…because i just do.

thoughts and things that make me happy

Month: August, 2012

Summer Soup

The past week in SoCal has been HOT which has created a bit of a kitchen dilemma for me.  Here’s the problem; as the back-to-school energy pervades the air, I’ve been craving comfort food but when the temperature rises I like to try to keep my oven and stove off.  We live in a tiny home and turning the oven on for even an hour dramatically raises the temperature of the whole house.  To me, soup is the ultimate comfort food but I really didn’t want a hot simmering pot on the stove all day.  Also, at the end of the day a piping hot bowl of soup on a steamy summer day doesn’t sound all that appealing.  Enter Gazpacho.

According to Wikipedia, gazpacho is “a tomato-based, vegetable soup traditionally served cold, originating in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía. Gazpacho is widely consumed in Spanish cuisine, as well as in neighboring Portugal, where it is known as gaspacho. Gazpacho is mostly consumed during the summer months, due to its refreshing qualities and cold serving temperature.”  BINGO

I almost always turn to Ina Garten for recipes, and so I pulled out my collection of her cookbooks.  There on page 79 of her original offering,  “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook”  is a simple and delicious recipe for this cool summer soup.  Below is her recipe.

A Refreshing bowl of gazpacho.

Gazpacho

Serves 8-10

2 hothouse cucumbers (halved and seeded, but not peeled- I use a melon scoop to seed the cucumbers)
3 red bell-peppers (cored and seeded)
8 plum tomatoes
2 red onions
6 garlic cloves, minced
46 ounces tomato juice (6 cups)
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup good olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes.  Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped.  Do not overprocess. (unless you are wanting to make a completely pureed soup but as Ms. Garten says, this will basically taste like V-8 in a bowl)

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Mix well and chill before serving.  The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.

Garnish with halved grape tomatoes, fresh avocado slices or ¼-inch-thick toasted baguette slices.

*If you like you even more spice, you can add a diced jalapeño.  You could also use different color peppers or try heirloom tomatoes.

*Head to your local Farmer’s Market because as with every recipe, the fresher your ingredients, the better!

(other ingredient choices that I prefer: Olio Santo Olive Oil, Lucini Pinot Grigio vinegar, R.W. Knudsen Organic Tomato Juice)

Additionally, gazpacho makes a great and surprising alternative to a salad when hosting a summer dinner party and this recipe is large, meaning that there will be leftovers for lunch for a few days.  Happy cooking…well in this case happy chopping!

Good Guys, Bad Guys and Firefighters

Lately, my son (age 3 years, 8 months) has divided humankind into 3 categories.  There are Good Guys.  There are Bad Guys.  There are Firefighters.

Inspired by the photos in this post from Literature and Libation, I decided it was time to share Mack’s view of humanity and give a little shout out to Mack’s favorite “friends”.

The One that started it all, the “bad guys”…

The Original Bad Guy.

This is the one that created the “bad guy” division of society for my son.  We opened the LEGO® City Patrol Car and upon first sight of the man with the cap and striped shirt Mack immediately declared him a “bad guy”.  There was no hesitation.

Since then, this figure has been added to the “bad guy” field.

Mullet Man, undoubtedly “bad”.

The word is still out on this guy.

Ninjago Jay… potential to be “good” or “bad”.

And then there are the “good guys”…

Hans Solo… “good” through and through.

The Olympians.

Super skilled athletes are absolutely “good”

Public Servants.

What could possibly be “bad” about a helpful Train Conductor.

Explorers.

Adventurous Astronauts and Deep Sea Divers are both “cool” and “good”.

All of this leads me to the Firefighters, who obviously are beyond “good”.  They are so far beyond “good” in Mack’s world that they get their very own domain.  Below you’ll see a grouping of some of the fine ladies and gentlemen who make up our local department…

Mack’s Firefighting team.

So… to all the Firefighters who have held my son, sat him in the driver’s seat of their truck, given him a plastic fire hat, let him help wash the trucks, taken him for a private tour of the Firehouse, given him stickers and waved to him from passing trucks on the way to an emergency…THANK YOU.  Firefighters have been Mack’s obsession for nearly 2 years and anytime he sees one, he immediately says “that’s my friend”.  They are indeed his super-friendly,  super-heroes and I think definitely deserving of the uber-inflated status in his eyes.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

I’m new to the Photo Challenge so I may be a touch late for this week but I had to post this photo.  A few weeks ago I did a post about Milkweed, the host plant for Monarch caterpillars.  Yesterday, I went to check on a chrysalis and found this.  The life we watched that started as a tiny egg, grew into a plump caterpillar and then morphed into a green chrysalis has finally become a Monarch and flown off.

Louisville… ten stops in the Possibility City.

We made it home safely to SoCal yesterday.  In an effort to capture all the exciting places we visited and all the fun adventures we had exploring my hometown, I thought I’d do a top ten from our two weeks in lovely Louisville, KY.  Here goes our top 10 Louisville highlights, in no particular order…

1.  Glassworks

Two glass studios and 2 galleries under one roof!  Mack (my son) and I spent about 30 minutes watching the artists in sweltering heat blow glass from air-conditioned bleachers located inside the studio.  We were both fascinated.  There are daily tours through Flame Run’s Hot Shop and the Mark Payton Glass Center to introduce you to the world of glassmaking.  While Mack was mesmerized by the fires in the kilns, I was attracted to the beautiful artwork for sale in their 2 galleries.  If you are in the area head to Museum Row in Downtown Louisville.  Glassworks is worth checking out!

Glassworks.

2. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Just around the block from Glassworks is the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.  While we chose not to take a tour of the factory (though next time it will be one of our first activities) there was still plenty for my little man to explore.  There are batting cages for the older kids and a toddler-sized batting cage complete with a tee for the smaller ones.  It’d be hard to come to Louisville and not “swing” by.  You can’t miss it, The World’s Biggest Bat (a replica of Babe Ruth’s 34-inch Louisville Slugger) is just out front, standing 120-feet tall on West Main Street.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

3. The Comfy Cow

It’s hot in Louisville in August so we made a couple of after-dinner, evening ice cream runs.  My new favorite Ice Cream shop is The Comfy Cow.  Each batch of ice cream is handcrafted in Louisville and uses only the best ingredients (all natural, hormone-free, fresh and fine).  While they always carry signature flavors (Black Raspberry Chip, Salty Caramel and Strawberry Fields Forever to name a few) they also rotate in crazy, new experimental flavors.  You can see the fabulous flavors listed in the photo below.  I was blown away by the Mint Julep… a refreshing mint ice cream with the tiniest hint of bourbon.  With 3 locations in the Louisville area, you can never be too far from creamy, cool bliss.

Flavor Board at The Comfy Cow.

4.  Belle of Louisville

The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world.  Aside from the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, it has to be the city’s most recognizable landmark.  Mack adores boats and so one afternoon we hopped on board for a 2-hour cruise down the Ohio River.  Nothing beats a boat ride.

The Belle of Louisville’s paddlewheel.

5. M.A. Hadley Pottery

If you’ve eaten in the home of a native Louisvillian chances are you were served on a plate from Hadley Pottery.  Also, nearly every lady in the city has a Hadley ring holder (pictured below) sink-side in their kitchen.  Every piece is crafted from local Indiana clay, hand-painted and then single fired.  I purchased a tiny ashtray with a fleur-de-lis (Louisville’s city symbol) to place at my bedside for jewelry.

M.A. Hadley Pottery ring holders, plate and ashtray.

6. Classic Biplane Tours

A year ago my Mom gave my Father a gift-certificate for a Biplane ride over Louisville.  They recently found out that the Biplane could hold two passengers and my Dad invited me to join him for a 30 minute flight over the city.  It was a blast!  Viewing the city from the air was such a treat.  We flew over Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), past the downtown skyline, then up along the Ohio River and returned flying over all the neighborhoods where my childhood friends and I grew up.  Next time we’re back with my husband,  he and my son are definitely taking this beautiful flight!

 7. Henry County Supply

Mack loves farm equipment.  We headed out early one morning to Henry County Supply, a John Deere Dealership and agriculture supply store.  The people there were so friendly, they even let Mack climb up and “drive” the tractors.  It didn’t hurt that they also have a full-on John Deere toy section so Mack was able to take home his very own tractor, complete with trailer and harrow.  It’s north of the city but a stunning drive along U.S. 421 to New Castle, KY was well worth it for my little farmer.

Nothing runs like a Deere.

8.  Scout 

My sweet cousin, Susan introduced me to this store a few years ago.  It is located in an area of town now known as NuLu, a recently renovated area along East Market Street with hip shops and restaurants.  This store has everything I love.  As their website says, “Scout is a modern eclectic mix of furniture, home accessories, giftware, artwork and jewelry.”  All of this in a great range of prices.  I walked away with the necklace below for $25 and the earrings for just $10!

Purchases from Scout.

9. Plehn’s Bakery

If you have never had a Butter Bun from this place you have not lived.  It’s easy for my Mom and I to eat an entire package of these little guys smothered with benedictine (a cucumber, cream cheese spread) at lunchtime.  And, yes, I’ve even had my Mother ship them to me in California.  But it doesn’t stop there… their cupcakes, cookies, deli, breakfast pastries and donuts are out of this world.  Also, I love the southern charm in this place.  They still have an old-fashioned counter where you can climb up on a stool, order a cup of coffee and enjoy a delicious cheese danish or chocolate donut.  A really fun treat for kids!

Baked Goods from Plehn’s Bakery in St. Matthews.

10. Louisville Bats Baseball

The Louisville Bats are the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.  I told my husband that if we lived in Louisville we would be at a Bats Baseball game at least once a week during the summer.  Truth be told, the best part about attending a Bats game is being at Louisville Slugger Field.  The Field, located downtown near the river opened in 2000 and has seats for approximately 13,000 fans.  It is, in a word, perfect.  Our tickets, which were about 6 rows up from the 1st baseline cost only $11 a piece.   You can sit on the lawn (left field) for only $7 per person and there is even a merry-go-round and a playground inside the stadium if the kids get antsy.

Buddy Bat. Official mascot of the Louisville Bats.

Juleped Kentucky Mule

My love of the Mint Julep and Moscow Mule combine perfectly in this refreshing Southern cocktail created by my brother, Charlie.  No problem beating the heat with this drink in your hand!

Juleped Kentucky Mule

8 medium size Kentucky Spearmint Leaves
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce mint infused simple syrup
2½ ounces Knob Creek (or other similar bourbon)
2-3 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Ginger Beer (Barritt’s or Bundaberg)
Crushed Ice
Lime Slice & Fresh Mint to garnish

Place Mint leaves and lime juice in bottom of a double old-fashioned glass.  Muddle.  Add 1 ounce mint infused simple syrup, 2½ ounces bourbon, 2-3 dashes of aromatic bitters and stir.  Add crushed ice to about 2/3 of way to top of glass.  Top off with Ginger Beer and Stir.  Garnish with a lime slice and a sprig of fresh mint.

Savory Corn Bread Pudding

Silver Queen Corn

There are 2 items that always taste better in the South or Midwest… corn and tomatoes.  When I am home visiting my family we always enjoy corn on the cob and there is usually a simple dish of sliced tomatoes with every dinner.  The tomatoes here are so flavorful, all I do is add a dash of salt and I can eat an entire plateful.  The corn, and more specifically the Silver Queen sweet corn that starts to ripen around this time of year is incredible.  As much as I love eating corn straight off the cob dripping with butter I thought I would make my family one of my new favorite side dishes.  The key to this dish is FRESH ingredients.  Using ripe and in season corn and fresh herbs makes all the different flavors in this dish pop.  It has become my go-to summer side dish this year and it hasn’t disappointed anyone yet.

Fresh Italian Parsley and Dill.

Savory Bread Pudding with Corn

(serves 6)
1 tablespoon butter
½ bunch scallions, including half of the greens, sliced into rounds
kernels from 2 ears of corn
½ teaspoon paprika
salt
1½ tablespoons chopped parsley
1½ teaspoons chopped dill
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups cubed country white bread, crusts removed (let sit out overnight, dried out or slightly stale is best)
½ cup grated sharp white cheddar
¼ cup cream or half and half

Preheat oven to 375°.

Butter a gratin dish or casserole large enough to hold the pudding.

Heat butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the scallions, corn kernels and paprika and cook until the scallions have softened and the corn is heated through, about 4-5 minutes.

Season with salt and stir in the parsley and dill.

Whisk the eggs and milk with ½ teaspoon of salt and pour over bread cubes in a bowl.  Add the corn mixture and cheese and transfer the mixture to the prepared dish.

Pout the cream or half and half over the top.  Bake until puffed and brown, about 45 minutes.  You can add a bit of milk if pudding looks too dry.  Add a dash of paprika to the top and serve.

*The above recipe taken from a Recreational Class called Summer Comfort Food at The New School of Cooking in Culver City, CA.*

Bourbon, baby.

A Collection of Experimental Bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Maker’s Mark Mint Julep. Label on a Limited Edition George T. Stagg bottle (142.6 proof).

Four Roses.  Woodford Reserve.  Maker’s Mark.  Jim Beam. Wild Turkey. Heaven Hill.  Buffalo Trace.  Old Fitzgerald.  Bulleit. Early Times. Booker’s.  Baker’s. Basil Hayden’s.  Blanton’s. Evan Williams.  Elijah Craig.  George T. Stagg.  Pappy Van Winkle.  Elmer T. Lee.  Rowan’s Creek.  Well…. to name a few.

Growing up in Kentucky my Grandfather drank Old Fitzgerald daily.   Early Times was what Churchill Down’s always put in your Mint Julep if you were enjoying a day at the horse races.   In high school, Maker’s Mark was one of the highly coveted bottles to attempt to smuggle out of your parent’s liquor cabinet.  If you could get a full bottle, red wax seal still in tact, well that was something very special.

A sampling from the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection.

Truth be told I am not a bourbon enthusiast.  I enjoy a Mint Julep when the first weekend of May (aka Derby Weekend) rolls around each year and I do love the taste of Maker’s Mark with Ginger Ale over ice but I’m not much of a bourbon sipper.  I like it mixed, muddled and otherwise masked a bit by some other flavor.  I can see the Kentucky Bourbon purists shaking their heads at me.  Kentucky girl turned Californian wine-lover.

All of the above said, when I come home to Kentucky I am always mesmerized by my brother’s ever-growing collection of small batch bourbon.  The bottles and labels are works of art and the differing colors of the amber toned libation always attract my attention.

Bottles from my brother’s Bourbon collection.

Kentucky Bourbon Quick Facts

  • Kentucky is the birthplace of Bourbon, producing 95 percent of the world’s supply. Bourbon is America’s only native spirit, as declared by Congress in 1964.
  • Bourbon must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn and aged in new oak barrels that have been charred.
  • Only Kentucky has the perfect natural mix of climate, conditions and pure limestone water necessary for producing the world’s best Bourbon.
  • for more quick facts about bourbon in Kentucky click here