Hestia-who? What-a-phobia? I thought this was a food blog? What’s with all of the questions? Let me give you some answers…

Hestia was the Greek goddess of the hearth. The hearth is where most of the baking was done in ancient Greece, so those with hestiaphobia have a fear of baking. While I may not suffer from full-blown hestiaphobia, I certainly do have hestiaphobic tendencies. While I may be one of the first to gobble down some delicious fresh-baked goodies, I’ll be one of the last to actually cook them in my kitchen? Why the fear?

Baking is so methodical. It’s so calculated. It’s so precise.

Just add 1/32 teaspoon of baking powder – no more, no less! Wait, is that baking powder or baking soda? Uh-oh. Did you sift that flour? Is your butter cold enough? Are those eggs precisely room temperature? You’re going to try and make that today with this high humidity? Did you adjust your baking times for your different elevation? What is my elevation anyway? I’m practically breaking out in hives already. No wonder it’s a very rare occasion when I actually do decide to conquer my hestiaphobia and crank out some delicious baked goods.

Typically, I don’t shy away from recipes that require multiple steps, lots of chopping and dicing, and plenty of stirring and simmering. With baking though, all bets are off. For this cook, simple is best. The fewer ingredients the better. You can imagine my delight (and skepticism) when I stumbled across a recipe online that claimed you could make a light and fluffy cake with just two ingredients, with a cooking time of only 30 minutes. With more than a bit of doubt, but lots of hopefulness, I set out to the store to pick up the ingredients. Would I be able to satisfy my sweet tooth and quell my hestiaphobia all at the same time? If not, I had a bounty of ice cream in the freezer just in case, so there would be no love lost. Now time for Brantley’s Baking 101 – preheat and pray.

Here are the ingredients:

1 box of angel food cake mix

1 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple

That’s it! Now this is my kind of baking. You don’t need measuring spoons or measuring cups. You don’t need eggs or oil. For goodness sake you don’t need different kinds of flour and baking powder. All you need is a mixing bowl and a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan (sorry for that scary part). Let’s get started.

Empty the contents of the angel food cake mix into a bowl. Dump in the can of crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix it up. Don’t add any water. No eggs. No oil. Disregard anything on the box of the cake mix. You only need the mix and the pineapple with its juice. Interesting things will start to happen at this point. The mix will start to grow in volume and get quite foamy. This is perfectly normal. Once you’ve mixed it for about 30 seconds, it will look like this…

Is this easy enough so far? Believe it or not, that’s about as difficult as it gets. Now just spray your 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan (sorry for that again) with some non-stick cooking spray so your cake won’t stick and transfer the contents of your bowl to your baking dish.

Now just slam that stuff into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When it’s done, the top will turn a golden brown. You could insert a knife or toothpick in the center to see if it comes out clean. If it does, you’re good to go! If not, let it have another minute or two in the oven.

Remove it from the oven and slice it into pieces, squares, slices, or whatever shape you like. I served mine with a nice scoop of vanilla bean ice cream that I had waiting in the freezer in case this endeavor turned out to be a failure. I didn’t know what to expect when I had that first bite, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. It may not be the most amazing baked good you’ve ever consumed, but for what it’s worth, it wasn’t too shabby.

For this cook who suffers from mild episodes of hestiaphobia, it was comforting to know that I could pull this off. I think you could too. So are you ready to conquer your fear? If so, I think this recipe is the way to go. It’ll boost your culinary confidence. It’ll impress your family. After all, they don’t need to know how easy this was. But most importantly, it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth. For this hestiaphobic guy, that’s really all that matters at the end of the day.

Until next time,

The Taste Bud

I’m a Spud Man

Oh potato, love of my life. My feelings for you have only grown stronger with time. Over the years, my maturing taste buds have grown to appreciate you in new and exciting ways. Don’t worry though, I still haven’t forgotten to appreciate you in your more natural form every now and then. Sometimes I love you most, when you are simply baked in your own beautiful skin.

So apparently I write love letters to my food now. You mean this isn’t normal behavior? Perhaps that’s an issue for another day and another blog, because right now it’s time to get down to business and talk about one of my favorite vegetables of all time – the potato! What’s not to love about these starchy wonders? They’re healthy, they’re versatile, they’re cheap, and they’re easy to cook. I’ve been a spud man my whole life. In fact, if we could travel back through time and ask a four-year-old Brantley what his favorite food is, he would most certainly respond back with “fwench fwies” as his answer.

Coincidentally, my answer to that question 25 years later would remain the same. Although french fries may have stolen my heart at a young age, I’ve now grown to appreciate potatoes in many other ways. Of all those other ways, a perfect baked potato remains near the very top of the list.

I say a perfect baked potato, because there’s nothing worse than a bad baked potato. I’ve choked down one or two of those in my day and the experience was less than enjoyable. Maybe it wasn’t cooked long enough or maybe it wasn’t seasoned properly. Or maybe the biggest baked potato sin of all time was committed and the skin wasn’t given the proper attention that it deserved. I can remember always being encouraged to eat the skin of my baked potato as a child. I can also remember always thinking in my head that I would eat it, if it didn’t taste like a wet paper bag. Of course I didn’t dare speak those words out loud, as that wouldn’t have ended too well for my back side. But now I know that paying proper attention to the skin can make your potato sing like a rock star, so let’s get in the kitchen and turn that spud into a stud.

For starters, don’t even think about putting your potato in one of these…

…and if you do decide to go this route, please don’t tell me about it. Microwaves are good for many things, but cooking potatoes ain’t one of ’em. In my kitchen, this would be considered spud sacrilege. “But it’s sooooooo much faster!” you gently remind me. Yes, you’re correct. It is faster. Sometimes, faster isn’t always better. I’m a believer that investing a little bit of extra time in the kitchen can make your final product turn out exponentially tastier than it otherwise would have been. This is one of those times. Trust me.

Now that we’ve determined that the act of cooking a baked potato should only take place in an oven, let’s get that potato out and ready to go!

I’ve chosen a large Russet potato and that’s generally my potato of choice for this method of cooking.

Isn’t that a beautiful sight? Let’s just take a second to admire this enormous spud. You could easily make a meal off of one this size, which is something I’ve done on more than one occasion. All you need to do is give it a rinse and pat it dry with a paper towel. Now this baby is ready for a little pampering. It’s time for a bit of skin treatment.

It makes sense when you think about it. We do things every day to take care of our skin, so why shouldn’t we do the same for our potato. A little care now will go a long way during the cooking process. Place the potato on a square of aluminum foil that is large enough to completely wrap around the potato. Before you wrap it up, cover it with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Rub the olive oil all over, making sure to cover every square inch of its surface. This will probably take about a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Then sprinkle some salt and black pepper on the outside, being sure to rub it all over the skin. It will adhere nicely to the olive oil coating that you just gave your potato. Let those seasonings permeate the outside. You want every part of the skin covered with flavor. When you’ve finished the pampering phase, your potato should now look a little something like this…

It will be glistening and shiny from its coat of olive oil and you should be able to see the salt and pepper on the outside. If you can’t see the salt and pepper, it means you didn’t use enough. This is no time to be shy about seasonings. Now it’s time to wrap this guy up nice and tight and get it ready for its trip to the oven.

Place your potato in a preheated oven set to 400 degrees for about an hour and a half, or until it’s completely cooked through. The cooking time may vary just a tad depending on the size of your potato. Yes, this is a major time investment, but it’s absolutely worth it. When you take it out of the foil, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the skin has crisped up a bit, while the inside will be soft and flaky. Since you took extra care with the skin before cooking, the outside of the potato may just become your new favorite part of the eating experience!

Of course, we can’t neglect the inside of the potato! This would also qualify as spud sacrilege, which we do NOT want to commit. The things you put on the inside are just as important as having that nice flavorful skin on the outside. This is where you can get creative. The possibilities here are endless. Butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, salt, pepper, and chives are only some of the usual suspects. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the potato sack on this one. I’ve seen people put chili in their potato, or even adorn it with sauteed mushrooms and onions. The sky is the limit, so take a risk and see what happens!

I’ve tried many different combinations, but my all-time favorite involves butter, cheddar cheese, homemade bacon bits, salt, and pepper. To me, it just doesn’t get any better. A piping-hot potato, straight from the oven, with a crispy skin, that is oozing with delicious things on the inside makes my heart happy, especially since I see a heavy, wet snow falling as I write this blog.

Once again, the spud has saved the day. It has warmed my soul and stomach on this snowy Sunday afternoon, just as it has for nearly three decades. Now you know why I am, and always will be, a spud man. Let the carbohydrate coma commence.

How do you like to jazz up your potato? Share your ideas with me in the comments section!

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud (say it fast and it almost sounds like “The Taste Spud”)

Something’s Fishy Around Here

Something’s fishy around here, in more ways than one. Where in the world have I been? What happened to my (somewhat) regular blogging? Did I throw in the towel and give up on food and photography all together? Well, unless pigs have started flying, that’s certainly not the case.

Simply put, life got in the way. When you run that statement through the Brantley-to-English translator, you actually end up with this:

Eating. Sleeping. Sleeping some more. More food. Spending time on the couch. Hibernating for the winter. Doing anything but writing. Definitely not writing. Still taking pictures and eating, but certainly not writing.

All of that changes today, on this Tuesday, as sunshine finally streams through my blinds and reminds me that a new season will be upon us on Wednesday. Spring officially begins and with it being a season of new beginnings, I decided to breathe some new life into this extremely malnourished blog. I’m out of hibernation, like a bear emerging from his den after several months of deep, heavy slumber. When that bear surfaces, there’s one meal that is probably on his mind. Look out, because things are getting fishy again…

It happens to all of us. That dreaded moment when you just can’t think of something good to make for dinner. You’re starving and in the mood for a certain something, but you just can’t come up with anything except for the same tired meals you’ve been eating all winter. After a winter of nothing but comforting, heavy, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals, I wanted to break out of my rut. So, I did the unthinkable. I went to the grocery store without a game plan and decided to do something that not only would challenge my culinary skills, but would feed my frugality at the same time.

The game is simple. Walk around the store and see what items are on sale. Challenge yourself to create a dish out of those items. If you’re going to play this game, you’re obviously feeling a little spontaneous so go ahead and take some risks. As soon as I walked through the doors, there was essentially a light shining down from the heavens on a huge display of magnificent mangoes. Angelic choirs began to sing as I drew closer to this display. What? You don’t have this kind of religious experience when you go to the grocery store? At any rate, their song spoke to me and said that at only a dollar, I would be a fool to pass up on this item, so the mango became purchase number one. Big bunches of asparagus were also on sale, so that quickly became purchase number two. I knew that I could roast them up very nicely with only some salt and pepper, creating a simple and easy side dish to accompany my mango masterpiece. Going down the aisle, enormous red bell peppers were at a deep discount, beckoning me from afar. I placed one of these colorful, red beauties into a bag and placed it beside my mango. Lemons were looking good and on sale, so they joined the gang as well. The puzzle pieces were beginning to fit together and all of a sudden, I had my food epiphany. “Eureka!” I exclaimed, much to the dismay and bewilderment of nearby shoppers. Reminding myself that I was indeed in a public space and that outbursts of culinary clarity were generally not appreciated, I decided to slink off toward the seafood counter, where I could regain a bit of my self-respect and dignity.

Everything was coming together perfectly as I raced toward the seafood counter, picking up a can of corn and black beans along the way. A mango, corn, and black bean salsa was in the works. My only hope was that a delicious and fresh fish would be available to me at a reasonable price. In another magical moment, sea bass was available that day, at quite the deep discount. I had the fish monger cut two nice-sized portions for me, wrapped neatly in crackly parchment paper. Now things are really starting to get fishy. And fishy is good. As I was in the check-out line, I was planning everything in my head. The mango, corn, and black bean salsa would sit on top of the sea bass, which would be pan-seared until it was perfectly cooked. The roasted asparagus would serve as the side dish to the very colorful and flavorful fish dish. Now time to get home and get cooking!

Back at home now, proud of my accomplishments at the store, I get to work making the salsa. To make it, here’s what you’ll need:

1 ripe mango
8 ounces of yellow corn
8 ounces of black beans
1/2 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1-2 cloves of grated garlic
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

Dice the mango and red bell pepper into small cubes. Since this will sit on top of a piece of fish, you don’t want the pieces to be too big. The mango will have a big pit in the middle, so you’ll have to work around that, but it’s worth the maneuvering. The mango flesh will be sweet and tender and a perfect contrast to the other flavors. Mix the diced mango, red bell pepper, corn, black beans, and chopped parsley together. You’ll want to make sure you give the black beans a rinse, to get rid of the dark liquid that would give your salsa an unappetizing color. Grate a clove or two of garlic into this mixture. Make sure you grate the garlic as opposed to chopping it, since the garlic will remain raw. Nobody wants to chomp down on a hunk of raw garlic – that’s just not nice. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the mixture and add your salt, pepper, oil, and sugar. Taste it for seasoning. You may want to add more salt or pepper. You could also add a little diced jalapeno pepper if you wanted to add a kick to this party. Otherwise, the salsa is done. Put it in the fridge and let those flavors marry together. The more time they have to mingle, the better the flavor will be! At this point, your salsa will look like this:


Colorful, huh? It’s quite the photogenic salsa. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Now we need a nice piece of fish to serve as the base for this colorful creation. I prepare the sea bass very simply. A sprinkle of salt and pepper on each side. In a pan, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil and a tiny amount of butter over medium to medium-high heat. Make sure it’s really hot before you place the fish in the pan, otherwise you won’t get that nice sear. You’ll get a nice steam, which won’t have the same effect, or flavor. A few minutes on each side and you’re good to go! The fish will start to flake apart nicely when it’s perfectly cooked. It should have a nice golden-brown color on both sides. Now let’s assemble this plate!

Place a piece of your fish on a plate. Put as much salsa on top as you’d like to eat. I put a spoonful on top of the fish and then sprinkled a spoonful around the fish. Place a big pile of roasted asparagus (there’s a blog from a few months ago on how to do this) next to your fish and salsa. I had some leftover parsley, so I made a puree out of it, with nothing more than parsley, a grated clove of garlic, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of olive oil. It made for a nice splash of color on my plate and the fish tasted great dipped in it. The entire dish all came together to look like this:


All of the flavors came together so beautifully. The salsa provided the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and salty. The fish was so fresh and absorbed the flavors of the salsa so well. The roasted asparagus (which could be substituted with your favorite vegetable) was great as a side dish, and the parsley puree was an unexpected and fun surprise. The best surprise of all would be how affordable the meal is – coming in at a whopping $6-7 per person. Try and get this in a restaurant for that price. You can’t. I don’t even think you can go to McDonald’s these days for that kind of money.

I challenge you to do something like this the next time you’re in the grocery store. Take a few risks. Use ingredients that you haven’t used in a long time. Look out for those deals. Sometimes when you have no idea what to make, the grocery store will practically scream what you should cook. All you have to do is listen. And there’s nothing fishy about that.

Until I “sea” you again,

The Taste Bud