Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Treats and Leftovers


In these days after Christmas, my family is left with a refrigerator full of leftovers and fond memories of another Christmas past. The wrapping paper is in the trash and boxes and bags have been stashed back in the attic. Presents have finally been put up after much nagging. But although the Christmas cheer is out of the air, at least until New Year’s Eve, I want to reflect on some festive and delicious food I have made/eaten. I will just give the highlights. Others include an ugly sweater and dessert party with my friends (and red velvet cupcakes), a Dirty Santa party with homemade white chocolate covered pretzels, cup after cup of hot chocolate, and family Christmas get togethers.

A few days before Christmas I went to the Lexington Tea House with my grandmother. Our love of tea and my friend’s suggestion to try the Christmas Tea Service, drove us there for lunch. I ordered the Christmas Tea Service upon my friend’s suggestion and because I had always wanted to try a tea service (it seems so British and sophisticated). I was not disappointed. My lunch came with wassail. It was a hearty and festive mug of cider and spices with only a faint hint of tea. It was served piping hot just like I like it and I drank two large mugs of it. I don’t generally eat meat so I had to special order the tea service  without chicken salad or ham but I did get extra quiche. The platter consisted of fresh fruit, mini spinach quiches, sweet potato biscuits, a coconut macaroon, small pieces of possibly pound cake and spice cake, and  a chocolate chip scone with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. Everything was very well made. I especially enjoyed the sweet potato biscuits and was glad to finally try clotted cream. (I can’t really make a judgment on the macaroon because I will not touch anything coconut with a ten-foot pole.) Overall, the wassail really made it a Christmas-y experience for me but one in which I will not forget, especially since I shared a wonderful lunch with my grandmother.


Christmas Tea at the Lexington Tea House

Another festive memory revolving around food would have to be the chocolate cake that I made for Christmas day. I made it on Christmas Eve morning at my mother’s very strong suggestion since last minute baking isn’t normally a good idea. I baked the cake and was thinking that everything would be great and that I was out of the woods. The top was cracked like it described in the book and the edges were puffed. But after fifteen minutes of cooling when I turned the cake out of the pan, some of it stuck to the bottom. After a small freak out moment, I received reassurance from my mom that no one would see that side anyway, I just flipped it right side up and decided to make the best of it. My mom really is my saving grace in the kitchen, always there with a solution to a problem or a way to salvage a dish or at least a reminder that one cooking/baking failure isn’t the end of the world.

I evaluated the problem to be that the cake hadn’t completely cooked and set in the middle. But, at least I knew that the cake it wouldn’t be overcooked and dry. After lots of fun Christmas activities, including seeing family, a Christmas Eve candlelight service, and opening presents, it was time to take the cake to my family’s Christmas lunch. And, everyone loved it! Just kidding…. actually I forgot to take the cake. Sadly enough, our lunch was cakeless. I boycotted dessert because I knew that nothing could satisfy the longing that I had for that chocolate cake. So, I waited until the next get together that night and was glad I did. The cake turned out very rich and moist but was definitely an appropriate dessert for chocolate lovers. I was especially glad to share it with people I love after a long day that was just as satisfying and rich (with memories made and laughter shared) as the cake.


Winning Hearts and Minds Chocolate Cake, courtesy of A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg, in front of our Christmas tree

So, as my family continues to incorporate leftovers into every meal, I can look back fondly on some of the festive Christmas food I ate this season. I hope that you all had a great Christmas (or just holiday season) too! And if you are looking for something to spend Christmas money on, Alton Brown’s book I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking is a great investment. It combines baking with science and I just love it! It is a wonderful read if you are interested in learning how to be a better baker.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Travels to Ethiopia

Ok, so I didn’t actually go to Ethiopia. But, for me food is more than just eating because you have to. Food is a way that I can travel to other countries and experience a taste of their culture. I especially love trying new flavor combinations. This holds true at ethnic restaurants where I have experienced dishes that I never would have cooked on my own and that have introduced me to new flavors. Also, what people eat seems to be a reflection of the lifestyle or impart some meaning about their culture. (I don’t dare to think what McDonald’s and KFC say about America now.)

Last Friday, Jerry and I went to Davidson to move some of my stuff out of my dorm room. Since we were so close to Charlotte, we decided to go eat there. I really look for any excuse to escape from the monotony of BBQ and Mexican restaurants that Lexington has to offer. I had everything planned out, something I tend to do. But, sometimes things happen and my plans are shattered. Lately I have been working on being more flexible and embracing (occasional moments of) spontaneity. Luckily, this time I did not freak out or get frustrated, but looked up another restaurant that I wanted to try.

I blindly led Jerry to Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant in Charlotte. I just vaguely told him that it would be fun and a new experience. It was a few minutes after 2 when we arrived at the restaurant; it was completely deserted other than the  husband and wife duo that were running the front and back of the restaurant. The menus were filled with words totally foreign to us but had helpful descriptions underneath. Our waiter was also extremely helpful especially after he guessed that it was our first time at an Ethiopian restaurant. He wanted to make sure that we ate our meal in the proper Ethiopian way. It was touching to see the pride of his culture in the way he enjoyed telling us how to eat our meal or about how healthy the injera (Ethiopian flatbread made from the grain teff) was.

I ordered the Meskerem Lamb Tibs and Jerry ordered Special Chicken Tibs. Mine was delicious and I appreciated the not-too-large portions. Both of our entrees were seasoned well with a subtle heat that came only after several bites. My lamb was cooked with rosemary, onions and green peppers. Both entrees came with sides of collard greens and lentils. It was a very communal experience because all of the food is brought on one platter, just on different sections of the spongy and slightly tangy injera. It would be very fun to eat here with a large group of friends (but you should be pretty comfortable with each other).


Clockwise form the bottom: Meskerem Lamb Tibs, rolled-up injera, collard greens, Special Chicken Tibs, split lentils

Jerry was slightly freaked out by the lack of silverware involved. I thought it was very fun, especially since our waiter brought a basket of rolled up injera to use. I really liked the spongy but soft and slightly sour flat bread. The best part is using the injera soaked in juices from the meat to scoop up food. The meal was slightly messy but it made me, a slightly fast eater, slow down and enjoy the food, laughing during much of the meal (I realized that dropping some is inevitable). However, I had to convince Jerry of the uniqueness and fun of eating with your hands after he exclaimed for the tenth time that he wished he could use silverware.

Although our water glasses remained empty for about half of our lunch, it was a truly satisfying meal. But, I am willing to say that Ethiopian cuisine may not be for everyone. Germ freaks or very proper people that can’t stand the thought of eating with their hands should probably stay away.

By the way, I was going to put a fun Christmas picture in here only to find that I have pretty much taken pictures of nothing but food for the past month. Oops!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Maxie B’s Bakery Reviewed


As much as I love Lexington, NC, the options for nice restaurants and bakeries are severely limited. Actually, I can’t think of a one that I like (sorry for those that like the bakery, but I am not a fan of too sugary whipped icing and dry cake). So, I am left to venture outwards at least 20 minutes to go to a nice restaurant or to visit a quality bakery. I promise I am really not deprived, I just love good food and will drive a considerable distance to get it. Greensboro and Charlotte are my favorite food destinations.

Monday I was in Greensboro with Jerry. We went to one of our very favorite bakeries, Maxie B’s. The first time I came here it was a nearly religious experience. It is hard to find a bakery that is open at night around here. After dinner on a date night this summer I had a craving for something sweet. This meant I wanted CAKE. Cookies generally don’t hit the spot, ice cream not really, candy doesn’t measure up, pie is alright but not extremely satisfying, gelato would probably work, or some decadent chocolate confection but cake, moist layer cake with  icing good enough to eat by itself, is my absolute favorite. Maxie B’s came up on the GPS and we found out it was actually open past 6 pm, it was as if the stars had aligned to take us to this bakery.


Left: Outdoor seating area and front of the store. Right: More outdoor seating and their wedding cakes on display.

When we walked in I literally couldn’t speak for a minute. The almost thirty clear cake stands showcasing portions of layer cakes  was something that I found absolutely beautiful. I saw cute cupcakes, ice cream, and frozen yogurt too but, seriously? I was going for cake, especially considering that I think that the icing-cake ratio and dispersal of icing of layer cakes is far superior to that of cupcakes. Also, it makes me feel more sophisticated to eat dessert slowly with a fork than cramming an often over-iced handheld cake into my mouth, trying to avoid spilling crumbs on myself. But, the sheer number of options overwhelmed me. However, the staff are always incredibly friendly, patient, and helpful while customers make very difficult decisions.

This first time I decided on the pumpkin chocolate chip cake. It had cream cheese icing, which was superb and not overly sweet. The cake itself was very moist and the chocolate and pumpkin worked very well together. After trying Jerry’s red velvet I have to say that that was incredibly delicious too. We both practically licked our plates clean and were especially glad for the free mini cups of water to wash down the sugary goodness. The cozy seating was perfect for enjoying the cake and for a date night or gathering with friends. Also, there were constantly people coming in and getting cake, staying in the restaurant to linger and chat over their dessert or enjoying the outdoor seating. This created a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The traffic flow was enough to know that this is a special place even before I tried my piece of cake.

Although the cake is either $3.95 or $4.50 a slice, it is seriously worth it. It is way better than many pieces of cake that you could order at a restaurant for $7. Also, they set out half-price pieces of cake that are the last pieces from the stand, but they are still fresh. Another way that Maxie B’s encourages its fan base is their stamp cards. Buy 10 slices of cake, get 1 free. The same applies for cupcakes and frozen yogurt.


Fresh Apple Cake

This time I went to Maxie B’s, I was just as excited. But I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. I had been told that the Fresh Apple Cake was one of their best cakes, but I know they have better. I wasn’t a big fan of the cinnamon in the cream cheese icing and although there were chunks of apples in the cake, the apple flavor wasn’t very strong. (Jerry says, “You are such a critic.”) But, I have definitely not given up. I was seriously tempted by the Caramel Cake or the Brown Stone Front Cake and will have to get a slice of one of these next time. I love caramel icing! Also, beside the actual eat-in part of the bakery is the area where the wedding cakes are made and stored. They are absolutely beautiful and are very masterfully done. So, I will be back another day! (Besides, I need to fill up my card to get a free slice!)


Left: Cake, cake, and more cake (cupcakes too!). Right: Cute and cozy seating area.

If you have a favorite bakery or bakery treat, please share!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the first day of Christmas

Well, I did not receive a partridge in a pear tree. Come to think of it, I have never heard of anyone receiving a partridge or a pear tree for Christmas or any other holiday.

Here is a random picture to add to the festivity that I am feeling right now. This is from making gingerbread houses a few weeks ago. I don’t go for ambitious projects, but I really do need a neat and structured little cottage. Thanks for the picture Alexandra!


Back to the story, because I am home alone and I just remembered that Christmas is only 12 days away, I did make myself breakfast. It was actually kind of cheating because I made breakfast yesterday morning but then just warmed it up and added a chai latte.

Yesterday I made pumpkin  pie oatmeal for Jerry and me. Honestly, any excuse to pull out my family’s little-used ramekins is a good enough excuse for me. The oatmeal turned out thick and the taste is similar to pumpkin pie because of the spices and the pumpkin puree. Also, I like that an egg is not necessary for this baked oatmeal unlike most other baked oatmeal recipes. This is definitely a very festive breakfast, perfect for making near Thanksgiving or Christmas and it is a great way to use up left over pumpkin puree. I even used pecans that I cracked by hand on top. The nuts added a textural contrast and a wonderful flavor. I promise, this is seriously the last pumpkin-related post of this year. On to the chai latte.

I love chai lattes! However, I wish they were not so terribly expensive at coffee shops. $3.50 to $4.00 or more can really add up, even if I indulge only once every one or two weeks. So, when I found a recipe online I knew that I had to try it. I did take some liberty with the original recipe, but I liked the way it turned out. The orange was stronger than I thought it would be, but I really liked the flavor. Check out the original recipe if  you only have black tea at hand, there are more spices added in the original. The recipe was definitely a keeper. I might mess around with it a little bit and make different variations. I once had a chocolate chai latte and it was amazing. Not sure if I am up for such a difficult challenge but it is one I will have to try. For now, enjoy!


Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Adapted from Soup Addict

1 1/4 cups old fashioned oats

1 tbsp packed brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp maple syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp butter, softened

3/4 c pumpkin puree

3/4 c milk

pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 4 ramekins (12-14 oz.) and set on a baking sheet (it should have sides to keep ramekins from sliding off).

Mix together all dry ingredients until the salt in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour wet ingredients into the bowl with dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

Divide mixture evenly into 4 ramekins.

Bake for 12 minutes. (I sprinkled chopped pecans over the top when I took them out of the oven.)


Chai Latte

Adapted from Living Mostly Meatless

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup skim milk

1 chai tea bag

1 strip of orange peel

1/4 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp white sugar

Combine the water and milk in a small pot, heat over eye until warm. Then add remaining ingredients. Turn up heat so that mixture boils, then reduce heat back to medium until the color begins to deepen. Turn off the eye and let simmer for another minute. You can pour yours through a strainer or just spoon out the orange peel. Pour into a cute, Christmas mug and enjoy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Without Julia Child, Food Network would not be what it is today. I would hate to imagine not being able to watch my favorite chefs/cooks on TV, especially Ina (yes, we are on a first name basis). Child's show, The French Chef, was one of the first cooking shows and let's face it, who hasn't heard of Julia Child? Not too long ago I was one of those people that knew who she was. I had heard there was a movie about her and some girl named Julie. But, that was about the extent of my knowledge..... until, one fateful day I wandered in the Davidson College Bookstore and found My Life in France in the "Bargain Books" section for $5. The deal was just too much for me to pass up on (marked down from $15!) and I bought it for a fun read, to help me keep me sane during the last part of the semester.

Last night, I finished the book. And, honestly, I can't stop thinking about it. Julia Child's amazing rise to prominence in the food world after not learning to cook until her mid-30s shocked me and the recipes that she mentioned both intrigued me and made my mouth water. Part of me wants to get the colossal Mastering the Art of French Cooking (the complete set), although I don't think there is room in my dorm room. The book is wonderfully well-written and even has pictures included. Julia seems like someone I definitely would have liked to meet; her story isn't just about food but about relationships and all things French. The book was incredibly inspiring and shows that if you work hard enough at and have enough passion for something, anything is possible. Although this lesson can extend to anyone, all you food nerds or foodies or whatever you like to call yourself should most definitely put this on your Christmas list. You will not regret it. I want to read her other book, From Julia Child's Kitchen.
Stay sane!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fair Trade Chocolate Update

ATTENTION: There is now Fair Trade Certified Chocolate in the Union’s Davis CafĂ©. If you are a Davidson student, you should definitely go buy a bar. If not, then consider buying a bar online or try to bring these products to your school. However, just as a warning the chocolate is expensive. I would suggest splitting a bar with a friend or two. The 3.5 oz. bars are something like $6.75 and the 1.5 oz. bars are $3.50; the prices are lower online. As I paid $3.50 for a chocolate bar, the cheap skate part of me absolutely cringed. Then, my conscience kicked in and I remembered how my enjoyment of this chocolate bar would not support child slavery. This made me feel infinitely better about the purchase. Unfortunately, the two sizes have mutually exclusive flavors. I wanted to try the 70% Dark Chocolate but it was only available in the large bar. The smaller bar I did choose was the Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch.


The company Divine Chocolate is a fair trade company that supplies their cocoa from farmers in Ghana. These farmers own a stake in the company and regularly give back to their own communities. They are also provided with a steady income.


The chocolate bar was slightly overpowered by the pervasiveness of the buttery toffee bits. However, the milk chocolate was very creamy and smooth tasting. The golden foil that the bar is wrapped in made me feel like I was opening a Wonka Bar with a golden ticket inside and the packaging was beautiful. It is definitely an aesthetically pleasing candy bar. The symbols on the wrapper are Adinkra and represent concepts like Humility and Inner Strength. Also, the bar is divided into six blocks so it can be shared easily. It was good, but not the best chocolate toffee combination that I have ever had. Next time, I will try the large dark chocolate bar.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Olive Oil Granola


This is the first thing I decided to bake when I got home. I love olive oil! One of my favorite things at Commons is the garlic bread (bread with cloves of garlic inside) dipped in olive oil. It makes me feel European and sophisticated but also tastes balanced and the flavors are very smooth. Granola is another one of my favorite things, both to eat and to make. My go-to recipe is from my favorite TV personality Ina Garten. So, when I saw a recipe that combined two of my favorite foods and sounded reasonably healthy, I had to try it. I did make some modifications because there were some ingredients that we didn’t have at my house.

It turned out delicious! However, don’t make this if you want your average, run of the mill granola. This produces a granola that is subtly sweet but has a saltiness and the olive oil is only just perceptible. Yet, it works. I have eaten it plain (it makes a great afternoon snack) and on Greek yogurt.


Olive Oil Granola

Adapted from The New York Times

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 1/2 cups nuts (I used peanuts and almonds)

1 cup puffed rice

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup agave nectar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 cup dried cranberries (or any other dried fruit)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients except dried cranberries in a large bowl. Spray a rimmed pan with cooking spray. Spread mixture evenly on the pan. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring at 10 minute intervals. The granola should be golden brown. Combine with dried cranberries. Best served with granola and/or fruit. Enjoy!