Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with a Chunky Vegetable Vodka Sauce

I will be honest with you all from the get go. Making gnocchi is more time consuming then most dishes. Don't let that deter you though. Homemade gnocchi are fluffier and more flavorful then their dense store bought counterpart. They are a great dish to make with your significant other. It's a project. It's time to hang out, talk, and roll out and cut dough. These probably take 30-45 minutes longer to prepare then packaged gnocchi. You will probably find yourself cursing my name as you roll the dough out into ropes and cut each one inch piece. I'm not scared though. It's a risk I'm willing to take because I know when you have that first bite you will be both impressed with yourself and singing my praises. We are all going to be better for it.

The sweet potato and the chunky vegetable vodka sauce are quite delightful together. This vodka sauce also would be great on any pasta. I think it's really tasty. This sauce is a spin off of Kate's Famous Meat Sauce. Yes, it may be self proclaimed, but my meat sauce over pasta is a favorite dish in this house. We eat it more times a year than anything else. Someday soon I will share it with you. The basis of the sauce and this sauce is sauteed celery, carrots, onion, and garlic, deglazed with red wine, add tomatoes, and pinch of brown sugar. It's a good jump off point for any tomato based sauce. In the case of the vodka sauce, I added vodka (no kidding) and half and half. The sauce is easy to make and plays really well with the slight sweetness of the gnocchi. So give it a try. You trust me right? It's worth the little extra effort. 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with a Chunky Vegetable Vodka Sauce 
Serves 4

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and roast the sweet potatoes for 1 hour, while you make the sauce. 

Chunk Vegetable Vodka Sauce
2 tbs olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup wine 
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
2 tbs sugar 
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 half and half
Salt and pepper to taste

I recommend making the sauce first and then reheating it once your gnocchi are done. 

In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add the garlic and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook stirring occasionally until the onion has become translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it has reduced by about 1/2. Mix in tomatoes and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low. Simmer sauce for 10 minutes. Finally, add the vodka, half and half, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Reheat sauce over low heat, when you start to boil the gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
1 lbs sweet potatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour 
 Parmesan for serving 

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, mash them, salt, pepper, and nutmeg  together with a potato masher. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and stir. At this point you want to keep adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is still slightly sticky but you can handle it. You may end up adding the whole cup or you may not. 

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. 

On a lightly floured surface, break off about a 1/5 of the dough and use your hands to roll it into a 1/2 inch thick rope. Cut the rope into 1 inch sections. Do this with the rest of the dough. If you want, use a fork and press gently into each gnocchi. This helps the sauce stick to the gnocchi but it's optional. 

Add about 8-10 gnocchi at a time to the boiling water. Once they rise to the surface, they are done. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a colander. Repeat with the rest of the gnocchi.

Serve with your vodka sauce and some Parmesan. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Honey Peanut Butter Apple Granola Bars

We just returned from 4 days spent wandering the desert in the Needles of Canyonlands. The desert has captivated me in the last few years. So much of it is still left untouched and you can still find places where you can hike for miles and not see a soul. This is a gift in a world where we are almost always surrounded by others, even in many of our National Parks, where we go to seek wilderness and solitude. The Needles District of Canyonlands is spectacular. We hiked surrounded by towering red rocks and if neither of us was speaking, it was silent, no car noise, no people talking, just beautiful scenery and the company of each other. Our most breathtaking hike led us to Druid Arch. I hope everyone has the opportunity to visit this beautiful arch in their life. It's Utah's best (don't tell Delicate Arch I said that). It reminds you take a deep breath, relax, and appreciate this world and all its wonder. But enough of my desert ramblings, let's talk about the food that powered us through these long hikes. Specifically granola bars, which are easy to make and leaps and bounds better than store bought.
Druid Arch

Granola bars are essentially some combination of oats, other grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, and some kind of binder such as oil, butter, and honey. So many options. Go wild! These make for great snacks. The granola bars I made rely primarily on the honey and peanut butter to bind them with just a little added butter. They are a power food and so delicious!

Honey Peanut Butter Apple Granola Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 2/3 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup oat flour (if you don't have oat flour just process until ground in a food processor)
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups dried apples, chopped
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract 
3 tbs butter
1/2 cup honey 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 8" square pan with parchment. Coat the parchment with nonstick spray. 

Stir together rolled oats, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried apples. 

In a sauce pan over medium low heat, stir together peanut butter, vanilla extract, butter, and honey, until all ingredients have just melted and combined. 

Pour wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and press it firmly into all the corners of the pan. 

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the top turns golden brown. Allow the bars to cool completely before cutting them into squares. Grab a couple and go enjoy the outdoors. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Parsley Pesto Salmon and Brussel Sprouts with a Honey Chipotle Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Sometimes I get really excited in the kitchen. If you walked in, you may find yourself wondering what wonderful thing has just happened that has caused me to dance to terrible but utterly enjoyable seventies music in an apron. And, well, in my eyes something wonderful has just happened and it usually comes in the form of some really yummy food. Like yesterday, when Blake walked in from his run, and I announced smiling spatula in hand, "I just added buffalo sauce to the chili fries because no one was here to stop me." Yes, buffalo sauce makes me that excited. But today we are not here to talk about chili fries with buffalo sauce, someday I promise we will talk about them, but not today. Today I want to talk about this delicious pesto salmon and my new favorite sprouts.

Whole Foods was having a big sale on salmon this week and I will never pass up on-sale seafood at Whole Foods. I debated for many a day the fate of my beautiful piece of salmon. Blake wanted parsley pesto and I wanted parsley pesto...on steroids. Because parsley pesto is delicious, but add a little chipotle, honey, and yogurt and you are really on to something. The secret to this recipe is making the honey chipotle yogurt sauce for the brussel sprouts in the food processor (or blender) and using that same food processor without washing to make the pesto sauce. The remainder of the honey chipotle yogurt sauce coating the processor will impart a slight heat and creaminess to your pesto and that's what takes it to the next level. I served the sprouts like an appetizer because it's fun. We munched on them while the salmon finished baking. Baked chili fries were an excellent addition as a side.

Parley Pesto Salmon and Brussel Sprouts with Honey Chipotle Yogurt Dipping Sauce
Brussel sprouts inspired by How Sweet It Is, serves 2

2 chipotle chilies and 1 tbs adobe sauce (chipotles in a can with adobe sauce can be found in the Mexican aisle of most grocery stores)
1 tbs honey
2/3 cup greek yogurt
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tbs lemon juice
3 cloves garlic (1 for the yogurt sauce and 2 for the pesto)
1 bunch cilantro, remove bottom of the stems
1 shallot
1/2 cup pecans
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb salmon filet
1 lb brussel sprouts, quartered
3 tbs flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, pulse together to combine chipotles, adobe sauce, honey, yogurt, paprika, lemon juice, 1 clove of the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Scrape sauce into a small bowl and reserve for later. No need to scrape it clean. You want some of the sauce to remain in the processor for the pesto.

In the same food processor or blender you made the honey chipotle yogurt sauce in, add the remaining 2 cloves of garlic, cilantro, shallot, pecans, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse together until combined.

Coat the bottom of a baking dish with nonstick spray or butter. Place salmon in the dish and spread cilantro pesto over the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

While the salmon is baking, prepare your sprouts. Coat the bottom of a saute pan with oil. You want at least 1/4-1/2" of oil coating the bottom of the pan. Heat on high until the oil is sizzling. Toss brussel sprouts with the 3 tbs of flour and pan fry until pieces start to turn golden brown. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and enjoy with your honey chipotle yogurt dipping sauce.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bananas Foster Bread

Today I'm remembering to appreciate and acknowledge the everyday things in life that I love. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, which goes a little something like this, "When each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises." I try to take to that to heart everyday but as we all know, sometimes life bogs us down and we forget to stop and appreciate. In my everyday routine, I love my quite mornings with a book and some tea, my morning mountain runs, the moments my husband and I take in our chaotic day-to-day lives to talk and enjoy each others' presence, afternoon walks with our dog, and of course, all the wonderful food cooked and shared in our kitchen. I count myself lucky that I enjoy so much about my everyday life.

This bananas foster bread is another reminder of the importance of taking a moment everyday to enjoy something spectacular. I love all desserts with flour. Cookies, cake, and sweet quick breads just happen to be three of my favorite things in this world. I also think bananas foster is pretty spectacular, especially with some really good vanilla ice cream. Luckily for me I live in a world where no one will stop me from combining my love of quick bread with my love of bananas foster. The concept is simple, make your bananas foster over the stove, allow to cool, and mix with some flour and baking soda. Cooking the bananas on the stove top with sugar and butter creates a wonderful caramelized flavor and of course, the addition of rum makes almost anything better. So make this bread and enjoy a slice as a reminder of the good things that  happen in our lives when the sun rises.

Bananas Foster Bread

6 tbs butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
5 tbs rum
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
5 bananas, peeled and sliced into 1" rounds
1 3/4 all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the oven rack in the middle.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted mix in sugar, rum, vanilla, and cinnamon. Wait for mixture to get bubbly and then add the bananas. Cook bananas until they begin to soften and caramelize slightly 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

While waiting for the bananas foster mixture to cool, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Once bananas foster has cooled, mash together with a potato masher. The bananas and liquid should combine but a few banana lumps are just fine. Whisk eggs into the mashed bananas foster.

Pour the bananas foster mash into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until just combined.

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spiced Chicken Shish Kabob with Roasted Garlic Avocado Yogurt Sauce

You know what makes me happy? Like really happy? It's the moment you realize spring has come. Walking through my neighborhood flowers are popping up, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing. It's really quite idyllic. When the days get warmer and longer, you can't help but feel optimistic and excited. I'm excited for camping, hiking high up in the Rockies, summer nights on the porch, and grilling. Next week we will be getting a jump on the camping by heading to Canyonlands for some desert exploration. My love for the deserts of Utah has no limits. This year we will be armed with some pretty awesome campfire food. We have already been exploring with all kinds of s'mores toppings in the kitchen. Nutella, bananas, honey, and peanut butter have all been stacked with delicious graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. In addition to s'mores, our campsite will be chalked full of M&M cookies, morning glory muffins, homemade granola bars, and all the fixings for pizza on the grill and hot dogs over the fire. I truly can't wait.

Until then, I settled for the small spring victory of uncovering the grill and putting it to work this week. I adapted this recipe from Half Baked Harvest, who makes some of the most creative and delicious food. These kabobs are marinated with yogurt, lemon, garlic, and loads of spices to make for a flavor packed yet pretty healthy meal. Note that the chicken needs to marinate for 4 hours or overnight. The roasted garlic avocado sauce is the real treat of this meal though. Put roasted garlic or avocado on anything and I'm in, but the combo of both is quite the treat. I put the kabobs over couscous with a side of seared spinach. Half Baked Harvest put her's in a pita with some goat cheese, which also sounds delicious. The beauty of food is you can adapt to whatever sounds tastiest to you.

Spiced Chicken Shish Kabob with Roasted Garlic Avocado Sauce 
*Note chicken needs to marinate at least 4 hours or overnight and garlic needs to roast 40 minutes before making the sauce
Adapted from Half Baked Harvest, serves 4

Spiced Chicken Shish Kabob
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup greek yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, grated
2 tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 pounds of chicken breasts, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 large onion, cut in half and then each half cut into quarters
3 cups of prepared couscous (Near East couscous can be found in almost all grocery stores and is easy to prepare)

In a large tupperware or bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil, greek yogurt, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, salt, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add chicken and mix together. If you prepared the marinade in a tupperware, cover with the lid and allow to marinate. Otherwise, put chicken and marinade in a ziplock. Allow chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours or as long as overnight.

After the chicken has marinated, preheat your grill to medium high heat and oil the grates. Thread the chicken and onions onto skewers, alternating. If using wood skewers, soak in water first so they don't burn. Grill chicken on each side for approximately 5 minutes, until cooked all the way through.

*Note you can also cook this chicken in a grill pan or skip the skewers all together and cook in an oiled saute pan over medium high heat.

Roasted Garlic Avocado Yogurt Sauce
1 head of garlic
1 avocado, pitted and peeled
4 tbs greek yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and peper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the top of the garlic so you can see the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap in foil. Roast for 40 minutes.

Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into a food processor or blender along with avocado, greek yogurt, cumin, chili powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until smooth.

To assemble
Place chicken skewers over prepared couscous and serve with a side of the roasted garlic avocado yogurt sauce and your favorite vegetable. Yum!

Monday, March 10, 2014

My New Love Affair: Irish Soda Bread

This Irish girl would be remiss not to post something in honor of St.Patrick's Day. This year we are going all out by enjoying this bread, corn beef and cabbage, bread pudding with a whiskey caramel sauce, and of course, some stout. I love all of these food things. They run through my veins. Although, I pretty much look for any excuse to celebrate anything food related. National Nutella Day? Let's put Nutella on or in everything we can. National Doughnut Day? Doughnuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This Friday is pie day, since it's 3/14 or 3.14 so there will be pie. Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, and Tuesday are all celebrated with food where I come from. It's a beautiful thing.

This bread is also a very beautiful thing. How can something so simple be so wonderful? Twenty minutes to mix together and 40 minutes to bake and you will find yourself consuming half a loaf in less than 30 minutes or at least that's what I did. I'm serious about this bread. The ingredients are not all that glamorous, just some flour, baking soda, sugar, buttermilk, butter, and raisins but in concert they make for a rustic, slightly sweet, and satisfying loaf. This bread will be made to celebrate more often.

Irish Soda Bread
Adapted slightly from Cook's Illustrated, serve 8 to 10

1 1/2 all-purpose flour
1 1/2 whole wheat flour
3 tbs brown sugar
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsps salt
2 tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk both flours, brown sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl. Add melted butter and use fingers to rub it into the flour mixture until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Scatter raisins over the top. Mix buttermilk and raisins into the flour with a fork until dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains. If dry flour remains, add buttermilk a tablespoon at a time, until all the flour is just moist.

Place dough on a floured surface and pat into a 6 inch round. Dough will look rustic and uneven.

Place dough into a greased cast-iron skillet or if you don't own a cast-iron skillet, a cookie sheet. Cut a deep cross in the dough, about 5" across and 3/4" deep. Bake until browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kitchen Projects: Homemade Vanilla Extract

While Blake was away climbing for a weekend, I spent time doing all my favorite activities. Not to say that most of favorite activities don't involve my husband, most of them do, but a few I reserve for myself. Like reading for hours with a glass of wine. And cooking and baking. And making vanilla extract. Alright, making vanilla extract might not be a typical activity I enjoy while husband is out climbing, if it were we would have lifetime supply, but it is something exciting I endeavored on this particular weekend. I also made sweet potato hummus and bananas foster bread, both of which will be making their way to the blog soon.

 Anyway, back to the excitement and thrill of making your own vanilla extract. Yes, thrilling, like skydiving, but without jumping out of a plane (silly people jumping out of planes). Vanilla extract takes about ten minutes of hands on time to make and a couple of months of wait time to be ready. It's less expensive then buying it at the store and you can tailor the extract to your preference. Vanilla extract is made up of vanilla beans and alcohol. Typically the alcohol is vodka but you can have fun and experiment with others. I purchased my beans from Beanilla, which can be found here. Each vanilla bean has its own flavor profile. I purchased Madagascar Bourbon and Tonga vanilla beans and did one round with vodka and one round with bourbon. I look forward to the results and think you too should partake in this new thrilling project.

Homemade Vanilla Extract 
Makes 8 ounces of extract

5 vanilla beans
8 ounces of alcohol, typically vodka but have fun and experiment
8 ounce jar

Split the vanilla beans down the center with a knife. Place in the jar and cover with alcohol. Shake once a week for 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, your extract will be ready. Remove the beans and get baking. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Peanut Red Curry Chicken

When we were on our honeymoon in New Zealand, we ate our weight in Thai and Indian food. You may be asking yourself why we would travel half way around the world to eat cuisine from another region. Good question and one I asked myself. The answer is that in most of the towns we visited, the Thai and Indian food restaurants were highly recommended. New Zealanders must love their Thai and Indian food. Who were Blake and I to disagree, as both happen to be two of our favorite regional cuisines. New Zealanders also love wine, vegemite (yes, they really do), savory hand pies, garlic bread, and ice cream. We agreed with them on most counts, expect for the vegemite. Vegemite, in my opinion, is still pretty gross. But Thai food, well Thai food is wonderful in so many ways.

I committed myself long ago to exploring and cooking all the Thai food recipes I could get my hands on. Some Thai dishes are more challenging to make than others. Perfect stir fried noodles are an art, a very delicious art. It's hard to attain the prefect chewy yet slightly crispy texture in the noodles but you can and even if you don't, odds are good the food will still taste wonderful. Curry on the other hand is usually simple. This peanut red curry chicken is particularly easy, as you essentially simmer everything together. Also, I think you will find this dish delightfully creamy, a little bit spicy, and generally soul warming.

Peanut Red Curry Chicken 
Adapted from Everyday Thai Cooking by Katie Chin, serves 4

2 cups coconut milk
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 tbs red curry paste (can be found in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores)
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 large head of broccoli, chopped
1 hot red or green chili, diced (I used a serrano)
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs peanut butter
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup basil leaves
2 cups cooked rice to serve over

In a large skillet over medium high heat, bring the coconut milk and carrots to a medium boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the curry paste and stir until combined. Add the chicken and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook chicken for 5 minutes.

Add the broccoli, diced chili pepper, fish sauce, peanut butter, sugar, and basil and simmer for 5 minutes. Make sure the chicken has cooked through. Serve over rice.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Afternoon Tea: British Cream Scones with a Cinnamon Raisin Twist

Remember how I said I had recently become creative? At least a little bit creative, which is leaps and bounds beyond my absolute lack of creativity in the previous 27 years. This high tea stemmed from a little bit of that creativity. My mother and mother-in-law share the same birthday. This year they both received from us high tea in a box with homemade scones and tea cookies, jam, lemon curd, and tea. Who doesn't love high tea? I think we should all stop what we are doing this afternoon and partake. Find a scone and your favorite tea, sit in a nice relaxing spot, and take a moment to enjoy the afternoon. 

Even better, you can surprise a friend or your spouse with these homemade scones and some jam and enjoy the afternoon together. These scones are adapted from Cook's Illustrated British cream scones. Apparently the classic British cones contain less sugar than their American counterparts. This makes it so you can lavishly spread lemon curd all over them and enjoy. These scones were simple and wonderful. I added raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg but you could add whatever makes you happy. 

British Cream Scones
Slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated, serves 8 

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbs sugar 
1 tbs baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 tbs unsalted butter cold and cut into 1/4" pieces 
1/2 cup raisins 
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and move oven rack to the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg just until combined. Scatter butter chunks over the top and pulse again, until the mixture looks like coarse meal and some large butter chunks still remain. 

Pour mixture into a large bowl and mix in raisins. Stir in cream until dough begins to take shape. 

Place the dough on a floury surface and knead until a sticky ball forms. Shape dough into a 6" round and cut into eight wedges. 

Places the wedges on your prepared baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the top of the scones are lightly golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving.