The Roaming Foodie

Every summer, I make a million things with blueberries in it. In my backyard, we have 8 or 10 blueberry bushes that produce what I would estimate to be several pounds of blueberries each summer. Anyway, my family and I can’t eat that many blueberries raw, so I make a plethora of baked goods featuring blueberries: muffins, bread, cake, pancakes, and, my family’s personal favorite, blueberry pie. I make at least 3 or 4 every summer, and have been doing so for the past few years, so you’d think by now I’d be used to getting the pastry just right. And I have been, up until today when I made it.

I remember the first time I made this pastry recipe a few years ago, I followed the recipe exactly, dubiously looked at the crumbly bowl of flour, butter, shortening, lemon juice, and water, and figured that’s what it was supposed to look like and would somehow magically come together after chilling in the refrigerator and after I rolled it out. After pulling it out of the fridge, having dough fall apart and crumble before my eyes out of the perfect disc I had beat it into. I then had a nervous breakdown, in which I resembled a 4 year old child having a temper tantrum, and ended up pressing pounding it into submission into the pan until it would at least serve as a something to hold the blueberry filling. Despite this difficult crust, the pie turned out delicious. From then on, I just added more and more water until the crust looked like every other pastry recipe I’ve ever made, and from then on all my pies have consistently turned out picture perfect beautiful. I’m a perfectionist, what can I say? It’s admirable, I suppose, but it’s also often my downfall.

Anyway, the last time I made a beautiful and scrumptious pie, I thought the crust was slightly tougher than usual. So, this time, I thought I’d cut back on the liquid.

This was a terrible idea.

My crust was crumbly, but as before when I made it, I deluded myself into thinking it would come together. It didn’t. I kneaded and beat it into submission before rolling it out, and managed to get two discs of dough to use as crust, but it is a terribly ugly pie. I hate serving pies that aren’t perfect. But at least I know the filling will taste lovely. And, I didn’t have a temper tantrum this time. that’s always good too.

Blueberry Pie
adapted from the More from Magnolia Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/More-Magnolia-Recipes-Famous-Kitchen/dp/0743246616/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1282330716&sr=1-1)

Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, chilled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-7 tablespoons of ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening until the pieces are pea size (You can do this with a pastry cutter, a fork like I use, or you can do this entire part in the food processor). Add the lemon juice and water and toss with a fork until moistened (you’ll want it to be pretty wet, enough to be able to form into discs, so keep adding water until the right consistency is reached). Gather the dough into a ball and separate into two discs. Wrap each disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Filling
3 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons quick cooking minute tapioca
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

Toss the berries, sugar, tapioca, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out one disc on a lightly floured surface to fit a 9-inch pie dish. Trim off excess if you wish (my family loves crust, so I usually leave it on and make an extra thick edge crust). Place the fruit filling into the bottom crust, and dot with the butter. Roll out the next disc and place it on top, again trimming if you’d like. Press the edge of the bottom crust and the edge of the top crust together, fold over, and crimp to seal. Make several 1-inch slits in the center with a knife. Protect the edges of the crust from burning by covering them and wrapping the edge with aluminum foil Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours, then serve and enjoy!

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I’m writing this post immediately after eating at Agave, and I am completely in a food coma. You know, when all you can do is lay down and think about the fact that you just stuffed yourself as possible with delicious food? (it most commonly occurs at Thanksgiving and Christmas)

I went with Andrew, his sister and her boyfriend, and his other sister to celebrate his sister’s boyfriend’s birthday. Agave is down Boulevard, kind of near the MLK Jr. swimming pool (it was the only landmark I noticed, sorry). the atmosphere is pretty cool. It’s a little dark, the walls look like pueblos, and it’s decorated with Mexican/Native American stuff (this is where my being more familiar with Mexico and South America and the Southwest US would come in handy). The food at Agave is basically southwestern, with a few Spanish dishes thrown on there. I really should leave the southwestern/Mexican food analysis to people who know their stuff, but this food was so good that I have to write about it anyway.

Anyway, there are complimentary chips and salsa. Good, but I’ve had better salsa (La Fonda, for example). They more than make up for it in their actual food, though.

Andrew ordered the ceviche as an appetizer (he pronounced “ke-vich-ay”. I corrected him, so that when he ordered it he’d be right. He ordered “ke-vich-ay”. Ah well, I tried). It came served in a little glass with greens and some more corn chips. It was shrimp, tuna, and tomatoes tossed with a slightly spicy and citrusy dressing. For those who don’t know what ceviche is, it’s seafood that’s tossed in citrus juice raw, and the acid from the citrus cooks it. Generally, it’s done with just shrimp. The shrimp was cooked through by the citrus, but the tuna was still pretty raw. But, the seafood was clearly good quality, so the raw tuna wasn’t a problem (and I eat so much sushi that I don’t think twice about it anymore). It was the first time I’d had ceviche, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For my dinner, I was between ordering Vegetarian Enchiladas and Red Pepper Salmon. I went with the Red Pepper Salmon, and holy lord was a I glad I did. The salmon came pan seared to perfection, crisped and well seasoned on the outside, juicy on the inside. It was served on a bed of julienned zucchini, squash, and carrot saute with three huge grilled stalks of asparagus. The real star of the dish was the red pepper sauce. The sauce was smoky, sweet, and made the dish more than just your standard fish and vegetables. Maybe it’s just because I’m obsessed with red peppers, but I loved loved loved my entree. Loved. It. I’m going to figure out how to make that sauce. It’s my new goal.

Andrew ordered Beer Braised Pork shank. They quite literally brought him the whole shank, which he later said that although the meat and sauce was good, it was too much pork to be placed in front of him (I don’t believe him…he still devoured the whole shank). I took a bite, but can’t tell you much about it other than that it was tender, fell off the bone, and was pretty good for pork.

We then all shared the dessert platter. This is what sent my poor stomach over the line from being happily full to cursing my name from being stuffed. It was supposedly small amounts of each dessert. But it turned out to be what I hope was full portions of everything. It included (for $25)  a glass of Belgian chocolate mousse with cinnamon whipped cream, key lime pie, Banana Plantain Dark Chocolate cheesecake, flan, Peanut Butter Mousse Pie, a flourless Dark Chocolate torte, and a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream in the middle. It was…decadent. I loved every bite. But I have to say my favorite was the Peanut Butter pie…the crust had cayenne in it, so there was a little kick in the back of your throat after taking a bite. I love cayenne in desserts for that reason. It gives it that extra little something.

That’s about all I can say now…it’s time for me to go lie down until bed time, and not even think about eating again until tomorrow morning. But I think Agave might be where I go for my birthday dinner…maybe. It’s definitely near the top of the list. Regardless, I’ll have to go back sometime.

Agave on Urbanspoon

So, as I was looking at ajc.com this morning, I came across an article about Downtown Restaurant Week 2010.

Which then led me to http://www.atlantadowntown.com/fun/restaurant-week

If I were a 12 year old Justin Bieber fan, I would say I had an “OMG” moment.

I’m not, so I’ll just say I had a revelation. Or epiphany. Or a “hey, at $25 to $35, this would be a pretty awesome way to try some of the more expensive restaurants I can’t go to on any given day”.

Atlanta Downtown Restaurant Week, in case you didn’t check out all those links above, runs from July 26 to August 8 (so it’s actually 2 weeks). The featured restaurants provide the diner with a three course menu in which you choose what you want for each course for a fixed price of either $25 or $35 per person.

Anyway…I kind of want to try French American Brasserie http://fabatlanta.com . Here’s the menu of what they’ll have during Restaurant Week http://www.atlantadowntown.com/_files/docs/fab_darw_2010.pdf . That warm chocolate cake sounds absolutely divine.

If I go, I’ll write an awesome post about it. If not…well, I’ll write about something else soon 🙂

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I came very close to having my first cooking related nervous breakdown last night.

What am I saying? I totally had one.

I decided that I wanted to make dinner using an Indian cookbook that my Mom gave me last Christmas (Indian Food Made Easy by Anand Anjum). Andrew had mentioned how he wanted Indian food earlier this week, so I figured he’d be up for it. I chose chicken in creamy yogurt sauce, northern Indian vegetables, naan, and basmati rice.

In the afternoon, I went grocery shopping for all the ingredients I was able to find (for the life of me, I could not locate unsweetened shredded coconut. I guess next time I’ll have to venture to the farmer’s market, but I was so lazy that I just left it out. It wasn’t much of it anyway), came home, made the naan dough, made the yogurt marinade for the chicken and stuck it in the fridge, then waited for Andrew to arrive to make everything else.

First problem: my pan was not big enough for all the vegetables, so it took forever for the potatoes to cook. Next time, I’m cooking the potatoes first then throwing them in. Maybe it’ll keep them from drying out, too. Other than that, and the missing coconut and curry leaves, I think this dish turned out decent.

Second problem: For the chicken, you dump the chicken and the marinade into a large saucepan (I used a pot) and then cook it on high until the sauce turns creamy instead of watery. I left it on high for too long, and the bottom of the chicken burned to the bottom of the pot. I don’t burn things. Ever. But I burned this. It was humiliating. We ended up eating the top part that wasn’t affected, but still. Humiliating.

Third problem: Apparently, if you turn the broiler in my apartment on, it causes the oven to fill up with smoke. I don’t know what it’s deal is. All I know is that I ended up setting off my smoke alarm for a few minutes, and this is when I started to freak out and cry. Also, since I couldn’t really use my broiler without alerting the fire station, I had to bake the naan, which caused it to be not as light and doughy as it should’ve been. I am going to try it again, with a broiler, to see if I can get that doughy soft bread with little charred bits. But not in this apartment.

The only thing that actually turned out perfect was the basmati rice. Ah well. At least one thing was okay.
I’m not completely giving up on making Indian food. Everything tasted great, so it wasn’t a problem with the recipes, and I’m sure with better equipment I could make it less of a disaster.

But I am taking a break from cooking today (even though I found a recipe for mango slaw that looks amazing, but that doesn’t count as cooking, really…)

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Tuesday night, Andrew and I met Andrew’s sister at The Bookhouse Pub for dinner. I’m pretty sure the main reason we went here was for the extensive beer list because both Andrew and his sister had each had a rough day and agreed that a beer was in order. I didn’t partake in this aspect of the evening, so I can’t say much about the alcohol other than the beer list is significantly larger than the food menu. But, they also have decent food.

Andrew and his sister each got a burger, and I got a veggie burger. The veggie burger was made from edamame, black beans, roasted corn and red peppers. It was pretty good, although it fell apart very easily (I’m guessing because it was fresh made) and I ended up eating it with a fork. It also had kind of a cornmeal texture to it, so I’m guessing they used something like that to bind it together, but I didn’t mind it. It just kind of reminded me of cornbread. They also grilled the bun that it was served on, which was a nice touch and something I always enjoy. It was served with “asian bbq” sauce (aka, hoisin sauce) and instead of fries I had a side salad with ginger vinaigrette. I didn’t try any of Andrew’s burger, but I did snag some fries. The fries were kind of oversalted.

Service was good, if not overly friendly.

The bookshelf in the place is small. It runs only part of the wall, and is like this little shelf right next to the ceiling. I kind of thought that a place named “The Bookhouse Pub” would have more of a décor focus on books. But I guess the point is the booze and the food, so I won’t count it against them too much.

Plus, I’m kind of obsessed with this veggie burger now.

The Bookhouse Pub on Urbanspoon

Andrew’s parents, whom I’ve met once before, visited last weekend, and I volunteered to make a dessert for when we have dinner. I decided to make a peach pie because I saw Georgia peaches in the grocery store the other day. While they are not nearly as great as South Carolina peaches (don’t worry SC…I won’t forsake your sweet, juicy, delicious peaches), they are still pretty good , and will definitely suffice for pie. I had my mom e-mail me the family recipe for peach pie. Since Andrew’s family also hails from Kentucky, I wanted to honor that by throwing some of the bourbon Andrew keeps around in with the peach filling (not part of Mom’s recipe, but I found a recipe on smittenkitchen.com). So, using my Mom’s pastry and Smitten Kitchen’s bourbon peach filling, I threw together what turned out to be a very pretty pie, if I do say so myself. And I think they really enjoyed it too. I hope so.

Another thing. If you forget the lemon juice in the pastry, don’t worry. Just replace it with cold water, or you can do like I did, which is squeeze a little juice from a peach (I was wearing my creative pants when I made the pastry, clearly) and throw it in there. It really won’t make a difference without it, though.

Also, I really suggest you try the bourbon, even if you don’t like bourbon. The filling does not taste like bourbon at all, but it complements the peaches in a way that you wouldn’t get from not using it. If you’re really against it, then just leave it out. But even everyone who doesn’t like bourbon still liked the pie.

What I love about this pie is that it wasn’t too sweet. There’s no sugar in the crust, and minimal sugar in the filling, which allows the natural sweetness of the peaches to really shine through.

Pastry Recipe (from my Mom. Love you!)
This pastry is super easy, super quick to put together, and you can make it up to 3 days in advance. It will work for sweet pies or savory pies. Pretty versatile, huh?
2 cups flour
6 tbsp. each – cold stick butter cut into small pieces
6 tbsp Crisco (or another solid shortening)
3 tbsp. cold water
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Put flour in medium bowl. cut in butter and shortening to look like small peas. Add water and lemon juice; toss with a fork until evenly moistened and pastry starts to clump together.
Gather into a ball , then divide in half. Press each half into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes until firm enough to roll out – up to 3 days.

Bourbon Peach Filling (adapted from SmittenKitchen.com)

9 or 10 peaches, cut into wedges
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze – 1 large egg mixed with 1 tbsp. water

Mix the peaches with the flour, sugar and pinch of salt, and add the bourbon and vanilla. Toss together.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9″ pie plate. On lightly floured surface with lightly floured rolling pin, roll out 1 disk pastry to a 12″ circle. Fit into pie plate. Add filling, spread evenly, then dot with 2 tbsp butter. Roll remaining pastry into an 11″ circle.

Center circle over filling; press edges together, tuck under edge of bottom crust , flute, then brush top with glaze. Cut a few slits in the top for venting, brush with glaze and sprinkle with sugar. Remember to put aluminum foil around the edges to prevent burning. Bake 50 minutes

Apologies for the Seinfeld reference in the title…I couldn’t help myself 😛

A few nights ago, in the midst of a random thunderstorm in Atlanta, Andrew and I went out to dinner at La Fonda on Ponce de Leon Avenue. We picked La Fonda randomly, due to our collective indecisiveness and attempts to get the other one to be decisive (it makes picking dinner oh so fun). I was glad La Fonda ended up being where we went, just because it’s close and I didn’t have to drive in what looked like impending doom from the skies.

La Fonda is a Latin restaurant that’s owned by the same people that own Fellini’s Pizza. It has everything from Spanish dishes, Mexican dishes, and Cuban sandwiches. They have what looks like a nice upstairs patio, and one downstairs (I’m a sucker for eating on patios) but due to the darkening skies, we sat inside. Inside was pretty nondescript. There were tables. A cashier. And the kitchen. Pretty standard. We were also the only ones sitting inside, until it started to rain, then there was an influx of people from the upstairs patio.

Like most Hispanic restaurants that I’ve been to, La Fonda gives you free chips and salsa with your meal (also known as my diet’s archnemesis). The salsa tasted fresh made, kind of like my mom makes in the summer. It had big chunks of tomatoes throughout, none of that jarred pureed salsa like you get at the grocery store. I love salsa that’s made like this, so this started the meal off on a good note.

Andrew ordered for us (thank God…I never took Spanish, and was starting to fret, thinking I’d have to order an item on the menu that had the least amount of Spanish in it so I wouldn’t mess it up and offend anyone). He ordered the Paella del Mar (???? it was the paella with all the seafood…so sue me for taking French and German and Chinese and NOT Spanish) for two. We also ordered Maduros, or fried plantains.

I thought the Paella was delicious. It was garlicky rice with green peppers, onions, and pimentos that was studded throughout with calamari, salmon, shrimp, scallops, and mussels. This was my first time trying paella, so there’s no way for me to judge it compared to other paellas. But I thought it was very tasty, and definitely a good, warm, comforting dish for such a gloomy evening. All the seafood was cooked well and seasoned well. The Maduros were just simple fried plantains. They were good, but nothing out of the ordinary for fried plantains. The service was also good, but nothing out of the ordinary (I’d rather have normal service than bad service though).

In general, La Fonda is a good restaurant that provides a tasty meal with a nice patio (if the weather is nice), even if it’s nothing to write home about. Definitely somewhere I would return to (their Cuban sandwiches looked killer), but also nothing rave-worthy.