Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Creme de Menthe Brownies

When I was younger I recall loving the andes mints I would get after my numerous meals at Olive Garden. You see, my dad is a huge fan of Italian food (and Mexican), but growing up in Colorado Springs the closest we got (as far I know) was... Olive Garden, or Macaroni Grill. Both, to me, are delicious, even if not authentic.

These brownies were made for Christmas, a very traditional mint + chocolate = yum! time. Usually it's peppermint, likely taken from the candy cane craze, but after seeing the recipe for these creme de menthe brownies from Paula Deen (one I usually don't make too much from) I had to make them. Not only are they a throw back to my childhood, but they're Christmasy too.

The brownie batter turned out super thick which made me nervous, but these turned out very fudgey and rich. I'm not entirely sure what the batter was supposed to be like, I didn't watch the episode in which it aired. I did halve the recipe, which I know makes some changes (chemically, etc) to the result... I tried to compensate for a few. I was also in Colorado, which I forgot to compensate for for -all- of my recipes.

None the less, rich and delicious. The chocolate frosting and the mint chips made this amazingly yummy. I wish I had brought some back to LA with me. La Sigh.

My brother was amazingly impatient to eat these, so I frosted them early (the frosting melted) and shaved the mints on top early (melted). So I have to say, it didn't turn out the most picture purfect, but they still look yummy!

Creme de Menthe Brownie
Recipe from Paula Deen

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 and 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 a (10-ounce) package Creme de Menthe baking chips (recommended: Andes)
Shaved Creme de Menthe thins (recommended: Andes)
Chocolate frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a pan.

Using an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, mixing well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Gradually stir into butter mixture. Fold in mint chips. Spoon into greased pan. Bake for 35 minutes.
While brownies are baking, prepare frosting.
Remove pan from the oven and allow brownies to cool in pan on wire rack. Spread with chocolate frosting. Top with shaved mint thins.

Chocolate Frosting

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/6 cup cocoa
1 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons milk

Combine butter, cocoa, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and milk in a large mixing bowl; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until dry ingredients are moistened. Beat at high speed until spreading consistency.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cabernet Risotto

Christmas was quite crazy this year, and also quite fulfilling. :) I came out with my second half to my Alton Brown book collection (the first half, actually, but v 2.0) and an igloo shaped cake pan and some cookie cutters that are shaped like animal crackers, which I'm quite excited to use.

I also made Christmas dinner, and I just recently got back to LA and am so so exhausted, but I decided to begin sharing anyway. The entire feast included delicious things, some already located on this blog, such as my marbled mashed potatoes and green beans with browned butter (though I added garlic and pine nuts) -- both of which my family loved.

I also made this risotto. I love risotto-- chances are you're going to see it on here time and time again. This one was a bit heavy, having no white wine and Cabernet being it's main source of flavour, but I personally liked it so much I ate pretty much just it the next day. I got the idea from FoodTV.com, and proceeded to barely follow the recipe at all. After all, I know how to make risotto, and I didn't want to use both white wine and red wine since I knew red wine would be just fine since I'd use it to make lamb risotto before. So I thus made it my own.

My mother wasn't a fan, but she's not a fan of red wines -- everyone else seemed to enjoy it decently. The rest of the red wine went to the lamb and also to some mulled wine I made and forgot to take pictures off, as I was too busy (ahem) enjoying it. ;)

In any case, my brother made the joke that this looked like pinto beans and every time throughout the night someone said "pass the beans" -- meaning the green beans -- I would get very confused and say, it's not beans, it's risotto.

Luckily, mishap concluded. Recipe below!

Cabernet Risotto
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via FoodTV.com

1 Quart chicken stock
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
½ clove of garlic, minced
½ cup minced onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ cups arborio rice
½ cup cabernet
1 ½ tablespoons butter
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup cabernet

Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and keep warm while preparing risotto.
Heat olive oil and a ½ tablespoon of butter in a saucepan. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and saute over medium-low heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute. Add rice and continue to saute, coating rice with the oil until the grains are lightly toasted, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the wine and stir until almost completely absorbed.
Begin adding the stock to the rice, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring the rice constantly and continuing to cook at a constant low simmer. Add more stock each time the last is nearly absorbed.
About 15 minutes after you begin, test the rice. Remove risotto after it has right texture (mostly soft and creamy, but just a slight slight amount of firmness) and stir in butter, parmesan, and remaining cabernet. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

This is excellent with roast lamb!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chicken Polenta Tartlets

Here is the post I promised for the Chicken Polenta Tartlets that I made for Christmas Eve appetizers last night. The original recipe, made on Food TV by Giada, included home made polenta and store bought pesto and chicken. Instead, I used store bought polenta and homemade roast chicken breast and pesto. The pesto I decided to use to go with the christmas theme was a walnut pesto (with some basil and mint in it). All the flavours complimented well and it went over well with the fam. My mum wasn't the biggest fan of the polenta, which is kind of like an italian grits (but smoother and more delicious, but basically made of the same components) which surprised me because she's a true lover of Southern Grits. Perhaps its all the butter and salt, hehe.

Chicken Polenta Tartlets
Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

1 shredded roasted chicken breast (recipe follows)
Walnut Pesto (recipe follows)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tube prepackaged basil and garlic polenta
Dried Cranberries for garnish

Remove the polenta from it's package and cut into 1/2" slices. Bake at 350, browning slightly and solidifying-- about 10 minutes, tops. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the chicken, pesto, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Plate the polenta and top with a spoonful of chicken and a few dried cranberries. Serve.

Roasted Chicken Breast

1 chicken breast, trimmed of fat
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon italian seasonings
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the dry ingredients. Rub the chicken breast with the olive oil then each side with the dry ingredients.
Roast chicke nbreas at 450 for 15-17 minutes, then lower temperature to 350. Roast until at 180 degrees. Set aside and allow to cool.

Walnut Pesto

2 tablespoons walnuts
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/2 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes, shaking occasionally to brown evenly. Let cool.
In a food processor, puree the nuts, mint, basil, cheese, garlic, and salt. With the motor running drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Transfer the pesto to a container and refridgerate up to 3 days.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Parmesan Latke

My mother is Jewish and my father is (raised) Christian. Though neither of them are practicing, they did want to impart some of their heritage and tradition and what not into us. We celebrated a few Christian Holidays (Easter, Christmas) and a few Jewish ones (Purim, Channukah, very rarely Rosh Hoshanah-- meaning like, once). But we did always serve up latkes and play with the dradle and have chocolate money coins and light candles. We haven't celebrated this year, my menorah is in LA, my parents moved two weeks ago-- there's a lot of reasons... but this Christmas Eve I decided to make A Latke. Just one. One very large one.

On Christmas Eve we used to eat appetizers (vegetables, mostly) and sit around and open one present and sometimes watch a movie. I remember cracking nuts, when I was a kid, around a little table in one of the side rooms (maybe it was a family room? Or some kind of entertaining room? I'm not sure) and singing Silent Night off key for my Father. This Christmas Eve, we feasted on veggies and this latke as well as some delicious chicken polenta tartlets. Those will come tomorrow, I'm sure, because it's too late for two posts tonight. After all, Santa won't come if I don't go to sleep.

That said, please enjoy this Happy Holiday Recipe from Foodival. :) Happy Holidays!!

Parmesan Latke (Potato Pancake)
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons (divided) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound potatoes (I used 2 red, 2 yukon gold), peeled
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
half a long stem fresh rosemary, pulled from the stem.

Grate the potatoes and using a kitchen towel, squeeze out the water completely-- this may take two or three go backs. Set aside, and allow to continue to drain. Reserve the pan.
Warm the tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cooking until tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season the onion mixture with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the grated potatoes. Add the cheese and rosemary and fold together.
Warm a teaspoon of oil over high heat in the same pan the onions were cooked in. When hot, but not smoking, add the potato mixture. Use a spatula to press the mixture firmly into the pan and evenly, then turn the heat down to medium and cook the potato mixture until the bottom is golden brown and the pancake can move in the pan, about 8-12 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low if the latke is browning too fast. Place a large plate on top of the latke and flip it out of the pan.
Turn the heat on the pan back up to high and add the other 1 teaspoon of oil. Once hot, slide the latke back into the pan and lower the heat to medium again, cook the latke until the other side is golden and cooked through, about another 8-12 minutes. Slide the latke onto a serving platter, slice, and serve.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mataam Fez (Denver, CO)

I haven't had this blog -very- long, or rather, I haven't posted in it regularly for very long. I never planned to do many, if any, food reviews. As much fun as I have doing food reviews (I did a few for my college newspaper, The District, as well as some recipes) that's not what this blog is for. If I decide to do more of them (aka, eat out more and take photos while I do it, which isn't a bad idea...) then I'll create another blog. But, Foodival -is- a carnival of food. This is the stuff that I'm eating, and such, when this trip to Colorado is all done I'll probably post a large post of the carousel of dishes I've eaten here.

That said. I'm gonna do a restaurant review. Perhaps not as much as a review but as an explanation, a gleeful retelling. I am including pictures, but I warn in advance that the lighting in the restaurant was very, very dim, and every lamp was not only wonderful yellow bulb, but had a yellow shade. Thus, my pictures are dark and yellow. Colour corrected they're blueish. Make believe these pictures are perfect and you can perfectly see the food that is way, way delicious. My camera nor I are equipped for these conditions (and I'm going to try to find a way around them in the future, but I don't want to not share these). Yeah, these are all taken with the white balance set and with color correction. You can not imagine how very yellow these were. It was like looking at... at... kraft macaroni and cheese. Except that was white. But alas!

Mataam Fez is a Moroccan restaurant, there were three of them -- one in Colorado Springs, one in Denver, and one in Boulder. The Colorado Springs one was originally owned by a really nice man who sold it then went to open Tajine Alami, also in Colorado Springs. That place has some excellent Tajine and still has a lot of the same atmosphere of Mataam Fez. The new management of Mataam Fez has kept a lot of the same feeling, and though the Boulder branch closed, the other two keep trucking along.

I've been eating at Mataam Fez well into the years that I don't remember. I just remember always going. I grew up on going to a place with 5 course meals in which I sat on the floor and ate with my hands and sampled crazily spiced eggplants and potatoes and ate lamb with honey or artichokes. I realize now that's not a dining experience a lot of children have, and I'm glad I had it. I love Moroccan flavours, and I'm guessing a lot of the reason is because I've eaten and loved it since I was a child. There's something very familiar (to me), and warm and yet, still exotic about the spices they use (cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, honey, and more more more). I also have the tendency to eat with my hands too much, probably because eating at a place like this reinforced that as long as my hands were clean and I ate with my right one, all was well in the world.

At Mataam Fez they serve guests a 5 (or an optional 6) course meal. It's a great pleasure to remove your shoes and sit on giant pillows on the floor surrounding a delightfully low table. Just before the first course the server brings out a giant gold basin in which the guest places their hands in and they pour warm water over to wash the hands (I'm not sure if there's anything else in it).

The first course is a delightful Moroccan Lentil Wedding Soup. I believe it has a lamb base. I never understand the word they say when they tell me what they're making me, and so I simply can describe it as that. You get to have homemade honey wheat bread with it, which is a little thicker than honey wheat breads that you get in the English setting. It's heartier. It's the type of bread you want to dip in lentil soup and consume.

(Moroccan Weddign Soup: Lamb and Lentil Soup. No spoon, sip directly from the rim and use honey wheat bread for the remenants)

The next course they serve is a grouping of salads. All of them are delicious, with similar spicings. They also serve with it a pallate cleanser -- carrots with ginger and raisins. Slightly sweet, and a definite shock to the tongue to awake it so each salad takes fresh.

(From top going clockwise: spiced mashed potatoes, spiced garbanzo beans -- seemed to be spiked with
cumin and cardamom and a little too salty, sauteed and spiced spinach, cooling tomatoes and cucumbers,
sweet and sassy beets, pickled spiced carrots, and deliciously roasted and spiced eggplant puree.
Center is a hunk of honey wheat bread. I do not know the names or ingredients to any of these salads, but I wish I did.)

Next up is a b'stillia. This delicious pastry treat is, basically, a phyllo like dough (but thinner, crispier and flakier) stuffed with spiced egg, chicken, nuts, raisins, and... more spices. Its baked then topped with powder sugar and cinnamon, often in the shape of palm trees or the sun. This is a delightful treat, and it's AMAZING. As a kid I loved the powder sugar-- and though I sometimes feel weird with so much on it now, I cannot deny the deliciousness of this combination.

(The B'stillia, fresh and not covered with palm trees or suns, but still looking delicious)

(This is a thick pastry-- because it's stuffed with amazing. My brother is digging in.)

(The contents of the b'stillia, spilling forth.)

Finally the guest is served the main dish. We usually get lamb-- my favourite growing up was lamb rocs with honey and almonds. The lamb is just spiced, then cooked in some magic way, then served with a thin honey sauce and topped with almonds and sometimes sesame seeds. My best friend's favourite was chicken with cous cous, because the chicken was spicy and the cous cous was super savory. I believe I had someone whose favourite was the chicken with the whole artichoke. That's good too -- they make good artichoke. I've also had quite a few of the chicken dishes, as well as the rabbit. The rabbit was a bit too gamey for me. Tonight I got lamb bruchette. Basically shish-ka-bob with cous cous, topped with almonds and raisins. The lamb was succulent and excellently spiced. I don't know with what-- I was eating and I could no longer distinguish spices. Chris got the lamb with honey and almonds, this time on the bone, which is not his preferred way of eating, but still yummy in the tummy.

(The lamb bruchette. You can see the raisins and almonds, cous cous, and lamb ka bobs here.)

(Lamb with honey and almonds, as you can see it's on the bone. The sauce is thin, but quite sweet.
A half an almond can be found in this picture.)

Now at this point you're stuffed. But you're not done! They serve fresh fruit, and sometimes saffron almond cookies. They wash your hands again, and sprinkle you with delightful smelling rosewater. This is where the optional course comes in-- one we never resist. Dessert b'stillia! Unlike the first b'stillia, this one is stuffed with raisins and apricots, it's all sweet, but the apricots are just tangy enough to make it not too much. Sometimes they're stuffe with chocolate too, but not this time, which was good-- the chocolate would have been too rich tonight. But that's delicious as well.

They then serve morrocan mint tea. The server pours it from all sorts of crazy angles (on their forehead, on their foot from behind them, on their elbow), then they toss it in the air a few times and place it delicately on the table. The tea is delicious. Chris and I always get it for the entire meal, we can't resist, but the ending tea is nice too.

During the meal there is often a belly dancer. I was surprised we had one tonight, but here's a picture of her. I forgot to turn off my flash which is why she's actually coloured NORMAL-- but everyone did give me a funny look and I felt quite bad for ruining the dining experience.

All in all a great experience. If you're ever in the Denver or Colorado Springs area, make sure to check these places out-- it's worth it.

Denver Mataam Fez
4609 E Colfax Avenue
Denver, Colorad

Colorado Springs Mataam Fez
101 N Tejon, Garden Level
Colorado Springs, CO
(Possibly Closed)

Tajine Alami
10 Old Man's Trail
Manitou Springs, CO

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pecan Crusted Pork Chops with Pumpkin Butter

Growing up, one of my favourite things my mom would make was pork chops. I still don't know what she put on them (I'd have to ask), it may have been simply Mrs. Dash and a pan, I need to ask. But I loved them, with a side of macaroni and cheese and green beans or peas, I -adored- those pork chops. Strangely, I rarely make pork chops now... maybe it's becaues I can't quite make them like her's, or maybe it's just because when I'm at the store looking at meats, I gravitate towards beef or chicken, and if I want something special, towards lamb.

But this is great, this is another way for me to use pork chops more, becaues I loved them and I really should. This calls for pecans forming a fried crust-- something I had attempted to do many years ago with chicken and it just... didn't work out for me. Since then, I've sort of learned things a lot better, and these turned out amazing.

This was part of a meal for my boyfriend. As you can see, I still stick with the much desired green beans of my youth, but I have to admit if I were to include macaroni and cheese with the lightly fried, nut coated pork chop I'd probably want to strangle myself. But these marbled potatoes do the trick, and went really well with the sweetness of the apple butter and the savory saltiness of the green beans (yes, I love combos like that).

All in all this was a very 'home cookin' type of meal. The apple butter that topped the pork chops was delicious, and made a few days ago. I still haven't taken a picture of a jar of it, and it's my top priorty when I return to LA (I'm in Colorado right now for the holidays!). It was sweet and spicy, and went well with the crunch of the nuts, even made the whole thing taste... well, butterier.

In the end, I've decided I need to cook more with pork chops. So good. So very good.

As briefly mentioned, I'm currently in Denver Metro area, chilling for Christmas. My thing every year is to make Christmas dinner--this year I'm making lamb. Hopefully I'll get some pictures in, but I'll also likely be taking pictures of food I eat out here, since it seems "special" to me for some reason or another. If I make anything here I'll try posting it, but usually my goal is to cook recipes for my family that I really love. I might try to make them the butternut squash and sage lasagna, and perhaps some wedding cookies. Or at least some for my friends.

Pecan Crusted Pork Chops with Pumpkin Butter
Recipe very very slightly adapted from Closet Cookin'

1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
4 thin sliced boneless pork chops
freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 1/2 tablesoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
pumpkin butter to top

In a plastic bag, crush the pecans until they're fine. Add the bread crumbs and shake up, then pour into a bowl. Season the pork chops with the salt and pepper, rubbing it slightly into the pork. Then, dredge the pork in the flour, dip into the egg, and press into the pecan mixture. Follow with the rest of the pork chops. When all prepared, heat the oil and butter in a pan on medium. Add the pork chops and saute until just cooked all the way through, with a golden brown crust. About 4-5 minutes per side.
Serve the pork chops topped with pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin Butter
Recipe from Closet Cookin', specifications by me

2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Martinelli's Sparkling apple cider
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Simmer all of the ingredients together until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, jar quickly and refridgerate after opening.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marbled Potatoes

"...they're sweet, and fluffy, and I really like the colours...."
(the boyfriend describing why he likes these potatoes)

For the last three years I've made these potatoes. Be it Easter, a fancy Ham Dinner, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I've made them. They're my family's favourite potatoes, they're my boyfriend's favourite potatoes, they're my friends' favourite potatoes. I love these potatoes as well, but I don't get it. They're so simple, they're just regular potatoes, sweet potatles, marbled and blended into perfection. True, it does have that combo of sweet plus savory, both meltable and of smooth consistency. Maybe it's what draws us to black and white cookies, marbled brownies-- that way that the colours meld into one another.

But it could also be that the Parmesan, the garlic, the sour cream of the regular potatoes blends just subtly with the not-too-sweet sweet potatoes, mixed with spices and cardamon. Both sides are buttery and rich, and I top it all with extra Parmesan cheese (and sometimes thyme!).

I'm not promising anything, but from the results I get, they're sure to be a hit among the people you'd make them for.

Marbled Potatoes

2 lbs sweet potatoes
¼ c butter
1/8 c milk
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
2 lbs. White potatoes
½ cup sour cream
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
¼ c butter
½ tsp thyme
1 clove minced garlic
a dash of garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Skin and chop sweet potatoes. Skin and chop white potatoes. Boil separately until tender. Pour sweet potatoes into a bowl and whip with a electric mixer, mixing in butter and milk, then cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Separately, blend regular potatoes with sour cream, cheese, butter, and thyme. Drop heaping spoonfuls into a casserole dish, alternating potato types, and when finished drag a knife through it in a zigzag pattern, creating a marble effect. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and bake until browned, about 30 minutes.

These measurements may or may not work for you. When I do it, I often fudge which ingredients I put in what amounts depending on what I feel like for the day. The potatoes should be super smooth and slightly damp, but not runny. They should have a smooth consistency, so if it seems like too much of one ingredient, cut back, if it seems like too little, add more!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Green Beans and Walnuts in Browned Butter

I haven't been making a lot of good things this week. I tried my hand at a brownie cookie recipe I found online to have them flatten out on me. They still tasted good, but didn't come out looking so hot. I also made some Pumpkin Butter, which I never had time to take a photo of (but I will tonight so I can post it this week or early next week).

However, last night I made an amazing meal for Jeff and I. Jeff had a long drive home (traffic is awful this time of the year), and I wanted it ready for when he came home. I'd been popping ideas around in my head and had finally decided on Pecan Crusted Pork Chops (with Pumpkin Butter). I just had to decide sides to go with it.

I decided on some easy things... both, actually, that I'll be making for Christmas. Green Beans with Brown Butter and Walnuts, an easy to prepare and simply tasty dish as well as Marbled Potatoes. But since I've done one dinner to post this entire week I'm going to split them up.

Needless to say these greenbeans were tasty! They're simple, the browned butter gives off a nutty flavour (as I think anyone would say) that just adds a touch of richness. These are basically frozen green beans briefly sauteed in brown butter with walnuts and a bit of multicolour fresh ground pepper and pink sea salt.

I prefer most of my veggies frozen. Not only are they easy to prepare, they're picked and packed in the height of nutrition. I can't complain with that-- I get every vitamin that I would otherwise, and then some, because it's not spoiling in my fridge. Don't get me wrong, I like fresh veggies too, but I don't use them as often.

Once upon a time I was afraid of using butter in anything, I'd stick to "healthy" alternatives. Oh, how life has changed...

Now I know I'm not the first to think up a recipe like this, but let's face it-- something like this is so basic that anyone can make it up. That said, this recipe goes uncredited. It's everyone's creations, one of those fundamental basics that is so easy to make you can do it in 5 minutes flat for your family, or, like I did, at the very end of the meal. :) And they're worth it.

Green Beans and Walnuts in Browned Butter

3/4 cup frozen green beans
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

microwave the frozen green beans for 1 1/2 minutes or until gently thawed. Meanwhile, cook butter in a saucepan over medium heat, checking and stirring, until it has browned and gives off a faintly nutty aroma. Mix in the green beans and walnuts, and crack some fresh pepper as well as grind some sea salt over them. Serve!

(Soon to Come, Marbled Potatoes and Pecan Crusted Pork Chops)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Gingerbread Birdhouse

Once upon a time there was a sparrow. The sparrow was flying through the forest, trying to outrace the snowstorm that was following it South. Sparrows normally flew South for the winter, but this Sparrow had missed the train, it had been injured and now tailed behind, fighting against the cold.

As it dropped beneath the forest's trees, snow began to fall around it. Worried, scared, the sparrow flew faster. It didn't see the human house up ahead, too concerned with the snow falling around it.


The Sparrow flew into a window of the house, not aware of it's difference. Suddenly, a young woman appeared at the window, her eyebrows knit in worry as she looked on the fluttering sparrow. In an act of mercy, she gathered it into her hands and nursed the Sparrow back to life.

But she couldn't keep the bird outdoors. She knew it was a free creature, and needed to be outside. The bird, luckily, hadn't been badly injured in it's hurry, only dazed. But knowing the snow storm outside, the woman went about baking a tiny gingerbread house for the bird, filling the kitchen with the aroma of spice and Christmas.

When the snow stopped she put the gingerbread house in the window sill, cracked just enough to allow the sparrow access to it from the outside world. Of course, the sparrow eventually recovered and left, flying North again to join it's kindred when the frost melted. Yet, as soon as the first snow begins to fall, the woman bakes a gingerbread birdhouse for the sparrow, in case it decides to stop on it's way South.

-- I love Winter. I love telling stories infront of the fire, and making Gingerbread houses and decorating a tree and lighting candles. I like giving gifts and all the food that Winter means. I love the Holidays! It's so much fun.

Over the weekend Jeff and I took it upon ourselves to make another gingerbread house. Last year we made a Gingerbread Townhouse which I don't know if we took pictures of it. I certainly hadn't really been doing a food blog at that point. This year we wanted something smaller, something super cute, and suddenly it came to me. A gingerbread birdhouse! After scouring the internet, we found a design we generally liked. Google Images, and, well, Google itself can mainly be credited for this entire gingerbread house. Though, of course, we did all the work in making it and translating picture and wood to ginger and bread.

(Jeff creaming the Gingerbread, because I forgot my electric hand mixer)

First we made the gingerbread. It took a lot of beating, and I added a little extra ginger. Last year when I made gingerbread I didn't have molasses -- this year, I brought mine from Savannah back to LA with me. I think it may have been starting to turn, but I'm not sure, I haven't had much experience with molasses. None the less, it was used and the gingerbread looked much much more like gingerbread than last year. While I was mixing stuff, Jeff started designing the templates, which we then cut out together while it chilled. After going to a party and letting the dough chill for like... 5 hours, we returned and rolled it out and cut out the pieces, then baked them.

We then painted them with edible paint and baked them again.

I made the royal icing while we rolled out the first batch to cut out. As you can imagine, beating the egg whites was terrible (without a hand mixer), but between the two of us we got it down. I also ran out of powdered sugar, and so it was thinner than last year's icing... but it made it way, way more manigable and it dried so much prettier. We had to hold the pieces together longer, but I think it's a welcome sacrifice.

Then came the decorating!

(Some of the Edible Paint and Drippy Drippy Icing)

Mostly it's the snow, with some hot tamales, snow caps, and big sugar crystals. Overall, an amazing Gingerbread adventure with happy happy results and a huuuuge post to go with it. Hurray! I ued these sites to get recipes for the Edible Paint, Gingerbread House, and Royal Icing.

- http://ecochildsplay.com/2008/12/06/how-to-make-a-gingerbread-house-recipe-instructions/
- http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives/004212how_to_make_a_gingerbread_house.php
- http://www.brownielocks.com/cookiepainting.html

Gingerbread House

3 cups flour
3 cups bread flour (I ran out of flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark bown sugar, packed
1 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl, begin creaming the butter with the dark brown sugar. Cream until fluffy and well combined. Beat in the molasses, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined and smooth. Add in half the flour mixture, mixing completely. Switch to either your hands or a rubber spatula and mix in the rest of the flour mixture, folding and mixing until completely combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.
Once chilled, seperate the dough into halves and roll out to 1/4" thick on parchment paper. Cut out pieces (or men or cookie shapes), including windows and/or doors, and bake for 10-15 minutes, checking at about 8 minutes for smaller pieces.

Allow to cool completely before assembling.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites
about 3/4 a box of confectioners sugar (is what I used this time)

Beat the egg whites until foamy and slowly add the confectioners sugar, beating all the while until creamy and slightly stiff. Stick in the fridge, and cover with a damp paper towel to keep moist. To use, pour into a pastry bag and squeeeeeze.

Edible Paint

1 egg yolk for each color
1/8 tsp water per egg yolk
food colouring for each color (we used blue, green, and red)

In a seperate container for each colour combine the egg yolk, water, and amount of food colouring to generate the colour desired. More food colouring will making brighter/darker colours, less will make ligher colours.

Depending on if we can recover the template from the trash or not, I might post it up on here. If so, check back here for a link to the birdhouse template.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gypsy Soup and Cornbread

Another yearly tradition once fall/winter hits (and honestly, it's still fall in Los Angeles) is me + warm, tasty gypsy soup. This recipe is one I've been using for years, originally taken from AllRecipes when I was just beginning to really get into cooking. Not only is it full of fall bounty (sweet potatoes, onions, oh my!) but it's got spices very similar to morrocan and persian cooking. Both of which I love and grew up with.

My favourite part of this soup is the spices and the sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are one of those foods that gets a lot of bad rap because everyone eats them glazed with brown sugar and marshmallows. I like taking sweet potatoes and turning them slightly savory-- their sweetness always cut through, but they're sweet enough on their own. That's why I love sweet potato fries, too.

This recipe and my marbled potatoes are favourites for sweet potatoes. And I like sweet potatoes, too, because of all their iron, they're higher in vitamins and minerals than regular potatoes, and the flavor they posess is a little more umph. Garbanzo beans, too, aren't a food most people crave... even though it's the main make up of hummus. These beans are high in protein, so while this soup may not have any meat, it's a healthy lean alternative.

Usually I serve it with some type of crusty bread (often from Whole Foods or Wild Oats or the like), but this time we ate the leftover Corn Bread sitting in the back of my fridge from Thanksgiving. And boy, those flavours were SUPER good together!!

Gypsy Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cubed sweet potato
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
3 teaspoons paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 chopped basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of cayenne pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon tamari
1 bay leaf
1 cup chopped tomato
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 1/2 cup garbanzo beans

In a large pot, heat the oil and add the potato, celery, onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is starting to clear and add the spices. Cook for one minute, stirring to coat evenly. Pour in the chicken stock and tamari and bring to a boil, reduce and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the tomato, green bell pepper, and garbanzo beans. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, then spice to taste. Serve in generous portions with crusty bread or (dreamy sigh) corn bread.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lavender Infused Hot Cocoa

I was clicking through blogs yesterday with no real aim other than to distract myself and I found a lovely post about a girl who had found lavender infused white hot cocoa, and made for herself lavender infused dark hot cocoa (which sounds amazing). I really wanted to try it, so in the middle of the night last night after seeing a friend's show up at The Viper Room, and standing a lot in the cold and coming home to a cold wood floor... this seemed like the perfect before bed treat.

Lavender has therapeutic properties in it's aroma. It helps you sleep, helps you relax, and that's why people would always put it under pillows. Or in rooms next to the bed. I find it's delicious in shortbread cookies. But this was something I hadn't thought of, and I really liked the idea.

I didn't have dark chocolate. All I had was Ghirardelli (my cocoa of choice) Sweetened Cocoa Powder and also some semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips tucked away for cookies.

This was really a super simple process. I couldn't resist blending in a little cinnamon.

Lavender Hot Cocoa
Recipe from/inspired from A Good Appetite

1 mug of milk
1 rounded teaspoon dried culinary lavender flowers
2 tablespoons Ghiradelli Cocoa Powder
A small handful of Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
A Pinch of Cinnamon

Fill a tea bobble with the lavender flowers and place in a small saucepan with the milk over medium heat and allow to warm and steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bobble and strain any flowers that escaped. Return milk to pan and add chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and whisk until it all runs smooth and tastes deliciously chocolatey.

Top with whipped cream if desired (we did, after the photos were taken).

I slept very easily.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pumpkin Bread!! (Oh, so good)

For the last 3 years I've made pumpkin bread without fail. Every year I change a little something, but for the most part, it stays the same. I can't resist waking up in December, throwing the loaf in the oven and going back to bed-- just to wake up again to the tantilizing smell of spices, pumpkin, fresh baked goods.

It's divine.

My recipe started out somewhere... I believe I was eyeing a few banana bread recipes and decided to make up my own pumpkin variety. Though, honestly, I may have taken three or four pumpkin bread recipes and combined them to make what I thought would be tastiest. Then I went off from there, changing something here, altering something there.

I used to add water into every batch to make it moister, but over time I realized that the pumpkin I roast and then freeze and then thaw is very, very watery-- which made my pumpkin bread kind of fall apart. I took out the water this year and it's the perfect amount of moistness (even four days after, as I had a piece today).

A few weeks ago I had ideas for recipes like none other. I still do, but most of them are sweet... I've also gotten my boyfriend to cook more so I might start taking pictures of what he makes. This weekend he roasted/smoked me a Turkey, and it was very very very good. I feel like the luckiest. :)

Holiday Pumpkin Bread

¼ cup melted butter
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon all spice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/8 cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Prepare either a regular sized loaf pan or two mini loaf pans by spraying with Pam or greasing them. Sprinkle the insides with about a tablespoon of white sugar, barely dusting the bottom and edges.

Soak the cranberries in a mixture of sugar and warm water.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, and eggs. Add the pumpkin and vanilla extract and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, soda, powder, salt, and spices. Add to the pumpkin mixture and stir together.
Drain the cranberries and pat dry, roll in a little bit of white sugar and then fold gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

In a small, separate bowl, combine the remaining butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Sprinkle the mixture over the loaves of bread.

Bake an hour to an hour and a half -- or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Top with butter or cream cheese icing

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Butternut Squash, Spinach, and toasty sage lasagna

Awhile ago we bought a butternut squash, that I then used for roasted vegetables on Thanksgiving (eh, okay), a butternut squash risotto, and this very similar dish. The taste of sage and butternut squash are now fall staples for me-- and I've decided I probably should make this for my mom (who hates squash) nearer to Christmas to see if I can get her to change her mind. You don't taste squash, really, though I don't find the taste of squash bad at all. You taste sweetness, and the earthy, herby quality of the sage. They combine really well, melding together to assault your senses.
Eating this brought me back to Colorado. It felt like Winter, even though it was only 60 degrees in the center of Los Angeles.
The original recipe was white sauce-- which reminded me of a lasagna a friend of mine made in college. She always made a white sauce lasagna with spinach, and it was pretty okay. But I have a hard time thinking of lasagna without red sauce-- it's not enough variety in flavours for me, perhaps. I'm not the kind of alfredo girl I probably should be, I stick more to pink and red sauces, and I couldn't deny the love of the sweetness of tomatoes in this either.

So I added vodka sauce. And I think that the sweetness of it went very well with the squash. Who's to say you can't have such a thing without pure cream.

I also didn't really want to run out and buy cheeses just for the lasagna. I had oxaca and asadero left over from my Carne Asada Quiche and felt like they'd do just fine. Oxaca is very mozzarella like-- though a bit blander in flavour. It's more like fresh mozzarella, but not quite as rich, and asadero is... is soft, and slightly sweet. It too reminds me of mozzarella, buffalo variety, or ricotta, or a mix of both. And so I used both, grating it over the lasagna and making it a little more continental.

I topped it with sage leaves, the idea I got from not only my risotto but also from the blog that I originally saw this recipe at. I'm glad to have tried recipes for butternut squash this season-- they've become new favourites and staples, I believe, for my ever growing culinary adventure.
Spinach & Butternut Squash Lasagna
Recipe divided and inspired from The Kitchen Sink
Serves 3-5

1 1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons butter
1/8 cup chopped sweet onion
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup tomato vodka sauce
1 1/2 cup cubed, peeled butternut squash (about 1/3 of a regular sized butternut squash)
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 oz, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach
5 cooked lasagna noodles
1/2 cup grated asadero cheese
1/2 cup grated oaxaca cheese
2 teaspoons chopped sage leaves

Cook milk in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles form around edge. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Reduce heat and add the flour to pan, and cook 5 minutes or until smooth and golden, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add about 2 tablespoons warm milk to flour mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add remaining warm milk, until mixture is smooth, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and cook until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat. Cover surface of milk mixture with plastic wrap and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425°.

Place squash in a large bowl. Add vinegar; toss to coat. Add 1 teaspoon oil and toss to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper, thyme and sage. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

Combine remaining oil, red pepper, and garlic in a pan over medium heat; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add spinach and cook until wilted, stirring frequently. Add remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook until liquid evaporates, stirring frequently.

Combine the cheeses.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Spoon 1/2 cup tomato mixture in bottom of a small sized baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange noodles over the sauce, top with half the spinach mixture, half the cream sauce, and 1/4 of the cheeses. Cover with a layer of more noodles, top with the majority of the butternut squash, the rest of the red sauce, and 1/4 of the cheese mixture. Top with another layer of noodles, place the remaining spinach and squash together, top with 3/4 of the white sauce, cover with 1/4 of the cheese, chopped sage and another layer of noodles. Top the last noodles with remaining white sauce and cheese and a few full sage leaves. a Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pumpkin Waffles with Cranberry Cream Sauce

Friday morning, when Jeff and I woke up after the long, harrowing day of Thanksgiving, I had a sudden craving to make something with more of the pumpkin puree hidden in my freezer. Lately I've been craving waffles like nobody's business, and it seemed like the perfect time to combine both.

Pumpkin, to me, is great because it can go in anything (and of course, it's delicious). It substitutes/can be substituted by butternut squash, or really any kind of winter squash, as well as sweet potatoes. Though the tastes are of course different, the basic concept was the same. So when I approach pumpkin waffles, I approach them much the same as I do sweet potato waffles (the idea of which I took completely from Alton Brown).

The difference, besides flavour, is that my pumpkin is usually a bit runnier than my sweet potatoes, so I have to cut a bit back on liquid. I also add more spices and sweetness, because to me it's not as sweet as sweet potatoes and also because spices are amazing and if I don't add cinnamon to things I pretty much die inside.

So these babies were born! The cranberry sauce was a great add on-- we have so, so much left over from Thanksgiving I needed to use it for something. I'm thinking of some other ideas for it, but this sauce would be great on any breakfast item. Or if you mix it into butter-- but that's not the point. It was sweet and tangy, and amped up the butteriness of the waffles by like... a thousand, maybe.

Pumpkin Waffles

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg, seperated
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup eggnog
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, then set aside.

In another bowl combine the pumpkin puree, egg yolk, milk, egg nog, brown sugar, and butter. Stir the flour into this mixture until thoroughly combined. Seperately, beat the egg whites until stiff poans form and gradually fold into the waffle batter. The batter should be thick-- using a rubber spatula, place on a preheated and sprayed waffle iron a nd cook until lightly brown, about 6 minutes.

Makes 2 full sized waffles.

Cranberry Sauce

1/4 cup Leftover Cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup cream

Mix sugar and cranberry sauce together in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat when cranberry sauce starts to simmer and slowly add the cream, whisking in. Keep warm until serving, whisking occasionally.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Thanksgiving was tiring, but fun!

I didn't get to take a lot of pictures-- too busy cooking, and by the time the food was done, we were all starving. However, here you can see a few pictures, and I'll also include our menu! It was really delicious (but I'm still sleepy from it).

Our Turkey was brined in the Alton Brown fashion, though I not only stuffed butter under the skin, but also some rosemary and garlic. Alton Brown can also be attributed to our green bean casserole and our cranberry dipping sauce. I had friends from San Fransisco come down, and they made Paula Deen's Pumpkin Butter Gooey thingamajigs (we all went to school in Savannah, Georgia, so it was kind of a fun throw back) as well as some really delicious Macaroni and Cheese. We pretty much ate that all weekend.

Thanksgiving Menu

Sweet Potato and Bacon Dressing (this one kind of failed)
Apple Marsala Gravy
Green Bean Casserole
Duchess Potatoes (I used white potatoes)
Cranberry Dipping Sauce
Cornbread, recipe via my roommate (it was amazing)
Pumpkin Gooey Cakes

Our friends also brought over some crazy sugar cookies and some chili dip. There was amazing American Idol Karaoke Revolution stuff going on, a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau and a bottle of Gew├╝rztraminer. I liked the red better.

After 3 glasses or so, I was even crooning.