Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Penne with Asparagus, Sweet Peas, and Lemon

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Last Spring I received an email from Food & Wine on extraordinary Spring dishes like penne folded with asparagus, sweet peas, and sage and laced with a touch of cream. I immediately made the dish with a few tweaks. You can find the original recipe here. After reading the reviews, I was afraid the dish would be bland so I swapped sage for some lemon + zest to brighten the subtle flavors in the dish and give it an extra kick. I revisited the recipe tonight and it was just as wonderful as I remembered.

The dish is simple and light-- perfect for Spring time-- and makes a good and quick dinner for a weeknight. And it pairs incredibly well with Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. I absolutely adore the combination of asparagus and grassy Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough.

Penne with Asparagus, Sweet Peas, and Lemon (Adapted from F&W)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups vegetable stock (low-sodium)
1 lb asparagus, cut into 1/2" rounds, leaving tips 1.5" long
2 cups peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
zest of one lemon
a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Bring salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook about 2 minutes less than al dente. Drain.

Meanwhile heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add stock and rapidly boil over high heat until reduced by a little more than half, about 5-6 minutes. Be sure to reduce the broth otherwise the dish will be watery. Add peas and asparagus and continue to boil on high until sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes. The asparagus should be crisp tender, do not overcook.


Fold in cream and lemon zest. Stir in penne, and cook for 2 minutes. Squeeze some lemon juice over the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup of cheese. Transfer to bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Oven-roasted tomatoes with goat cheese

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I had leftover goat cheese *gasp* and was looking for a fun appetizer to make with it, other than the obvious option of serving it straight out of the package. There's something wonderful about the combination of goat cheese, herbs, and tomato. So I made oven-roasted tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese. People, this is an incredibly easy, fabulous appetizer. You will not have any leftover!

Be sure to use plum tomatoes because they hold up better during the roasting process and are less likely to collapse or turn to mush. You can slow roast the tomatoes at 250 for four hours or at 400 for an hour. I did the latter, while making the main course.

Oven-roasted tomatoes with goat cheese
2 firm plum tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
2 oz fresh goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Line baking sheet with foil. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and juices. Place halves cut side up on baking sheet evenly spaced. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool completely. Spoon goat cheese into each half. Garnish with basil.

Variation: Do not remove inside of tomato. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes. Scatter thyme sprigs over tomatoes. Roast as above.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wine: J. Jacaman Pinot Noir

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Over the weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying a beautiful, intense Pinot Noir with my brother: the J. Jacaman 2004. Simply a-mazing.

Pinot, where have you been all of my life? Had I known Pinot could taste this good, I would have started drinking it years ago... I so need to start making up for lost time!

Even before taking a sip, I knew that this was a phenomenal wine. It had one of those noses that makes you close your eyes and say wow... After letting the full-bodied wine briefly breathe, I took the first sip.  Elegant waves of cherry and vanilla filled my mouth. The dark fruit was interlaced with peaks of intense oak and spice, which then gave way to a seemingly never-ending finish with soft, velvety tannins.

I am in love.

Image from K&L

Friday, March 26, 2010

Zucchini with almonds and lemon zest

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I am slightly obsessed with my favorite vegetable-- asparagus-- and have several variations on side dishes highlighting the star. But sometimes it is good to mix things up, especially when your grocery store is out of asparagus! Tonight I decided to make a side of zucchini tossed with almonds and lemon zest.

For you zucchini lovers, this stand out side dish is really quick to make. The delightful freshness of the zucchini coupled with the crunch of toasted almonds and bright lemon zest makes this simple dish an elegant accompaniment to a meal.

Zucchini with almonds and lemon zest
2 small zucchinis
1/3 cup slices almonds (I've used pine nuts before and it works well)
2 tbsp olive oil
zest of one lemon (avoid the bitter white part)
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
optional 1 oz of pecorino romano, thinly shaved (use a vegetable peeler)

Remove stem and cut zucchini into thin strips lengthwise. Slice each strip crosswise into 1/8" pieces, or as thin as you can.

I really, really want a mandoline.

Heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Once oil is shimmering, add almonds. Stir, and toast for about 2 minutes.


Add zucchini and lemon zest. Toss to coat well. Don't cook the zucchini for very long, only about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice. Toss again. Add pecorino shavings if desired (I did add pecorino but wouldn't miss it). Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side.

Eggplant Parmigiana

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As a child, I disliked all things having to do with eggplant. Except for my mom's eggplant parmesan. How could anything not be delicious when breaded and fried, not to mention topped with a layer of melted cheese? Of course now I love eggplant, especially when it is mushy.


There's no frying or breading of eggplant in this stellar version. Believe me, you won't miss it. This flavorful, fresh dish tastes better than any other eggplant parmigiana I've ever had. I love the layering of flavors: garlicky tomato sauce, fresh basil, and two cheeses. Fantastic!


I prefer to use baby eggplant because it isn't as tough as large eggplant. Plus it makes the presentation much more fun and delicate. I served this dish with a tasty side of zucchini with almonds and lemon zest and penne a la vodka. My mouth was watering for more eggplant parmigiana (actually it still is) but sadly, I only made 2!!!

 
Eggplant Parmigiana
2 baby eggplants
2 + 1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz of crushed tomatoes (I used about a third of a 28 oz can- the only size I had on hand)
1 clove of garlic, minced
a pinch of salt
a pinch or two of crushed red pepper
3-4 deli cut slices of mozzarella
2 tbsp of parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
6 basil leaves, chiffonade

Prepare eggplant
Preheat oven at 450. Remove stem and cut off about 1/4 inch of eggplant lengthwise on each side so that the sides are flat, discard. Cut middle section lengthwise into 4 equally thick slices. It is important that the slices are equally thick because otherwise the cooking times will be different and some parts will be tougher than others. Keep the 4 eggplant slices in order because they will be re-stacked at the end.

Line baking sheet with foil (otherwise the eggplant will stick to the sheet). Brush both sides of eggplant slices with 2 tbsp of olive oil and place evenly spaced on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 18 min, flipping slices halfway. Remove from oven and let cool.

Prepare sauce
Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in small saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and salt. Let simmer for about 7 minutes until sauce is thickened.

Assemble
Lower oven temperature to 350. Over each slice, spread about a tbsp of sauce (or, generously coat) and sprinkle basil on top. Place one slice of mozzarella on top of basil, avoid cheese hanging over the edge. My eggplant slices were not very big so I used 1/3 of a mozzarella slice on each eggplant slice. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of parmigiano reggiano. Restack the slices in order.

Bake the stacks for about 5 min, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let sit for a minute. Carefully transfer to serving plates. If you like extra sauce, first spoon sauce onto the plate and place stack on top of it. Garnish with basil. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dulce de leche Brownies

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Oh, dulce de leche how I love you. I usually don't like super sweet desserts but anything incorporating dulce de leche is an exception. That's why ever since I bookmarked David Levobitz's dulce de leche brownies I have searched for an excuse to make them. Seriously, how could you go wrong combining dulce de leche, pecans, and chocolaty goodness? Although his recipe calls for brownies made from scratch, I opted to use Ghirardelli's oh-so-heavenly double chocolate brownie mix. Terribly un-foodie of me, I know. But I did have fun making homemade dulce de leche. 

I know most people make dulce de leche by boiling a sealed can of sweetened condensed milk in water. But fear of the can exploding and making a giant mess in my kitchen is a bit too much for me. Instead I made the dulce de leche in the oven using a water bath and it turned out delicious. Be careful... I managed to get a pretty nasty burn on my hand in the process.

Dulce de leche
Preheat oven to 425. Pour one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk in a pie pan with a pinch of sea salt. Place pie pan in a large roasting pan, add hot water until reaches halfway up the side of the pie pan. Cover pie pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hr 15 min. Check occasionally and add more hot water to roasting pan as necessary. Remove from oven and uncover. The dulce de leche will be thick and light caramel colored. Cool and whisk until smooth.


Dulce de leche Brownies
I box Ghirardelli's double chocolate brownie mix
1 cup toasted chopped pecans, cooled
1 cup dulce de leche

Cover 8" baking pan with aluminum foil. Butter bottom and sides of pan. Follow instructions on the box to prepare brownie batter. Mix in nuts.


Pour half of the batter into the pan. Spread 1/3 of the dulce de leche evenly onto the batter, swirling lightly with a knife. Top with remaining batter. Place dollops of dulce de leche on top. Again swirl with a knife.


Bake for 40 min (or as directed by box). Remove from oven and cool completely. Cut into 2" squares. The brownies are super fudgy so I ran the knife blade under hot water between each cut. It worked pretty well.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tomato Vodka Sauce

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After a long day, I walked into the kitchen and put a pot of water on the stove to boil fingerling potatoes when my kitchen faucet broke... the handle to control flow just snapped off. After making the appropriate phone calls, I thought to myself, what can I make tonight without running water? I hadn't even washed the potatoes yet. The first thing I thought of was tomato vodka sauce. Thank God I already had a pot of water on the stove so at least I could cook the pasta.

This is absolutely my favorite pasta sauce. It is easy and wonderfully delicious. I made this sauce for the first time about 5 years ago and haven't changed the recipe since. That just goes to show that great food doesn't have to be complicated!

Tomato Vodka Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 can crushed tomatoes, San Marzano if possible (28 oz)
3/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 tsp table salt

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter. Once oil is shimmering and butter starts to foam, add garlic, shallots, and crushed red pepper flakes. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes. Stir and let simmer for about 20 min, until reduced. I usually go do other things like wash dishes. But without running water, I opted to update the blog instead :-)


Add vodka. Cook for another 10 minutes. The vapors will be very vodka-y during this process. Add heavy cream and a touch of salt to taste. Reduce heat to low. Stir in fresh basil. Let sit for another minute or two and then remove from heat.

Toss with 1lb al dente penne (or gnocchi or cheese tortellini). Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Serves 4.

Wine: iLGHiZZANO Toscana

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I've been waiting to have this wine with a good red pasta sauce. I was so hungry that I forgot to try the wine without food. I must say that it was quite excellent with the pasta.

The 2007 iLGHiZZANO Toscana IGT is a Super Tuscan blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot. I usually like big earthy Super Tuscans that are blends of Sangiovese and Cabernet and spend some time in French oak. The merlot resulted in a Super Tuscan showing considerably more fruit than earth or tobacco. Not a bad thing (on the contrary the wine was really good), just unexpected.

I found the iLGHiZZANO to be soft and lush in the mouth with plenty of upfront black cherry fruit, spice, and vanilla. It had good bright acidity to pair with the tomato sauce and firm tannins. Full bodied, with a clean finish. For just $18, this is definitely an excellent wine to have with pasta!
Image from here

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spanakopita & Caramelized Onion Goat Cheese Triangles

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What could be better than spanakopita-- spinach, onion, and feta seasoned with lemon and dill and wrapped in buttery layers of phyllo? Finger food sized spanakopita. The triangles have the clear advantage of a higher flaky phyllo to tasty filling ratio compared to the pie. I used to regularly make the pie, but haven't made it in years because it is far too big for 2 people.

After tonight, I can say with confidence that spanakopita is my new favorite cocktail party app, as in the kind you eat not the iPhone variety. For good measure, I also decided to try Smitten Kitchen's fabulous caramelized onion goat cheese triangles. The flavors and textures are incredible-- sweet onions, tangy creamy goat cheese, spicy dijon, and crunchy sweet fennel seeds.

If you've never worked with phyllo before, the recipes may be time consuming. Trust me, both recipes are well worth the effort. As a child, I used to help my mom make her famous baklava out of layers of buttered phyllo. My job was to cover and uncover the phyllo while she assembled the divinely rich layers. Anyway, once you get comfortable with phyllo, you start to move faster and there's less risk of the phyllo drying out.

Spanakopita

6 oz fresh baby spinach
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 green onions, both green and white parts sliced
1 heaping tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
3 oz crumbled feta
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 + 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sheets of phyllo, thaw package overnight in refrigerator or 6 hours at room temperature


Prepare mixture
Heat 1/2 tbsp butter on medium heat. When butter starts to foam, add garlic and green onion. Cook for 1 minute. Add spinach and turn until starts to wilt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 more minutes. Set aside and let cool. 

Cooked spinach has a lot of liquid, and you want to get rid of as much of it as possible otherwise the phyllo will be soggy. Drain liquid from spinach using a fine mesh colander or cheese cloth and squeezing out the liquid. Chop coarsely. Transfer to bowl, add feta, dill, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Assemble Phyllo triangles
Melt 2 tbsp of butter in small saucepan. Remove one sheet of phyllo and lay flat on large cutting board. Keep remaining sheets covered by a clean, slightly damp kitchen towel or by plastic wrap while not in use otherwise phyllo will dry out and tear. Brush sheet lightly with melted butter. Place one more phyllo sheet on top and brush lightly with butter. Using a sharp knife cut stack crosswise into 6 equally wide strips. 

Place one tablespoon of mixture in bottom right corner of one strip. Gently fold over to make a closed triangle. Continue folding triangle up and over (like a flag) until reach top of strip. Brush triangle lightly with butter. Place seam side down on baking sheet. Repeat until all of the filling is used. 

Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet before serving. 


Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese

1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
2 oz goat cheese
1.5 tsp dijon
3/4 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 phyllo sheets, thawed


Prepare mixture
Heat olive oil on medium heat. Add fennel seeds and let slightly brown. Add onion, stirring to completely coat. Stir in 3/4 tsp salt and generous black pepper. Turn heat down to medium-low. Continue to cook onion until soft and light in color, about 20 minutes. 

Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Transfer to bowl and mix in goat cheese and dijon. Assemble Phyllo triangles as described above. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Caipirinhas + Guacamole

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I am absolutely convinced that caipirinhas and guacamole make for a *perfect* girls night. Caipirinhas are a seductive Brazilian drink made from cachaça, a liquor derived from sugar cane. Less sweet than a mojito, but equally refreshing, caipirinhas have that magical ability to take me to a far away place where I can dream again. And when made right, guacamole is just awesome.


Growing up in Texas, guacamole and queso were a staple at every gathering from football games to birthdays. And by queso I mean the kind that's made in a crock pot from Velveeta and a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilis. OK... I'll admit that I was raised on Velveeta and orange cheddar. And that sometimes I crave queso around Superbowl time. And, embarrassingly enough, I didn't know cheddar was naturally white until I moved to Boston and my roommate bought Cabot extra sharp cheddar that wasn't orange. But I redeemed myself when I had my first bite of manchego, which I like to call a gateway drug to artisanal cheese. Anyway, I digress.

Back to guacamole. It makes me sad when guac doesn't have enough lime or salt (or enough jalapeño, but let's start with the basics). There have been a number of times when I've gone out for Mexican in Chicago and had to strongly fight the urge to ask for extra limes to try to fix the mush of avocado sitting in front of me falsely claiming to be guacamole. I say no one should have to eat sad guac! Here is my recipe for (IMHO) the best guacamole ever.

Guacamole
2 large ripe Haas avocados, halved and pitted
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 large yellow onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 lime, juiced
1 tsp sea salt

In bowl, combine onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Using the back of a spoon, slightly grind ingredients to release flavors. Add tomato. Scoop inside of avocado with spoon and add to bowl. Squeeze lime juice over avocado and season with sea salt. Mash with a fork until combined but still slightly chunky. Can add 1/2 tsp ground cumin if desired. Dig in with tortilla chips!

Caipirinhas
1 juicy lime, cut into eight wedges (halved, then quartered)
1 tsp sugar (the regular kind is best for muddling)
1 jigger (1.5 oz) cachaça
ice, smashed

Sprinkle sugar over limes in mixer.  Muddle until lime juice is released. Fill 3/4 of a glass with smashed ice and add cachaça. Pour contents of mixer into glass. Stir well. Enjoy!

Cheers to new beginnings and new dreams 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Risotto with Asparagus, Mushroom and Artichoke

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Today's recipe is inspired by one of my most favorite Seinfeld moments:

[location: restaurant]
(Karin starts moaning and lights a cigarette after finishing dinner)
GEORGE: You seem like you really enjoyed your Risotto. You have a very contented air over there. You look very contented, very satisfied. Are you satisfied?
KARIN: I'm very satisfied.
GEORGE: I'm sure if you weren't satisfied you would probably say something wouldn't you?
KARIN: I probably would. But then again I'm an enigma.
GEORGE: Hey listen... instead of the movie... maybe we'll go back and... you know...
KARIN: Maybe.
GEORGE: So... you feel okay about that whole thing... what we do in there... generally okay with everything in there?
KARIN: Generally.
GEORGE: Do you feel the way you feel after the Risotto?
KARIN: No, I feel full after the Risotto.
GEORGE: Yeah... full.


So, is your Risotto sponge-worthy? Because this one absolutely is!

Just when I thought Spring was in the air, it snowed today in Chicago. Fret no more, this risotto is filled with spring-time flavors that will make you forget all about the snow. The dish begs for a lemony Sauvignon Blanc or a bright, acidic white from Loire Valley.

Risotto with Asparagus, Mushroom, and Artichoke (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet, May 2003)

1/2 lb thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch rounds, leaving tips 1.5 inches long
6 oz of shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 artichoke heart, quartered
1 shallot, finely chopped
2.5 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup arborio rice, rinsed
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup parmiggiano regiano, finely shredded
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

For artichokes:
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, juiced
splash of white wine vinegar
2 tbsp dry white wine

Prepare artichoke heart
Bring water to a boil in 4 qt saucepan with 2 pours of white wine, splash of dry white wine vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic smashed, and 1 bay leaf. Cut top off artichoke, remove choke, and cut away leaves until heart is exposed. Remove stem. Cut artichoke heart into quarters. Immediately put in bowl with juice of one lemon. Thoroughly coat heart in lemon juice otherwise it will brown. Transfer artichoke hearts with lemon juice to boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside. Cut into 1/4 inch strips.

Prepare asparagus
Bring vegetable broth + water to a boil in large saucepan. Add asparagus, cook for 4 minutes. Remove asparagus with slotted spoon. Place in large bowl with ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain and set aside. Keep vegetable broth on very low heat.

Prepare mushrooms
Heat olive oil and 1/2 tbsp butter in medium saucepan on high heat. Add mushrooms. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl.

Risotto
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp butter on medium heat. Add shallots. Cook until softened. Add rice, stir. Add wine, stir until absorbed. Add 1 cup broth, stir until absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until absorbed, until rice is creamy. It will take about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tbsp butter. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in asparagus, mushroom, and artichoke. Cover and let sit for one minute.

Serve immediately. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Serves 2. Enjoy!

Mustard Croutons

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I'm not a huge crouton person, but when I saw a recipe for mustard croutons on Lottie + Doof, I knew I had to make them the second I had some day old bread on hand. These are my new favorite croutons.


Mustard Croutons

3 oz slightly stale, rustic bread, most of the crust removed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp dry white wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard seeds, slightly crushed
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Tear bread into 3/4 inch fluffy wads. Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Transfer to large bowl. Whisk in dijon, white wine vinegar, mustard seeds, and a generous amount of black pepper. Add bread. Toss well to coat. Add just a pinch of salt because the dijon is already salty. Transfer to sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes in oven. Let cool. Can store in refrigerator for 1 week.

I used the croutons in an arugula avocado salad tossed with a lemon dijon basil vinaigrette. It was AMAZING. The crunch of the croutons was a nice contrast to the creamy avocado, the sweetness of the basil offset the bitter arugula, and the dijon vinaigrette integrated the components.


Lemon Dijon Basil Vinaigrette
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 basil leaves, chiffonade (stack leaves, roll tightly lengthwise, and cut into thin slices)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients except for olive oil. Slowly whisk in oil. Refrigerate for an hour before using.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Crêpes au fromage + Strawberry crêpes

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This recipe is for very simple, yet delicious crêpes au fromage. I must confess that I've never made crêpes before. I have tried making dosa, a South Indian rice crêpe, but they never turned out very good. For my first crêpe-making adventure, I decided to turn to the mad scientist/MacGyver of food: Alton Brown. His recipe was so easy- you mix the batter in a blender! And the crêpes turned out mouthwateringly perfect.


The Perfect Crêpes
2 large eggs
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 tsp salt

Extra butter for coating the pan

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Pour into bowl and refrigerate covered for 2 hours. Allowing the batter to rest reduces gluten formation so the crêpes will be thiner and also allows air bubbles to escape so the crêpes will not tear as much. Alton says the batter will keep for up to 48 hours.

Heat a small 6" non-stick skillet on medium heat. Butter the pan.  Pour 3 tblsp of batter into a 1/2 cup measuring cup. Lift skillet at an angle. Pour 3 tblsp of batter into the center and tilt skillet to coat bottom evenly with batter. Cook for 1 minute until top is set and center is lifted by air pockets. Lift edges with spatula, slip under crêpe and flip. Cook for about 45 seconds until golden brown spots form on bottom.

Transfer to large cutting board to cool. The first one may not turn out perfect. Repeat until all batter is used, buttering the pan every 2 or 3 crêpes. If pan gets too hot, wipe quickly with a wet paper towel. Lay each crêpe flat on the cutting board to cool. Once cooled, stack the crêpes. Can store in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for up to two months. Makes about 15 crêpes.

I think I will use the stack of crêpes for a gâteau de crêpes. I'm thinking either a savory dish with shiitake and cremini mushrooms, gruyère, and chives or a sweet dish with layers of vanilla pastry cream. For now, I made crêpes au fromage from the first two not-so-perfect looking-but-still-mouthwatering crêpes.



Crêpes au fromage
1/4 cup cave aged gruyère, shredded
fresh ground pepper
1 tsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used tarragon but thyme and/or chives would work too) 
2 crêpes

Heat large nonstick skillet. Meanwhile sprinkle gruyère on one half of crêpe. Season with fresh herbs. The cave aged gruyère is pretty salty so it is not necessary to add salt. Pepper however is a must. Fold the crêpe over. Cook on skillet for 2 minutes, flip and cook on other side for 1 minute. Serve immediately with side of bitter greens with lemon vinaigrette.

UPDATE March 21
I made some delicious crêpes with strawberry sauce the other day and wanted to share the recipe. These crêpes make a tasty dessert or a lovely addition to brunch and are much, much lighter than using a cream cheese based strawberry filling.

Crêpes with Strawberry Sauce
1/8 cup Grand Marnier
1.5 tsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
8 oz fresh strawberries, quartered and stems removed
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp powered sugar
small piece of chocolate for grating (optional)
2 crêpes

In heavy saucepan, heat Grand Marnier, sugar, and fresh lemon juice on medium heat. Add fresh strawberries. Cover and let simmer for 5 min, until soft. Remove from heat. Transfer 1/3 of strawberries with slotted spoon to food processor and puree. Keep separate.

In small bowl, beat 1/4 cup cold heavy whipping cream with 1 tsp powdered sugar until peaks form.

Spoon pureed sauce onto center of plate. Place strawberry filling on edge of crepe and roll. Repeat with another crepe. Place crisscrossed over sauce. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with fresh whipped cream. If desired, grate chocolate on top.

Linguini Fini Cacio e pepe

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Would you believe me if I told you that you can make something amazing from pasta, cheese, black pepper, butter, olive oil, salt, and water? You can. Linguini or spaghetti with cacio e pepe is wonderfully incredible when made with high quality ingredients and cooked perfectly. Sounds ridiculously simple, doesn't it? It is. Better yet, it is absolutely delicious, especially if you learn the secret to no clumps in cacio e pepe.

The first time I made this dish, my dinner guest was sufficiently confused when he saw pasta boiling in a pot of water and no sauce being made. Later, when I served the dish, he nervously asked, "So what is this... linguini with butter?" Then he took the first bite. And another. Then somewhere between bites I kept hearing, "Wow. Wow, this is really good." Success!

I've never been happier eating a bowl of linguini (or spaghetti). It is perfect for a quick, delicious, and unfussy dinner. I use pecorino, a salty, tangy aged sheep's milk cheese, and lots of freshly ground pepper in this ultra minimalist recipe.

After many trials, I finally found the best way to keep the cheese from clumping in cacio e pepe. In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the reserved pasta water to the pan on high heat (stand back), then add the pasta, toss, season very liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and quickly add in the grated cheese, distributing evenly over the top. As you stir, the cheese will melt and combine with hot oil and water. Trust me, armed with this secret trick, you will not have any cheesy clumps!

Update: After spending some time in Rome, I learned that the traditional way to make this cacio e pepe is with bucatini, a thick spaghetti like pasta that is hollowed out. Worth finding, but the dish is just as heavenly with spaghetti or linguini fini.
Image from F&W

Linguini Fini Cacio e pepe (Adapted from Mario Batali)

1/2 lb linguini fini (or spaghetti)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese plus more for serving, finely grated
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add 2 tbsp salt and add pasta. Cook linguini fini until just before al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on high heat and add butter. Once the butter has melted, add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and stand back- it will splatter! Add the pasta and toss to coat well. Add freshly ground pepper and stir in the grated pecorino. Don't grate in the cheese, have it already grated before adding. Toss for 1 minute. Pecorino is super salty so it is not necessary to add salt but if you do, flaky salt works well.

Divide the pasta among the plates, sprinkling extra cheese on top and a quick grind of freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sonoma Valley: Zins, Pinots, and Cyrus

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In the midst of my West Coast interviews, I took a side trip to Sonoma. Armed with recommendations from a trusted wine enthusiast (my sister-in-law), I planned to visit Gary Farrell, Ferrari Carano, Jordan, and Ridge in the Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River Valleys surrounding Healdsburg, CA.

It was the perfect vacay.

Day 1
The day began at Gary Farrell in the Russian River Valley. The tasting room was very tranquil and offered stunning views of the valley. It was pretty empty so the server was really attentive and even gave us recommended other wineries to visit. I enjoyed their Pinots, particularly the Hallberg Pinot from Russian River Valley. Think silky red fruit and earth, laced with spicy oak. IMHO, the Zin was too jammy, with overly ripe prune.


We made our way to Rodney Strong also in the Russian River Valley for a quick taste. I found the Symmetry Alexander Valley Meritage to be a pleasant and easily drinkable blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot, malbec, and cabernet franc.

One of the wine folks we met recommended doing a cave tasting at Bella Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Tasting in the cave was a ton of fun and definitely a unique experience. The host was friendly, laid back, and informative. The other wine enthusiasts were locals and extremely friendly, which added to the ambience. Although I was not overly wowed by the vast majority of their wines, the tasting was a good introduction to Zinfandel. I enjoyed the Two Patch Zin (smooth, red fruit, and spice), and the Lily Hill Petit Syrah. The Late Harvest Zin was reminiscent of Port and quite nice.


We arrived at Lambert Bridge in Dry Creek Valley right at closing but they served us anyway. They poured 10 wines-- that's a lot of wine for the last tasting of the day! Highlights were the viogner, Zin Maple, and Cab Franc. The lightly oaked, crisp Vigoner would pair well with a Thai Green curry. The Maple Vineyards Zin is a luscious field blend with petit syrah, showing lots of red fruit, vanilla, and cocca integrated with oak. I really enjoyed the rich Cab Franc blended with merlot, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. It had soft undertones, spice, hints of cassis and chocolate.


For dinner we tried to go to Cena Luna but the kitchen closes ridiculously early on weeknights. So instead we dined at Dry Creek Kitchen, which was utterly disappointing. My yukon gold potato gnocchi with pickled purple cauliflower was greasy and lacked texture and flavor. It was probably a good thing that I didn't eat more than two bites because it let me save room for the *delicious* dinner at Cyrus the next night :-)

Day 2
We had an appointment for the first tasting of the day at Jordan in Alexander Valley. We met in the beautiful ivy covered French-style chateau overlooking the immaculate grounds. The staff was pleasant and the host was very friendly. He gave an excellent tour describing the history of the winery and wine making process. We tasted the 2005 Chardonnay on the terrace, admiring the stunning vista. Aged 6 months in French Oak, the wine shows pear and fig and nice balance between butter and spiced oak. The rest of the tastings were inside and paired with cheese. I enjoyed the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon and found it to be soft, with good red fruit, black cherry. The wine is aged 18-24 months in American/French oak and then aged for 2 more years. The most current release, the 2005 Cabernet, has merlot and petite verdot. It has red fruit and is slightly vegetal, green bell pepper. I found it to be too young, paunchy and exhibiting high tannins. The 2006 vintage will be released this spring. After the tasting, our host walked us through the barrel room where the bottles rest before release.



Next we popped in for a tasting at deLorimier Winery in Alexander Valley. The wines were just OK. The Zin was excessively alcoholic and pruney, which is my most common compliant about Zinfandels. The hostess was friendly, and the lovely patio offered scenic views.


We stopped for a delightful lunch at Diavola Pizzeria consisting of delicious margherita pizza and a wonderful escarole salad with pickeled onions, endive, toasted walnuts, pecorino and a mustard vinaigrette. It was an absolutely perfect lunch for a leisure day of wine tasting!

Then we made our way to the oh so beautiful Ferrari-Carano winery in Dry Creek Valley. The first Chardonnay I ever enjoyed was the Ferrari-Carano. So naturally I was excited to try the Tre Terre Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. It was wonderful! I thought the Sienna was a nice example of a Sangiovese. Overall the wines were good and the tasting experience was certainly elevated by the luxurious beauty of the winery grounds. After the tasting, we spent time wandering around the grounds where I fell in love with the charming garden. There was even a cork oak tree!



We ended our day with fabulous Zins at Ridge Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley. The tasting room itself is minimalist and in an eco-friendly building. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly. The wines were rich, sensuous, and delicious. Thanks to Ridge, I have a new found appreciation for Zins! I really enjoyed the Pagani Ranch and the Lytton Springs.


The absolutely wonderful day concluded with an incredible dinner at Cyrus.  You can read more about our dining experience here. It was an excellent first trip to Sonoma...  Happiness.

A. Rafanelli, Silver Oak, Simi, and Flowers winery have been added to my list of places to visit next time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Great American Cheeses

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I came across a Food & Wine article on creating an American cheese plate by Laura Werlin, an expert on American artisanal cheeses. The article lists cheeses (with descriptions) organized from lightest to most intense, starting with fresh, semi-soft, and bloomy rind cheeses, moving on to semi-hard and hard cheeses, and finishing with blue and washed-rind cheeses.

Image from F&W

Of the impressive list, I've tried (and enjoyed) the following cheeses:
  • Pee Wee Pyramid, Cypress Grove (one of my favorite cheese makers) 
  • Flagship Reserve, Beecher's handmade cheese 
  • Plesant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese Company (I blogged about it here) 
  • Sarvecchio Parmesan, Sartori Foods (like parmigiano) 
  • Super Aged Gouda, Winchester Cheese Company 
  • Grayson, Meadow Creek Dairy 
Have you tried any of the other cheeses on the list?

You might be a foodie if...

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Serious Eats recently had a discussion on what quirks identify you as a foodie.

I am shamelessly guilty of the following...

...you describe a night out at a show by beginning with what you ate beforehand.
...your spouse's Christmas list for you can be completely filled at Williams-Sonoma.
...you treat going to the supermarket as a field trip.
...your reading list yields as many recipes as it does story lines.
...you start navigating to a website where you might need to do banking, or studying, or some other pertinent task and your fingers just naturally type "seriouseats.com."

...you have 20 tabs open on your work web browser. Two are for work, and 18 are related to food.
...your friends tell you converstations with them always make them hungry
...you talk about recipes during the entire bus ride to work; and random strangers on the bus ask "can i come to your place for dinner tonight?"

...you visit grocery stores like it is a tourist destination when you are traveling out of town or search for outdoor markets
...if your friends/spouse do not immediately begin eating when food arrives at a restaurant and either 1) patiently wait for you to get your pictures taken, or 2) 6 cameras whip out of everyone's bags, the table is click-click-clicking with the sound of shutters.
...you are planning the next meal before you finish the one in front of you!

...you have a 'free' day with no obligations and you always end up in the kitchen.
...your default channel is the Food Network (isn't that the only reason to have cable?)

...when you're upset you cook, when you're happy you cook, when you're sad you cook, when you are bored you cook, etc.
... you haven't set foot in a Cheesecake Factory in years (or any other national chain)
... you have extensive, heated debate about restaurants that you haven't actually eaten in yourself
...your list of restaurants to try has more entries than there are days in a year, and spans most major cities on several continents.

LOVE IT.

So, what makes you a foodie?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Curd Rice

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I am convinced that the ultimate Indian comfort food is curd rice (yogurt rice). The dish is refreshing and light yet satisfying. I LOVE the combination of green chilies and yogurt.


Curd Rice

1 cup long-grained rice
2 tbsp Canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of asafetida (hing)
1 dried red chili
2 tsp udad dal (white), rinsed
2 tsp channa dal, rinsed
1 green chili, seeded, thinly sliced into rounds and halved
1 tsp finely diced ginger
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups lowfat plain yogurt
salt to taste

Cook the rice as usual. I use 2.5 cups of water for 1 cup uncooked Basmati rice. Let cool.

Tempering
Heat oil on medium heat. Add mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds start to pop, add asafetida, red chili, udad dal, and channa dal. If you just rinsed the dal, jump back-- it will splatter! Let fry for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add green chilies and ginger. Stir for half a minute. Turn off the stove.

If you have curry leaves, they are great to add to the tempering.


Combine Ingredients
Stir in cooked rice. Traditionally the rice is slightly mashed before mixing, but personally I like to maintain the texture of long-grained rice. Mix in 2 cups of yogurt. Add diced cucumber. Season with salt to taste. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Note: Along with cucumber, shredded carrot is a nice addition to the dish. If desired, can add 2 tbsp desiccated coconut when mixing in yogurt.

Mario Batali on Eating More Vegetables

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I am *super* excited about Mario Batali's new cookbook, Molto Gusto, based on recipes from Otto, his NY enoteca and pizzeria. In addition to pizza and pasta, the book highlights antipasti based primarily on seasonal vegetables. The book will be released April 6th and is available by pre-order on Amazon.

In an interview with Food & Wine, Batali is quoted promoting the benefits of a pro-vegetable lifestyle.
"It will make everything better. The planet will live longer, people will feel better, their sex lives will get better, their apartments will get bigger. With more vegetables, it can all happen."
Mario, hearing you talk about vegetables like that makes me wish I wrote this love letter to you.

Read the full F&W article and get a sneak peek at some recipesTeam Mario Batali's Vegetable Challenge | Food & Wine

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chocolate Mousse + Champagne

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In heaven... thank you N for bringing a smile to my face with Chocolate Mousse from Fox & Obel ♥

We popped open a bottle of Joseph Perrier Champagne Cuvée Royale Brut NV. Apple and fresh lemon on the palate. No bitterness. Round, crisp, and profoundly refreshing. Persistent bubbles. Delightful!

Now that's a perfect end to a perfect evening.

Image from Joseph Perrier

On a related note, Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label used to be my go-to champagne. I would pop open a bottle of Veuve whenever celebrations were in order, serve it with cake on birthdays, and toast it on NYE. Then I tasted Dom Pérignon at a champagne tasting party. It really was like drinking the stars. The side by side tasting made me realize how bitter (and overly lemony) I find Veuve. Since then I have been searching for a similarly priced go-to champagne. I think the Joseph Perrier is a close contender!

Wine: Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel

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While watching The Hurt Locker this weekend, we tried a fabulous new wine, the 2008 Ridge Three Valleys zin. The movie left me in awe and feeling slightly unnerved. The wine, however, left me feeling quite enchanted by zinfandel.

I started to understand and appreciate zinfandel during a tasting at Ridge in Sonoma Valley last month. Very few of the Ridge zins are 100% zinfandel grape. The winery tends to blend the zinfandel grape with other varietals including petit sirah, carignane, grenache, and syrah. I think the blending makes Ridge zins well-balanced and less over-the-top jammy or spicy.

The 2008 Three Valleys starts with lots of fruit, blackberry and cherry (I think), with a touch of vanilla spice and layers of toasted oak. Well-balanced and silky in the mouth. Medium-bodied, long finish. $25 a bottle. Look forward to drinking this again!

Image from K&L Wines

Penne with sun-dried tomato pesto

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Two things: 1) there is no such thing as too much basil; 2) pesto is beautiful.

I had a huge tub of basil in my fridge and rather than making a traditional basil pesto I decided to make Giada's sun-dried tomato pesto

It was simple, tasty, and addictive. Oh, and super quick. Although there are no nuts in this recipe, the pesto is rich from the cheese and olive oil. The sun-dried tomatoes add a sweetness, there's a nice kick from the garlic and red chili flakes, and the lemon zest brightens the pesto.

Will definitely eat this again! 


Penne with sun-dried tomato pesto (Adapted from Giada)

1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (7.5 ounce jar)
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup packed basil leaves (remove blossoms, they add bitterness)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes

In a large pot, bring water to a boil with 1 tsp salt. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. 

Meanwhile, in a food processor blend sun-dried tomatoes with their oil, garlic, lemon zest, and basil until smooth. In a large bowl, add freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. Stir in pesto. Season with sea salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.

Add cooked pasta and toss well. If needed, add some of the reserve water. Serve immediately.

Tzatziki with pita chips

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I am craving spring. I was contemplating what to make for dinner and all I could think about was spring. I want asparagus, ramps, peas, and artichokes. 

I somewhat mitigated my spring craving by making some delicious tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip known for its cool, refreshing flavors. We were practically licking the bowl!

Dear weather gods, please let it be spring soon.


Tzatziki (Adapted from Ina Garten)

1 7 oz plain greek yogurt, I used Fage Total
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Grate cucumber over a bowl. Squeeze shredded cucumber with hand to remove extra juice. Transfer yogurt to a medium bowl. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Add cucumber, garlic, and dill. Mix well. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Serve with Stacy's Naked Pita Chips.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chocolate Chip Pancakes

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Saturday morning I woke up craving pancakes, which is so strange because I tend to prefer savory brunch foods. I decided to indulge and whip up a batch when I found this crave inducing recipe for chocolate chip pancakes.

Oh. My. Goodness. The pancakes were light, fluffy, and absolutely delicious! The melty chocolate chips added the perfect amount of sweetness. Unfortunately the pancakes were devoured (read: destroyed) before I could take a picture :-)

I cut the recipe in half and ended up with 5 chocolicious pancakes. I highly recommend the recipe!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wine: Aglianico Terredora Dipaolo from Campania, Italy

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The 2007 Aglianico Terredora Dipaolo Campania IGT is the first wine I've had made of Aglianico grape. Campania in Southern Italy is best known for Taurasi, made from Aglianico grapes, and the only wine with DOCG status in the region. Terredora Dipaolo produces a 100% Aglianico wine with IGT status that sells for a fraction of the cost.

The wine starts with concentrated dark fruit, black cherry, and marked acidity. Falls flat in the middle and has a long dry finish laced in cedar and herbaceous vegetal flavors. A bit tight but opens up after a couple hours, showing more plum fruit. Full-bodied, good acidity, lots of tannins. The tannins and acidity suggest that the wine would age well, but at $15 a bottle, it's great for everyday drinking and pairs well with tomato based Italian dishes.
Image from CellarTracker
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