Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!

So, I feel like I need to write something since I've been a bit quiet for the past week.  Truth is, I've been on vacation from work, recharging my batteries and spending some serious quality time with friends and family.  It's been great.

To all of you who I read and comment regularly - you'll see my comments coming through again in the next few days.

I also promise I'll be updating posts in a few days as well ... until then, I will be cooking - so some recipes to come - a beef tenderloin roast, apple pie, and a specialty pizza among others.

Hope you all have a wonderful and safe new year, and are as lucky as I to spend it with people you care about!!

See you in 2010
Alicia

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pear, Chicken and Blue Cheese Salad

So, I had some veggies left in my organics box before Thanksgiving and I wanted to make myself a light dinner.  I realize how counter-intuitive it is to follow that statement with a pat of butter melting in a pan, but whatever....moderation.


 

I had some red and green leaf lettuce, a bartlett pear, leftover cooked chicken breast, and blue cheese.   I wanted the pear to be warm, so I sliced the pear thin and sauteed it in the frying pan until it was just starting to carmelize. 



While the pear was cooking, I cut the leftover chicken into bite-sized pieces.  I washed my lettuce and arranged it on the plate with the chicken.  I sprinkled the salad with a bit of crumbled blue cheese.

 

As the pears began to brown at the edges, I grabbed my handy kitchen tongs and flipped each slice over so it would cook on the other side.  Then I started to work on my dressing.



I used 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, a tablespoon of honey and whisked them together.  I added a tablespoon of olive oil and continued whisking.  A dash of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and some vegetable stock thinned the mixture and created a delicious dressing.



I topped the salad with the pears, drizzled the dressing over the plate, and enjoyed my fast and healthy dinner.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Puff Pastry Pinwheels

My coworker is pregnant with her first child!   I have known her for a long time (we both worked at the same job previously...) and am very excited for her.  In celebration of her impending bundle, we threw her a surprise baby shower at the office.  Everyone pitched in and either chipped in for a gift - or brought a snack.  There were whoopie pies, brownies, chips and salsa and sparkling cider.  I made some chocolate dipped pretzels (since the mommy-to-be has been craving them for her whole pregnancy) and I also brought some puff pastry pinwheels.



These were an appetizer that I learned from my mother while I was home for Thanksgiving, and I think its a great technique that you can use with a lot of different ingredients.  We brought them when my parents dined at Rafe's mom's house for the first time.  Everyone raved about them, and Rafe kept eating the leftovers for the next few days.




They are very easy, and apparently very impressive!  Many of my coworkers asked for the recipe.  And, of course, you start with one of my favorite easy ingredients...store bought puff pastry.

Ingredients:
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 - 12oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 oz of gruyere cheese, shredded

Directions
Let the pastry thaw on the countertop.  Take one sheet of the dough and roll out pastry just slightly so the seams of the dough are smushed back together. 
Sprinkle the dough all over with 1/2 the cheese, avoiding 1/4 inch around the edges.
Sprinkle the cheese with 1/2 the roasted red peppers
Now, to roll the dough up into a pinwheel, you will have to roll each edge like a jelly roll just to the middle.  Use the edges perpendicular to the seams, so your pinwheels don't fall apart when you slice them

Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.

At this point you can wrap the roll in plastic wrap and store in the freezer until ready to bake.  Just thaw on the counter until you're able to slice, then bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until golden.



These are really simple, and absolutely delicious.  I'm excited to try a different combination of fillings....like, pesto and asiago cheese, or sundried tomatoes and fontina cheese....ooh, or ham and manchego!!  Olives would be tasty too....if you try this recipe with any different fillings, let me know how it goes!!


Do you have any go-to appetizers/recipes for potlucks or cocktail parties?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Birthday Pie

When my father read my blog for the first time he was fixated on the peach pie.  My dad absolutely loves pie.  The first words out of his mouth were "but you never make me pie!"  I explained that the peach pie had been my first and only attempt - but it was already done.  I had broken my father's heart.

His favorite pie is cherry.  So when his birthday came around, I decided that I should bake my father a birthday cake pie.

The last time I had baked I was at dear bf's male dwelling - so I had to make the pie crust by hand.  This time, at his mother's house...I had access to a HUGE cuisinart, and a real live rolling pin!  This pie was VERY easy by comparison. 
 

Rafe had gotten all the ingredients that I needed at the store on Friday - so as soon as I woke up Saturday morning I could get to work making pastry dough.  I got up early, made some coffee, put on some music and started working.  Dough in a cuisinart takes mere minutes!


We did run into one little snag...we could not find sour cherries anywhere!!  Rafe checked all of the grocery stores in his town and nothing.  I instructed him to just buy the only frozen cherries he could find and we'd figure something out....


Saturday morning after I made my pastry dough, I started my various internet searchs "can't find sour cherries", "substitutions for sour cherries", and so on.  Most of my searches had instructed to cut back on the sugar for sweet cherries, and add some lemon juice.  So that is exactly what I did.

Rolling out pastry dough was soooo much easier with a real rolling pin this time, too.

 
I was feeling confident at how easily my pie was coming together, so I decided to get fancy and create a lattice top crust.  I rolled out the dough, then used a pizza wheel to cut strips.
I wove the strips on top of the pie.

 
Here it is baking in the oven... The edges started to get dark kind of fast, so I covered it with foil.


And here is the finished product.  Truth be told, the filling was still fairly sweet, and tasted more like blueberry than cherry to me....But my dad's second favorite pie is blueberry, so I think I was in the clear.
 
He really liked his birthday desert, and my mother had told me that she was so impressed with my pie baking that she will forgo her usual caramel apple pie order from the farmstand in town for Christmas, and let me bake a pie in her kitchen!!

The recipe is adapted from Gourmet magazine's pie recipe.  Instead of the all butter pastry dough, I subbed half shortening - last time I made an all butter dough, and I think I prefer it...sub whatever pastry dough you like - no hard feelings!

here is a link to my favorite: all Butter pastry dough

Filling 
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 cups frozen (not thawed) pitted sweet cherries (2 pound)
Whole milk for brushing

1.  Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle and put a large baking sheet on rack.

2.  Finely grind tapioca in grinder.
3.  Whisk in ground tapioca, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, and sugar, then add cherries, lemon juice and vanilla extract and toss well. Let stand 30 minutes.
3.  Roll out dough (keep remaining piece chilled). Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim any excess dough to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out top crust.
Roll out remaining dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round. Toss cherries well again, then add to shell and cover with top crust
To Creat Lattice:
Cut remaining dough into 1 inch wide strips.  Lay five strips across the top of the pie.  Pick up strips 1, 3 and 5 and fold them over halfway.  Lay another strip underneath, then unfold the strips back to their original position.  Pick up strips 2 and 4, and lay a strip underneath.  Now repeat the same on the other side of the pie.  Crimp edges decoratively.

Brush top crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake pie on preheated baking sheet 30 minutesutes, then cover edge with a pie shield or foil and reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is deep golden and filling is bubbling in center, 50 minutes to 1 hour more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guest Post - Emily's Apple Butter

At an early morning meeting several weeks ago my coworkers and I went through the usual 'what did you do last weekend' discussion.  Imagine my delight to hear that my friend Emily had made a huge batch of apple butter, and canned it! 

I'm always thrilled to learn a new recipe or technique from a friend.  It's a great way to find new recipes that actually work and taste great. We started chatting and I immediately offered Emily a guest post on The Clean Plate Club.  (Actually, I'm not sure if I would describe as an 'offer' or if I straight up insisted...anyhow)....I'm very excited that she decided to take me up on it - and in addition to writing a guest post - she gave me a sample jar of her delicious apple butter!

See...she even packaged it up super-cute.  She's so creative!


I must admit - with all the Thanksgiving holiday goings-on I didn't taste her creation immediately...but once I did, oh boy I put apple butter on everything.  I started with some toast to accompany my evening cup of chamomile tea - and then put it in my morning oatmeal the next day.  I swear this stuff has the power to make my shoes taste good!


If you're still thinking about Christmas/Holiday gifts and have any foodies in your life this apple butter would make a delicious addition to someone's stocking.  I'm definitely going to have to try making it as well.  It's soooo good....
Without any further ado - I give you Emily!

_________________________________________________________________________________



Apple Butter Jeans, Boots with the Fur


The entire time I slaved over my 2009 batch of apple butter this was all my roommate and I could sing – and fittingly, nothing compliments winter quite as well as some apple butter and Uggs. I made my first batch of AB last year by taking a few different recipes and creating one that suited me in terms of ingredients and arduousness. Along with being a huge hit, it also lasted about 6+ months because of the longevity proper canning affords. So we enjoyed it’s sweetness atop toast or pork chops, stirred into sweet potatoes or cottage cheese, as an oil substitute in cakes and breads, etc. right through to Spring. Making and canning apple butter can easily become a fall tradition for anyone as in love with apple picking and cooking as I am – I am hoping Alicia will follow suit and share her experience next year!

Apple Butter Recipe



INGREDIENTS

4 lbs of good cooking apples (I used a combination of Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious - this way you get a nice blend of sweet and tart)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Sugar (about 3-4 cups, TBD while cooking)
Dash of Salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground allspice
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

Equipment Needed

1 wide 8-quart pan (Stainless steel works best)
A large (8 cup) measuring cup pourer
6-8 8-ounce canning jars

METHOD

1. Peel and core apples and cut into quarters, cut out damaged parts. You can forgo peeling and coring to retain more of the pectin – but that is based on personal preference. I prefer the flesh of the apples only.
2. Put apple chunks into a large pot, add the vinegar and water, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until apples are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Mash a bit to get rid of any remaining large chunks to form more of a puree (it is o.k. if a few small chunks remain – they will soften in the final stage of cooking) and measure out puree by cup into a large bowl.
4. Add 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add the salt, the cinnamon, ground cloves, ground allspice, lemon rind and juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
5. Cook uncovered in a large, wide, thick-bottomed pot on medium low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust is not forming at the bottom. Cook until thick and smooth when a bit is spooned onto a cold plate and allowed to cool (1 to 2 hours). You can also cook the purée on low heat, stirring only occasionally, but this will take much longer as stirring encourages evaporation. (Note the wider the pan the better, as there is more surface for evaporation.)

CANNING

1. There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning. You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher. You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. I used the oven method which was easy and worked well.
2. Pour into apple butter into hot, sterilized jars and seal. If you plan to store the apple butter un-refrigerated, make sure to follow proper canning procedures (I store in the fridge and the first batch I made lasted over 6 months). Before applying the lids, sterilize the lids by placing them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids. I used a hot water bath for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Requisite Thanksgiving Post


Like Many food bloggers - Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday.  What's better than an entire day centered around food.  I woke up bright and early on turkey day to prepare the bird.  My mom now lets me prep the turkey - this is a big deal in our family.


I had mixed the butter for the rub the day before.  For an 11 lb turkey it was 1 stick of butter, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, and chopped thyme and chopped sage - approximately a loosely packed tablespoon of each, along with some salt and pepper.  I also like to add some lemon zest - but we didn't have any lemons!

I loosened the skin from the turkey and rubbed the butter between the skin and the breast meat.  the I rubbed the softened butter all over the surface of the turkey - legs, wings, everything!  The entire surface was then sprinkled with paprika.  We're Portuguese so everything we roast gets paprika on the top ... it also helps the skin to brown and crisp!



After salting and peppering I put half an orange (usually a lemon but we made do) into the cavity of the turkey and a few sprigs each of thyme and sage.



Then the little fella went into the oven and my parents and I shared breakfast.  I basted the bird a couple times, then I went downstairs to workout and my mom took over the turkey duties.

 

Here is our table all set for dinner.  We have a small, intimate meal.  Just my parents and my grandmother...and all the fixins!


 

Turkey and my mom's famous stuffing!  There is a salad in the corner too.

 

Clockwise, mashed potatoes, my  butternut squash, my mom's turkey gravy - always amazing.  And the required canned cranberry sauce.  My mother has tried to make fancy stuff in the past, but my dad and I like the jelly stuff....old habits die hard!


 
Here is my plate....Notice the abundance of stuffing.  It truly is my favorite part of the meal.  When my grandmother made dinner she would make a massive amount of stuffing just for me - and I never ever got sick of it!

 
Dinner was paired with the 2009 Beaujolais.  I read and was reminded of it by A Couple in the Kitchen - and decided it would be a good (and inexpensive - only $9) addition to our dinner.  Even my mom, who prefers white wines - like Rieslings, really enjoyed this wine.  It was light and fruity - and paired well with the meal - like cranberry sauce with turkey.

Hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving!