Most often, when there is snow forecast in Asheville, it's more bluster than actual snow. We'll get a dusting while the mountains around us get the predicted storm. That relative infrequency makes the idea of a storm kind of fun, for me, in a very nostalgic "I'm from Vermont, I want to see some snow!" kind of way. So we got the forecast, and this time my excitement was tinged with a bit of anxiety as I have travel and deadline schedules that require me to fire the big kiln on Monday, which requires that I get all my bisque fires done by today. The recent constant moisture in the air has made drying pots a near Olympic sport, and looking at the weather maps, I could see that we would indeed get some snow - yay! I managed to get the last bisque loaded and programmed to fire while the snow began, and an intrepid studio mate who lives slogging distance to the studio made her way in to make sure the kilns fired out safely.
So I sit here now watching it snow again, as it has more or less for the past 12 hours. It's a very relaxing, calming thing to be able to look out the window and watch the flakes float down and make a deeper and deeper cover on the neighborhood. Dog is very happy, cat isn't interested in dashing out the door today, and as there's no way for me to safely get to the studio, I'm choosing to take the unintended day off and worry about how I'll get all the pots glazed and the kiln loaded on Sunday. Too much beauty and quiet to disrupt it with worry!
Today's comfort yumminess began with a little dabbling with cashew-butter based sauces. For New Year's brunch, it was a Hollandaise for a Crabcake Benedict, which was great and I immediately started thinking about how to tweak it for a cheesy sauce for a day just like today:
Cashew Cheese & Mac
Serves 4, or 2 very hungry people, or 1 snow-bound potter with plenty for leftovers!
2 cups raw cashews
2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon roasted garlic (*could use 1/4 tsp. garlic powder)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 good dashes cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard (*could use wet dijon mustard)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 cups elbow noodles (regular, wheat, gluten free - your choice)
two handfuls chopped kale
1 cup frozen sweet peas
1 large stem broccoli, cut into small pieces
Put a large pot of salted water to boil - it will hold the noodles and all the veg, so bigger than you might normally use. When it boils, add the broccoli stems, kale and frozen peas, and let it come back to a boil. When it boils again, add the noodles and cook to package directions, adding the broccoli crowns in the last minute or two.
While that's working, put the raw cashews in a food processor and process for about 2 minutes - you may have to pulse it at times. It will go from chopping/grinding the cashews to a rolling ball and ultimately to a paste/butter. After it has reached the last stage, add all the other ingredients but the water. Close the processor and start the machine, slowly pouring the water in until you reach your desired thickness (likely a cup, but could be a bit less or a bit more). Mix thoroughly and set aside.
When the noodles have reached that perfect 'al dente', drain into a colander, retaining just a bit of the water in the bottom. Return the noodles and veg to the pan, and pour over as much of the cashew sauce as you like in your noodles (you should have some left over, but hey, who am I to judge if you decide it all needs to go in! Mix it up well, fill up a bowl and return to your position under a blanket on the couch and continue to watch the snow fall.
From Week 1 of my adventure cooking for 25+ for three weeks and one of my favorite creations so far. Lovely and simple, and not requiring terribly hard to find ingredients (I think if I can find everything at a Food Lion in Virginia Beach, it's accessible). I'm already thinking of variations...
Gluten Free Strawberry-Lemon Cake
Preheat oven to 350, and place rack in the middle of the oven.
Spray or grease regular size bundt pan.
1 cup rice flour
3/4 cup fine ground corn meal (corn flour)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
5 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup veg oil
1/2 cups quartered strawberries
zest of 1-2 lemons
Juice of four lemons
In a small bowl, whisk together rice flour, corn meal, baking powder, and salt to combine. In a medium size bowl, whip the sugar into the eggs and vanilla until pale yellow (about 5 minutes). Add dry mix to eggs and mix slowly until incorporated. While mixing, add oil in a slow stream and mix till well combined.
Gently fold strawberries and lemon zest into batter, then scrape into greased bundt pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until toothpick test in middle of the ring comes out clean.
While baking, squeeze the juice of four lemons into a small bowl, then add enough confectioner's sugar to make a glaze (but not too thick).
When the cake comes out of the oven, let cool on a rack (in the pan) for about 10 minutes. While it's in the pan, poke several holes all over the crust and drizzle about 1/4 of your glaze over it. When you take the cake out of the pan, invert it and let cool on the rack. As soon as you have it on the rack, poke holes on the top side, and drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake.
Serve with raspberry sorbet and fresh berries.
A very simple recipe for a lovely spring day in Asheville: Everything was sourced from the Tailgate Market for a quick and tasty lunch before heading into a full day at the studio:
Simple Bread baguette
Spinning Spider Fig & Rosemary Chevre
Rock Spring Gardens Red Cabbage Sprouts
I have a Mocha Stout Braised Sprouts recipe here from a previous post, and that's a favorite during cooler weather. In the spring, a lighter touch is more appealing, and here's how the recipe has evolved to suit the season. Spring cooking for me is about simplicity and letting the flavors do their thing without a lot of bother. There are, as always, many variations.
1 pound brussel sprouts, trimmed & cut in half
2 shallots, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
salt & pepper
1 TBSP soy or tamari sauce
Heat 1/8 cup of vegetable broth over med/low heat in broad, flat bottomed skillet. Add shallots and garlic, stir to coat with broth and cover to steam and soften for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, stir and salt/pepper to taste. Add brussel sprouts and spread across the pan, cut sides down. Let them sit like this for 3-4 minutes until they start to brown a bit on the cut side. Add shiitakes, stir to blend and add 1/4 cup vegetable broth. Stir briefly and adjust heat to keep it at a nice simmer, but not boiling. When the broth has cooked into the vegetables, add another 1/2 cup and repeat. When the liquid evaporates again, add 1/8 cup vegetable broth and soy sauce. Stir to blend, cover and let it continue to braise for a few more minutes. Uncover, stir, and continue to cook until the sauce is a thicker coating on the vegetables. Brussel Sprouts should be just tender but still with a bit of bite (cook longer if you like them softer, adjust cooking time to suit the way you like them).
Check out the homemade tastes better on handmade blog for a new take on an old, favorite recipe.
On August 15 we celebrate the 100th birthday of Julia Child, and I'll be raising a glass of something to be sure!
My first exposure to Julia Child was watching her PBS cooking shows on Saturday afternoons, and I was thrilled when that same station began re-playing her first series "The French Chef", which began airing the year I was born. She made cooking accessible and inviting, and more than that she made it entertaining. Watching the variations on her PBS series of shows, you saw what a natural teacher she was as well as an ever-curious student, a trait I try to keep myself.
When I first moved to Asheville, I was all excitement and anxiety over my move and my new life, and it was an episode of her first season of "The French Chef" that helped me focus all those energies. It's the now even more famous 'Potato' episode, as it was partially featured in the recent "Julie & Julia" movie. I was watching the series as I unpacked boxes, and stopped to pay attention to her potato pancake recipes and to get another lesson in flipping the pancakes.
Two great lessons learned that day. The first, which is still a motto I live by: "You must have the courage of your convictions." This is the advice she gives on how to successfully flip a potato pancake in the pan, and they are words that have stood by me in many experiences outside the kitchen. And when the first flip doesn't go too well, she follows it with equally relevant words to live by: "You can always pick it up if you're alone in the kitchen ... who's going to know?" Ok, so I don't live by THOSE words, but it's a nice reminder to not take oneself too seriously.
Wanting to make a recipe to honor Julia's birthday, and wanting to thank her for those wise words, it makes sense that I would make a potato pancake. Here's where Julia would likely roll her eyes and then herself over in the grave as I really don't eat white potato much any more, and I don't cook with cow dairy. As it is right now, I'm keeping all dairy out of my diet, so Julia's recipe calling for butter and cream with white potatoes is not something I'd make. But having the courage of my convictions, I'm making a potato pancake, using her method, but following my own tastes. More lessons to be learned along the way, to be sure...
What I've come up with is a sweet potato pancake, with a Thai flavoring of coconut milk and my favorite locally produced hummus (it's also "Eat Local Month"!): Roots Thai Coconut Curry Hummus. A little thyme and salt and pepper and a hot, oiled pan, and we're off. Many thanks to Mark Robertson of Mark Robertson Photo for taking pictures for me!
I'm not sharing the specific recipe (I know, I know, this is a recipe page!!), as it needs much development in spite of the successful flip, but as much as Julia might hate the outcome, I hope she'd love the fact that she inspired a lot of my own culinary curiousity and willingness to experiment ... along with a very accommodating mother when I was younger!.
Happy Birthday Julia, and thanks for showing me how to live with the courage of my convictions - bon appetit!
Savory & Sweet Grilled "Empanadas"
It's funny when inspiration will hit. I'm planning some mini-workshop events at The Village Potters that highlight my studio tag line of "homemade tastes better on handmade", and thinking about what homemade elements would work in a workshop setting.
My inspiration came in the form of a small bag of pizza dough, but not just any pizza dough. West End Bakery is now using flour from Carolina Ground L3C in some of their goods, and the other day they had bags of pizza dough for sale made with this flour and a local Stout beer (I regret I cannot remember which brewery, but I'll find out, or a trusty reader will fill it in!). I didn't know what would be in them, but I immediately thought about making something empanada-ish on my mini-Foreman grill in the studio.
We don't have a full kitchen at The Village Potters, so some pre-prep is necessary as the Foreman grill, a rice cooker, electric kettle, microwave, and a coffee pot are the extent of our cooking appliances. At home, a quick perusal of the fridge and counter found some left-over roasted chicken, sweet onions and sweet potatoes from Silas' Free Range Produce Truck, and a bit of leftover garbanzo salad. I caramelized the onions, then roasted the diced sweet potatoes with a bit of curry seasoning and packed that up with some of the chicken and garbanzos. I also had a little manchego cheese that originally was planned to be in this empanada, but that would soon change.
At the studio, I dusted my cutting board with a bit of corn meal and pressed out small rounds of the pizza dough with my finger tips. I basted the top of the round with a bit of the olive oil from the onions, then put together a small mound of each of my ingredients. As I was reaching for the cheese, I saw the bowl full of peaches, also from Silas' truck, ripening quickly and oozing all sorts of sweet juices. Another idea was hatched, and a second round of stuffed pockets was made with a bit of the cheese, a dice of the peaches, some lavender from The Village Potters' garden and a drizzle of balsamic.
Admittedly, grilling these little pockets doesn't make the most appealing presentation, but there is still something charming about them, and based on the responses from my studio mates, the content far outweighs the style. And they were very tasty little bites. Not an empanada dough - even thinned out, it's still pizza dough, but a mighty fine pizza dough that worked very well in this use. I brushed a bit of the extra olive oil on the outside of each empanada before grilling, letting the lid flatten each pouch until golden.
The savories had a little of each flavor in each bite, with the sweetness of the onions mingling with the sweet curry of the potatoes, and the dusting of cornmeal on the outside giving another nice element to the texture. The sweets were just sweet enough, with a little sharpness of the cheese giving its own nice, chewy texture to each bite.
All in all, good experiment results, although in order to do this in workshop, I think we're gonna need a bigger grill.
This recipe is basically one of assemblage. I've listed below the components to the pictured serving, and individual recipes as appropriate. At the bottom of the recipe, I've also included some options and alternatives - the whole idea behind the bowl is to combine flavors you like into one hearty, soul-satisfying and day-starting meal!
Two eggs, over easy
Seasoned black beans
Chopped fresh tomato
Grits have become an acquired taste for me, but one thing I have learned is that those who do like them, like them the way they cook them. So if you're one of those, prepare the grits the way you like them. If you haven't tried them or just don't cook them much, follow the directions on the package. I sometimes prepare mine with water and season just with salt and maybe a bit of soy margarine at the end. Sometimes I cook them in a broth, sometimes I stir in some goat cheese at the end and season with fresh or dried herbs from the garden. It's the base of the bowl, so make them the way you like or prepare them to compliment what ever you'll put on top.
Seasoned black beans:
I soak dried beans that were a gift from a friend's garden, and if you do that, just grab Laurel's Kitchen or another good source for dealing with soaking beans and follow those instructions. You can also use canned beans, just drain and rinse them so you don't muddy up your other seasonings. Once the beans are tenderized, saute the following in olive oil:
chopped shallots or thinly sliced leek
smashed and chopped garlic
thinly sliced fennel bulb
Soften and add beans. If beans are still on the tough side (from soaking/cooking), add some broth and simmer until tender. If using canned beans, add a splash of broth or liquid if needed to keep from drying out, and simmer briefly, seasoning with salt, pepper, and sage.
Prepare hearty greens, like kale or collards, in the same manner as the black beans - braising them in a bit of liquid after saute-ing the aromatics.
Sausage (pork or veggie!)
Crumbled goat cheese
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Here's where you'll find all the recipes featured on the website. Some are presented in traditional format, others are more 'assemblage' recipes, combining ingredients that can be prepared a number of ways, and sometimes I'll present some ways. You're welcome to comment and offer your own versions!