Friday, August 13, 2010

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things...

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over (don’t freak out – I said ALmost). As usual, the year is flying by. For me, this was an especially enjoyable summer as it was my first REAL summer in years. After being in the event plannning industry for quite some time, I got used to working every weekend and subesquently, missing out on a lot of fun summer activities – trips to the beach, the lake, Saturday morning brunch, etc. I’ve been at my new job just over a year (ok, so I guess it’s not really “new” anymore), and I tell ya- Monday through Friday ain’t so bad.

But I digress…

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months so much that I wanted to share some of my FAVORITE things from Summer 2010. I hope you enjoy!

Farmer’s Markets

I experienced my very first Farmer’s Market at Pepper Place in May, and instantly fell in love. I know, so dramatic, right? But it’s true. Even though I had known about Pepper Place for years, it was the first time that my eyes were really opened to the amazing local farmers that we have right here in Alabama, producing some of the finest cheeses, herbs, fruits and veggies that I’ve ever seen/tasted. It’s got a cool vibe, with live music, chef demonstrations and people everywhere (dogs, too!). I loved wandering aimlessly around all of the booths, daydreaming about whatever recipe I would make with my goodies when I got home. I look forward to many more weekends at Pepper Place as the summer months come to a close, and anxiously anticipate the Harvest Market in the fall.

Roasted Tomatoes

Speaking of goodies from the market, I developed a newfound appreciation for my oven when I made a batch of these:

Slow-roasted tomatoes. I’d never roasted anything in my life (at least, not intentionally). Who knew that a hot oven and a couple hours could produce such a heavenly flavor? I’ve roasted many things since then (particularly loved some eggplant that I purchased at the Urban Cookhouse market), but nothing beats that first day, standing in front of the oven, impatiently waiting for the tomatoes to be perfectly caramelized, then standing over the counter and eating them one after another right off the pan, savoring the sweet, intense flavor (and not caring that I burned the roof of my mouth). They also make an easy and fabulous appetizer. Just roast some fresh garlic with the tomatoes and serve with crostini and fresh basil. Simple, but SO delicious.

The B.A.L.T.

Ok, so this is really two of my favorite things- my new favorite sandwich (everything good about summer rolled into one- local tomatoes, buttery avocado, Applewood Bacon and lettuce with mayo and classic white bread) and my new favorite restaurant, Urban Cookhouse (actually, make that three – I crave their fresh Strawberry Lemonade on a daily basis!). The restaurant started off with a bang and has been packed ever since. I love to see Birmingham supporting restaurants that are totally committed to the “farm-to-table” approach of serving food, and I partly credit UC with igniting my own passion to buy and eat local (hence telling Husband that we are never eating at “chain” restaurants again and him looking at me like I’d lost my mind). As their menu says, “Buy Local. Eat Urban.”

Canebrake Gouda

This creamy and delicious cheese from Wright Dairy Farm in Alexandria, AL is the perfect addition to your pre-dinner cheese tray or hors d’oeuvres menu. Better yet - pair it with a glass of wine and enjoy it for lunch, which is what I did (and not ashamed to admit I almost ate the whole block in one sitting. My sister helped).

Watermelon Mojito

This is the quintessential summer cocktail. It’s cool, minty, refreshing, delicious, pretty…need I say more? Oh yeah, it’s on special at Jinsei every Monday night. So you can get two.

I could go on, but I haven’t eaten lunch and I’m afraid that drooling over the keyboard cannot be a good thing. So it’s your turn! What are some of YOUR favorite things from this summer? Share with me!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer Desserts

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty great at procrastinating. Not because I work better under pressure (although that’s a nice excuse); it’s just in my nature to wait until the very last minute. Drives my mother CRAZY. Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure I inherited that trait from her…ANYway.

I’m bringing dessert to a cookout tonight and in true “Southern Soiree” fashion, I have only just begun to think about what to bring. Naturally, this leads me to what I like to call a ”Carrie Bradshaw” moment (say it with me) – I couldn’t help but wonder, what are some of the best quick and easy desserts to pull together for summer entertaining?

Enter the Banana Pudding. Some say its boring, I say dependable (which is totally different than boring. Totally). My standard go-to recipe is this low-cal version that my Aunt Dianne introduced me to (it makes me feel so much better about eating the entire bowl by myself), but it’s also fun to experiment by changing just a few ingredients. Use small cubes of pound cake instead of Nilla Wafers. Add some Nutter Butters to create the taste of a PB&B sandwich (a fave from my childhood…and maybe adulthood). For a more grown-up version, add a splash of Banana Liqueur to the pudding, or take it one step further and cook the bananas in Rum and Brown Sugar, “Bananas Foster” style. See? Not so boring anymore. And if you have a few extra minutes on hand, take the presentation up a notch by serving the dessert in individual glasses. I love the look of these parfait glasses featured in Southern Living. I like to serve mine in stemless Cosmo glasses (easier to eat out of).

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This dessert doesn’t necessarily scream “summer”, but we serve Chocolate Eclair Cake at the lake a lot and it ALWAYS disappears quickly. It’s easy, light and great for a crowd. I like the recipe on the Kraft Foods website; although, sometimes I cheat and use canned chocolate frosting. Ssshhhhh……

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Of course, you CAN’T have a summer dessert in the South without using our delicious Chilton County peaches. When you’ve already got the grill fired up, why not use it for dessert, too? This recipe from Epicurious is a favorite of mine – Grilled Peaches with Fresh Raspberry Sauce. You can make the Raspberry Sauce ahead (provided you are not a procrastinator extraordinaire, like yours truly), and the rest only takes a few minutes. Serve it over ice cream or pound cake for a simple, but impressive dessert.

*Photo from

Pick up some fresh peaches at the farmer’s market this weekend (Pepper Place, East Lake or Urban Cookhouse/Homewood are my personal faves) and try it out!

And just in case you are wondering, I’m going with the Grilled Peaches tonight.