Friday, December 31, 2010

Tick Tock

The time is running out on the 2010 clock!  


I can't believe how much has changed in the last year - specifically on this blog.  This year marked my 1st blog anniversary in January and with that, I felt that I began to get into a pattern with my blogging frequency.  I also decided to tackle some new recipes and techniques (oh, like BAKING!) - so below I recapped some of my favorite recipes from the past year.














These are recipes that are the most memorable for me - and that I feel were really outstanding.  These are recipes I would make for friends and family or recommend to others without reservation.  

Some recipes helped me to conquer a kitchen fear - like using yeast, some were inspired by leftovers ingredients, and others were made for the people I care about.  If you try any of them, I would love to know how they turned out in your kitchen!

Have a happy and safe New Years! See you in 2011!!

What was your most memorable meal of 2010?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I hope everyone had a great holiday if you were celebrating Christmas - and a great day otherwise.  Mine was fantastic, spent with family, friends and LOTS of good food.  I received a few foodie presents this Christmas and I'm so excited about them, I thought I would share.....

Rafe's mom gave me Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table and a (swoon) Le Creuset grill pan.......
Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 10-1/4-Inch Square Skillet Grill, Red

Rafe's sister Aliza, master of all things guacamole and bloody mary gave me Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook!
The French Laundry Cookbook


And Rafe - the best boyfriend around....bought me the #1 thing on my wishlist.  The Le Creuset French Oven in Dune.
Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Dune

I feel so blessed.  And Rafe should too - because he will now get to eat the fruits of my labor - ALL THE TIME.

Monday, December 27, 2010

BUITONI WINNERS

Thank you to everyone who entered my Buitoni giveaway!  
I used Random Integer Generator to choose the winners.

CLARACUPCAKE
SIMPLYLIFE
Emily (A Cambridge Story)
Bridget (Yogurt and Berries)

Please email me at afidalgo12@gmail.com so I can send you your prize!

He wants minestrone, he gets minestrone

Did I mention finals just ended?  I moved here during one of Rafe's most difficult seasons, so since I have a bit more flexibility in my schedule, I tried to make life a little easier on him.

(You may think he has it made, but although I cook he often cleans up my messes.  Also, the first night we got snow/ice he moved my car into the garage for me....ahhhh domestic bliss).

I asked him if there was anything he was craving - and he asked for a veggie soup.  A kind of minestrone.

I'm really picky about my veggie soups. 
Damnit, I really try to like an all-vegetable mix.  But its not the same as a delicious broth with little meatballs or sausage.  So, as a compromise, this recipe starts with a little pancetta.  It is the only meat I included, but even that tiny bit makes a world of flavor different.  I didn't just like this soup - I found myself craving it. 

Yes, me, a soup full of veggies - and craving - in the same sentence!!

Finals-worthy Minestrone

1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 16oz can cannellini beans
2 cloves garlic
2 slices pancetta, diced
2 large carrots, cut into rounds           
celery (1 large stalk, diced)           
onion (1 large, chopped)                     
tomato paste (1 tablespoon)
red wine (1/8th cup)
kale (or spinach)
parsley
rosemary (fresh, ½ tsp chopped)
parmesan


Dice pancetta.  In a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat, render the pancetta until it is crisp.  Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon, and remove all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat from the pan. (if you don't have quite a tablespoon of reserved fat, just add a little olive oil- if you'd like to omit the pancetta, use all olive oil)

Add the chopped onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently until translucent.  Add garlic and continue stirring until it is fragrant (about 1 minute).  Add tomato paste and stir until the paste begins to stick to the pan.  Deglaze with the red wine.  Bring the wine to a boil and reduce by half.  Add carrots, tomatoes, beans, stock, and water.  Cover and let simmer.  Add the shredded kale (or spinach) and pasta.



 Serve with bread, and extra parmesan for topping.  I made little parmesan crostinis.  I sliced a baguette, then toasted it just a bit, rubbed with a raw clove of garlic, then drizzled with olive oil, topped with some parmesan, and then put it back into the oven just to brown a little on the edges.



This was a great winter soup, quick to put together and delicious and warming!  Maybe he was on to something with this!!  Feel free to play around with the veggies and beans depending on your preference.


What is your favorite vegetable soup?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eggnog Cupcakes with Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

I recently cleaned out the cabinets in an effort to integrate some of the food from my old apartment into the pantry.  During this process, I was reminded of the baking mix that I was given as part of our swag bag from the King Arthur trip.  

Upon discovering this EggNog Cake mix, I decided that I HAD to make it for this holiday season since it would be somewhat inappropriate after Christmas.  

Then of course, life got a little crazy.  There were gifts to buy (and wrap), friends to visit, errands to do....And when I got home from yoga last night, baking ANYTHING was not high on my list of priorities.  But since I promised eggnog cupcakes to my friends, I felt guilty if I didn't try.

Although the cake is for a bundt, I decided I'd prefer to bring cupcakes for our little holiday gathering, since they are easier to serve than cutting a cake & needing plates, forks and whatnot.  I consulted my #1 baker friend Megan for some tips and got to baking my cuppers.

I don't why I was so worked up over it - the mix couldn't have been easier.  Just cream some butter together with the cake mix, add milk and eggs, and the batter is done.



I made the cupcakes last night - then tonight after work I came home and made a frosting.  The cake mix came with a glaze, but for eggnog cupcakes I really thought something boozy would be fun -- especially since they were all for adults over 21!  Again, I consulted Megan on the addition of booze, and decided to make a cream cheese frosting with bourbon....


So I added a few tablespoons of this.....

To this....


To make these.....


I'll let you know the verdict after the party!! I haven't tasted the cupcakes, but Rafe had to take the leftover frosting away from me - I was getting a little tipsy.

Happy Holidays!  And don't forget, you still have a few days left to enter to win free pasta!  

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Buitoni! & Giveaway

Remember a while back when I tried out the Buitoni wild mushroom agnolotti?  Well, a representative from the company contacted me and asked if I'd like another coupon, and a calendar!  

More free pasta? yes please!
And of course, now is the time of year to get a 2011 calendar, since the new year is a little more than a week away.

When the calendar arrived, I was pretty excited.  In addition to having pictures of gorgeous Italian scenery, and food....
The calendar also has a recipes that make use of Buitoni products.  Its like a cookbook and calendar in one! 

I can't wait to try the 'March' recipe:  Buitoni Riserva Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti with pesto, asparagus and green beans.  YUM.

Plus, this will keep me from forgetting to buy this year's calendar and having to browse through the clearance rack and decide between little kittens, and Dilbert.  Pictures of pasta are much more ME.

So, would you like a Buitoni calendar? and a coupon for a Buitoni product?

Buitoni is letting me select 4 LUCKY Clean Plate Club readers to win a calendar and a coupon!  I'll draw 4 winners using Random integer generator.  

3 ways to enter:
1. Tell me what Clean Plate Club post has been your favorite!
2. Tweet about the contest (and leave a comment that you tweeted)
3. What's your favorite pasta shape? (leave another, separate comment)

Deadline to enter is Midnight on 12/26 - this will give you the whole lazy day after Christmas too.  I will announce a winner on the 27th!  Good Luck

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh My! Chunky Lola!

Do you have the Flour cookbook yet?  No?  Well this recipe is reason enough to add it to your Holiday wish list!
  
I can say that honestly because this is the only recipe I've made so far - but these cookies alone have made the book worth it.  And I am sure that these won't be the last recipe I make!


You saw my Boston apartment's 'oven' recently.  Can you imagine baking cookies in there?  I tried a few times, but it took forever when I was making 4 cookies at a time....So I knew cookie baking would be high on my list of things to make in my big kitchen!  

Also, its time for law school finals.  Not much can cheer up a law student during finals, but cookies are a good start.  I also owed Rafe's dad some baked goods as payment for legal advice....and I needed to make friends with coworkers.  Yes - this recipe makes a lot of BIG cookies.

It starts with a pretty standard creaming of butter and sugar....white and brown....YUM




But all the other things inside are what make this cookie incredible: Oatmeal, toasted pecans, sweetened coconut, and chunks of dark chocolate.


I probably could have made even MORE cookies....but I HAD to taste-test the dough.  


I realized after I mixed, that it is suggested to chill the dough for a few hours or overnight.  I could not wait, so I baked six cookies immediately, then let the remainder of the dough rest.
They came out Flour bakery perfect if I do say so myself.  I think its less to the credit of my baking ability and owing more to Joanne Chang's very clear, detailed, and specific instructions. 






Knowing how to bake these, and some of Flour's other delicacies may be dangerous....but I think they might help me make friends in CT!

Also, Joanne Chang did not pay me for this post - it's straight from the heart. But I would accept the recipe for the tomato chutney that graces the delicious lamb sandwich at Flour as a thank you!

.....hey, it was worth a try!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Out with the Old

So, I'm finally starting to get settled in my new place and job...the last of my furniture gets moved on Friday.  I took these pictures of my Boston kitchen before I packed up everything.  Just for a little perspective: I was sitting on my bed when I took this photo.  

No wonder I think about food all the time.  I sleep in my kitchen.

For those of you in the burbs this is actually a GREAT studio living situation....though it is NOT good for someone who is trying to avoid snacking in her bed.  I've definitely been guilty many, many times of that one.


So another thing you 'ought to know about my old kitchen....That oven in the photo above?  It doesn't work.  It's a total foil.  There are no coils in the electric oven.  They were removed, making the oven useless for anything other than storage.  

All the apartments in my building were equipped the same way. With a HUGE microwave and no oven.  Unfortunately, my management company failed to tell me that before I signed the lease.  So when I threatened to vacate, and get my deposit back (after a very sad attempt at a baked potato) they bought me that Delonghi convection oven pictured below.  


It's a little bigger than a toaster oven, but I could make a 12 inch pizza in it.  It was fine for cooking for 1 or 2.  But I was not about to host any dinner parties cooking with that thing.  Now, in my new CT digs, I have the option using it as a 2nd oven!  


Right now I'm living at Rafe's mom's house....Couldn't turn down the great rent ($0/month utilities included).  His mom spends a lot of time at her friend Hank's house, so she generally only passes through to pack a bag or leave some delight in the refrigerator.  

There was turkey gumbo in the fridge the day I moved in.

And her kitchen....ahhh, the glory of a REAL oven and lots of counter space.







The previous owner designed the kitchen.  For those readers familiar with the restaurants of CT, I was told he was a chef at one of the 'Max' restaurants.  I have a feeling it might have been one of the Italian restaurants since this butcher block counter would be great to roll pasta.



Lee (Rafe's mom) is a fantastic cook, and her kitchen has all the tools a home cook like me could ask for....lots of pots and pans.  Cast iron, a wok, Wusthof knives and the coveted Le Creuset dutch oven....(yes, I've already used it).  She also has all the typical ingredients that you would need in a well stocked pantry: flour, sugar, spices....and some not so typical....like gumbo file, farro, and white balsamic vinegar.


Slowly but surely, It's starting to feel like home.

When was the last time you moved?  What helps you to feel 'settled' in a new place?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chicken, caramelized onion and kale pizza

What do I do when I have too many leftovers than I know what to do with?
I put them all on a pizza.

Before the big move I tried to throw a lot of meals together based on what was already sitting in my fridge.  Doesn't make sense to do much grocery shopping when your freezer and pantry and stuffed to the brim and you'll be moving to another state!

Making the pizza dough was fairly easy - I just used some of my leftover sourdough starter. I followed a few different recipes loosely and just added flour until the texture felt right.  The result was thin, crispy with just a little chew.  I'm going to keep working on it until I can give more specifics.

I'm still a big fan of using store bought dough when you're in a hurry.
The best part of any pizza is the toppings anyway!

I started by using up my stored onions.  I ALWAYS have onions.  So I sliced two up and carmelized them for topping the pie.


Here they are being evenly distributed on the pizza dough.


I lightly steamed some kale in the microwave -- just a little water in the bowl, add some shredded kale and nuke for a minute or two.  Just until its bright green - it will cook more in the oven.


I topped the pie with the kale and \ some chicken that I had cooked in the crockpot with barbecue sauce a while back.  It wasn't great on its own, so I put it into the freezer hoping to transform it somehow.  It really went well with the pizza where it wasn't the star, but a great contribution to the flavor.


All topped off with some shredded cheddar and gruyere.


And ready to bake!


Out of the oven, the cheese was brown, and the crust was thin and crisp with just a little bit of chew.


The flavors of the onion, chicken, cheese and kale really complimented one another.  The dough remained pretty crispy despite the weight and moisture of all the toppings.


I'd say this was a pretty successful 'clean out the freezer' meal.

What do you make when its time to clean out your cupboards or freezer?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guest Post - New Orleans Po-Boy Festival


Remember last year when I went to New Orleans?  I had some serious fun, and some delicious food.  When we were there, we stayed with Rafe's friend Dave who is down in Louisiana becoming a doctor.  

Recently, I had read about a po-boy fest happening in New Orleans and half-kiddingly suggested that Dave and his girlfriend Jen visit and write a post for my blog...I expected them to just shrug it off - but they actually went!  and wrote a post complete with photos.  I love that our friends are foodies too.
Read on to learn about some of the sandwiches that Dave and Jen encountered!!


You usually find classic New Orleans po-boy sandwiches in small, family-run shops – each of which has a reputation for a specialty po-boy that borders on perfection.  Domelise’s off-the-menu special (fried shrimp and fried oysters fully dressed with swiss cheese and roast beef gravy), Mahoney’s shrimp remoulade and fried green tomato, Liuzza’s barbeque shrimp, the list goes on. 

But at the 4th Annual New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival, restauranteurs from all over the city convene to show off their best take on New Orleans’ official sandwich.  That’s where we headed this weekend to find some of the more unique offerings that we don’t usually see at the go-to po-boy shops.  The Oak Street section of the Uptown / Carrolton neighborhood has just the right sort of personality to host a food festival - its sidewalks were recently revamped for outdoor dining and it’s dotted with restaurants, music shops, art galleries and coffee shops,.  We saw a few people walking around with “Keep Oak Street Awkward” t-shirts, a self-effacing twist on the “Keep Austin Weird” movement.



The festival drew a huge crowd, and everyone seemed to have one attitude in common:  we’re here to have a great time, but the search for the perfect po-boy is to be taken very seriously.  There’s an official ballot with awards for “Best in Show” and various sub-categories for seafood and meats.  It’s like a city-wide Top Chef challenge.

We listened to some live music at the entrance and were ready to start eating, but we found it difficult to dive right in.  You don’t want to waste precious hunger on a boring or otherwise ill-conceived, confused sandwich.  So we perused, chatted up people in line, and kept our eyes peeled for our first strike.


We wandered up to the booth for Barcelona Tapas.  I’d checked out their menu on the festival website and liked the looks of the Spanish-style pork loin medallions and gouda po-boy.


If it looks a little lackluster that’s because it was.  There was something nice about the combination of salty pork, sweet grilled peppers and melting gouda, but I was looking for something sloppier.  This po-boy was trying to be a little too delicate, so I crushed it.

While in line, we overheard a couple talking about a good fried shrimp po-boy with an asian twist.  I was in the mood so I went for it.  Made by Zea’s seafood, a local chain, this po-boy was appropriately moving more in the direction of sloppy.  Here’s a picture of the last bite.


I liked the combination of roasted almonds, spicy slaw and battered fried shrimp.  But just before I left the stand, I caught a glimpse of a store-bought-looking vat of sweet and sour sauce they were drizzling on the shrimp.  This was a junior-varsity move that immediately took them out of the running for my favorite of the day.

We needed a breather so we walked through some of the art galleries and t-shirt shops.  

It was time to get back to business.   On a tip from a friend, I went for a fried grits and grillades po-boy dressed with spicy tomato sauce from Le Citron Bistro.


On paper it had all the components of something dank but unfortunately it fell flat.  The grillades was cold and tomato sauce didn’t have enough zip so I had to douse it in Crystal hot sauce.

Next we stopped at GW Fins.  This year they had a fried Maine lobster chunk tossed in Crystal hot sauce dressed with crispy Bibb lettuce and vine ripe tomatoes po-boy.  There was a fat man posted up at the po-boy retrieval section of GW Fins’ stand and I asked him why there was no line for this apparently filthy po-boy.  He had just sunk his teeth in so he gestured with his elbow up a side street.  I looked and saw a full block-long line of people waiting for sandwiches.  Then I looked behind the counter and there were only five po-boys left.  I didn’t know it at the time but the fried lobster was the eventual winner for this year’s “Best in Show.”  Had I known, I definitely would have asked the fat man for a bite.


After letting that one slip away, it was time to get serious about harpooning this year’s white whale.  This late in the day, there is a tendency to panic and just habitually join a line without careful inspection of what’s on the other end.  But by doing so you run the risk of taking yourself out of the game with a throw-away fried shrimp, lettuce and tomato po-boy.


 

Thankfully we ran into some friends who were talking very seriously about a cured meat-themed sandwich they enjoyed at a nearby cluster of stands.  We reloaded at an ATM, got a beer and hopped in line.  The good people at Grande Isle (winners of the last two years’ “Best in Show”) were coming at us with a very special sandwich. 

Dubbed the “Boucherie Po-boy,” the bread was spread on both sides with a “liver cheese” (paté), and inside were three home made meats: head cheese, smoked pork and bologna.  It was dressed with freshly sliced green peppers, carrots, cucumber and raw red onion.  They added three curls of pork fat cracklin’s fresh out of the deep fryer and drizzled cane syrup over the top.



Paired with a dark ale, this was easily the highlight of the day.  They nailed the intersection of unwieldy sloppiness and sophisticated flavors.  Eating it felt like sitting for a complete southern meal.  We were not surprised to later hear that this sandwich was named “Best Pork Po-Boy” this year.



Bloated and burping, we wandered to the music stage pegged at the far end of Oak Street.  As the sun went down, the band started into Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina.”  Beyond the stage a freight train inched its way downtown against the backdrop of the grassy levee, and just beyond it, the Mississippi River. 

As dinnertime rolled around, we went for the Palace Cafe’s BLT po-boy with a spicy Crystal aioli.  Always big fans of the BLT, this sandwich with very (un)healthy portions of bacon did not disappoint.



Looking for something on the lighter side after all that meat, we lined up for the other offering from Grand Isle.  Their smoked fish po-boy had just been announced the winner for “Best Specialty Seafood Po-Boy,” and rightfully so.  This time they spread the bread with fried caper cream cheese.  On top of a bed of forked chunks of smoked fish, they laid a pile of arugula tossed in vinaigrette, sliced red peppers, fresh dill and pickled red onion.  The flavors complemented each other perfectly.  It went down smooth and was a nice way to play us out of this year’s festival.



Oh man!! I would love to sink my teeth into that boucherie po-boy.  I think another trip to New Orleans is in order!!  Thanks Dave and Jen!