Thursday, August 4, 2011

Barbuzzo

Patrick surprised me with a trip to Barbuzzo on Sunday evening.

I've been trying to get to this restaurant since it opened a year ago. In less than a year, it's become one of the most lauded and awarded restaurants in Philadelphia.

When we walked through the front doors, I just clammed up, and couldn't stop saying, "oh my god, oh my god, oh my god." I think I maybe mentioned to Patrick only one time that I wanted to eat there. So, let me pause for just a moment and celebrate his quasi-superhero ability to pick up on things I don't even remember mentioning. (Am I really so lucky?)

Our Menu Selections: Sheep's Milk Ricotta and Figs, Coniglio Pizza with Spicy Rabbit-Hazelnut Sausage, Pan Seared Gnocchi with Corn, Mushrooms, Baby Tomatoes and Crispy Prosciutto, and the Caciovavallo Stuffed Meatballs.

After every single bite I took, there was nothing I could do but chew, close my eyes, and shake my head in total incredulity. "Mmm," was the only utterance I could muster. There were, just, no, words. There still aren't. I sat on this for 4 days, and...nothing. I can't, it's impossible to, I think at this point, I don't want to find the words for this meal. It spoke for itself, truly. These are the kinds of meals that I wait for, that I absolutely LIVE for. This meal was just...beyond. It's the kind of meal that makes me question everything I believe about the universe and everything in it; will set me off on some introverted silent mental existential journey, yet leave me without answers and without satisfaction because I can't possibly wrap my head around the totality of what just happened to me when I lifted my fork and put that first bite in my mouth.

[ ] That's right. Barbuzzo rendered me silent. And coming from me, that's quite possibly the best compliment I could ever give.

Buon Appetito, indeed!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting Healthy...The Food Lust Way

On Friday the 29th, I found myself on the other side of an HD camera. Giant bright lights in my kitchen, piles of electric cord everywhere like thick black snakes slithering all over the linoleum, being filmed for a segment to air on MiND TV. Totally bizarre. If you’d told Kate circa early March 2011, sitting behind her desk at the YMCA, wedged into an office that used to be a supply closet, working her butt off doing what she [thought she] loved, that in four months she’d be jobless, writing a food blog (something I’d talked about doing for years, and never had the time for no-thanks to the aforementioned job), and filming a segment for a TV station, she’d have laughed at you. Today, that’s Kate’s reality. Totally bizarre. Totally not what I’d expected of my life. TOTALLY RAD.

What really blows my mind is that as a professional in the TV industry was contemplating who she knew that she could use for a piece on food & nutrition…she thought of me?!? I’d love to see the synapse in her brain during that thought processes that made the leap to “Kate Harner”. I mean, it just totally blows me away, that anyone, besides me, thinks that I’m any good at this food thing. So, when Becca approached me about preparing a healthy meal on camera, I was completely humbled. I found myself harboring a great sense of respect for my responsibility to make good on the talent and know-how that someone else believes I possess.

So, film we did. And, nervous I was. Dutifully, the eighteen solid years I spent in front of audiences at school & church, kicked in like it was a habit I never left behind, and within seconds, I was relaxed, at ease, and able to let go and immerse myself in the total freakin’ awesomeness that was my life at that moment.

The whole entire point of even filming me though, was to showcase a healthy recipe. Seeing as how I’m neither a nutritionist, nor someone who’s food fulcrum is “healthy” (for Christ’s sake, my favorite food is Bacon…) I decided there’d be a delicate balance on which I’d have to present something both acceptable to me and my undying devotion to the things we put in our bodies and the general populace’s concept of what “healthy” foods are or should be. Don’t get me wrong here; I know enough about food that I know what foods are good for you, what foods are higher and lower in fat/calories/carbs/proteins/sugars/sodium, etc. But I’m no card-carrying, board-certified expert-anything. How was I to pull this off? Well, one thing that I do believe is that eating fresh is one way to eat healthier; the less steps between the food source and your mouth, the better. And, one really easy way to eat fresh, is to eat seasonally (which, in turn supports eating locally, so all you sustainability freaks out there should get off a little on this idea). That’s how it would pan out: cook something featuring some seasonal ingredients. Growing up in South Central PA, this time of year was always my favorite. Two of my most beloved foods are both ripe for the picking: Tomatoes & Corn. After a lengthy brainstorming session that spanned several days, e-mails, and opinions from other people, I developed: Tomato & Corn Pasta with Goat Cheese & Basil. Pleasantly starring two local, seasonal foods, also vegetarian (as not to scare off those questionably sane, anti-meat-mongerers), and pretty tasty, to boot. As it turns out, it takes almost no time to make this dish, which made filming it really easy too. Here’s the recipe:

Tomato & Corn Pasta with Goat Cheese & Basil
12oz. rotini pasta, or other similar shape
2 TBL Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 clove of garlic
12oz. cherry tomatoes
1 TBL Balsamic Vinegar
3 ears raw, sweet, white corn cut off the cob
approx. ¼ cup basil, chiffonade
4 oz. goat cheese

Prepare pasta according to package directions.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the whole cherry tomatoes, and stir. Cover and let cook for about 3 min, stirring occasionally, until the tomato skins begin to blister. Add the vinegar, to deglaze the pan, and stir. Add the corn, and stir to combine for about a minute or two, to heat the corn through. Stirring the corn will help the starch in the corn develop and will make your “sauce” slightly thicker and creamy. Turn off the heat, and add the basil, stirring to combine. Put the pasta on a plate, a top with tomato/corn mixture. Crumble one ounce of goat cheese over each plate, and top with a few fresh basil leaves. Serves 4.

As soon as the video is ready, and I receive it from MiND TV, I will be sure to post it! For those of you who live in/near Philly MiND TV is hosting an event where all the food & nutrition films will be screened, on August 31st from 6-8pm at Triumph Brewery in Old City, Philadelphia. Email me, or comment for more info, I’d love to have you there! (Plus, Triumph has really delicious calamari, and a fantastic selection of house-brewed beers! So, even if you don’t particularly like ME, I highly recommend attending simply for the food & drink.)

All in all, it was a surreal experience. And hands down, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, or been asked to do. Sad thing is, now I’ve got the bug, and I want to do it again, and again, and again. Hear that Food Network?? Your next star is calling…

And now, because there is absolutely no way to transition from healthy eating to a recipe for a triple-layer cake…[insert completely inadequate segue here]

The above picture, posted on my Facebook and my Twitter accounts, sparked a firestorm of interests about the cake, and its accompanying recipe. So, below you will find all the instructions necessary to put together this fabulous cake! My first taste of 1-2-3-4 cake was one my Aunt Mary made. It had raspberry filling and a 7-minute icing with coconut on the outside, and it was just fantastic! I immediately tried to replicate it myself, and now that particular cake is a go-to for me, everyone loves it. I wanted to make something really special for my friend Jennie’s birthday, and the lemon and raspberry flavor pairing felt light enough for summer. I got the recipe for the icing from my Aunt Maggie, who is the undisputed Queen of Sweet Things.

I recommend baking the cakes a day ahead of time, and putting them in the fridge. This way, they are nice and cool, and more sturdy. It makes getting them out of the pans and stacked up much easier. For the raspberry filling, I totally advocate cheating: just use a jar of seedless raspberry preserves. As for the icing: it isn’t as tight as an icing you might buy at the store, or a typical homemade icing recipe. It’s not going to stay on the sides of the cake without running, so I just dumped all the icing onto the top of the cake and let it run/drip down the sides. That worked out perfectly, and gave it that haphazard/sophisticated look that people love.

Jennie’s Birthday Cake
A vanilla cake with raspberry filling and lemon-cream cheese icing.

1-2-3-4 Cake
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 cup of milk
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease 3 round 9-inch cake pans. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and milk and beat until thoroughly mixed. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter & sugar mixture and mix until blended. Divide batter among the 3 cake pans, and bake at 350 for 25-30, or until top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

Lemon-Cream Cheese Icing
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

With an electric mixer on medium, beat the cream cheese until softened. Slowly add the sugar, zest and juice and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes. Makes about 1 cup.

Cool the cakes completely before removing from their pans, and stack on the plate or cake stand you intend to serve the cake on. Between each of the layers, evenly spread about ½ a 12oz jar of raspberry preserves. Once the cakes are stacked, spread all the icing over only the top of the cake, all the way to the edges, and just let it migrate down the sides. Refrigerate until serving. This recipe yields…oh, a heck of a lot of cake. But who cares, its CAKE. You’re not supposed to eat just a little. Besides, as I told Jennie sarcastically on Saturday, “I used 1% milk in the cake, and 1/3 less-fat cream cheese in the icing, so that means it’s TOTALLY healthy!”
And I’m pretty sure that’s the sentence that will officially ban me from ever becoming a nutritionist.

Oh well. This is Food Lust, not Calorie Counting. In the celebrating of deliciousness everywhere, there’s bound to be times you just have to let go, eat a giant piece of cake, and enjoy every single stinking gram of fat and sugar and revel in the serotonin-induced coma that follows. So, don’t stare any longer at the pastry case inside your favorite bakery. Pine from afar no longer, for that treat that gets your sweet tooth aching. Make this, and ENJOY it.

Buon Appetito!

p.s. While I’m sure it seems odd that I’ve decided to combine these two experiences into one blog, I chose to do it because I feel like it highlights a truly healthy philosophy about how to eat. It’s perfectly fine to be conscious of what you’re putting in your body. But it’s totally unnatural to deny yourself the things you crave, or love, no matter what their fat or calorie count is. I’m not saying go eat a whole cake. But what I am saying is that I believe a truly healthy person, both in body and in mind, can have their cake, from time to time, and actually EAT it, too.