Happiness is….

11 11 2010

A double barreled load of foodie competition joy coming my way!! It’s official!! I’m a contestant in the Marx Foods 2010 Iron Foodie Competition!! I’m so jazzed! I’ve continually wondered what might be coming in the box from Marx… Who are the other competitors? I’m so honored, and excited!!  Thank you Marx Foods!!

Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me: I think on my feet
I think out of the box
I am imaginative
I am competitive!
I am Iron and I am a FOODIE!
MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

While that news is thoroughly exciting all by itself, the very same day, I received notification from the Foodie Joust that the photo of our Sweet Potato Capellacci was voted Best Photo at the Joust, so we won in that category!! And we’re currently in a run off, tie breaker for Best Overall Entry!! I’m truly humbled and overjoyed!! Ok…I confess… I feel a little affirmation that I’ve kind of got some of this cooking stuff down too!

I’m home for a 4 day weekend…Bless our Veterans!  The weather is lovely, and I’ve got time and momentum to get some things moving and done.  There’s a lot going on behind the scenes here…  I think I’m just going to let myself get sucked into the midst of it all and roll with the flow.  Baking, catching up on my cooking groups, doing research…cleaning…  Can’t cook without cleaning too…LOL!  I just need another cup of coffee…first.





Royal Foodie Joust: Sweet Potato, Orange and Garlic~

31 10 2010

The past 2 months combined, the Royal Foodie Joust ingredients have been sweet potatoes, garlic and orange.  Wow…what a combination!  Although I waited until the last minute…I knew what I was doing from the very start…ravioli!  I just had to have the right day to be able to roast my sweet potatoes and make pasta! LOL!  Ok..what else are you going to do on Halloween Day when you have neither children nor trick or treaters??

First, I roasted sweet potatoes as though I were making filling for Marcella Hazan’s Cappellacci.  We made this recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essential Italian Cookbook in Cooking Italy in October of last year.  I loved the recipe then, but my pasta came out so tough I canned the whole thing.  So this year…when sweet potatoes came up…my mind went here immediately!  I adapted her recipe so I didn’t have an enormous quantity of the filling… I used 1 cup of roasted sweet potato, the rind of 1 large orange and 1 large garlic clove, sauteed slowly in butter until it caramelized.  I mixed the ingredients together with about 1/3 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs seasoned with a few drops of almond extract and a teaspoon of Grand Marnier, and 1 egg yolk.

Save the egg white to brush on the pasta to seal the ravioli better.  Add a touch of salt and pepper to taste, and set aside while making her “yellow” pasta to her specifications.  I rest my pasta between rolling it out so it becomes very smooth and elastic.   Spoon little morsels of filling along a pasta sheet, paint the intervals with egg white and divide with a ravioli stamp or a rolling cutter.  Just make sure you do your best to squeeze all the air out of the filling so it doesn’t try to explode during cooking.   We found half the recipe of pasta was plenty for the two of us.

I served the ravioli with Marcella’s Butter and Cream sauce from the same book.  It called for butter, cream and parmesan cheese…and it went very nicely with this ravioli.

Tasting Notes~
This is a true pasta you’d anticipate having a main entree follow…and you’d appreciate it, and want it.  This filling is mystifying.  It’s the essence of flavors you expect to be sweet, but that really aren’t, that leave your tongue slightly puzzled about the flavors while it’s purring over the silky smooth texture.  The cream sauce is silky, the filling is as soft as eiderdown, and the pasta is as light as a feather, barely containing the filling.  I knew the orange and sweet potato would work well…but went out on a limb a bit by adding the garlic in the ravioli filling.  Once it caramelized, even slightly, it became another layer of flavor that kept the ravioli filling savory, but just barely.  Although a lot of work…this is considered a keeper, and a definite “show off” dish.  It’s also a great way to use up extra baked sweet potatoes!





Royal Foodie Joust: Whole grain flour, berries, balsamic vinegar~

22 08 2010

It’s Jousting time!  That’s right…another month has passed and there’s another Royal Foodie Joust food challenge out there!  The selected ingredients for the month of August are whole grain flour, berries and balsamic vinegar.  Since it’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, that pretty much provides us a wide open playing field!  Although many things came to mind, this dish is the one that won out at our house.  My submission is Aebleskivers with Balsamic Berry Compote.  Whether served as a brunch or a casual dessert, these little morsels are fun to eat, and pretty darn yummy too!  There’s also another story here…

Several months back, Angela of Spinach Tiger held a contest-giveaway, where the prize was a gift set from Aunt Else’s Aebleskivers.  I ran across a recipe for aebleskivers (pronounced EB-el-sku-wyrz) back in 1973.  At the time, there was no internet.  No one I knew on the west coast had ever seen such a pan as one of these.  I’ve packed that recipe around for literally decades.  It seems like when I can find a pan, I’m not in a position to buy one…like I’m a mile and a half from my car…or my budget doesn’t permit right then…  So, I still didn’t have one yet.  Aunt Else was doing a big promo, and there were several contests going on, and I entered all of them!  I was really tickled to win the prize at Angela’s site though!!  We’ve been cooking together in several venues for almost 2 years now, so that was a really special win!

First things first…It’s a cast iron pan.  It had to be seasoned.  That’s why it has all those odd caramel brown spots on it.  It’s been thoroughly seasoned.  Do NOT skip that step.  It is imperative so that your pancakes will release.   The whole process was very easy…a little fine tuning will make things really fine.  I can see it takes a bit to get the heating of the pan down right…and the timing of the turning so you get round balls that are completely round and done all the way through.  They cook faster than they look like they would.

These little morsels turn pretty easily to about this point…then it gets a little tougher, and it cooks really quickly at this stage too.  There is a little tool that comes with the kit, or you can use a chopstick, or even a knitting needle as the original Swedish ladies did.

I confess, for the first time using this pan, I used the mix that came with the pan…and it did contain whole grain wheat flour.  *Ü*  It was important to learn what consistency I’d be looking for in a batter in the future.  I’m glad I did… I’d have been working toward something a little more fluid, and would have been very wrong.   The batter for these is very thick.  The batter is at least as thick as sour cream.

By the way, I discovered an easy way to grease the insides of these little cups…a squeeze bottle.  Put a little veggie oil in a squeeze bottle and drizzle the oil into the cup, then pour in the batter from a pitcher.

While all that was going on on one burner, on another burner we were making a mixed berry compote.  One-half cup water, one-third cup sugar, 10 ounces frozen berries and 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.  Bring to a boil, and cook at medium until the juices have reduced by half.   The berry mixture will turn dark purple and become very thick.  Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons more balsamic vinegar.

When Aebleskivers are cooked, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar and serve with warm berry compote.   I’m not sure how many you should figure on per person…they get kind of addictive…  I’d say at least 4,  5,  6…  *giggle*

Tasting Notes~
Serious keeper… Oh my.  According to tradition, you can also put a bit of apple in the center of the pancake…  I may get lost in a whole different food group for a little bit!  I can almost taste these with crumbled bacon in the center and maple syrup!   Another thought…  Bacon and cheddar in the middle…with a tomato-basil jam…  See what I mean?  These could be so evilly good!





The Royal Foodie Joust: Tomato Paste, Honey and Local Brew

25 07 2010

The second I saw these ingredients on The Leftover Queen’s Forum, I instantly knew I was doing barbecue-something.

I usually make my own barbecue sauce.  that started with a well-known company deciding not to continue a particular product we really liked.  While we still had some of their sauce, I went to work to duplicate the taste.  It took a little bit, but we got there.  After 20 odd years, that flavor lives in my head somewhere and I can always find it when I want it.  I figured since tomato paste is a standard tomato base, and honey and molasses aren’t that far apart as far as intensity of sweetness…it’s that “other” flavor, that slightly almost burned flavor, that comes with molasses that would be different, but that could come in somewhere along the way…and brew…no problem there!  Local brew no less!  That’s not just easy, that part was TOO easy!  We’re rockin’ and rollin’!!  And so I parked the Joust on a shelf in the back of my mind and let the rest of July unfurl before me with all it’s grandeur…and there was plenty of grandeur!  Two 4th of July concerts to participate in, preparations to accept the newest member of our family…and that was a BIG chore!…lots of heat…the arrival of our adopted mustang mare, Willow (YAY!!), and finally a chance to breathe…

Suddenly, there was only a week of July left and I hadn’t made a move toward getting my Jousting dish done.  What seemed so easy, just hadn’t found its way to the forefront yet.   I hadn’t even determined which protein to use…  Then…while emailing a friend in Texas it dawned on me…brisket…  Brisket marinated and slow roasted, barbecued or smoked would be absolutely heavenly!  And that was that.

I built a dry rub that was moistened into a paste on the beef with the beer, tomato and honey.  The brisket marinated in the paste, with additional beer and a splash of balsamic vinegar overnight, was seared to form a crust, and set to braise slowly in a low oven for several hours.  The meat will become fall apart tender, so allow it to set a bit before attempting to slice, and make sure you slice it against the grain, like you would corned beef.  This is a fabulous base for BBQ beef sandwiches!  I can’t wait to try this method on a Tri Tip!!

Western Pacific “Barbecue” Brisket

Beef brisket (cooking time will be 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound)

1 recipe Momma G’s Dry Rub (recipe follows)

1/2 cup beer (we used Western Pacific Brewing and Dining’s Keddie Red Ale)
4 tsp. tomato paste, divided
2 Tbsp. honey, divided

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Poke holes in the meat with a fork and cover the surface of the brisket completely with an even coating of the dry rub.   Rub the seasonings into the meat, moistening with small amounts of beer to make a paste as you go.  You’ll need to drizzle out the beer about a teaspoon at a time.  It works better to work from a moist area to a dry area, as the liquid wants to pool and run off the dry rub.  When the surface is covered with a very thick paste, turn the meat over onto a sheet of plastic wrap or foil to do the other side.  Do not try to use all the beer.  You’ll only use about half for this.

When both sides of the brisket are coated with the seasoned paste, add 2 teaspoons tomato paste and 1 tablespoon of honey to one side of the meat and mix over the entire surface of the meat.  Turn the brisket and repeat with the other side.  Place the meat in a zip-lock bag (preferable) or wrap in large sheets of foil.  Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (not the wonderful Italian balsamic…the run of the mill variety we’re provided making us think it’s the real thing) to the remaining beer and pour over the meat.  Seal tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the meat from the wrappings.  If you’ve used a bag you’re able to save the wonderful rub seasonings for your cooking procedure.  Scrape as much of the paste from the meat as you can.  Sear the meat in a hot skillet to form a nice crust on the meat, on both sides.  Place the meat, fat side down, in a baking dish just large enough to hold it along with the seasonings from the bag.  Rinse the bag with 1/2 cup additional beer if desired.  Add any additional seasonings to the braising liquid that you desire.  Seal the pan and roast at 225° for 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound, or until the meat is fork tender, turning the meat once, halfway through the estimated cooking time.

Tasting Notes~
Before we get to tasting is smelling…  The aroma from this brisket was killer…for so many hours!  This stuff started smelling heavenly right off jump-street.  That was such torture.

The result was…not what I anticipated.  The flavor was exactly what I expected…and it was great!  However, the meat was incredibly dry.   The taste of the rub isn’t at fault…the cooking process wasn’t at fault…  However this is the 2nd brisket I’ve purchased from this market that was poor.  I think it’s my last.  I’m so disappointed.  It’s ok.  It’s just not what I was anticipating.

We had some fabulous sandwiches from it regardless…a little homemade BBQ sauce mixed with Pineapple juice and sliced beef, piled high on a ciabatta roll…served with cold melon…what a great summer dinner!  Like I said, it’s not bad, it just isn’t what I was anticipating in my mouth when I went to work on it!  I think it would be fabulous on Tri tip…a little more marbling in the meat…

Momma G’s Dry Rub
1  Tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns, toasted and cracked
1/4 cup  smoked paprika
2 Tbsp.  CA sweet paprika
1 Tbsp.  powdered CA chili pepper
1 tsp.  whole Mexican oregano, crushed
1/3 c  garlic granules
1/3 c  onion granules
1 Tbsp. kosher salt

Mix ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar.

Makes about 1- 1/2 cups

Happy Jousting!!





The Royal Foodie Joust ~ We WON!

20 07 2010

I’m so tickled!!  I love the Royal Foodie Joust!  It’s been the most uniquely challenging event I’ve participated in.  I love that I have a month to work on a dish.  That allows time to let creativity flow, and build momentum.  It also permits time for a couple of trial runs if things don’t go quite as planned the first time.

To actually win the Best Overall Entry category at the RFJ is truly an honor.  I can actually count myself as a member of that inner circle of food bloggers I’ve admired!  It can really happen!  AND…I won a super cool RFJ Winner Apron to go with it!!  I’m so jazzed!!

The recipe that took us to the winners’ circle was Cream of Mushroom Soup with Spicy Pecan Brittle.  The required elements were mushrooms, yogurt and nuts.   That was an enjoyable dish!

For July…we’re cooking with local beer or wine, honey and tomato paste.  Do you have any idea how wide open that makes the playing field?  Oh my gosh!  I can’t wait to see what comes out!  So far, no one is saying a word!  Not so much as a whisper of their intentions!!  Either everyone is on vacation…or no one is even hinting at their thoughts…

I knew what I was doing as soon as I saw the ingredients.  I’m anxious to get cooking!  I think I’ll wear my new apron for luck!  Thanks Jenn & all the Jousters who voted for my dish!  I’m grateful and humbled!





Jousting with Mushrooms, Yogurt and Nuts~

25 06 2010

I love the Royal Foodie Joust…it always pushes me just outside my comfort zone!  This month is no different.  Although none of the ingredients are particularly unusual, the combination is a bit…well, odd.   Pairing any two of the three is imaginable, but the three together certainly leaves one some room to ponder.  And ponder I did!

Initially, I was convinced I was going with crepes, made with yogurt and filled with mushrooms and…something…and somehow I’d add some nuts in there somewhere.  That didn’t work out in my head no matter how long I fussed with it.  Time kept ticking away, and as the final week kicked in I knew it was time to get down to serious business.  Commit…right, wrong, or draw…just commit and cook.

Cream of Mushroom Soup garnished with Spicy Pecan Brittle

My submission for the month of June is~

Cream of Mushroom Soup garnished with Spicy Pecan Brittle

Inspired by a Food Network Kitchens recipe
Yield:  4 to 6 first course servings

Ingredients

2 ounces dried mushrooms, shiitake, morel, porcini, oyster, portobella, etc.
4 cans (14 oz.) chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided in half
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 sweet onion (Vidalia) thinly sliced, and chopped
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 3 parsley sprigs
* 3 sprigs fresh thyme
* 1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram leaves
* 1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3  cup Plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Sauvignon Blanc
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring broth to a boil and add * ingredients in a muslin bag. Add the dried mushrooms.   Set aside to rehydrate for at least 3 hours (shiitakes), or let cool and refrigerate overnight (best).

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms and reserve the broth. Roughly chop the mushrooms.

Strain reserved broth through a wet coffee filter or paper towel to remove dirt and sand.

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the rehydrated mushrooms, onion and garlic and
cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and somewhat dry, about 6 to 10 minutes.   Pour in the reserved mushroom broth.   Lower the
heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Remove and discard the herb bundle. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth, or use an immersion blender.  Strain if a smooth soup is desired, leave as is for a soup with kind of a peasant quality to it.  I prefer to leave it with a little texture.   Reduce heat to a bare simmer to keep mushroom puree hot.

In a non-stick skillet, melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter and add the 4 tablespoons flour to create a blonde roux.  Cook at least 2 minutes, but do not allow to color.   Ladle the hot soup into the roux, whisking with each addition to avoid lumps, adding soup until most of the soup has been added to the roux, then pour the roux mixture back into the soup pot.

Whisk the heavy cream, wine, and salt into the yogurt.  When smooth, stir the cream and yogurt into the warm soup and season with pepper to taste.  Keep soup warm, but do not allow to boil until time to serve.  Garnish with crumbled Spicy Pecan Brittle and serve.

Spicy Pecan Brittle
My adaptation of a recipe adapted from Bon Appetit by Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 1/2 cups.

3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon (generous) freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups toasted pecan pieces

Mix the corn syrup, sugar and salt in a small heavy sauté pan and cook syrup until golden.
Remove from heat as soon as a straw color is achieved, as it colors quickly and will burn, and stir in pepper and cayenne, then nuts. Transfer quickly to silpat mat.  Thin out with buttered fingers into as thin a brittle as you can, or separate into small clusters.
Allow to cool.

Tasting Notes~
I always look to my beloved spouse for his judgment on a recipe.  When he says…”I could eat that again,”  I know a recipe is worth another turn sometime.  When he says, “Not so much…” I can lose the recipe and he wouldn’t mind a bit.  After being together for (within days of) 29 years, we’re to the point where he can say honest things like that.  Especially when I do things like explore cuisines we don’t know about, and take on Food Challenges.

“I could eat this, like every week!” means we have a major-keeper recipe.   When I asked if he meant the soup, or the nuts, or…both?  The answer was, “Yes!!”  We agreed…we could snack on the pecans, happily.  In fact it would be good to seal them air-tight in a bag, in a tin where we couldn’t SEE them.  It’s an “umami” thing.  Sweet, salty, hot, spicy, buttery…kicky and soothing by turn.  The mushroom soup was thick and creamy…so rich and full-flavored.  I used The Flavor Bible to see what flavors matched up and found that marjoram brought out the earthiness in the mushrooms.  So, marjoram went into our muslin with the other herbs.  What else goes with mushrooms?  Yogurt.  Go figure.  What goes with yogurt?  Pecans.  Ok.  What else?  Cayenne.  And cayenne goes well with pecans.  Works for me.   So what we had was a lower fat cream soup…we subbed half the cream with plain Greek yogurt, but by adding the spicy, sweet, crunchy pecans on top, we added another layer of flavor and texture…one that had an interesting buttery quality that made you totally unaware that the soup could possibly be lower in fat.  And the pecans are addictive.  We thought they’d also go well on a salad, not to mention eating out of hand.  Did I mention that they keep you coming back for more?  The soup was really good too…even in the heat of the summer.  It wasn’t overly bold in flavor, but delicate, and though a cream soup, not overly heavy.  The flavors melded together just as I’d hoped they would!  Mmmmm!

This one was fun!  I learned a lot about mushrooms, and how to work with dried mushrooms.  I’m really glad I let them rehydrate throughout the night in the broth.  They picked up a really great flavor that way.  The herbs teased the flavor of the mushrooms to the forefront and didn’t let them get lost with everything that was going on.  This is a really great soup & salad night soup.  If made with just the water from soaking the mushrooms, it could easily be a meatless dish.

Oops…I need to chase the “hubby-mouse” out of the pecans…excuse me, please!





Foodie Joust: Eggs, Cheese & Greens~

29 05 2010

After a short break, The Leftover Queen has once again opened the Foodie Joust!  Oh…how I missed this!  I love the Foodie Joust!  It keeps my imagination tickled.  I don’t cook half of what goes through my mind…and trust me…that’s probably a very good thing!  I get a few really wild ideas now and then!  This month Jenn selected simple, seasonal ingredients…eggs, greens and cheese.  How simple, yet adventurous, and with the potential of sheer elegance!

My submission is:

Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard and Ricotta Salata

1 bunch swiss chard, stems and thick veins removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic chopped
Olive oil
Sprinkling Kosher salt

Sauté the shallot in olive oil over medium heat until almost translucent; add garlic; stir; add chard leaves and cook until almost completely wilted.  Add light sprinkling of kosher salt, finish cooking and remove to bowl for “construction” step.

Eggs
Half & half
Ricotta salata – grated – 2 Tbsp. per ramekin

You will need enough eggs and half & half to measure a scant 1/2 cup per ramekin; 1 ramekin per person.
For 4 servings I used 8 eggs and 1/2 cup half & half.

Construction:
Preheat oven to 350°F;   put a 2 qt. saucepan of water on to heat.
Butter 1 ramekin per person.

Fill each ramekin with enough of the chard mixture to coat the bottom of each ramekin.
Add 2 Tbsp. finely grated ricotta salata.  This cheese combines fabulously with the chard.
Top each ramekin with almost 1/2 cup egg and half & half mixture.  The ricotta salata will provide sufficient seasoning.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and place the dish on the middle shelf of the preheated oven.
Fill the baking dish with hot water until it reaches the middle of the ramekins.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the egg mixture tests done as for custard.
Serve with a fruit compote for a light brunch dish.

Tasting notes:
Bruce thought this could have taken more seasoning for his tastes.  This is a guy who adds Tabasco to almost all egg dishes, so…in that regard, probably so.  It came out as I anticipated.  The big taste comes from the wow combination of the chard and the ricotta salata!  They really compliment one another very nicely, and the egg quietly slips to the back to become the carriage to carry them to your mouth.  The ingredients tend to go adrift in the egg mixture so there’s a bit of seasoned chard and cheese carried in each bite.  By filling the ramekins all the way to the brim, we get a bit of a souffle effect with the top edges browning quickly to hold the shape then towering up above the dish.  This gave a nice extra layer of both flavor and texture.  What fun!  With a bit of fruit to act as a foil, this is a really nice brunch or light luncheon dish.