Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Homemade Grenadine and Books on Food

Today I want to talk about reading and homemade grenadine. The two are related because I have spent the past few days with a stomach bug, which led to lots of reading and drinking what I now call a sick person's cocktail, homemade grenadine and ginger ale.

Even when I'm not sick, my life is consumed by reading. On average, I read two books a week. I love books. I love the way they smell. The way they feel in my hands. I love that a good book can consume us and take us into a world we don't want to leave. Sometimes I find myself about to tell Blake a story about what happened in my book, forgetting that it didn't happen to me in real life. I could go on and on about the books I have loved but today I want to provide you with a short list of books I have loved about food. Many great ones have been written exploring a wide range of topics. These are my favorites: 

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver is a wonderful writer. Flight Behavior her most recent novel is excellent. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle captured my heart and changed the way I eat. She takes us to the root of food literally and reminds us to connect with where our food comes from. Her message about food parallels a lovely story about a year in the life of her family. 
  • Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford- Buford takes us inside the kitchen of famed chef and Food Network star, Mario Batali, and shows us what it's like to work on the line and survive in a fast paced restaurant kitchen. He then travels to Italy to learn how to make pasta and butcher a pig, all the while entertaining us with his knack for storytelling. 
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain- I love Anthony Bourdain. His sarcasm, rock and roll attitude, and sheer love of food have endlessly entertained me on his TV shows, Parts Unknown and No Reservations. Bourdain has done and seen it all in the world of restaurants, travel, and eating food. In Kitchen Confidential, he takes us along for the ride to explore the gritty life of a chef. 
  • Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan-One would be remiss to talk about food writers and not mention Michael Pollan. His book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, is another must read. In Cooked, Pollan works as an apprentice with a pit master, a famed baker, master fermentors, and a chef from Chez Panisse. Along the way he takes us back to the fundamentals of cooking with fire, water, air, and the earth. It's a very interesting read for anyone who loves to cook. 
This post promises to be the longest I have written yet, but if you are still with me, which I hope you are, then let's make homemade grenadine. It's magic. You know what I'm talking about. The red liquid that we pour into cocktails and shirley temples but none of us really know what it's made of. I do now. Pomegranates. And when you cook down pomegranate juice and make your own syrup, you will wonder how you have gone your whole life without such a delightful treat. Give it a try. It's fun and you can make tasty drinks. Nondrinkers and kids will love grenadine and ginger ale. If you enjoy a good cocktail, it's uses are endless. I'm not even a cocktail drinker but I thought it was delicious in combination with vodka and soda water. Have fun with it!

Homemade Grenadine 
From The Kitchn

1/4 cup sugar
1 cup 100% pomegranate juice
1/4 of a lemon, juiced
A couple splashes of orange bitters (optional)

Combine sugar and pomegranate juice in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn heat up to high and bring to a boil for 5 minutes or until it has thickened.

Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Allow to cool and enjoy in combination with your favorite drink.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saucy Nepalese Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes (a spin on Aloo Gobi)

You know what I love? Love a whole lot? Crabapple trees blooming in spring. The smell, the color, they are wonderful. I also love my new outdoor nook, where I have spent the past few nights reading well into the darkness, utterly charmed by the glow of my solar lanterns and coyotes howling in the distance. What an idyllic little spring. If you haven't gotten the picture by now, I am really loving this spring. I didn't know I loved spring this much before. But oh how I do.

I'm also spending more time outdoors, which means I want delicious food quickly. This saucy Nepalese spiced cauliflower and potato dish, inspired by Aloo Gobi found at Nepalese restaurants, fits the bill. It's vegetarian and as satisfying and hearty as any meat based main dish. While we do love a good hamburger, we try to eat a plant based diet because it's better for this planet, of which I'm quite fond. I have been on an Indian, Thai, and Nepalese food kick of late, because all of it packs big flavor without relying on cheese and bread. And while I love cheese and bread more than most, sometimes I have to practice a little moderation. Sometimes.

This dish is filled with spices and a touch of honey for some sweetness. The cauliflower and potatoes make it hearty and satisfying. Plus, it only takes about 30 minutes to prepare, which means we all can spend a little more time outside enjoying what spring has to offer.

Saucy Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Serves 4

1 tbs olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs ginger, minced
1 serrano pepper, diced
1 1/2 tbs garam masala (1/2 tsp coriander, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp clove, 1/4 tsp cardamon)
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 small head of cauliflower, florets cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup water
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
2 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs honey
1/4 cup greek yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve
1 cup rice, prepared according to package directions

Get your rice started.

Heat olive in a saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the serrano pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the garam masala and turmeric and cook 1-2 minutes.

To the pan add the potatoes, cauliflower, water, tomatoes, tomato paste, and honey. Reduce heat to medium and cook 15-20 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add the greek yogurt and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Barbeque Chicken Pizza with Candied Onions and Sour Cream

Pizza is one of the most wonderful things on this planet. A life without pizza would not be much of a life at all. Maybe pizza isn't something we should eat everyday of our lives but it is something we should eat often enough. The fun of pizza is the endless array of toppings and ways to combine them. As long as there is cheese and crust, the sky's the limit.

When Blake and I were in New Zealand, we had the barbeque pizza that inspired this pizza. Barbeque chicken pizzas can be a dime a dozen but at this restaurant they candied their red onions and added sour cream on top. Two pretty excellent moves so far as I'm concerned so I attempted to replicate. The results are delicious. I hope you all follow suit and give yourself over to the sheer delight that happens when you put mozzarella on a chewy crust with sweet BBQ sauce, a little jalapeno for spice, candied red onion, and tangy sour cream.

I'm also including my favorite crust recipe here. It's a slightly honeyed sweet, chewy crust. You can make it the night before and have it ready to use the next day. You can also go to your local Whole Foods or local pizzeria and buy pizza dough but I recommend trying your hand at homemade once.

Barbeque Chicken Pizza with Candied Onions and Sour Cream
Serves 4, Pizza crust recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Pizza Crust
1 tsp yeast
3 tbs honey
1 1/4 cups warm water, should be warm to the touch (not too hot to touch)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil

Combine yeast, water, and honey in a bowl. Let sit 5-8 minutes until foamy.

Using an electric mixer or with a wooden spoon by hand mix yeast mixture with both flours, salt, and olive oil. If using an electric mixer, use the dough hook to knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, until it slowly springs back when you indent it with your finger. You can also knead the dough by hand looking for the same springiness. Kneading by hand will take 15-20 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise for 45 minutes. At this point you can refrigerate it up to 36 hours or use immediately.

1 chicken breast
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce (can be more or less depending on your sauce preference on pizza)
2 tbs olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 tbs honey
1 jalapeno, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
8 oz fresh mozzarella ball, sliced into 1/4" rounds (shredded mozzarella is fine as well)
4 oz sour cream

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken breast and place in a baking pan and cover with a 1/2 cup of the BBQ sauce. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through. Cut chicken into bite sized cubes.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot add the onion and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the edges begin to brown. Add a tablespoon of honey, pinch of salt, and cook until the onion caramelizes, another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

To assemble the pizza:
Turn oven up to 450 degrees.

Prepare either a cookie sheet with nonstick spray or an 18" nonstick pizza pan with cornmeal sprinkled on the bottom.

Stretch or roll out your dough until it is a little over the dimensions of your pan. I do a combination of rolling and stretching. I roll out the dough some first into the general shape I want, stretch with my hands, and then roll it out some more. Once dough reaches the dimensions you want, place on your prepared pan, and roll over the edges to make a crust.

Bake the crust for 6 minutes in the oven. After the crust has partially baked, you will add your toppings. Using a large serving spoon or spatula spread the sauce over the crust. Add the sliced mozzarella, red onion, garlic, jalapeno, and cubed chicken over the top.

Bake for another 6-10 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown and cheese begins to bubble. Pull out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Using a spoon drizzle the sour cream over the top and enjoy!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cinnamon Nutmeg Honey Graham Crackers

I have a new appreciation for people who play stringed instruments. It's hard. I mean really hard. Remember that mandolin I said I bought and was going to learn to play, while I sit in my beautiful new outdoor patio nook? Did you think I was joking? Well I was not. I can't even get my fingers positioned right to strum a single cord. Let alone put a bunch of them together in something that sounds like music. Do all stringed instrument players have really large and flexible hands because mine don't seem to stretch in the necessary ways.

The mandolin is just one new hobby in a long line of activities Blake and I have attempted to master together. Learning new things together keeps us engaged in our relationship. In the past four years, we have taken on beer and mead brewing, cheese making, vegetable gardening, some failed attempts at carpentry, mushroom growing, making homemade bitters, book clubbing, and now the mandolin. It keeps things interesting. I told Blake a couple of weeks ago he married the most interesting girl in the world. His response was, "The most interesting girl in the world. She doesn't always drink wine, but she usually does." 

This most interesting girl most recently made graham crackers. Cinnamon nutmeg honey graham crackers to be exact and I love them. I love them a whole lot. So much I have made them twice in the last three weeks. So much I'm not sure I will ever go without them in my house. These graham crackers are nothing fancy but they are satisfyingly nutty, crunchy, slightly sweet, and warming spice delights. They satisfy my sweet tooth. Later this afternoon you will find me doing hand yoga on the mandolin, while enjoying a big plate of these. 

Cinnamon Nutmeg Honey Graham Crackers 
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, makes two cookie sheets full 

1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar 
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt 
4 tbs unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes 
1/3 cup honey 
1/2 cup milk 
2 tbs vanilla extract 

2 tbs sugar
2 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp nutmeg 

Combine both flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a food processor. Pulse 5-7 times to mix. Add butter and pulse until a coarse mixture forms. 

Whisk honey, milk, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Add to the flour mixture in the processor and pulse until dough comes together. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and chill for an hour. 

After the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour a work surface and roll out half the dough to a rectangle about an 1/8" thick. You could at this point cut off the uneven edges of the dough to make perfectly square cookies. I'm less about perfect squares and more about saving time so my graham crackers were more rustic in appearance. Cut rolled out dough into roughly 2" by 4" rectangles or whatever size your heart desires. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle half the cinnamon sugar over the top. Leave this baking sheet in the fridge while you roll out the other half. 

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You will never buy graham crackers from the store again. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buttermilk Ranch Yogurt Dip

Kids love ranch dressing because it's delicious. I think adults do too but they become more concerned about all the fat and calories and learn to live and die by balsamic vinaigrette. But it's not as good. We all know that. We grow older, things change, like our waistlines, and we all pretend to love boring dressing. That's the beauty of cooking though. We can make ranch, a far superior ranch, with loads of spices and some yogurt to ease our guilt. That's what this ranch is. It allows us to embrace our inner kid again and dip carrots into ranch with abandon.

Speaking of growing up, I said to Blake this weekend, while we were hiking through a delightful Colorado April snow storm, these years are going to be big ones. Last year we were married. This year I finished graduate school and in the next year Blake will finish law school. We both will get new jobs. In a few years there may be kids. It's an exciting time. It can also be exhausting. Homework, job applications, and uncertain futures. But ultimately we both appreciate what is certain. We have each other, a lovely home, an awesome dog, and wonderful family. I also am choosing to appreciate what is uncertain and embrace the excitement.

When you are younger, you think anything is possible. You think when you grow up, you can be anything you want to be. I try to maintain that attitude throughout life. We can always be and do whatever we want. We don't have to get stuck down one path. Life can continue to be an adventure. It's the decisions we make that dictate our adventures. These coming years will be exciting ones. They will be what we make them. We can choose ranch, we can choose balsamic, as long as we enjoy every step of the way. Yes, I did just making a dressing metaphor, which means I'm done for the day.

Buttermilk Ranch Yogurt Dip
Makes 1 cup of dip, adapted from Foodie with a Family

1 1/2 tbs dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dill
1 tbs fresh or dried chives
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk

Whisk together parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, dill, chives, salt, and pepper.

Whisk buttermilk and greek yogurt together. Add mixed ranch seasoning from above to yogurt mixture. Enjoy a delicious snack.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Roasted Sweet Potato and Onion Sandwich with Avocado and Sriracha Mayo

Music while cooking is mandatory. Recently Dave Matthews has taken over my Pandora because it reminds me of many wonderful summers in my youth. It makes me crave outdoor adventures, laying by a lake, and crackling campfires. What is it about music that has the power to take us back to a moment in time and feel like we are still there? Dave does that for me. Also, on the Pandora takeover, and please don't hold this one against me, is Nelly, which reminds me of high school and makes me laugh. Blake and I have spent the past week working on a puzzle and listening to Nelly Pandora, like any respectable 80 year old couple trying to reclaim their youth. I suppose Nelly is only appropriate because this May will mark 10 years since I have graduated from high school. Ten years! Makes a girl feel old, as does working on a puzzle on Friday night and the sudden urge to redecorate. Oh boy. 

But then I listened to Dave Matthews, while making this delicious sandwich and I remembered my wonderful adventurous youth, which has been rivaled by my adventurous present. Summer still means crackling campfires, outdoor adventures, and sitting on the patio watching lightning crash across the sky in a summer storm, and that's why I love it. I also really love this sandwich. It makes it on the lunch menu more often than any other item. Ten minutes of prep and thirty minutes of cook time and you have yourself a sandwich as good as any that you can buy at one of those "gourmet" sandwich shops. Just throw sliced onion and sweet potato in the oven with some oil and spices and then top the roasted vegetables with creamy avocado and sriracha for some spice. It's so good and would go quite well with an evening on the porch, while listening to some Dave Matthews or Nelly. I'm not here to judge. 

Roasted Sweet Potato and Onion Sandwich with Avocado and Sriracha Mayo
Serves 4

2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 onion, sliced
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 avocado
Spinach or other green
Rosemary sourdough bread (really any crusty bread will do, this is our favorite) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss sweet potato rounds and onion slices with olive oil, chili powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. On a greased baking sheet, roast sweet potato and onions for 25-30 minute, stirring halfway through. 

To assemble the sandwich: toast the bread, spread one half with mayo, drizzle as much sriracha as desired over the mayo, layer on roasted vegetables, avocado, and greens. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Buffalo Apple Burger with Sage Jalapeno Pesto and Blue Cheese

The time is now to sit on the patio with your favorite beverage and grill some burgers. Especially in Boulder, where it will be in the high sixties, low seventies for the next four days. My enthusiasm for this weather knows no limits. In fact, this weekend I dedicated myself to working on our new outdoor living room on the patio. You know the ones you see in Better Homes and Gardens with the outdoor rugs, cozy seating areas, and paintings on the wall. My little patio really came together well for someone without an ounce of decorative savvy. Martha Stewart would be proud. And I'm always trying to make Martha proud. To complete the picture in my head required two people sitting on the patio enjoying a buffalo burger, while someone strummed on the mandolin. So I made this buffalo apple burger with sage pesto and bought a mandolin. Now I just need someone who knows how to play the darn thing.

Until one of us learns to play our new mandolin, we have this wonderful bright and delicious burger from The Gouda Life. The apple gives it a wonderful sweetness that plays well with the spice in the pesto and the bite of the blue cheese. It will make you happy. It made me happy. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find a beginners mandolin book. How hard can it be?

Buffalo Apple Burger with Sage Jalapeno Pesto and Blue Cheese
Serves 4, Slightly adapted from The Gouda Life

Sage Jalapeno Pesto
1 jalapeno, seeded and quartered
1/2 cup sage
2 cloves garlic
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs parmesan
Salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender, pulse all ingredients together. Pulse until your desired consistency. I like mine a little chunky but you can make it as smooth as you wish.

Buffalo Apple Burger 
1 lb ground buffalo
2 apples, peeled and grated on big holes of box grater
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs worcestershire sauce
2 tbs dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

Heat grill to medium high.

Using your hands mix everything together. Once combined, form into 4 patties. Try not to overhandle the patties. On the grill, cook for 4-6 minutes on each side. The shorter cook time will give you a burger that's more rare.

Burger Assembly
Pretzel buns (any bun will do but these were particularly good)
Red onion
Blue cheese

Load everything on the bun and enjoy. A side of baked home fries really brings this whole dish together.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine

Today is opening day at our farmer's market, which for me is a little like christmas. Blake said I'm like someone going to the casinos in Vegas. Only putting so much money in my wallet so I don't go crazy and blow it all. And believe me, the potential is there for me to give the farmers all my money. Today we came home with spinach, carrots, tortillas, cilantro, salsa, apple sauce, and Farmer John's wheat flour. Oh, Farmer John, how I love thee and your wheat flour. That flour is destined for burger buns and muffins this week. Slow-cooked pork tacos with the salsa, tortillas, cilantro, and carrots in some slaw are also on the menu. But that's this week. Last week before all the farmer's market's delights, there was the delight of shrimp fra diavolo with linguine, which was quite delightful indeed.

Shrimp fra diavolo illustrates the power of simplicity and what happens when you take a few wonderful ingredients and highlight them. Lots of garlic, tomatoes, and wine all become elevated in the presence of each other and shrimp. It's easy to make, fairly light, and so satisfying.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine 
Slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated, serves 4

1 pound linguine
1 pound shrimp, peeled and veined (I bought them peeled and veined, much easier)
5 tbs olive oil
3 tsps red pepper flakes (use less, if you don't want a ton of heat)
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes (28 oz)
1 cup white wine
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup minced parsley
Parmesan (optional)

Bring water to a boil and cook the linguine according to package directions.

Coat shrimp with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, half the red pepper flakes, and 3/4 tsp salt. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the saute pan, over high heat. Once hot, add the shrimp in an even layer and cook without stirring, until bottom of shrimp begin to brown (around 1 minute). Flip shrimp and cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer shrimp to a bowl for later use.

In the same pan you cooked the shrimp in, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3/4 of the garlic over low heat. Stir the garlic constantly for about 8 minutes, until it's straw colored. Add the tomatoes, wine, sugar, 1 tsp of salt, and the remaining red pepper flakes to the pan. Increase heat to medium high and simmer for about  10 minutes, until thickened.

Stir in the shrimp with their juices, parsley, and remaining garlic  to the sauce and cook until the shrimp have heated through. Ladle sauce over the linguine and sprinkle on some parmesan. Revel in all that garlicky goodness.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bourbon Brown Butter Cadbury Egg Blondies

My love of food extends beyond just the eating and cooking of it. It goes down to the roots. This will be the fourth year for our little vegetable garden out back. Are we any good at it? No, not really. The first year we only did tomatoes. Simple enough and mostly we ignored them, which is why I think they grew so well, because when I pay too much attention I seem to bring death upon them. The next year I killed almost our entire batch of tomato and pepper starts by over watering and had to buy all new plants from the store. Last year we installed a drip system and under watered everything so our yield was low. We also endured the well strategized attack by squirrels, raccoons, and deer. The deer would trample the garden, knocking almost perfectly red tomatoes to the ground, the raccoons would pick up the tomatoes eat half and leave the other half on our fence in mockery, and finally, the squirrels would come and finish the job. Even after all this, we soldier on and last night planted this year's batch of tomato starts.

The beginnings of our garden

What does all this have to do with bourbon brown butter Cadbury Egg blondies? Not a heck of a lot. Except that starting the tomatoes and Easter remind me of spring and as we have discussed spring is full of dreams of warm weather and pulling tomatoes off the vine. And if we suffer garden defeat at the hands of squirrels again this year or by my own hand, at least we will have these blondies to console us. How was that for a seguay? These blondies are so easy to make and too delicious. Brown butter and the addition of a little bourbon or whiskey really amplify the caramel undertones of this delicious cookie bar. They are soft and chewy and, well, everyone loves Cadbury Mini Eggs so they have that going for them as well. 

Bourbon Brown Butter Cadbury Egg Blondies 
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Bakeaholic Mama 

12 tbs of butter, browned and cooled
1 1/2 cups brown sugar 
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsps vanilla 
1 tablespoon bourbon or whiskey (optional)
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour 
1 1/2 cups crushed Cadbury Mini Eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8" by 8" pan. 

In a saucepan over medium high heat, brown the butter. To brown the butter melt it, whisking frequently, wait for it to foam and subside, once you see brown specks form remove it from the heat and you are done. Beat the cooled brown butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and bourbon and beat until combined. 

Stir in salt and flour. Once combined, stir in Cadbury Eggs. Pour into prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes. So easy and so good!