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Archive for December, 2010

I probably shouldn’t be the one writing a New Year’s Eve post. Mostly because we’re not really doing anything this year to celebrate. Last year’s imbibing lead to a New Year’s Day hangover strong enough to peel the paint of walls and a nasty vein pulsing migraine. Then and there I told myself that I would not do the same thing to ring in 2011.

Also, Adam and Champagne don’t mix. Granted there was much wine and little food (on his part) before the Cava was opened on the eve of 2010, but, again, Adam and Champagne don’t mix. Part of me wishes I could remember what on earth he was saying that night. The other part of me is very glad I can’t. What I do remember was thinking, “Who are you?” as he babbled (possibly) philosophical nonsense to, fortunately, a drunken table of friends.  As I understand it, I should really start worrying when he incoherently starts rambling in German, which he barely speaks.

If that’s not enough, another one of my reasons to forgo the party festivities, is that I’ve just entered my 39th year on this glorious planet of ours, partying like a rock star on New Year’s eve is just not my bag anymore, man. Granted, one can easily partake of New Year’s celebration without said imbibing, but well, and we can all agree, it is very easy to fall into the swing of things, and before you know it, you’ve had nearly an entire bottle of wine to yourself. Before Champagne.

So this year, in lieu of braving Portland’s streets and winter weather, Adam and I will be in our jammies watching a post-apocalyptic movie starring the gorgeous Viggo Mortensen and sipping wine. In bed.

In light of my reader’s upcoming celebrations, I thought I’d share a little hors d’oeuvres treat that will win you friends and appease your enemies.

Cheers!

Eggplant and Walnut Crostini

Amanda Hesser’s, The Essential New York Times Cookbook, provided the inspiration for this recipe. I didn’t change too terribly much, as the recipe is perfect as is. I traded walnuts for pine nuts and omitted the basil for an extra pinch or two of mint.

By the way, if you haven’t picked up Amanda’s book, you are missing out. I absolutely love this cookbook. Not only is it an eclectic mix of NY Times recipes spanning 150 years, her tidbits and stories make it a highly entertaining and amusing read.  Lately, when I am at home, this book rarely leaves my side.

What you’ll need~

1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound, trimmed, peeled and sliced to about 1/2 inch thickness

Olive oil

1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

Sea Salt

Juice of one lemon

Black pepper

Handful of freshly chopped mint

Handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley

Toasted baguette slices or crackers of your choice

Preheat your broiler. Brush olive oil on each side of the sliced eggplant and place on baking sheet. Make sure your  rack is about 6 inches from the heat source. Broil for about four minutes, until golden. Turn slices and broil side for four minutes.

Remove from broiler and stack eggplant. Hesser’s trick for allowing the steam to finish cooking the eggplant.

Place walnuts, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt in your food processor and pulse until mixture is smooth.  Coarsely chop your eggplant and add to walnut mixture. Blend. Stir in lemon juice and herbs. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on crackers or toasted baguette slices and garnish with a mint leaf. Pair with, yes, Champagne.

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What better way to start, or end, the Christmas holiday than with a little boozy hot chocolate? It’ll warm your soul and open you heart. And, let’s be frank here, make Christmas a more relaxing event.

Admittedly, Christmas with Adam’s folks (my folks live in Hawaii) is always a relaxed event. No stress, fantastic food, and even better company.  If I could take you with me, I would.

Here’s to a wonderfully cozy and peaceful Christmas!

Cheers!

Boozy Hot Chocolate

I decided to use coconut milk instead of regular milk for my hot chocolate for two reasons. The first reason is that I’m not much of a milk person. The second is due to some amazing vegan truffles made by Missionary Chocolates here in Portland. As we know, I’m no vegan, and truth be told, I usually avoid anything labeled as vegan. But after one bite of these truffles, I knew these weren’t your usual soy and sugar laden vegan fare. Their (not so) secret ingredient is coconut milk. Making their truffles unbelievably rich and buttery.  Naturally, when I thought about making hot chocolate, coconut milk was the first ingredient to pop into my head.

What you’ll need~

One can whole fat coconut milk

1/2 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate

1/4-teaspoon vanilla extract

Half of one vanilla bean, split and insides scraped out and reserved

1/2 teaspoon Chile powder, add more or less to taste

1/4-teaspoon cinnamon

Cognac

Whole cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans, optional

Warm coconut milk on stove at medium heat and bring to a very slow and gentle simmer. When your milk starts to barely bubble, turn heat down to low and add chopped chocolate. Let sit and melt.

Whisk in the remaining ingredients.

Warm mugs and add 1-2 tablespoon Cognac, depending on the size of your mug and/or desired booziness. Pour hot chocolate over Cognac, add cinnamon sticks and/or vanilla beans and serve warm.

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Adam and I met while I was working in a dumpy little coffee shop in downtown Portland. He’d come in get a cup of tea, then sit in a corner and listen to Bach. Giant headphones on and eyes closed. Within months, and after being held-up at the bank he worked at, I managed to convince my boss to offer him a job.  We worked side by side at the espresso machine talking books, music and life. Apparently, it was when I spoke of Ella Fitzgerald’s silky voice that he fell for me.

Six months of courting, flirting and building a tight bond of friendship, led to our first kiss on Christmas night. That will be three years ago this Saturday. Sigh. And I still can’t get enough of him.

During the early months of our relationship, one of our favorite things to do on a blustery winter’s day was to wander up to Elephants Delicatessen and pick up a bowl of matzo ball soup. That was my first introduction to matzo ball soup and I was immediately hooked. When my spoon dipped down and pressed up against the doughy little balls, it was like a little prize at the bottom of the bowl. Kind of like when you poured a bunch of sugar on top of your cereal when you were a kid and excitedly anticipated the mountain of wet and creamy sugar at the bottom of the bowl. Or was that just me?

I tried to make matzo ball soup a couple of years ago, and it sort of turned out. I was too cheap to buy actual matzo meal and tried it with saltines. Definitely not the same. I got the real deal for this recipe, but still kept it simple. Loads of chicken broth, a bit of parsley and paprika, and leftover game hen from dinner with Adam’s folks. Did you know that game hen are baby chickens? Poor little guys…

Cheers!

Matzo Ball Soup

I used a recipe in Amanda Hesser’s The Essential NY Times Cookbook, a book of which I’m totally addicted to by the way, as a guide. As usual, I tweaked a few things here and there. You’ll find matzo meal on the grocery shelves, as well as matzo crackers. Feel free to use the meal, but know that they often add spices and seasonings. I bought the crackers, broke them in pieces and finely ground them in the food processor.

One more note, the balls tend to absorb a lot of the broth as their cooking, so it’s also a good idea to have some extra stock on hand to add to the pot as the balls are cooking. You can also use water.

What you’ll need~

6 large eggs

2+ tablespoons chopped parsley

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4-teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup melted butter

1 1/2 cups matzo meal

1/4-teaspoon baking powder

1-cup club soda

2+ quarts chicken stock

Optional: 1 shallot, thinly sliced and caramelized

Optional: Leftover chicken bits, if you have them on hand

Pepper to taste

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk in parsley, sage, salt, pepper and paprika. Whisk in the melted butter, matzo meal and baking powder. At this point, the dough was clumping up between the wires of the whisk, so I switched from whisking to stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir in club soda, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. I let mine chill for about 1 & 1/2 hours.

Once the dough is chilled, bring broth to a boil on the stove. Moisten your hands and roll dough into 1-2 inch balls. Drop the balls in your broth in batches and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 25-30 minutes until balls are tender and double in size.

Line a large plate or platter with a clean and dry kitchen towel. Using a slotted spoon, remove balls from stock and place on kitchen towel to drain.

Add broth or water to the pot as needed and drop in second batch of balls and cook. Once the second batch of balls are done cooking, add the first batch of balls back to the soup to reheat.

At this point I added the caramelized shallot and leftover bits of game hen to the pot. You certainly don’t need to add anything else, but I found the soup to be a good vehicle for leftover poultry.

Ladle soup into bowls and place two matzo balls in each. Serve hot.

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This has gotta be the biggest pain in my arse dough ever. It is dry and flakey and you’re supposed to roll it out. Really.  It insists on falling apart and crumbling at the edges. You’ll find yourself pushing it together with your fingers, mumbling swear words under your breath and begging the baking gods to just give you a break.

We have the lovely Kim Boyce to thank for this recipe. I was privileged enough to be invited to photograph a baking class she instructed at SweetWares in Hillsdale. If you live in the Portland area, you MUST go to SweetWares. SweetWares is an adorable and quaint bakewares boutique owned by another of Portland’s baking royalty, Julie Richardson. If you go, bring your credit card. And say hi to Julie, cuz she’s cool.

I digress. Here’s a little background: Stone-Buhr, producers of flours made with sustainably grown wheat, sponsored a week of baking classes (all proceeds went to the Oregon Food Bank) at SweetWares and I was asked to document Kim and Julie’s classes. Let me tell you, those ladies make baking look easy. Tossing flour around, breaking butter with their fingers, and generally entertaining a room full of enthralled and awestruck women.

Kim made these cookies, from her cookbook, Good to the Grain, during her class and I was intrigued. They came out just slightly nutty, with a hint of cardamom and orange. Light and crisp and delicious. Granted I was working while she was baking, but I thought I got the gist of this recipe. However, I don’t think I was paying attention when she was rolling out the dough. Or, what is more likely, is that she just breezily whipped out these cookies like nobody’s business and I thought, well, I can do that. And I can (did), mostly.

As we know, I like to tweak and change things in recipes that inspire me. I first started doing that because, as a new blogger, I was too shy or timid to call an author or publisher to ask permission to use their recipe. Now I do it because it ups the challenge of  cooking. When I read a recipe, my mind automatically starts shifting flavors around, ‘what about this?’, ‘how will it taste if I change this to that?’.  It’s like building a puzzle with a few new pieces replacing existing ones. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (read: apple tartlets), but I find it’s fun, and keeps my brain from going soft :)

Cheers and thanks again to Food Press for showing me so much support and sharing my blog. Thanks to all my new subscribers and readers, too! You make my heart melt. I am truly grateful and humbled:)

Rosewater Hazelnut Cookies

These are definitely a tiny bit heavy on the rosewater. They made me think of something that would be served in a café in Iran. If you’re not a fan of rosewater, then substitute with orange blossom water.

What you’ll need~

1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, skin on

1 stick of room temperature butter

Dry mix~

1/4 cup amaranth flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2-cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Syrup~

1/4 raw, unfiltered honey

1 tablespoon finely chopped fennel seeds

Zest of one lemon

1-tablespoon rosewater

Place hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and place in 350-degree oven. Toast for about 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway. Nuts should be fragrant and dark brown. Be careful not to burn them. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, grind nuts in a food processor for about 20 seconds.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir your dry ingredients in a bowl. Add butter and ground hazelnuts and press butter into the dough with your fingers until ingredients are just blended.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and press it together. At this point I was having issues keeping the dough together, so I added a splash of almond milk to soften the dough and make it more workable.

Use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough to 3/16 of an inch-Kim’s instructions. Because of the temperamental dough, I rolled mine out to about 1/2 inch. The cookies aren’t as light and crisp as Kim’s, but they are still yummy.

Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place on your baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes rotating tray half way through. Your cookies should be golden with just darkened edges.

While cookies are baking make your syrup. Warm honey, fennel, lemon zest and rosewater in a small saucepan. Don’t let the honey boil. Stir until nicely melted and let ingredients infuse for about 15 minutes.

While cookies are still warm, brush with syrup.

Serve these guys while they’re still fresh. And definitely share :)

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The weather has warmed up (briefly) a bit here in Portland (50’s), but I have yet to see the sun. Lately, I barely wake before the sun begins its descent at 4:30, yes, 4:30 PM. I’ve never suffered from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but I’ve also never lived this far from the equator. I find I’m in a constant fog, never quite awake, and just a little bit blue.

I do love the rain, however. I look forward with bated anticipation to cold weather. Cozying up in warm sweaters. Sipping hot tea and soup. And yes, Adam will attest, I have an unnatural love for scarves. But lately, just lately, I’ve been dreaming about the big bright blue skies of summer.

How appropriate that I chose to roast (albeit a bit darkly) endives for today’s post. Apparently, and I did not know this, endives are grown in the dark. They are cultivated in barrels or boxes, which forces the little guys to grow elongated, pretty leaves with just a hint of green on their tips. It also helps to tame their bitterness a bit. Leave it to the French (ok, Belgians) to figure this one out.

Roasted Belgian Endive with Rosemary, Prosciutto and Manchego Cheese

I say take this recipe and run with it. The endives are such a nice vehicle for just about any cheese or herb. Stilton or chevre? Parsley or thyme? I decided to use rosemary simply because I still had some on hand from last weeks biscuits.

Do keep an eye on your endives while they cook. I let mine roast for a hair too long and, as you’ll see, the edges started to burn a bit. Still tasty, though.

What you’ll need~

4 or more Belgian endives, halved

4 or more thin slices prosciutto, chopped

One fresh rosemary sprig

Manchego cheese, shaved

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle halved endives with olive oil. Gently press prosciutto chunks and between the leaves. Press rosemary  between leaves.

Place endives on parchment lined baking sheet and shave manchego over them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-25 minutes turning with tongs halfway through cooking time.

The endives should be nicely caramelized….or slightly burnt ;)

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It has been ten days since I last posted on my blog, and it’s killing me. The past ten days have challenged any notion of sanity I think I may have had eleven days ago.

Sadly, as much as I would love to share the source of my torture with you, I can’t go into details. What I can tell you is that this morning I woke up knowing that I would finally be photographing something simple. And you can’t get much more simple than buttermilk biscuits. Few ingredients, fewer props. Clean, straightforward biscuits.

Cheers!

Buttermilk Biscuits with Rosemary and Fennel

What you’ll need~

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour

1 cup spelt flour

1/4-teaspoon baking soda

1-tablespoon baking powder

1-teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon roughly chopped fennel seeds

1 stick cold butter

3/4-cup buttermilk

Coarse sea salt.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into chunks and blend in with your hands until mix resembles coarse meal.

Add buttermilk and stir until combined. Add more buttermilk if batter appears dry.

Sprinkle flour onto your cutting board and turn dough. Use your hands to gently pat the dough out until it’s about 1/2 inch thick.

Use a biscuit cutter to cut in to rounds and place on a cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with fresh rosemary, a few fennel seeds and a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Bake for 10 minutes rotating pan at five minutes.

Serve with butter or jam.

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I really need a butcher knife. Instead, I have a very old chef’s knife that has been sharpened to death and, although faithful, it is not a knife conducive to cutting hard and difficult foods like squash. I’m really glad Adam wasn’t around to witness me trying to hack acorn squashes in half.  Not surprisingly, I managed to not mangle two halves of said squash. The other two halves, well, not very photogenic. Yes, I know. Someone who cooks as much as I do should have a good knife. A really good knife. Maybe even two. I guess I’ve just been waiting for the right one. It has to feel right, maybe even perfect, in my hand. Mind you, I think about knives all the time. I’ve had Wusthof’s in the back of my mind for months now, but still am not sure. I suppose I should buy one before I have no hands to cook with. It might be time to hit Sur la Tables knife sale.

However, I forgave my knife its incompetency (it’s not the knifes fault, after all) when I took my first bite of this dish. I’m really not a fan of internet acronyms, but OMG. It stopped me in my tracks.  I found this recipe on Saveur who linked it from The Bitten Word who borrowed it from Martha Stewart. Taking their advice, I upped the amount of spices Martha used which metamorphosed this recipe from sort of a Moroccan dish to an intensely delicious Moroccan dish. This is the kind of meal you make when you plan on feeding friends. It is meant to be shared.

I changed a few items from the original recipe. Instead of golden raisins, which are hard to find not treated with sulfites, I used currants. I’m glad I did. The currants softly complemented the sweetness of the squash. I think the raisins may have offered too big of burst of sweet.  I replaced the ground beef with bison because, well, I love bison. I also added shaved fennel mostly because it seemed like a nice touch.

This dish is definitely adaptable. As I was cooking it, my mind danced with the possibilities. Toasted walnuts, quinoa, chopped apricots, cilantro, wild rice. Let your imagination run and cooking intuition take over.

That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?

Cheers!

Stuffed Moroccan Acorn Squash

What you’ll need~

2 medium acorn squash halved and bottoms shaved so they can sit flat in your dish

Olive oil

3/4-pounds ground bison

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Or to taste.

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Or to taste.

2+ teaspoons coarse salt

4 cloves minced garlic

1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

3/4-cup bulgur

2 cups water

1/4 cups currants

1/4 chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Half of one fennel, shaved

Preheat oven to 400 and place squash cut side down in a large Pyrex or casserole dish.  Bake for about 30-45 minutes, until tender.

While your squash is baking, warm oil over medium heat in a heavy 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add ground bison, cinnamon, nutmeg and a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring frequently until bison is browned and cooked through. Keep in mind that bison is naturally very lean and over cooks easily. You only need to cook it for about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked bison to a bowl. Be sure to let the juices drip through the spoon and remain in your pot.

Add onion and cook until it begins to soften and become translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.

Stir in bulgur and remaining salt.

Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low heat, and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. Remove pot from stove and let sit covered for about 5 minutes.

Fluff bulgur with a fork and add bison, currants, parsley, shaved fennel and pine nuts.

Scrap out the cooked squash leaving about a 1/4 inch around the rims. Stir scraped out bits into the bulgur and spoon in to squash halves.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until tops are browned.

Serve warm and prepared to be wowed.

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