Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cocktail treats and gougeres

Hmmm, it's been awhile since I last posted. But don't worry, you didn't miss anything. I didn't grow anything in the garden or cook any delicious meals in the past 6 months. Really.

Yesterday Miss Rose co-hosted a lovely cocktail party with hubby and I at our place (she has such a tiny cottage!). It was a huge success, with delicious mulled wine, a Rose Signature Cocktail (a sparkly ginger cranberry concoction),
many fun friends, and fun snacks. Since this is a food blog, I shall focus on those snacks, and one in particular.
My co-hostess put together some very tasty shrimp cocktail, and made some mini loaves of yummy pumpkin bread. We had a simple platter of olives and pickles, and for this I opened my first jar of pickled cauliflower from this year's garden. They were delicious! The recipe calls for some curry spice, so the cauliflower had that nice flavor and was nice and crunchy. I also made some hazelnut brittle. A super simple candy, as candy goes. And oh so nutty. And good for your teeth.

But that's not what I want to blog about either... What's worth blogging about after all these months are the gruyere gougeres (say it 10 times fast, and that sounds like Grew-yare Goo-zhair) - or cheese puffs. What a fun and delicious appetizer! There are probably lots of very similar recipes out there on line, but I didn't do a lot of research - just went with a recipe in the newspaper from January 2011, which was in turn adapted from "The French Laundry Cookbook". The puff pastry dough was something fun and new to make - and apparently pretty fool-proof since it turned out perfect on my first try. The best part was that I made the dough and blobbed it onto cookie sheets in the morning, put them in the freezer all day, and then just had to pull them out and pop them in the oven a half hour before the party started. Easy! These were amazing fresh out of the oven, and still good a few hours later towards the end of the party. I bet they would work great with parmesan or cheddar too.  

Here's what you need: 
- cookie sheets
- parchment paper
- saucepan
- stand mixer
- ideally, a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch wide plain tip
- freezer space
- 1 cup water
- 7 Tblspns butter
- 1 Tblspn kosher or sea salt
- 1 tspn sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere (5 oz)  

Here's what you do:
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, salt and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Add all the flour at once, reduce the ehat to medium and stir with a wooden sppon for 2 minutes. It will turn into a thick ball as you cook and stir. Transfer dough to a stand mixer bowl and beat on low for 30 seconds or so to cool it off. Add one egg at a time to the mixture as the mixer stirs it on medium. Stop the mixer to see that the consistency is thick and silky, and the tips of the dough peaks fall over. If it's too stiff, add the white of one more egg - or the whole thing if needed.
Fold in 3/4 cup of the cheese. Then either load the batter in a pastry bag or use a spoon (it's messy) to drop about 1 Tablespoon blobs onto the lined cookie sheets, an inch or so apart. Sprinkle each blob with a teaspoon or so of grated cheese to use it all up.
Now you can put them in the freezer and cook them later, or cook them right away. When ready to cook, heat the oven to 450. Cook for 8 minutes at 450, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve nice and warm. (makes about 4 dozen)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps & Orange Sesame Asparagus Salad

We had a most delicious and healthy dinner the other night that came largely from our young spring garden. First, hubby's contribution: the thai pork lettuce wraps, recipe from Cooks Illustrated I believe.

What you need:
- 1 pork tenderloin (about a pound), cut into chunks
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon white rice (any kind)
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 Tablespoons lime juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 Tablespoons chopped mint leaves
- 3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 15 to 20 large lettuce leaves (ours weren't super big, but came from the garden)

What to do:
- Place pork chunks on a large plate in a single layer. Freeze until firm and starting to harden around the edges, but still pliable - 15 to 20 minutes.
- Chop the meat (in 2 or 3 batches) in a food processor until coarsely chopped, using several pulses. Stir in 1 Tablespoon fish sauce and refrigerate 15 minutes.
- Heat rice in a small skillet over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown - about 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until a fine meals - you'll get about 1 Tablespoon of rice powder.
- Bring broth to a simmier in a big nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring frequently, until about half cooked - about 2 minutes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon rice powder over the pork, then continue to cook another 1 or 2 minutes until cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and cool 10 minutes.
- Add remaining 1 1/2 Tablespoons fish sauce, 2 teaspoons rice powder, shallots, lime juice, sugar, red pepper flakes, mint and cilantro to the pork and toss together.
- Serve wrapped up in lettuce leaves. Watch out, it's messy!

The Orange Sesame Roasted Asparagus Salad was a happy coincidence - it was in the paper and sounded like it'd go great with the lettuce wraps. And it did! I'd say this dressing needs some salt, but other than that it was delish.

What you need:
- Lettuce (4 cups or so)
- 1 orange
- 1 pound asparagus
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger root
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil (I used toasted sesame oil, more flavor)
- 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

What to do:
- Preheat oven to 425 and wash and trim the asparagus.
- Zest the orange and set zest aside. Finish peeling orange and break into segments.
- Arrange lettuce on plates and add orange segments.
- Place asparagus on a baking sheet and spray with nonstick spray or toss with a little olive oil. Roast in oven for 10-12 minutes, until tender. Take out and set aside for a minute.
- Whisk together orange juice, grated ginger, orange zest, and sesame oil.
- Place asparagus on top of lettuce, and pour dressing over. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spinach salad with Caramelized Onion Balsamic Dressing

The spinach in my garden is going crazy and is ready to eat! (So is the lettuce.) I had a few people over for dinner last night (I made the chicken parmesan chronicled here), and wanted to do something special with the spinach. I found a good recipe in my Rachel Ray cookbook called "Caramelized Onion-Dressed Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts". With a few modifications, this was fantastic!

Here's what you need:
- 1/2 cup toasted (in advance or day-of) hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 6 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 to 1 cup chopped red pepper (the recipe calls for tomatoes, but red peppers looked better)
- 4-6 cups fresh spinach (it says you can use arugula or other greens, but spinach was awesome)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Here's what to do:
- Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add 1 Tablespoon balsamic and 1-2 Tablespoons water. Cook and stir for another minute or so.
- Transfer onions to a bowl and add the mustard and remaining balsamic.
- Whisk in the remaining olive oil until the base is creamy (but with onion chunks, of course).
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble the salad in a large bowl - the spinach, peppers, hazelnuts, and blue cheese. Top with the dressing and toss until well-combined.
- Eat and enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Moroccan Lamb Chops

I believe I've blogged about our lamb before - where we get it and how tasty it is. I decided to share some of the chops with Mr. and Mrs. Modern Monkey (our lamb connection) and made a tasty Moroccan Lamb Chop recipe I had saved out of a February 2005 Sunset Magazine. Good thing I'm a saver cuz this was delicious!

This recipe is for 4 people - I had 5 but two were hungry men so I made about 1 and a half times what this called for.

What you'll need:
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 8 lamb chops (smallish ones)
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup dried apricots or pitted prunes (or a mixture) - whole or very coarsely chopped
- 1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- Rice or couscous (I used Israeli couscous) to put the stew over

What to do:
- Pour oil into a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add lamb chops and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides - about 4 minutes total. Transfer chops to a plate.
- Add onion and garlic to pan and stir until limp, about 4 minutes. Add cinnamon and cumin and stir for another minute. (Don't let it burn!)
- Stir in broth, tomato paste, apricots/prunes, and garbanzos. Stir together and then bring to a simmer.
- Add the chops back into the stew and simmer, turning chops once, until the fruit is plump and the chops are barely pink in the middle - about 10 to 12 minutes. Cover if you wish, but it's not necessary.
- Meanwhile, make some rice or couscous to have ready when the stew is done.
- Dish up the rice or couscous on a plate or bowl, set 2 chops per person on top, and then spoon the garbanzo mixture around the meat. Top with parsley.

This was a super simple meal to make, and we had it with a salad and a rich red wine. Yum!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ultimate Banana Bread

The title of this recipe does not disappoint. It's from Cook's Illustrated (July/August 2010), which did extensive tests to figure out how to cram 6, that's right, SIX bananas into this recipe. And it is amazing!

So, if you have a whole bunch of bananas you forgot to eat and are getting to an uncomfortable ripeness (like I had), try this. If you like bananas, you will be very happy with the results.

What you'll need:
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt (I used a bit more)
- 6 large ripe bananas (highly speckled), peeled
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (I did a little less and topped it off with white sugar. I don't know why)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (NOTE: I decided to get creative and substituted some macadamia nuts and shredded coconut. Guess I just needed some tropical flavor. It worked, but walnuts would have been better.)
- 2 tsp granulated sugar

What to do:
- Put your oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
- In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
- Put 5 bananas in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cut some steam vents in it and microwave for 4 or 5 minutes. The bananas should be soft and sitting in juice.
- Transfer bananas to a fine-mesh strainer and place over a bowl to collect the juice for 15 minutes.
- Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook to reduce to about 1/4 cup. [NOTE: I skipped this and instead just used 1/4 cup of the liquid. But you'll get a more concentrated flavor if you reduce it like the recipe says.]
- In a medium bowl, mash the bananas and add back in the juice. Stir in the butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
- Pour banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add the nuts and stir in - but don't stir too much.
- Scrape into the loaf pan. Slice the remaining banana and layer on top of the batter, leaving a good strip down the middle without any slices so it'll rise properly. Then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake until a toothpick comes out clean - about 50 minutes to an hour. Cool on wire rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool until you can't stand it anymore and need to eat it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Dinner 2011

Another year with my special Valentine, and another lovely dinner at home. This year we were joined by Miss Single USA - she's our best friend and single, she needed dinner!

This was a great collaborative dinner. Hubby made tri-tip steaks, Rose made an amazing kale salad, and I made some smashed potatoes and a pie. We also opened a really nice Domaine Drouhin 2006 Pinot Noir. Yum!

For the steaks:
Rub the steaks with your favorite spice mix. Sear in a hot cast iron skillet on the stove top on both sides - just until brown. Put the skillet in the oven and broil about 4 or 5 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, reduce about a 1/4 cup red wine in a saucepan with some dijon mustard and fresh rosemary.

When the steaks are done, pour off the juices into the saucepan and cook a bit longer while the meat rests. Use the sauce to dress the steaks and potatoes on your plate.

For the Chopped Kale Salad, which was in the Eugene Weekly's Winter 2011 "Chow!":
- large bunch of kale
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries (unsweetened)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 1 tsp+ honey
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan

Remove the stems from the kale and chop it up into ribbons or bite-sized pieces.
Mix the lemon juice, oil and honey in a bowl (heat the honey a little so it mixes better). Toss the mixture with the kale in a large bowl with the cranberries. Let sit for 30 minutes or more (this allows the kale to marinate and break down a bit). When ready to serve, toast the pine nuts and toss them in with the cheese, salt and pepper.

We ate ALL of this. It was SOOOO good.

For the potatoes:
These were super simple. I just cut up one yukon gold potato per person and boiled them until they were nice and tender. Then I tossed them with a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil, two cloves minced garlic, some chopped fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper. In mixing, they get kind of smashed up.

For the pie:
I've blogged about pie crust before here. I've never bought canned pie filling before, but I did this time. I found a large jar of local cherry-raspberry pie filling to use. I thawed out a cup of blueberries I had picked 2 years ago and added those too. So this was super easy - make the crust, roll it out, pour in the fruit mixture, and top with more crust. Cut some holes in the top for ventilation and decoration. I covered the edges for baking at 400 for 20 minutes, then took the foil off and cooked another 10 minutes at 350. It was delicious!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've been really into broccoli lately. I guess I need my iron and vitamins. And when am I not into cheese? So I tried some broccoli-cheese soup. It turned out ok - tasty but with some lessons learned. Here it is with my suggestions for improvement.

Recipe from the Joy of Cooking's "All About Vegetarian Cooking".

- 3 Tablespoons butter or veg oil (or more!)
- 1 cup chopped onions (or a bit more)
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 4 cups broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
- 1 potato, chopped (not in the recipe, I added)
- 1/3 cup flour
- 4 cups veggie stock
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cups grated Cheddar cheese (increased from 2 in recipe) - the sharper the better in my opinion!
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used ground mustard, but Dijon would be good)
- salt and pepper to taste
- hot pepper sauce to taste
- Worcestershire sauce to taste

- Melt the butter/heat the oil in a big pot over medium heat.
- Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, at least 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir all together another 5 minutes or so. Careful not to burn the flour.
- Gradually add the stock and milk. Cook until the veggie are tender, 5 to 10 minutes more (I didn't cook it long enough, so the veggies weren't that tender. They would be better cooked a bit longer.)
- Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. (I do this in batches and miss some chunks - but that's ok with me.)
- Return the soup to the pot and bring to a low simmer. Stir in the cheese gradually until smooth. Don't let the soup boil - the cheese will break down too much.
- Season with the rest of the spices and flavorings.
- Top with more grated cheese for serving.

As noted above, I needed to cook my veggie longer for it to be perfect. And I highly recommend sharp cheddar for the topping, even if you use something milder in the soup. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dutch Babies

I tried making something new for breakfast today - Dutch Babies! My dad's wife made us some over the holidays, and it was delicious. I remembered that I had a recipe for Dutch Babies from a B&B we stayed in a number of years ago, so I looked it up. The result was really easy and incredibly tasty topped with applesauce and maple syrup.

Here's the recipe from The Baer House Bed & Breakfast in Baker City, Oregon (I'm not sure it's still in business, but this was a great place!).

Note: measurements vary by pan size in this recipe, but are pretty proportional. In general, it's 1 to 1.5 Tblspoon butter per 1 egg and 1/4 cup of milk and flour. If you have a 3-cup pan, use that amount. If you have a 2-3 quart pan, use 3 times that much.
I used the following for my pretty big cast iron pan:

1/3 cup (6 Tblspns) butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour

- Put the butter in a cast iron pan and place it in a preheated 425 degree oven.
- While the butter melts, mix the batter (the eggs, milk and flour) in a blender. I also added a Tablespoon of sugar just for kicks.
- When the butter is melted and starting to brown (around 8 minutes), take the pan out of the oven and pour in the batter.
- Bake in the oven until well-browned - 15 to 30 minutes (varies by the size of the pan and the oven).
- Cut into pieces, top with anything tasty (jam, powdered sugar, maple syrup, applesauce, fruit, whatever!), and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pork Chops and Caesar Salad

Hubby and I co-made a delicious meal last week: Homemade Caesar salad, and oven BBQ pork chops.

The pork chop recipe came from the newspaper: "Oven Pork Chops with Easy Barbecue Sauce".
Here's all it takes:
- 1-2 Tblspn veggie oil
- 4 bone-in pork chops (about 2 pounds)
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 Tblspn brown sugar
- 1 Tblspn cider vinegar
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- a shake of Tabasco sauce (or the like)

- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tblspn of the oil. Add the chops and brown 5-7 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. (My chops were so big I had to do this in two batches)
- Transfer to a lightly sprayed or oiled 2-quart (I needed a larger one) casserole and set aside.
- For the sauce, reduce the heat under the skillet to medium, add a bit more oil, and saute the onion until tender (about 5 minutes). Add remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for a few minutes.
- Pour sauce over the chops and bake uncovered about 25 or 30 minutes.

These were tender and the sauce was nice and tangy!

Now for the Caesar - which came out of the Cooks Illustrated magazine from Jan-Feb 2011. I won't go into all the science and testing behind it, but here's the essential recipe - which was incredibly tasty and went well with the pork.

- 5 Tblspns olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic paste from 1 medium clove (basically, grate it fine and squish it)
- 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread, cut into 3/4 inch cubes (about 5 cups)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tblspns finely grated Parmesan

- Combine 1 Tblspn oil and the garlic in a small bowl and set aside.
- Place bread cubes in a large bowl and sprinkle with water and salt - toss and let the bread soak up the water.
- Place remaining 4 Tblspn oil and the bread in a large nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently (we had trouble with sticking, so be careful!) until brown and crisp - 7-10 minutes.
- Remove skillet from heat, and push croutons to sides of skillet. Add the garlic/oil mixture to the cleared center and cook on residual heat for 10 seconds.
- Add the Parmesan and then toss the garlic, cheese and bread together to distribute.

- 3/4 tsp garlic paste from 1 medium clove (as above)
- 2-3 Tblspns fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 6 anchovy fillets (get them in a little jar of oil), patted dry with paper towels, minced fine, and mashed to a paste with a fork - about 1 Tblspn
- 2 large egg yolks
- 5 Tblspns canola oil
- 5 tsp olive oil
- 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
- fresh ground pepper to taste
- 2 or 3 romaine heads, cut into 3/4 inch slices, rinsed and dried well

- Whisk together the garlic paste and 2 Tblspn lemon juice in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes
- Whisk Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, and egg yolks into the garlic/lemon mixture. While whisking constantly, pour in the oils in a steady stream until emulsified. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and pepper to taste. Whisk all together.
- Add the romaine and toss to coat. Add the croutons and mix until incorporated. Season with more lemon juice if desired, and top with Parmesan.