Monday, November 15, 2010

Chopped Mediterranean Salad

This recipe falls into the category of “whatever was on hand”, and turned out to be a hit! I had initially planned on making a simple green salad with olives, tomatoes and sweet onion to go with last weekend’s Polenta Lasagne, so I picked up a box of organic greens a few days before. A few minutes before the lasagne was due to exit the oven, I grabbed the salad fixins out of the refrigerator and set myself up for assembly. Let me just say, there is no disappointment worse in the kitchen than opening what you suspect to be perfect good produce only to find it is RUINED. Sad panda face. The greens were beyond salvage- slimy, limp and in the throes of decomposition. Being someone who doesn’t like to waste food, I reluctantly pitched the greens in questions and set about finding a suitable side dish on the fly.

With the other ingredients ready to play, I pilfered the fridge and windowsill for a couple of additions to bulk up the salad, and ended up with a very refreshing, crisp chopped salad that gave a great play of cool to the piping hot lasagne. The portions made enough for 3-4 sides and can be easily doubled. The salad would be best with super fresh produce, however the use of a light dressing and the fine chop on all the vegetables can help mask the lack of farm fresh vegetables in the off season. It’s also incredibly easy to throw together for a quick lunch or weeknight meal side or as an appetizer topping for bruschetta.

Chopped Mediterranean Salad

- 3 Plum tomatoes, chopped
- ½ English cucumber, chopped
- ¼ Vidalia onion, chopped
- 4 Kalamata Olives, chopped
- 4 Greek green olives, chopped
- 1/3 Cup crumbled feta
- Handful flat leaf Italian parsley, rough chopped
- 5-6 Basil leaves, chiffonade
- 3-4 Tblspns olive oil
- ½(ish) Tblspn balsamic or red wine vinegar
- Wedge of lemon
- Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Comine all ingredients in a wide, low bowl and toss well to coat with olive oil & vinegar. Season to taste with salt & pepper, squeeze lemon over and toss again to incorporate. Allow to rest for 15 or so minutes before serving to allow vegetables time to marinate. Cover any leftovers tightly with plastic wrap & refrigerate. Salad will lose brightness after a day or two in the fridge, but is still very tasty!

If making ahead, combine all vegetables and herbs, but hold off on adding in oil & vinegar (this mixture can be made a day in advance if needed). Add o&v 15-30 minutes before serving, season with salt, pepper & lemon, and serve.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

 When I decided to make the Rustic Polenta Lasagne posted below, I knew I would also have to make some sort of desert component to satisfy Kyle’s sweet tooth. I finally caved to my pumpkin cravings and settled on the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies my friend Brianne had posted on her blog, Sweet Cheeks in the Kitchen, a few weeks ago. I swear-that girl could sell her delicious baked goods to a man without taste buds, and her photos are just lovely! I have always admired her talent in baking, and have wanted to test-drive a number of her recipes for some time now, and this was the perfect excuse.

The cookies turned out beautifully- they baked up fluffy and full of flavor without being overly sweet or rich. I tend to like my cookies a bit more on the “cake-y” side, and these fit the bill perfectly. I ended up with about 30 cookies in the end, and they were just the right size for a little sweet satisfaction. In order to get a wider range of opinions, I brought in a tin to work and shared them with my neighbor, and they were well received by all participants, including my darling husband! In fact, they were so good (and simple!) I whipped up another batch on Sunday afternoon to help cope with the stinging loss my Patriots endured at the hands of the Browns (no, I do not want to talk about it, thanks), and they were extremely comforting, leaving the delicious aroma of fall hanging in the apartment for the next little while.

PS- Congratulations to Brianne and her husband on the birth of their beautiful son, Abe last week! There is no doubt in my mind that he will be fiercely loved, widely celebrated and well fed! ;-)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Brianne over on Sweet Cheeks in the Kitchen

- 2 ½ Cups flour
- 1 Tspn baking soda
- 1 Tspn baking powder
- 1 Tspn cinnamon
- 1 Tspn nutmeg
- ½ Tspn salt
- 1 ½ Cups organic sugar
- 1 Stick butter, softened
- 1 Full cup canned pumpkin
- 1 Large egg
- 1 Tspn vanilla
- 1 Cup chocolate chips, semi sweet or dark work well

-3 Tblspns organic sugar combined w/ 1 tspn pumpkin pie spice, for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line two baking sheets.
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat together the sugar and butter until well blended. Add in pumpkin, egg and vanilla, beat until smooth. Gradually add in the dry mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.
 Drop onto prepared baking sheets.  Sprinkle with spiced sugar mixture if using. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until edges are firm and cool on wire racks. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rustic Lamb Lasagne

Whenever Kyle comes home from sea, I try to make something really comforting and homey to welcome him back from his time out to sea, especially now that we are into November and the mercury has taken a significant nose dive. As I’ve said many times before, I really enjoy fall and winter, and all of the hearty cooking that comes along with it. On the whole, Kyle is a very much a “meat & potatoes” kind of fella, although he has a very adventurous palate. This past cruise, his ship was researching off of Georges Bank, and this time of year up North can be quite biting.

I have been traveling almost every weekend for the past couple of weeks, and as a result my cooking & blogging have been somewhat lacking. However, the stars aligned for this past weekend, and with Kyle coming home for more than a night or two, I was excited to make something truly “from scratch” that would be filled with rustic flavors and soul warming substance.

I stumbled across Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Venetian Lasagne, and immediately felt inspired. I loved the idea of replacing noodle layers with polenta, and from her initial recipe, I began building my own take on it in my head over the next two days. With the much appreciated help of my friend and colleague, Matt, I began bouncing ideas off of him on how to expand on the polenta lasagne concept, which he and his wife had made a take on before. Nigella’s original recipe called for ground beef, and after playing around with different textural concepts, I settled on substituting a combination of ground sausage and diced lamb to create a more interesting consistency. From there, I decided upon adding a layer of ricotta with fresh herbs- a component I have to add to any baked Italian pasta dish. I upped my vegetable measurements as well to add to the robust nature of my concept.

I took a lot of pleasure in the entire slow-cook process of this dish- I bought my lamb as a bone-in leg section, and butchered it down myself to ensure absolute freshness and flavor. As the sauce simmered away on low heat (the smell was incredible!), I enjoyed a glass of wine, mixed up the ricotta layer and prepared my assembly line and enjoyed the warmth of my tiny kitchen on a blustery night. I cooked & assembled the lasagne a day in advance, and I would not recommend attempting this from start to finish on for a weeknight meal. It is a perfect “do ahead” recipe, as it will survive perfectly covered in a dish in the refrigerator for up to two days in advance or could be made the day of a weekend dinner party. It is hearty enough to chase away any cold fall or winter day, and elegant enough to serve at a casual dinner party with good friends and a hearty red wine. My recipe ended up being enough to make a grand 9”x13” pan for Kyle and I, and as a thank you to Matt, I sent him home after work on Friday with a 9” round pan of the same to share with his wife over the weekend- it was only fitting after being my soundboard on it over two days!

I have never been so happy with the way a lasagne has turned out from start to finish, and I will be making this again and again in the future. The lamb was robust and full of flavor from its slow simmer in the sauce, and the polenta absorbed the all of the flavor while still maintaining its own integrity. I served it alongside a chopped style Mediterranean salad (recipe up soon!), and the huge flavors of the lasagne complimented it perfectly. At the end of the weekend, Kyle and I were left with two measly end pieces, which we plan on devouring after work today. I have to say, the best compliment came from Matt and his wife, who texted the following message to me on Satuday: “I must say that the lasagne is superb! Nice work. Natascha and I totally owned the whole pan. Can’t feel my face.” It doesn’t get any better than that, as far as I’m concerned!

Rustic Polenta Lasagne with Lamb, Mushroom & Sausage Ragu (inspiration taken from Nigella Lawson’s Venetian Lasagne)

Written out in order of preparation:

For the Polenta:
-2 Cups instant or quick cooking polenta (I used Pastene)
- Chicken stock (enough for whatever the polenta instructions require for cooking liquid)
- ¾ Cup shredded Parmesan
- 1Tblspn. butter
-Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

For the Ragu:
- ½ lb. loose Italian sausage
- 1½ lbs. Fresh lamb leg, diced into bite size pieces
- 16oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, roughly diced
- ½ Vidalia onion, diced
-3-4 Medium garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Celery stalks (with green tops), diced
- 3 Carrots, peeled & diced
- 16oz. Can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano or Pastene are perfect)
- 2-3 Tblspn. tomato paste
- ½ Cup hearty red wine, such as Chianti, Merlot or Bordeaux
- 2 Bay leaves
- Olive oil
- Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

For the Ricotta Layer:
- 16oz. Part skim Ricotta cheese, at room temperature
- 1 Large egg
- Handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- Heavy pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
-Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Additional ingredient: 1+ Cup shredded Parmesan, for layering

For Polenta: In an adequately sized stock pot, heat chicken stock (amount determined by brand of polenta used) over medium high heat until boiling. Add in dry polenta and stir continually until stock is absorbed. Remove from heat & quickly stir in Parmesan cheese, butter and season with salt & pepper. Divide polenta between two cookie or baking sheets, using a spatula to spread out evenly (once polenta begins to cool slightly, it can be smoothed further by placing a layer of parchment paper on top and passing a rolling pin over the top). Set aside and allow to cool completely.

For Ragu: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tblspn of olive oil over medium heat, add in sausage meat and cook until browned, stirring to break up. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon & reserve in a large dish. Add a little more olive oil & add in onions, celery and carrot. Season to taste with salt & pepper and sweat, stirring occasionally for 10-12 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Add in garlic & mushroom, cooking an additional 5 minutes until mushrooms have softened and garlic is fragrant, but not browned. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon to same dish as sausage and reserve. Turn heat to medium-high, add a little more oil if needed, and sear off lamb pieces until well browned, approximately 7-10 minutes, seasoning with salt & pepper. After fully browning, add in sausage and vegetable mixture and stir well to incorporate. Reduce heat to medium-low, add in bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree and wine and bring to low simmer. Stir well and cover partially with lid, dropping heat to low. Allow sauce to cook down over the 60-90 minutes, checking & stirring occasionally. If sauce becomes too thick, thin with a bit of stock or water, and if sauce does not reduce enough, add a bit more tomato paste. Once sauce has reached desired consistency, turn off heat, remove bay leaves and allow to cool slightly for assembly.

For Ricotta: Combine Ricotta, parsley, egg, nutmeg, salt & pepper in a bowl until well mixed.

To assemble Lasagne: Using your pan as a guide, cut cooled polenta to fit the bottom of pan (you should be able to get 3 full slices of polenta out of the pans for layering, and use the last ½ for a smaller [freezer?] lasagne), and place first layer into the bottom of pan. Spread a layer of ricotta on top using a spatula, and top with 1/3 of the Parmesan. Top with a layer of the ragu sauce. Repeat process for a second layer, topping with a final layer of polenta (3 layers of polenta total). Spread with remaining parmesan.

If serving immediately: cover lasagne with a layer of aluminum foil and bake off for 60 minutes in a 370 degree oven, or until bubbly and heated through. Remove foil and broil for 3-5 minutes, until cheese browns and becomes crunchy. Remove from oven & serve with simply dressed greens, lightly sautéed broccoli rabe or lemony haricot verts and a glass of your favorite red.

If making ahead of time: All assembly up to cooking can be done up to two days in advance, and lasagne can be stored in your refrigerator. Top tightly with a layer of plastic wrap, and cover with aluminum foil. Before baking, discard plastic wrap, and follow above directions, adding 20 minutes cooking time if going straight from refrigerator to oven.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

My first taste of Hungarian Mushroom soup was back in college at the beloved Feasts of Reason in Chestertown, Maryland. Although it’s been years since I enjoyed a perfect roast beef sandwich on their fresh baked baguette with blue cheese mayonnaise (do I have your attention?) and a cup of their soup, my love affair with the soup continues.

I started working out a recipe for my own version of this soup years ago in my collegiate kitchen back on High Street, and it has maintained top billing in my mental rolodex. In the early stages, I would use condensed Golden Mushroom Soup as my base, and as my comfort in the kitchen grew, I traded in the soup base for fresh made roux to achieve the creamy base.

When Kyle and I were first living together, I remember mentioning having a craving for the soup one fall, and his eyes instantly lit up. Having lived in Hungary briefly years ago, Kyle has always been a big fan of the country’s flavors. It is a warm, comforting and creamy soup that will chase out the chill from any October evening. The ingredient list is relatively simple, and as such it’s great for feeding a large group without spending an exorbitant amount on the makings. If you’ve got it on hand, smoked paprika adds a wonderful depth of flavor, and a little Hot Hungarian paprika sprinkled on top before serving brings another element to the finished product. If you making the soup for a meatless crowd, a dark vegetable stock will work just as well as beef stock, just be sure to omit the Worcestershire

Paired with a loaf of crusty rustic bread, a spicy arugula salad and full bodied red and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect fall night in with friends. This recipe could easily serve 6 for a main course, and freezes well once cooled.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

- 16 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 Medium Vidalia onion, quartered & sliced thinly
- 2 Garlic cloves, minced
- 40 oz. Good quality beef or dark vegetable stock (homemade is best)
- 1 Tbspn. olive oil
- 1 Stick salted butter
- ½ish Cup all purpose flour
- 8oz. Sour cream
- 8oz. Milk
- 4 Tbspn. dried dill
- 2 Tbspn. smoked paprika
- 1 Tbspn. regular paprika (if you don’t have smoked paprika, just substitute regular for both)
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
- 1-2 Tbspns. Worcestershire sauce
- Chopped flat leaf parsely (optional)
- Hungarian hot paprika (optional)

In a small sauce pan, melt ¾ stick of butter over medium heat. Add in flour a little at a time and whisk to combine until a stiff roux consistency is reached. Continue cooking 5-10 minutes or until roux turns golden and flour is cooked down. Take off heat & set aside. Heat remaining butter and olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add in mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms begin to release moisture, about 5-7 minutes. Add in sliced onions & cook an additional 5-7 minutes until onions become translucent. Add in minced garlic & cook 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant, but not browned. Season with salt & pepper to taste before adding dill and paprika, stirring well to incorporate and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or until spices are well blended into vegetables. Once the mixture is well integrated, add in beef/vegetable stock and leave pot to come up to a low rolling boil. Once soup has reached a boil, mix roux into broth (see my note on a helpful technique at the bottom of this recipe), and continue mixing until a gravy- like texture is reached (you may not have to use all of the roux. Once all roux has diluted into the stock & the consistency is smooth, turn stove to low, add in milk & Worcestershire and mix well. Slowly add in sour cream until fully dissolved and texture is that of heavy cream-if too thick, add in a little more milk- and adjust salt & pepper seasoning as needed. Serve garnished with a little extra Hungarian hot paprika, chopped parsley or a dollop of sour cream.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Curry Roasted Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas

I started messing around with different cauliflower recipes a couple of years ago, but the two I continue to go back two are either mashed (a favorite in Kyle’s family) or roasted. Roasted cauliflower is so simple and is ready quickly, which makes it perfect for any weeknight or a quick snack. Normally I just break apart a head a cauliflower, toss with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and roast off in the oven for half an hour or so. I love the way it gets crispy, but retains most of its shape, and is great for dipping. I’ve been on a curry kick for the past year or so, and I’ll usually make a quick curry dipping sauce (as in spicy curry powder and mayo or sour cream) to go alongside.

While tooling around on Epicurious I stumbled over a recipe for Spice-Roasted Chickpeas that really spoke to me. I am a huge fan of chickpeas in almost any application. My one grievance is on occasion they tend to get really soggy if out on a salad bar. I love the creamy texture of hummus, and the crunch of roasted wasabi peas, and spice roasted garbanzos sounded like the perfect middleman.

I started thinking about ways to roast the chickpeas and cauliflower together, and the end result was a mutant dish with so much flavor, I had to restrain myself from not eating it all in one sitting. Mixing the curry powder in with the oil gave the dish a lovely bright color, and helped spread the seasoning evenly over all components. The pine nuts were a last minute gamble, and I loved the secondary crunch they brought in addition to the chickpeas.

I ended up serving this alongside some outstanding striped bass Ky provided for dinner with a friend, and the combination was a knockout. Kyle had originally told me we had might have a last minute addition to dinner, and concerned that we wouldn’t have enough of the side, I par boiled off a couple of red potatoes and tossed in with the cauliflower-chickpea mixture (I had roasted it off the night before with plans to heat before dinner), and it was a great addition and budget friendly way to stretch the dish. I will for sure be making this on a pretty regular basis- no lie, I have the fixins in the apartment now, and plan on whipping it up over the weekend. My only point of caution would be to make sure that your chickpeas are as dry as humanly possible- drained in a colander after rinsing and pressed between two kitchen towels seemed to do the trick. Just make sure you have a good size batch made up, as it will develop legs quickly!

Curry Roasted Cauliflower with Crispy Chickpeas (morphed from here and here on Epicurious)

- 2 lbs. Cauliflower, stemmed & broken into florets
- 15oz. can Chickpeas, rinsed, drained & well dried
- ¼ - ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tspn. Cayenne pepper
- 2 Cloves garlic, well minced
- 4 tbspn. Pine nuts
- 3(ish) tbspns. Spicy curry powder
- 2 tspn. Hungarian hot paprika (optional)
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Handful fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix olive oil, pine nuts, garlic & all spices until well combined. Toss cauliflower & chickpeas with oil to coat and season with salt & pepper to taste. Spread evenly onto high lipped sheet pan in one layer. Roast off in oven for 35-25 minutes, until cauliflower is well browned & chickpeas are crispy. Stir occasionally throughout roasting time. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes & transfer to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve warm or at room temperature. Great as a side, over greens or as a snack.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Portuguese Kale Soup

In line with my recent ode to fall over on The Humble Home, I was really looking forward to making soup last Sunday. Due to circumstances unforeseen (ahem, having way too much fun hanging out with friends in Boston drinking margaritas & watching stand-up), it was pushed back to Monday, which worked out well since my beloved Patriots were on MNF, and I had plenty of time to prep my soup so I could enjoy it while watching the lads “Squish the Fish”- which they did a hell of a job with in the second half!

Soup is an all time favorite food, a tradition that started with my childhood and continues through today. Kyle and I are big soup fans, and it is a great way to stretch ingredients to get more bang for your buck. Traditionally, most of the soups that I make have pretty humble roots- fish chowders, Hungarian mushroom, beef barley, and the likes all started as ways to feed a crowd on the cheap with whatever was on hand. I’ve always enjoyed sampling the local foods when living in different parts of the country, and the local soups are usually a pretty good example of the flavors and culture of a region. Most of the recipes I’ve picked up along the way come from working in kitchens and restaurants- while working as a lunch chef in the Virgin Islands, I picked up a great recipe for Caribbean Black Bean soup, my chowder recipe stems from my days in the kitchen at The Chowder House, Maryland Cream of Crab came from friends on the Eastern Shore, and while serving at a sushi bar in Colorado, I picked up a fantastic recipe for Mexican Tortilla soup from the immigrant workers in the kitchen.

Living in Rhode Island, I’ve started to pick up on the flavors that dominate the area around here, primarily influenced by the Portuguese culture. While I concede to not having a lot of knowledge about Portugal and the culture, I am really digging their food! Fried calamari is served with banana pepper rings, seafood chowders gain a little spice and a lovely pink tone from chorizo and fresh meats are slow simmered in wine and spices. One item I keep seeing pop up on local menus is Portuguese Kale Soup. I’ve tried it at a couple of places, and the flavors are wonderful and comforting- stewed kale, soft potatoes and onions and a little kick from the spicy sausage- all the makings for an ideal fall soup.

I started my quest for an authentic kale soup recipe online and found a lot of variations, each with their appeals. Most of the reviews offered up variations, as with many cultural foods, everyone’s mother or grandmother has their own spin on the ingredients. Building off of one recipe that seemed to have the basics down, I asked a couple of the Portuguese guys I worked with for their take. Much like the online comments, each had their own spin. With recommendations and a basic recipe in hand, I stopped by the store, picked up the components and a loaf of take & bake bread and headed home to get to work.

The end result was a wonderfully satisfying soup that wasn’t overly heavy, but can keep you full all evening or afternoon. Up until recently, kale has been a relatively underutilized green, and I am happy to see it making a resurgence in the food blogging and restaurant communities. It holds up well to the slightly spicy nature of the sausage, and doesn’t fall apart even after a couple of days in the stock. I made a huge batch, but have halved it so as to be a little more manageable. This soup will most certainly be in heavy rotation on my list, and is a welcome departure for the standard chicken noodle as a quick go-to one pot dinner.


- 1lb. Fresh kale, well washed, stems removed, torn into pieces
-1 Large Vidalia onion, Frenched or julienned
-4 Large red skinned potatoes, diced large
-1 lb. Linguica loose or diced if in links (Chorizo works well)
-6-8 Cups chicken or pork broth (more or less, depending on how “soupy” you want the finished product to be)
- 4 tblspns. Olive oil
-3 large garlic cloves, minced
-1 Can Cannelloni beans, rinsed & drained
-1-2 Bay leaves
-1 hot pepper, seeded (I used a good sized Fresno)
-1 tspn. Smoked paprika
-Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

In a large soup or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in onions and linguica and cook, stirring occasional for 10 minutes or until onions turn translucent and sausage begins to breakdown. Add minced onion & continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add in potatoes, hot pepper, bay leaves, paprika, a little salt & pepper, stir well to combine, continue cooking for another 10 or so minutes until potatoes soften slightly (see note). Add in broth and turn heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until at a low boil. Add in torn kale a handful at a time, stirring in to wilt. Once all kale has been incorporated, simmer additional 10 minutes. Add in Cannelloni beans, season with salt & pepper to taste, and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Note: A great trick I picked up from making industrial batches of chowder while working at The Chowder House- when building your soup base, allow potatoes, onions and other components to hang out together for a couple of minutes before introducing liquids. Doing this will coat your potatoes and onions with the spices being used (as well as the delicious flavored fat from the sausage), which in the long run will infuse the veggies with more flavor, and make for a more cohesive finished soup.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

German Potato Salad

(yep, camera still out of comission- thanks again Crackberry)

Some days, you just need a little bacon grease.

On the whole, I pride myself on doing my best to eat well and keep my desire to indulge in check. I actually enjoy a good workout, run or long walk with Kyle. But some days you just have to tell the health nut on your shoulder to take a hike.

Due to the offshore effects of one of the recent tropical storms, Ky’s ship ended up back at the docks for a few days last week while they waited for a better weather window. I was happy to have a couple of extra days with him, as we are on the cusp of deciding where to request for his next assignment. It is a big deal not only for his career, but the future of mine as well (more to come on that later). It’s a pretty big topic to take on, deciding where you want to spend the next three years of your life, and such big choices need big, comforting flavors. Our go-to on a cold night has always been German food. Very early on in my kitchen adventures, I used to make a casserole similar to this dish, and the potato salad recipe has been evolving over the past 20 years or so as a result.

Growing up, Kyle spent many hours helping out at a close family friend’s restaurant in downtown Brunswick, Richard’s. Richard himself is from Germany, and his dishes are beyond comforting. While helping out, the boys were always given a bite to eat, which commonly came in the form of stewed red cabbage, since there were at least a couple of them underfoot, and cabbage was inexpensive. From this, Ky has a wonderful stewed red cabbage recipe that I absolutely love, and am still working on convincing him to write down so I can post it. It’s such a perfect cold night dish, and it only gets better if left to come together overnight.

When we lived in Annapolis, there was a wonderful German restaurant we would sneak away to down in Edgewater called The Old Stein Inn. The beers were cold, the food thoughtfully made, and if you caught it on a warm summer night, there would be a live accordion player strolling through the beer garden out back (and you would gladly shell out $10 for her CD after a couple of pints!). Through all of these various experiences with some of our favorite German haunts, we’ve thrown together our own little routine for our German night- both of us standing over our respective bubbling pots, sautéing onions, having a beer or two while we talk and cook, the whole apartment smelling like apple cider vinegar and bacon- pure heaven.

It goes without saying that this is probably not a menu that you would want to eat everyday while trying to be health-conscious. But that’s what makes it all the more special- a compilation of dishes that are not only delicious, but spark memories of past dining experiences, and bring a little comfort at exactly the time when you need it.

(Footnote: the discussion was awesome, we are a united front on our hopeful next destination, and updates soon to follow when we get confirmation!)

Hot German Potato Salad

-6-8 Large red skinned potatoes (I used Irish Reds), cleaned, halved and sliced into even ½ circles
- 4-5 Slices thick cut bacon, diced
- ¼ Sweet Vidalia onion, diced
- ¼ +/- Cup all purpose flour
- ¼ +/- Cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ (ish) Cup water
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
-Handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large Dutch oven, heat salted water & cook potatoes until just fork tender, about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness of slices. Drain in colander & set aside. Wipe out Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Once to temp, add in diced bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon & drain on paper towels. Turn heat down to medium-low and add onions to bacon grease, cooking until translucent, about 10 minutes. Season onions lightly with salt & pepper. Add in enough flour to make a moderately thick roux (about the consistency of heavy cake batter), and continue cooking another 5-7 minutes, until flour has cooked out, turned golden brown and thickened a bit more. Add in cider vinegar a little at a time to loosen the roux, use a little more or less than called for, depending on consistency, and use water to thin to consistency of hollandaise sauce (overuse of vinegar can overpower the salad). Stir in potatoes, parsley & reserved bacon until potatoes are well coated. Serve while still warm. Salad can be made up to an hour or two in advance and be kept covered in a low set oven. Stir well before serving, and add bacon just before serving to keep crisp. This salad is best friends with a couple of good quality brauts, a little whole grain mustard, a pile of kraut and a pile of buttered spaetzle, and good friends should never be separated...

Review: Johnson & Wales Pro Series French Cuisine Class

(photo from Johnson & Wales University website)
Last weekend, I started my weekend Chef’s Choice classes at Johnson & Wales University up in Providence. Initially I had signed up for three courses, with the first course being their Pro Series French Cuisine. The class advertized itself as being geared towards home chefs who had already tightened up their basic skills, and were looking for a challenge and an opportunity to learn some new technique. The regular Chef’s Choice courses run for approximately 3 hours, but since we were working with some slightly more advanced techniques, our course ran for 4 hours.

Upon getting on to the Johnson & Wales campus, I was immediately impressed with the facilities and how pristine the area felt. It took us a while to find the building where the class was being held (no signage on the grounds near where parking was suggested, but finally made a call to the helpline and they were able to direct us), but we were wowed by the brand new facility once we found it. Weekend classes are held in the Center for Culinary Excellence building, a striking new glassed in structure with outstanding professional-grade kitchens. We found our classroom (Kyle was originally signed up to be in the Pro Series Baking & Rolls course, but enrollment was too low, so he switched over to the French course) and were greeted by their friendly student volunteers and our instructor. While waiting for the rest of the class, we read over the handouts, which went through the menu we would be preparing for the day (more on that later!).

Class started with a warm welcome from our instructor, who began a dialogue with us about the general concept and flavor profile of French cooking. He discussed how traditional French cooking is often times considered difficult and time consuming, when in reality it is really more about taking the time to insure that all ingredients are handled properly so as to bring out their best flavors. Although he conceded that it was commonly time consuming, the trick was to have all of your components prepared before you begin to make the process efficient, and form of setup known in the professional culinary world as mise-en-place (I was relieved when he called on me to define what mise-en-place, and I was correct). After our initial introduction, he divided the class in half and we selected one of two menus. The other team’s menu included Beef Consume, Lobster Thermador served with Haricot Verts Almondine, Duchess Potatoes and a trio of Crème Brules. Our menu featured Oyster Rockefeller, Beef Wellington (!!!), Pommes Anna, Stuffed Provencial Tomatoes and Chocolate Soufflé.

Each group was provided with speed trays packed with beautiful, fresh ingredients broken down by recipe to help with prep. We divvied out the prep work within our groups and set to work. Since the class size was small, we each were able to work with a student volunteer or assistant instructor in a one on one setting to gain new skills and suggestions for better prep. The students were very new (classes started a month prior) and enthusiastic, willing to offer up help at any time. At various points throughout the class, the lead instructor would invite us to gather around one of the prep station while he instructed one of the participants on a certain form of knife work or prep, allowing us to practice hands on. I really appreciated his teaching style, where he would show you once and encourage you to perfect the skill with the rest of the prep work. Throughout the afternoon, he would call out the time, giving us recommendations about how far along we should be in our work, what dishes should be ready to fire, and how close we were to service. It was a great way to keep yourself in check, and much like what I remember from my days in restaurant kitchens, although the pace was much more relaxed, with more room for error.

In general, Kyle and I got pretty high marks for our kitchen skills, and our instructor seemed happy to pretty much turn us loose on our menu. He seemed pleased with our ability to crank out two dozen shucked oysters (see previous post on our love of oysters!), and general ability to make our way around the kitchen. Like any heads chef, he was continually moving around the kitchen, tasting our dishes, recommending adjustments and commending good execution. We began to button up our prep work and started moving towards assembling our soufflé, and I did all I could to avoid the speed tray containing the ingredients. I’m pretty sure that our instructor saw this, and sensing my fear, pointed me directly towards my greatest fear. Well, alright then. Kyle and the other student in our group busied themselves assembling the Wellingtons, and I set to work organizing my mise-en-place for the much feared Chocolate Soufflé. Some time back in the Regan Administration, my mother had showed me the proper technique for separating egg yolks and whites (separated yolks in one container, whites in another, and separating over a third container so as to not contaminate the pure egg whites- there’s nothing worse than being on your last egg and watching a sneak yolk jump the shell and ruin ten perfectly good whites!), so while I worked through my eggs, the instructor called the other students over to observed, and explained why this technique is crucial in making a proper soufflé, as the fat from the yolks are the mortal enemy of a successful meringue. Ok, so I’m off on the right start at least!

Through his confident guidance and relative hands off approach, I worked my way through the well paced instructions, tempering my chocolate & yolk mixture, dusting my soufflé cups, whipping the whites to stiff peaks and gently folding the two components together. The tray hit the hot oven, the door sealed shut, and I crossed my fingers. When the time was right, the soufflés were removed and- Sweet Mother Mercy- they rose! They actually looked like soufflés, with little caps and everything! Wow. We all clamored for spoons and grabbed up the little cups, dipping into their tops. Although the flavor was spot on, they had been in the oven just a few minutes too long, and had lost their creamy interior (a fault that the instructor took upon himself for mis-timing, although I think I definitely had fault in as well!), but the concept was still on.

Once our dishes were plated, we all sat down as a class to sample our hours of hard work, and in all honesty- there wasn’t one dish that disappointed! The Lobster Thermador was luxurious and creamy and paired beautifully with the haricot verts and potatoes, which were baked into lovely piped circles. The Wellington was perfectly seared (good job honey!) and wrapped in indulgent duxelles with buttery pastry. The rice stuffed tomatoes had a rich and meaty flavor from their demi-glace topping, and the Oysters Rockefeller certainly didn’t go to waste- I think Ky had 6 or 8 alone! The other groups Lemon Crème Brule was a smashing success- the perfect carmelized sugar top, with a richly smooth custard, and the lemon was a perfect addition. Everything was so well done, it was incredible to think a group of foodies who had never met could put together such a great meal, and we didn’t even have to eat for the rest of the day!

Overall, I give our first experience with the Chef’s Choice courses at Johnson & Wales very high marks. Our instructor was very knowledgeable, the teaching kitchen was wonderful to work in, and our student volunteers were enthusiastic and happy to help. Not only did we receive excellent hands on training for executing an elegant and classic French menu, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor, and were able to take our booklet of notes & recipes home to use again. As they say, the proof is in the pudding! I am already looking forward to my next two Saturday classes, and can’t wait to pick up new skills, and share them with friends & family!

Class schedule & available dates for Johnson & Wales Chef’s Choice Classes can be found on their website.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Modern Comfort Food

(Is it obvious yet that my actual camera finally gave up the ghost, so
I've been using my phone's camera for the past couple of weeks? Apologies!)

There’s nothing like a relaxing weekend with a close friend- unwinding, telling stories, window shopping and the occasional glass(es) of wine in the afternoon. The only thing that makes this better for me is when the close friend that is visiting happens to be my mother! We attended the Newport boat show (the initial excuse for the trip), walked around down town, drove out through Ocean Point to watch the surf, had a long brunch at Café Zelda and took time to breathe and enjoy hanging out as the dynamic mother-daughter duo we are. The weather was most certainly in our favor, and we did our best to appreciate as much of it as possible, including enjoying a waterside late lunch out on the patio of The Pier.

After tooling around downtown and the boat show on Saturday, I was chomping at the bit to cook dinner, as my mother is one of the biggest supporters of my culinary obsession, and one of the most honest taste-testers I know. I had an idea for a scallop dish that had been rolling around in my head for a week or two, and since Ky isn’t a huge scallop fan, Saturday presented itself as the ideal time to make the dish. I also invited my good friend Jill (who was my supervisor at IYRS during my volunteering) over, as she and my mother get along very well, and I was deep in debt to her for all of the kindness and comestibles she had recently extended my way.

After working over the concept of the dish a few days before, we trudged up to the treehouse with gorgeous scallops and bottles of wine in hand, I put out of a couple of pre-dinner treats, and set to work on the dish. The cooler temperatures and drop in humidity had me shooting for something warm and comforting, without being overly heavy. The scallops were fresh and beautiful, as has been the case with every fish purchase I've made at the oft-mentioned Anthony's Seafood, so I wanted to be sure to highlight as much of their naturally sweet and subtle flavors- anything too heavy, and their delicacy would be completely lost. Leeks and shitake mushrooms seemed like a natural compliment- both have the same understated flavors that would work harmoniously with the scallops. I have been looking for an excuse to work with cranberry beans again, and after volleying some concepts around in my head, I figured they would make a great base for the dish, and bring a little more depth without being overpowering. As our kitchen is small, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of the night washing dishes, I used one cast iron pan to do all of my searing & sautéing, and in the end this allowed for a great layering of flavors with minimal pan usage. I’ve also added a couple of technique notes at the bottom of the recipe from things I had picked up back in my days in real working kitchens, and they are tips that can help make a big difference in the ease and consistency of the dish.

The end result of all this planning was a comforting dish that had very light flavors, but was still very satisfying. The next time (and there certainly will be one) I make the dish, I plan on cutting down on the roux a bit, as the sauce was just a touch more heavy than I was aiming for, but the flavors were right on par with what I was aiming for. I served a simple green salad upgraded by fresh tomatoes and arugula from Jill’s garden as a side, and of course a little Prosecco- it was a Ladies’ Night, afterall! Good food, delicious wine, great friends and non-stop conversation, the makings for a truly great fall night in!

Scallop Casserole with Leeks, Shitake Mushrooms & Cranberry Beans
(this recipe will easily feed 4, and could be stretched to 5-6 servings)

- 1 ½ Lbs. fresh sea scallops
- 6 Slices Pancetta
- 2 Medium leeks, sliced thin & cleaned (see note)
- 6-8oz. Shitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced
- 2 Garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ Stick good quality salted butter (Kerrygold Irish or some other European style works best)
- ½ Cup(ish) all purpose flour
- 24 oz. Roman beans, canned or fresh (if using fresh, cook off first)
- ½- ¾ Cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
- Zest & juice of one good size lemon
- 8oz. Half & Half, cream or milk
- ¾ Cup Panko breadcrumbs
- Good handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ Tblspn. seafood seasoning (Old Bay is my go to)
-Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

Remove scallops from packaging & place in one layer on a kitchen or paper towel lined plate, removing any “foot” muscles (tough white muscle the runs along the side of scallop) and discarding. Top with a second layer of towel and press down lightly to remove any excess moisture, which will cause splattering during searing. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high with a little olive oil. Fry pancetta slices until very crisp, being careful not to burn, and transfer to paper or kitchen towels to drain. Melt ½ stick of butter in a small sauce pan & combine with flour to create a roux, and cook for additional 5-10 minutes to cook out flour taste (roux should be a light golden brown), turn off heat & set aside. Add a little more olive oil to cast iron pan (there should be a thin layer coating the bottom), and bring up to medium-high temp. Remove top layer of towel from scallops & season exposed tops well with salt & pepper. Place scallops seasoning side down into hot pan and sear off, about 2-3 minutes. Season exposed side of scallops, and flip to sear other side, turning scallops in same pattern as they were introduced to heat (see note). Sear for another 2-3 minute and transfer to a warm plate & set aside.

Add a little more olive oil to pan and a little butter, bring to medium heat and add in leeks, stirring well to distribute. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in sliced mushrooms & continue cooking another 5 minutes, or until leeks are well softened and mushrooms take on a deeper color. Add in minced garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes until garlic becomes aromatic. Season to taste with salt & pepper and seafood seasoning. Pour in lemon juice, ½ of the lemon zest and ½ cup of wine and heat until just below a simmer and slightly reduced, about 8-10 minutes. Begin introducing roux into mixture and continuing to stir well to avoid clump formation (see note). Continue to add roux until mixture becomes thick and gravy like- you may not use all of your roux, just use your best judgement. Using small amounts, begin incorporating half & half into the sauce, until correct consistency is reached- similar to that of alfredo sauce. Once consistency is reached, turn off heat. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs with remainder of lemon zest, and half of chopped parsley.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bottom of a deep casserole dish (tall enough for ¼” lip above scallops & beans), layer cranberry beans in an even layer across entire bottom. Top with ½ of Leek-Mushroom sauce & place seared scallops on top in one layer. Cover scallops with second half of sauce and pancetta slices (either in whole slices or crumbled). Spread seasoned breadcrumbs evenly over top & bake off in oven for 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown & sauce is bubbly. Serve immediately topped with chopped parsley & lemon slices. The casserole can also be made in individual ramekins or chafing dishes.


A note on leeks: Leeks are one of my favorite flavors to cook with- the problem being how to clean the little buggers without diluting the flavor! There are many philosophies on how to clean leeks, and mine has evolved from my brief kitchen training a few years back, and doesn’t call for any special equipment. Fill a deep bowl with very cold water. Slice off the last ¼ to ½” inch by the root & discard. Cut leek in half and slice thinly, about the width of a rubber band (there will be dirt in the layers- don’t panic!), and cut up until the leaves begin to turn dark green- these tops can be saved & used later for soup stock. Transfer sliced leeks to cold water and let sit for a minute or two. Lightly break apart slices with your fingers to help loosen any grit from in between the layers. Let the leeks sit, undisturbed, for another minute or two in water. Using a slotted spoon or your hands, gently remove leeks from water and place in a colander or strainer- be sure not disturb the water too much, as the sediment should have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Briefly rinse leeks with a sprayer and very cold water to remove any leftover grit. Shake to dry, and you’re ready to use!

A note on scallop searing: One of the best techniques for searing off scallops quickly & evenly came from my good friend and kitchen instructor, Ralph Smith. Once the pan has come up to temp, I place the scallops in concentric clockwise circles (evenly spaced) around the pan and then leave them untouched until I’m ready to turn and sear the other side. I use the circular pattern when turning them, so that every scallop gets the same time to sear, and you avoid overcooking- the pattern makes it easier to remember where you started in the pan as well. In some circumstances, it is a good idea to move the food around when searing, but with scallops it is imperative to let them sit once they are introduced to the heat- this is crucial for allowing the natural sugars to caramelize and achieving that lovely brown color. Scallops should only be moved once, while flipping sides, in order to sear properly.

A note on roux: While working as the lunch chef at The Chowder House, I learned an easy, foolproof way of introducing roux to liquid to avoid clumping, and have been using it ever since. For making roux, I use a bulbous metal whisk to combine & cook the flour-butter mixture so that the consistency remains smooth. After the roux has been well mixed, I cook it off for a couple of additional minutes so that any of the raw flour flavor is eliminated. When adding into liquid, I use the whisk to scoop the roux into the liquid, stirring with the whisk as soon as the roux is introduced to break up any clumps. Repeat this process with a small amount of roux until the desired consistency is released, and use the whisk yet again when adding in cream or milk to keep the sauce smooth.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A True Lunch Break

Almost every day, I bring my lunch to work from home. Usually it consists of leftovers from a previous meal, and a lot of times it takes shape in the form of a salad. I do my best to keep my lunches relatively light and satisfying, since there is nothing worse than sitting at your desk feeling the creeping onset of a food coma- especially when your desk lacks any sort of privacy from the rest of the office! It also may sound a little silly, but I enjoy taking a few minutes to “time out” from my daily tasks and actually enjoy my lunch whenever possible- I bring cutlery from home, stash a cloth napkin in my work bag, and make an attempt to actually have a lunch break as opposed to wolfing down some non-descript take out item while scanning over spec sheets (not that this doesn’t happen on occasion!).

During my massive re-nesting/cooking marathon of the past weekend, I was attempting to figure out a way to combine items I had on hand that I could stretch out over a couple of lunches that was a little outside of my usual routine. I get daily email newsletters from one of my favorite publications, Real Simple, and I remembered seeing a tomato & garbanzo salad that had looked appealing, and decided to play off of the concept. I had made a HUGE batch of Slow Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic on Sunday (I really should not be allowed to go to the Farmer’s Market without adult supervision!) and I had done a long drag through the market’s olive bar- one of my favorite destinations- and had picked up some olives and balsamic marinated mushrooms. I swapped out the garbanzos for Cannellini beans, which I had on hand, and the end result was a perfect salad for lunch- packed with protein, tasty veggies and loads of flavor. I was able to get three full lunches out of the mixture, and will definitely be making it again. By using the slow roasted tomatoes, the salad can be made year round, since the roasting will get rid of any mealy texture or less flavorful tomatoes in the off-season. When fresh tomatoes are in season, adding ½ a rough chopped fresh tomato brings and interesting and appealing play on flavors in the two tomato style. The salad would also make for a great hors d’ oeuvres applying the same concept- allow guests to build their own bruschetta with toasted bread, ricotta, baby arugula (baby spinach works well also) and the bean salad- wildly easy, and a perfect flavor combination.

The longer the salad sits, the better, so I would recommend starting this the night before, and dividing it up in the morning, so the beans have a chance to meld with the other flavors, and the arugula will remain crisp until lunch time. If you’re looking for a single container lunch, omit the side of ricotta cheese and toss in some cubed feta with the salad. This salad is a great way to implement simple ingredients into a very satisfying meal using minimal prep time and effort.

Bellissimo White Bean Salad
(Recipe makes enough for 3 lunches, 2 dinners or as an hors d’oeuvres for a crowd)

- 1 Can Cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
- 6 Slices Slow Roasted Tomatoes, rough chopped
- 3 Cloves Roasted Garlic, chopped (garlic will break down when combined into salad)
- ½ Ripe Roma tomato, diced
- 6 Olives, pitted & quartered (I used kalamata and Moroccan green)
- 6 Marinated mushrooms, quartered
-2 Tbspn fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- Fresh baby Arugula
- Cracked black pepper & sea salt
- Basil leaves (3-4 per serving)
- Part skim Ricotta cheese (1/4 cup per serving)
- 1Tspn. fresh grated lemon zest (per serving)
- Sliced rustic bread (2 slices per serving)

In a good sized container, combine beans, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, olives and mushrooms. Add a little of the oil from the roasted tomatoes and season with salt & pepper to taste. Mix ingredients well, cover and refrigerate overnight if possible before dividing.

Chiffonade basil leaves by stacking leaves into a neat pile, roll lengthwise and slice into thin rounds. Separate the ribbons with fingers & combine with ricotta & lemon zest in a small sealable container.

When dividing for lunches, place approx ¾ cup of bean salad into a sealable container and top with a hearty handful of baby Arugula (placing on top will prevent rapid wilting) and seal. Pack ricotta mixture & bread separately, and when ready assemble into lunch portion bruschetta and take a few minutes to relax and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tastes of Fall

"These apples are delicious- as a matter of fact they are, she said
Can all this fruit be free..?"

While we were up in Maine for Labor Day weekend, Kyle and I stopped by his folk’s farm just up the road from my family’s house. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of land complete with a fish pond, raspberry patch, herb & vegetable gardens and a great orchard. A few weeks before, the peaches had been in season and I was thrilled to tote home a large bag of the fresh beauties. This time around, the apples and pears were coming in, and Kyle’s stepfather and I took a couple of bags out to harvest. Kyle’s mother had been busy at work canning and preserving the summer’s harvest and sent us home with a couple of jars of her homemade peach chutneys and jams, which I’m really looking forward to getting into!

Returning to Newport, we hauled our bags of apples and pears up to the apartment, and I began concocting ways to use, store & preserve out bounty. Given our limited space in the treehouse, and my inability to execute proper canning procedure, I wanted to come up with ways to get the most flavor out of these little beauties that would keep once frozen. Applesauce was my first instinct, as it is easy to make, easy to freeze (I used gallon Ziplock freezer bags- almost all the air can be removed, and they can be frozen flat for minimal space usage), and is a great way to prolong the comforting fall flavors of apples for an extended amount of time.

Since I had already committed myself to A LOT of peeling, coring and chopping (I set up a station in the living room so I could watch the Patriots season opener last Sunday!), my second option was for apple turnovers. Don had also picked me half a dozen pears, and I wanted to mix the pears and apples together with some dried cranberries- another favorite fall flavor. Building on that, I decided to let the creativity flow a bit more by adding a thin layer of brie before sealing the edges of the tart, as there are very few situations where I feel that cheese does not make something better. I am not a huge sweet tooth, and had some extra fresh Thyme lying around, so I sprinkled a few leaves into the last few turnovers, and the outcome was right in my wheelhouse- all of the sweetness you would expect from the fruit, the tartness of the cranberries, a spice hit from the rum, the creamy subtlety of the brie and a little earthiness from the Thyme. For me- a perfect balance of savory and sweet.

I prefer my turnovers to have more of a pie-like dough, not overly flaky with a bit of heft to hold up to the filling. I had watched the gang over on America’s Test Kitchen prepare their Foolproof Pie Dough, and with the security of knowing my baker extraordinaire was safely out of the house I set to work. As they note, adding the vodka gives you the moisture you need to make the dough pliable when rolling out, but bakes out once in the oven, so the dough comes out light and flaky- brilliant! For both the filling and the dough, I like to make both components the day before, so that the fruit has plenty of time to soak up the flavor from the rum, and the dough has a chance to rest and come together. Although there are a fair amount of steps to this process, it really does come together quickly, especially if you start the dough and filling the night before.

With only a handful of leftover apples in my fruit bowl, I am looking forward to enjoying the flavors of the harvest for months to come, and sharing these treats with friends coming through the door looking to warm up after a walk through the crisp fall air.

Spiked Pear, Apple and Cranberry Turnovers with Brie
(This recipe will make enough for 8-10 turnovers, and can be easily doubled or tripled)

Turnover Filling

-4 Fresh apples, of variety, peeled, cored & diced
-3-4 Fresh pears, peeled, cored & diced
- ½ Cup dried cranberries
- ½ Tblspn Cinnamon, ground
- ½ Tblspn Nutmeg, ground
-Juice & zest of ½ a lemon
- ½ to ¾ Cup Organic sugar (adjust according to your preferred level of sweetness)
- ½ Cup dark spiced rum

Combine all fruit, spices, lemon, sugar and rum in a shallow glass or plastic container and stir well to coat. Taste and adjust spices/sweetness to desired level. Cover dish & place in the refrigerator overnight to allow fruit to soak up the liquid, stirring mixture once or twice throughout.

Foolproof Pie Dough- From America’s Test Kitchen (doubled)

- 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 1/4 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening , cut into 2 pieces
- 4 tablespoons vodka , cold
- 4 tablespoons cold water

Process 1¼ cups flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into two 4-inch disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Remove dough disk from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 12-inch square (or a close assimilation), about 1/8 inch thick. Trim edges to clean up shape and cut dough into four even squares and stack on a small plate in between small sheets of wax or parchment paper. Repeat with second half of dough.

To Assemble

-Turnover filling
-Foolproof Dough, cut into squares
-8-10 small slices double cream brie (with our without rinds
-Fresh Thyme leaves (optional), stemmed
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-Cinnamon & sugar to dust
-Baking sheet topped with parchment paper.

Before starting, be sure to give the filling one last good stir to ensure evenly coated fruit. Working one square at a time, place a small amount of filling on the lower (triangular) half of the dough. Top fruit mixture with a sprinkle of Thyme leaves (if using) and cover with slice of brie. Dip your finger into the filling liquid and run along the edge of the turnover to help seal. Fold over the top half of the dough to form a triangle and crimp (using fingers or fork tines) to seal. Place finished turnover on baking sheet and repeat with remaining mixture and dough squares. If baking off immediately, preheat oven to 400 degrees, brush turnover tops with egg wash and dust with cinnamon sugar. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and flaky.

For Freezing: Follow through assembly process and place turnovers in a single layer on parchment lined baking sheet. Do not brush with egg wash. Place entire baking sheet directly into freezer and allow turnovers to freeze for four hours, or overnight. Once frozen, pack tightly into labeled freezer bags, and seal out as much air as possible. Turnovers will keep in this method for a few months, and can be baked directly from frozen state, with an added 5-10 minutes of cooking time, depending on your oven. If you choose to thaw before baking off, be sure to remove turnovers from bags and place on a parchment lined baking sheet to come up to temp- otherwise you’ll end up with a gooey mess in the bag! For both methods, follow the same egg wash & dusting step as above, as well as oven temp.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slow Roasted Goodness

August- where did you go?! It’s hard to believe tomorrow is September 1st, I feel like this summer flew by, as most of them do. In a way, I am glad August passed so quickly, as it was a long six weeks of waiting for Kyle to come back from sea. The ship made it back safely into its homeport this past Saturday, and we spent the weekend celebrating his return all over Newport (I’ll be posting an update of our adventures over on The Humble Home later). It’s been absolutely awesome to have him home, and I’m doing my best to not think about him heading back out to sea again after Labor Day weekend.

Last week I hit up the local farmer’s market and bought a HUGE sack of Roma tomatoes- I think I was so excited about fresh tomatoes, that I got a little ahead of myself! While I did my best to get through as many as possible, I knew I would have to use up the rest before they turned. I adore slow roasted tomatoes, as it is a very simple and delicious way of prolonging the enjoyment of your tomatoes while concentrating the flavor. There really is no limit to the application of slow roasted tomatoes- over pasta, grilled meats, on toasted bagels or sandwiches, blended in with hummus, or just as is with a little fresh basil (my favorite application!). The tomatoes can be roasted off in large or small batches, depending on how many you have on hand in surplus, and when stored properly, can last a couple of months in the refrigerator. Additionally, if you roast off a large batch, once cooled, the tomatoes can be portioned off into freezer or vacuum bags and will last even longer in the freezer for use all winter.

When I roast my tomatoes, I usually throw in a couple of heads of garlic to roast as well. As my friend Brianne over at Sweet Cheeks in the Kitchen said: “Garlic. How I love you. Let me count the ways”. Roasted garlic, like the tomatoes, is a wonderful addition to really any dish. Once roasted, it keeps well, and has a wonderfully mellow flavor. I roasted one head with plain olive oil, and the second with white truffle oil, and they both turned out incredibly flavorful! Although the roasting process usually takes a couple of hours, the hands on time is quite minimal (good for a Sunday night roasting, so you can use them all week), and the end product is really worth the time.

For a beyond easy hors d’ oeuvres, toast up some baguette slices, spread on the roasted garlic, add a fresh basil leaf, top with a slice of roasted tomato, and voila!- instant satisfaction, and a treat that appeals to all, as it’s vegan friendly, but the meaty, robust flavor of the tomato more than compensates for the carnivores. You can even take it a step further and top it off with a little crumbled chevre or fresh mozzarella and pop it under the broiler to brown for a few minutes. Once cooled, I packed my tomato slices and garlic with a couple of sprigs of fresh picked basil, and we took it to the park for a snack with pita chips. There is nothing better than a treat that is simple, rich with flavor and easy to transport, and slow roasted tomatoes & garlic fit the bill perfectly!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic

-Roma, Cherry or other fresh tomatoes
-2 or 3 Full heads of garlic
-Sea Salt
-Fresh Cracked Pepper
-Thyme sprigs
-Extra Virgin Olive oil (I recommend using a high quality oil here- given that the ingredient list is short, using top notch components will make a big difference. For a little more of a twist, a flavor infused oil, such as the white truffle oil I used on one the garlic heads)

Pre heat the oven to 225 degrees. Halve cherry tomatoes, or cut Romas into thirds or quarters. Cut off the top quarter of each head of garlic to expose all cloves. Arrange tomato slices and garlic on a baking sheet. Sprinkle tomatoes generously with sea salt, fresh pepper and olive oil. Lay thyme sprigs across the top of tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil over garlic heads, fully covering exposed garlic. Top with sea salt & pepper. Place baking sheet on the middle oven rack and roast, checking every 30 minutes or so. Depending on the size and moisture level of your tomatoes and the capacity of your oven, complete roasting should take between an hour and a half to two hours. To intensify the flavors, during the last 30 minute cycle, turn the oven up to 275 to draw out any additional moisture. When done, the tomatoes should have a rich red-brown color and appear dried around the edges, and the garlic should be “popping” out of its jacket. Remove pan from oven and let cool. If not using immediately, store tomatoes in a glass jar or dish with a tight fitting lid, covered by a layer of olive oil. Once cooled, the garlic cloves should slip right out of the skin, and can be left whole or made into a paste, and also stores well in a covered dish.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Refreshing Snacks for Hot Weather

(once again, my lackluster photo skills don't do justice!)

Well hello there- it’s been too long! Summer 2010 has been an impressively busy season around our household with holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and out of town visitors, I have been bouncing around the East Coast enjoying all the season has to offer. Somehow, in my absence it also appears as though I've hit the 20 Followers mark, how exciting! What started as a way for me to organize my recipes and the likes has apparently struck a chord with others, so big thanks to all of you who are interested in my culinary adventures, your support is awesome!

A few weeks ago, Kyle’s ship was rather suddenly mobilized to assist in the oil clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, so we spent his last week in town trying to get in as much quality time before they set sail through August 30th. It is a long time to be apart, but I am very proud of what he is a part of with the effort, and wit will make his homecoming all the more sweet.

In the meantime, I have settled into my solo routine quite well- and this weekend I had the pleasure of hosting one of our favorite couples for a night before they headed to their anniversary vacation out on Block Island. They were married out there last August, and it was hands down one of the best weddings I have ever been to- they sure know how to throw a stylish party! A few photos to pay homage to two of my favorite people- Happy Anniversary Will & Carolyn!!!

When Carolyn first asked about coming to stay for a night, I was beyond thrilled, as we don’t get to see each other all that often since we moved away from Annapolis. As those in the region know, the Northeast has been uncharacteristically hot this summer, which seems to impede my desire to whip up a lot in our tiny attic kitchen. Carolyn & Will were arriving mid-afternoon, so I whipped up these Spicy Seared Tuna Canapés with Avocado-Crème as a light snack and served a side of chilled edamame pods tossed with a little French sea salt. The canapés were a spin-off of an appetizer my friend Alex Day (who runs Chez-Vous here in Newport) brought to a cocktail party a few weeks ago, with a couple of modifications I made for what I had on hand.

The chilled tuna & avocado make a classic light combination, and went well with ice cold beers & mojitos. It was so great to catch up with good friends, although I paid the price a bit the next day at work- long gone are my days of being able to go out for drinks on a school night, but it was worth the paying the toll in the end!

Spicy Seared Tuna Canapés with Avocado-Crème (makes 12 hors d’oeuvres)
-6-8oz. Sushi-grade tuna steak
-Spice rub (see below)
-1ish Tblspn sesame oil
-1 Ripe Haas avocado
-1 Clove garlic, minced fine
-1 Tspn fresh lemon juice
-3+/- Tblspns whipped cream cheese
-1 Medium English cucumber
-Soy sauce
-Sri Racha or other Asian hot sauce (optional)
-Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
-Chives, cilantro or other fresh herbs for garnishing

For the spice rub:
-1 Tbspn toasted black sesame seeds
-1 ½ Tbspn seafood seasoning (think Old Bay)
-½ to ¾ Tbspn curry powder (I prefer to use spicy)
- ½ Tbspn cayenne pepper powder
-Couple turns of the pepper mill & a good pinch of sea salt

Pat tuna dry & cut into 1 ½” strips (if purchased in one large steak, a lot of fish markets will cut it down for you if you like). Combine spice rub ingredients in a shallow dish & toss to mix well. Dredge tuna through the spice mixture, making sure to well coat all sides and set aside to allow flesh to absorb spices.

Mash avocado well (a few chunks add nice texture) with garlic, lemon juice and salt & pepper to taste. Lightly fold in whipped cream cheese (overworking will cause deflation, treat the mixture like a soufflé) until combined and keep chilled in the refrigerator.

Over medium-high heat, heat sesame oil in a non-stick skillet until the oil begins to sheen a bit. Sear tuna on each side (approx 30 seconds or per side) just long enough to sear & color the outside and maintain a rare to medium-rare interior. Remove tuna promptly from pan & set on a cutting board to cool. Once tuna is cooled, slice into bite sized slices against the grain.

While tuna is cooling, slice cucumber on a bias to create ovals (12) and lay on a plate lined with paper towels and lightly salt slices. After a few minutes blot off any moisture expelled from the slices and discard paper towels. Arrange cucumber on a chilled plate and top each slice with a small amount of avocado mixture, and top avocado with a slice of tuna. Add a dash of soy sauce directly to each piece of fish, followed by a small dallop of Sri Racha (if using). Garnish each finished bite with fresh herbs & serve immediately. If making ahead of time, cucumber/avocado/tuna slice component can be made in advance & kept cool in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for a few hours. Just before serving, garnish with soy sauce, Sri Racha and herbs to maintain flavors.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sangria Season!

Oh Sangria, my dear, dear friend- is there no situation that you can’t make better with your presence? I want to thank you for hanging out this past weekend and making not only my Friday night post-work decompression time all the more relaxing, but also staying over to share your festive spirit with our dinner soiree guests, it was much appreciated!

Sangria is such a versatile cocktail, and it lends itself well to a lot of different flavor combinations, and meal pairings. It is the perfect way to get some extra mileage out of less expensive wine, and a great way to showcase fresh seasonal fruits. I personally find it a lot of fun to fish bits of Triple Sec laced fruit out of a glass while sitting around and relaxing with friends. Last summer I had a group of friends who would get together for weekly summers and without fail, my friend Alyssa and I would whip up a big batch of white or red Sangria for the gang. The options are really endless for making Sangria, and as a result each person’s approach is a bit different, but the results are almost always fun!

The vast majority of times, I find most restaurant versions to be overly sweet, with too much emphasis on fruit juice, and not enough on the wine and actual fresh fruit (the exception being Salvation Café, a fabulous Newport spot that makes is perfectly!). I prefer my Sangria a little less on the sweet side, with lots of fresh citrus for a refreshing finish. Too much added sugar can leave you with the “mouth coat” feel, which is not appealing when the mercury starts to rise. When making Sangria for a party or get together, I usually start it a few hours in advance, leaving ample time for the fruit to infuse the mixture and absorb some of the Triple Sec- the extra time gives the finished Sangria a bit more cohesion, and gives the ingredients a better chance to come together. A few years ago I started adding fresh herbs to cut a little of the sweetness of the Triple Sec, and the end result was a well balanced, porch sipping Sangria that is perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend.

Red Sangria with Fresh Fruit & Herbs

- 1 .75ml (standard) bottle of Pinot Noir
- ¾ Cup Grand Mariner or other Triple Sec
- 1 Lime, halved & sliced thinly
- 1 Star or Ruby Red grapefruit, halved & sliced thinly
- 2 White peaches, sliced
- 3 Plums, sliced
- ½ Cup fresh Basil leaves, torn
- ¼ Cup fresh Mint leaves, torn
- 6-8oz. Seltzer water- I prefer using Pomegranate or any other flavored seltzer

Combine fruit, herbs & Triple Sec in a large, wide bottomed pitcher. Using a wooden spoon, begin lightly bruising fruit & herbs against the bottom and sides of the pitcher, releasing some of the juice into the mixture. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. Give mixture a good stir and add in wine. Cover & place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes, or even overnight if time allows. Just before serving, remove from refrigerator, add in seltzer and stir well. Serve over ice.

Note: Any fresh seasonal fruits are a perfect addition to Sangria- other recommendations would be blueberries, strawberries, black raspberries, star fruit, clementines, apples, etc.