Friday, December 18, 2009

Homemade ketchup, salty chocolate bark and baby pies!

The holidays are definitely upon us and I'm still loving all of the baking and crafting I'm getting to do in order to get all of the Christmas gifts ready. This week was a bit of a whirlwind as I am preparing to head out of town for almost three weeks on a camper van odyssey up the California-Oregon-Washington border to spend some well deserved time with my family.

 However, I did manage to squeeze in making a few sweet treats to give away...including individual apple pies and the easiest salty pecan chocolate bark you ever did see. I also made some homemade ketchup to go on some tourtiere (Quebecer-speak for meat pie) that I had made and that turned out quite well, though I wouldn't call it a holiday gift as someone might look at you sideways if you handed them a jar of ketchup and said "Merry Christmas!"

Nothing like homemade ketchup to say Happy Holidays!

The ketchup was quite easy though, if you have a food processor or solid blender that is. All I did was roast the ingredients together (unpeeled), peel them when they were done, through them in the food processor with some vinegar and sugar and voila! See the complete recipe below.

The chocolate bark was completely inspired by my friend Jessica's cooking adventures and she made these for holiday treats. She got such great reviews on it that I decided to make some this year. This recipe is quite possibly the easiest recipe this side of making toast. Plus, the results are absolutely gorgeous! It is even easier if you buy the pecans already roasted and salted, because you take that step out of the process.

Salty Pecan Chocolate Bark - no easier gift this year...

Lastly, no, I am not obsessed with apples. I happen to have tons of them from my CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture) and since I'm going away for almost three weeks, I wanted to use a bunch of them up. I figured I'd make mini apple pies and give them to friends for a nice holiday surprise. Using a very simple crust recipe and the french style crust (place your filling in the middle and fold up the sides to provide structure, these treats were whipped up in a snap (literally between coming home from work and going out to dinner). Wrap them in a rustic cloth and tie it with a ribbon and you've got a lovely favor.

These pies made tasty and attractive gifts.

Though this may be it for holiday gift ideas (I'm not sure yet...) stay tuned for some eating, drinking and cooking adventures up north in jolly (and tasty) Seattle!


5 minute (plus chilling) Chocolate Bark
makes 1 large cookie sheet

12oz bittersweet chocolate, either chips or baking bars cut into 8 pieces
12oz white chocolate, either chips or baking bars cut into 8 pieces
3/4 - 1 cup pecans - if you get them pre-roasted, you won't have to do that step yourself.
1 tsp sea salt

*if you don't have roasted pecans, roast them on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, stirring at least once. Keep an eye on these as burnt pecan don't taste good!

- preheat oven to 175 degrees
- distribute the chocolates alternatively on a parchment-lined cookie sheet so that there are pockets of brown and pockets of white (if using chips, make these pockets up with small handfulls of them).
- bake chocolate for 5-10 minutes (take it out as soon as the chips have melted)
- using a fork, swirl the chocolates together
- sprinkle pecans on top (pressing down slightly on them if you like)
- sprinkle sea salt over the entire bark
- chill in the fridge until hard (at least 4 hours)
- remove from fridge and break into pieces

Mini Apple Pies
makes 6

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 stick (16 tbsp) butter, cubed and chilled
8-10 Tbsp ice water

6-8 apples
6 Tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp brown sugar

- Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.
- Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until the butter is about the size of peas.
- Add 8 Tbsp of ice water and pulse until the dough comes together (you may need to add more water) into a ball.
- divide the dough into 6 pieces and flatten into disks and chill at least one hour, but over night is good too.

- peel and slice the apples.
- in a heavy skillet, melt the butter and add the apples, sugar and cinnamon - saute until golden.

- on a floured surface, roll out the dough disks until about 1/4 inch.
-place about a cup of apple slices in the middle of each crust and fold the edges up to keep the pie contained.

- Bake the pies for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
- Cool for at least 60 minutes before wrapping.

Homemade Ketchup
makes 1 pint

10 large tomatoes
2 onions
4 gloves garlic
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp salt (depends on taste)

(you can add oregano, basic, allspice and cayenne if you like)

Ketchup ingredients, fresh out of the oven    

- place the tomatoes, onions and garlic on a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes (remove the garlic after 15 minutes) - until the tomatoes split.
- Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle them without burning yourself.
- peel the tomatoes, onions and garlic and process them in the food processor until saucy.
- put the sauce into a heavy medium saucepan, add sugar, salt, vinegar and desired spices.
- cook down over medium heat for about 15 minutes (this will bubble and splatter so make sure you have something to cover your pot with).
- once you have your desired consistency, you can keep the ketchup for three weeks in an airtight container or can it for later use.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Butter and Bacon Make Everything Better

As promised, I have been diligently working on my homemade holiday gifts this weekend and I wanted to share a few of them. My friend Athena came up for a little R&R and went to work making homemade marshmallows, bacon ice cream and bath scrub (I know, not edible, but I thought I'd share anyway).

I dipped these marshmallows in melted chocolate, topped them with a
salted pecan and sprinkled sea salt over them - to die for.

The marshmallows were so easy that I'm pretty sure I'll never buy the store-bought kind again. They were also way tastier and you can do all sorts of fun things with them (including adding liquor - you won't find those at your typical grocery store...). The only thing with them was that they needed two ingredients that I don't normally stock - gelatin and corn syrup (I really try and stay away from the stuff!) so that did require a special trip to the store. However, with a stand mixer, they take no time at all, albeit are a bit messy.

Whipping the mallow... and the finished much better than store-bought

Now the bacon ice cream was pretty much amazing, though very subtle in the bacon department. It could definitely have handled a bit more bacon. The base flavor is brown sugar and you mix in caramalized pieces of bacon. Yum! I think that if you made little ice cream balls with this, poked a popsicle stick in them and dipped them in chocolate and refroze you would have yourself a real dinner party winner.

Bacon caramelizing...                          The finished (awesome) product!

Lastly, the bath scrub - SO EASY and this stuff costs so dang much when you buy it! All it is is a mix of sugar, sea salt, epsom salt, a little essential oil and some carrier oil - olive, sunflower, almond and walnut all work well. you mix it together and plop it in some glass jars and you have yourself a beautiful holiday gift.

 Rose and ylang ylang body scrub - 
I'm never buying this in a store again, too easy to make!

Next week I'm hoping to have time to make some chocolate bark and some other goodies - until then - happy eating!


Homemade Marshmallows

nonstick cooking spray

1 cup cold water divided in two halves
3 x 1/4oz packets of gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar
optional: substitute 3-5 Tbsp kahlua, almond, lemon or other flavoring for some of the water*
Athena with mallow hands...scary   

-Line a 13x9x2 in pan with wax paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray
- pour 1/2 cup of water into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the gelatin and let sit for 15 minutes (until all of the gelatin is           
absorbed). (*this is where you would substitute your flavoring) 
-Combine 2 cups of sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/2 cup of water into a heavy saucepan. Stir at med-low heat until the sugar is dissolved brushing the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.
- Bring to a boil without stirring for 8 minutes.
- With the mixer running at low speed, pour in the hot sugar mix into the gelatine, in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Gradually increase the speed and whip at high for 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to incorporate (30 sec.)
- Scrape mix into the prepared pan, making sure the wet your spatula (and hands!) with cold water to keep it from sticking and know that you wont get everything out of the bowl because a layer will stick there.
- leave out, uncovered for at least 4 hours (it's ok to leave it out over night).
- Cover your work surface with powdered sugar and turn the marshmallow out onto it. Remove the waxed paper and sift more powdered sugar onto that side. Cover a knife with cooking spray and cut mallow into 1 inch x 1 inch squares (or any shape you desire). Toss in powdered sugar to coat and shake off excess.
- They will keep in an air tight container separated by parchment paper for up to two weeks.

*** a great party trick to do with these is dip them in melted chocolate and roll them in graham cracker crumbs with a toothpick for a stem. You've got a little bite of s'more right there.

Brown Sugar Bacon Ice Cream

7 Strips of good quality bacon (think cut = yum)
3 Tbsp brown sugar

For custard:

5 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp salted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 cups half and half, divided
2 tsp whiskey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

The ice cream maker - making magic        
- Set oven to 400 degrees
- place the bacon on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle the two tbsp of brown sugar between the 7 pieces.
- place them in the oven for 12-15 minutes,   
flipping the bacon mid way through. They should be a deep brown when they're ready.
- transfer to a cooling rack until crispy and candied. Cut into small strips or pieces.

for the custard:
- melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the brown sugar and half of the half and half. Once fully dissolved take off the heat and let cool slightly.
- Pour the remaining half and half into a bowl sitting in an ice bath.
- In another bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Add a small amount of the warm brown sugar mix to it and stir well. Add a little bit more and then add all of the brown sugar mix - you do this so as not to cook the egg yolk.
- Pour it all back into the sauce pan. Stir over moderate heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Then, using a fine-mesh strainer, pour into the chilled half and half. Add liquor and vanilla and stir until cool.
- place the mixture in the fridge until thoroughly chilled.
- Pour into your ice cream maker and follow manufacterer's directions, add the bacon bits five minutes before chilling cycle is finished. Place in freezer until firm.
- Serve by itself or with a warm chocolate sauce!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turkey time and coming soon...Holiday goodies!

Well, it's four days after Turkey day and I'm still obscenely full! It was awesome, an entire, uninterrupted day of cooking followed by a lovely evening (and following day) of eating, drinking and good folks. I tried a new turkey recipe this year and I've gotta say it was my favorite turkey (recipe below) I've ever made and it was SO easy, no basting, no burning, no nothing. It was one of those things where you did a minimal amount of prep work and shoved it in the oven and then just forgot about it.

The skin on this bird tasted heavenly! I guess that's what covering it in butter will do!

This year I definitely overcompensated for the lack of leftovers last year and bought a bird that was so big, each person had THREE pounds allotted to them!!! Yep, I said three. Needless to say, there were lots of leftovers, which I've been savoring in a number of tasty ways. One of my favorites has been the turkey quesadilla - as simple as spreading some grated cheese on a corn (or flour) tortilla, placing a few pieces of turkey on top, sprinkling that with a little dried oregano and a little more cheese, another tortilla and then a quick shot in the pan on both sides. So yummy, especially with a little salsa and sour cream.

This is only a third of our turkey - no joke! So moist!

Another good (and healthy) way to use up some of those leftovers is in a nice salad. A few mixed greens, some choice pieces of turkey, a bit of goat cheese and some almonds and dried cranberries keep the dream that is Thanksgiving alive (all week long since it's what I've been having for lunch).

One of the best thing about Thanksgiving is the leftovers! This salad is so good...

Alright, stay tuned throughout December for a month full of homemade gifts that you can use to stuff stockings or your family's mouths. This year I'm going to be making homemade granola, lemon curd, and many other fun things...


Perfect Roast Turkey

1 Whole Turkey (any weight works with this recipe really)
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 Tbsp rosemary, finely minced
2 lemons, cut in half
4 rosemary sprigs
3 tablespoons salt (preferably kosher) plus more for seasoning
pepper to taste

- Move the oven rack to the lowest level and set the oven to 325 degrees
- Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey, rinse it off and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Melt the stick of butter and the minced rosemary together.
- Using your hands, gently separate the skin of the turkey from the meat. Using your fingers, spread 2/3 of the rosemary butter under the skin of the bird.
- salt and pepper the cavity of the bird and place the lemon halves and rosemary sprigs inside.
- Place the bird in a roasting pan and brush the skin with the remaining 1/3 of the herb butter.

- rain the bird with salt (roughly three tablespoons) and tent with tinfoil
- Cook a 10-12 lb bird for about 2 hours at 325 degrees and add 15 minutes per lb for a larger bird (i.e. 4 hours for a 20 lb bird)
- At this point, crank the oven heat up to 425 degrees remove the foil and cook for another hour.
- The bird is ready when the juices run clear and the thickest part of the breast reads at 180 degrees.
- Let sit for at least 15 minutes before carving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving mash AND a Sunday Supper - Two-for-one Special!

 Today I'm giving a two-for-one special - a double whammy so to speak. I wanted to share my favorite new mashed "potato" recipe since some sort of mashed is a must have on Thanksgiving, and also get back in the swing of doing the Sunday Supper posts. So, I created a menu around the mashers than is easy, relatively quick and perfect for the Sunday Table.

 Mashing on the Light Side: These mashed potatoes are great because they're smooth and creamy like any cream and butter-filled version would be, but they are mush less heavy and starchy due to the addition of cauliflower. Cauliflower is in season throughout the winter, so great for mashing under the hearty stews and heavy meals we crave in colder weather. I don't love doing the cauliflower on its own because the water content is a little high and so it's kind of baby-foody, but mixed in a 1 to 1 ratio with potatoes it's perfect.

Bacon pieces on top make for an elegant presentation

I also add some garlic, thyme, bacon and goat cheese. These four wonderous ingredients round out the dish to make an awesome mash that can stand alone or accompany a more subtle main dish.

To go with my mashers I made some Toad in the Hole which is a relic of my childhood and so much yummier than it sounds. My mother, being Scottish and this being a British staple, would make this often on Sundays, much to our delight. It's essentially sausages cooked in a Yorkshire Pudding (Americans call this popover dough) crust.

Toad in the Hole!

For the veggie accompaniment we had an arugula and roasted squash salad, recipe thanks to Lindsey - which perfectly incorporated seasonal arugula and butternut squash into a salad that could easily stand on its own.

Any of these recipes could have been the highlight of the meal, but together they make a great feast that makes you forget that tomorrow is Monday and you'll have to go back to work!

Sunday Supper #2


Alelia's Creamy Bacon Mashers
serves 4-6

4 large Russet potatoes, in one inch pieces
1 small or 1/2 of a large head of cauliflower, roughly cut into large pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 strips bacon
1/2 - 3/4 cup goat cheese
1 Tbsp thyme
1 cup milk (any percent)
salt & pepper

- Combine the potatoes and cauliflower in a pot of water and boil until tender (about 10 - 15min)
- Meanwhile, cut the bacon into half inch pieces and fry in a pan until crispy, set aside.
- Drain potatoes and cauliflower, return to pot.
- Using a wand blender or beaters, blend the potatoes and cauliflower while adding the milk. When pretty much smooth, add the goat cheese and thyme and continue blending.
- Stir in the bacon bits, leaving some for garnishing on top if you desire.
- Salt & pepper to taste.

Toad in the Hole
serves 4 (with some leftovers for Monday!)

1 stick of butter

6 Good quality sausages (I like Italian, but any flavor will do)
1 cup of flour
1 1/4 cup of milk
3 large eggs
pinch of salt

springs of fresh rosemary, thyme or sage

- Heat oven to 475 degrees
- Mix together flour, milk, eggs and salt. Make sure to remove as many lumps as possible. Set aside.
- Place butter in a large, oven proof dish, let heat until fully melted and beginning to turn brown (don't let get too brown!!!)
- Add sausages carefully to the butter, they will sizzle and spit, so be careful. After a few seconds, turn the sausages to brown the other side. Return to the oven until light golden color - about 5-7 minutes.
- Carefully pour the batter atop the sausage and return to oven. DON'T open the oven for at least 20 minutes (Yorkshire Puddings can be finicky)!
- When the dough has risen around the sausages and is a deep golden color, it's ready.
-  Let rest 5 minutes before serving as it will be very hot.

Arugula, Squash and Goat Cheese Salad
serves 4-6

1 small butternut squash
l - 2 large bunches of arugula
2 oz of goat cheese
1 cup candied pecans
1 shallot
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
Salt & Pepper to taste

- Set oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half and deseed. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Roast for about 35 minutes, or until very tender.
- In a small saucepan, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and saute the shallots until translucent. Add the cider, vinegar and sugar and cook down to about half the original volume. Add salt & pepper to taste.
- In a large salad bowl, add the arugula, chunks of squash, crumbled goat cheese, and pecans.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stuffing and Sauce - It Ain't Thanksgiving Without 'Em

The Thanksgiving joy continues this week as I keep going down my list of T-day staples. Tonight I made two of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, in preparation for a potluck at work. I have made both of these items the same way for years and even though I always think about changing it up and trying something new, I keep coming back to the same old staples. I mean, why change something that works, right?

The stuffing is essentially a combination of all of my favorite fall flavors. Apples, sausage, sage, fresh baked bread, orange juice, walnut and of course, because I'm from Quebec, maple syrup. It's a very simple stuffing to make and a lot of the ingredients can be interchanged for other items you might have in your pantry, in case you're like me and you dread going to the store. For example, tonight I was out of walnuts, so I substitutes some hazelnuts I had on hand.

The fall harvest makes an awesome stuffing...

The cranberry sauce is another old standby. I love all things tart, so naturally cranberry sauce is up there on my list of favorites. I like to liven it up however with some raspberries and a little bit of orange flavor. The best part about adding the raspberries too is that I make a HUGE batch and can all of the excess sauce and it makes diving jam, especially on some good toasted bread with cream cheese. So, the recipe below can be doubled or tripled (really how ever many times you want to multiply it is fine) and just can the rest to keep all year long.

A large batch of this super-berry sauce makes great jam for later!

On that note, a quick word about canning. Canning is a super easy way to preserve things for long periods of time, especially if the item is acidic. All it takes is a few canning jars with new seals (replacement seals can be bought for jars you're reusing), a large pot and some patience.

Put the pot of water on to boil, place the empty jars in the water for 5 minutes at a high boil to sterilize. Remove the jars and fill them with whatever you're preserving, leaving half an inch of space at the top. Place the seal on the jar and loosely screw on the ring, until it just catches.

Put the jar back in the boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jar and let cool - it's the cooling that will cause the lid to suck down and make a "plop!" sound, this is when you know you've successfully canned. At this point tighten the ring down tight and store.

This jam makes a great Christmas gift too

IMPORTANT! This method only works with acidic items, it won't work with things like non-acidic soups or stews because they require pressure canning.

Alright, on to the recipes...


Sausage, Apple and Sage Stuffing

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large or 2 med. onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp sage, minced
1 tsp thyme
6 large Italian sausages, uncased
4 apples, any kind, diced
3/4 - 1 loaf crusty bread, cubed
1cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice                     
1/2 cup maple syrup                                                             
3 cups chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste

Set oven to 375 degrees, and place the oven rack in the middle.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and herbs.
Break apart the uncased sausage and add to the pan, cook until browned.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients together and stir thoroughly.
Butter a large (13x9in) baking dish and pour the stuffing contents in.
Bake for about 45 min - 1 hour.
Can be made ahead, but reheat to serve.

(See, I told you it was easy!)

A Very Berry Cranberry Sauce (it doesn't get much easier than this folks)

2x 12oz bags of fresh cranberries
1x 12 oz bag frozen raspberries
2 cup orange juice (can substitute water, but it's not as rich)
2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp orange zest

Put everything in a pot together and boil down at medium heat until most of the cranberries have popped and all of the sugar is diluted.
Let the sauce cook down slightly, but it will thicken as it cools.
Add more sugar to taste if you like your sauce very sweet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving countdown - A Gobble Gobble Waldorf Salad

Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite meal of the year. Every year, around Halloween, I start to get really excited about that third Thursday in November when I will get to immerse myself completely into cooking for a whole day, if not two or three!

I start brainstorming far ahead about what I'm going to make this year, because though I have some favorites that I make absolutely every year, I always like to challenge myself a bit with something new and am forever in search of the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

This year's salad: Thanksgiving Waldorf

This year, since it's the first year of the blog, I am going to spend the next few weeks going over my favorite recipes and, if you're looking for something new to try on your Turkey (or Tofurky) table, hopefully you'll try some of these and tell me what you think.

This week I'm going to start with salad. Green salad is always easy to throw together, but I find them a bit bland and usually a last choice for the coveted slots on my plate. However, I do like having an uncooked veggie dish to introduce a little freshness to the meal. So, I opt for a Waldorf Salad, with a Thanksgiving twist.

Waldorf salads get their name from the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City and traditionally consist of apples, celery, raisins and walnuts.

I like to replace the raisins with dried cranberries (dried cherries work very nicely too) and add shredded lettuce to beef up the salad a bit. I also like to use rosemary-scented walnuts (see recipe below), but you can also add the rosemary, very finely chopped to the dressing instead, which makes it quite a bit quicker. However, the flavored walnuts are super easy to make and make a great snack for later.

The dressing is mayonnaise-based, which might freak out some mayo haters, but it really results in a creamy, tangy dressing that isn't too far off from a light ranch dressing.

The Waldorf's tangy, creamy dressing - So easy to make!

Not only is this salad extremely easy to make, but it tastes fantastic. This Waldorf salad will surely be one of the many dishes that will grace my Thanksgiving table this year.


Thanksgiving Waldorf Salad
4 cups Romaine Lettuce, finely shredded
4 Granny Smith apple, coarsely chopped (or you can shred if you prefer the slaw style)
6 Celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 cup rosemary-scented walnuts, coarsely chopped (can use plain walnuts, toasted)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp heavy cream (can use half & half)
2 Tbsp lemon juice (I like it tangy, so I use 3 Tbsp)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp rosemary (if not using the rosemary walnuts)

In a medium bowl, combine the first five ingredients.
In a small bowl, blend together the mayonnaise, cream, lemon juice, sugar and salt and pepper.
Pour the dressing on the salad and toss thoroughly.
Refrigerate until serving.

Rosemary-Scented Walnuts
4 cups walnuts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 tsp salt (kosher is good because it's larger grain)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack to the middle setting.
Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss together until the nuts are well-coated.
Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet, trying to get just a single layer of nuts.
Bake until the nuts are brown and begin to be fragrant, about 20-25 minutes, stirring occaisonally.
Let cool and serve.

*These nuts are great in so many things including breads, on cheese boards, in salads or just to snack on.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Sweet Potato and Cumin: nothin' mashed around here...

This blog post has been two weeks in the making...for some reason I haven't been able to locate that little kernel of inspiration needed to get beyond the first few sentences.

I was trying to figure out why such reluctance...the subject was interesting, the results worth eating, but there was just a little lack of spark. There was little I could do, however to avoid posting this post because cumin and sweet potato were destined to meet in October's food challenge and all I could do about it was cook, taste and write.

Though not as exotic a combination as past food challenge contestants, they proved a worthy pairing in the simple variety of dishes produced. I am always impressed at the sheer adventurousness that results from these food challenges. I always expect at least a few people to take the path of least resistance, in this instance perhaps a dish of mashed sweet potatoes or something like that. I am always pleasantly surprised that people take enjoyment out of the challenge and go well beyond the proverbial low hanging fruit.

On the table that evening was Chicken Tikka Masala, with sweet potatos, cumin-scented popovers, sweet potato pie with a marshmallow meringue top, several hummus concoctions and a sherphard's pie with sweet potato for the crust.

Though sweet potato and cumin are not the greatest of strangers, I was determined to make something that accentuated them both. I started off with sweet potato corn muffins - a small twist on the traditional that added both color and a depth of flavor. I added a pinch of cumin to these too which gave them a slightly Indian hint.

Because Thanksgiving is my favorite meal of the year and it's just around the corner, I also decided to make a stuffing using sweet potatos and cumin as well as sausage. This was good, and definitely Thanksgiving-y, but it was even better when reincarnated in a sort of frittata/strata dish.

We brought the leftover stuffing home and mixed it with some egg and cheese the next morning and baked it into a nice, fluffy breakfast treat. I'm not sure what to call it because it's part frittata - an omelet that has potato in it, and part strata - a sort of savory bread pudding where bread is soaked in egg and then baked. So I'm going with Fristrata!


Alelia's Harvest Fristrata 

*this dish takes a bit of time to make, but the best this about it is that it can be made one or two days in advance and only gets better with time...

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried sage (or 1 Tbsp fresh sage)
1 lb turkey sausage (uncased)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

3 cups italian bread, cubed
1 cup chicken broth

6 eggs
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded (cheddar works too)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Boil water in a medium saucepan. Add the sweet potato and boil for about 5-7 minutes, until tender when poked with a knife, but not falling apart. Drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot or dutch oven heat the olive oil over med-high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent (4 min). Add the sage and garlic and saute until fragrant (2 min).

Add the sausage and cook, breaking up large pieces with your spoon. Once the sausage is browned, add in the sweet potato, bread, and cider vinegar mix in well to coat the bread with the flavors. Pour in the chicken stock. Simmer for about 10 minutes until stock is thoroughly soaked up. Let cool about 20 minutes.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs and mix in the milk, salt and pepper. Pour over the stuffing mix and stir in well.

Pour the whole mixture into a greased baking dish. Cover with the cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the egg has puffed up around the stuffing.

Serve immediately with some salsa. Enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

First Flavor of Fall ~ APPLES!

Well, as inevitably happens every year, fall is once again upon us. I particularly love this time of year when the weather turns cooler, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and the fall produce starts coming into season.

One of my favorite autumnal items is the apple. It can be incorporated into sweet dishes, savory dishes, side dishes and main courses. This fall fruit has no limits. In fact, there are over 7500 cultivars of apples, each unique in texture, flavor and practicality.

The apple is known for its role as the forbidden fruit, but in recipes there is nothing forbidden about it. I was recently challenged with finding several uses for the mountain of apples conglomerating on my dining table and I diligently set about this task. I started off with apple sauce which is an easy and delicious way to use up a bunch of apples, especially ones that are slightly bruised.

All I do for the sauce is dice up the apples, put them in a pot with a bit of water (about 2 cups) and let it simmer until soft (stirring often). After about 30-40 minutes the apples are falling apart, but if they need a little help, I break out the hand blender and whiz it to perfect consistency.

The best thing about apple sauce is that's it's great on its own, but it can also be used as a fat substitute in many baking recipes. But now that you've made a huge vat of apple sauce, how are you going to use it all before it goes bad?!?! By freezing it of course! You can freeze apple sauce in rigid plastic containers or ziploc baggies in 1 cup (or any amount you typically use) amounts and just thaw when you're ready to use. That way you have fresh, homemade apple sauce at your beck and call.

My most sinful apple concoction was what I call French Toast Tatin. It's a combination of French toast and the French tart Tatin, made with apples, butter and brown sugar. I layered freshly baked Challah bread (an eggy bread very similar to the French brioche) dipped in a light egg wash onto the plate and drizzled apples sauted in butter and
brown sugar on top. Then, I cooked down the remaning butter and brown sugar to form a syrup. The result was falltastic and I will definitely be repeating it for a future brunch party.
To make your own: See below for the Challah recipe, but you can buy it at a well as the rest of the french toast recipe.


3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 more egg separated
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup water

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl if doing by hand) mix together the two eggs plus one egg yolk, water and melted butter.
Add in the flour mixture. Kneed 5 minutes (10 minutes if kneeding by hand).
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (until doubled in size).
Press down lightly on the dough to degas and let rise again for 45 minutes.
Divide the loaf into a large piece and a small piece (the small piece being about 1/2 the size of the larger piece) and divide each of these pieces into three.
Roll out the thirds of the larger piece into 16" strands and braid them together.
Do the same with the thirds of the smaller pieces. Place the smaller braid atop the larger braid.
Brush the loaf with the remaining egg white and let rise for 60 minutes (until increased in size by a third). In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the loaf in the bottom third of the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Cool the loaf on a cooling rack until completely cool.

Pommes Tatin (or sauteed apples)

Three apples sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 stick (12 tbsp) butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Melt butter on medium high heat.
once the butter starts to brown, add the apples slices and coat in butter.
Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the apples and mix in.
Saute the apples until golden brown and tender to a fork.
Top your favorite french toast recipe (or pancakes) with this apple goodness and enjoy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

SLOW ~Anatomy of a meal in the Santa Ynez Valley

Last Sunday, Full of Life Flatbread hosted an inspired and inspiring culinary event. It was their first ever private dinner and everything, I mean everything, centered around local produce. The reason for celebration was the recent release of Douglas Gayeton’s photographic journey in book form – “Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town”. Gayeton’s photo montage follows him through a food culture with a rich history and the farmers entrenched in thousands of years of tradition.

Doublas Gayeton's Book and reason for celebration

Those of you who know me, know of my fondness for Flatbread’s cuisine. Their attention to sustainability as well as uncanny prowess for surprising and delicious flavor combinations made substantially from locally-sourced ingredients never fails to astound me. I knew from the get go that this event would tickle my taste buds, what I didn’t know was that my taste buds would never quite be the same.

Clark, owner of Flatbread, and his staff set out to create a culinary experience both inspired by the book’s implicit philosophies and the local ingredient offerings of the Santa Ynez Valley, where Flatbread resides. Just as the book takes us behind the scenes of a meal – to where the ingredients came from and the people behind the harvest - Flatbread’s feast would make us sit back and ponder the dish’s process, beyond the fork to mouth relationship.

Enhancing the experience even further was the motley crew of diners, thrown together in a family-style setting, breaking bread with stranger and family alike. There were winemakers, fashion designers, family folk, magazine publishers and retired horse ranchers. The single commonality between all 28 guests was an undeniable and passionate love for good food.

We were a tough crowd and Clark had a challenge ahead of him if he was to wow us all. He was ready and packing some heat though, starting us off with beautiful table set in rustic simplicity adorned with homemade breadsticks, San Luis Obispo-grown breakfast radishes, fresh butter and salted almonds. Palmina Winery was there, pouring profusely throughout the meal and started us off with their Malvasia Bianca (2008).

The Splendid Table

Once the guests had settled into their seats and the author had arrived (post-toddler incident), Clark served up some of the largest figs I have ever seen. The figs were roasted to gooey perfection and topped with smoked blue cheese and bacon. I could have stopped here and been completely, utterly, abundantly satisfied (they were so good I took a second, despite having five more courses to go), but the Flatbread crew was having none of it…

Roasted figs - a love affair begins...

Next came the coal-roasted artichokes and pumpkin pisto. Pisto is similar to a ratatouille, a veggie stew if you will, and this one was surprisingly delightful. The juxtaposition of fresh artichoke and hearty pumpkin was stunning, especially when dipped in a bit of the roasted garlic romesco (garlicky goodness in oil). This dish was accompanied by Palmina’s Tocai Fruilano (2008), offering crisp flavor to even out the richness of the dish.

Pisto of pumpkin, fall is here

After this course Chrystal, co-owner of Palmina, stood up and offered up her take on wine’s place at the table. My favorite thing that she said is that “wine is part of the table, it’s an extension of the plate” – I found this statement to be resoundingly true both in practicality and imagery. Throughout the course of the dinner, Palmina’s wines stayed true to this adage, not acting simply as a tag-along flavor, but actually infusing their own flavors into the meal’s nuances.

Next up, was the wild arugula salad with proscuitto and potted egg. The combination of bitter arugula, salty proscuitto, creamy egg was subtle, but rich and paired perfectly with Flatbread’s “Shaman’s Bread”, a pistachio, rosemary and flax seed flatbread used for dipping in the egg. Palmina pulled out the stops for this course, serving their Nebiolo (2005 - the only nebiolo grapes grown in California).

Eggs in pots - delicious!

And, yes, another dish followed that one, this time Whey-fed Rinconada Pork leg, slow-roasted in Flatbread’s oak-burning pizza oven and served with a fennel seed sauce, pomegranate and roasted grapes. Now, I have never thought to pair pork with grapes – prunes, plums and other stone fruit yes, but grapes?!?! And I have to tell you, the combination was exquisite, especially when punctuated with sips of Palmina Barbera (2007).

Palmina's bounty

Next up we had a cheese plate of local Rinconanda Pozo Tomme and other Chaparral Cheeses. Cheese plate accoutrements included paper-thin persimmon slices, Santa Ynez valley sage honey with black pepper and whole honey comb. Though I am a die-hard cheese lover, it was getting difficult to fit anything else in…but don’t worry, I managed a few slices of these semi-hard cheeses which were heaven when dipped in the honey with black pepper.

The cheese plate, certainly not to be missed

And not to be outdone by the other courses, dessert came out in all its goat milk resplendence. On the plate was a scoop of each chocolate and vanilla goat milk ice cream, surrounded by a moat of Cajeta sauce (a caramel made from goat’s milk) and poached figs. Though I was full, I was not so full that I didn’t lick the buttery Cajeta sauce off my plate…yes, it is that good.

Goat, goat and more goat

Though flirting with a food coma, at the end of the meal I was still conscious enough to appreciate the words of Steve Clifton, Palmina’s other owner, where he told us about the uniqueness of Italian varietals found in California wines. He claimed that producing Italian wines here is like “translating an Italian phrase into English, it will undoubtedly change in mean and context through the process.” I liked this idea of taking on age-old traditions and making them our own – though still paying homage to the foundations that make them so good, but also allowing for renaissance and revitalization.

The author and storyteller at work, flatbread oven in background

After this meal, I certainly found myself revitalized, though slightly ruined because every subsequent meal for the following few days left me unsatisfied. However, I was inspired to rethink my own kitchen and its products and to seriously ponder the farms and farmers who work to put food on my grateful table.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Banana meet Rosemary

My genius friend Heather had another of her genius ideas (or maybe she stole it from elsewhere, but who cares?!)...the random ingredient-inspired food club.

The idea is this: randomly pick out of a hat one fruit or vegetable and one spice or herb. Then, all invitees must make a dish with at least one of the selected ingredients (in my book, you get serious kudos if you manage to work in both).

Naturally, my first inclination was banana cream pie. I had all of these fanciful ideas of fresh bananas, shortbread crust and a subtle, but invigorating rosemary whipped cream. But then I thought, everyone is going to make dessert given how sweet bananas are, I should go for the extra challenge of making something savory out of bananas!

So, Chicken in Banana Curry here I came. I found the preliminary recipe on Food & Wine's website and then seriously doctored it up, adding coconut milk and some extra veggies for color and crunch (see recipe below).

The result was surprisingly tasty and unique. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was my favorite curry, but it was good. I don't know that I would have liked the recipe as it read out of the magazine however, as I think the coconut milk was key for creaminess.

If you're looking for something exotic, with Caribbean flavors and you want to make your guests say "banana, really?!?!" then this is certainly a recipe you should try.


Caribbean-style Banana Curry

2-3 medium-ripe bananas, cut into pieces
1 can coconut milk
1.5 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp ground coriander
zest of 2 limes
2 Tbsp lime juice
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 chicken breasts cut into bit-sized pieces (can use whole breasts if desired)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Place bananas, half the can coconut milk, curry powder, coriander, lime zest, lime juice, salt & pepper into a blender (or food processor) and blend until pureed. Place the chicken into a roasting pan with onion, green beans and bell pepper. Cover with the curry sauce. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir the remaining half of the can of coconut milk into the sauce (remove the chicken from the pan if using whole breasts). Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

Enjoy! And stay tuned for next month's challenge - Sweet Potato and Cumin

Friday, September 11, 2009

Culinary Canoeing

Every couple of years we do an amazing canoe trip on the Trinity river at the very upper most edge of California. It is a week of sublime wilderness, adventurous rapids and frolicking with such wildlife as black bears, steelhead trout and crayfish the size of my fist. Pure bliss.

In the past food was rustic at mac (mac n cheese with hot dogs), pasta with pre-made sauce, etc. But this year, to my delight, we brought along a group of real foodies and together we made this the most gourmet trip down the Trinity in recorded history.

Though it is possible to pull out and hike to nearby towns to replenish supplies, our first-time canoeing companions took no risk of not finding what they'd like to eat. Large coolers were stuffed to the gills with tri-tip, butcher-made italian sausages, eggs, hash browns, gourmet espresso, and this list goes on and on. Oh, but I can't forget about the SIX pounds of bacon (meaning there was a pound per person to consume on the trip)!!!


Breakfasts consisted of standard eggs, bacon, and so on, which kept us well fueled for the day's rapids. It was dinners, however, that were the real masterpiece, making dishes so good it was hard to believe we were on a river, in the middle of nowhere.

Breakfast of Champions (champion canoers that is)

The first night we cooked up the tri-tip and made the requisite garlic bread and baked beans to accompany it. I had also brought along some of my freshly made oven-dried tomatoes and homemade pesto, so we whipped together a nice pasta salad. Basically, you get the gist - we ate like kings and queens.

The second night we grilled and shredded some chicken breasts and mixed them in with refried beans and pepper jack cheese. We also made some fresh guacamole with the avocados that Kevin and Amy had just picked at home. Wrap all this up in a corn tortilla and it was so good, my mouth is watering now.

Though I could keep describing meals from this trip in great detail, there are two dishes that hold a special place in my heart. One was the birthday brownies we made for Thomas' birthday using my awesome Outback Oven (yes, an oven that you can use on your camp stove and can bake scone, breads, pizza, etc - sooooo great). They were perfectly done and gooey - not burnt on the bottom at all like I feared they might be.

The second is a nice little hors d'oeuvre we made from the fresh trout that Coop caught. It was amazing. We had a little assembly line going where the fish came out of the water, got cleaned, thrown on the pan and fried and finally composed into a very tasty morsel consisting of a wheat thin, a dollop of homemade pesto and a nice little chunk of freshly caught and fried trout.

This is a bite that I would definitely replicate in my own kitchen!

The beautiful (and tasty) bounty!


Easy-Peasy Pesto

3 cups basil
1/2 cup parmasan
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the basil, parmasan and pine nuts in the food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running. Add salt and pepper to taste - and you're done! I like to put individual servings of pesto into little sandwich bags and freeze them.

My favorite thing about it is that you can get creative and switch out ingredients to make more imaginative and adventurous flavors. You can replace the basil with arugula, spinach or cilantro and you can replace the pine nuts with pecans or walnuts.