Tackling Tuesday

Tuesday is a tough day for The Taste Bud. In fact, it usually turns out to be the toughest day of the week, not just for me, but for folks everywhere. Let’s analyze the rationale behind this for just a moment.

On Monday, you still have good memories from the weekend at the forefront of your mind. This helps ease the transition back into the work week and gives you comfort as you sip the first cup of java in the break room. On Wednesday, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are halfway through the work week. It’s all downhill from here! On Thursday, you know that the next day is Friday. Some folks have even been known to call Thursday “Little Friday.” On Friday, well, it’s Friday! This one is pretty self-explanatory. The weekend is no more than a few short hours away and the commencement of your weekend escapades is quickly approaching.

This brings us back to little ole Tuesday. There’s seemingly nothing special about it. It’s not the beginning. It’s not halfway. It’s certainly not the end. The weekend still feels light years away. You never hear anybody say “Yeah! How about that Tuesday?” It’s for that very reason that I sometimes rely on a food pick-me-up to give this day some extra pep and pizazz. With this in mind, I think of my favorite three-word phrase. Treat yo self.

Three little words that encourage a bit of indulgent behavior. Three little words that encourage me to throw caution to the wind and satisfy that urge for something that will give me a much-needed push toward the Friday finish line. Three little words that help me find inspiration and motivation on even the most desperate Tuesday mornings. So let’s get into the kitchen. It’s time for us to treat ourselves.

It always starts out innocently enough. I take a look into the refrigerator and just happen to notice some beautiful strawberries that I had found at the store. I think I’ll have a few of these luscious, sweet berries for my Tuesday treat. Yes, that should do the trick!

Wow, what a healthy, good-for-you snack I have chosen. I’m treating myself and not even feeling guilty about it. That’s what I call a win-win situation. Then I seem to remember that I have some chocolate-hazelnut spread in the cabinet. I convince myself that surely just letting one of the strawberries take a dip into the chocolatey goodness couldn’t be too bad for me. After all, we are treating ourselves today. It’s Tuesday!

Dipping things in chocolate just makes them taste better. That’s a scientific fact. Plus, it’s just one little strawberry. What could be the harm in that?

I’d say that combination was a success, judging by the berry brutality that has just occurred on my plate. I’m treating myself and things are staying under control. This is wonderful! Then I seem to remember that I have a loaf of ciabatta bread over on the counter. The gears in my brain are turning and my gut is growling. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I cut off two slices of the fresh, airy bread.

I’m quickly realizing that my innocent Tuesday treat is suddenly turning into an increasingly crazy and calorie-laden creation. As my will power slips out the window, I carry on with this act, almost as if in a treat-yo-self trance. Getting more and more chaotic and frantic, I grab a knife to smear and slather both slices of the bread with the chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Hazelnuts are good for you, I keep reminding myself. Plus, it says on the jar that this spread is made with skim milk. This isn’t so bad. PLUS, I’m going to generously layer some strawberries on one of the slices of bread – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

A not-so-healthy sandwich is now smiling back at me from the plate. It’s all because of you, Tuesday! You’re doing this to me. It could be worse though, right? Of course it could. It’s time to eat. But wait, I seem to remember that I have some butter in my refrigerator. All right, when don’t I have butter in my refrigerator? In a zombie-like state, my hands reach for the butter and drop a tablespoon or so into a frying pan that has magically made its way to the stove without my knowledge. The butter starts to melt. My mouth starts to water.

I’m a sucker for butter and when it’s melted, all the better. The golden liquid will be perfect for frying up my increasingly unhealthy Tuesday treat. This whole endeavor has taken on a mind of its own. I place the two pieces of bread together and gently ease my sandwich into the melted butter.

The sound of the sizzle when the bread hits the pan is pure bliss. The smell of the melted butter browning the bread is one that drives my nose crazy with anticipation. After a few minutes on one side, my nose is telling me that it’s time to flip this sandwich over and get the other side just as golden.

After a few minutes on the other side, we are ready to get down to business. With both sides perfectly golden brown, I remove the sandwich from the pan – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth. With the sandwich perfectly done, let’s plate it up!

Now it’s time for the big reveal. It’s time to cut our Tuesday treat open and stand in awe of the goodness inside.

Oh my gosh.

It’s so pretty.

It’s time to eat – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

So it wasn’t the healthiest thing. But it sure tasted good. At the end of the day, that’s what treating yourself is all about. Now with my sweet tooth satisfied and my belly nice and full, it’s time for me to tackle this Tuesday head on – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

When you are treating yourself, what’s your favorite food? Or do you sometimes just follow the whims of your own desires and cupboards as I did on this particular Tuesday?

Happy treating (and eating),

The Taste Bud

Don’t Stir!

It is the middle of July and a young boy is in the kitchen helping his grandma assemble a tasty summertime treat. Peaches are in season, so his grandma has decided that a peach cobbler would really hit the spot on this sweltering Saturday afternoon. Adorned with a soothing scoop of vanilla ice cream, this cobbler and ice cream combo was sure to help melt away the stifling heat and humidity, while simultaneously satisfying the proverbial sweet tooth. The cobbler we would make is exceedingly easy to assemble and has only a few short steps. Even the most amateur cooks could keep up with this simple recipe without feeling any bit of intimidation. There is one incredibly important rule that must be followed if you wish to have a successful and visually appealing cobbler – don’t stir!

Fast forward from my grandma’s kitchen to the present day. It is late April and the weather is cloudy and unseasonably cool on this Sunday in central Virginia. Clouds are hanging low in the sky, obscuring the mountain tops in the distance. The sky hints at the promise of rain, but has so far only delivered meager amounts of the life-sustaining liquid. It is on days like this that I dream about the warmer summer days that surely aren’t lurking too far in the future. With those warmer days in mind, I find myself dreaming of the foods that are associated with those summer months. I can’t help but to remember and be comforted by the memories of my grandma’s peach cobblers. With that serving as my inspiration, I went in a new direction after I had a burst of berry creativity. Peaches are out. Berries are in. Not just any berries either. Blackberries. Not to be confused with the smartphones that are vastly inferior to the iPhone. We are talking about beautiful, plump, sweet blackberries.

Aren’t they gorgeous? Since they photograph so well, I thought we should look at them again. So, without further ado…

Aside from eating them straight from the container, I can think of no better way to prepare these sweet treats than to put them in a cobbler. A cobbler with only a few simple ingredients and one simple rule – don’t stir!

Here’s what you’ll need to make this summertime dessert:

3 pints of fresh blackberries
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar (plus a few more tablespoons for the berries)
1 cup of whole milk
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

I like to start by getting the berries ready. To do this, dump all 3 pints of blackberries into a pot. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the berries and put them on the stove over a low heat. Add in your teaspoon of vanilla extract, which will give a very subtle flavor of comfort in the background. You don’t want to cook the berries, but you do want to give the berries a chance to soften and mingle with the sugar. It’s absolutely acceptable to stir at this point.

After a few moments on the stove, the sugar will start to mix with the berry juices to create a sweet syrup. All of this will only help to intensify the flavor of your cobbler.

Remove the berries from the heat and set them aside for a few moments while we whip up the batter. This next part couldn’t be any easier. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 stick of unsalted butter in a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. Yes, the whole stick. If you’re going to make this dessert and truly appreciate the way it was meant to taste, the butter is a necessity. If you skimp on the butter, I can’t be held responsible for the less-than-stellar outcome of your cobbler creation.

Place the baking dish with the butter into the oven while it is still preheating. The gently warming oven will begin to slowly melt your glorious hunk of fat, turning it into a rich, golden liquid.

Keep peeking in the oven, because it will only take a few minutes for your butter to melt. You certainly don’t want to burn it, which can happen very quickly if you’re not paying attention. After a few short moments in the oven, your butter will have gone the way of the Wicked Witch of the West. It will now be a nice puddle of buttery goodness.

My love affair with butter must be pretty obvious at this point. After all, I devoted just as many pictures to the butter-melting process as I did to the actual blackberries themselves. The blackberries are still the stars of this dish, but the butter is certainly a very crucial cobbler co-star. Plus, Paula Deen would be proud of y’all.

Now it’s time to dump the other ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add one cup of self-rising flour and the cup of sugar. Whisk those together until they are combined.

Next, add the cup of whole milk. Now, grab that whisk! It’s time to whisk it. Whisk it good. Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day, let’s continue.

After a few seconds of vigorous whisking, your batter should look like a nice, smooth mixture.

I love all of the little bubbles that form on the surface. Obviously, up until this point, stirring has not only been encouraged, but it has been necessary. Now, I want you to put that whisk down. Don’t stir. It’s the name of the blog and it applies to the very important step that follows.

Pour your mixed flour, sugar, and milk into the baking dish on top of your melted butter. Try to distribute it as evenly as you can. Use a spatula to get out every last drop. Then, DON’T STIR!

Resist every single urge you may have to fiddle with this mixture. Let it sit. Put down the whisk or spoon. Finally, add your softened berries and their juice to the baking dish. Spoon the berries evenly on top of the batter and butter. Try to get some berries in every single part of the dish.

It may look a little odd at this point. Your gut may be imploring you to give everything a mighty stir so things don’t look so disjointed. Whatever you do, don’t stir!

Savor the simplicity of it. Savor the colors of it. Savor the smells of it. Just don’t stir it!

It’s time to get it ready for the oven.

Place the cobbler in your preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the top turns a golden-brown color and your kitchen smells like sweet summertime. If the top isn’t turning golden brown for you after 30-40 minutes, you can place it under the broiler for a minute or so – but if you go that route, stand by the oven with the door cracked so you can pull it out the instant it is brown. You would hate to lose the cobbler at this point. There’s no bigger cobbler catastrophe than a burned crust.

When it’s finished, your final product will look like this:

Ready To Eat!

The buttery crust will have risen to the top. The blackberries will be peeking out from underneath the craggy crust. Your berries will have released some of their juice creating a sweet sauce in the bottom of the pan. Ideally, you would let this cool for a few moments and then dig in. While it’s still warm, add a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and get ready to ascend to the heavens. Enjoy the contrast of sweetness and tartness, crunchiness and softness, and the warm cobbler against the cold ice cream. Sure you’ll be picking seeds out of your teeth for the next week. Enjoy it, because each seed will provide you with a warm reminder of your scrumptious creation. Instead of being annoyed by these straggling seeds, you’ll be happy. You’ll smile as you fondly flick that seed with your tongue and remember the cobbler that transports you to straight to summertime. A time when life slows down and memories are made.

To stir, or not to stir? That is the question. Now you know the answer.

Happy seed picking,

The Taste Bud

Longing For Lobster

It’s no secret that I simply adore seafood. I go bonkers for it. In nearly three decades of living, I haven’t come across a single crustacean that I haven’t loved. A big part of this appreciation for seafood goes back to my childhood. Large seafood meals were rare, but when they occurred, they were quite the extravaganza. Seafood dinners were prepared for celebrations, milestone events, birthdays, or for that exemplary report card that showed stellar grades. I think even to this day I still associate seafood meals with that sense of celebration and accomplishment, which may be why this type of food holds such a special place in my heart.

Simply put, seafood reminds me of happy times growing up, spent with my family, sharing big hearty laughs around a dinner table. It’s food that makes you feel comfortable. Utensils are nice, but not necessarily required – your fingers will work just fine! As the shells fly and crack, you may just accidentally send some of the crunchy crustacean exterior sailing toward your neighbor across the table. But that’s perfectly fine. Have a good chuckle and keep cracking.

Recently, I found myself thinking about the absolute best seafood meal I’d ever had. There were many top contenders. In the end, the big honor had to go to a lobster dinner that I shared with my mom on the coast of Maine in June of 2011. This was a particularly special trip that the two of us shared. We spent a few days in Maine riding up and down the coastline in search of the elusive perfect lobster dinner. Guess what? We found it!

Driving out to Bailey Island about an hour north of Portland, we arrived at Cook’s Lobster House. It was rustic. It felt comfortable. We felt hungry, so inside we went.

Once inside, we looked over the menu. It all looked so delicious, but we had one thing in mind. Lobster. As we placed our order, big cups of delicious lobster chowder were served. The chowder was spilling over with huge chunks of fresh lobster meat. The broth was creamy and savory. It got our taste buds revved up for the main event that was yet to come…

After a relatively short wait, I saw our waiter out of the corner of my eye. He was carrying a large tray with two large lobsters, each one a brilliant color of red. I knew that my perfect lobster dinner was about to begin. I grabbed my napkin in anticipation. Then it arrived. Right in front of me. An entire lobster that was as fresh as they come. This poor guy had been swimming a mere few hours before. Now it sat on my plate and I couldn’t wait to see if the highly-touted Maine lobster really was all that it’s “cracked” up to be. Sorry for the crustacean humor.

The condiments are simple. A squirt of lemon and some melted butter are the only things you need to truly savor this catch from the sea. This allows the true sweet flavor of the lobster to shine – and shine it did. After a mishap that involved my mom nearly dropping her lobster on the floor (talk about a heart-racing moment!), it was time to dig in. Shells were getting cracked and lobster meat was being separated. Large dunks into the generous helping of butter accentuated the sweetness perfectly. We had finally found the perfect seafood dinner. We were able to now say we had eaten a truly authentic Maine lobster in the most beautiful of settings. Sitting out there on Bailey Island, feeling completely removed from civilization, spending that crisp June evening with mom will always stay in my mind. It also reinforced just how special seafood dinners have been to me in the past, and how important they will remain to me in the future. In the end, it’s about more than the food. It’s about the memories – and those memories will last forever.

What’s the best seafood dinner you have ever had? Share your stories in the comments section of this blog!

Time for this meteorologist to get crackin’. Storms are popping up, so it’s off to work I go.

Until next time,

The Taste Bud