Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aerogarden, Week 3

The herbs have nearly doubled in size!!  I actually have 2 usable leaves of basil (though I am going to let it grow some more before I start using it). 

The chives have caught up to the basil and thyme. I put a nutrient packet in on Saturday and I think it really sped things up!

KimP told me something very interesting in the comments recently....Aerogarden actually has a germination guarantee!!  Her plants didn't grow originally because she has hard water - but she contacted the company and they replaced her pods...Tell me Kim - do you now have to use bottled water in your aerogarden pot?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas Pie

So after my dad's birthday pie my mother was finally convinced...She was confident I knew what I was doing and tasked me with making one of the desserts for our Christmas dinner.  (Yes, I realize how late this post is...sorry!)

She ordered an apple pie - and after some research I decided on my recipes.  I used the all butter pastry dough from Gourmet that I had used in my peach pie since I liked the flavor much better - and because shortening kind of grosses me out (clearly by now, if you read this blog with any regularity, you know I have no issues with butter.)

I will say that the dough with shortening is much easier to roll out and work with - but the extra aggravation of the all butter dough is totally worth it.  I came home on the 23rd for Christmas and made the dough that night.  I decided it would be easier to split the tasks up into two days so I planned to make the filling on Christmas Eve morning.

The next morning, my mom was kind enough to help me with the filling by cutting up the apples.  Rafe knows all too well that whenever I try and cut and peel apples I almost always cut myself, shriek, and curl up on the floor in the kitchen in the fetal position for 3-5 minutes.  My mom doesn't like to waste time so she agreed to just do it and save us all the melodrama.  She is also a neat freak and explained that peeling the apples over some paper towel would speed cleanup.  I hate to admit this- but she was right - cleanup was a breeze!

After a few epicurious searches I landed on the Spiced Apple Pie recipe for the filling.  My mom and her ever-ready spice rack had every one of them (even mace) which I found remarkable.

Can I just sidebar for a minute to appreciate how nice the pictures from my camera come out in the morning sunlight in my parent's kitchen? 

Moving on -- once mom cut the apples I mixed the apples with the sugar and spices.
I then rolled out my top crust and put it in the pie pan - and then filled it with the apple filling.

Then I pulled a Martha Stewart and did a decorative top crust.  I used a star cookie cutter to create the vent in the top of the pie....

And I cut all of the pie crust scraps out with the star cutter to make a decorative design on the top of the pie. 

It came out very good. I wasn't 100% convinced on the filling- though it got rave reviews from my family - and Rafe.  I thought it was a smidge too spicy, and I would probably cut back on the spices by about an 1/8th of a teaspoon.

I still think its the prettiet pie I've ever made!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chickpea Vegetable Soup

I love the IDEA of vegetable soup.  Delicious brothy goodness, a cornucopia of fresh, healthy vegetables, some protein from beans....and most importantly a brief respite from my usual buttery fare.  My biggest problem with vegetable soup in REALITY is that it often is not filling enough to become a meal for me on its own.  They always seem too light, watery, and bland for me to forgo some buttered toast or meatloaf as an accompaniment.....or an ice cream sundae desert.

Rafe was studying for finals, and I decided that I wanted to be absent during this stressful period...I wanted to let him focus on getting his work done - and I wanted to do my Christmas shopping sans cranky boyfriend.  So, on the last weekend before his finals, I decided I should try my hand at making a hearty vegetable soup so he would have a big pot of food to reheat after long nights at the library....and I would have lunches for the week at work....classic win-win.

In order to make my soup rich and hearty - I employed some of the same cooking methods that I used when I am making a roast or a braise.  I roasted veggies, and layered rich flavors using tomato paste and red wine in the dutch oven.  What resulted was a deeply flavored veggie soup that was warm and filling.

1lb carrots, peeled and diced
1.5 large onions, coarsley chopped
.5 onion, small dice
6 cloves garlic
1 celery stalk, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup red wine
1 16 oz can chopped tomatoes
6 cups broth - chicken, beef, veggie (I used chicken and vegetable because it is what I had on-hand)
1 16oz can chickpeas
1 16oz can corn
1 package frozen spinach
1 cup of soup pasta (I used ditalini)
cayenne pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place diced carrots, coarsley chopped onions and whole cloves of garlic on the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika.  Roast in oven for 30-45 minutes or until golden and caramelized on edges.

In a large dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium.  Add the .5 diced onion and celery.  Cook until translucent, stirring often.  Add the garlic and roasted veggies and cook until just fragrant.  Next, add the tomato paste.  Cook tomato paste done, stirring constantly.  The sugars in the paste will start to carmelize and stick to the pan - this is good.  But pay attention - because the paste can burn quickly.  Once the paste is very reduced, and coating the pan - pour in your red wine and deglaze - scraping up the tomato paste or 'fond' (fancy cooking term I learned in Momofuku).  Cook the wine and reduce for 3-5 minutes.  Then add your chicken broth, chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach, lemon zest, and bring to a simmer.  Add the soup pasta, and cook until tender.

This soup is delicious served with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
It's very hearty and filling - perfect for these cold winter nights!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Aerogarden, Week 2

Seriously - I don't know how this works but my aerogarden is growing my herbs like NUTS! 
If you remember - I only got this 2 weeks ago - and the herbs looked like this....

These are the chives - sorry so blurry - they got tall overnight!

I have a little mini bushel of thyme now.

And my basil is getting super huge!!

Hmmm - what will I cook with all these herbs?  what are your favorite things to make with chives, thyme and basil?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eat Your Heart Out Gordon Ramsay!

What a busy weekend!  Saturday I attended the We Are Not Martha 2 year blog-iversary party - It was a total blast!  Chels and Sues aren't only great bloggers - they throw a great party too.  Check out their website for all the details - Or check in with JulieQ over at JQLounge for all the details.  They write it up better than I can!

Sunday morning I rose bright and early to attend a casting call for a show on Fox called MasterChef.  The show is to be hosted by Gordon Ramsay!  A few weeks back - before Christmas a friend at work (Hi Katie) sent me a description of the show - and the email of someone to contact at a casting company if I were interested.  The deadline was looming, and I finally decided to write in with a 1 paragraph description of what I think separates me from other foodies, and a picture.  I used this photo from our first preliminary Turkey Day.

I sent off the email and was totally shocked when the phone rang 20 minutes later.  The woman on the line asked me if I was available January 10th to attend an open casting...and said I needed to bring a dish for the judges.  I was stoked, I've never cooked for anyone but friends and family - so it was very exciting to think that I was going to cook something for a real judge!

I spent the first few days of my Christmas vacation trying to decide what to cook.  I must have gone through a million ideas- and a million of my mother's cookbooks and magazines...but finally, the day after the Christmas holiday I woke up with my idea!  My dad was a total trooper and agreed to run to the grocery store for me as long as he could taste-test. 

I spent a good part of the day in the kitchen taking great care with the components.  When it was done, my mother and father declared it a success.  I had pretty much tortured them with this thing the whole time I was home - so I wasn't convinced.  I took the leftovers with me to Connecticut.  After Rafe and his mother's reaction - I was satisfied.  I had my dish.

Fast forward to this past weekend....
On Saturday morning I prepped all the components of my dish.  Since I don't have a full oven at my apartment - I was going to prepare it at Rafe's old apartment and wanted to just bring all my ingredients with me to assemble the dish - then drive it to Newton for the casting call on Sunday. 

Well, Sunday did not go so smoothly.  I forgot to set the alarm - so I woke up later than I had planned.  I made some coffee and started toasting a bagel....and immediately blew a fuse.  I've never blown a fuse in my apartment and realized that the fuse box had been painted over and couldn't open it - Rafe and I both tried to jimmy it open with a screw driver and some butter knives - but it was no use.  We got dressed in the dark, packed my ingredients, and jumped in a cab to Brookline.

Rafe left to go watch the Pats game with some buddies and I was alone in the apartment.  I preheated the oven and went to iron my dress...

When I came downstairs the kitchen was full of smoke.  FANTASTIC.  I opened some windows and started my recipe....and immediately realized I forgot the cheese.  I placed a frantic call to Abby who was at Stop and Shop - and she brought me my cheese.  To her credit she also managed to talk me off the ledge when I screwed up the first try at my recipe (and she ate it).  And then she ran to CVS to pick up the picture that I needed to bring.  -- Abs, If I ever get a cookbook deal - look for your name in the dedications.

I finally had some success in the kitchen.  I got changed into my cute dress, packed up my dish and some of the components for plating - and drove out to Newton.  The line was INSANE.  And it was freeeezing.  Must have been around 10 degrees....The plus side was that I was in line with some very nice and very cool people.  I really enjoyed their company.

After 2 1/2 hours though....and after the sunset, it became unbearably cold.  There were still almost 80 people in front of me and my toes were so cold they were stinging...I held out as long as I could - but I ended up punking out and leaving.  I was pretty upset and disappointed in myself.  But even after being indoors for nearly an hour I still had a hard time getting warm-- my feet were almost purple with cold, so I know I wasn't just being a wimp. 

Instead of feeding a judge, I brought my leftovers to work with me to share with coworkers on Monday - and they loved it.  That's good enough for me. Lets be honest - I probably couldn't hack it on a Gordon Ramsay show - he would call me a stupid donkey and I would crumple into a pile of tears immediately.

So - Here is my recipe.  I made a pizza using some of my favorite seasonal ingredients.  This is meant to be made with leftover roasted veggies and feel free to sub other pre-cooked squash or veg you have on hand!

Too Good for Gordon Squash and Onion Pizza
1 refrigerated pizza dough (from the bakery not a tube) or make your own!
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 slices center cut bacon
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 fresh sage leaves
Parmesan cheese - about a tablespoon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spread the diced squash over the baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.  Roast squash for 20-25 minutes or longer - until caramelized.

While squash is roasting, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions to pan and stir to coat with oil and butter.

Reduce heat to medium and cook onions slowly until caramelized.  Add a little water to the pan if it starts to get dry and they start to burn.  This can take a WHILE so be patient.  Once the onions are soft and a browned, caramel color, remove from heat and set aside.

Once the squash is out of the oven, broil your 4 strips of bacon until just barely crispy.  Chop into large bits.

Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, cook until foamy and swirl the pan to keep the butter from burning.  You will start to smell a nutty scent coming from the pan as the butter browns.  Once the butter at the edges of the pan starts to show some browning, place the sage in the pan.  Continue swirling the butter as the sage fries - about 2 minutes.  Use tongs to remove the sage from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Set the browned butter aside.

Heat your oven with a pizza stone at 400 degrees.  Roll out dough and stretch it thin.  Once the oven and stone are preheated, sprinkle with cornmeal (keeps the dough from sticking), and place the stretched dough on the stone (be careful - its SCREAMING hot).

Spread the caramelized onion mixture on top of the dough (as you would sauce).  Sprinkle with a layer of the grated Gruyere cheese.  Sprinkle next with roasted squash, then the bacon....

Go grab that brown butter, and spread it on the edges of the crust - I know - its kind of overkill but browned butter is soooo yummy.  Then sprinkle the crust with Parmesan.

Close the oven door and bake 15 minutes or until golden. 
Slide the pizza off of the stone and onto a plate to cool.  Sprinkle with the brown butter fried sage.
Stand out in the cold for 2 hours and then consume
(You don't really have to do that last part)

This would certainly work as a dinner accompanied by a nice green salad - but I really did like the way it looked sliced into tiny servings like an appetizer when I brought it to the office.  I don't know if it would have gotten me on the show...but it really is yummy, and a great way for my favorite fall/winter flavors to play all together.

Thank you to everyone who helped and supported me through this!!
If you give this recipe a try let me know what you think.  Have you ever tried out for a reality show?  Would you?  

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Amazing Grass - New Year's Solution

I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions per-se. But I think after the over-eating of the holiday's its natural to want to eat a little healthier come January 1st.  Here is one way that I choose to get some more healthfulness into my diet.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was not paid for my review, but I did receive free products from the Amazing Grass company.

In addition to writing a blog, I also read my fair share of blogs and tweets.  A couple of months ago I noticed a TON of mentions about something called 'Amazing Grass' from a lot of healthy bloggers.  I decided to check out their website for some more information to satisfy my curiosity.

I read up about all of the health benefits of amazing grass products.  They sounded like a great way to supplement healthy eating with some additional vital nutrients that are in a more natural state that a vitamin pill.  Although I tend to cook with a lot of butter, I do try to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle.  I try to balance healthy eating and working out with occasional indulgences.  I thought these Amazing Grass smoothies sounded great, and had great benefits.  But how could they possibly taste? I mean - grass? Would this stuff taste like lawn clippings?

I was curious, so I reached out to Teri at Amazing Grass and let her know that I would love to sample the product and write up a review here.  She responded very quickly, asked for my address, and told me that she would send a package. 

Follow that exchange with a couple blogging events, a crazy work week and a trip to CT and I completely forgot about Teri and Amazing Grass.  Until about 2 weeks later when I came home and there was a package for me at my apartment!  Mail still excites me!

I scurried in my apartment and opened my box.  I WAS SHOCKED.  I had asked for a couple samples, and they had sent me 2 samples of EVERYTHING they make!! Along with a smoothie cup!  They sent me drink mixes and meal replacement bars - for this post I will only be reviewing the drink mixes - the bars will follow later.

Anyone who has ever tried a 'smoothie' mix, especially one that is supposed to taste like rich chocolate, usually finds that it tastes more like chalk.
Although the chocoate flavors don't taste exactly like Chocolate Fribbles from Friendly's, I definitely didn't feel like I was choking it down.  In fact, it felt like a treat to have some chocolate with my breakfast.  I preferred the drink mixes to the meal replacement shakes simply by nutritionals alone (I don't like to drink my entire meal) but if you like smoothies as your actual meal, these are a great, healthy option.

The berry flavors are great - more refreshing than rich. These mixed the easiest with water...though they were also good mixed with some orange juice. 

They also make 'Kids' amazing grass drink mixes.  These are the most palatable and I would suggest the faint of heart start with these.  They sell small single-serving packets at many Whole Foods stores if you're interested in trying.

After I used up all my packets I went out and bought my own container of Amazing Grass Green Superfood drink mix.  Chocolate for breakfast?  Yum!  I like it best mixed with soymilk and a teaspoon of peanut butter in my magic bullet.
The Amazing Grass products boast tons of healthy benefits...I don't know much about that.  But I do like knowing that I started my day with something a little healthy - even if I do follow it up with some toast....with butter.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Aerogarden Update

I'm not sure how interesting anyone finds this...But I have some serious sprouts working in my aerogarden!  Right now only the basil and thyme are sprouting - the chives take a little longer - but I'm so shocked that this little lightbulb is making things grow so quickly - with no additional sunlight! 

I planted these on Saturday 1/2, and this is the growth this evening 1/5!

Of course, the proof is in the pudding - obviously its very cool how quickly and easily these are growing - I will be utterly convinced once I taste them.  But in the meantime, i'm enjoying my little at-home science experiment!

I wonder how long until they are ready to prune and eat??!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Rewind - Foodie Gifts

Ahh, finally getting back into the swing of things...
I've been back in Boston for a few days now, after some time at home in Western Mass, Connecticut, and a quick trip to New York City.  Vacation was fabulous.  I definitely recharged my batteries and I'm excited to jump back into the routine!!

In addition to all the rest, travel, and food - I also was lucky enough to receive some foodie products for Christmas presents!!

My mother gave me a box grater for cheese.  I know it sounds kind of pedestrian, but I didn't have one.  Every time I needed to grate cheese I had to get out my HUGE Cuisinart.  My mom picked one that has measurements marked on the side, which is great for recipes needing smaller quantities.  I also received this in my Christmas stocking:

Fig Spread!
This is a staple in my parents' refrigerator.  It is excellent on its own, but we like it best inside a panini with prosciutto and provolone.  It is also great on a platter of cheese and crackers.  It makes a nice sweet contrast with the salty cheese or meat.  It's also pretty expensive, so it was a treat to receive on Christmas morning!!!

I exchanged gifts with Rafe and his mother a few days after Christmas when I joined them in Connecticut.  His mom knows how much I love to cook and gave me....

This cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan is primarily based on the recipes of the famous restaurants "Noodle Bar", "Ssam Bar", and "Ko".  The recipes sound amazing, though challenging!  I'm looking forward to wrapping my head around a couple in 2010.

In addition to the book, Rafe's mom gave me another gift that might be one of my favorites in recent memory....As many of you know, I live in a teeny tiny studio apartment in downtown Boston.  I have one little window, and no yard.  I've always wanted to grow my own herbs and vegetables, but my lack of space and sunlight makes it fairly difficult.  Enter, the Aerogarden!

Here is the unit sitting on a shelf in my apartment.  It is made up of a (very bright) lamp.  And a base that holds the seeds of up to 3 plants.  The aero garden came with some herb seeds and on Saturday I planted chives, thyme, and genovese basil.  As of tonight (Monday night) I already have a couple little sprouts! 

Boy that was quick!  It's so exciting to watch these grow.  I can't wait to cook with fresh herbs in the dead of winter.  I feel like I'm outsmarting mother nature.

The first three presents I listed are things that I don't get to eat immediately: saving the fig spread for a special occasion, must be patient and let the herbs grow....and need to find some of these special asian ingredients...
However, I did receive one foodie gift that satisfied my need for instant gratification!!

My cousin Rita is one of my family members that reads the blog all the time (Hi Rita!!).  Following my post on Puff Pastry Pinwheels Rita sent me a quick and easy recipe for Rollo Treats.  They sounded delicious - but with all the craziness surrounding the holiday, I never got a chance to try them!

Imagine my delight on Christmas when Rita arrived at my parents' house toting a box (a cute box with a dancing penguin) full of these addictive treats!  Try these for yourself - but be prepared to share them!  The combination of sweet and salty makes these hard to resist.  They are very easy, and delicious!

Rollo Treats
Pretzels - small twisted

Rollo candies
Whole pecans

Spray a cookie sheet with Pam. Preheat Oven to 350. Place small twisted pretzels on cookie sheet. Place a rollo candy on top of each pretzel. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a pecan on each rollo treat.
The salt and crunch of the pretzels combined with the creaminess and sweet of the candy - and the richness of the nut...oh man these are outrageous!
Hope everyone is having a great New Year!!  What are some foodie gifts that you received - or are on your wishlists?