Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Carrot Raisin Nut Bread


Sometime you want what you want, when you want it. This is a result of wanting to clean out a fridge containing a bag of carrots, fighting valiantly for their lives. The week's groceries seemed to be a bit heavy on the veggies, and the poor little guys were rescued from certain demise in the back of the crisper. This is a twist on a recipe from Ina Garten found here. This bread is moist, dense and full of flavor, with a craggy crumbly sugared top perfect for that essential pat of butter.

Carrot Raisin Nut Bread
3/4 cup raisins
1/4 tsp ginger (powder)
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp orange zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tsp turbinado sugar (white is fine as well)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of a loaf pan with cooking spray. Combine the raisins,1/4 cup orange juice and powdered ginger in a small bowl. Set aside, stirring occasionally.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the butter and brown sugar together. Slowly add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Add the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice to the butter mixture, beating only until combined. Mix in the raisins with their liquid, and stir in the walnuts by hand.

Pour the batter into loaf pan and smooth the top. Top evenly with sugar. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crisp Salmon with Citrus Avocado Salad


Have you ever faced such an insurmountable multitude of messes, chaos and disorder that you simply didn't know where to start? Welcome to the current state of my apartment. Projects to tackle include, but certainly aren't limited to post dinner dishes (a constant), rifling through ever mounting piles of mail and documents to file, a suitcase partially unpacked in a prior half-hearted attempt, and various stages of present wrapping, sorting, and organizing. So what strategy would an otherwise sane individual employ in the face of such a monumental disaster zone? Create additional disorder out of an otherwise orderly slice of my world. Logic is a tricky muse.

Apparently this environment is conducive to meticulously, painstakingly perusing the monstrous stack of cooking magazines that's taken over my end table. Clearly there is no better time that when there is nary an uncovered couch cushion to place one's disheveled backside upon to tear through a year and half's worth of magazines. The end product, although a check in the otherwise unnecessary task completion column, simply contributed to the whole calamity. The inevitable piles of stay, toss, and roughly torn out recipes to be put somewhere, in another pile, to be tested, some other day.

At least something good came out of this whole episode. The October 2009 issue of Food and Wine magazine had an article about the 15 rules for great wine and food pairings, which can be seen here. The irony of this should not be overlooked, as I am the last person who knows anything about wine. Those who know me both chastise and loathe my shameless adoration of pink wine. Apparently, real wines aren't pink. And who knew that this dish was a spot on pairing with a lemon creamy California Chardonnay? Certainly, not this girl.

Crisp Salmon with Citrus Avocado Salad

Food & Wine, October 2009

2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp fresh squeezed orange juice
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Eight 6-ounce, skin-on salmon fillets
3 heads Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
2 Hass avocados, thinly sliced

In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat. Toss frequently, until golden (3-4 minutes).

In a large bowl, whisk 1 1/2 Tbsp of the olive oil with the mayonnaise, lemon juice and orange juice and season with salt and pepper.

Pat the salmon dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil over moderately high heat until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook until crisp and golden, about 6 minutes. Turn and cook the fillets until just pink in the center, about 4 minutes longer.

Add the Bibb lettuce, avocados and pine nuts to the dressing and gently toss to coat. Mound the salad next to the salmon and serve.

My only modifications to the recipe are as follows; I used plain old out of the carton orange juice, it was just fine. I prepared one 6 oz salmon fillet and halved the dressing recipe, using a half a head of Bibb. This allowed for plenty of leafy green leftovers. The avocados and pine nuts were tossed with the dressing and spooned on the salad, as soggy salad is not a personal favorite. This was fast, simple, healthy and completely worth the utter state of disaster that my apartment continues to be.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Archway Holiday Nougat Cookies


When I was younger, holiday time meant snow days, snow forts, an obscenely long break from school, maybe a family vacation somewhere and eight great night of Hanukkah. Light the candles, break out the dreidel, and make the all important decision that will have future implications for days to come... open all of your presents on the first night in a wrapping paper shredding, starry eyed haze with visions on latkes dancing in your head, or show some willpower and open one on each night. Let me tell you, the willpower of an average eight year old is similar to their attention span... short and fleeting.

As I got older, the holidays meant the ending of another semester, cramming for finals, celebrating being done with finals, then packing up the car and heading home. Mom's cooking and being able to unabashedly veg to my heart's content were palpable luxuries that college did not allow for. Getting back in touch with hometown friends and reminiscing about old times and new adventures was a given. The Hanukkah candles were still lit, but it was less about the presents and more about spending quality time with family, including but never limited to standby Jewish holiday traditions of skiing, movies or chinese food on Christmas day.

There has been a constant through the years that I have sought out, searched for and looked forward to each year. They hold great significance and have grown to be something I looked forward to and loved. Sadly, that constant is no longer with us this holiday season.

Is it a certain person, tradition or event that makes the holidays?

A recipe, dish or meal that ensures a blessed holiday season?

Nope, none of the above.

Its a cookie.

Perhaps the buildup was a tad dramatic, but all aforementioned statements are true. I've loved these cookies for as long as I can remember, and sadly, are no longer commercially available. Archway's Holiday Nougat Cookies, in their trademark red packaging, have been unceremoniously absent for the past two holiday seasons. Last year, I cast an inquisitive gaze at the supermarket end-caps and displays, thinking perhaps I'd just missed them. This year, I'd nearly forgotten about them until last week, and began my pursuit. After going 0 for 3 at the local markets, an investigation was needed. Turns out Archway has been a victim of the economic downturn, their less than profitable cookie crumbling into Chapter 11. Thankfully, this recipe provided the holiday constant that I'd missed for the past two years.

Archway Holiday Nougat Cookies
1 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans or cashews)
Confectioner’s sugar

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Sift flour and salt, and add to butter mixture until mixed. Add nuts and mix well. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for minutes, making sure cookies do not brown. Cool cookies and roll gently in confectioner’s sugar.

The trick with these guys to replicate the buttery, crumbly, melt in your mouth texture is cooking them through without them browning. They are fairly spot on for flavor and consistency, and have saved another holiday tradition. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Marshmallow S'mores Bites


This somehow was a natural progression in the evolution of marshmallow treats. Growing up spending summers on a lake, ending evenings around a campfire was a frequent occurrence. This is everything a true s'more should be, minus the smoky smell ingrained in your clothes, the charred knuckles from trying to get your stick close enough to the embers to get it golden but not make a flaming sugar torch, and the awkward crunch to chew ratio of the graham cracker and chocolate bar to marshmallow. These are rustic, bite size pieces that were super fast to make, and so, so good.

Marshmallow S'mores Bites
1 cup crushed graham crackers
2 Tbsp butter
8 oz semisweet chocolate
1/2 tsp canola or vegetable oil
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Follow recipe for Toasted Coconut Marshmallow Squares, omitting coconut and vanilla bean from ingredients.

Generously coat a 8" x 11" non metallic pan with cooking spray. Melt butter and combine with finely crushed graham crackers. Spread graham mixture on bottom of pan and pack firmly. Top with marshmallow mixture and set aside.

In a double boiler, combine chocolate and oil. Mix thoroughly until chocolate is melted and smooth. Spoon evenly over marshmallow mixture. Refrigerate uncovered for at least two hours before serving. To remove marshmallows easily, run a butter knife between the edge of the marshmallow and the pan. Invert over a plate or serving dish to remove. Cut in small bite size pieces and enjoy.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Toasted Coconut Vanilla Marshmallows


Winter has reared its ugly head in Southern California, showing up a full two weeks early to the seasonal exchange party. Being a native New Yorker, I use the term winter rather loosely. In New York, winter might constitute knowing that when the weatherman says "expecting 1-2 tonight" that may well indicate feet not inches of snow to come, getting up 20 minutes early every day to dig your car out and scrape the windshield with a credit card if your desperate, and knowing that its perfectly normal to dress in 4 or more layers on a daily basis. The California definition seems to vary slightly, apparently with winter meaning temperatures under 55 degrees, raining, and visible snow on the mountains far, far away.

Despite the shift in coastal perspective on what constitutes winter, seasonal habits certainly seem to be resurfacing. The cold dreary weather conjures up memories of steaming hot cocoa with floaty marshmallow bits and other ways to take the chill off. I've been thinking about making marshmallows for months, not because I have a particular affinity for them, but purely because I think they're fun. The creative combinations of flavors and colors and shapes - oh the shapes! are limitless. I foresee more marshmallow mashups coming in the near future. For now, think about warming up with one of these plump little darlings in your next cup of cocoa when the chill rolls in.

Toasted Coconut Vanilla Marshmallows
Recipe adapted from the Food Network and Ina Garten

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut, firmly packed
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
Powdered sugar

Spread a think layer of coconut on a baking sheet and place in 325 degree oven. Toast for 12-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove to cool, and set aside.

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the marshmallow syrup.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Cook at a steady rolling boil for one minute, continuing to stir, and remove from heat.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the marshmallow syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Sprinkle half the toasted coconut in an 8 by 12-inch nonmetal pan. Oil the sides of the pan thoroughly with nonstick spray or vegetable oil. Pour in the marshmallow batter and smooth the top of the mixture with damp hands. Allow to dry uncovered at room temperature overnight.

Remove the marshmallows by inverting the pan onto a baking sheet covered with powdered sugar. Cut marshmallows into squares and roll each carefully in confectioners sugar. Store uncovered at room temperature. Makes 25-30 marshmallows.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jose Cuervo Christmas Cookies

For those of you might think that cookies and tequila might not be a match made in heaven, here is a little chuckle for you. As a disclaimer, this recipe has not been verified nor tested, its just meant for humor. I received it earlier and I thought you all might enjoy. Who knows, it sounds like it has potential... Back to real cooking soon.



Jose Cuervo Christmas Cookies
1 cup of water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup of brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup nuts
2 cups of dried fruit
1 bottle Jose Cuervo Tequila

Sample the Cuervo to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the Cuervo again, to be sure it is of the highest quality,pour one level cup and drink.

Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.

Add one peastoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point it's best to make sure the Cuervo is still ok, try another cup just in case.

Turn off the mixerer thingy.

Break 2 leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.

Pick the frigging fruit off the floor.

Mix on the turner.

If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaters just pry it loose with a drewscriver.

Sample the Cuervo to check for tonsisticity.
Next, sift two cups of salt, or something. Who geeves a crap. Check the Jose Cuervo. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.

Add one table.

Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.

Greash the oven.

Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.

Don't forget to beat off the turner.

Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the Cose Juervo and make sure to put the stove in the wishdasher.

Cherry Mistmas !

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crockpot Turkey Chili with Sweet Heat


So it turns out I wasn't over turkey quite yet. Somehow a mere week later its crept back into the kitchen, demanding to be front and center in yet another dish. As the nights are a bit cooler recently, I've been favoring hearty soups and stews guaranteed to take the chill off. This is one of my maiden forays into crock pot cooking, as well as turkey based chili. Don't be put off by the pineapple, as it adds an undertone of sweetness to balance the heat of the spices and hot sauce. You'll know you're eating a solid bowl of chili when this is done.

Crockpot Turkey Chili with Sweet Heat
2 lbs ground turkey
12 oz crushed tomatoes
12 oz crushed pineapple
1 12 oz can dark red kidney beans
1 12 oz can cannelloni beans
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup spaghetti sauce
2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 Tbsp Frank's Red Hot
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/2 tsp coarse salt

Place ground turkey in large saute pan over medium heat. Add salt and pepper and mix with wooden spoon. Cook turkey through for 5-7 minutes. Place turkey in colander to remove excess fat, and set aside.

Add chopped onions to saute pan and cook until they are softened.

In a crockpot, combine tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pineapple, onion and turkey. Drain liquid from beans and add to mixture. Combine all spices, hot sauce and teriyaki to crockpot and stir thoroughly. Cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Garnish with sour cream and chives, and serve.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps


After not one, not two, but THREE tasty turkeys were served for Thanksgiving this year, I've officially met my annual turkey consumption allowance. The big winner of the three was a deep fried beauty injected with Italian dressing, although there was not a bad one in the bunch... it is turkey after all. I've always been partial to dark meat, based on prior experience with dry, stringy white meat. After sampling the deep fried injected bird, I might just be a white meat convert.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, its time to throw it back to our old friend chicken. These are tweaked from this recipe, simplified and kicked up a bit.

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps
(serves 5-6)

Filling:
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 lbs chicken thighs, skin removed
2/3 cup mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded daikon
1 head of Bibb lettuce
1/3 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp hot mustard
1 tsp Sriracha
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp corn starch

Stir Fry Sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

To make sauce, dissolve sugar in water in a small bowl. Add all remaining sauce ingredients to a small saucepan except for corn starch. Stir well over medium heat until all ingredients are mixed. Add cornstarch slurry (cornstarch plus 1 tsp water mixed) to saucepan and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and refrigerate when sauce is cooled.

In a large wok or frying pan, bring oil to medium heat. Saute chicken for 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and chop into small penny sized chunks when cooled.

Combine soy sauce, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar (stir fry sauce) in a small bowl. Add to frying pan used previously for the chicken. Add chopped onions, mushrooms and garlic. Saute for a few minutes and add the chopped chicken. Mix thoroughly for 1-2 minutes and remove from heat.

Wash Bibb lettuce thoroughly and carefully remove leaves. Spoon chicken mixture into each lettuce leaf, topping with sauce, carrots and daikon. Garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro and serve.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Stuff(ing) Dreams Are Made Of


I've been thinking of how to make this happen since Halloween. It was then I tasted something so good, so flavorful and so gosh darn simple that I had to have it again.

Was it some fantastic chocolate covered wonderment snatched from our nephew's candy bag?

Nope.

A perfect candy apple layered with caramel and walnuts and other goodness?

Uh-uh... guess again.

It was, wait for it...

A mushroom.

I know, you're thinking what exactly were you doing eating mushrooms on Halloween? Were you shirking your American duty of filling your belly with Hershey bars and Smarties and the obligatory Bit' o Honey, even though you already know you don't like them? Heck no, I wouldn't be that guy.

This year we partook in some fun pre-Halloweening festivities, including the traditional pumpkin carving and dinner with family and San Diego. Mr. SoCal's aunt whipped up some of her notoriously delicious sherry mushrooms, and that was it for me. These things are to die for, there is no other way to aptly describe it. They cook down in sherry cooking wine for hours and hours on end until they are mere shells of their former selves, and then they are so packed with flavor its unbelievable. So that folks, is why I've had a hankering for mushrooms since Halloween. Just in time for Thanksgiving, a few of my favorite things come together for this enticing fusion of flavors.

Savory Sourdough Mushroom Stuffing

1 12 oz loaf of sourdough bread
24 oz white button mushrooms (1 1/2 package)
18 oz Sherry cooking wine (bottle size may vary)
8 oz chestnuts, roasted and shelled**
1 large sweet onion (vidalia preferably)
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp salted butter
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp fresh sage
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

**Chestnuts may be tough to find, and are a little time consuming to prep, roast and shell. They are sold ready to go at Williams-Sonoma and much less expensively at Ohnuts.com. Really, I couldn't make that up.

Wash mushrooms well and remove all stems. Set stems aside. Place mushroom caps and sherry cooking wine in a medium lidded saucepan. Add 2 Tbsp butter and leave to simmer on low heat for 3 hours.

If you are roasting chestnuts, preheat oven to 425 degrees. With a small paring knife, carefully carve an X in one side of the chestnut. Mind your digits, and keep a tight grip on the end of paring knife blade. Make sure to cut through to the inner shell and chestnut meat, which will be much easier than the initial X.



Place chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes. Remove shell from chestnuts as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Chop chestnuts into quarters, and set aside. Check out a helpful video tutorial here.

Turn oven down to 275 degrees. Slice sourdough into 1 inch square cubes and place on a baking sheet. Place in oven for 3-4 minutes, until the bread feel slightly dry. If you were wise enough to tear and leave your bread out the day before, skip to the next step.

In a medium saute pan, add to 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 of vidalia onion, cut into lengthwise slices. Let onions sweat and soften over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes. Add 2 more Tbsp olive oil, along with garlic, mushroom stems and chestnuts. Add salt, pepper, sage and thyme and mix well. Let cook for 10-12 minutes, until onions are slightly browned and garlic is fragrant.

Place bread cubes in a casserole dish in a single layer. Add chestnut mixture from saute pan, then add mushrooms. By now they should be 1/2 to 1/3 their original size and a lovely dark brown color. Mix all thoroughly. If stuffing appears dry, slowly add chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time. Mix well and then test if you need additional liquid.

Place in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eggplant Caprese Stacks


The time is upon us that we will soon face a monumental challenge. In an annual expression of celebration, festivity and just a touch of gluttony, the holiday eating season is fast approaching. The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Years Day brings an unwelcome gift- an increase in caloric intake, accepted and expected overeating, and possibly an extra few pounds. In an effort to defray the caloric costs of the impending foodpalooza, I'm focusing on healthy recipes that may provide tasty alternatives to the traditional calorie laden holiday favorites. In the spirit of full disclosure, there might be just a tad of selfish motivation behind this. A baking bonanza of holiday belly bombs and non traditional goodies will be on like donkey kong here after turkey day, so for now its all about balancing the good with the oh so very bad.

The impressive amount of good for you stuff in this little stack of happy is worth noting. Olive oil provides a healthy dose of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and inflammation reducing polyphenols. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, and eggplant is an excellent source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B1 and B6. Basil provides vitamin A and magnesium, helping the heart and blood vessels to relax. Pine nuts contain protein, iron, and the only natural source of pinolenic acid, which stimulates hormones and decreases your appetite. And come on now, who really needs a health reason to eat mozzarella? If you insist on one, protein and calcium fit the bill. I've now convinced myself that today, I'm dishing up nothing short of health food. Fight off the impending holiday grub overdose with this healthful treat, a gift from my kitchen to yours.

Eggplant Caprese Stacks
1 large eggplant
1 cup breadcrumbs, seasoned (see below)
1 egg
1 8 oz round of mozzarella
2 large tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Olive oil

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, adding 1-2 Tbsp olive oil. Peel eggplant and cut into roughly 1/3 inch slices. Whisk one egg in a shallow dish, and place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish. Season breadcrumbs if desired, with salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano (I recommend this). Dip one slice of eggplant in egg and cover both sides. Let excess egg drip off, and dredge eggplant slice in breadcrumbs. Place in heated skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides. Repeat for the remaining eggplant slices, adding a Tbsp of olive oil to the skillet between each batch.

For the pesto, combine washed basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic and 3 Tbsp olive oil in a food processor. Blend until a smooth paste is formed, adding additional olive oil as needed.

To form stacks, layer eggplant, tomato and mozzarella in desired arrangement. Add a layer of pesto between two layers, or top stacks with the pesto.

These stacks are filling and full of contrasting tastes and textures. The warm, crisp eggplant plays against the cool creaminess of the mozzarella. As you can see my pesto is a little, shall we say rustic. Making a smaller amount of pesto made my food processor none too excited to chop, so I went with a mortar and pestle and it still tasted great. The pesto oil seeps into the browned eggplant and makes for savory forkfuls of goodness. Happy eating to you and go enjoy some healthy food before the holiday glut closes in.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rosemary Roast Chicken and Potatoes


Simplicity. It seems to be the new buzz word when it comes to food lately. Food Network has a show devoted to the concept, Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix. Haagen Dazs hopped on the simple train earlier this year, debuting a new line of ice creams containing a mere five flavors, aptly named Five. Just for giggles, I checked out Amazon.com's best sellers in cooking, wine and food section. No less than 9 of the top 100 contain the word "simple" in their titles. If Giada, Ina, and Alice Waters are on board the simple food movement, who am I to protest?

I remember my mom making this when we lived way, way, way up north in upstate New York. It's rich aroma greeted you at the door like a warm hug when you came in from the cold. The ease that you can bring this meal together should really be kept secret, and you can reveal it at your own discretion. The mystery ingredient that brings this dish together is the rich sweetness of molasses. A filling, deeply flavored and soul satisfying dish is the end result.

Rosemary Roast Chicken and Potatoes

2 lbs fresh chicken thighs (roughly 6)
2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 lb red skinned potatoes
1/2 cup molasses
6 Tbsp olive oil
3 large springs fresh rosemary
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a large pot of water on a burner to boil. While water is heating, rinse and clean potatoes. Cut potatoes into golf ball sized chunks, leaving skins on and removing ends of sweet potatoes. Place potatoes into water and boil until fork tender (12-15 minutes).

While potatoes boil, place chicken thighs skin side up in a large rectangular baking dish. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil on chicken, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Finely chop rosemary and top chicken with 1 tsp of rosemary. Drizzle 1 Tbsp molasses over chicken.

When potatoes are cooked, drain in colander and return to pot. Add remaining olive oil, rosemary, molasses, salt and pepper and toss gently. When potatoes are thoroughly coated, place between the chicken thighs in baking dish. Cook for 50-55 minutes, until chicken is golden brown.

The cold nights are few and far between here in SoCal, but when the occasion presents itself, this is a simple, satisfying meal to have on hand.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teriyaki Salmon Sliders


Every now and again, we have to stand up and face a harsh food reality. Not every recipe will be as glorious as its colorful reviews claim, as mouth watering as its loyal followers emphatically state, or look as appealing as in their beautifully staged and thoughtfully designed photos intend. I concocted just such a food bomb the other day, with nothing but good intentions and eager anticipation. Perhaps the smoky sweet potato cornbread that sounded like such a perfect blend will be reborn around here someday, but I'm happy to say some good came out of the whole mess. In the green spirit of recycling, the dense, dry, rip your fillings out monstrosity was repurposed and played a key role in these teriyaki salmon sliders. Redemption is mine!

Teriyaki Salmon Sliders
Teriyaki Salmon Burgers
(makes 16)
2 lb salmon (fillets or canned)
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs*
1/2 cup chopped scallions
6 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp Sriracha sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/3 tsp kosher salt

Pulse salmon in food processor until desired size of salmon chunks are obtained. Remove salmon from food processor and place in mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a spoon until fully incorporated. Divide mixture in four equal portions. Score each portion into four equal sized amounts. Roll out 16 small slider patties, approximately 2-3 ounces each. Pan fry in dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown on each side. Top with lettuce, tomato and red onion if desired.

* I used breadcrumbs from the cornbread, but plain fresh bread crumbs are fine.

Slider Buns
From CHOW
(makes 16)

1 1/4 whole milk
6 Tbsp vegetable shortening (non hydrogenated is preferred)*
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp kosher salt

Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as milk simmers, remove from heat and stir in shortening until combined. Let cool as you prepare the dry ingredients.

Combine all dry ingredients into mixing bowl. When liquid has cooled (between 105F - 115F) slowly add to dry ingredients, mixing with a dough hook.
Mix on low until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium low and mix until dough is smooth and springy, about 4 minutes.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, add dough, and turn to coat in oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and turn onto a clean surface. Divide dough into 16 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth, round bun (keep the rest covered with the towel as you work). Slightly flatten bun and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat to make 16 buns.

Place buns in a warm area until slightly risen and puffy (note that they will not double in size), about 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange the rack in the middle.

When buns have risen, bake in the oven until they are golden brown, crusty, and have an internal temperature of 190°F, about 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a rack, and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving

* I used hydrogenated vegetable shortening (Crisco) based purely on cost. The non hydrogenated shortening was close to 8 bucks and we all know Crisco is a bit more affordable.

So the results.. were fantastic. The burgers were moist, decidedly not dry compared to prior attempts at salmon burgers. These could absolutely be cooked on the grill as well. A slice of red onion with the burger was a perfect sweet tang that balanced the subtle heat of the sriracha. The buns, however, were not my finest work. My bread baking is primarily limited to banana bread, a couple of loaves of honey wheat and one stellar attempt at Irish soda bread, so the delicate sublteties of bread making are not my forte. At least for now. They were a little bit doughy and heavy, but the sweet light flavor did not disappoint. Definitely heed the part in the recipe to keep the dough under a towel as you work to make the buns. I conveniently skipped that, and a slight tough skin formed around the exposed dough, affecting their willingness to take their destined bun shapes. I topped these with a sriracha mayonnaise and was very pleased with the taste combination. Give these a spin at your next Sunday football party, they're sure to be a hit.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Celery Apple Risotto with Crispy Pancetta


You may have noticed an abundance of delicious fall flavored treats floating around the food blogs these days. Creations rich with pumpkin, squash, apples and rich harvest spices are some of my favorites, regardless of the season. Fall has always meant trips to the pumpkin patch, bringing out those great snuggly sweaters to keep the chill away on cool fall days, apple cider, the sound of crunching leaves underfoot, and the smell. That smell of fall is distinctive, earthy and delicious enough to make you close your eyes and contently smile while drawing in the biggest whiff your lungs can take.

Here in California, I'm learning fall really isn't that different. Kids still go wild at the pumpkin patch, leaping and bounding from the hay bales while in pursuit of the perfect pumpkin. A few leaves litter the sidewalks here and there, and apple cider doughnuts were a welcome find at a downtown cafe a few days ago. Our neighborhood is festooned with fake spiderwebs, witches, goblins and ghouls. Despite the lack of cool crisp fall weather I grew up with, I've learned that the seasons are what you make of them, regardless of your location. I can't wait to carve pumpkins, hoping that I can recover from a carving contest whooping that I received from Mr. SoCal last year. The thought of our 2 and 3 year old nephews all decked out for Halloween in their bat costumes makes me grin from ear to ear, and the thought of them hopped up on sugary goodies makes me grin even more. The smell of fall is different here, so I decided to fill our kitchen with a rich, comforting scent of a treat that may not be as snuggly as those great fuzzy sweaters, but warms your heart and belly just the same.

Celery Apple Risotto with Crispy Pancetta
(adapted from Bon Appetit, 2007)

3 - 14 oz cans low sodium chicken broth (or stock)
1 cup celery, diced (about 4 stalks)
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 apples, diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan reggiano cheese
3 oz pancetta, diced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh chives

In a small saucepan, pour chicken broth and simmer on medium heat.

In a large sauce pot, melt 1 Tbsp butter and oil together. Add diced onion, celery and two of the diced apples, and lemon juice. Saute on medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until onions and celery are soft. Add minced garlic and continue to stir.

Add arborio rice to large sauce pot and stir until well mixed. Slowly add chicken broth 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly.

Continue to mix with each addition of chicken broth, until all liquid is incorporated (25-30 minutes total). When all liquid is absorbed and rice is just past al dente, remove from heat and all Parmesan reggiano cheese and remaining butter and stir. Add remaining finely diced apple and stir thoroughly. The risotto will be done when it no longer can absorb additional liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook diced pancetta over medium heat, and place cooked pancetta on paper towel to absorb excess grease. Plate risotto, and top with chopped chives and pancetta crumbles.

I really wanted a subtle apple sweetness to be the predominant flavor of this dish. When the risotto finished cooking, the apple was masked behind the earthy flavor of the celery and a hint of garlic. I used a softer apple (Macoun)and both the flavor and texture of the apple was lost in the risotto. Using a finely diced up apple mixed in after cooking gave it the perfect balance I was looking for. Next time around I would opt for a firmer apple, like a Braeburn or Granny Smith. The pancetta could just as easily be bacon and still get that great sweet salty balance. Happy fall to you and yours, and best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Moonshine Whoopie Pies


I've been reveling in the picture perfect weather here in sunny California, and the kitchen at Chez SoCal is definitely open for business once again. One of my favorite food blogs to frequent is also a local LA gal, Sara, over at Culinerapy. Perusing her site a few nights ago, I was delighted to see a recipe for a New England staple, the whoopie pie. I've been pondering, mulling, and plotting this recipe ever since.

I've had this recipe for Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes bookmarked from Smitten Kitchen for entirely too long. Variations have popped up around the web, found here and here among others. Yesterday, in a search for inspiration, I revisited my overflowing folder of bookmarked recipes and ran across this very recipe. I now believe this was an act of divine victual intervention. Conveniently, Guinness, Jamesons and Baileys happen to be the go to trifecta of libations in our household. Why, you ask? It just so happens that Mr. SoCal happens to be Irish. Really, really Irish. I'm talking red hair and green pointy shoes short of a leprechaun Irish. In the spirit of full disclosure, I also enjoy Baileys in a piping hot cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. There's nothing wrong with having some liquid deliciousness in house, and it worked to my full culinary advantage today. The following is what happens when two amazing concepts unite in a brainstorm, complete with a dash of the hooch for good measure.

Moonshine Whoopie Pies
Makes 9 - 10 whoopie pies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter, salted (softened)
2 cups Guinness stout
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Filling
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, salted (softened)
8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp Baileys Irish Cream

Whoopie Cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa. In another large bowl, mix together brown sugar, butter and oil until well combined. Add egg and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add coffee and half of the Guinness. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into wet mixture, one cup at a time. After adding half of the dry ingredients, add the remaining Guinness. Mix in remaining dry ingredients.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter onto baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Filling:
Beat softened butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, until fully incorporated. Add vanilla, then add Bailey's until desired flavor level is achieved. Spoon into large zip top bag or pastry bag, and refrigerate.

Making the whoopie pies:
Remove filling in bag from fridge for 10 - 15 minutes prior to assembling whoopie pies. Lay half of cookies flat side up on a large cutting board or clean baking sheet. Working from the outer edge of the cookie towards the center, pipe a spiral of filling, covering entire flat surface of cookie. Top with remaining cookies. Wrap whoopie pies in plastic wrap (individually or between stacked layers) and refrigerate before serving.

I simply cannot get over the pillowy, light texture of the whoopie pie batter. Its akin to a more dense version of a meringue, that's the only thing I can compare it to. These whoopie cookies are delicate little flowers, though. Do take extra care in their storage after they cool. In my attempt to clean the cocoa-laden, sugary booze bomb that went off in my kitchen in the process of making these, I layered the nearly cooled cookies in a zip top bag. After the cleaning frenzy had passed, I found my beloved whoopie cookies a bit worse for wear. Stuck to their neighbors and painfully eager to fall apart, I humbly salute the 6 dearly departed whoopie cookies who are no longer in their intended form. Good thing there was leftover filling, or their crumbling would have been in vain.

Make sure to have plenty of ventilation when you whip these guys up. I was amazed with how, well, perfumed my kitchen was when these were baking. In plain English, when these cook, the Guinness cooks out and makes the air ripe with the aroma of beer. And chocolate. Strange, but a welcomed aroma in my house from here on in, if these awesome whoopie pies are the end product. Cheers and enjoy!

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Popcorn POM Bars


Greetings and salutations from the wild wild West. My absence from blogging likely has been much more palpable to me than any of you lovely folks, but I hope my absence hasn't turned you off from this site. If it has, my sincere apologies. A variety of events and circumstances have kept me away, including a broken camera, but more importantly a serious family illness that required I head back East for a few months. My time there was precious and I am happy to say, the maker of the best chicken pot pie in the great state of New York, otherwise known as my mom, has recovered and is back to her feisty self. I'm now back in southern California, and settling back into the joyous drudgery of daily life. I've missed this part of my world and look forward to getting back into the swing of things. I hope that you will enjoy it too.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive some delicious POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice from the fantastic folks at POM a few days ago. I love POM Wonderful and knew that it was a serious source of antioxidants, but had no idea the depth and breadth of research POM has done to support this product. These folks picked a great person to send this to, because deep down in my soul stirs a big old nerd who adores all things science. I know this is a cooking and food blog, so you are free to skip the medical mumbo jumbo if it doesn't appeal to you. Go ahead, I'm not mad at ya. For those of you fellow nerds that stuck around, get this. POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice has been the subject of over 35 peer reviewed research articles in the Journal of Nutrition, American Journal of Cardiology, and Clinical Cancer Research among others. It's been shown to improve blood flow to the heart in patients with coronary heart disease, decrease arterial plaque (the gunk that narrows your arteries), decrease the risk of recurrence of prostate cancer, as well as improve erectile function. See what all the people who didn't want to read this missed out on? Who knows when that will be your go to talking point at your next social event! You can thank me later.

And I digress... thanks for those of you who slogged through my nerdtastic wandering diatribe. I just love that stuff. When I received the POM juice, I got stuck on an idea of making popcorn balls. Since the starring element is so darn good for you, I didn't want to muck it up with the traditional unhealthy ingredients like butter and sugar or corn syrup. What unfolded and developed was a healthy, delightfully satisfying treat.

Popcorn POM Bars

16 oz POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
5 oz ricemellow creme (or traditional marshmallow fluff)
2 oz dried cherries
4 oz chocolate chips

Pour POM juice in small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 40-50 minutes until reduced to a thick syrup consistency. Let cool. Pop popcorn, and mix with berries. When reduced POM is cooled, mix in large bowl with popcorn and cherries. Mix with spoon to evenly coat all popcorn. Mix in chocolate chips and firmly press into a greased 9 x 9 pan. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours and cut into 9 squares.

Fast, simple and ridiculously healthy. If you wanted to double down on the antioxidant punch that these pack, switch to dark chocolate chips. Throw in a handful of almonds of walnuts for some healthy fats and protein. Don't like dried cherries? Try raisins, cranberries, or whatever other tasty dried fruity bits your heart desires. This is truly my ideal type of food creation; simple, successful, and with endless interchangeable ingredients. It is a sticky project, which might be fun for you brave parents to try with your kids. I'd never used ricemellow creme before, and was a bit taken aback by the airy, almost crystalline appearance of it. Turns out if you stir it all up, it looks just like traditional fluff, and tastes remarkably similar. Simple joys right? Good to have you back, and I promise I won't be leaving you high and dry, or hungry and annoyed, again any time soon.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Banana Bread Nice Cream


Oh, how I wish I had been the brains behind the simplistic brilliance of this recipe. So easy, so uncomplicated and so disgustingly healthy it cries out to be drenched in a thick calorie laden caramel sauce. Please do so if you feel so inclined. How I also wish that I had not suffered an unfortunate camera meltdown that left me with this one poorly composed, slightly blurry shot before it decided to kick the bucket. Some sort of lens error that left the lens sticking out and unable to retract. Good thing I had this delicious faux ice cream to ease the pain of my camera misfortune. For breakfast.

While cruising the blogosphere earlier this week, I ran across a post on Choosing Raw. For the record, I in no way eat raw or subscribe to the raw lifestyle, however I enjoy the purity within the concept of eating clean, raw food. I did have a brief flirtation with going vegetarian for about 10 days a few years back, but after all that roughage I fell victim to what some called a "meat indiscretion" and haven't looked back since. I try to eat healthy, fairly balanced meals for the most part, but I love the occasional sugar bomb just as much as the next gal. I have to tell you, if this is what eating raw includes, I might just think about it.

Banana Bread Nice Cream (tweaked from recipe at Choosingraw.com)
2 bananas, frozen
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts

Peel bananas and cut into 4-5 pieces. Place in sealed container and freeze until solid. Place banana chunks in food processor with scraped vanilla bean, cinnamon and walnuts. Blend for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Top with an additional sprinkle of chopped walnuts if desired.

Simple. Unbelievably yummy. Refreshing beyond belief. I truly felt like I was indulging way more than I should be when eating this, but its so healthy its unreal. The mouthfeel is smooth and rich, similar to soft serve. For the record it doesn't hold up well to refreezing, as it refreezes into crystal form, altering its texture. It works equally well making this in a blender, which I did with the assistance of a glug of soy milk. In my continuing pursuit of making frozen treats without an ice cream maker, this one definately has taken top marks.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peanut and Panko Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Thai Satay Sauce


Despite our epic Costco trip earlier this week, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a food conundrum. It seems that the jaw dropping irony of a full refrigerator is inevitable, at least in our house. After pensively evaluating the contents of the fridge, Mr SoCal looked at me and said "There's nothing to eat". In the realm of water water everywhere and not a drop to drink, behold a stuffed to the gills fridge with apparently, no food. In his defense, I should elaborate. "I mean, everything has to be cooked. Nothing is made" Viable point taken. On my day off, I set out to remedy the enigma that was our empty, yet chock full fridge.

Simple ready made grab and go items were a staple in our college years. Ramen, frozen burritos, granola bars, and precooked chicken breasts (affectionately referred to as "fatty patties") were all familiar favorites. Our tastes have matured slightly since then, but I suppose this would be an appropriate time to fess up to the half empty case of Chicken Cup O' Noodles in our pantry... I digress. With the memory of the fatty patties fresh in my mind, chicken cemented itself at the center of my cooking whimsy.

Deciding on chicken nuggets, I wanted a proper dash of flavor and texture to gussy up otherwise ordinary chicken. There is nothing worse than flavorless, stringy, less than appetizing chicken breast to ruin an otherwise ravenous appetite. Surveying the fridge, Thai looked like a good option. I had some homemade peanut butter from the delicious blog of Kiss My Spatula, plus some grated peanuts. The closet was stocked with panko bread crumbs, and to my delight I found a lonely looking nub of ginger waiting for its call to glory in the crisper. Welcome to the origin of my souped up, crunchy, peanutty chicken nuggets.

Peanut and Panko Crusted Chicken Nuggets with Thai Satay Sauce
Ingredients
4-6 ounce chicken breasts

For dredging flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp garlic
1/4 tsp ginger (powder)
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp lime juice

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped peanuts
Dash salt and pepper

Thai Satay Sauce
3/4 cup homemade peanut butter (or smooth store bought)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp coriander
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sesame oil

Equipment
Three mixing bowls
Baking rack
Baking sheet

Gather three mixing bowls; one for dredging flour, one for egg wash, and one for the breading mixture. In the first bowl, mix all dredging flour ingredients. In the second bowl, mix eggs and lime juice. Combine panko, chopped peanuts, salt and pepper in third bowl.

Cut chicken breasts into bite size pieces (4-5 per breast). First, dip chicken pieces into flour mixture. Shake off excess, and dunk in egg wash. Let excess egg drip off and finish in the peanut and panko mixture. When nugget is well coated, place on a cooking spray covered baking rack, placed over baking sheet. Cook nuggets in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Sauce
Combine all ingredients in food processor and combine. Really, that's all. I swear.

Cooking Notes
If you haven't floured, egged, and coated anything before, it is an inherently messy process. It is essential to maintain and "wet hand" and a "dry hand" for this. If you opt not to, it will be quite a challenge to even turn the nozzle on your faucet to rinse off the inevitable accumulation of sticky goop. Place the nuggets into the flour and transfer them to the egg wash with one hand, then switch to the designated "wet hand" for the messier egg wash removal and peanut panko coating. Trust me here, this is the way to go.

I see many versions of these nuggets coming to fruition in the future. It really was convenient to grab a few of these, dunk them and go and have a healthy dose of protein and flavor at your disposal. Mystery of the full yet empty fridge solved- case closed.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pickled Asian Ginger Salad


Greetings from sunny Southern California! I have returned to left coast and 48 hours later, back at the cooking and creating. Shortly after landing, Mr. SoCal and I made an epic Costco run to restock our beyond empty fridge. We picked up some fantastic looking Ahi Tuna, and have since been pondering a fitting side dish to accompany it. My fascination with the whiffle ball bat looking Daikon played a large part in this dish. This large radish is shaped like an overgrown white carrot, and has a mild, sweet taste and texture similar to water chestnuts. It is pleasant to eat on its own, and it provides a mild sweetness to serve as the base for this pickled Asian inspired salad.

Pickled Asian Ginger Salad
1 cup sliced daikon
3/4 cup sliced carrot
3/4 cup sliced cucumber
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp grated ginger
Sesame seeds

Peel daikon, carrot and cucumber. Slice all vegetables with a grater or mandolin. Place sliced veggies in a bowl. In another bowl, mix vinegar, sesame oil and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Grate ginger and add to vinegar mixture. Pour vinegar mixture on sliced veggies and stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours. After chilling, stir again and plate. Top with sesame seeds and serve.

The sweetness of the veggies and acidic bite of the vinegar make for a pleasing balance in this salad. It's one of the few pickling experiments I've ever braved, and its pretty simple and quite delicious. Don't fear the pickle! Dive right in and get your brine on. Happy eating!

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Garden Fresh Strawberry Lemonade with Honey and Mint


Happy Fourth of July everyone! I hope you all are having a fun, safe and happy holiday with your favorite folks. This is a quick recipe for a delicious holiday drink that was inspired by the bounty of fresh goods available right here at my mom's house. The strawberries were picked from her berry patch in the backyard, and the mint is wild, growing on the banks of the lake.

Strawberry Lemonade with Honey and Mint
3 lemons
1 quart strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup honey plus 1 Tbsp
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
2 Tbsp sugar
6 cups water

Mix quartered strawberries with the juice of three lemons and sugar. Let the combination macerate for 5-10 minutes.


Boil one cup of water on stove, then add mint leaves and 1 Tbsp of honey. Reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes


Using a strainer or sieve, strain mint leaves from the simmering liquid. Discard leaves and pour remaining liquid in a pitcher. Pour macerating strawberry mixture in strainer, and strain seeds. Extract maximum amount of liquid by pressing the berries into the strainer with the back of a spoon. Add liquid to pitcher. Add 1/2 cup honey,5 cups of water and stir thoroughly. Chill, pour and enjoy.

Feeling a little saucy? Add a lemon flavored vodka or Bacardi Limon to the mix. Not quite that brave? Some seltzer or lemon lime soda may do just the trick. I've been sipping on this all day watching the holiday roll by and enjoying myself. Thanks for indulging me in my pictures from my New York adventure... I know some aren't typical food fare, but there are alot of pretty things to see once you step out of the urban jungle for a bit. Here are a few more, from our world renowned annual Fourth of July boat parade, just for giggles. We may not be a big place, but we know how to celebrate! Have a fantastic holiday and enjoy!





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Friday, June 26, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Biscotti


It's official.. I am back in my old stomping grounds of upstate New York, and couldn't be happier. I've fallen asleep to the sounds of laughing neighbors sitting out by a campfire to all hours of the night, the silent beauty of heat lightning in the distance, and a sky so full of stars, it makes me question my memory of how big the universe really is. That's right folks, I am in the sticks. For those uninitiated to the sticks, you might be more familiar with the boonies, off the beaten path, or the middle of nowhere. These here sticks come complete with John Deere tractors on the roads, friendly neighbors that wave when you drive by, and small towns full of charm and personality. What better to do when in my favorite place, than make one of my favorite things.

I've made this recipe a few times since I first ran across it in Food Network Magazine. If you haven't checked out this magazine yet, I cannot give it a strong enough endorsement. I'm a very visually oriented learner, and the layout and photos of the recipes and their components are some of the most visually pleasing I've encountered. This recipe comes from their "Out of the Box Challenge" feature, in which three recipe developers from the Food Network Kitchens are given one boxed or premade ingredient from which they develop their best recipe. This month's feature ingredient is Jiffy Corn muffin mix. The other two featured recipes were Cornmeal blini bites and corn muffin churros. Both look fantastic. This is my slightly tweaked version of that FNM recipe.

Cranberry Walnut Biscotti
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 8.5 oz box of corn muffin mix
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup dried chopped cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup chopped milk chocolate
2/3 cup chopped white chocolate
1 tsp lemon zest
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Chocolate Drizzle
8 oz semi sweet chocolate
1 Tbsp Canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the flour, muffin mix, sugar, cranberries, walnuts, lemon zest and both chocolates together. Make a well in the center and add eggs and vanilla. Mix in with a fork, then add lemon juice to form a stiff dough.

Using well floured hands, knead dough until consistency is uniform. Form a 12" x 4" log of dough, and place on baking sheet.

Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and let cool on baking rack for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice the log in thin slices (roughly 3/4" wide). Return slices to parchment lined pan and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Cool and add chocolate drizzle.

For chocolate drizzle, place semi sweet chips in top pan of a double boiler. Bring water to a boil and stir chocolate, adding canola oil until smooth. Coat a spoon with chocolate a quickly zig zag back and forth over biscotti, until desired chocolate level is achieved. Cool and dig in.

Cooking Notes:
1. I used cooking spray instead of parchment paper, worked well.
2. The add ins (nuts, chocolate, cranberries) are only limited by your imagination. Just remember the more add ins you use, the more liquid is needed to stretch the dough.
3. Keep the chocolate mix ins a bit larger, especially the white chocolate. I chopped them to about 3/4" chunks. You can't see that the white chocolate is in the biscotti if they are smaller, and it really adds to the appearance and personality of the recipe.
4. The texture of this is quite different than regular crunchy biscotti. I find it to be crisp like biscotti on the outside, and like a thick and slightly moist shortbread on the inside. For me, this is perfect, but if you like yours traditionally crispy, bake the sliced pieces a bit longer.

I've put up a few pictures of the lovely lake I get to spend the next week relaxing on, because well, I couldn't resist. Here's hoping your biscotti are delicious and that you are spending your weekend at your favorite place as well.





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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

T G I Pinkberry


On Friday June 26, Pinkberry will be handing out free small servings of their new summer flavors. New summer offerings will include coconut and passion fruit flavors. Add-ins for the summer season will also now feature Bing cherries, lychees, and Valencia oranges. To find the Pinkberry nearest you, check the link here. Like you don't know the three fastest routes there already... you're not fooling anyone :)

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Veggie Medley Couscous


Welcome to my accidental deliciousness. It was lunch gone wild, and I couldn't be happier with the end product. On Wednesday I head back to my old stomping grounds in upstate New York for some quality mom time. Today's lunch was a direct byproduct of the impulse as old as time... to clean out the fridge of all things that might go bad before going on vacation. It drives me nuts to discover a mystery bag of produce that's been forgotten, and consequently is way past its prime. This was the attempt to decrease the occupancy of my crisper, and it worked like a charm.

The only thought going into my lunch creation was couscous. A few weeks back I diced up some vegetables and threw them in with couscous. It was a nice addition to an otherwise plain side dish. Going with that thought, the great clean out the fridge veggie medley couscous was born. Amounts were not included in the ingredient list, as you can do this with literally whatever happens to be inhabiting your crisper. Be creative and likely, you will pleasantly pleased!

Veggie Medley Couscous
Green, white and red onion
Pasilla and jalapeno chiles
Red and yellow pepper
Corn
Carrots
Basil
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan Reggiano cheese


Chop all veggies to desired size. Heat large saute pan with 1 tsp olive oil.


Saute vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. While sauteing, boil chicken stock with 1 tsp olive oil in a lidded sauce pot. Place couscous in boiling chicken stock, stir and remove from heat. Cover couscous and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous and transfer to large serving bowl. Mix in vegetables. Top couscous with chiffonade of basil and fresh grated Parmesan reggiano cheese and serve.

Somehow this side dish was transformed into the main course. This was tasty and the healthy factor was through the roof with the vegetables. Chicken, beef or tofu could be incorporated to add some extra protein and "beef it up" a little more, pun intended. Check out your fridge today to see what forgotten veggies may lurk within, cook, serve and enjoy.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

SoCal Locals: Henry's Farmers Market


In a ever expanding world of big box stores, its a rarity to find a retailer with small store sincerity, enthusiasm and knowledge. During my first visit to Henry's Farmers Market, it was apparent that they embodied just that mix of unique attributes. Monrovia's newest market opened on June 17, and by all accounts was a success. When I stopped by to check it out, the parking lot and store were packed with eager customers snapping up the multitude of bargains. Over and over I kept shaking my head at the variety and quality of products available. I particularly enjoyed their impressive produce department, which boasts a bevy of tropical fruits that I have never seen before. Surely inspiration will be found within these aisles!




Henry's expansive website repeatedly notes their commitment to supporting local communities, local farmers and suppliers. A Southern California staple for over 60 years, Henry's has 28 stores in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Riverside and Orange Counties. They've received numerous accolades, including being voted "Best Place to buy Produce" by the Orange County Register. In addition to gorgeous produce, Henry's has a wide selection of grass fed beef, organic free range poultry, fresh bakery goods, fantastic bulk goods, a vast wine selection and much more. Their employees were nothing but friendly and helpful, and meticulous in the appearance of their new store. Welcome to the neighborhood Henry's, I think we'll be seeing alot of eachother.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teeny Tiny Tomatillo Salsa



Mark Bittman, resident food guru for the New York Times and prolific author of many hot topic food books, posted this recipe for tomatillo salsa a week ago. It inspired a search for tomatillos that yielded a different outcome than expected... teeny, tiny tomatillos.

These little guys were found, suprise suprise, at the the local farmer's market. I was excited to see them, but also unfamiliar with tomatillos in this dainty size. None were larger than the diameter of a quarter. Come to find out these little guys are also called Milperos, or tomatillos de milpa. Just like tomatillos, they sport a papery green husk that is easily removed prior to use. The sticky substance between the fruit and husk is removed with a gentle soap and warm water.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, adding corn and a bit more cilantro than was called for in the original recipe. All measurements can be adjusted to individual taste.

Ingredients
2 cups husked, rinsed and chopped tomatillos
1 medium poblano or other mild green fresh chilies(I used Pasilla)roasted and skinned
1 teaspoon minced garlic,
1/2 cup chopped white onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 minced jalapenos
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ear fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Combine tomatillos, poblanos, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and cayenne or chili. Let stand at room temperature for up to an hour, or refrigerate for up to 1/2 day (bring back to room temperature before serving). Taste and adjust seasoning, then stir in lime juice and half the cilantro; taste and adjust seasoning again, then garnish with remaining cilantro.



More power to you if you can leave this bowl of goodness untouched for an hour before sampling. I, however, dove in spoon first and adjusted taste. It always amazes me what a difference salt and pepper can make in the full taste spectrum of a salsa. I plan on making this many times this summer.. thanks for the new go to salsa recipe Mark!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Special Olympics Cupcake Extravaganza

This weekend the Southern California Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Long Beach. I've been fortunate enough to volunteer with this fantastic organization for five years and had the opportunity again this weekend. This year marked the 40th anniversary celebration of the summer games in Southern California. The great folks at VONS helped commemorate the anniversary with a bakery fresh tribute that smelled as amazing as it looked.


The mega cupcake-cake was assembled with two foot by four foot sheets of cupcakes. The pieces were "grouted" together with a layer of cupcakes...



...then carefully "spackled" together with icing..



...to make one enormous cupcake work of art. Thankfully for the cake as well as the great folks who created this, the weather cooperated and it was cool and overcast most of the day. I cannot imagine putting in as many hours as they graciously did to have this creation melt! They began baking the day before, and the assembly process began on site at 5 am. The cake was estimated to be well over 500 pounds. This was just too cool not to share.. hope you enjoyed and had a great weekend.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Lemon Yogurt Cake



A spontaneous Sunday brunch led to this delicious lemony wonder. That, and I had just purchased a new Ina Garten cookbook and needed an excuse to make something from it. Trust me when I say you don't need any excuse to make this cake, its fantastic.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.

** I used a bundt pan for this cake, and it was perfect. I also needed 4 lemons to get the required amount of juice. Might be a good idea just to pick up a bag in the event of less than juicy lemons. Admittedly I did not use parchment for my bundt pan, but the cake dropped out cleanly with one good whack.

Its. So. Good. Really, it is. My lovely friend Lisa and I polished off half of this beauty without alot of problem. A special thanks to her as well for the great image of the cake above. Needless to say, I think I need to make an upgrade to a fancy camera, for the good of the blog of course :)

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Fabulous Food Glossary

So perhaps this is a little bush league to some of you accomplished veteran foodies, but for me, I always want to learn more. Food and cooking happens to be my latest nerd vice, hence the perpetual quest for an increased depth of knowledge and understanding. I'd never heard of achiote until last night, when the captain of one The Next Food Network Star team hosed her teammate and forgot to purchase this essential item for his dish. If you don't know your calzone from a capon, or the difference between drizzle and frizzle, take a gander at San Pelligrino's The Sparkling Life Cooking Terms Glossary .

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Watermelon basil vinaigrette with hearts of romaine

Earlier this week, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a glorious sight. A sign that summer is surely upon us... that barbecues with friends and family are on the horizon, trips to the beach will dramatically increase, and that we will finally have to buck up and turn on the air conditioning. A huge overflowing pile of watermelons was before me, and I knew there was no way I was getting out of the store without one.

Granted, it is on the early side of watermelon season, even here in California. Watermelon means not only sticky hands, dripping chins and slurping up its pink fleshy goodness, but seeds. Oh, the seeds. Many will go out of their way for seedless versions, but not I. Many a watermelon seed spitting contest has occured at my cottage in New York, certain to get the competitive juices flowing and incite raucous laughter. Frequently, the target of our seed spitting exploits were Canadian geese sitting unassumingly at the waters edge below. First one to peg a goose was declared winner.. ahhh those were simpler times.

I found this recipe at About.com, following a general Google search. It incorporates some of summers finest offerings into a light and lovely vinaigrette.

Watermelon Basil Vinaigrette
4 cups fresh watermelon, chopped and drained
1/4 cup red onion, diced small
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp fresh basil chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt and sugar in a large bowl. Pulse mixture in food processor until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over mixed greens, or hearts of romaine.



Super simple, very refreshing and quick would be the key things to know about this vinaigrette. It made way more than the posted two cups of dressing that was noted in the recipe. I could envision taking a bottle of this dressing to a picnic with a simple mixed green salad for a fantastic dish. Adding some mint to the recipe might make it an interesting addition to a fruit salad as well. It keeps for roughly 7-10 days refrigerated and covered.

I opted for olive oil in place of the canola oil. Canola just sounded a little off for a vinaigrette with these components to me. I added roughly a tablespoon more basil than called for, as well as a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. You can see that per the photo the vinaigrette appears a bit chunky... it should be noted that I have a teeny tiny two cup food processor that likes to leave most combinations a bit more textured than intended. A regular processor should be just fine. Enjoy the spoils of summer and don't forget to spit some seeds!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SoCal Locals: VAVO Ginger Ale



I love love LOVE Farmer's Markets. If I haven't mentioned them a thousand times before, I'm sure I will plenty of times in the future. They inspire the majority of my cooking exploits, and most recipes I try or concoct usually contain at least one ingredient purchased at one. The colors, sounds, people, and variety of novel ideas and items found at Farmer's Markets are something I have truly grown to appreciate here in Southern California.

When I first started toying with the idea of a food blog, I knew I wanted to include not only recipes and fun food related tidbits. I wanted to provide an outlet to feature local artisans and products unique to Southern California. Hopefully this SoCal Locals post will be the first of many to do so. Part of the fun of being involved in community Farmer's Market is seeing the new people, vendors and great products that cycle through. Some are seasonal, some temporary, but I'm certain what I recently discovered at the Alhambra Farmers Market is here to stay.

VAVO Ginger ale is the brainchild of the family owned West LA Chinese restaurant Mandarette Cafe . For the past 10 years, Mandarette Cafe has been serving up this family recipe, to rave reviews. When the Cafe was reviewed by Zagats, their Ginger Ale was specifically noted as a must try. After encouragement from loyal patrons to the Mandarette, the owners launched into the production process a few months ago.

VAVO is available at local Farmer's Markets in Alhambra, Westwood, Torrance and Melrose, with more on the horizon shortly. They have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers, myself included. We were so wowed with the free sample we tried, we walked away with a case of VAVO. The flavor is more intensely ginger than commercial ginger ales, and truly the most refreshing soda-type beverage that I have ever tasted. I'm in no way a big soda drinker, but definitely look forward to a cold VAVO after a long day. Its taste is light and refreshing, and lightly effervesced. This may seem like a trivial detail, but you can appreciate the subtleties of the real ginger flavor more extensively without feeling scores of bubbles dance around your palate.

Aside from Farmer's Markets, VAVO is now available at some LA restaurants, including Curry House, Tokyo Wako, Gen Wa Korean BBQ, Sushi Eyaki and more. Three other flavors are in the works for VAVO, including Lemon-Lime Ginger Ale, Cranberry Ginger Ale and Ginger Ale with Energy. Additional information is available on the VAVO website, and you can also become a friend of VAVO Ginger ale on Facebook. Please check them out and support your local products!

If you have a suggestion for a SoCal Local to feature, please drop me an email. All suggestions will be considered, and all are appreciated.

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