have any suggestions, please let me know.)

A week ago, we returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Old familiar views on the drive over to West Seattle. The Mountain taunted and teased us!

The impetus for our trip was to visit Grant’s ailing parents so the majority of our time was spent with family but we so seldom get to visit the great Pacific Northwest that we managed to get at least short visits in with most of our favorite PNW people. We just so happened to be there the most beautiful week of the entire year which made us even more homesick.

And true to our nature, we somehow managed to cram in many delicious meals…

We were only in Seattle for two whole days really, one on each end of our visit, and I think we spent a good bit of that time sipping coffee and enjoying food with family and friends. Right off the plane, Bray & Kathy whisked me off to Volunteer Park Cafe for a delicious fig, caramelized onion jam, and gorgonzola pizza accompanied by this amazing fennel artichoke salad which was followed by my first visit to Molly Moon’s for ice cream (In case you were wondering, I had the salted caramel which was divine!). Oh how I miss these type of gatherings with these two over food.

Before heading up to Whidbey Island to visit the family the next day, Bray took me to Eltana in Capitol Hill for wood fired bagels with the most delicious spreads! My favorite was the fava bean mint. I grabbed a dozen bagels and a yummy apricot fig compote to take to enjoy with Grant’s family.

A little while later, for a belated anniversary dinner, Grant and I stopped in the International District for some salt & pepper squid, hand-shaved barley green noodles, and the best Chinese green beans at one of our old favorite spots, Shanghai Garden. Grant says this place has been around since he was a kid.

The majority of our visit was spent with family up on Whidbey Island, which was a perfect retreat from our 90-100 degree summer in Nashville. I’ve always loved the Skagit Valley area on the drive from Seattle to Whidbey Island but this trip cemented my love!

Up on Whidbey Island, we shopped at the Coupeville farmer’s market where we bought perfect blueberries and the biggest blackberries we have ever seen! These made the most perfect pies to take to Grant’s parents.

Our niece Adrienne just got accepted to Whitman College in Walla Walla where it is customary to send each incoming freshman a box of Walla Walla sweet onions. My sister-in-law had a field day with these and fried up the most delicious, light onion rings I have ever tasted!

Being back at the ocean, we had lots of delicious fresh seafood!

Those world famous Penn Cove Mussels are from Whidbey Island. I love that area!

One night we went to an art opening at a friend’s gallery in Anacortes and got dinner at Adrift. We had clams and halibut, at last! (We don’t typically ever eat these in middle Tennessee.)

Grant even managed to squeeze in time for a gig with Knut Bell at the Conway Pub. I love Conway! And not only did I get to hear that great big Skagit Valley voice of Knut’s and see Grant tear it up on guitar in his home territory, but I also had fried oysters for the first time. Ohh, they were really good and apparently, Conway Pub’s specialty.

The day before we left to return to Tennessee, we crammed in lunch at a new restaurant all our friends have bragged about- Revel in Fremont. This is a modern take on Korean food and oh, so delicious. This last day was so fun food filled that it was like two vacations in one!

Then later that evening, our friends Lewis & Shirley cooked up a feast for us. First we had an afternoon cocktail. Shirley concocted this refreshing (and slightly decadent) peach cocktail which I think she said was inspired by a feature on a cooking show she had recently seen. She named it, “Kentucky Peach Potion” in honor of her sister who had just recently visited from Kentucky.

Shirley’s Kentucky Peach Potion
serves 4
½ can sweetened condensed milk
1 tray sweet tea ice cubes (obviously, make these ahead of time)
2 peaches, pealed and sliced
4 oz (1/4 cup) Maker’s Mark bourbon
4 big mint leaves, chopped + a few more leaves for garnish
1 Tbsp honey or agave

Mix all in a blender and pour into a pretty glass. Top with a mint leaf.

We had one more seafood treat before returning to land-locked Tennessee, locally caught grilled King salmon with an arugula pistachio compound butter that Lew had whipped up. It was beautiful and paired so nicely with the fish. They served it up with simply blanched green cauliflower they had picked up at the farmer’s market and Grant’s favorite smashed potatoes. Lew was kind enough to share his compound butter recipe with us. I believe this recipe was originally from a Sunset Magazine.

Arugula & Pistachio Compound Butter
1/4 cup shelled, roasted unsalted pistachios
1 cup arugula
1/4 cup butter, softened.

Whirl pistachios and arugula in a food processor until minced.  Add butter and whirl until smooth, scraping down inside of bowl as needed. He added salt and then formed it into a log and wrapped it in parchment paper.

Lew & Shirley didn’t know what we were going to cook before we all went to one of our favorite grocery stores ever, The Ballard Market, for ingredients that day. At some point along the way, Shirley insisted they make Pavlova for dessert. With the sweetest, kindest, high voice, she kept saying, “PAVLOOOOVAH!” I couldn’t wait to taste this masterpiece. This recipe came from one of their many cookbooks, The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl. (I chose to leave the description in from the cookbook because I thought it was so funny!) By the way, this dessert was named after the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.

With billows of soft whipped cream, crunchy meringue and smooth fruits, these pavlovas feel like a miracle in the mouth, slipping smoothly from one sensation to another.  The vinegar in the meringue makes it crispy outside while it stays chewy within.  Although this Australian classic will be welcomed wherever it goes, its ruffly white beauty makes it the perfect production for a bridal shower.

4 large egg whites, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cram of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

for whipped topping:
1 1/2 cups very cold heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Put rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 250 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until whites just hold soft peaks.  Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, beating at low speed, then beat at high speed until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vinegar, cornstarch and vanilla. With back of a spoon, spread meringue into 3 1/2-inch rounds on baking sheet, making a slight depression in center of each (to hold fruit).  Bake until crisp on outside but soft in middle, about 1 hour. (Lewis cooks it until it is slightly brown because he likes the texture better that way and Lew is one smart cookie when it comes to food and coffee so just do it the way he does!) Carefully peel parchment from meringues and cool meringues on a rack for at least 20 minutes. (They let theirs cool and the parchment peeled off just fine.) Beat cream with confectioners’ sugar, if using, in a large bowl until it just holds stiff peas.  Serve meringues topped with fruit ad whipped cream. (Shirley likes the fruit cooked down just a bit first. They used blackberries and peaches. It was yummy!)

Ollie helped with the dessert assemblage!

For way more detailed foodie info from the great Pacific Northwest (and beyond!), you must spend some time with one of my very best buddy’s blog- Bray Hayden blog.

And speaking of Greenville… our friend and Greenville native, Nikki Lane has a killer new video out. It’s part cool biker-chic and part Hee-Haw Honey. Check it out!

Plus, we were blessed to have Nikki and the amazing Carey Kotsionis play our little Red Barn Round-Up last month. You can find both of their music here:
Nikki Lane
Carey Kotsionis

Oh, I so typed way too much here. I think I was just trying to make up for all that time between posts! If you happen to have read all the way to the end you must truly be a good friend. I promise to work on short and simple informative posts from here on out!

Happy vacation, whether you actually get to travel or not.

Anxiously Awaiting Those Summer Vegetables…

Spring is rapidly moving into Summer as the cicada songs continue to fill the Nashville air and last evening, one lone lightning bug appeared in our yard. The local neighborhood farmer’s markets are just starting up and now we sit and anxiously await as the summer produce comes rolling in! Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been cooking up in the mean time…

I’ve really been on a salad dressing kick lately.

Beet & Humboldt Fog cheese salad with Herby Tangerine Vinaigrette

As a child growing up in South Carolina, we spent many weekends and weeks during the summer visiting my grandparents in rural Virginia. Papa had a huge farm with lots of yummy vegetables. Nana made a big pan of cornbread and cooked up all those veggies every day at noon for dinner. (Super was a snack and usually eaten around 5pm). On Sundays she even made homemade fried chicken! One thing she always had was a simple salad made of fresh lettuce from the garden and spring onions with a drizzle of warm vinaigrette consisting of apple cider vinegar, a little sugar, vegetable oil, salt and pepper. The warm vinaigrette would very gently wilt some of the lettuce. This always smelled so good to me but as a child yet I never ate it because I wouldn’t eat raw onions. As an adult, I have often thought back on that simple salad as I would really enjoy it now. Last weekend while visiting my Mom, she had lettuce from Mary Bauld’s garden and some spring onions from her garden so I suggested she make it as I wasn’t even really sure how Nana made the vinaigrette. It was delicious! We added cucumbers at my request.

A simple delight and a nice accompaniment to all those great summer vegetables. The vinegar just feels so cleansing, too. It is so easy to eat a more vegetarian diet during the summer.

What’s delicious with grilled meat, almost as tasty as mashed potatoes but way more nutritious, and orange all over? Butternut Squash Mash! I keep trying to come up with delicious and different ways to enjoy squash. I dearly love yellow summer squash but I am not a huge fan of other squash and neither is Grant, yet, squash is so nutritious and very plentiful and it is easy to find locally grown so we really want to incorporate more into our diet. Here’s a super easy, delicious side dish that lends itself easily to many exciting variations. The squash gets so soft when roasted that it isn’t even necessary to add stock or milk to thin it out before mashing. I used herbs and roasted garlic to spice it up but you could also use some blue cheese or gruyere, add some caramelized sweet onions, etc…

Butternut Squash Mash

1 butternut squash, cut in half with seeds scooped out
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 cloves roasted garlic
herbs de Provence
sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 450. Place squash halves face down in an oven proof baking dish and fill with about 1” water. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes. About 15 minutes into the roasting, place a head of garlic (with the top cut off and a little olive oil drizzled over) into the oven on a piece of foil, a dish or on a cookie sheet. Remove squash and garlic from oven and discard the remaining water from the dish. Turn the squash over, let cool a little. Be careful, it will be very hot. Scoop out the insides of the squash into a bowl. Add butter, 5 cloves of the roasted garlic. Toss in a few pinches of herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Mash squash and stir to mix it all together.

Another great for you but not always the tastiest of ingredients to us is quinoa. Grant, in particular, is not fond of quinoa so from time to time, I try to come up with some new way to disguise it. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) was the principal grain of the Incas. (It’s ancient!) Botanically, however, it isn’t really a grain at all. It belongs to the Chenopodium family which also includes beets, spinach, chard, and sugar beets. It is very easy and quick to prepare and it is packed with numerous health benefits. It is known as a high energy food and easy to digest. Quinoa offers a great amount of high quality protein and amino acids. It has more calcium than milk and it is rich in minerals. The below recipe even got Grant’s approval, although, I’m pretty sure one could mix any number of ingredients, stuff it in a pepper, and top with cheese and the end result would be quite satisfying.

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
I cooked up the quinoa following the directions on the package. I used red quinoa, which is really pretty. I sauteed some onion and mixed it and the quinoa with the following- frozen corn, raw chopped spinach, a can of diced green chilis, chopped cherry tomatoes, sea salt and pepper, ground cumin, and some grated sharp cheddar cheese. I cut the peppers in half and then stuffed each half with the mixture. I then placed the peppers in a baking dish, covered with foil, and baked at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. I then removed the foil and topped each with a little more shredded cheese and baked for about 10-15 minutes more. These made for a colorful and quite tasty little side dish!

Oh asparagus, how I love you! Every Spring, I can never get enough. Asparagus originated in the desert regions of North Africa and was used medicinally long before it was enjoyed as a vegetable. The Greeks and Romans used it for relieving pain from toothaches and for preventing bee stings. The actual medicinal property of asparagus is a substance called asparagine. It is nature’s most effective kidney diuretic, breaking up any oxalic and uric acid crystals stored in the kidneys and muscles and eliminating them through the urine (thus the sometimes strong odor in urine!). Asparagus helps to fight against cancer as it is chocked full of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and Vitamins B1, B2, and B3. That’s a lot of B! We love asparagus simply steamed with some lemon, salt and pepper but we also throw it into salads and risottos such as in this recipe below…

Seafood Risotto
serves 4-6

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken or seafood stock
12 Asparagus spears, cut in small pieces
fresh herbs (I used parsley & thyme), chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1-1 ½ cups Parmesan Reggiano, grated
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 can baby clams (mix the juice with the stock)
12-16 fresh (or freshly thawed) shrimp
½ lb fresh bay scallops
juice of half a lemon

The key to cooking risotto is to stir constantly so be sure to have all ingredients prepped ahead of time. Heat stock in medium sauce pan. Add sea salt and pepper and the clam juice. Stir. Once it comes to a boil, lower temperature to simmer. Heat oil in large flat pan on medium heat. Add onion and saute. Add garlic and mushrooms. Stir. Cook for a couple minutes. Add rice. Stir. Add wine and stir until wine is absorbed. Gradually begin to add stock in, about half a cup at a time and continue to stir. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add another addition of stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until the mixture is creamy and a bit loose; the rice should still have some chew to it. The process will take about 20 minutes. Right when you think you are getting close, add the asparagus. Meanwhile, in another sauce pan, heat butter and add the seafood in. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped herbs, lemon zest, and parmesan to risotto and stir. Once seafood is done, add it to risotto.

Seafood Risotto served with slow cooked sliced carrots and shallots in butter.

Don’t forget that left over risotto makes yummy risotto cakes!!!

I found the first peaches of the season and made some peach and blackberry pies for my family while in S.C.!

This week we look forward to our buddy, Knut Bell’s return to Nashville. You can read more about this great big old school country voice from the Pacific Northwest on Grant’s blog here.

Knut Bell- Nashville, April 2011