Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Veal Scallopini

It seems that most women are burdened with overbearing, hard nosed, pushy Mother in Laws - I, thankfully, am not one of those women. I am of the select few that actually enjoy spending time with the MiL, and even - dare I say it - look forward to our visits. It's been a blessing having married into a family so full of wonderful people. One of the greatest things about MiL though, is that she appreciates and enjoys food as much, if not a whole lot more, than I do. We trade recipes, gab about favorite ingredients or fun new gadgets and even grocery shop together when we get the chance.

Over this last weekend I got that chance to head to Whole Foods to pick up some salmon. Unbeknownst to me the trip would be a whole lot more. We found our salmon alright, but then she picked out some colossal 15 count prawns, a nice boneless leg of lamb and a healthy helping of veal. Needless to say it was like the skies had opened up and rained down my wildest dreams.

Husband and I will be eating like kings for the next week or so. Then we're back to our starving student ways. But for this week..ahh..this week shall be glorious.

Veal Scallopini

3/4 lb. Veal Inside Top Round, thinly cut
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons butter, divided
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 tomato, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup whole basil leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup stock

Set the veal between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a mallet or rolling pin until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into pieces approximately 3-4 inches across - no need to be exact, just slice into manageable pieces. Set aside. In a shallow dish combine flour, breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. In a hot, large heavy-bottomed skillet melt two tablespoons of butter. Dredge each piece of veal in the flour/breadcrumb mixture, shaking off the excess, and place gently into the melted butter. Cook for no more than one minute per side, it will get tough if overcooked. Repeat until all veal is cooked. In the same skillet add the wine, deglazing the pan. Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter and the shallot. When shallot is softened add the mushrooms and tomato and allow to cook through. If more liquid is desired add the stock, if not let it be. Plate the veal and top with the vegetable mixture. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts

My MiL and sFiL are in town this week for MiL's birthday. They arrived in on Friday, just in time for us to go to their hotel room to watch the first presidential debate. I know, we're classy, eh? Using the in-laws for their hotel TV. Can't help it, yo. We don't own a TV. We're crazy like that.

Of course such an occasion calls for plenty of tasty hors d'oeuvre to munch on whilst watching the perennial pissing contest that is our electoral system. I've been wanting to make these little tarts for a while, but Husband is not the biggest fan of this combo of flavors. Perfect opportunity to try it out. Along with the tarts I made mini Pigs in a Blanket using Beef Lil' Smokies instead of turkey kielbasa. Turned out beautifully. I also whipped up some spicy peanut sauce to go with some fresh rolls. I spaced on taking a picture of the rolls and they were quickly devoured. Pair it all with some fresh berries, a cheese plate and great company and it almost filtered out the complete frickin' joke that is John McCain.


Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts
Makes 8 small tarts

1 pkg. ( 2 sheets) puff pastry, at room temperature
1 lb. red onions, slivered
4 tablespoons butter
pinch sea salt
4 oz. goat cheese
cracked pepper
1 egg, beaten

In a large sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and toss to coat with the butter. When the onions are translucent and soft turn the heat down to med-low. Add a pinch of salt. Stirring every 5-10 minutes or so allow the onion to completely caramelize. This process will take up to two hours depending on the level of heat you're using. Lower heat = longer caramelization but less attention is needed to keep from burning. Higher heat = quicker caramelization but you must stir every couple of minutes over an hour to keep from burning. You'll know the onions are finished when they are dark and sweet as candy. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lay out the puff pastry and use a large drinking glass or round cookie cutter to make 4 circles, about 3 inches across. Each sheet yields 4, but if you mash the pastry back together and roll it out you'll get more. I had little success with this because it kept pulling back in on itself. Lay the rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg. Top with an 1/8th of the onions and 1/2 oz of goat cheese. Top with cracked pepper. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until puff pastry is puffed and golden brown and the goat cheese is browned in spots.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lavash Crackers

This months Daring Bakers Challenge was an über-fun recipe for lavash crackers hosted by Shellyfish over at Musings From the Fishbowl and Natalie at Gluten A Go-Go. We were to make the lavash crackers vegan, with the option of going gluten-free, and a vegan-gluten-free dip for the crackers. The crackers turned out amazing. The only thing stopping me from making them again is the outrageous kneading involved. Like most people, I ended up having to knead much longer than the specified 10 minutes, I think I finally gave out at about 25 minutes of kneading, and it could've used about 5 minutes more in my opinion. Thankfully I was able to coerce Husband to knead for about 10, because I think my shoulders may have actually caught fire if I'd done it all myself.

The vegan, gluten-free dip I chose to make was a roasted garlic-white bean-sage dip. It's a recipe I found a while ago and tucked away to make in the future. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to dust it off and try it out. Sadly, I wasn't really impressed. I think it may just be my dislike of white beans though. You know how make something that has a main ingredient you're not really fond of but you think maybe, just this once, you'll like it? Yeah. Not so much. Husband liked it, though.

So, a big Thank You to our lovely hosts, Shelly and Natalie! This was a super fun exploration into the world of vegan/gluten-free cooking. This cracker recipe is getting filed away for lots of future use!

Lavash Crackers

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

(Note: I would like to point out that I checked my crackers at about 12 minutes and they were already burnt in parts. I made some as a sheet to snap into shards and I cut the other into squares. Nearly every single one of the square crackers was burnt to a crisp. The sheet fared better, but it was still burnt around the edges. I recommend baking for no longer than 10 minutes.

Roasted Garlic and White Bean Dip with Sage

2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
5 garlic cloves
10 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 head garlic, top sliced off
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a saucepan combine beans,5 garlic cloves, sage leaves, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil with enough water to cover.
Simmer, covered, about 8 minutes.
Remove bay leaves and drain, reserving the broth.
Preheat oven to 350°F
Rub the head of garlic with a little of the remaining olive oil and put it in a small baking dish and add 1/4 cup water.
Bake uncovered until soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes.
Cool, then squeeze out the softened garlic.
Puree the beans in a food processor with all the garlic, the remaining olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and enough bean broth to give the beans a soft, spreadable consistency.
Season to taste with lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quick Question

So, have you ever studied so much that words cease to make sense?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How to Make Paneer

Paneer is an Indian farmer's cheese that is very simply made from milk and lemon juice/vinegar. It's a lovely addition to many meals and is particularly tasty in one of Husband's and my favorite dishes, Palak Paneer.

It's almost impossible to find ethnic ingredients in my area so most of the time, if I can, I just make it myself. This is my first time making cheese of any kind and it turned out really well.

Wanna see how I did it?

First, you take some milk. I used a half gallon of whole.

Husband and I only drink Fat-Free Milk, but I was worried about how it would work with the whole cheese-making thing, so I picked up some whole milk. Next time I'm going to try it with FF and see what happens.

Then, you pour the milk in a nice big pot.

You heat it up until it's almost boiling, but not quite. About 200 F if you're counting.

Then, you add the juice of one whole lemon, or 1/4 cup vinegar. Whatever works for you.

My lemon was a little small, so I added a splash of vinegar as well. Worked out pretty perfectly. You're just going for about 1/4 cup total of whatever acid you're using.

Keep it at a steady heat just below boiling and in about a minute you'll see this:

Little tiny curds will begin to form.

You've still got a ways to go, son, keep on cookin'.

In about two-three more minutes you'll be approaching this stage.

We've got some medium sized curd action going on at this point.

But, hold your horses folks 'cuz we're not yet where we want to be. Keep on cooking for another 3-4 minutes, if you need to you might need to add a capful of vinegar to really juice those curds into action. It's all good, nobody cares if your curds are on steroids.

This is where you want to be. Nice big curds and clear-ish whey.

Oh yeah. Nice curds.

So, funny story. Husband came in and looked at this point and was like "Eww. What's that?" And I was all, "Curds and whey." He replies, "Looks gross, who'd eat that?" So of course I had to respond, "DUH. Little Miss Muffett."

This is where you want to grab your cheesecloth.

Then you want to grab another big bowl/pot whatever. Pour the curds and whey though the cheesecloth into the pot. The cheesecloth catches all the yummy curds, and the the pot saves the whey. Which I'm totally not tossing. I've got big plans for that whey. Three guesses as to what I'm doing with it. Hmm?

Now, let it rest for a second. That shit was just nearly boiling, don't be gettin' all Handsy McGee with it. Keep your paws off.

After a few minutes tie it up with some kitchen string and hang it in your fridge over a bowl to drain. Like so:

See how I was all clever and tied it to the upper shelf. I'm like friggin' McGyver over here.

Let it drain for a couple hours. When you pull it out it'll look like this.

Now you want a brick - or some other heavy object. I like bricks.

But wrap it in foil first. We're not dirty heathens that let bricks touch our food.

The reason you want a brick is that the curd at this point is very fine, it's holding in a bunch of whey still. To get it out we're going to torture it press it flat. I set the curd in a loaf pan and put the brick on top. Works like a charm.

Now put it back in the fridge and let it sit for another hour or so.

When you pull it out it's going to look like this:

Now, cut it up into cute little cubes, or trapezoids, or stars or whatever the hell.

And TA DA! You've got yourself some genuine, bona fide Paneer!

You may now pat yourself on the back for being the cheese-making bad ass that you are.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

So, every single person on the internet has now heard of The Omnivore's 100. It's a list developed by Andrew over at Very Good Taste. It's turned into quite the meme, and as much as I dislike them (yes, even though I did one last month) I couldn't resist trying out this one. I'm still a young'n so I doubt I'll have much on the list crossed off, but I plan on working my way through this baby in the coming years.

So, the point is to bold anything you've eaten, and strike through the items you'd refuse to try. Here we go...

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (I hate washed rind cheeses so much)
17. Black truffle (I probably did at work back in my waitressing days, but I don't remember.)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (I just discovered I love pistachios at Husband's grandparent's house last year. Haven't gotten to the ice cream yet, and I don't think Spumoni should count.)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras I would never eat foie gras. It is never de rigeur to abuse an animal.
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (Holy Jesus I hope I never do this)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (I don't like anchovies, but I'd try it once)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar I was like 16 and my parents had gone out of town. One of the guys had a bottle of Hennesy and some Cubans he'd bought in Canada. Rock on.
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O Oh jebus have these caused me some hangovers.
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (I think I'd die)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more I can't even take the smell of whiskey without gagging. Another experience at 16...this one didn't go so well.
46. Fugu (I totally want to try this, but I'm afraid I might chicken out. Maybe I'll try one of those that's specially raised to be non-toxic. Their toxicity is just a product of their diet...or is that cheating?)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (I hate doughnuts, I think they're foul...but a fresh Krispy Kreme? Aw hell yeah.)
50. Sea urchin (Never again, yo. Never again.)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (This is the one thing I'm ashamed to cop to.)
56. Spaetzle (At Epcott, how cheesy is that?)
57. Dirty gin martini (At a 5 star hotel in Panama City, Panama no less.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine Ahh...make me want to visit my family in Canada. I friggin' love poutine.)
60. Carob chips (My mother used these instead of chocolate chips when we were kids for some reason...I think one of us had an allergy to something)
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (I'm not really into offal)
63. Kaolin (I'm also not really into dirt)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (I'm scared of this stuff)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (I've been meaning to try plantains)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (wtf?)
76. Baijiu or shaojiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (So wrong. So Ashamed.)
78. Snail (I love escargot, I have since I was a child.)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (Maybe in my wildest dreams)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (I love nasturtiums and pansies the most, rose petals are also quite tasty.)
89. Horse (This shouldn't need an explanation)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (Makes me think of Grandma's house.)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (I think so, but I can't remember)

And the items I would add if it were my list:

101. Kopi Luwak
102. Crawfish
103. Elk
104. Halibut Cheek
105. Peking Duck

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

I have yet to meet a single person on this planet that does not enjoy spinach and artichoke dip. Seriously. It's the one party food that's always devoured and the appetizer ordered when out for dinner. Tell me you don't like spinach and artichoke dip. I dare you.

OK, I'm sure there's a few of you out there that don't like it (communists). But, that's fine, you can still hang out with the cool kids.

I like this version because the sour cream adds a little bit of tang, it's not the flat mayo flavor that I get some places. Blech. This dip is not on Low-Fat's Christmas Card list. This dip has never even heard of Low-Fat. This dip could kick Low-Fat's ass.

Which is too bad, because it's mad tasty.

So, for the only time this decade (because that's only how often my ass can handle foods this fattening), I present to you...

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

4 oz sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
9 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of its juices
14 oz artichoke hearts, chopped

Combine all in baking dish and bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy with crackers, chips, veggies, fingers, or by dipping your entire face in the bowl and lapping at it with your tongue. You're your own person. It's up to you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Apple Dumplings

Whenever I think of apple dumplings I can't help but think of this movie. I remember watching this when I was very little with my sister over and over and over. It's an old Disney flick from the seventies about these little kids who strike gold. Hey, it's got Don Knotts in it, how can you go wrong? We loved these type of movies when we were kids. These and those old Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Wow...you can totally tell my family was just a teeny-weeny bit redneck, huh?

These apple dumplings have absolutely nothing to do with children or striking it rich in the gold rush. Unless you're serving it to gold plated children...creepy.

These are tasty tart apples spiced to perfection and bundled up in puff pastry. Top it off with some vanilla ice cream and it'll give Don Knotts a run for his money in good ol' comfort. In the interest of experimentation I tried slicing the apples and seeing what happened, it tasted great, but there wasn't a huge difference and it's way more of a pain in the ass. So, just keep 'em whole. It's a "whole" lot easier...oh yes I did.

A pretty dessert that tastes divine in less than a half hour? Oh yes, let me tell you how...

Apple Dumplings

Makes 2

2 tart apples, don't you dare use golden delicious or any garbage like that
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 425 F

Unfold the puff pastry and roll it out until it's about half the thickness it was. Cut the pastry in half creating two rectangles. Fold those over to create squares and roll them out a little bit more to flatten seal the two layers. Brush the square with a thin layer of the beaten egg. In a small bowl mix the sugar and spices. Peel and core the apples, leaving the flesh of the apple intact. Place the apple in the center of a puff pastry square and fill the center with the sugar and spice mixture. Pull each corner up and seal, wrapping the apple in a neat little package. Repeat with the remaining apple and pastry. Brush the entire outside with the beaten egg. Bake for about 28-20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and apple is tender but firm. Serve piping hot with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goat Cheese and Basil Lasagna

I have become that which I hate. The blogger who posts once a week. Argh!

Don't you just hate it when life gets so busy you feel like a chicken running around with it's head cut off? (Sorry for the imagery, folks. Nobody wants to get that mental image. Oh wait, you did? My bad...) I actually attempted to post the other night, I even had the recipe all wrote out and everything. Then it got way too dark to take pictures...blech. The sun gods are against me. And I'll be damned if I'm going to take a picture with flash. I can barely eke out half decent photos as it is.

But, I did exactly what I needed to do to retain what little sanity I have left. I dropped a class.

For the first time EVAR.

I felt like a huge tool about doing it for exactly five minutes. Then I realized that:
1. The class was an elective that I chose to take for fun in a pretty intense semester.
2. Said class was a fucking joke. I'm sorry, when I have to email the instructor every day because her instructions for an assignment are incomplete or inaccurate - whatev. Screw you lady.
3. I'm a big kid now and I can do what I want.

So, I'm feeling a bit more relaxed. Even took myself a nice candlelit bath tonight.

Even if I did manage to set off the smoke detector...

So, what's on the menu tonight you ask? Goat Cheese and Basil Lasagna. Oh yeah. Come along and enjoy the ride to tasty-ville.

Goat Cheese and Basil Lasagna

Makes 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed to bits with the flat of your knife
12 oz. ground beef/turkey (if you use beef make sure it's about 93% lean)
12 oz. whole milk mozzarella, shredded or diced and divided into thirds (dicing's way easier than shredding if you're like me and don't own a food processor)
4 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded or diced
4 oz. goat cheese
16-20 oz. tomato sauce (I cheated and used bottled tonight because I was crazy tired, but if possible use homemade.)
About 20 leaves basil
4 sheets of Barilla No-Boil Lasagna (You can use whatever lasagna noodles you want, I prefer losing the boiling step - oh, and not burning the crap out of my hands trying to maneuver molten sheets of pasta.)

Preheat oven to 375 F

Heat a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the smashed garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Crumble the ground beef into the skillet and cook through. In an 8 x 8 baking dish layer 2 sheets of lasagna noodles side by side covering the whole bottom of the dish. Spread evenly 2 oz. of the goat cheese over the pasta. Layer half the basil leaves over the goat cheese.

Top the basil with half the meat mixture, then 1/3 of the mozzarella, and half the cheddar. Spoon the tomato sauce over the cheeses until covered completely. Layer the last two sheets of pasta over the sauce and spread with the last 2 oz. of goat cheese. Layer the remaining basil, meat mixture, cheddar cheese and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Spoon tomato sauce over until covered and top with the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 40 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and a knife inserted into the lasagna penetrates the pasta easily. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shrimp Risotto

This is the second time I've ever made a risotto and in my opinion it turned out pretty fab. There's just something about a nicely stirred, well flavored dish of risotto that's so comforting. Last time the Mil was here visiting we drove down to Carmel and had lunch at a little bistro. They had the most amazing saffron risotto with Portobella mushrooms - so divine. This is also when we found out that Husband's french fries dipped in Balsamic vinegar was seriously delicious. Yumm.

So, anyone that isn't familiar with risotto, which has to be pretty much no one at this point, I'll spell it out for you. Take some nice Arborio rice, brown it in a little butter and slowly add hot stock a bit at a time until it's all absorbed and the rice is tender. The constant stirring breaks down the starches and makes the rice very tender and oh so creamy. It's quite tasty. And pretty easy - if you discount stirring a skillet of rice and stock for 25 minutes. My recipe require a bit more cooking liquid than most. I cook it at a higher temperature so more of the liquid evaporates before being absorbed into the rice. I like how it results in a higher concentration of flavors though.

Shrimp Risotto

2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
3 2/3 cups stock (seafood, vegetable, or chicken)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
sea salt and cracked black pepper

In a large skillet melt the butter over medium-high heat and cook the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a saucepan to a simmer. Keep at a simmer,the stock needs to be nearly boiling as it's added to the rice. Stir the rice into the onion and garlic, coating thoroughly with the melted butter. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Begin adding the stock to the rice, 1/3 cup at a time. Cook until the stock is absorbed and then add another 1/3 cup until rice is cooked. Begin tasting the rice after about 2 1/3 cups of stock are added. Depending on the heat of your stove, whether it's a Tuesday, etc. you might need more or less stock. It also depends on personal preference of doneness. In the last 5 minutes of cooking add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque. When risotto is finished quickly fold in the parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Triple Nut Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Holy freakin' cow have I gotten ridiculously busy. I went from twiddling my thumbs all day long waiting for Husband to get home from work so I could bug the crap out of him, to wondering how I'm even going to get the laundry folded. My hippie ass finally got a job since moving here to California - of course I got the job the week before Fall Semester starts. Whooo...so, who's not smarter than the average bear? That would be me, folks. That would be me. But, you know what? It feels nice. I like waking up with a purpose. Although I'm seriously going to have to get some gloves, yo. Biking to work at 8 in the morning is all well and good, but when you're literally riding 10 feet away from the Pacific Ocean...it gets pretty freakin' chilly. My knuckles are chapped. Boo.

Enough about my boring ass life, onto the tasty treats! Every time I see rhubarb I get all excited. I can't help it. It's one of those foods that brings back my childhood. My mom used to grow rhubarb where we lived when I was just a little bitty one north of Bellingham, WA. Tres nostalgic.

So, when I saw some tasty rhubarb at the store I decided it was time for a strawberry rhubarb crisp. As I was pulling out ingredients I realized I had almonds, pistachios, and pecans - freakin' yum. Aaaand, in they all went.

You may now enjoy my tasty creation.

Triple Nut Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

1 1/2 - 2 pints strawberries, washed and hulled
4 stalks rhubarb, roughly choppped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 oz. almonds
2 oz. pistachios
2 oz. pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 F

Put the strawberries in a sauce pan and mash them with a potato masher. Add the rhubarb, granulated sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, remove from heat, set aside. In a small food processor (or with a knife and some elbow grease) process the nuts until they are uniformly crumbly. Combine processed nuts with the oats, flour, and brown sugar. Mix well. Pour the melted butter over the nut-oat mixture and thoroughly combine. Layer half of the nut-oat mixture in the bottom of an 8x8 or similar size baking dish. Pour the strawberry-rhubarb over the crumblies. Top with the remainder of the nut-oat mixture. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet, it will probably boil over while cooking. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is crispy and golden brown.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Football Food

Because who doesn't love pigs in a blanket, right?

As mush as I wish I could wax poetic on the slaughter of the Buffalo Bills, sadly my beloved Seahawks had a very poor opening day game. I'm just not quite sure what's going on? Except that Plackemeier sucks ass as a kicker. And Taylor couldn't make a complete reception if his life depended on it. But even as much as I don't like our new guys, I've still got a great big heart for my team. Maurice Morris is going to kick some rushing yard ass this year, now that he's out from under the shadow of you-know-who and nothing will ever end my annual love affair with Nate Burleson.

But, enough about football (wow, I can't believe I said that). It's time for some yummy football-watching weight-gaining yelling-at-the-tv tasty treats. I think I'm going to try to post some fun game day snacks every week this season, we'll see how it works out...

This week I introduce to you the ever-present often under-appreciated pigs in a blanket.

On that note, it's time to tell you a funny story....

A long, long time ago (last December, to be exact) in a far away land (erm...Maryland?) there was a beautiful princess (my MiL) about to wed her prince charming (now s-FiL). Now, the beautiful princess had planned an elegant, understated affair for her nuptials. A simple ceremony in a beautiful church followed by a small reception at a private country club. The princess had ordered lovely hors d'œuvre to be passed about by the caterer at the reception - prosciutto wrapped melon, goat cheese stuffed mushrooms, etc. But, prince charming was intent upon having his favorite football snack hors d'œuvre at the reception as well - pigs-in-a-blanket. Needless to say, the princess was totally not ever going to do that in a million, trillion freakin' years unreceptive to the idea. The prince begged unceasingly for his pigs-in-a-blanket, but to no avail. The princess was uninterested in having such foods.

However, as her blissful day drew nigh the princess began to have a change of heart. Perhaps one small tray would be acceptable, just to play a joke on please her prince. He had been pleading for them for months now. Perhaps he should be presented with a tray of pigs-in-a-blanket at the reception, just to prove that princess really did listen to him - at least when she felt like it. It was then that I, humble daughter-in-law baked a box of puff pastry wrapped sausages and practically had to bribe the damn caterer asked nicely for the treats to be brought to the prince. It was quite the laughable affair when the prince realized his beloved snacks had crashed the party.

OK, yeah - I know. I'm a dork. But my MiL and s-FiL are awesome and it was really, really funny. Though you might have had to be there to think it was as hilarious as I do. But, in any event, pigs-in-a-blanket are ridiculously delicious and super easy. Here's how.

Pigs in a Blanket
Makes 18

1 box puff pastry, thawed and each sheet cut into 9 equal squares
1 Turkey Kielbasa sausage loop (the semi-circle ones near the hot dogs at your grocery store Hilshire Farms or whatever the hell they're called makes it)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degress F

On a cutting board lay out the sausage so that both ends are facing one to your left. Cut off the connecting curvy part so you have two straight sausages and one bent one. Slice each straight piece into quarters lengthwise and then cut in half. Slice the curvy one into quarters. You should now have 18 equal-ish size pieces of sausage. Brush the beaten egg onto two opposite edges of the puff pastry squares. Wrap the sausage in the pastry, using the egg to help seal the edges. Repeat 17 more times. Place on parchment paper or a SilPat. Brush with the remaining egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and puff pastry is cooked through. Serve with spicy mustard.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Heritage Pork & Sparkling Mead Workshop

Of the many workshops offered at Slow Food Nation '08 I was of the lucky few to attend the Heritage Pork & Sparkling Mead Workshop. The highlight of my day, my only regret is that the workshop lasted only one short hour. Gordon Hull, of Heidrun Meadery, Eliza Maclean, of Cane Creek Farm, and Chef Joe Bonaparte and Marla Thurman of The International Culinary Schools presented an intriguing and thorough look into the world of Ossabaw Island Hogs and Sparkling Mead. Bonaparte and Thurman cooked and paired the pork and mead beautifully while Hull and Maclean extolled the virtues of their particular passions.

Gordon Hull is the owner, and as he joked, the sole employee, of Heidrun Meadery. Hull is a well-spoken, passionate man quite obviously consumed by his work. His short words on production methods provided a clear glimpse of just how expertly he commands his craft. The sparkling mead, produced from his small meadery in tiny Arcata, CA is an appropriate representation of just how seriously he takes his work. Not a huge fan of traditional, still meads myself I was blown away at the quality and flavor of the sparkling mead. The tantalizing aroma of honey blooms forth from the mead, teasing your senses. Orange Blossom Mead presents a backlit citrus note while the Buckwheat Blossom proffers a crisp, dry subtleness. The mead paired spectacularly with the Ossabaw Island Hog from Eliza Maclean. I had only a few moments to ask Hull about the name of his meadery, Heidrun. As soon as he started explaining it immediately took me back to high school mythology classes. Odin, the leader of all Norse gods, kept a goat named Heidrun. Heidrun fed off the Læraðr tree and produced mead instead of milk. Odin, concerned about tainted foods, drank only the mead that flowed from the teats of Heidrun. Heidrun also nourished the valkyries.

Maclean owns Cane Creek Farm in Snow Camp, NC. At Cane Creek she raises a variety of animals including the Ossabaw Island Hog. Ossabaw's are descendants of Spanish Iberian pigs left on the island of Ossabaw off the coast of Georgia nearly 400 years ago. Unable to escape the micro-habitat of the island the Ossabaw's evolved to survive. Looking at this photo of Ossabaw Island, though, it looks like an OK place to hang out for a while.

Through their adaptation the relatively petite Ossabaw's became smaller still. Their captivity on the island forced them to alter their eating habits throughout the meager spring. They developed a unique method of fat metabolism, allowing each hog to store a much larger amount of fat than other hogs. This metabolic transformation also produced a form of non-insulin dependent diabetes, making them a choice test animal for diabetes research.

Their fat is also higher in Omega 3 fatty acids than other hog fat. This larger proportion of unsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats sure made me feel a whole lot less guilty about indulging so heavily during the workshop.

Our first pairing started with a taste of the Orange Blossom Sparkling Mead.

The heady scent of honey was most prevalent, with surprisingly strong backnotes of the citrus flower the honey is produced from. The mead was light and clear with a pleasant effervescence.

The Orange Blossom was slightly sweeter than I anticipated, but with enough acidity to cut through the fattiness of the Ossabaw.

Accompanying the Orange Blossom mead was a smoked Ossabaw pork belly over what I'm assuming was a fruit compote. The fat was truly of the melt-in-your-mouth variety and the meat smoked to perfection. The hog meat was quite obviously of an amazing quality with a firm, tender texture. That fat, though - outstanding. Definitely not the type of pork fat you'd slice away from your meat to discard. Chefs Bonaparte and Thurman did an amazing job in pairing.

Next up was a taste comparison of Ossabaw Island Hog pork shoulder and store-bought pork shoulder, both smoked and served with a type of pickled sweet corn chutney. The difference in the smoked shoulder was palpably, instantly noticeable. The commodity shoulder was tough, dry, and stringy. The smoke flavor seemed like a layer over the top of the pork, rather than the permeation the Ossabaw achieved. The smoked Ossabaw shoulder was a touch drier than I'd like, but still moist enough and tender as could be. The smoke had permeated the flesh entirely, creating a harmonious blend with the marbled meat.

Our next taste was a comparison of store bought salamis and Ossabaw Island Hog salamis. The three samples on the top row of the salami plate are Ossabaw and the bottom two were bought from a local grocery store.

I'm not sure exactly what this was, but it was outstanding.

The differences between the Ossabaw salami and the store-bought was like comparing Gloucester Cheddar to Velveeta - night and day. The store bought salami was plastic-like and had an odd offputting smell. The taste was unremarkable and again possessed an odd aftertaste, probably from the large amount of nitrites used. The Ossabaw on the other hand, was remarkably velvety. The salami tore easily and the fat practically melted on my tongue. Here you can see the drastic difference between the two.

The Ossabaw on the right is noticeably darker and fattier than the commodity salami on the left.

For our final pairing we tried Gordon Hull's Buckwheat Blossom Sparkling Mead.

The Buckwheat Blossom mead was darker and much drier than the Orange Blossom with more effervescence. The honey scent was still noticeable, but not nearly as prevalent as in the Orange Blossom. The Buckwheat was crisp and clean with a refreshing bite - slightly reminiscent of grass.

The dryness of the Buckwheat mead coupled perfectly with the next pork presentation, Braised Neckbones with Pickled Okra and Collard Greens served over Cheese Grits.

I've never had neckbones before, but I always thought they'd be much tougher than what I was presented with. I'm assuming this is in large part due to the tender Ossabaw hog, but I imagine Joe Bonaparte's expertise in the kitchen lends a hand as well. The neckbones were firm but tender and filled with flavor. The okra and collards were delicious, with the cheese grits providing a perfect base.

I actually enjoyed the cheese grits so much I made them a couple days later - not nearly as good as Bonaparte's, but they were delicious nonetheless.

This foray into the world of heritage pork was eye opening at the very least. Ossabaw Hogs are considered critically endangered. Thankfully caring individuals like Eliza Maclean are taking the needed steps to ensure the survival of such an amazing breed. The loss of such an amazing, and tasty, creature would be a great loss.

I felt equally notable was the intriguing look into the very tiny world of sparkling mead. I will no longer hold the belief that mead must be still, heavy and unpalatable. I only hope that Hull will one day be able to expand his business - if only so I can try all of the many flavors he produces.

In fact, I enjoyed the mead in the workshop so much I ordered a couple bottles of the Orange Blossom Mead soon after arriving home.

Thank you to Gordon Hull, Eliza Maclean, Joe Bonaparte, and Marla Thurman.