Rustic Peach Cobbler

It’s getting toward the end of a very hot, very dry summer, and that means that pickings are getting slim at our favorite farmers markets.  There are still good things to be found, though, and we were lucky enough to come across a few very fresh, very ripe peaches at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market today that put us in the mind for some cobbler.  We love the little market on South Main, and it seems like every time we drop by, we find something tasty to cook with.  Jess and I debated on the way home about what kind of sort of crust we wanted to use for our cobbler, and we decided on going with one that is slightly sweet and full of fragrant spices.  It’s a little easier to work with than a pie crust, too — and the flavor is spectacular.

Rustic Peach Cobbler

Filling:

  • 4 Large peaches
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove

First, peel, pit, and slice your peaches.  For easy peeling, score the bottom of each peach in a cross pattern, then blanch in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.  Shock the peaches in cold water, and the skins should slip right off.  Mix together all the dry ingredients, then add peaches, stirring gently to coat.  Pour the peach mixture into a greased baking dish, but DO NOT wash the bowl out.

Topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinammon
  • 1 stick cold butter, in pieces
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

This topping is very similar to classic buttermilk biscuits, so if you’ve ever made those, you should be fine here.  Using the same bowl from our filling, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinammon.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or the tips of your fingers).  When the mixture has gotten coarse and all the butter is worked in, add the buttermilk and vanilla and mix well.  Using two spoons, place balls of the dough on top of the peach mixture.  Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown.  Serve by itself or with a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Enjoy!

A Few of My Favorite Things

I periodically get asked about my favorite things to eat and drink, and it’s actually a pretty difficult thing to answer.  We try a lot of different things, and I tend to go through phases where I get obsessed with one type of food or restaurant and then a month later be onto to something completely different.  There are a few things that seem to stay in constant favorite rotation, though, so while this isn’t a definitive list, it certainly sums up the things I’m digging on right now.  Here’s the list in no particular order:

  • French Press Coffee from Big OrangeAs far as I’m aware, Big Orange is the only place in town where you can get French press coffee made with one of my favorite brands, Dazbog Organic Coffee.  The brew is dark and rich with some nice fruity notes to it and low acidity.  The stylish Bodum French presses that they use add a nice touch to the presentation as well.  A small splash of half-and-half, and there’s nothing finer than this cup of coffee.
  • The Cuban Taco from Baja GrillI recently reviewed Baja Grill over at the Arkansas Times, and the Cuban Taco was the most delicious of all the wonderful things we tried from this Benton taco stand. Moist, tender shredded pork topped with a tangy slaw, chipotle aioli, and cool, creamy avocado all wrapped in a tasty double corn shell? Why, yes, please! I’ve been told by several readers that the mahi mahi taco is also something not to be missed, but my next visit to Baja Grill will be all about this Cuban — and I’m pretty sure they’ll make one into a burrito for you as well.  You tend to eat at a lot of taco trucks in this business, and this truck was one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in some time, so I urge you to check them out and follow them on Facebook or Twitter for updates and specials.
  • Ranier Cherries — These are pretty much the best fruit ever to exist.  If theoretical physicists are to be believed, there could be many alternate dimensions that make up a wide and varied multiverse — and the Ranier cherry will reign supreme in each of them as the best tasting, most awesome thing to eat.  We’re reaching the end of the cherry season this year, but you can still find Ranier cherries at several local grocery stores — and if you keep your eye out, you can sometimes get them for only a few dollars a pound.  And around here, a pound of cherries lasts maybe a day.
  • Chicken and Dumplings from The Southern Gourmasian I’ve eaten so many of these tasty rice dumplings with grilled chicken, shitake mushrooms, and spicy ramen broth that Gourmasian owner Justin Patterson just calls them my “usual.”  Chewy, savory, hot, and rich — this dish is pretty much perfection in a bowl.  This is another place I reviewed for the Arkansas Times, and while the rest of the menu is incredible (especially the steamed buns), it’s these dumplings that I just can’t seem to get enough of.  You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, or catch them at the University Market at 4 Corners weekdays and Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturdays.
  • The Green Corner Store Soda Fountain and Loblolly Creamery — Rachel and Sally of Loblolly Creamery are ice cream geniuses. Flavors like Roasted Peach, Fresh Fig, Salted Caramel, Honey Goat’s Milk, Buttermilk, and Cherry Chocolate have all been among the best ice creams I’ve ever had.  They make a mean sorbet, too, with the Mango-Chili flavor pictured to the right being one of the sweetest, coldest, spiciest things I’ve ever had.  In addition, they produce all their own syrups for old-fashioned sodas, and they’ve recently introduced black and green kombucha to their line of refreshments.  Don’t pass up their homemade waffle cones and ice cream sammies, either!

Since most of the things here are unique to Little Rock, I hope it will inspire some of you to get out and explore the wonderful things around you.  It’s been a hot, dry summer, and we’ve got to take our small pleasures whenever and wherever we can.  Cheers!

Green Corner Store Soda Fountain

We love the entire city of Little Rock, but the SoMa neighborhood south of I-630 is one of our favorite parts.  The folks that live and work on this stretch of Main Street are committed to urban renewal and the creation of a livable, viable neighborhood where people can walk or bike to any number of shops and restaurants.  When it comes to promoting quality, sustainable living, there aren’t many places in Arkansas that work for it like the people in SoMa, and one of the centers of this effort is the Green Corner Store at 1423 D Main Street.  The store has just announced a partnership with Loblolly Creamery to open an old-fashioned soda fountain on April 7, but we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a soft opening held at the store  – and we’re here to share all the delicious details.

I’m of a generation that only knows of soda fountains from old movies and the kitschy recreations that are more like stage sets than places with any real atmosphere.  The Green Corner Store’s soda fountain doesn’t try to go for any of the surface throwback stuff – you won’t find folks dressed up like 50s waitresses or clocks in the shape of old cars on the wall.  What you will find, though, is perhaps the most wonderfully retro thing of all – quality homemade syrups, ice creams, and toppings that can be mixed and matched into countless sodas, floats, and sundaes.  There’s a flavor of locally-made ice cream here to please any taste, and with a hot Arkansas summer just right around the corner, I can’t think of a better place to take a load off and have something cold and refreshing made right while you wait.

The ice creams we tried were all wonderful, creamy and distinctive.  My favorite of the day was the Honeycomb Goat’s Milk, an iced milk that had a taste and consistency that reminded me of the snow ice cream my mom used to make when I was a kid.  We also enjoyed the Buttermilk, a sweet and creamy concoction reminiscent of cheese cake.  For chocolate fans, the Cherry Chocolate Custard was smooth and bittersweet with huge chunks of chocolate and homemade maraschino cherries throughout.  Sherbet lovers are in luck as well – the Loblolly Orange Sherbet tasted like the best creamsicle I’ve ever had.  There are several toppings to choose from as well, and I was especially fond of the moist, chewy brownie bites.  In addition to scooped ice cream, there are also ice cream sandwiches available, and although I didn’t get to sample any, they looked amazing.

We tried several different sodas, too, and while the ice cream is going to be awesome for an occasional treat, I see myself stopping by for a soda any time I’m in the neighborhood – they’re that good, and the syrups are all handmade.  We started off with a Honey-Ginger soda, which was everything I’ve always wanted ginger ale to be: sweet, crisp, and with just enough of a true ginger bite to tickle the tongue and warm the stomach.  The cola flavor tasted like a typical cola, but with a spiciness and complexity of flavor that put it above anything poured from a bottle.  I ordered an Egg Cream because I’d always heard of them and had never had one, and the splash of vanilla and orange that was added gave the creamy concoction a sweet, rich flavor.  Other flavors available are grape, cherry, lemon-lime, sweet tea, mango, and lemon balm mint – and each of the soda syrups are available as an addition to an ice cream float or as an ice cream topping.

We had an amazing time with everyone today at the Green Corner Store, and I was very excited to come home today and write this post to share the place with all of you.  The soda fountain will officially open on April 7th, and they’re doing a Grand Opening promotion of two mini-cones per customer all day Saturday, although I seriously doubt that anyone will be able to stop with such a small taste.  I know a lot of people were saddened when Yarnell’s closed last year – but we’ve got quality ice cream being made in Little Rock by Loblolly Creamery.  I hope you’ll all stop by next week and have a soda or a float and enjoy the spirit of the neighborhood – and maybe take some ice cream home to enjoy later.  Sweet treats have a way of bringing out the kid in everybody, and the Green Country Store Soda Fountain is the perfect place to indulge yourself.  Enjoy!

UPDATE 11/15/2012: Rachel and Sally of Loblolly Creamery have continued their excellence in ice cream, sodas, and yummy treats. Stop in weekly for new flavors, specials, and pints to take home. This has become a Little Rock institution and one of my favorite places in town.

Green Country Store is located at 1423 Main Street, Suite D.  The hours of operation are 11-7 Monday-Friday and 10-7 on Saturday.  You can find them on Facebook here, and be sure to check out Loblolly Creamery on Facebook here.

 

The Green Corner Store Soda Fountain on Urbanspoon

Black-Bottom Cupcakes

Like many food lovers who enjoy getting into the kitchen to whip up a batch of delicious baked treats, we keep up with the blog Smitten Kitchen, which is where Jess found this tasty take on Devil’s Food cake with a huge dollop of semi-sweet chocolate spiked cream cheese filling baked right in.  Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of all things cream-cheese, and these cupcakes are no exception, with a moist, dense cake that starts with the flavor of bittersweet chocolate and gives way to a creamy, sweet-and-tangy cheesecake center.  And while theSmitten Kitchen made these into mini-cupcakes, Jess went full-out and made them full-sized – and I, for one, was pleased.

Black-Bottom Cupcakes
from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Leibowitz by way of Smitten Kitchen

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling, beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth.  Add the chopped chocolate and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 and prepare a muffin tin.  Sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  Make a well in your dry ingredients and add the wet, stirring until just smooth.  Smitten Kitchen says don’t over-stir, or your cake won’t be tender.  Divide the batter into your muffin cups, and spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden.  These are good hot or cold, and they store well.  And excellent treat for lovers of cheesecake, Devil’s food cake – or like us, both! Enjoy!

The Arkansas Foodies 2011 Year-in-Review

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” -Benjamin Franklin

In many ways, 2011 was a hard year.  Natural disasters, economic woes, and the continued existence of reality television all served to really put a damper on what we had all hoped would be a year full of peace and prosperity.  But a lot of good things happened in 2011, too, and Jess and I have never been so thankful for all we’ve been given – nor so proud of everything we’ve accomplished in the past year.  2011 was the first full year for this blog, and what started out as a little hobby for us has turned into a project that we love, and it’s the continued support of our readers that makes it all worthwhile.  So since it’s the thing to do to make “end of the year” lists, we figured we’d look back at our favorite things from our first year – and we also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading and sharing your own experiences with us.  Here’s to a great 2012!

Best Pizza: Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub.  We haven’t actually reviewed Vino’s on the blog yet – but that’s because it’s our favorite place in Little Rock and I haven’t written anything I like enough yet to post.  Get the Margherita Pizza, it’s fantastic.  Runner-up: Cafe Amore in Eureka Springs.

Best Hamburger: Big Orange in the Promenade at Chenal.  Big Orange has some of the biggest burgers around with a wide variety of toppings.  Bonus points for serving Dazbog coffee, but the service can be slow.  Still, it’s a very tasty place.  Runner-up: The Pantry Burger at the Pantry on Rodney Parham.

Best Food Festival: The 2011 Jewish Food Festival.  This was one of the most fun days we spent this year – latkes, rugelach, and some of tastiest chopped liver I’ve ever had along with some of the friendliest folks we’ve had the pleasure to meet.  If you go next year, be sure not to miss the baked goods table.  Runner-up: The 2011 World Cheese Dip Championship.

Best Beer: Sofie by Goose Island Brewing.  And I’m technically cheating here, because we first reviewed the Sofie back in October of 2010 – but I didn’t try another beer all year that I liked better than this light, crisp saison.  Runner-up: North Coast Brewing’s Scrimshaw Pilsner, which I drank every time I could afford it.

Best Side Dish: Truffle-Herb Fries from Big Orange.  These are the best french fries I’ve had that I didn’t make myself.  Crisp outside, mealy inside, dusted with herbs and drizzled with truffle oil, these fries are only made better by the side of creamy aioli they’re served with.  Runner-up: Stilton Tomato Half at Brave New Restaurant.

Best Restaurant: Brave New Restaurant.  Impeccable service, delicious food, and a gorgeous view of the Arkansas River – what more could you ask for?  The Mixed Grill is a carnivore’s dream, and the Cream of Brie soup is one of these best things I’ve ever tasted.  Runner-up: Boulevard Bread Company, both for their PLT sandwich and the foie gras and sweetbreads special, which we drove to sample during some of the worst tornado warnings central Arkansas saw last year.

Favorite thing I was supposed to share but didn’t: The Charcuterie Board at The Pantry on Rodney Parham.  This delightful spread of cured meats, bratwurst, and pate is technically the sort of appetizer that is shared among an entire table.  But since Jess isn’t nearly as big a fan of this sort of stuff as I am, I just ordered the thing as my main entrée.  Delicious!  Runner-up: I think there’s enough food there to qualify the Charcuterie Board for runner-up, too.

Best Main Dish we Made: Shrimp Taco Salad with Black Bean Puree.  That one got us a mention over at Eat Arkansas, and was one of our more popular posts all year.  As for a runner-up, I’m rather fond of our meatballs, our mussels, and my own version of pate.

Best Dessert we Made:  German Chocolate Cake.  Jess really outdid herself with this rich chocolate cake with coconut-pecan icing.  Jess really came into her own as a baker this year, and out of all the delicious things she made, this cake is my favorite.  Runner-up: I love her pumpkin bread, and we also made a pretty tasty strawberry tart last spring.

Best Bar:  This one is a tie between our two favorite bars in Eureka Springs, the Squid and the Whale, home of both Guinness in a mason jar and the spiciest Bloody Mary ever and Henri’s Just One More, home of the best dirty martini I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink.  We spent a very fun afternoon crunching around in the February snow between these two places last winter.  Runner-up: The Flying Saucer, where we wound up in Sync magazine looking a little tipsy.

All in all, 2011 was a fun year.  We tried a lot of different food, had a lot of great meals, and met a lot of really interesting folks who like to do things just like we do:  they cook well, they eat well, and they live life to the fullest.  We hope you all have a happy New Year, and we’re looking forward to bringing the deliciousness to you again!

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Frosting

When it comes to Christmas sweets, there aren’t any flavors that fit the season quite like the cool taste of peppermint and the rich flavor of chocolate, and Jess came up with a delicious and very festive looking way to combine these tastes into one single treat: a moist, rich dark chocolate cupcake topped off by a creamy butter cream frosting spiked with bits of crushed peppermint.  The flavors and textures at work in these cupcakes are varied and surprising – and we know of at least one jolly old elf in a red suit with a severely hectic schedule who might like a couple of these on Christmas Eve instead the regular old cookies and milk.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/3 cup coffee
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 350 and prepare a cupcake pan with liners.  Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the the egg, white, and brown sugar.  Add the coffee, milk, and butter and mix thoroughly.  Add the dry ingredients.  Divide the batter into the cupcake pan and bake for 10-12, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack before icing.

Peppermint Frosting

  • 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 6-8 teaspoons milk

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese.  Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, incorporating the milk as needed.  Mix until light and fluffy.  Fold in the crushed peppermint, reserving some to top the frosted cupcakes.  Serve and enjoy!

Homemade Kettle Corn

When I was a kid, my family used to take a trip to Branson, Missouri nearly every year to visit Silver Dollar City, and if you’ve been there, you know that there are tons of good things to eat in the park.  One of my favorites was always the kettle corn – a perfect balance of crispy, salty, and sweet – and so light that it was almost like eating air.  Kettle corn always makes me think of the holidays, and with Christmas just around the corner, I can’t imagine a better snack to have while trimming the tree.  Kettle corn isn’t that hard to make at home, and with a little patience and care you can have that salty-sweet taste any time you’d like.  An added bonus of making it at home is that you can add some things to it that really take it over the top – but more on that later.

Kettle Corn

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup white sugar.  White sugar gives the popcorn a light, popcorn ball-like taste.  For a richer flavor, feel free to use brown sugar.
  • Sea salt for sprinkling
  • Optional toppings: crushed chocolate covered pretzels (see right), crushed Twix, Heath, or Skor bars, cayenne pepper – or any other thing you can think of.

Heat the oil in a heavy copper-bottomed sauce pan on medium-high heat.  I usually will throw one popcorn kernel into the oil and cover – when that kernel pops, the oil is hot enough.  When the oil has heated, pour in your popcorn and sugar.  Give everything a good, quick stir with a wooden spoon, then cover the saucepan.  This is the tricky part, because you’ve got to keep the popcorn hot enough to pop, but you can’t scorch the sugar.  You can accomplish this by leaving your pan on the burner for a 10-15 count at a time, then moving the pan around quickly off the heat so that everything gets stirred around.  Be careful that you’re holding that lid down tightly so that you don’t splash yourself with molten oil and sugar (because there’s no burn quite like it).  Pop the corn in this fashion until the pops get about 2-3 seconds apart – I usually will err on the side of caution.  Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with the sea salt while still warm, and either eat like that or add the topping of your choice.  Enjoy!