Pythons and Shortcakes: A Very Martha Memorial Day, Part II

I wrote about the savory part of our Memorial Day meal earlier this week — now it’s time for the sweet!

Homemade Strawberry Shortcake

The Best Strawberry Shortcake: fresh berries, whipped cream and strawberry ice cream all on a homemade shortcake!

I mentioned that my husband was determined to prepare the quintessential all-American BBQ for Memorial Day. This included a gigantic smoked beef brisket with all the classic side dishes. Once we had everything figured out, we came to dessert, which seemed like an easy choice. After all what’s more American than strawberry shortcake?

* Okay, okay, fine — apple pie is probably more American, but shortcake has to be right up there!

We also knew we wanted to do it all from scratch, homemade shortcakes, fresh whipped cream and local strawberries macerated in sugar. Simple stuff. But my husband was also bound and determined to take it one step further by making a batch of strawberry ice cream.

He used the recipe for “Here’s your damn strawberry ice cream” from Humphry Slocombe’s Ice Cream Cookbook, which if you haven’t bought it yet, is totally worthwhile. The recipes are great but the commentary is downright hilarious. This is the first recipe we’ve made from it and my husband said the only adaption he had to do was add more red wine vinegar because our berries were too sweet. Chalk that up to another reason to love Oregon!

Anyways, he brought home a pint of the ice cream which I immediately had to taste for…quality control purposes (yeah, we’ll call it that). Upon the first bite, I can attest it was nothing short of amazing. Super creamy and full of berry love.

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A Very Martha Memorial Day, Part 1: The Savory

Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese

Martha Stewart’s Macaroni and Cheese

While in reality I may not strive to be totally like her, I can say with complete honesty that I really love Martha Stewart. I think it’s awesome that she came out of prison missing fresh lemons the most. And the fact that she can make a crumb cake with Ludacris and bake brownies with Snoop Dogg just endears me further. Martha seems to be able to bounce back — better than ever — no matter what happens to her and I admire that.

I also admire her seemingly always perfect recipes. There’s a reason the woman is an internationally famous domestic goddess. I haven’t ever had a recipe of hers turn out sub-par, which is why I chose several of them for our (pre*) Memorial Day party.

*My MO for Memorial Day (and Labor Day) is to host a BBQ on the Sunday prior. This is useful in case people have already made plans for Monday and it allows me to spend that day recouping and relaxing instead of entertaining. It’s a win/win strategy that I highly suggest.

Anyways, my husband wanted to do a traditional “Americana-style” BBQ. This means he was in charge of the grill — a task he took to happily, deciding to smoke a rather hefty (13 pound) beef brisket over apple wood. Here’s a sneak peek:

Applewood Smoked Beef Brisket

Applewood Smoked Beef Brisket

Oh yeah…it was serious!

I, on the other, took control of the side dishes. My husband had mentioned wanting mac and cheese so I used this recipe of Martha’s, which has a cult-like following online with commenters referring to it as “crackaroni” since it’s impossible to quit eating. Totally accurate name by the way, I actually had to pry myself away from the pan.

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Beer-Braised Beef: Helping to keep you warm this winter

Stout Braised Beef StewEven though it’s December, it’s still been fairly temperate in Portland. There was one day when I woke up to see a light dusting of snow, but for the most part it’s been a mellow winter. Which is pretty perfect as far as I’m concerned. As someone who bikes to work year-round, I am loving that when I go outside it still looks like autumn.

And while I haven’t been feeling the intense desire to hibernate, I still have had the usual cold-weather culinary urges — stews, soups and crockpots, oh my! I’m sure you all know the feeling, these are the things that get us through until spring. It seems so comforting to have a pot on the stove filled with chili or split pea soup.

So when I picked up a small chuck roast at the store, my first thought was beef stew. I usually make a pretty traditional version — mire poix, tomatoes and lots of woody herbs. However, I was feeling a little frisky and decided to try something different. Which is where this recipe for stout-braised beef comes in.

Now first let me assure you that I know cooking with alcohol is nothing innovative. I’ve been a dedicated believer in the power of beef and beer for quite some time. Perhaps it was the horseradish garnish that made this recipe so intriguing.

Which leads me on a slight tangent…As a kid, I thought horseradish sauce was the most disgusting thing ever. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the taste — I never got that far — it must have simply been the name. But my stepdad (a longtime horseradish lover) swore that some day I would discover its amazing and spicy deliciousness on my own. And, crazily enough, I did. I’m not certain of when it happened, but if you give me roast beef, my first instinct is to look for the “horsey sauce,” the hotter, the better.

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In the Belly of the Beast: Maple Pork Belly w. Corn Waffles

Pork Belly PromisesOh pork belly. After years of being on the upswing of trendy foods, it amazes me how many people still don’t know what pork belly is. In my job as a meat distributor, I work mainly with chefs who are well-versed in their cuts of meat. However we often get calls from “general public” people (our term for those unassociated with the industry) who want to buy pork belly because they need it for a recipe, but have no idea what it is and are often worried that it’s some bizarre unusual piece of meat.

I then get to explain to them that they’ve most likely been eating pork belly for years — in its cured and smoked form, bacon. Usually they are shocked, which I always find a little funny. But it makes me happy to know more and more people who are not chefs are getting to appreciate this delicious and decadent cut of pork.

My point here is that pork belly = glorious, happy goodness.

Which is why for Thanksgiving this year my husband and I said screw the turkey, let’s cook a pork belly. We actually did a whole “Momofuku” spread with steamed buns, pickled vegetables and roasted pork belly (don’t worry, a full post is in the works!). It was an amazing meal, but considering it was a monstrous 12-pound piece of pork, we still had lots of leftovers.

Which means I had an opportunity to make this dish for dinner last week:

Pork Belly Perfection!

Pork Belly Perfection: Corn and Cheddar Waffles with Maple-Glazed Pork Belly.

It was absolutely, positively as fantastic as it looks! I promise you. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to make it yourself.

Did I just hear you say “challenge accepted”?

Okay then, follow my lead:

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Fresh Corn Chowder: A Soup to Soothe the Savage Cold

You know fall is coming when you catch your first cold of the season. I spent a good amount of time last week in a daze of Sudafed and cough syrup, wishing that I felt good enough to enjoy the last of the summer sunshine. Instead I spent every night curled up on my couch watching Season 3 of Drop Dead Diva and eating soup.

I probably deserved to get sick since it seems as though I spent all of September running around with barely any time to rest. First came WAG, followed by a weekend in Tacoma and then the next weekend was FEAST. And FEAST brought with it parties, after parties and after-hours after parties, where I ingested entirely too much free champagne. I got a picture with Fergus Henderson while partying at the top of the Wieden+Kennedy building, shook hands with Sean Brock around 2 am at Nostrana and stalked the hell out of April Bloomfield (though I was too shy to approach her).

And then I caught a serious cold. Even though I’m a little sad about that, I have to say two things:

  1. It was totally, absolutely worth it!
  2. The soups I made to aid my recovery were rockin’!

My favorite one was actually a recipe for White Cheddar Corn Chowder that I pulled from a 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living. How I managed to wait five years before making this, I’ll never know but I can say I won’t be waiting another five before making it again!

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Soirées & Snacks: My favorite thing about parties is the food…

There is nothing I love more than party food. Something about food on toothpicks or passed nibbles on tiny plates just calls out to me. Everything is more fun when it’s on pretty platters and available for grazing. I love having a glass of wine in one hand and a plate brimming with appetizers in the other.

Posting all the food pictures from my birthday party a few weeks ago inspired me to go back through last year’s birthday photos. My first thought upon seeing them was hmm, I need to plan another party very soon.

This is a very dangerous thought — one, that if given a chance, would devour all of my productive energy for months. So I decided to write a bit about party food in an effort to keep the demons at bay.

First up are some delicious hors d’oeuvres. Last year, I did a variation of pub trivia for my birthday party, which was held at my favorite local bar, The Lion’s Eye Tavern. After the quiz portion was done, we walked back to my place to soak up the beer with a whole lot of food.

Greek-salad skewers -- tomatoes, feta, cucmbers and olivesIn planning my menu, I was heavily influenced by these Greek salad skewers I had seen in an issue of Food & Wine and wanted to do a ton of them in a variety of flavors. I bought a salami (whole, not sliced), pitted olives, cucumbers, sharp white cheddar, goat cheese and baby mozzarella balls, pickled pipparras and piquillo peppers, cherry tomatoes and pickled asparagus. Most of the stuff I was able to get at an upscale grocery store’s olive bar. They had so many great things that I just got a little of everything. Then I got to work putting them in assorted patterns on little bamboo skewers.

* Helpful hint: I used some feta too but the brand I bought was apparently too soft and so I had a hard time keeping it on the sticks. Instead I sliced the olives open and stuffed them with the cheese and then slid the whole thing on the skewer. *

The nice thing is there are so many choices, nobody has to pick off the things they don’t like — good for picky eaters as well as the lone vegetarian. Plus they are so colorful, they basically double as party decorations!

Next I needed some fun snack mixes, a nod to the pub theme I had developed. My mind went first to an Asian-style brittle recipe I had seen on Martha’s website. I had been dying to make it since it’s full of tasty morsels  — wasabi peas, various nuts and sesame sticks. It’s a little spicy and a little salty, altogether ideal for a post-pub party. I also wanted some pretzels but not just out of the bag, something a little more festive was required. Luckily, Martha had a recipe for Sweet and Spicy Pretzel Mix using pretzel sticks, almonds, cayenne and sugar. These were a cinch to make and very addictive. I had to remind myself to stay away from them until the party started!

Then I went searching for something more exciting than regular Chex Mix and found this awesome Maple & Soy Chex Mix recipe. It sounded perfect (the recipe even has some curry in it which really intrigued me) and I could tailor the components so I didn’t overlap too many ingredients — I used mainly Chex cereal (rice and corn), sesame sticks and toasted corn since I had already used so many nuts in the other two mixes.

I made a ton of each one of these mixes, thinking I’d have plenty of leftovers to enjoy afterwards, but they were quickly demolished by hungry guests. Which is a good indicator that these recipes are worth making again!

Other party food favorites of mine are, of course, anything on puff pastry as well as a simple old-fashioned charcuterie board, like the one below. I think my husband put this together one lazy Sunday for us to snack on when we didn’t feel like cooking.

I like offer up a few patés (you can usually buy some nice ones at an upscale butcher shop), some salami or prosciutto, some cheese, coarse-grain mustard and cornichons. This plate also has an all-time favorite of mine — a beet terrine made with goat cheese. Some day I will show you how to make this. It is so very good and so pretty.

Finally, here are a few more party nibbles my friend Ariel and I put together when we catered a housewarming party for my parents. We needed it to be relatively simple since we only had one day to prep, but I think we did a nice spread. Ariel had a recipe for a frittata that could be sliced up and I had been dreaming about this recipe for adorable mini mac-and-cheese bites. I used some larger macaroni noodles that I had on hand — in hindsight I should have bought some smaller ones since they might have worked better in the mini-muffin pan, but these still got rave reviews.

Spinach Frittata and Mini Mac’n’Cheeses

A veggie crudite garden

Mammoth cheese ball

The veggies were inspired by this Martha Stewart spread, where the crudite are arranged to look like they are in a garden. We just did ours in a big bowl, but Ariel worked some magic with those veggies and made them beautiful. We had an herb-filled buttermilk dressing for dipping, though you can use any salad dressing you have handy.

We also spent a good portion of the evening before the party making a laughably enormous cheese ball. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but it was larger than a softball. We started with some goat cheese (like maybe a pound, which might explain why it was so huge) mixed with cream cheese and then threw in store-bought pesto plus extra pine nuts and basil. I think we had half of this sucker left over, but it was a great post-party snack. I even used some with cooked pasta as an easy creamy and very cheesy sauce.

So basic rules for party food: cheese should always be present, food that can be eaten with one hand is ideal and anything on a stick will make people happy.

Now go forth and party on!