Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Exciting News and Delicious Bubbly

Hello! I am alive, I promise. I have to apologize for being completely MIA these past few weeks. My life has been rather crazy recently, but in only wonderful ways. I am excited to announce that Gavin and I just purchased our first house together! Not only is this a big step in our life as a married couple but it also means that I have a lot more space to fit all of my fantastic kitchen appliances. I have my priorities, obviously. Seriously though, our new house does have a great kitchen and I'm very much looking forward to setting it up the way I like it and doing some serious cooking. I've made a few simple meals in our new place, but nothing worthy of a post as of yet. Unfortunately this might have to wait until January when things have calmed down a bit and I'm able to take a deep breath.
In addition to our big house news, I am also excited to announce that I got the job I've been wanting for awhile now. I am very proud to have joined the fantastic staff at Wine Authorities! So not only do I get to spread the joy of delicious, well-made wine to those of you lucky enough to live in Durham, but I also get to expand my own wine knowledge and share it with all of you. My particular goal is to learn as much as I can about wine and food pairings and match delicious, easy to make recipes with wine. It is a terribly difficult process of research and study, but I am willing to take on the challenge. :)
To celebrate our house closing and my new job, my dad broke out a bottle of Dom Perignon (1999), a gift he received from a very thoughtful friend. Although I don't know a lot about champagne, I do know that a single vintage (year) is somewhat rare and that good champagne can be aged. This was definitely not your average glass of wedding bubbly. It had the full-bodied taste of a really good Chardonnay with a nice clean finish imparted by the bubbles. I haven't had a lot of true champagnes (from the Champagne region of France) but I'm sure this compares to some of the better bottles produced in that area. Needless to say, it was definitely a treat to share this bottle with my family, especially given the joy of the occasion.

Sadly there is no recipe to accompany this post and there probably won't be a new one for a couple of weeks now. But I wanted to share the good news and assure everyone that I am not only alive, but doing quite well. Happy holidays to all and I'll be back in the new year, fired up and ready to cook!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Curried Cauliflower and Chickpeas

Cauliflower is in season and looks beautiful at the farmers' market. I often forget about this delicious vegetable and pass it by for its greener, more popular cousin, broccoli. But it definitely deserves its own merit and this dish gives it the credit its due. There's a great curried cauliflower dish on the Whole Foods salad bar that I love and cauliflower is often used in Indian cooking. This dish uses some of those flavors but, most importantly in my book, can be made with ingredients you probably have on hand. One of the most difficult things about cooking Indian-inspired food is the number of spices used in each dish. This combination of spices makes for delicious meals, but can be intimidating if you don't have all of the spices on hand.

This dish uses spices that, if you don't have them already, are a great addition to your spice cabinet as they can be used in all sorts of meals. Curry powder is great because it is a bunch of different spices already mixed together. That way you get a nice depth of flavor without having to spend a lot of money on different spices. Cumin, coriander, and cayenne are all useful spices to have on hand as they add a lot of flavor to meats, stews, chili, the list goes on. This dish is an adaptation from The Inspired Chef and tastes great served over brown rice. I had a large head of cauliflower (and most from the grocery store are pretty big) so this recipe makes enough for about six to eight people. If you want to make less, just use half a head of cauliflower and cut back on the other ingredients.

Curried Cauliflower and Chickpeas (Serves 6-8)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 28 oz can plum tomatoes
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 14 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bunch swish chard, stems removed and chopped into pieces
  • Salt and pepper
In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Add onion, spices and ginger. Season with about 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Saute until onion is tender and spices are fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add in plum tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Cook another 5 minutes.
Add cauliflower, chickpeas, tomato paste and 1 cup of water.
Bring to a simmer and cover, cooking for about 25-30 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.
Remove lid and stir in Swiss chard pieces. Cook long enough for chard to wilt and the sauce to thicken, another 5-8 minutes.
Season with a bit more salt and pepper to taste.

For a printable recipe click here

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Smoked Salmon and Pesto Pizza

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love pizza. And just because I can no longer enjoy the traditional, delicious gluten-filled kind does not mean I plan to it give up. Pizza is really just an excuse to eat bread (gluten-filled or gluten free) smothered with any number of delicious ingredients, most important of which is usually cheese. A traditional Margherita pizza of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil is perfect in its simplicity and highlights the quality of the ingredients used. Try eating a pizza made with a poor-quality canned sauce and rubbery, shredded mozzarella after you've had one with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a simple garnish of torn basil. Virtually impossible. If I was forced to only eat pizza Margherita for the rest of my life, I would definitely be a happy girl.

However, I do not have such restrictions, which means I have the wonderful opportunity to eat any type of pizza I want. I've experimented with different kinds of toppings (mushrooms and caramelized onions for example), new cheeses, and a variety of crusts. Now that I am gluten free, I've been trying to find a crust that tastes as much like a regular, gluten-filled crust as possible. For this most recent pizza, I used a mix from Bob's Red Mill that worked great. It was harder to work with than a gluten crust, but once I got it to cover the pan, it cooked up beatuifully. The crust and bottom of the pie crisped up nicely and the dough was a perfect balance of soft and chewy. Definitely worth a try for those gluten free folks out there.
Since I'd read a lot of great reviews of this particular crust, I was pretty sure it would be good enough to eat. The toppings, on the other hand, I wasn't as sure about. I had done a search for smoked salmon pizza on Epicurious because, for some reason, I really wanted smoked salmon. I found a couple that paired the salmon with pesto, which peaked my interest. I love pesto and I love smoked salmon so I went for it. The entire time I was making the pizza, however, I was planning my escape plan of a quick run down to Tyler's Taproom. I should probably have more confidence in myself, but every cook - no matter how good or experienced - has off days and I was afraid this might be mine.
However, my fears were totally unnecessary. The combination of creamy ricotta and pesto went perfectly with the smokey, salty taste of the salmon. Neither of the two flavors overwhelmed the other but worked together to create a very different kind of pizza. If you aren't a fan of smoked salmon, or just can't bring yourself to put it on pizza, give this pizza a try anyway and either leave the salmon off altogether or replace it with some sliced veggies or pepperoni. The ricotta, pesto blend works as a great alternative to the traditional tomato sauce, regardless of what you put on top. Make your own pesto or whip this pizza up in no time with your favorite store-bought kind.

Smoked Salmon and Pesto Pizza
  • 1 12-16 inch pizza crust (follow recipe or package instructions for cooking)
  • 3/4 cup pesto (recipe follows)
  • 3/4 part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz smoked salmon
  • 5 basil leaves, for garnish
Preheat oven to 450˚F (oven temperature may vary, depending on crust).
If raw, pre-cook pizza for about 10 minutes without toppings.
In a small bowl, mix pesto and ricotta cheese till fully combined.
Spread mixture over entire pizza, leaving a small crust at the border.
Cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until spread is fully heated through.
Top hot pizza with smoked salmon pieces and torn basil leaves.

Arugula and Basil Pesto
  • 4 cups arugula (about 3 large handfuls)
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • 3 tbsp lightly toasted, blanched almonds
  • 3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup olive oil (or so)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
  • Salt and pepper
In a food processor, pulse to combine arugula, basil, almonds and Parmesan.
With blade running, stream in enough olive oil to bring everything together and make a sauce. You want it looser than a paste.
Stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spiced Pecans Ready for the Holidays

December? Already? How is it that 2010 is almost over? But before it ends, we have a few weeks of holiday cheer and parties and celebrating and possibly some headaches or family feuds. The holidays are a great time to get together with family and friends, enjoying good food and drink together. But it can also be overwhelming. I love most things about the holidays except for the incessant Christmas music that seems to start earlier and earlier each year. I often feel like I'm not doing enough for the holidays since I don't have a Christmas tree by Thanksgiving or holiday decorations adorning every corner of my home. But rather than get bogged down by all that I'm not doing for the holiday season, I would rather take advantage of the aspects I do love about the holidays. My favorite thing about the holidays is everyone's desire to get together and celebrate. It doesn't really matter what you're celebrating - Christmas, Hannakuh, New Years, cold weather, time off from work - as long as it means getting together with friends over good food and celebratory beverages.

The approaching holiday season puts (most) people into a festive mood, making it the perfect time to host a casual get-together. If you have some friends who get extra grouchy during the holidays (and we all do), maybe an informal affair will be the perfect thing to cheer them up. A lot of people feel the need to go all out for the holidays, with elaborate spreads of food and holiday decor. But none of this is necessary when you have a group of close friends. All you need are some simple snacks and a few bottles of wine (or any beverage of your liking). Cheese and crackers always work well as do a bowl full of these spiced nuts. They are super easy to make but taste amazing and are perfect to have whenever you have friends over for a festive snack. You could also toss these nuts into a salad for a spicy crunch. Make a big batch and keep them in an airtight container so they're ready for any holiday event. If you're not a fan of pecans, try this same recipe with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts; any nut would work or a combination of several.

Spiced Pecans
  • 2 cups raw pecans
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
In a large bowl, lightly whisk egg white.
Whisk in honey to combine.
Stir in pecans until thoroughly coated.
Toss in chili powder, cinnamon, salt and cayenne. Mix to combine.
Spread pecans onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake in a 300˚F oven for about 25 minutes, until pecans are brown.
Let cool before serving or storing in an airtight container.

For a printable recipe click here
Recipe adapted from Elana's Pantry