"The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It's doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it." Julia Child
Again, I am a bit behind with the blog. Allow me to catch you up.
The last weekend in February was a time of absolutely rich fellowship with my college small group. Eleven of my sweet Tarheel ladies decided to go with me and retreat to Emerald Isle. Thanks to Salem, we had the most fantastic accomodations, especially for cooking. The kitchen had so much counter space, fitting many cooks in the kitchen at once. So, what did we eat? Let's begin with breakfast. We decided on pancakes, and rather than buy a box of mix, I consulted trusty Food Network and Alton Brown answered the call. With five stars and over 500 reviews, I felt pretty secure following his Instant Pancake recipe. Most appealing was the fact that I could make the mix beforehand and use as much as needed. And oh my, they were fantastic! I must give kudos to Lauren and Courtney for this recipe's stellar results. Some girls wanted bananas in theirs, and we made a number of them with some blueberries. The pancakes were served alongside bacon and a variety of fruit, thanks to Annie's produce-selecting prowess @ Trader Joe's. Needless to say, this breakfast held us over till dinner.
So...dinner. I know it's basically blasphemy to not have fresh seafood at the beach, but with eleven different palates and preferences, I just went mainstream. After devouring the garlic lover's version of the rosemary bread, we feasted on Ina's Parmesan Chicken, Giada's Farmer's Pasta, and oven-roasted veggies (bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, cremini mushrooms, zucchini squash). I am a huge fan of this chicken dish due to my friend Chrissy making it for my school friends in our cooking club, so I knew that it would go over well with these girls. It's a good one to try if you're getting bored with the same ol' chicken. Now the pasta: yes, it involved a number of pots and pans, the grating of many cheeses, but once the mixture lands in its final home of a 9x13 dish and bakes in the oven, what you take out is pure yummy. I had seen Giada makes this pasta on her show a few years back, and though I didn't make it during my official Giada month, I resolved I would sometime. I'm glad I did. It's not one for every weekend, due to its richness and prep work, but it is impressive in flavor, so go for it when you just can't eat mac and cheese again. In fact, this dish would suffice for a main course. I basically winged it with the veggies. I knew that they needed to be as close to the same size as possible, and, like all things roasted in the oven, needed to be tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I added a dash of Italian seasoning for flavor. The veggies offered much needed respite from the richness of the chicken and pasta. After we gave our stomachs some time to make room, we had dessert via the return of Chocolate Pizza, served this time with some vanilla bean ice cream. Again, props to all those who made this dinner happen: Morgan and Katie with the chicken, Salem with the pasta (you were awesome!), Alison and Annie with the veggies (so much washing and cutting!), and those who set the table and served drinks, etc. Such teamwork. Cooking creates community, and I just love that.
And now let's arrive in March. Admittedly, I haven't selected an official cookbook for this month, so I'm calling March a free-for-all, basically allowing me to make whatever's on hand, whatever tickles that proverbial fancy. I began with another attempt at banana bread, this time with Tyler Florence's recipe for Banana Bread with Pecans. Compared with Flour's, what a different batter! It was thick, like frosting thick. It baked well, but it did spend a little too long in the oven thanks to my oversight. Oh well...I shaved off the top and called it good just the same (esp. tasty when toasted with some butter). I should make it again without the oversight and see what happens.
The best thing about March was the celebration of my niece's 2nd birthday. I can't believe it. Seriously. I remembering holding her as an infant (not my favorite stage, but precious nonetheless) and thinking about all of the possibilities for her, all the ways she was going to grow into herself and become a real person. But it seemed so far off. Well, my readers, she is quite the personality. Here she is enjoying one of her birthday cupcakes and then a pic I captured of the two of us being quite silly. I LOVE this little girl more that I can ever express in words. Being in her life is one of the richest blessings I could have imagined or asked for.
As I was on the last leg of my trip from Knoxville, I decided that I wanted to finish the day with cooking. Isn't that strange that cooking was exactly how I wanted to finish a day of driving? I'm telling you, it relaxes me in a most unexpected way. So what did I make? Chicken with Barley and Mushrooms. I found this recipe back in the fall, for I was on the hunt for barley recipes thanks to eating a delicious barley salad at Whole Foods. It's a fun grain, one with texture that simply loves to soak up flavorful liquids. The only issue was that I didn't make the dish with the prescribed zucchini. Why, you ask? Well, your fearless foodie had some trouble in the produce department of Super Target. I mistook a cucumber for zucchini. I know...for shame. I don't have much excuse, but let's go with the fact that I had been driving for almost six hours. At least I had the sense to not chop it up and put it in there. Even without that elusive zucchini, the dish was hearty and satisfying. I ate it for the rest of the week, even giving it as lunch to my friend Mary, and she wanted the recipe (Mary's quite the foodie, too). My favorite part was simply the flavor. As mentioned before, barley's flavor is incumbent upon the liquids in which it's cooked (as is the case with all these other grains I've discovered: quinoa, millet, wheatberry, etc.), and this recipe called the barley to absorb a combination of chicken broth, white wine, and sherry. Yum.
Stay tuned for more. This free-for-all has my head spinning a bit, but I can tell you that Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, will make at least one showing. Check her out. She's fantastic!