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Monday, May 31, 2010

A Different Approach

It's been very warm outside the last few days, and due to some prior overindulgent eating, salad sounded like the appropriate replacement. I don't like giving up rich food even in a salad, but still this salad screams fresh vibrant colors and tastes. The salad and side are meatless, yet satisfying with a variety of textures that always makes the palate jump up and down for joy.

It was only last year that I first ate arugula. I know, I know--how could I have made it so long without that natural peppery goodness? The alchemic interaction of sweet cucumber vinaigrette along with the peppery arugula and crunchy carrot strings. Oh and I forgot to add, the rich creaminess of the poached egg resting there rounds out the whole bit.

I have also been thinking about sweet potatoes and weird or unorthodox uses for them lately. Along with the joy brought by going home in July come thoughts of foods I love the most. Hush puppies are usually beaming crispy salty balls of goodness. The onion chunks studded beneath the surface punctuate the orbs, except I was wondering what would happen if you added sweet potato. Donald Link has some fascinating recipes in his "Real Cajun" cookbook, and I used a skeleton of his "Cast-Iron Hush Puppies" recipe to form my Honey Sweet Potato Hush puppies loaded with herbs giving them flashy colors as invigorating as the taste.

Sunny Carrot Arugula Salad
1 carrot, julienned
2 eggs, poached
2 C arugula
2 C baby spinach
1 cucumber peeled and deseeded
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
3 grinds black pepper

 Heat 1 quart canola oil in a heavy bottom skillet until it reaches 325 degrees. Drop a handful of julienned carrot into the oil and cook for about a minute, stirring so that it does not tangle into a ball. Remove when the carrot becomes crisp and just golden.

Place cucumber, mustard, oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until it is a smooth puree. Pour into a fine tipped squirt bottle.

Arrange arugula and spinach in bowls gently placing poached eggs on top and then carrot strings. Drizzle a few stripes of cucumber vinaigrette on top and enjoy.

Honey Sweet Potato Hush puppies

9 green onions
1 jalapeno, deseeded
1/4 C fresh parsley
1/4 C fresh thyme
1 small sweet potato peeled and grated
1 1/4 C yellow cornmeal
1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 T light amber honey
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 C half and half or buttermilk
1 egg

Use oil that is still hot from frying the carrot strings, just heat up to 350 degrees.

Combine first five ingredients and egg in food processor and pulse until ingredients are a bright shamrock green. Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl and then incorporate green ingredients, adding honey and sweet potato.

Drop large metal tablespoonfuls of mix in hot oil and cook about 3 minutes and flip cooking about 3 more minutes on the other side. Hush puppies should be milk chocolate brown and vibrant green with cheddar yellow specks inside. Enjoy while still warm, alongside salad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Comfort Food

Hopefully none of you have this problem, but despite our adoration for the color and flavor that comes with using fresh herbs, we are unable to grow them ourselves for the most part. Mainly because I have black thumb. Plants come into my possession, and their life expectancy declines by 80-90%. Within a few days, they're typically wilted and decorated with increasing brown, black, or yellow tones. I've grown accustomed to this occurrence, so when after two weeks of planting this little guy, I open the door to this, you can imagine my excitement!

But what is it, you ask? On top of my black thumb plaguing our herb ambitions, we also have a very limited space that gets enough sunlight in our small yard. So, in a similar vain to our more adventurous culinary pursuits and purchase, we naturally decide to be adventurous in the herbs chosen to die grow. Who wants to use their tiny 1 x 1 space of sunlight for the parsley or basil available in the store? Nope, what you see pictured is a cutting celery plant, a leafy refreshing herb that provides all the taste of celery in its fresh form, but without the strings! I imagined this particular herb would do wonders to compliment some form of a seafood dish, so out of my competing desires to use it in shrimp & grits or a lobster mac & cheese emerges this summer comfort food.

Lobster Grits & Cheese (serves 2-3)
2 Cups Seafood Stock
1/2 Cup Stone Ground Grits*
3 Tbsp Crumbled Pecorino**
4 oz Langostine Tails
1/2 Tbsp Butter
1 Clove Garlic
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1 Tbsp Chopped Cutting Celery
*Stone ground grits are much coarser than conventional grits bought in the store, and take significantly longer to cook. Be sure to adapt package instructions if using another type.
**A  younger pecorino works best with the fresh tangy taste of the sheeps milk. Preferably one that's less salty, not a romano. 
1. Bring 2 Cups Seafood Stock to a boil. Stir in grits and reduce to a simmer over medium low heat. Partially cover and stir occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom and clumping.Allow to simmer 30-40 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed and grits are creamy in texture.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in small nonstick skillet. Saute garlic and langostine tails. Set aside until grits finish cooking.
3. Once most of the liquid has been absorbed and the grits are creamy in texture, add cheese and sauteed langostine tails. Stir and remove from heat. 
4. Stir in chopped celery. Season with salt an pepper to taste (be sure to be careful and taste as the cheese and stock will alter the saltiness of the dish).

Typically coarser grits are cooked using milk, cream, or lots of butter to really make the creamy texture of the dish shine and really make the dish a warming comfort food. To lighten it up a bit without sacrificing the richer taste, I used a nice seafood stock to improve the flavor profile of the dish.  Paired with a nice summer salad, the rich creamy texture of the grits, tangy refreshing taste of the cheese, and the salty seafood flavor of the dish made a simple and tasty summer dinner.


Just in case you don't believe me about the black thumb, witness the thai basil plant we gleefully purchased at the same time. If you have any gardening tips you'd like to send our way, feel free!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

A French-Italian-American Remix

Our Buitoni pasta dinner went through a lot of revision and "winging it" as I would say. We came up with the tentative menu one night which sounded like a unique spread of Italian-American inflected fare. We (Americans) have a way of turning every cuisine we get our hands on into a kind of morphed offspring. Take Chinese carryout restaurants for example; all around the country they serve food to please the customer which is nothing like what you see them eating if you happen to walk in during their meal time. But, the surge of change causes some helpful and some detrimental alterations, the key being to find the glimmers of beauty in the offspring that looks nothing like the parents but more like a completely different cuisine.

Back to the revisionist theme I began with, I did some research and wanted to use all California wines with dinner to highlight the way Italian immigrants impacted the way California wine is produced today. Instead, after I struck out on the majority of the wines from California we both decided plan B would consist of French wines. I found it rather intriguing when I was looking through George Locatelli's stunning book "Made in Italy" that originally the cuisine consumed by Italian aristocracy was prevalently French for the first few hundred years. The combination of refined French wine to highlight the hybrid rusticity of Italian fare and freshness of American cuisine turned out very well. It was quite an enjoyable evening, and thanks to Buitoni an evening that was not as stressful as it could have been had we handmade all the pasta.

Pasta Nests with a Garlic and Herb infused Olive Oil, paired with Les Jamelles Savignon Blanc.
This is a nifty play on bread used to dip in herbed oil. Instead the crispy pasta stands in the place of the bread. The slight char on the pasta adds depth to the dish makes it harmonize with the acidity of a sauvignon blanc.

For the Herbed Oil
1 pint good Italian olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary
5 sprigs thyme
4 garlic cloves halved
1 T salt
3 grinds black pepper
Add all the ingredients into a carafe without the lid and heat for a minute and a half in the microwave to heat the oil to prod infusion of the herbs. Let rest at least two days for the flavors to become prevalent.

For the Pasta Nests
2 packages Buitoni Fettuccine
olive oil
3 T salt
Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook longer than suggested, about eight minutes, so that the pasta becomes very sticky. Drain the water off and do not rinse in cold water. The starch will help the nests stick together. Bring a heavy skillet to an extremely high temperature and smash a small handful of the cooked pasta as flat a possible to achieve an almost pancake shape. Pour a drop of olive oil into the middle and cook until the noodles are slightly charred. Flip to cook the other side. Remove and repeat to make about 12-15.

To Serve, pass around a platter full of nests and a carafe of the herbed oil. Pour glasses of the chilled sauvignon blanc, and begin enjoying the meal. The Les Jamelles we choose had a particularly tart  acidity with a long lemony finish. The tartness balanced the slight char on the nests particularly well, and the lemony aftertaste really made first the fruitiness, and then the herbed taste of the oil come through.
Sweet Pea and Prosciutto Pasta Salad paired with Drouhin Laforet's 2008 Chardonnay
The vibrant green colors of the salad and light, fresh taste of the pasta, pesto, and buttermilk cheese really made this a refreshing, colorful, and easy to prepare dish for our guests to enjoy.

For the Assembled Salad you will need:
1 Large Package of Buitoni's Whole Wheat Chicken and Prosciutto Ravioli
1 Recipe Sweet Pea Pesto (recipe below)
1 Recipe Buttermilk Ricotta (recipe below)
2 Cups Fresh Spinach
1/2 Cup Fresh Arugula
1/2 Cup Chopped Prosciutto for Garnish

for the Sweet Pea Pesto:
2 Cups Green Peas (frozen works well)
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Loose Fresh Baby Spinach
3 or 4 Leaves of Fresh Arugula
 Zest from half of one Lemon
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tsp Balsamic Vinegar (white wine vinegar would work well also)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1. In a medium sized saucepan, simmer peas in water until thoroughly warmed and they begin to soften. Remove pan from heat. 
2. Add 1/2 cup peas, spinach, arugula, lemon, olive oil, and balsamic to blender and puree until smooth. *Always be careful blending things that are warm.* When smooth, add reaming peas and blend again, adding some of the water the peas were cooked in, 1 tbsp at a time to achieve desired consistency. 
3. When the pesto is thick, but not chunky, remove from blender and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator. Can be prepared a day ahead. 

for the Buttermilk Ricotta:
1 Gallon whole buttermilk
1/2 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 T sel de gris salt
Pour milk into a large thick bottomed pot and heat, stirring constantly for about an hour or until milk just boils and has reduced about one third. Add lemon juice and take off heat, stirring for about three minutes. Pour into cheesecloth over a colander over a bowl. The whey can be saved to make some excellent bread or pancakes or many other uses.  Let the ricotta drain for three hours, after which time you can squeeze the ball to wring out any more juices and place in a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. The ricotta will keep between three and four days.
This fresh cheese will add some zing to a wide range of dishes from an accompaniment to dessert or wine, to salads, or a willing topper for crostini. But, if not preparing your own Ricotta, add Juice from 1/2 Lemon to the Pea Pesto, and substitute with traditional ricotta.
To Assemble Dish: Prepare Chicken and Prosciutto according to package directions. Once drained, quickly toss pasta in Pea Pesto to coat. Place a handful of spinach and a few leaves Arugula on each plate. Top with a few raviolis, prosciutto, buttermilk ricotta. Open chilled Chardonnay, and serve. Be sure to choose a Chardonnay that is not overly sweet and fruity. A Burgundian style Chardonnay like Drouhin Laforet's paired nice as it was rich, but not heavy, and lightly fruity. A few of our guests who weren't big fans of Chardonnay in general really enjoyed this particular selection. The flavor profile matched the earthiness of the spinach, the buttery flavor of the ravioli, the tang of the cheese, and the hint of sweetness in the pesto exceptionally well.

Blistered Corn and Roasted Tomato Soup with Spicy Beef and Sausage Ravioli, paired with Chateau du Donjon Minervois wine, a Grenache and Syrah blend.
One thing that distinguishes American cuisine from the Italian and French influences shaping our dinner, is our use of the many versatile flavor profiles, uses, and textures created using corn. As a play on this, we came up with this dish as a sweet and slightly spicy pairing with Buitoni's spicy beef and sausage ravioli.

For the Assembled Soup you will need:
2 Packages Buitoni Spicy Beef and Sausage Ravioli
Roasted Tomato Soup (Recipe Below)
Blistered Corn Soup (Recipe Below)
1/2 Lb Mild Italian Sausage

for the Roasted Tomato Soup:
1-1/2 Lbs Fresh Tomatoes
1/2 Small Onion
1/2 Cup Water
1 Roasted Red Pepper
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1. Use Canola Oil to coat large cast iron skillet. Place skillet over moderately high heat. 
2. Core and quarter tomatoes. Quarter onion half. Once skillet is extremely hot. Place tomatoes and onion in skillet, stirring occasionally. Continuing cooking until tomatoes and onions are covered in brown and black spots. 
3. Working quickly, remove tomatoes and onion from skillet and place in blender. Before skillet cools, place 1/2 cup water in, scrapping blackened remains of tomato and onions. Reserve liquid. 
4. Once tomato and onion mixture has cooled slightly, add roasted red pepper, and blend thoroughly, adding reserved liquid to achieve desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.
*Can be prepared the day before and reheated before serving.

for the Blistered Corn Soup:
6-7 Ears Fresh Sweet Corn
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
2 Tbsp Minced Onion
1/2 Cup Water or Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1. Remove kernels from corn and place in bowl.
2. Use Canola Oil to coat large cast iron skillet. Place skillet over high heat. 
3. Once skillet is extremely hot, add corn, stirring quickly initially to coat for 1 minute. 
4. Add a dash of salt and pepper and minced onions, and continuing stirring every 3-4 minutes until corn develops brown and black spots.
5. Working quickly, remove corn and onion mixture from skillet and place in blender. Before skillet cools, place 1/2 cup water in, scrapping blackened remains. Reserve liquid. 
6. Once corn has cooled slightly, reserve 1/2 cup corn kernels for garnish. Blend remaining corn and onion mixture until smooth, adding reserved liquid to achieve desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.
*Can be prepared the day before and reheated before serving.

To Assemble: Brown mild italian sausage while bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Once water is boiling, prepare Buitoni Spicy Beef and Sausage per directions. Meanwhile, once sausage has browned, remove skillet and place on paper towels to drain. Once you finished cooking the pasta, drain, and toss with browned sausage. Reheat tomato and corn soups if needed. Spoon a few tablespoons each soup base on bottom of the plate or bowl. Top with three or four raviolis, a little extra sausage, and reserved corn. Serve with a bold but fruity wine that pairs well with smoky mildly spiced dishes, such as a grenache or a syrah. We choose a Minervois wine for our French wine theme, which was a blend of the two with charred wood and blackberry notes that complimented the pasta and sauces quite well.
Roman Oxtail Ragu paired with La Bastide Blanche Bandol 

The richness of the oxtails play well with the braised veggies and mushrooms to become a silky whole laced with red wine sauce and juices from the meat. 

Roman Oxtail Ragu
5 lb oxtails
4 pieces thick cut bacon, cut into one inch squares
1 bottle cab/ Merlot wine (the blend works well here, but a 100% Merlot would work)
1 can tomato paste
1 carrot peeled and diced
12 oz. cremini mushrooms and stems, caps quartered and stems halved
2 stalks celery finely diced
1 medium yellow onion finely diced
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 large bay leaf
1 chuck of carrot peeled and studded with 10 whole cloves 
4 T hickory smoked sea salt
2 Packages Buitoni Fettuccine  

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Saute the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and bacon in a large thick bottomed pot until the onions are translucent and the bacon had rendered its fat. Scoop out vegetables and leave as much bacon fat as possible to brown the oxtails all over, sprinkling some of the salt on them. Spread the removed ingredients back over the oxtails and spread the tomato paste all over the tops of the vegetables. Pour the bottle of wine over all the ingredients and add the rest of the salt, cinnamon stick, the clove studded carrot, and bay leaf. Move the pot to the oven and cook covered for three and a half hours, checking one hour into the cooking time to add the mushrooms. Pull meat from the bones with a fork and serve with the juices, vegetables, and mushrooms. Discard the bay leaf, clove studded carrot, and cinnamon stick. This dish improves overnight, and can be refrigerated and reheated over low heat.
To serve, prepare Buitoni Fettuccine per directions. Divide preheated ragu in bowls and top with fettuccine. Add an additional sprinkle of smoked sea salt if desired. Serve with a rich, robust and dry red that can stand up with the flavors of the ragu and the buttery noodles.

Frozen Savory Duet featuring Fried Four Cheese Ravioli, Garlic Sorbet, and a Cab Shallot Granita, paired with Pierre Chermet's Beaujolais.

This was an exceptionally fun dish to prepare, and one that I have no doubts will surprise and delight your guests.  

For the Assembled Dish you will need:
1 Package Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli
Garlic Sorbet (Recipe Below)
Cabernet Shallot Granita (Recipe Below)
Oil For Frying 

For the Garlic Sorbet
Cloves from 5 heads of garlic (60-70)
1 Cup Water, divided
8 Tbsp Simple Syrup
1/4 Tsp Salt
Zest from 1/2 Lemon
1. Alternating between two pots of boiling water, blanch garlic 6 times. To blanch the garlic, once water is boiling, add garlic, and allow to cook until water returns to a boil. Immediatley remove, drain, and submerge into ice cold water. Drain again, and repeat. 
2. Place garlic and 1/2 cup water into a blender and puree until smooth. Pass mixture through a fine mesh sieve, discarding any solids. Add remaining water, simple syrup, salt, and lemon zest and mix well. 
3. Refrigerate 2-4 hours until thoroughly chilled. 
4. Add to ice cream maker and follow directions.  

For the Cab Shallot Granita: 
2 Bottles (750 mL) of a Cabernet Sauvignon. 
3 Shallots,  chopped
1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Cup Simple Syrup
1.  Heat oil in bottom of heavy bottomed large saucepan or stockpot. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are browned. Add enough of the wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrap the bottom. Remove from heat.
2. Add remaining wine to pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once mixture reaches a full boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about an hour, until the wine is reduced by half.
3. Once reduced, remove from heat, and pour through a strainer, reserving shallot pieces. Add the simple syrup to the wine mixture, and stir to incorporate.  
4. Puree shallot (using some of the wine mixture if needed), until smooth. Add to wine mixture and mix thoroughly. 
5. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before covering. Once cooled, cover, and place in a freezer. 
6. Check every 2-3 hours, using a fork to stir and break up frozen pieces. Continue until frozen throughout, about 12 hours.

To prepare: Heat oil for frying in electric fryer. While oil is heating, remove Buitoni four cheese pasta from package, and using a fork prick at least once, all the way through the pasta to prevent them from exploding (trust me on this one). Once oil is heated between 350 and 375 F, begin adding pasta, leaving enough room for them to move around. Once pastas are a rich brown color on both sides, remove and place on paper towels to drain. Place two or three generous spoonfuls of the granita, and one or two spoonfuls of the garlic sorbet in a dish. Add three or four raviolis, and serve. You have several wine options with this particularly dish. An easy pairing would be a cab that would compliment (or be identical to) the one used to prepare the sorbet. We chose a beaujolais to pair with it since we would be transitioning to a dessert course next, and thought the beaujolais would be a fun pairing to complement the play of flavors and textures going on in this dish.  

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta paired with Caves De L'Angevine 2009 Rose D'Anjou

Although we briefly considered leaving the previous course as our dessert, in the long run we decided the sharp salty cheese edge to the ravioli, and our "trick" in the garlic sorbet may not be the best ending. Or, we just wanted to have another dessert. And open another bottle of wine. Since we had given our guests quite the carb heavy meal, I choose a vanilla bean panna cotta as the light tasting finish to the meal.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry and Cherry Sauce
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
4 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
2/3 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans
1 Pint Fresh Strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 Cup Fresh Cherries, stems removed, pitted, and halved.
1. In a small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Heat  mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved and remove pan from heat.
2. In a large saucepan bring cream, half and half, and sugar just to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring.
3. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture. Divide cream mixture among ten martini glasses or other dishes, and cool to room temperature. Chill dishes, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight. 
4. Place rinsed strawberries and cherries in saucepan over medium low heat. Once strawberries and cherries begin to soften and give up juices, using a potato masher, begin to mash (carefully) in the pan. Allow to continue to cook until juices begin to reduce and thicken. Remove from pan, and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in covered container, and refrigerate until ready to use.

To Serve: Remove panna cotta from fridge, top with a spoonful of strawberry cherry sauce, and serve. The panna cotta was a perfect, refreshing ending to our meal, and like the rest of the meal, required minimum time in the kitchen and could all be made in advance. The strawberry cherry sauce added a very lightly sweet fruity note to the dessert that was brought out even more by the rose we chose to pair with the final course. Unlike many of the roses you find, the Rose D'Anjou was not overly sweet and even our non-Rose fans in the room approved, and enjoyed.

Using Buitoni's pasta and choosing dishes that were prepared almost entirely in advance helped make our dinner a relaxing evening. Other than having to boil water before they arrived and plate a few dishes during the meal, we were able to spend the majority of our time with our guests and willing taste testers. 


**Legal Disclaimer; as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, we received coupons to create dishes using Buitoni's pasta. All opinions reflected in the post indicate our personal opinions and those of our guests of both these dishes and wine suggestions.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Wild Side of Hummus

Hummus is definitely an under-appreciated condiment, if you will, in the United States. Call it opinion or upbringing, but I had never tried the stuff growing up. Not that we disliked it, chickpeas were an occasional part of our diet; hummus was just as foreign a substance in my household as grits are in the average Midwest establishment. The idea of a bean dip being so utterly delicious and versatile is a continuing revelation that I am glad to partake in.

Hummus purists may stone me for saying it, but here goes. The more I tinker and blend the concoction the more convinced I become that chickpeas and tahini are not essential ingredients. Ok, I got that off my chest and am now ready to talk some serious blasphemy. These hummeses were created with the mindset that to break the mold is a good thing. Getting a little radical and funky is what good food is all about. Not that these are Wylie Dufresne bizarre, but they are certainly not combos to be found in a market and that is definitely the point of good food. These party pleasers or snacking gems are so tasty you will wonder why you have never used some of these under-appreciated peas for some now appreciated dips.

Smoky Blackbean Jalapeno Hummus
This dish may sound more familiar than the others, but believe me the hickory smoked sea salt is a real incredible thing with the meaty turtle beans. This would also make a killer burrito topper.

1 can black beans drained
2 garlic cloves
2 jalapenos halved and de-seeded
1/2 C olive oil 
1 tsp. hickory smoked sea salt

*2 pieces bacon, crisped and crumbled

Puree ingredients thoroughly and check consistency which may vary according to bean. Add a splash more olive oil if needed. Crumble bacon on and enjoy with sesame crackers or chips.

Black-eyed Pea Verde Hummus
The citrusy tang of the salsa verde really marries well with the earthiness of the peas and cumin. If you are not accustomed to eating black-eyed peas now is the perfect opportunity.

1 can black-eyed peas drained
1/2 C. salsa verde (or 1 tomatillo and a squeeze of lime juice)
1 garlic clove
1/4 C. olive oil, may vary
1 small shallot 
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sel de gris salt
Puree ingredients thoroughly and add a little more salt or a grind of pepper to taste. Garnish with a dollop of salsa verde and a sprinkle of cumin. Enjoy with sesame crackers or tortilla chips.

Butterbean Pimento Cheese Hummus
This version is where it gets radical. Dawn was unsure of using cheese but the end result is delicious. It is a hybrid between cheese dip and hummus with added creaminess from the butterbeans and just enough spice from the pimentos.
1 can butterbeans drained
1 4 oz. can pimentos drained, reserving some for garnishing
6 oz. colby cheese
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

Puree until ingredients become a smooth creamy cheddar orange. Sprinkle a few pimentos on top for garnish and enjoy. This dip goes excellent with saltine crackers, chips, or as a spread.

2 Sesame Crackers
These crackers really pop from the duo of good sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. They accompany dip perfectly and won't last long after they are baked if there is anyone in the kitchen.

1 large egg
1 1/2 T. water
3/4 C. all purpose flour
3/4 C. white wheat whole flour
1 T. sugar
1/2 T. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 stick of cold butter chopped
2 T. toasted white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl until fully incorporated. Cut butter into dry ingredients until clumpy sand consistency. Add egg and stir until incorporated without overdoing it. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into squares with fork prick marks or cut into circles and bake for 17-22 minutes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Triumphant Return

It's amazing how even just a small break can make you miss the blogging world so much. Although I was able to browse a few blogs and comment while I was preparing for my exam, it was not nearly as much as I would have liked. Not to mention it has been quite literally a month since my last post. Luckily, Daniel was able to carry a good bit of the blogging load so we didn't completely loose touch. But how some of you blog everyday or every other day by yourselves I have no idea, kudos to you. But after weeks of reading, writing, editing, having mini breakdowns, etc. etc.,  I can assure you from experience that this is a wonderful ice cream treat to take a second and unwind with.

Perhaps just by coincidence, the few blogs I was able to browse the last few weeks all featured or mentioned using rhubarb in some interesting way. I'd never had rhubarb. Never had any desire to have rhubarb. I kind of have a strong texture discomfort with cooked soggy fruit. Even though rhubarb is technically a vegetable, since texture seems to be the biggest turn off for most people when it comes to this elusive tart pink stalk, I had stayed far away. But, when I cam across not one, but two recipes for chilled rhubarb treats in a cookbook and on one of my favorite blogs, I couldn't help but give it a try. Unfortunately, both called for rose water however, and as much as I procrastinate, a trip across town was not possible at the moment. Instead, I elected to make not one, but two ice creams. One tart and tangy  rhubarb concoction, and one sweet perfumed lavender concoction. 

Rhubarb and Lavender Swirl Ice Cream
For the Rhubarb:
2 Cups Rhubarb cut into 1 inch slices
2 Tbsp Salted Butter
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 tsp Almond Extract
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1. Place everything except the heavy cream and buttermilk into a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat, allow rhubarb to simmer until soft, but still holding its shape, about 10-15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat. Crush rhubarb pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Combine rhubarb with heavy cream and buttermilk. Chill in refrigerator at least six hours.
3. Freeze according to ice cream maker directions.
For the Lavender:
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Whole Milk or Half and Half for a slightly more decadent dessert
1/3 Cup Honey
1 Tbsp Dried Lavender Flowers
1. Place all ingredients in medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer and continually stir until mixture begins to thicken, 15-20 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve to remove lavender flowers. Chill in refrigerator at least 6 hours. Freeze according to ice cream maker directions.

To combine
1. Once prepared, place rhubarb ice cream in container, preferably wider than taller for better effect.
2.While the lavender ice cream is preparing, soften the rhubarb ice cream so it will mix well.
3. Once the lavender is complete, gently place lavender atop the rhubarb mixture. With a small spatula or knife, swirl the two ice creams much as you would when you marble a cake.
4. Freeze for a few hours to set. 

For mine, the lavender ice cream was a barely tinted white, so the colored swirl did not show quite as much. You could optionally include a few drops of food coloring to achieve a better swirl effect if you would like.
The ice cream itself is a rewarding experience exciting different tastes as it dances across the palate. To offset a little of its decadent creaminess, I brought made some almond cornmeal short bread cookies to pair with it, but you could use any slightly less sweet, crunch cookie to pair well.

Nonetheless, this is the type of ice cream that demands you stop, relax, and enjoy it for just a little while. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Taste of the Nation and Thinking of Italy

I am sure you have noticed that we have yet to announce a winner to the Taste of the Nation event coming up in about a month and a half. We have contacted a couple bloggers who were chosen as winners and they are unable to attend, therefore it is up to you. The first person who emails me at wins the ticket to Taste of the Nation in Philly ( June 21. Good luck and we can not wait to find out the lucky winner.

 Also on Dawn and my mind as of late is what we will be preparing for the Buitoni Foodbuzz Dinner coming up later this month. And that sets my mind on Italian food, gondolas, Vatican city, and other bizarre and tasty artifacts only originating in Italy. You know that my cooking if far from straight-lined with a veering toward outlandish fusion and rarely sticking to the flavor profiles and ingredients of a central area. It is the child in a candy shop affect, what can I say. My mind starts running wild through ingredients that would tasty heavenly in a dish and then the Aristotelian logic side says that ingredient has nothing to do with said dish. Back and forth they go sometimes like bad step children until one- usually the tougher more agile creative side says why not use shiitake mushrooms in a summer dish of sauteed rapini and orechiette and while you are at it place some fried zucchini strings on top for the added crunch.

That is the dish I am sharing today, and one that is quite simple and tasty. Orrechiete, those whimsical ears seem the proper pasta shape for spring eating anchored by the indecisive rapini and hyper fried zucchini strings. It is a dish to sweep away the doldrums of this Midwest cold front and bring to mind Venetian canals, San Marzano's, or whatever comes to mind when you think of that wild boot shaped country.

Spring Orecchiette with Rapini and Zucchini Strings
12 oz. orecchiette
2 T anchovy paste or 2 to 3 anchovy fillets
4 cloves garlic crushed
1/2 tsp fish sauce
2 T butter melted
1/2 red pepper julienned
1 bunch rapini
4 fresh shiitakes sliced and browned
4 T olive oil (plus 1 for sauteing)
1 zucchini julienned
1 C canola or peanut oil for frying
all purpose flour for dredging
salt and rep pepper flakes to taste

Cook orecchiette according to manufacturers instructions and set aside. Blanch rapini for one minute in boiling pasta liquid then saute it, garlic, and rep pepper in heavy skillet over medium high heat with one tablespoon oil for 3 to 4 minutes and remove from skillet. Dry skillet and cook mushrooms for about 5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Dredge zucchini strings shaking excess flour off. Heat canola oil in cast iron skillet until it reaches 350 degrees and drop zucchini strings in stirring frequently for 2 minutes to keep them from becoming a zucchini ball. Place on paper towels or newspaper and sprinkle on kosher salt. Combine oil, butter, a splash of pasta water, and anchovy paste well and toss with pasta and veggies. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, about 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt and nearly a tablespoon of red pepper flakes. Top with zucchini strings and enjoy with a nice zinfandel.