Local Flavor at brick & tin

I sat down with brick & tin chef-owner Mauricio Papapietro to talk about his food philosophy, his background in the kitchens of Chris Hastings and Frank Stitt, his relationships with local and regional farmers and the power of the heirloom tomato.

You can read the entire store here on Alabama NewsCenter.

One thing you should know right now: Papapietro sells the most amazing heirloom tomatoes right from shelves in the bakery located in the Mountain Brook Village location.

Here’s what he said about these summer favorites:  “When I got to Mountain Brook, we realized the power of the heirloom tomato. I mean the love that people have for the tomato! The heirloom tomato we get is an old tomato … meaning it’s an old seed that has not been modified. It’s just a much better tomato. It’s delicious. So people absolutely go crazy for them. We buy all these tomatoes from local farmers, people we know. We have farmers coming in the door, sweating, bringing in all these tomatoes, and we’re trying to find places to put them. We started putting them on shelves in the bakery, and people started wanting to buy them. So I asked the farmers, ‘Do you mind if we sell the tomatoes?’ Because they might take them to a market to sell them for more. And every farmer I talked to said, ‘I don’t care. As long as you’re buying tomatoes from me, you can seel them here if you want.’ So it’s actually a thing now in the community. People wait until the tomatoes start to come in and we fill up our shelves in the bakery and people can buy them.”

One of the most popular dishes–at both the downtown location and the Mountain Brook Village store– is the Summer Salad, and it features these tomatoes with field peas, sweet corn, cucumbers, basil and balsamic vinaigrette. Get it while you can!

 

Edible Art: Geode and Agate Cookies

Sugar cookies + artists = some delicious awesomeness.

On a recent rainy afternoon, my daughters and I made geode and agate cookies, and we had an absolute blast. We used a simple sugar cookie recipe from PureWow (I’ll include it below), Alton Brown’s royal icing (recipe below), some clear rock candy (which I bought at Party City), a few colorful sugar sprinkles, some food coloring and our imaginations.

We relied upon two different online sources to guide us:  PureWow’s Easy Geode Cookies and Alana Jones-Mann’s DIY Agate Cookies.

The Geode cookies had metallic sprinkle edges and rock candy centers. We broke up the rock candy in a plastic bag using a rolling pin and then painted the crystals with food coloring to make them look like citrine, amethyst and sapphire. For the Agate cookies, we let the royal icing dry a bit and then we painted our rock layers with food colors, which we mixed and shared.

The Most Perfect (and Easiest) Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever

INGREDIENTS

3 cups all-purpose flour

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

PREPARATION

  1. Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the baking powder and salt and then whisk gently to combine.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, then mix to combine. Scrape the side of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to ½ inch thick. Cut the dough into amorphous shapes with a samll, sharp knife. Then transfer the cookies to an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. For even baking, rotate the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool completely before decorating or serving.

Makes about 3 dozen odd-shaped cookies.

Royal Icing

INGREDIENTS

3 ounces pasteurized egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

PREPARATION

  1. In large bowl of stand mixer, combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy.
  2. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and the mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high, and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add food coloring, if desired.
  4. For immediate use, transfer icing to a pastry bag or heavy duty storage bag and pipe as desired. If using storage bag, clip corner.
  5. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

 

The Summer Edit: Books, Food, Drinks and Fun

Summer’s here. And I couldn’t be happier. Well, maybe I could. I most definitely could if I were at St. George Island. With a good book in one hand, a fun drink in the other and my family nearby.

To celebrate the season, I’m going to put together my own summer edit with books, drinks, foods (including easy-to-make dinners) and even a DIY or two. I’ll be adding to it over the next month or two as I see new things to share, so please stop back by.

I’ll start with my recommended summer reads. Really, there’s something here for everyone. Fiction. Nonfiction. Short stories. Even fantasy. Some of my picks are brand new. Others have been around long enough to be beach-perfect paperbacks. Several of them are written in ways that are nearly as interesting as the stories themselves. All are worth your time.

Summer Reads

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, and it remains one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is another Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Katherine Boo has made real-life reporting read like a novel. The book is set in the slums of Mumbai. With India prospering, the residents of Annawadi are hoping to find their way out of poverty. They all have different ideas about how to do that.

George Saunders‘s historical fiction about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie … and the aftermath is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. Lincoln in the Bardo is a tale peopled with historical characters and others who are entirely made up. It takes place in the world we know and one that’s imaginatively unrecognizable.

The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz is a true story of 1920s New Orleans,  an eccentric woman and French Quarter brothels.  The author drew from interviews and Norma Wallace’s own unpublished memoirs.

Summer-ready short stories in Florida–from Lauren Groff, the New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furiesoffers characters who face down snakes and sinkholes, hurricanes and humidity… and their own self-destructive behavior.

Going abroad? Pack A Bite-Sized History of France. A history lesson has never been so deliciously fun. The authors, Stephane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell, use food and wine as a way to trace French history from ancient times through today.

Fly Girls will land on bookstore shelves in August. In the tradition of Hidden Figures and The Girls of Atomic City, these are stories about amazing women … specifically Amelia Earhart and other female pilots (one from Alabama) who fought to fly.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon comes out in July, and it couldn’t be timelier. It’s a powerful and dark novel about violence, love, faith and loss. A young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when her family falls apart, Ava sets out on a mission through the swamps to save them all. Karen Russell has written a deeply moving coming-of-age story with characters you’ll not soon forget.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles is about a paralyzed young man’s sudden and unexplainable recovery is an exploration of faith and science. And in this age of instant celebrity, it’s also about the meaning of life and humanity.

Orange Is the New Black meets Gone Girl in this twisty psychological thriller set in a women’s prison. Debra Jo Immergut has written a real page-turner with The Captives.

From the author of The English Patient, this new novel by Michael Ondaatje is set in the decade after World War II. Warlight tells the story of a small group of eccentric and mysterious characters and two teenagers whose lives are forever changed just by knowing them.

Coming Through Slaughter is the story of Buddy Bolden, the first of the great trumpet players–some say the originator of jazz. The novel is a fictionalized version of Bolden’s life, covering the last months of his sanity in 1907, as his music becomes more radical and his behavior more erratic.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.

Summer-Perfect Drink

I like my summer drinks to be light and often pink. Rosé is my summer wine of choice. But I do love a Juliet and Romeo cocktail. Here’s the recipe from Bon Appetit.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 slices cucumber
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 sprig mint, 1 leaf reserved for garnish
  • 2  ounces Plymouth gin 
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 drops rose water, for garnish
  • 3 drops Angostura bitters, for garnish

PREPARATION
Put cucumber slices and salt in a glass or a tin, and muddle.  Add mint sprig, gin, lime juice, simple syrup, and ice, and shake. Strain into a coupe without ice. Garnish with a mint leaf and the drops of bitters and rose water.

To me, though, nothing says summer (and nothing could be easier) than sweet vermouth on the rocks (or with a splash of club soda if you want to make a lazy afternoon of it). Vermouth originally was used as a medicinal tonic, with spices and botanicals like wormwood (the German “wermut” inspired the name). It’s wine that is aromatized (infused with botanicals) and fortified (spiked with unaged brandy). In the summertime, I really like Cocchi Vermouth di Tornio, from the heart of Italy’s Moscato wine region. They’ve been making vermouth since 1891 and hold a geographically protected AOC designation. Breathe it in, and you’ll you’ll get orange peel and maybe a little chocolate. You’ll taste that, too, along with some sweet raisins and a hint of cinnamon. It’s beautifully bitter on the finish. I also like the vanilla-scented Carpano Antica Formula (invented in 1786). These vermouths have a limited shelf life, so I keep them in the fridge.DIY

A good friend of mine spent her birthday with her daughter making something amazing. They went to Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery and took a hypertufa class. I’m signed up for one next month with my Birmingham Les Dames d’Escoffier friends. Then we’re going next door to Ovenbird for drinks and light bites.

The folks at Charlie Thigpen’s say, “hypertufa planters are lightweight rustic pots made from Portland cement, peat moss and vermiculite. This combination makes the containers lightweight and porous and favorable for plant growth. They resemble stone and gain beauty with age attracting lichens and mosses.” My friend says it’s lots of fun.

Here’s what you need to know:

DETAILS

  • Cost is $55 (includes all materials except plants).
  • Class lasts about 1.5 hours and starts at 6:15 p.m.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Each class is limited to 12 participants
  • Reservations must be made in advance, either by signing up online or by calling (205) 328-1000. Payment will be taken at time of reservation.
  • If you must cancel or reschedule, refunds in the form of store credit will be given for cancellations made at least 48 hours prior to class.

LOCATION

Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery
2805 2nd Avenue South. Birmingham, AL 35233 (Entrance to the parking lot is on 28th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Ave S.)

There are classes scheduled for June 28, July 26 (August is sold out already), October 18 and September 27. These classes sell out quickly, so book yours right now.

If you can’t get in at Charlie Thigpen’s, Lowe’s has some instructions here to do it yourself at home.

 

Summer Sweets

Peaches are among the summer’s truest and best pleasures, and those from Chilton County, in my opinion, are better than all others.

I made this Peach and Blackberry Cobbler with Crystalized Ginger from Bon Appetit for my husband for Father’s Day, and it was a hit. The biscuits are just delicious and look so pretty. And it really doesn’t take much time. If you don’t have time to boil an egg (or just don’t want to), you can get a couple in the to-go section of your local Piggly Wiggly.

 

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler with Crystalized Ginger

INGREDIENTS

Biscuits

  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2t tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 hard-boiled egg yolk, finely grated on Microplane or small holes of box grater
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2/3t cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

Fruit Mixture

  • 2 pounds peaches, halved, pitted, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups)
  • 1 1/2-pint container fresh blackberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream

PREPARATION

For Biscuits

Place flour, crystallized ginger, sugar, baking powder, grated egg yolk, salt and ground ginger in processor; blend to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup cream and process just until moist clumps begin to form. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead briefly just until dough comes together, about 4 turns. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Shape each into 2-inch ball; flatten each to 3/4-inch thickness. DO AHEAD Biscuits can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

For Fruit Mixture

Combine peaches and blackberries with sugar, crystallized ginger, cornstarch and ground ginger in large bowl; toss to coat. Let stand until juices begin to form, tossing occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350ºF. Butter 2-quart baking dish or 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Transfer fruit mixture to prepared dish. Place biscuits atop fruit mixture, spacing slightly apart. Brush biscuits with remaining 1 tablespoon cream; sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake cobbler until fruit mixture is bubbling thickly and biscuits are light golden, about 50 minutes. Cool cobbler 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

 

 

Food with Soul

Rodney’s Soul & Grill is in downtown Anniston.

It seems especially appropriate that Rodney and Stephanie Wilson serve soul food at their downtown Anniston restaurant. Just getting to the point of owning their own place took a lot of faith.

Several years ago, Rodney began experiencing kidney failure. He ended up having a transplant and then needed to find another job. He had spent decades in the fast-food industry, but going back to that didn’t seem right. And he had long dreamed of having his own restaurant. That dream became Rodney’s Soul & Grill.

You can read the entire story here at Alabama NewsCenter.

We do everything by hand,” Rodney says. “We cut everything. It’s long and tedious, but when you’re in soul food you have to bring a great product. And my sign says ‘real soul food,’ so I have to step my game up and make sure that it’s real.”

The menu features lots of vegetables:  turnips and collards, which are rich and tangy each in their own way; green beans; delicious black-eyed peas; mac and cheese; cabbage, thick mashed potatoes with a bit of potato skin mixed in; sweet potatoes with a secret ingredient that has some people coming in several times a week. Everything is made fresh daily.

It was hard to pick a favorite food on this plate of fried chicken, collards, mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas.

Specials change from day to day, and the meat to go with your three might include chicken baked with rosemary or meatloaf topped with a traditional tangy tomato sauce. There are chicken wings. Fish is always fried to order, and there’s a fish fry special on Fridays. Most of the recipes come from Rodney’s mother. He grew up picking greens, cutting greens, picking corn, shucking corn. He knows a memorable Sunday meal might take most of the day to cook.

But the most popular dish at Rodney’s Soul & Grill is Jamaican oxtails, and that’s Stephanie’s specialty. They are fall-off-the-bone tender in a thick, rich stew bright with allspice. People come from all over for them, so this dish is available every day. Chitlins also are popular. So is the fried chicken, which is remarkably juicy with a nice, crisp, slightly salty crust.

This was some of the best fried chicken we’ve had in a long while. And that alone makes Rodney’s worth a drive.

Rodney’s Soul & Grill

1307 Noble Street, Anniston, AL 36201

256-770-4463

Hours:  Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. (no food service on Saturdays).