Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let Them Eat Cupcakes

One of my favorite Far Side comic strips shows Marie Antoinette being led to the guillotine while trying to explain her treatment of her subjects; "I said let them eat cake and ice cream." Truly hilarious! I’ve always thought that cake and ice cream were a bit much. A good ice cream is a thing of joy - at certain times of the year. Likewise, cake can be a wonderful treat (though my wife will roll her eyes and bemoan my preference of pie over cake - blame it on my German ancestry lady – no secret – check the surname). But a good cupcake is something we both agree on, so if someone suggested that I be allowed to eat cake, I would be perfectly happy, if that cake were in the form of a Cocoa Bean Cupcake Cafe cupcake (say that five times really fast).

Cupcakes are great right? I've written about another great purveyor of fine cupcakeage in our area before so you know I dig them. Although I wonder that we do not say 'cup of cake' or 'cup-o-cake' or 'cake in a cup'. I guess it is simply because it sounds weird, though it seems like this argument is just another variation on the chicken or egg conundrum. I have tried to find a corollary in other cuisines where an otherwise pedestrian dish is named partly by the vessel it was prepared in or served on but whoever heard of a 'glassbevaerage' or a 'platepotato'? The only thing that comes to mind is chicken pot pie or green been (or whatever type) of casserole. When it's done with more sophisticated dishes it sounds OK; pheasant under glass, Moroccan beef tagine. These sound normal enough (maybe it's in the order - OK thinking about it way too much about it). Anyway, naming aside, cupcakes are great. And we were super excited to discover a new designer cupcake bakery in our city, which, after the discovery of this bakery, seems a little more hip than it was before.

There are two locations in Idaho and one in Utah. If you get a chance, check them out. We've only tried two varieties (so far) but will definitely return to check out the rest. Their menu varies by the day of the week, which I think is an awesome approach. To see their blog, go to

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Yulelicious - My New Favorite!

My new favorite Oreo.  My new favorite anything.  Could anything be better than this heavenly treat?  You must try the new, limited edition, here for the holidays, Candy Cane Oreos;  chocolatey, pepperminty, crunchy, creamy, double stuffy, candy-canetastic bliss.  And as my wife said, "The only thing better than a Candy Cane Oreo is a Candy Cane Oreo dipped in hot chocolate."  They are similar to the Mint Oreos we all love only better.  It's what the Mint Oreo wants to be when it grows up.  Merry Christmas.     

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fiesta Soup

Need a reason to celebrate or do something special?  Make this soup - it is worth celebrating.  We call it something different at our house and you'll just have to trust me when I say that you just wouldn't get it.  To call it taco soup gives you some idea of what it is but is altogether too pedestrian and just doesn't do it justice.  If, however, I said the best +*^&^%$#@!."/_=@#$%^?!! taco soup you've every had, then you'd start to get it. 

The list of ingredients looks long (like an Emeril recipe) but wait!  Before you switch off, look at the method; super easy! And besides, it is so delicious.  You really won't believe that something so easy could be so good.   

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 c. frozen corn
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 15 oz. can chili con carne
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz. jar salsa (your preference but we like La Victoria)
1 10 oz. can tomato juice
1 c. water
1 Tbsp. minced garlic2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

For Garnish
6 oz. cheddar or pepperjack cheese, shredded
1-2 small-medium limes
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 small container sour cream
1 bag yellow corn tortilla chips

The Method
Add oil to large stock pot over medium heat and add onion, corn and a pinch of salt.  Saute for 4-6 minutes.  Add ground beef or turkey, scramble and cook until evenly browned.  Add chili, black beans, salsa, soup, water, garlic, lemon juice, lime juice and seasonings and stir to combine.  Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat and dish into bowls. 

Garnish with cheese, sour cream, cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  You may also want to break up a few chips as an additonal garnish but we recommend using the chips as an edible utensil for scooping up the stuff.   

Food for Thought
If you want to jazz up your chips a bit, don't forget this easy idea.  Also, you may have noticed that in this and in other recipes, I recommend ground beef or ground turkey.  Ground turkey may sound weird to some and that's OK.  Ground beef is still our friend and, in many cases, cannot be substituted.  However, in dishes like this, I find that the ground turkey works great.  The texture is usually better than ground beef, which can sometimes be a bit rubbery.  I will be the first to admit that, on it's own, it is not the most delicious product around.  In fact, it is a bit flat and boring.  The great thing though is, because it doesn't have a great deal of inherent flavor, it responds well to whatever you season it with.  It tastes like you want it to taste based on how you treat it, thus it is a great culinary canvas on which you can create something wonderful - like the best taco - I mean fiesta soup you've ever had.  Serves 8-10.   

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grilled Potatoes

It has been said that the simple things in life are the best.  If that is true, then it explains why these potatoes are so amazing. 

Desired number of Idaho Russet baking potatoes
2-3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 generous Tbsp. Kosher salt

The Method
Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350-400 degrees).  Select potatoes suitable for baking, scrub and cut off any exterior defects.  Slice each potato in half.  Place halved potatoes in a gallon storage bag and pour in canola oil and salt.  Close top of bag and toss potatoes inside until evenly coated with oil and salt.  Place potatoes on upper grill rack (indirect heat).  If your grill has no upper rack, you can still do indirect heat by turning off the burner on one side and placing potatoes on the grill grate over the inactive burner.  If you used all burners to achieve your target temperature, you will need to turn up your other burner(s) after turning off the one you are cooking over.  Flip potatoes and rotate around cooking area of grill depending on the progress of your potatoes and the presence of hot spots - about every 8-9 minutes until nicely browned (about 34-40 minutes).

Remove from grill and serve while hot.

Food for Thought
These potatoes need no accoutrements but if you like, go for it.  Just keep it simple; barbecue sauce, ketchup (if you must) or even a little tangy dill mayo, or malt vinegar.  I have made these scores, nay hundreds of times and so believe me when I tell you, they require a bit of patience but they are worth it.  In the summer, they go great with your grilled steak, chicken or whatever.  They're best, however, when you feel the need to grill in the winter and have to sample a small morsel to see if they're done.  Ice cold weather, steaming hot potato.  The simple pleasures really are the best! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tangy Dill Mayo

This one goes in the "A little extra effort makes a huge difference" category.  The next time you are making dinner and want something to boost the enjoyment factor and subsequently, the praise to the cook, try this one. 

1/4 c. good quality mayonnaise
1 generous Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
several large sprigs of fresh dill, finely chopped (~ 1-2 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until smooth.  Serve on or along side your favorite meats and produce. 

Food for Thought
This goes well with anything you could eat ranch dressing on (only better) and beyond.  If  you want it on a salad, knock yourself out.  I recommend it on fish and pork (preferably grilled) and potatoes and veggies; for example, we had it with grilled pork loin, grilled potatoes and  sautéed green beans with toasted almonds and minced garlic.  So good!

Our vegetable for this meal was a matter of the so-called "pantry principle", which says use what you have.  This principle is always important but is especially time-sensitive where produce is concerned.  As we had a batch of fresh green beans from our sister-in-law's garden (Yay!), and we had fresh dill growing in the backyard, it was a no-brainer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jacket optional, Thai required: Mango Sticky Rice

After a memorable dinner with our great foodie friends (the same friends who made the great collard green and baked beans on our Southern-friend theme dinner, I am quite a different person. 

The cuisine theme (Thai) was previously fairly unfamiliar to me but I was given a great recipe to work from for the Nam Tok I was assigned to make.  The cooking experience and the enjoyment of all of the great dishes there (including this one for Mango Sticky Rice) have broadened my horizons and guaranteed that I will have powerful, spontaneous, episodic cravings of some great versions of southeast Asian cuisine for a very long time.

This recipe for Mango Sticky Rice comes from our friend Katie.  To say it was a life-changing experience would be only a slight exaggeration.  Thanks Katie.

1 1/2 cups Thai sticky rice (khao niao)
1 can (19 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced

The Method
In a large bowl, combine the rice and enough water to cover by 2-inches. Soak for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain.

Inside a wok or steaming pot, place a bamboo steamer and line the steamer with parchment paper/thin cloth. Add enough water to come up just below the steamer. Bring the water to a boil and steam until rice is tender—about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the rice to a bowl.

Mix the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Pour over the rice (but reserve about one third of the sauce to be able to drizzle over the mango when you serve), mix well, cover and set aside until liquid is absorbed into the rice, about 30 minutes.  Dish rice into serving bowls, add a few slices of mango to each bowl and drizzle a bit of reserved sauce over each dish. 

Food for Thought
It's like if a fresh peach pie had been born in Bangkok instead of Georgia.  It was great!

As a final note, when using produce in a recipe, it seems fairly obvious to state that you should use good stuff.  That said, it is especially important in a recipe such as this where the produce goes in straight - with little or no processing, subjection to heat, integration with other ingredients, etc.  Bottom line, if you can't find good stuff for your given recipe, make a substitution if possible (the red cabbages are lousy but the green cabbages look great) or just wait.  The mangos used in this recipe came from Bountiful Baskets and they were excellent.  We've heard a lot of good things about them so I suppose we'll have to check them out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lemon Dream

This is the best cake I have ever made; I have made a similar cake many times from a published recipe, (which I have modified in several ways over time) and I thought I would use it as a jumping off point for a more bold variation.  By now, I think it is safe to say that there is no recipe under the sun, published or unpublished, which is exactly like this one.  It was a fragrant, citrusy, torte of creamy, textural perfection.


For the Cake
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. milk
1. tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1/8 tsp. yellow food coloring

2 1/4 c. cake flour
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. Salimon
1/8 tsp. iodized salt

12 Tbsp. ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

For the Frosting
3 1/4 c. powdered sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
2 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/8 tsp yellow food coloring
Pinch of salt

For the Simple Syrup
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon extract

The Method
Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Trace 2 9-inch cake rounds on baking parchment paper and cut out the rounds.  Lightly spray the inside of the cake rounds with cooking spray and lay parchment paper rounds inside of cake rounds.

Whisk wet ingredients together in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl for mixing or in your stand mixer bowl.  With mixer on low speed, beat in pieces of butter, one piece at a time until mixture is coarse and crumbly. 

Increase mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add in egg mixture.  Stop mixer and scrape down sides then resume mixing and beat until batter is light and fluffy.  This batter will be thick.  

Divide batter evenly between the two prepared cake rounds and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with few crumbs attached (28-34 minutes).  

Remove cakes and set on top of cooling racks and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a small knife around between the cakes and the pans to loosen and flip out onto racks.  Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of each cake and flip cake upright onto another cooling rack.  Cut each cake in 1/2 with a bread knife or other long serrated blade taking care to maintain a constant, even thickness as you cut.  

Place a small amount of frosting on your cake plate and place a bottom layer of cake on the plate.  Lightly brush the top of the layer with the simple syrup using a silicone sauce brush then add a generous (~1/4 inch even layer of frosting.  Add another layer of cake and repeat with additional layers.  Use a small portion of remaining frosting to go around the outside of the cake (called the crumb layer) and refrigerate for 20 minutes then remove and add remainder of frosting for the final outer layer of frosting.  Refrigerate for an additional 30-60 minutes prior to serving.     

Food for Thought
Regarding lemon zest, the less-is-more technique works best as the outer portion of the lemon peel has everything you want.  As you grate deeper into the white pithy matter, the lemon peel has a very unpleasant bitterness that reminds us of why we do not eat lemons and other citrus fruit out-of-hand like we do apples, pears and so forth.  

Also, when frosting a cake, remember that you always want to put down more frosting than you think you will need, push the frosting where you want it to go, then scrape off the extra.  This will prevent tearing the cake and besides, even with 4 layers, there is no need to be stingy when you've got this much frosting.  When frosting a cake, you should have the right tool for the job and that means an icing spatula (I like the offset handle).  They can be purchased at your local craft store, WalMart, Target, etc. and online.  

Finally, this cake needs no additional company other than a fork and a glass of cold milk.  However, if your friend sends you a jar of lemon-ginger marmalade, a bit of that on the side really pumps up the jam (pun intended - how shameful - sorry).  But seriously folks, after you try this recipe, you will forgive my sins of humor (Doh! Another one. Help!).     

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Spice of Life

I've heard it said that 'you eat with your eyes first'.  This is, I suppose, intended to explain the importance of presentation and the visual appeal of food.  Admittedly, this is a very important factor in food preparation and consumption but not the first.  I haven't heard it said elsewhere but it makes sense to me that, in reality, 'you eat with your nose first', which describes the pre-prandial allurement of foods as they are being prepared and cooked.  In fact, the sense of smell is key to the proper enjoyment of food throughout the dining experience, more than many people realize. 

Said Harold McGee in his classic and oft-referenced kitchen tome:

The function of herbs and spices is to add flavor to our foods.  Flavor is a composite quality, a combination of sensations from the taste buds in the mouth and the odor receptors in the upper reaches of our nose.  And these sensations are chemical in nature: we taste tastes and smell odors when our receptors are triggered by specific chemicals in foods.  There are only a handful of different tastes-sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory or umami.  while there are many thousands of different odors.  It's odor molecules that make an apple "taste" like an apple, not like a pear or a radish.  So most of what we experience as flavor is odor, or aroma.  Herbs and spices heighten flavor by adding their characteristic aroma molecules.  (The exceptions to this rule are pungent spices and herbs, which stimulate and irritate nerves in the mouth). 

(McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004. p. 387). 

So it is that the sense of taste, as it functions on the tongue, can be likened to a compass, which can point you in the right direction with your choices of North, South, East and West or, in this case, salty, sweet, sour or bitter (the whole umami concept is still being debated and I personally don't buy it).  Taste receptors in your mouth can also detect relative differences between simultaneously experienced stimuli so that northwest could be a composite salty and sweet taste and so forth.  Now, these odor receptors in the nasal passages are finely tuned to other stimuli, which make the sense of smell function more like a GPS.  Turn right in  250 feet and you arrive at your destination. These precise directions may be likened to impressions of  taste that could be described as nutty, grassy, rich, fruity, woodsy, light, fresh, herbaceous, briny, smokey, caseous, citrusy (which is different from just the sweet and sour components of citrus fruit) and so forth and make it possible to identify vanilla, cinnamon, cilantro and distinguish one fruit from others.

Years ago, my kitchen spice rack contained the usual dried herbs that most people (myself included) did not know how to use and a bit of this and that for other spices and seasonings such as your basic table salt, black pepper (already ground), lemon pepper, seasoning salt, red pepper flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  A current inventory would reveal a more interesting and varied collection and, you'll have to take my word for this part, a better understanding of when and how to use them.  Off the top of my head the list now looks something like this:

- Kosher salt
- Sea salt
- Whole black peppercorns
- Mixed peppercorns
- Whole coriander
- Red pepper flakes
- Seasoning Salt
- Granulated garlic
- Minced onion
- Garlic salt
- Cayenne
- Chipotle powder
- Sal Limon
- Paprika
- Smoked Paprika
- Whole allspice
- Ground Allspice
- Tumeric
- Curry
- Old Bay
- Cinnamon
- Nutmeg
- Ground mustard
- Chili powder
- Cumin seed
- Ground cumin
- Dried sage
- Dried rosemary
- Dried tarragon

Though not specifically classified as herbs or spices, I employ our friends minced garlic, brown sugar and raw sugar and the like to many spice rubs, marinades, sauces and so forth.  We still love good old iodized salt and it should be noted that other specialty salts like kosher salt do not contain iodine and so could leave a gaping hole in your nutritional profile if used exclusively.  One thing that will never be found in our spice cupboard is ground black pepper.  If I could put fresh herbs in our cupboard, I would but, since we cannot, we have a great outdoor extension of our flavor-enhancing stores in a couple of spots in backyard garden areas.  These include:

- Sweet basil
- Spicy basil
- Oregano
- Mint (spearmint, though we like peppermint too)
- Chives
- Dill
- Cilantro
- Sage

This list is by no means comprehensive.  As a basic rule of thumb, when substituting dried herbs for fresh, use about 1/3 of the amount called for. Also, if using fresh herbs, do not add until near the very end of the cooking process or reserve them for use as a a garnish or to finish a dish since many of the fresh, herbaceous and volatile flavor compounds can be altered or destroyed by prolonged (or even brief) exposure to heat.

Now, flick through your favorite cook books, make a  list of commonly called for herbs and spices, as well as a couple of the  obscure ones, and go shopping.  When skillfully employed, herbs and spices will greatly enhance your cooking and eating experience and, furthermore, most (with the exception of high-sodium, store-bought seasonings) do so without really altering the fat, sodium or calorie profile of your dishes.      

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Wife's Friend's Brownie Recipe Passed Along from Her Mother

Someone somewhere knows where this recipe started.  My wife's mother raved about this recipe from one of my wife's friends from way back.  We just call them Angela's Brownies.  Thanks Angela.  And please extend our gratitude to whoever gave the recipe to you. 

1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. cocoa
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

The Method
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt to large bowl and mix together.  In a separate mixing bowl add eggs and vanilla extract and beat on medium speed while slowly adding sugar until creamy.  Continue to mix while slowly adding butter.  Decrease mixer speed and add remaining dry ingredients.  Return mixer to medium speed and beat until ingredients are evenly combined.  Batter will be thick.  Spray 9 x 13 baking pan dish with canola oil and spread batter evenly.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Food for Thought
Butter is good.  On paper, this is not vastly different from many other brownie recipes but on your tongue, these brownies are special, with hints of buttery, caramel-like richness that makes your brain superimpose flavors from ingredients that are not there.  But speaking of adding ingredients, my mother-in-law's twist is to add chocolate chips.  My wife skips the chocolate chips (or should I say she saves them for different applications) and adds 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Try this and let the decadent realities and the related gustatory hallucinations begin.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Southern Sides

Collard Greens with Coconut Milk

This recipe comes from our friends who invited us over for the Southern cuisine dinner.  The old proverb goes that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.  It has also been said that, if you teach that man to cook his fish, he will eat well.  With the exception of living in New Zealand for two years, I spent most of my life inland and so do not have a great appetite for fish (how many fish recipes have you seen on this blog?).  With this proverb in mind and applied to other types of food, I say thanks to our friend Katie for the recipes which will undoubtedly come in handy when we get a jones for the awesome collard greens and baked beans that we so good they are sure to haunt and to be craved. 

1/2 lb. bacon
1 lb. collard greens or kale
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 c. coconut milk
1/4 tsp. chicken bouillon
1/4 tsp. pepper (or red chili flakes)
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped (or 2/3 can of diced tomatoes)

The Method
Chop and saute bacon. Drain and set aside. Wash collard greens well. Remove and discard stems; cut up leaves (should have about 14 cups). Bring water to boiling in a large pan or Dutch oven. Add collard greens and onion. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, bouillon, tomatoes, and pepper and add bacon back in. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes more or until slightly thickened and greens are tender. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Food for Thought
If you've cooked greens, spinach and the like before, you know that the cook down a ton, being mostly water. Our friend Katie said that for our gathering, she actually doubled this recipe.
The Crockpot Bean Recipe

3 cans white beans
1/2 c. chopped Canadian bacon
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 c. ketchup
1 Tbsp. mustard
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. BBQ sauce
1/4 c. molasses

The Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and combine ingredients in dutch oven, cover and bake for 60 minutes.  If using a crockpot, cook on low heat for up to two hours.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Y'all Come Back Now! Ya Hea?

Sometimes it seems that we don't get out  much (hello - blogging about food here - that fact should be self -evident).  Sometimes, however, we have more on our plate, socially speaking, than we feel like we can handle.  Yet if the company is good, it is permissible to have a little extra at times.  It has been observed that you can get too much of a good thing.  As far as good food and good friends go, it may, in fact, take us a while because we love both. 

H and I have, after leaving our last neighborhood filled with some very interesting and talented foodies whom we still miss, found kindred spirits in our present location and have had the pleasure of a couple of great dinner parties within the past few weeks.  Each one was excellent in it's own way owing to variations in the company and the menus.  One was couples only while the other included our children.  One was more formal while the other was a bit more casual.  One took place on a night when there was really nothing going on and one was, by way of either coincidence or by good planning, part of a Fourth of July celebration.  One was a combination of unplanned but surprisingly harmonious dishes and the other was totally planned out with a regional theme and menu.  As I said, each one was excellent.  Even so, slight edge, based solely on my love for food of the American South, to tonight's July 4 menu.

- Buttermilk fried chicken
- Baked beans
- Collard greens
- Fried zucchini
- Watermelon
- Biscuits with berries and cream 
- Peach pie
- Mint and lime slushees

So )(*&*&^*^%*(&)(*&++%$#@!!#&*( good!  See links below for the best fried zucchini you've ever had and an excellent fried chicken recipe:

Neely's Fried Zucchini

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Food for Thought
I haven't made the spicy dipping sauce included with the fried zucchini recipe but I'm sure it's great.  I have tried just good old Ranch dressing - super good.

My variation on the fried chicken was to use Panko breadcrumbs for the final coat on the double-dipped chicken.  I also recommend just an extra pinch of salt.  Also, because this chicken had to travel, I used Crisco.  I usually choose a healthier option such as canola oil - but one must ask - "If I am eating fried chicken, how health conscious am I?"  But seriously, if you know how to fry food at the right temperature and for the right amount of time, the amount of residual fat you consume is sometimes worth the difference in taste.  Anyway, back to the Crisco - if you are making picnic fried chicken, if it has to travel or be made ahead of time, or if you just like leftovers and like it cold, I definitely recommend Crisco.  Otherwise, from fryer to table - canola oil is fine.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cilantro Lime Ranch Dressing

Apparently, there is a dressing like this at Cafe Rio (which I've never been to).  I got this recipe from my sister-in-law after sampling it at her house.  It was awesome.  I've seen versions of it on the internet - websites, other foodblogs, etc. 

1 pkg. ranch dressing
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. buttermilk
3 tomatillos
1 c. cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1 lime, juiced
1/8 tsp. cayenne

The Method
Peel husks from tomatillos and rinse.  Place tomatillos in small pan of water over high heat and bring to a boil.  Tomatillos are done when they begin to sink in the pan.  Remove from pan and place in blender with other ingredients.  Blend until smooth. 

Food for Thought
Use this on any Mexican or Tex-Mex dish or salad you like.  It is creamy, savory, herbaceous goodness that will truly blow your mind. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rotini with Red Pepper Ragu

No this is not something that you can pick up at the store next to the Prego.  Ragu, more than just a brand name, actually refers to an hearty Italian meat sauce that comes from northern Italy's Bologna region. 

My first memorable exprerience with roasted red peppers came when a friend and fellow foody brought me a wedge of great quiche with the most awesome romesco ever.  I have been a fool for red peppers ever since and they were my muse for this creation.  The roasted red peppers make the sauce earthy and delicious.  This is high-octane Italian flavor.  A Maserati for your mouth.  A Ferrari for your fork.  A Fiat for . . . just kidding. No Fiat comparison here.  This is good stuff.    

2 medium-large red bell peppers
1 quart canned tomatoes
1 lb. turkey burger, ground beef or Italian sausage (your preference).
5 cloves garlic, divided
¼ tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
4 oz. Parmesan cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
5-6 leaves of fresh sweet basil

The Method
Roast peppers over direct high heat on a grill or over a gas burner until skin is charred. Remove from heat and place in paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove from bag and scrape off skin. Cut each pepper into halves and remove the pith and seeds. After draining the tomatoes, add to food processor with peppers, 3 cloves of garlic, and lemon juice and process for 30 seconds.

Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to large saucepan over medium heat. Add meat and cook until lightly browned. Finely mince two remaining cloves of garlic and add to pan and continue to cook for one additional minute. If using ground beef or sausage, drain excess fat from pan prior to adding vegetable mixture. Add sauce and reduce heat to low. While sauce simmers, add cayenne, 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. of black pepper.

In a medium sized stockpot, bring water to boil over high heat and add 1 tsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. salt. Add rotini noodles and reduce to medium-high heat, maintaining boil for 3-5 minutes.

When noodles are done (but not mushy), remove from heat and drain into colander. Rinse briefly with cold water.

Grate Parmesan.  Tightly roll basil leaves together and chop into ribbons.    Plate noodles and top with a healthy dose of sauce. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan and basil. Salt and pepper to taste and try not to be too sad that you didn’t make more. Serves 4-6.

Food for Thought
You could finish an old boot or a can of Spaghetti-Os (please wait until the present food-safety issues and recall hoopla have been settled – if you buy them again at all!) with olive oil, fresh Parmesan and fresh basil and it would taste great. So put it on good food and Wowza!

A brief cold-water rinse in a colander helps to arrest the cooking process in your noodles without chilling them out too much. There are few things less appetizing than overcooked pasta – oil, cheese and herb garnish notwithstanding.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Can't Believe it's Not Kabobs

Love kabobs but hate the assembly?  This is the dish for you.  So good and perfect for Summertime. 

1 lb. package of your favorite polish sausage or poslka kilbasa
1 lb. fresh or fully thawed chicken tenders or boneless skinless chicken breast
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
1 can large whole pitted black olives
1 can pineapple chunks
3/4 c. of your favorite barbecue sauce
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. canola oil
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. 

Slice sausage into 3/4-inch medallions and chicken into 2-3 inch pieces.  Chop peppers and onion into 2 inch pieces.  Drain pineapple and olives completely.  Add barbecue sauce, lemon juice and canola oil in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.  Add peppers, onion, pineapple and olives to sauce mixture and toss until all produce is covered.  Remove produce from mixing bowl and add to perforated grill pan and grill over direct medium-high heat until lightly carmelized.  Add chicken and sausage to mixing bowl and toss to coat in remaining sauce mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Grill sausage and chicken over direct medium heat for 5-6 minutes.  Add meat and produce to large serving bowl and dig in.

Food for Thought
All grills have hot spots and cooler areas.  Move meat around and remove from grill piece by piece when done.  If you like mushrooms, they would be great to add to your batch of veggies about halfway through grilling.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Red, White and Blueberry Shortcake Stack

You don't need a patriotic holiday to eat this desert but it is definitely a summer-time treat.  Though you can use any combination of fruit you like, the combination of strawberries and blueberries both looks and tastes delicious.  This is not an original concept but this dish is one of our favorites.

For the biscuits
4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. shortening
1 3/4 c. milk
Demerara or turbinado sugar

1 lb. fresh strawberries
1 lb. fresh blueberries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. granulated sugar

2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. real vanilla extract

The Method
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Place berries in a colander and rinse thoroughly.  Hull and slice strawberries and place in medium mixing bowl along with blueberries, granulated sugar and lemon juice.  Lightly toss fruit mixture then cover and refrigerate. 

In a separate mixing bowl, add all dry biscuit ingredients and stir to combine.  Add shortening and cut in until crumbly.  Add milk and mix together until dough is as soft as  you can handle.  Lightly flour clean countertop and lightly knead dough (15-20 times) and roll out dough to 1 inch thickness.  Cut out biscuits with 3-4 inch cutter.  Sprinkle biscuits with demerara or turbinado sugar.  Lay biscuits out one against another on baking sheet, place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Whip heavy cream in a separate bowl, and add powdered sugar and vanilla extract just as cream begins to stiffen.  Continue to whip until stiff. 

Plate biscuits by slicing biscuits into top and bottom halves.  Top each bottom half with whipped cream and fruit, add biscuit top and repeat.  Finish each biscuit by sprinking with an additional teaspoon of raw sugar.   

Food for Thought
Demerara sugar can be purchased in the bulk foods section at Winco and similar stores.  You can find turbinado (Hawaiian source) sugar in a small box on your baking aisle.  These products form unrefined, brown, coarse granules derived from sugar cane.  They offer a bit more depth of flavor than white granulated sugar as well as a sublte textural element.

This is your basic baking powder biscuit recipe minus a bit of flour with the addition of powdered sugar.  Knowing that these biscuits were to be used in a desert application, my wife took her usual recipe and added the powdered sugar to give them a little more sweetness and, as she hypothesized, to make them lighter and fluffier.  They were beautiful golden cylinders of light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  This desert is not really that time or labor intensive but yields a great payoff in terms of 'wow-factor' for presentation and taste.  This really is summer on a desert plate.  Bring this to your next family get together and you'll be loved and hated at the same time; loved for bringing something so delicious and hated for showing off with such a beautiful and tasty treat.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chipotle Lemon Popcorn

For years now, I have loved cayenne pepper on my popcorn.  This seasoning mixture yields slightly less heat but adds smoky and acidic elements, which are very complimentary to one another and to the popcorn.   

1/4 c. yellow popcorn
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

For the seasoning mixture:
3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. Salimon
1 Tbsp. chipotle powder

The Method
Combine salt, Salimon and chipotle powder in a salt shaker. Drizzle melted butter evenly over air popped or oil popped popcorn.  Sprinkle on desired amount of seasoning mixture and save the rest for later use (you'll want to have it again).  Enjoy.

Food for Thought
What's Salimon?  Trechas Salimon is a citrified salt with a delicious, potent lemony zing that works well in Mexican cuisine (see one other application here).

Monday, May 17, 2010


So as it turns out, crepes are either easier than I'd previously thought or I had a full-blown case of beginner's luck this last Mother's Day.  Crepes are just plain fun and have a lot of versatility; breafast/bruch or dessert, sweet or savory fillings.  All good. 

One other possible explanation for the fabulous outcome is that I followed a great recipe so I though I'd post it here.  This comes from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (Revised Edition): 

1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the pan
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Blend all of the ingredients together in a food processor or blender until smooth, about 4 seconds.  Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate the batter for 2 hours or up to 2 days.

2. Gently stir the batter to combine if it appears separated.  Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet (or crepe pan) over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Brush the pan bottom and sides very lightly with butter (it should sizzle when it hits the pan).  When the butter stops sizzling, remove the pan from the heat, tilt the pan slightly, and, following the photos, pour 2 1/2 tablespoons of the batter (you can fill a 1/4 cup measuring cup a little past the halfway mark) into the pan.  As the batter is poured, rotate the pan to swirl the batter evenly over the face of the pan before returning it to the heat.  Cook until the first side is spotty golden brown, 30 to 60 seconds.  .  . Use a thin spatula to flip the crepe and continue to cook until the second side is spotty golden brown, about 30 seconds longer.  Transfer the crepe to a paper-towel-lined plate and let cool (you can stack crepes on top of each other).  Repeat with the remaining crepe batter, brushing the pan with butter as needed after cooking several crepes.  (p. 230)

On this particular day, we did two separate fillings; one sweet and one savory (did I mention that crepes are very versatile).  Our sweet application is as follows:

Strawberry Short Crepes

For the filling:
1 lb. fresh strawberries
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. orange extract
Mint for garnish

The Method
Slice strawberries and place in medium sized bowl, add lemon juice and sugar and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, add cream and beat on medium-high speed and add in extracts and powdered sugar just as cream begins to thicken.  Continue to beat until stiff.

Tightly roll 8-10 mint leaves together and chop into small ribbons (chiffonade). 

Fill crepes with cream and strawberries garnish with fresh mint.  Top with additional strawberries if desired.

Food for Thought
The cookbook shows photos of how to flip the crepe. You'll know it is ready to flip when you see the edges begin to curl slightly and lift off the edge of the pan. Turn by lifting up an edge with a spatula, grabbing that edge with your fingers while sliding the spatula further under the crepe then lift with your hand and the spatula at the same time and flip the crepe.

This recipe says it yields 20 7-inch crepes.  With our group, these went fast.  I used a 10-inch skillet and doubled the recipe (which just barely fit in our blender) and it yielded 24 crepes.  When using a 10-inch skillet, use a full 1/4 cup of batter for each crepe. 

These things are super fun.  I highly recommend experimenting on the great blank culinary canvas we call the crepe. 

- Skillet potatoes with diced red peppers, onions and pepper jack cheese
- Sautéed mushrooms and asparagus with Gorgonzola bleu cheese
- Ricotta cheese with lemon zest and blueberries
- Blood oranges or naval oranges, whipped cream, cinnamon and nutmeg
- Bananas, whipped cream and Nutella
Let us know how your crepes turn out and what ideas you come up with.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Caesar Salad

H said this was the best Caesar Salad she'd ever had.

6 chicken tenders, fresh or thawed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 head Romaine lettuce
1/4 c. good quality store-bought Caesar-salad dressing
1/4 c. good quality store-bought mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 c. croutons, coarsely crushed
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated or chopped
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Place chicken tenders in a medium sized mixing bowl and add lemon juice, olive oil, Kosher salt and black pepper and toss until evenly coated. Grill over medium direct heat for 3-4 minutes per side, remove from heat and set aside.

Mix salad-dressing, mayo, lemon juice, olive oil, Worcestershire, garlic along with half of Parmesan cheese and whisk together. 

Cut lettuce in half along the center rib.  Top each half with three 3 pieces of chicken, remaining Parmesan, croutons and drizzle with dressing.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

Food for Thought
There are many great recipes you can find online or in print if you want to make your own Caesar's dressing.  I find that this yields excellent results with less labor.  When choosing Romaine (as with practically all other produce) avoid produce that appears discolored or wilted.  One additional consideration with Romaine is that the presence of strong, milky ribs should be avoided also, since this feature which commonly occurs in older produce will give the lettuce an unpleasant bitterness that exceeds the pleasantly herbacious bitterness of good Romaine, a quality which, in small doses as found in fresh heads, makes Romaine go so well with funky cheeses and other strong flavors. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mint Pea Puree (Springtime Italian Guac)

We have made this one many times over the last several years and have not been able to resist sharing it with many of you so it seems silly that I haven't posted the recipe yet.  I suppose one reason is that, while there are very few if any things in food, music, art, etc., which are truly original anymore, the general approach here is to post only those things for which I feel some ownership.  Whether it is a bizarre tweak on a classic, something that I can't recall seeing done the same way elsewhere or just a common dish that I really like and find that one particular recipe surpasses or at least typifies all known variations, I suppose it could be said that I just like any recipes I post to be interesting.  If I can recall the particular origin of a recipe, I will give credit where due.  That said, I can't take too much credit for this recipe.  I can however take credit for the high-octane modifications.  Click on the link below to see the recipe where I first encountered this concept.

Mint Pea Puree

2 c. chicken broth or water with 1 Tbsp. chicken base
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas
1/4 c. fresh chopped mint
4-6 cloves garlic
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 oz. Parmesan cheese

1 baguette or loaf of Italian or French bread 
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

The Method
Add chicken broth, red pepper flakes and peas to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Cut Parmesan cheese into 1-inch cubes and add to food processor.  Process until even coarseness is achieved.  Remove cheese from food processor and set aside.  Drain liquid from peas in a colander and add peas to food processor, along with mint leaves, garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne and process for 15-20 seconds.  Remove food processor bowl from base, cover with foil and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. 

Cut bread (bias cut) into 1/2 inch slices, brush with olive oil, place on large baking sheet and place baking sheet in oven that has been preheated to 375 degrees until golden brown (7-10 minutes depending on the rack setting and type of bread).  Remove from oven. 

After cooling pea mixture, reattach bowl, add Paremesan and process for an additional 20-30 seconds while drizzling in olive oil and heavy cream.

Spoon finished mixture on crostini and enjoy. 

Food for Thought
Basic departures from the recipe linked above and this one are that this one has more salt, more heat and more garlic (I am from the "No Such Thing as too Much Garlic" school of thought) and no prosciutto, although I think prosciutto is great.  We actually usually top ours with grilled chicken tenders.  I think the basic concept of this dish is brilliant, though it may actually be more English than Italian (Another good food idea from England?  What the?). 

Regarding the salt, you may actually want to add even more salt incrementally as you sample the product.  I find that doing so can really liven up the whole dish and bring the Parmesan to a more taste-forward  position - just enough to balance it with the freshness of the mint and the sweetness of the peas. 

Finally, if you are in a mischievous mood, serve this with tortilla chips as guacamole.  After the first victim reels to find a proper sensory anchor and recovers from the profound gustatory confusion you have inflicted upon him, bag the chips and whip out the crostini.  Your victim may be gun-shy but everyone else will love it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pasta con Sugo Rosa

I'm not sure where this recipe originated.  I do know that our introduction to the dish came by way of a great friend and epicure of ours over a decade ago.  It has, with a minor tweak or two, been a family favorite ever since.  Once you get a taste for the zippy savory sauciness and see how easy it is to make, it will be one of your favorites too. 

1/2 lb lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 qt. home-canned tomatoes canned with lemon juice
10-12 white button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pint. heavy cream
16 oz. rotini noodles
Fresh ground black pepper
The Method
In a deep 10-12 inch skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and ground beef or turkey burger and cook until lightly browned.  Add garlic, mushrooms and tomatoes along with canning liquid and reduce heat to medium-low.  If using store bought tomatoes, add 1/4 c. lemon juice.  Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  In separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook rotini noodles to desired texture, remove from heat and drain.  Remove sauce mixture from heat, add cream and stir to combine.  Dish noodles into bowls and top with sauce.  Salt and pepper to taste.         

Food for Thought 
Adding the cream should only be done at the end as adding dairy to an acidic compound over high heat could cause the cream to become granular or curdle.  

When buying mushrooms, avoid pre-sliced.  Pre-packaged whole mushrooms are permissible but can be a bit of a gamble.  I prefer to purchase the desired amount of loose bulk mushrooms taking care to select produce with closed gills and which are free of discoloration. Prior to slicing, a quick rinse or even a short soak in cold water is permissible - just don't allow them to soak for too long. Dry mushrooms with paper towel, brushing off any debris or unsavory residue. 

And, by the way, sugo is Italian for sauce and rosa for pink, hence the name - pasta with pink sauce, due to the unique color of the sauce after the cream is added. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Buon Giorno Crostini and Eggs with Pesto

It certainly will be a good morning if you start off with this dish.  If your standard American toast and eggs could be described as an old Ford pickup - utilitarian, ordinary and unadorned then this version could be described as a Ferrari - a much more fun and interesting way to get around with unmistakable Italian flare.    

This is an all-time favorite breakfast/brunch dish. It's so good that there really aren't words to describe it and if you tried to use any that you know in an effort to do this dish justice, you'd probably regret it. 

Italian or French bread
2-4 oz. Parmesan cheese, divided (do I even need to say it - nothing from a can!)
1-2 Tbsp. butter

For the pesto
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted
Fresh Italian parsely - 1 large fistful
Fresh basil - 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of parsely used
4 -5 cloves garlic
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
Table salt
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
As you've noticed, the amount of eggs and bread has not been specified.  The amount is a function of how much you want to make, how many you are feeding, etc.  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice bread (bias cut) into desired number of 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices and brush lightly with olive oil or real butter (not that the two are interchangeable, it just depends on the effect you prefer) on one side.  Toast in oven til light to golden brown, remove and set aside.  Toast slivered almonds in oven on a small baking dish for 3 minutes, being careful not to let them get too over-browned or burnt. 

Wash parsley and basil well under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place herbs in blender with toasted almonds, garlic, olive oil and 1/4 of your grated Parmesan.  Pulse blender several times until herbs, garlic and nuts are well pulverized but still a bit coarse (not pureed).  If you have to scrape down the sides of the blender between pulses, make sure blade has completely stopped spinning first.    

Heat butter in non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.  Fry desired number of eggs over-easy two-three at a time.  Apply pinch of table salt and pepper to each egg.  Apply pesto (about 1 Tbsp.) to each piece of toasted bread.  Plate bread with pesto and top each piece of bread with an egg.  Sprinkle each eggs with remaining Parmesan and another Tbsp. or so of pesto.  Serve while eggs are warm.   
Food for Thought
You may also do this with poached eggs.  No instructions for poaching eggs will be given here but it is easy to find in various print and web resources.  Those who know how to poach eggs well may agree that the process is something akin to making a potion in Harry Potter's advanced potions class where you require a personalized copy of the instructional text from the Half-Blood Prince himself, complete with helpful hints in the margins.  Over-easy works great and is self-explanatory.  The point is, that you have firm egg white with an intact yolk that is not so firm (which is not to say that the yolk is infirm). 

My wife does not care for uncooked egg yolks (or so she thinks), yet she loves pasta carbonara - which she know employs uncooked egg yolks.  Whatever.  The pesto is, of course, herbacious as all get out but the addition of the almonds and Parmesan temper what might otherwise be overly grassy notes.  You may wish to add a little additional salt to your finished product but try a bite first because the Paremesan in the pesto and on the eggs adds more saltiness than you might expect.    

If you are concerned about foodborne illness from an uncooked egg yolk, that's OK.  If you are elderly or pregnant, or have some other potential contraindication, you may want to avoid such a preparation.  For the rest of us, it is relatively safe (I've been eating eggs over-easy since I was a kid and I'll let you know the first time I become ill from it).  In fact, you are more likely to get salmonellosis or other foodborne illness from other foods which are generally consumed raw than from an uncooked egg yolk; certain vegatable matter like pre-packaged spinach, salad greens, sprouts, etc.  In many countries, eggs may move from the chicken coupe to your home and never see the inside of a refrigerator until you get them home.  And besides, it is delicious and adds a unique and wonderful element of rich and wholesome yumminess.  Buon appetito!     

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Thermal Paradox

With the promise of warmer weather, I thought it would be good to share a drink idea.  This one, however, requires a bit of explanation. 

I have always liked sweet and savory combinations.  I like complex historical figures and fictional characters who evolve and I like books and movies to end differently than I expect.  Even so, you don't have to be strange like me to enjoy the conflicted deliciousness of the Thermal Paradox (but it helps).  

1 2L bottle of your favorite lemon-lime soda
1 lime, juiced
1 orange, juiced
1 small lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1/4 tsp. cayenne
Crushed ice

The Method
Add cayenne, extract and citrus juices to a large pitcher then pour in soda. Stir with large spoon. Fill glasses 1/2 full with crushed ice and pour drink slowly over crushed ice.

Food for Thought
Adding the cayenne to a cold refreshing drink is analogous to the addition of a very small amount of salt to your chocolate chip cookie recipe. The effect is to complement and highlight the desired feature, which yields sweeter tasting cookies or, in this case, a more refreshing drink; a drink, which gradually stokes the fire you are drinking to quench. Do not substitute any other chili product. Cayenne is perfect for this because it lacks the earthy, bitter-yet-fruity notes of other chili products and supplies plenty of heat. Bottoms up!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Hold the Club" Turkey Club on Ciabatta

As it turns out, I was one ingredient short on a great brunch dish that I love today.  What to do?  After inventorying what I did have, I decided on lunch.  It was great.  This club sandwich has most of the characteristics of your garden-variety club, except that, with this type of bread, you really don't want the extra piece of bread in the middle. 

1 loaf of artisinal Ciabatta bread
1 lb. bacon
1/2 lb. thinly sliced turkey breast
1/2 lb. thinly sliced black forest ham
6-8 slices of your favorite mozzarella or smoked provolone cheese
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3-4 sprigs of fresh Sweet Basil
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

The Method
Fry bacon, remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat panini press or similar appliance to medium-high.

Cut Ciabatta bread into 8 equal pieces.  With a good bread knife or other serrated knife, remove crust from top and bottom of each piece of bread, then split each piece into top and bottom halves.  Brush one side of each top and bottom with olive oil.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat.  After washing spinach, add to pan and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add in minced garlic after 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and tip pan to allow remaining moisture to drain away from spinach.

Place half of bread pieces, oiled side down, and add equal amounts of turkey, ham and bacon to each piece then add spinach and garlic mixture, allowing excess moisture to drip from spinach prior to adding it to the sandwiches.  Cover with cheese and 4-5 basil leaves.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Place remaining bread on top of sandwiches with oiled side up.  Place several sandwiches at a time on your panini press, or similar appliance.  Grill for several minutes, until golden brown and all cheese is melted.

Food for Thought
When removing the crust from your bread or slicing it into top and bottom halves, watch our for your thumb!  Keep the thumb on your non-knife-wielding hand above the plane of the knife blade. 

If you don't have a proper panini (Italian for sandwiches, with panino being singular) press, this will work just fine on any George Foreman type grill.  If you don't have any such appliance, grill it on the stove top in your favorite frying pan, though the textural effect won't be exactly the same.  If you think you've got too much spinach going into your sauté pan, you're wrong.  If you haven't done this before, you will be astounded at how much your spinach condenses as it cooks down.  This technique ensures that you don't have soggy sandwiches as most of the excess water in the spinach is removed. 

Also, cooked spinach is better for you than raw spinach because applying heat causes the breakdown and deactivation of nutrition-blocking oxalates, which inhibit iron absorption.  We all know that spinach is rich in iron but that mineral has no bioavialability unless heat is applied to the spinach prior to consumption.  Furthermore, high levels of oxalates can actually leach iron from your body.  Finally, spinach treated in this manner also goes great in your favorite omelet or frittata.

Buon Appetito!

P.S. Basil is delicious.  It's one of those great herbs which, like mint, can play well in both sweet and savory dishes. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Honey

No this is not mushy demonstrative etude of affection to my wife - though it could be about her, since this post is about a food-related project we will undertake together in the near future.  After receiving a copy of Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, The Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the World by Holley Bishop from one great friend and talking with other great friends who have tried it themselves, we are planning to start our own little apiary this summer.  We actually ordered a bee package and are looking forward to receiving our herd of miniature winged livestock in April.  We expect that, as with all other produce, the local, farm fresh, just harvested stuff is far superior to store-bought offerings.  Look for updates on our bees as the summer goes on and maybe even some great honey recipes.  If you see me with a face full of red, swollen lesions, you will probably be able to guess how things are going.  

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cheese Glorious Cheese!

"Give me a good sharp knife and a good sharp cheese and I’m a happy man."

— George R.R. Martin
Cheese is, I think, one item that nearly all people agree upon.  That is, we agree with the basic premise that cheese is good.  Now, start a discussion about what type of cheese is best or what type goes best with which dish, drink, etc. and things get divisive.  Even so, it is interesting to note that from the pretentious Parisian to the common blue collar, blue plate diner (a person who dines) at your local diner (the eating place), cheese is the common thread - or string, as in string cheese, if you will.  From our earliest days as consumers of solid foods, we become acquainted with cheese in our youth through mac & cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.  No wonder cheese is a big player in so many comfort food dishes. 
Some like Brie with their fruit for dessert and that's okay.  I've had it and it just didn't do it for me as far as desserts go.  Furthermore, for me it was a little too - how shall I say - "froofy" - yeah froofy.  I've also had the absurdly hot molten nacho cheese on my nachos at the game.  And I've had all types in between so, while I am sure to write more about our friend cheese in the future, let it suffice for the present that I give you a list of my favorite cheeses.  These are not ranked because the best cheese really is a function of what you are having it on/with; you would not probably like bleu cheese in your grilled cheese sandwich anymore than you would like Parmesan on your fish taco.  So here it is, a list of my caseous flavorful faves:

- Smoked Gouda
- Pepper Jack
- Parmesan
- Parmesano-Reggiano
- Pecorino-Romano
- Provolone
- Aged Swiss
- Fontina 
- American
- Cheddar
- Mozzerella  
- Camembert
- Chipotle Cheddar
- Gorgonzola
- Cream Cheese 
Now, with regard to brands of cheeses, I don't think the brand matters if you are purchasing a regionally produced import; Pamesano-Reggiano is what it is.  For domestics products, we like Tillamook varieties but really like Real California Cheese - their Pepper Jack and Chipotle Cheddar are awesome and can be purchased at WinCo. 
Look for cheese heavy recipes in future posts.  I have loads and the recipes will be presented randomly unless you have specific inquiries.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ready for a Change in the Weather/Menu

"I feel really manly. It's about 25 degrees F outside and snowing, and I just came in from the cold with a platter of grilled meat in my hand. Anybody can grill when it's sunny and 80 degrees F in the shade, but it takes a real man to brave the elements to heed the yearning for my favorite steak. When the muse beckons, I must heed her call. I must grill."

(Al Roker, Foreword, Weber's Big Book of Grilling, Jamie Purviance and Sandra MacRae, p. 7)

I agree 100% Al! That is, I used to. Or rather, I still do in principle at least. In our previous home, our house was situated in such a way that I really could (and did) grill all year long, no matter how cold the weather. In our present location, my grill is subject to the chronic winds always blowing in from the same direction and which, in the winter, rob my grill of every precious BTU often making it nearly impossible to apply adequate heat to my grillable edibles of choice.

But no more! Well, at least not until next winter. Our grilling season officially began today. With the warmest temperatures we've seen to date this year, daylight savings time, two large tanks of liquid propane and an appetite for something with grill marks, we said goodbye to winter and hello to the sunshine and the savor of grilled food.
Now don't get me wrong, I love the variety that comes with the ebb and flow of the seasons. I love good soup but can't bring myself to eat it in the middle of July. Soup belongs on a cold weather menu (the exception being gazpacho!). And so do certain bread and dessert items and so forth. Similarly, I don't crave ice cream in the chill of December (unless it is sitting on top of a piece of HOT apple pie).

It's been a long winter, and so I say, Sayonara snow! E haere rā cold weather! Hasta la vista invierno! And hello to warmer weather, which brings with it a gustatory change of scenery.