Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

While it may be after the calendar day, the Christmas Spirit is still a strong presence in the Confoy household - as are the Christmas spirits, if you get my drift.  We still have one side of the family to celebrate with this weekend, and our tree is still up, decorated, and encircled with Santa's bounty.  Speaking of which, I got a camera!  Finally, the days of impatiently waiting for my brother to come home from school with his camera are over!  And its a beaut.  Actually, its the exact same one my brother has, but its shiny and new and pretty and way better than his silly ol' one.  So, from now on, my food-photography should be better...or at least improving.

In my black rice pudding post, I mentioned that my Dad's Christmas cakes are one of favorite foods of the holidays...actually, his cake might be my favorite part of the holiday.  Made with mincemeat (the meatless kind), molasses, and a ton of spices, it's literally Christmas in a bite (well, not literally, but "figuratively Christmas in a bite" doesn't quite sound as nice).  Especially when its swimming in honey whiskey...did you see what I did there?

Craig's Christmas Cake
½ cup sugar
½ cup Crisco
1 egg
1 cup molasses
3 cups of flour
1 jar mincemeat (meatless version)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
honey whiskey (or brandy or rum)

+ Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.  Lightly grease two loaf pans.
+ In a large bowl, mix sugar, Crisco, and egg.  Add the molasses and stir well.  

+ Next add the flour and salt.  Stir until just combined.  
+ Add the boiling water.  Then add the spices and mincemeat, stirring well after each addition.
+ Pour the batter into the loaf pans, then bake an hour or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.
+ Let the cakes cool, then begin soaking the cakes.  Slowly pour the liquor over the cakes, focusing on the edges where the cake has pulled away from the pan.  Allow the sit until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Repeat the process until the cake is thoroughly soaked through - you can do this over the course of a few days, if you want it really moist and boozy, which I highly suggest.

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

Last night marked the return of my little brother and his lady-friend from their first semester of college.  The prodigal son's homecoming was celebrated with some bubbly, baked brie with jam, red wine, eggnog and whiskey, and our tree falling over.  Twice.  Thankfully it hasn't been lit or decorated yet, and by that time we were all pleasantly warmed by the evening's libations and it was more hilarious than upsetting.  After up-righting the tree, we stumbled off to bed and passed out immediately.  I had the morning off (an oddity and a blessing), so I took my time getting out of bed, made a big pot of Winter Blend coffee, and decided to whip of a welcome-home-Christmassy-breakfast-in-bed-special for the kids: eggnog soaked cranberry bread french toast with a fresh cranberry syrup.

French toast seemed to be one of those foods that embodies childhood and warmth and home.  I used a sliced cranberry bread, eggnog in place of milk for the batter, and cranberry syrup to imbue the dish with the holiday spirit.  Not to mention that I think the eggnog fulfills the "geese a'laying" quota nicely.
I woke the kids up with a spread of the french toast, coffee, and OJ set up on my brother's desk, then went out to run some errands.  My brother sent me a text that read, "So.  Effing.  Good."  One of the very few times that my cooking has gotten his stamp of approval.  So I think this dish was a ridiculously delicious, hands-down success.

Homemade Cranberry Syrup
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 tbs honey
½ cup water

+ Cook cranberries and honey in a covered pot over medium-high heat.  Once the berries begin popping, uncover and stir.  Recover and allow to cook until all the berries have burst.  Turn heat to low, stir, and cook until the berries have thickened to a jam-consistency.
+ Add the water, bring the heat back up, and cook uncovered until desired syrupy texture is reached.
Eggnog French Toast
1 cup non-dairy eggnog
3 eggs
pinch of salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
8 slices bread
¼ cup powdered sugar

+ Preheat skillet to medium-high heat.
+ In a medium sized, flat-bottomed or shallow bowl, whisk together eggnog, eggs, salt and spices.
+ Immerse the slices of bread, one at a time, into the egg mixture.  Using a fork to flip, make sure the bread is thoroughly soaked, but not mushy.  
+ Pull the bread out of the mixture, letting any excess egg drip off, and then place on the skillet.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
+ To serve, lightly butter each slice, dust with powdered sugar, and then drizzle cranberry syrup ontop.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

I'm pretty sure you've all guessed what today's recipe is.  I mean, "five golden rings"?  I couldn't help myself, could I?

Now, some of you might think, "Wow, way to phone on in, Claudia."  And to that I say, you try coming up with 12 original and innovative recipes in 25 days.  Speaking of which, since Christmas is technically 5 days away and I still have, oh, 7 more recipes, I think I'm going to extend my deadline until New Years.  But its not a cop out!  Part of the reason is that half of my holiday parties are the week after Christmas, and I want to be able to feature some recipes I use for them on the blog.  The other part of the reason is that I don't like rushing through the holidays, I prefer to drag them out for as long as physically possible - last year we had our tree up until February.  And hey, you get to enjoy Christmas and yummy food even longer now! Isn't that exciting?  I know, you can't handle your own happiness.  It might even scare you a little.  It's okay, accept your feelings, and express them appropriately.  Go ahead, do a happy dance.  I won't judge.

...finished your happy dance?  Good.  I used Not Without Salt's oven-fried onion ring recipe.  While a little on the messy side to assemble, they are otherwise super simple, healthier since they bake in a few tablespoons of oil, and are coated in crushed potato chips - yeah I said it, potato chip covered onion rings.  It's just crazy enough to be insanely delicious.  I used black pepper and salt potato chips and served them with a homemade curried honey mustard (curry strikes again!), which along with the cayenne pepper in the batter gave these little guys a surprising kick.

Curried Honey Mustard
2 tbs spicy mustard
1 tbs honey
2 tsp Vindaloo curry powder
1 tsp red curry powder

+ Combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Adjust amount of each ingredient based on taste.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, four colly birds.  That's right - colly birds.  Apparently the version we know featuring "calling birds" is just a horrible bastardization of the original, which isn't really that hard to believe seeing as we live in America and just about all aspects of our culture are distorted, corrupted, twisted hollow shells of what they once were...but I digress.

This revelation was my muse for this recipe.  A colly bird is an English nickname for a blackbird; "colly" being an Old English word meaning "soot" or "coal".  My mind immediately started reeling off all of black foods I could think of...which ended up only being one: blackberries.  I then got the internet to reel off all the black foods it could think of, which ended up being quite a few more, many of which I had never heard of.  One of these was black rice.  My first thought was to do a blackened tofu over black rice with a black bean sauce.  I liked it, I really did, but it didn't feel like a holiday dish to me.  Nothing about it felt special or new or, well, like Christmas.  So, I scrapped the tofu-rice dish.  I started to think of all the foods that embody Christmas for me: the top three dishes being mincemeat cake, waffles and potato soup (both of which may or may not be making an appearance next week), and rice pudding.  Now, I wouldn't consider myself a big rice pudding fan, outside the occasional whipped cream-topped sundae-glass full eaten in a grimy diner booth with a cup of coffee in the middle of the night, of course.  However, every Christmas Day, I partake in the Confoy-Osenlund family tradition of eating rice pudding together with hopes that your bowl will contain the sole almond in the whole batch.  If you get the almond, you are the King/Queen of Christmas and you are forced to wear one of those paper Christmas-cracker crowns.  Its all terribly exciting, and usually results in some fairly embarrassing photos.

So, in honor of the original lyrics and Confoy-Osenlunds, I bring you a black rice pudding topped with blackberries macerated in port and black pepper.

I followed theKitchn's recipe for black rice pudding, minus the coconut.  Also, I highly suggest letting it sit in the fridge over night - it gets thick and creamy and absolutely wonderful.

Port and Black Pepper Macerated Blackberries
½ pint fresh blackberries
1 cup port
1 tbs honey
2 tsp fresh crushed black pepper

+ Place blackberries in a glass measuring cup.  In a small pot, cook port, honey, and 1 tsp of black pepper over medium-high heat.  Once it begins to boil, cook for a moment or two, then pour the hot port over the berries.  Allow to sit and stew for at least 30 minutes - the longer they sit, the more the berries will break down, and the port will infuse in the berries.  
+ After the berries have been sitting, pour the liquid back into the pot.  Add the last tsp of the black pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.  Cook until the port has reduced into a thick syrup.
+ To serve, top the black rice pudding with a few blackberries, then drizzle a little of the port-black pepper syrup over the top.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the Third Day of Christmas...

So, if you read last post, you know of my growing anxiety concerning this latest project, especially the bird heavy days ahead.  However, the fear has subsided as many of my friends and fellow-foodies have come to my rescue and suggested some absolutely wonderfully creative ways to interpret the song into food.  In fact, it was my high-school friend, Christina's idea to use Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms for the third day's recipe.  A spark of culinary genius that would have never crossed my mind.  Brilliant, really, Christina.  

So, for the third day, I give to you a trio of Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms: a maitake pate, honey-glazed and roasted whole maitake mushroom, and a simple maitake and mixed mushroom soup. While only one can truly be considered French, these three hens are delightfully delicious and a perfect holiday party starter.

I was introduced to the Hen-of-the-Woods, or maitake mushroom at the Stockton Market this past April (and even wrote a post about it), but I wasn't quite sure how to use them.  The only way I'd ever cooked mushrooms was sauteing them in butter with onions as a pizza topping.  It wasn't until I started working at Gravity Hill that I was invited into the magical world of mushrooms.  One of the vendors at the market every Sunday was Shibumi Farm, a local couple who cultivate nearly 30 different types of mushrooms using no pesticides and only plant-based materials to grow the fungi.  Not only did they broaden my horizons to so many different types of mushrooms, but they changed the way I cook mushrooms - the miracle that is the dry saute.  

How To Dry Saute: 
+ Place a large pan over high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the mushrooms.  Cook while stirring occasionally.  The mushrooms will begin to squeak (or scream, as the seven year old daughter of the mushroom couple put it).  Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, shrunk a bit, and begin to brown.  
+ Once the mushrooms are cooked, de-glaze the pan (I usually use a splash of wine), making sure to scrape all the good mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan.  
+ Then, add butter, olive oil, salt, or other seasonings and saute as normal.  

I found the recipe for the pate on the Serious Eats site.  Just a heads up, it's not vegan (but don't worry, the soup is!)  I felt that the use of cheese as the fat was necessary in order to get get the right consistency and to keep it true to a real pate.  However, there are tons of nut-based pate recipes on the web, like this one from C'est La Vegan.  The only change that I made to the Serious Eats recipe was that instead of broiling the mushrooms, I dry sauteed, de-glazed with red wine, and then finished them off with olive oil, a little butter, salt, pepper, and thyme.

The whole roasted maitake mushroom is stupidly simple and quick, but looks beautiful and impressive.  Place a fist-sized cluster of the mushrooms into a small ramekin or other oven-safe dish.  Melt 1 tbs of butter and 2 tbs of honey in the microwave.  Drizzle the honey-butter over the mushroom, making sure to coat all of the little tops.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the mushroom shrinks and begins to brown.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve warm.  And make sure you soak up the extra mushroomy honey-butter in the bottom of the ramekin, you don't want that to go to waste.

Maitake Mushroom Soup
2 cups, maitake mushrooms
4 oz package of mixed mushrooms
½ cup dry red wine
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
1 tbs rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 tbs thyme leaves
1 tbs sage leaves, finely chopped
1 can full-fat coconut milk
salt and pepper

+ In a medium pot, dry saute the mushrooms.  Once they're cooked, de-glaze with red wine.  Add butter, oil, herbs, and a bit of salt.  Cook until the mushrooms are soft and the liquid had thickened.  
+ Add the coconut milk, stir well.  Using a stick blender, blend until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
+ Cook until soup is heated through and desired thickness is reached.  Serve hot, garnished with thyme leaves or sprig of rosemary.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the Second Day of Christmas...

As of last post, the temperature has dropped a good 25 degrees, my father has put the lights up on the house, I've eaten fruitcake ice cream at Bent Spoon, and I've bought my first official Christmas present, so its starting to feel a tad more like the holidays than before.  However, I'm still not fully in that holiday mode yet.  I'm no hum-bug, I'm just taking my time, is all.

Oh, I forgot to mention (but hoped you noticed) that I'm going to attempt to have my 12 Days of Christmas Recipes correspond with the song, i.e. last week I made a pear-centric dish in honor of the partridge in his tree.  This may seem like a simple feat, but for a non-meat-eater, the six bird related verses serve as a bit of an obstacle (...not to mention the Lords-a-Leaping, but I'll worry about those guys later).  I mulled over the Turtle Doves for a while.  Mock turtle soup was a front runner until I actually looked up what mock turtle soup was and found out its made with calf head, feet, and brains.  I know, doesn't just scream holiday cheer, does it?  With the soup off the table, I turned to the only other food-related turtle I could think of - the pecan, caramel, chocolate candy.  However, I didn't want to just do a straightforward chocolate.  I mean, the whole point of this project was to create unique and original recipes.  So, I decided to take those three ingredients and put my own dread&butter-y twist on them.  And thus the Turtle Dove Tart was born - pecan crust, chocolate filling, salted caramel drizzle, with the addition of a layer of tart cranberries.  I thought the cranberries added a nice pop of color and balanced the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel.  It turned out differently than I had in my head, but I have to say, it might become a new Christmas dessert tradition.

And now, off to watch White Christmas and brainstorm for next week...

Turtle Dove Tart
Pecan Crust
1 large egg, separated
¼ tsp vanilla
½ cup pecans
½ powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tbs cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
pinch of salt

+ Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
+ Place pecans on a baking sheet, toast for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant and just beginning to brown.  Once toasted, grind pecans in a food processor until fine, but not powdery.
+ In two small bowls, beat the egg yolk and white separately.  Measure out 1 tbs of egg white and add to yolk.  Add the vanilla and mix well.

+ In a medium bowl, combine flour, pecans, sugar, and salt.  Cut butter into the flour mixture until it as a crumbly texture.
+ Add the egg mixture to the flour, combine with hands until evenly moistened.  Add a small bit water if needed.
+ Press the crust into a pie pan.  Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  
+ Place a piece of aluminum foil over the crust.  Poke a few holes in the foil, then place pie weights on top.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool completely.

Tart Cranberry Jam
1 bag of fresh cranberries
2 tbs honey

+ Put cranberries and honey in a small sauce pan.  Cook over medium-high heat until the berries begin to pop.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries have all popped and a thick consistency is reached.  

Chocolate Filling1 bag dark chocolate chips
⅓ cup coffee liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 package silken tofu, drained
1 tbs honey

+ Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over medium heat.  Place the chocolate chips, liqueur, and vanilla in a medium metal bowl set over the simmering water.  Stir often to prevent the chocolate from burning.
+ Once the chocolate is completely melted, place the chocolate, tofu and honey in the food processor.  Blend until smooth. 

Salted Caramel Drizzle 
(from smittenkitchen)
¼ cup sugar
2 tbs butter
¼ tsp sea salt
2 tbs heavy cream

+ In a small saucepan, melt sugar over medium-high heat.  Cook for about 3 minutes, or until its a golden brown color. 
+ Take the pan off the heat, then add the butter and salt, stirring until the butter is completely melted.  Turn the heat down and put the sugar mixture back on the stove.  Add the heavy cream, stirring constantly, cook until it thickens and becomes a dark caramel color.

To Assemble the Tart
+ Spread an even layer of the tart cranberry jam over the bottom of the pecan crust.  Top with chocolate filling (you'll probably have a little extra).  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until the chocolate has firmed up.  Then drizzle a healthy layer of salted caramel over the top of the tart.  It can be served while the caramel is warm, but I suggest putting it back in the fridge for another hour (or better yet, overnight).

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the First Day of Christmas...

I can't believe it's December already - the sixty degree, sunny weather really isn't helping convince me either. However, the overabundance of holiday movies on Lifetime and cars in the mall parking lot are telling me that Christmas is right around the corner.  So, to help get me in the holiday frame of mind, I'm attempting to create a dozen unique holiday recipes by the 25th, a la The Twelve Days of Christmas.  

On the First Day of Christmas (or the Third Day of December), my true love gave to me...a caramelized pear crostini with goat cheese and a honey-whiskey reduction.  Alright, it might not flow as well as the original version, but you can appreciate my efforts, can't you?

Caramelized Pear Crostini 
1 sprigs worth of rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup + 2 tbs olive oil
a dozen thin slices of bread (I used baguette) 
2 tbs butter
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 red pear, cubed
¼ cup honey-whiskey (I used Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey)
4 oz log goat cheese
sea salt

+ Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
+ Mix rosemary with ¼ cup of olive oil in a ramekin.  Set aside.
+ Melt 2 tbs of olive oil and 1 tbs of butter over medium-high heat in a small sauce pan.  Once the oil is sizzling, add the onions.  Stir  until all of the onions are well coated in oil.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Cook onions until they are just beginning to brown - stir occasionally, and lower heat if the onions brown too quickly. 
+ Add the pear and 1 tbs of butter.  Stir until the pears are coated in oil.  Allow to cook, stirring occasionally  until the pears and onions are brown and caramelized.  Transfer into a small bowl.
+ With the heat on, add the whiskey to same pan you caramelized the pear and onion in.  Cook down until the whiskey has reduced by half, becoming thick and syrupy.  Take off heat and set aside.
+ While the whiskey is reducing, place the bread on a broiling pan.  Using a small spoon, drizzle enough rosemary-olive oil to coat the top of each slice.  Bake for about five minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown.
+ To assemble the crostini, spread a thin layer of goat cheese onto each slice of toasted bread.  Top with a generous spoonful of the caramelized pear-onion mix.  To finish, drizzle with honey-whiskey reduction.  Serve warm (but don't worry, based on how quickly my family ate them, they won't be around long enough to get cold).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Post-Sandy Dinner & the Beauty of Brussels Sprouts

So remember last post when I apologized for not writing in such a long time and how I promised that I would post more often and not neglect my blogger duties?

...well, that lasted about a day and a half.  First, I got a job.  Okay, fine, I got a third job, which I mean, I don't really need and you may think is crazy and completely unnecessary, but I couldn't turn it down!  Honestly.  And its completely different from my other two jobs, so its okay!  Second, Sandy.  As a New Jersey resident who lives on the Delaware River, that should be enough of an excuse.  But in case it's not, we were without power, water, or heat for six days.  So, as you can see, cooking and updating was kind of impossible.  Thankfully, Monday night, with the dark clouds of Sandra looming over my head, I cooked up a big pot of veg stew which kept us alive through the rough times. That and lots and lots of cocktails - we'll talk about the hot honey whiskey toddies in a later post.
But hallelujah! last night power was restored.  Along with my sanity (there's something about living in the dark and having to drive up to the park to fill up jugs with water from the fountain in order to flush your toilet that really wears away at your soul).  And so, to celebrate this wondrous occasion, I did what I always do - I cooked dinner.  I wanted something really autumnal, that highlighted the phenomenal produce of the season and that was warm and cozy.  I decided on a filet of salmon with orange and pomegranate seeds, roasted buttercup squash (looks like an acorn squash, tastes like a creamy delicious marriage of a chestnut and a sweet potato), and caramelized cranberry brussels sprouts.  

I love brussels sprouts.  Yeah, I said it.  I love brussels sprouts (though I kind of hate that they're brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts.  It's like how the plural of cul-de-sac is culs-de-sac.  Its weird and unnatural and it bothers me and I've already gone on about this for way too long, so I'll stop).  Now I know they get a bad rap, but its only because people don't know how to do them right.  A few boiled sprouts ruined it for the rest of the really good, roasted, caramelized, delicious ones.  So put your previously conceived notions aside and try them again, the right way.

Caramelized Cranberry Brussels Sprouts
3 cups brussels sprouts, halved
½ cup fresh cranberries
drizzle of olive oil
1 tbs orange zest
¼ cup orange juice
2 tbs butter, soft
1 tbs honey

+ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
+ In a small bowl, toss sprouts and cranberries in salt and olive oil until well coated.  Transfer to a medium baking dish and sprinkle with zest.  
+ Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sprouts start to brown.  Pour orange juice over the sprouts, and stir well to de-glazing the pan.  Bake for another 20 minutes.
+ While the sprouts are cooking, mix butter and honey in a small dish.  As soon as the sprouts come out of the oven, drizzle with the honey butter (use as much or as little as you desire).  Serve warm as a side or, if you're like me, in a big bowl as a meal.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Restaurant Love and Autumn Dinners

I keep a mental list of restaurants that I want to go to in my head.  Whether it be from passing one while visiting a new town, or word-of-mouth, or articles in the Dining&Wine section of the New York Times, I store and file and save until the right time.  Most of these places are far-ish away or fairly expensive, so they're stockpiled in the "Special Occasion" section.  Now, these could be family and friends birthdays, winning the lottery, new job, passing a test, knowing someone who passed a test, buying a new pair of shoes, parallel parking perfectly on the first try, or having the same day off as your best friend.

I've been eyeing Deanna's in Lambertville for a couple of months now.  I go to Lambertville/New Hope on a fairly regular basis, and thought that I knew every restaurant in the area...until my dad and I accidentally turned down the wrong tiny little street at the end of town and I saw an old fashion "Bar" sign and another advertising handmade pasta.  As soon as I got home I did some research and discovered Deanna's.  It wasn't the menu that won me over (though the over half-a-dozen fresh made pasta dishes did help a little), but the photos - Deanna's tiny, yet cozy space is transformed into a whole new space for every holiday.  It looked warm, welcoming, and intimate, and I immediately fell in love.  And then stored it in the little filebox in the back of my mind.  Until yesterday...

It happened to be a "Having the Same Day Off As Your Best Friend" occasion, and Chelsea and I headed into Lambertville to walk around on a beautiful, warm autumn afternoon and, of course, eat really good food.  And Deanna's was on the top of the list.  The orange twinkle lights and giant skulls decorating the exterior had me a giddy mess before we even got in the door (if I haven't already mentioned it, I'm a Halloween junkie.  I can't get enough.) For our date night, Chelsea and I sat at a small table in the bar area, under screaming banshees, surrounded by cobweb curtains and intricately carved pumpkins and masked, antlered, sparkly half-naked mannequins.  And one of the specials that night was pumpkin ravioli with a walnut alfredo sauce.  Which I of course had to have.  Unique, inviting, fun atmosphere paired with phenomenal, fresh, delicious food?  What more could you ask for?

If you asked for a store front in the next building that sells Deanna's pasta and sauces, then your wish has been granted.  Chelsea and I popped our heads in to check the place out, with no intention of buying anything, and I left with a dozen pumpkin ravioli.  Part of it was a spontaneous, over-excited purchase, but a much larger part was me wanting to try my hand at recreating a vegan version of the wonderful dinner I had just eaten.  Which, I'm proud to say, tonight I did just that.  I didn't want to be a complete copy cat, so I added rosemary and sage to my sauce to create deep, earthy flavor that I thought would pair well with the pumpkin.  The only thing that I'd do differently would be to grind the walnuts up finer, there were too many chunks which didn't add anything texturally to the dish.

Vegan Walnut Cream Sauce
1½ cup walnuts
2 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbs fresh sage, chopped
2 tbs Earth Balance butter⅓ cup sweet white wine (I used an Spiced Apple dessert wine)
1 can coconut milk
salt & pepper to taste

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the walnuts flat on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with 1 tbs each of rosemary and sage.  Bake for ten minutes, or until the walnuts are brown and fragrant.
+ Once the walnuts have cooled, grind the walnuts and herbs in a food processor or small blender until it becomes a coarse meal.
+ Melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the rest of the herbs and saute until they just begin to brown.  Add the wine and cook for a minute or two.  Then add the coconut milk.  Cook until it reduces a bit and thickens up.
+ Stir in the walnuts, reserving about a tablespoon for garnish.  Cook until desired thickness is reached. 
+ Serve warm over a pile of Deanna's pumpkin ravioli.  Garnish with reserved walnuts and chopped rosemary.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Apologies and Autumn Lovin'

Well, let me start off by apologizing for not posting in over a month.  It really is a travesty.  I could lay blame on my brother who took our only camera to college with him, and I could blame the fact that I got hired by Gravity Hill to cook and work the farm market, and I could blame my full-time job for being an awful time-sucker, and I could lay blame on the fact that I haven't been cooking as much as I would like to...but really, all the blame falls on one person - me.  It's not that I haven't been cooking.  I have, it's just that I've been lazy.  There, I said it.  I've been insanely busy, there's no denying that, but I could have made the time to sit down for ten minutes and update.  But I didn't.  And I'm sorry for that.  Not just because I feel like I've been shirking my blogger responsibilities, but also for my own sanity and well-being - I have missed writing terribly, and its one of the small pleasures in my life that help to keep me sane, a fact that I didn't realize until very recently.  Which is why I'm back, and I promise, I won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

I love autumn.  Strike that.  I'm obsessed with autumn.  Every year I look forward to sweaters, boots, cider, chilly air, chai, mums, warm colors, Halloween, apples, candles, jumping in leaves...I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.  However, this year, besides stealing my dad's sweaters and practically living in my new Doc Marten boots, I've added some new fall favorites to my ever-growing list:
Squash - spaghetti, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, I love them all.  Can't get enough actually: spaghetti squash topped with the last of the summer's heirloom tomatoes; butternut squash curry with apples, chickpeas and cauliflower; squash and cod stew with homemade sweet potato rosemary flatbread; vegan butternut squash and beet ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce.  There's something so warming about squash...maybe it's just the color, those golden, glowing oranges and yellows.  Not to mention that they can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.  I mean, how many vegetables do you know that taste just as good tossed in honey and cinnamon as they do roasted with rosemary and sage?  Squash is where it's at, my friends.  And take this fall to try new varieties and use them in ways you never had before.  If you haven't tried spaghetti squash, do it. Easy to prepare and holds endless possibilities.

Baby Ginger - yes, baby ginger.  I never knew such a thing existed until we started selling it at the farm last weekend.  The fresh ginger with the rough brown skin that you find at the grocery store is the mature root of the ginger plant.  Baby ginger is the young root, before the skin becomes hard.  This root is delicate and pink and the end of beautiful bamboo-like stalks.  You don't have to peel baby ginger before you use it, and while the taste is still spicy and potent, its a little softer and less offensive than mature ginger can sometimes be.  I'm hooked and will be stocking the freezer with tons of baby ginger to hold me through the winter.

Autumn Oatmeal - I know this isn't a entirely new favorite of mine, but come on, autumn is the perfect oatmeal weather.  There's nothing like a big bowl of warm cozy oatmeal to ease the pain of having to pull yourself out from under your covers on a chilly autumn morning.  My top oatmeal for the past few weeks have been pumpkin with golden raisins, spicy curry topped with an egg and a drizzle of honey, and berry rhubarb.  I've also been playing with sweet potatoes and chai spiced oatmeals, but they both need a little more work.  Oh, and don't worry, recipes are on the way.
Cardamom - if you know me, you know that I'm not afraid of spices.  I love experimenting with different flavors and combinations of herbs and spices.  A few weeks ago, Karen (resident baker at Gravity Hill) made a cardamom zucchini bread with currants, and I immediately fell in love with the deep aromatic quality of the spice.  I had used it before in baking, but never as the main spice.  I usually opt for cinnamon as the focus and then fill in with other spices to deepen and round out the flavor.  However, now I find myself toning down the cinnamon and upping my cardamom usage.  In baking, oatmeal, curry, basically wherever I can use it, I do.  

...the best part about the fall so far?  This is just the beginning.  There is so much more to come - I haven't even been pumpkin or apple picking yet.  So Happy Autumn!  Welcome Back!  And get ready for an obnoxious amount of making-up-for-lost-time postings.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost-Autumn Roasted Eggplant Soup

Well, folks, I've done it again.  Not only did I get the stamp of approval from my brother, but I even impressed myself tonight.  Roasted Eggplant Soup.  I don't know where I come up with this stuff...okay, that's a lie.  I got the idea at work today since the soup of the day was a roasted eggplant soup.  But it's not like that!  See, when I came in this morning I saw the soup up on our specials chalkboard and got really excited, but then I found out it was full of cream and served with a giant glob of goat cheese on top - don't get me wrong, I love goat cheese, but body isn't as big of a fan as I'd like it to be.  However, after hearing my coworkers and customers rave about the soup all day, I decided that I needed to give it a taste.  I poured a tiny sample cup with a pinch of goat cheese.  It was delicious, but a little disappointing - I thought it was too heavy and rich with all the cream and cheese.  I wanted something lighter that really highlighted the eggplant.  My mind immediately starting reeling with possibilities of how I could put my own spin on it to make it vegan and, well, better.  Thankfully I had a pile of Gravity Hill baby eggplants waiting for me at home which allowed me to put everything that was swirling around in my head down on paper down on cutting board in a pot.  It turned out even better than it was in my head.  Topped with some roasted sun gold tomatoes, it was the perfect "almost-autumn" soup - all the flavors of fall with the lightness and freshness of summer.

Note: I used baby eggplants, but you can substitute those with 3 medium eggplants or one very large one.

Almost-Autumn Roasted Eggplant Soup
15 baby eggplants
1 head of garlic (at least), cloves slices
1 cup dry white wine 
1½ cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
1 tbp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp red curry powder
olive oil

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+ Slice each eggplant carefully down the middle, making sure just to create a slit and not slice all the way through the eggplant.  Stuff each slit full of garlic slices (I mean it, get as much as that garlic in there as you possibly can).
+ Place the garlic stuffed eggplants in a large baking dish, then drizzle generously with olive oil.  Bake for about a half an hour or until the eggplants have begun to shrivel.  Then, pour white wine (one cup or enough so that the eggplants are in about an half inch of liquid) into the bottom of the pan.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until eggplants are soft and wine has reduced.
+ Once the eggplants are done, allow them to cool for a few minutes.  De-stem them, but leave the skins on, and place them in a large pot, along with the garlic slices and any wine and juices left in the bottom of the pan.  Using a stick blender, break down the eggplants until smooth and creamy.  Add a little of the broth to make blending easier.
+ After the eggplant is broken down, turn on medium-low heat, and add the remaining vegetable broth, mix well.  Once incorporated, slowly add the coconut milk, stirring after each addition.  Add the curry paste, curry powder, and salt to taste.  Stir well.
+ Cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until ready to serve (though the longer you cook it, the more the flavors develop).  Garnish with some roasted tomatoes and a sprig of basil flowers to really meld summer and autumn in one bowl.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Throw-Together Thai Salmon

Have I mentioned that I am the Master of the Throw-Together Dinner?  I have?  Oh good.  Well, last night was one such night where the spontaneous nature of creating a meal on the fly drew out the culinary genius within.  It all started with some yellow beans...

For the past couple of Sundays I've been volunteering as a cook and baker at Gravity Hill Farm (follow the link and scroll down for photographic evidence).  Its been an absolutely amazing experience, because 1) if you know me you know that I'm obsessed with Gravity Hill and their produce, 2) it's my first time in a real kitchen cooking for people other than my family, 3) I get to work with unbelievably fresh ingredients - I hand pick the raspberries in the morning for the raspberry lemon corn muffins, and the eggs arrive direct from the hen house in a hay filled basket where they lay still warm and covered in feathers.  And on top of all that, Gravity Hill offers a lovely, warm, inviting, creative and unique community of people sharing food, ideas, experiences, and talents.  Despite having to be at the farm at 7:00 AM Sunday morning, I absolutely love every moment of my time spent there.  But I digress...
in the kitchen prepping husk cherry salsa.
Yellow beans.  Right.  That's what I was talking about.  So since I'm only volunteering at Gravity Hill, I get paid in produce - which let me tell you is a dream come true.  I come home every Sunday with a giant bag overflowing with everything from spring garlic to Sun Gold tomatoes to baby eggplant to husk cherries to summer squash.  This past Sunday, my haul of the day was a brown bag full of these beautiful yellow beans - a pale greenish-yellow, so translucent you could almost see through them, like little ghost beans.  I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with this unique ingredient, but the universe again sent me a little culinary gift.  I follow a number of blogs and their post automatically pop up on my home page.  One such blog is 101 Cookbooks, and guess what this week's blog post happens to be about?  Yellow bean salad.  I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do with those beautiful beans.  I thought salmon would be a nice pairing with the beans, but again, wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with it.  However, I decided to let go, open myself up, and hopefully allow myself to be influenced by the culinary muses.  And boy did that wallop me with some inspiration.  I ended up using leftover coconut milk from the bean salad dressing to make a marinade that I then poured over the salmon before I baked it - the fish absorbed most of the liquid, so the salmon was incredibly moist and full of flavor, and left a rich, thick glaze on the outside.  I have to say, it might be some of the best salmon I've ever made, and I've made some pretty damn good salmon.  Just another throw-together meal that ended in delicious, spontaneous brilliance.

Throw-Together Thai Salmon
1½ pounds wild-caught salmon
1 cup coconut milk (the canned kind)
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
a big hand-full of basil leaves
½ lime, juice and zest

+ Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
+ Place the salmon, skin side down, in a deep baking dish.  
+ Put the remaining ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until the garlic and basil leaves are broken down.  Then pour mixture over the salmon.  
+ Bake until salmon is cooked through, about 30-40 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.  Serve along side the yellow bean salad.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PB&J Oatmeal

For the past couple of months I've been on a bit of a breakfast smoothie kick (See: Green Berry Smoothie and Eat More Kale for reference).  However, this kick has fizzled out these last few weeks, and I've found a new obsession - oatmeal.  I feel like oatmeal gets a really bad rap.  Most people think of oatmeal as grey, mushy, and bland, but I'm here to tell you, that's not the case.  Oatmeal is the perfect blank canvas that you can color with the palate of your fridge and pantry to create something beautifully delicious.  The possibilities are endless - cinnamon and honey oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries, zucchini bread oatmeal (here's a phenomenal recipe from Oh She Glows), strawberry blueberry oatmeal,coconut ginger lime oatmeal, chocolate banana oatmeal, sweet curried oatmeal (yes, curry and it's amazing), any and every combination of ingredients you could possibly think of.  Still think oatmeal's bland and gross?

...You do?  Well, that's why I'm going to give you the recipe that will change your mind about oatmeal forever - peanut butter oatmeal with a strawberry blueberry compote.  I mean, who doesn't love peanut butter and jelly?  By taking the peanut butter off the bread and into the oats, and by elevating the jelly to a simple compote, this sandwich transforms into a soul-satisfying, childhood-reliving, smile-inducing way to start your day.

Note: There are different types of oats that you can use to make oatmeal - rolled, steel-cut, and quick oats are the most common.  I usually use rolled, since they are fairly low maintenance and cook quickly, without getting mushy like the quick oats.  I recently discovered Old Wessex 5 Grain Cereal that's a mixture of oats, rye, triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid), barley, and golden flax - it cooks just like the rolled oats, but has a heartier texture and a slightly earthier flavor that I've found I really like.  I also add chia seeds to my oatmeal 1) because it's ridiculously good for you - protein, fiber, and essential minerals like calcium and magnesium - and 2) when soaked in liquid, they get a gelatinous coating around them, which not only thickens the oatmeal, but gives it a pudding-like texture that I love.

PB&J Oatmeal
makes one serving

⅓ rolled oats
⅔ almond milk (or whatever type you'd like)
a pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chunky peanut butter
1 tbs chia seeds
4 fresh strawberries, quartered
2 hand-fulls fresh blueberries1 tbs honey

+ Put milk and oats in a medium sauce pan.  Turn heat to medium, add the salt, cinnamon and honey, then give oats a quick stir.  Bring to a low boil.  Immediately turn heat to low and allow to simmer gently.  Add peanut butter and chia seeds, then stir well.  Cook until thick, or desired texture is reached, stirring occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot.
+ While the oats are simmering, combine berries and honey in a small sauce pan.  Bring to medium heat.  Stirring occasionally - you can even mash them with a fork or potato masher if you like a smoother texture.  Cook until the berries have broken down and created a thick syrup.
+ To serve, layer oats and compote parfait style.  Eat warm out of a big bowl with a tiny spoon while sitting on the couch reading the morning paper. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

London is Well Fit: or British Love and Olympic Nosh

If there's anything I love more than the Olympics, it's the British - the film, the literature, the music, the humor, the boys, the curses, the accent, the tradition and history of the country.  My family has always had a great appreciation for all things English.  I was raised on The Clash and Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and Van Morrison and The Black Adder and Mr. Bean and The Goods and Eddie Izzard and Monty Python and James Bond and Four Weddings and A Funeral and Pimm's Cups.  My love of British literature really blossomed in college, where I took not one, but three British Lit courses - I honestly could not get enough, especially contemporary authors like Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman.
Me and the Big Guy - ignore the face, I hadn't slept.

My family are such Anglophiles that our first international vacation was to London and Wales to visit family.  Last year, my parents sent me on my first solo-vacation back to London for my birthday to visit a few friends who were studying abroad there.  I was thrilled to be heading to my favorite country (yeah, I said it), but I was worried about how I'd take to London - I'm not a big city girl, New York sends me into panic attacks.  However, I immediately fell in love.  Especially with the Underground.  One of my favorite memories of that trip was sitting on the train on my way to New Cross listening to The Clash on my iPod.  As I recall, I was smiling like an idiot, and might have scared some of the commuters sitting around me.

Part of what drew me to London and made me so at ease there was the fact that it doesn't seem like a city. New York is too big - the buildings are too tall and shiny, there too many people around me, there's too much going on, too much stimulus.  I find New York extremely overwhelming and  anxiety inducing.  London, on the other hand, is like a giant small town.  There are no skyscrapers, the buildings are all old and historic and beautiful.  The English respect and preservation of their past and history is so endearing and wonderful - as Eddie Izzard so perfectly puts it, "I come from Europe, where the history comes from.  You tear your history down, man.  Thirty years old let's smash it to the ground and put a car park here!"  Within London you have these little neighborhoods that feel so much like country villages that you forget you're in the city.  Cobblestone streets with shops and merchants that could have magically walked out of a Dicken's novel.  My favorite nook in the city was Borough Market.

Borough Market, located under London Bridge, is the city's oldest fruit and veg market with roots that date back to 1014.  Now a days, they have far more than fruit and veg - meat pies, pastries, cheeses, breads, meats, curries, ciders, mulled wine, basically everything and anything you could possibly want.  It's tiny, but there is a definite community and culture attached to the market.  The vendors are loud and boisterous, calling you over to try their goods.  The locals come to gossip over a big bowls of green Thai curry or to grab some fresh rabbit for dinner on their way home from work.  I went just to wander and to take everything in - the sounds, the smells, the colors.  Oh, and don't forget the tastes.  Rabot Estate chocolate shop was my go-to, mainly because of their chocolate enhanced menu.  A smoked salmon sandwich with chocolate creme fresh and nibs - I mean, does it get any better?  Though I have to say the banana, salted caramel, and cocoa nibs on toasted brioche was my favorite.  I may or may not have had a few dreams about that sandwich.

But I digress.  Moral of this long, rambling tirade is that I love the British and London and was terribly excited about the opening ceremonies of the Olympics tonight.  I decided that I wanted a celebrate with a London inspired meal.  I thought about the classic British fare - bangers and mash, meat pie, beans on toast, fish and chips - but wanted to find something a bit more traditional.  So, I do what us Confoy's do best: research.  In no time at all, I found two dishes that jumped out at me - ploughman's lunch and potted shrimp. The ploughman's lunch is a pub food that usually consists of bread, cheddar cheese, sliced ham, pickles, and apples laid out that are then assembled into sandwich form.  I took this idea and as per usual, put my own spin on it.  I kept the bread, cheese, and apples, but substituted the ham for smoked salmon and added some roasted garlic for good measure.  Potted shrimp was definitely the highlight of tonight's Olympic nosh - not only was it quick and easy, but it was ridiculously delicious.  It was a great addition to the spread we had, and most importantly, it was the perfect pair to my tall, cold Pimm's Cup.

Potted Shrimp
½ stick of butter
1 large scallion, whites and a little green thinly sliced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp nutmeg
½ lb wild-caught shrimp, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

+ In a medium skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is hot, add the scallions, cayenne and nutmeg.  Saute for a few moments until scallions are soft.
+ Add another tablespoon or two of butter and melt.  Add shrimp and saute, stirring occasionally.  Right before the shrimp are cooked, add the rest of the butter and cook until melted.  

+ Place shrimp and butter into a ramekin and refrigerate for two hours, or until solidified.  Serve cold on bread or toasts, preferably with a Pimm's Cup.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Food-Talk, Friends, and Ramekins

I love food and I'm not afraid to say it.  But it's not about eating food...well, not entirely.  My love is of the possibilities, the creation, the idea that every experience can be a new one with the addition of a little spice.  I get excited to try new techniques or mixing ingredients together just to see what happens, and it's an incredible feeling when it works and everything balances and tastes delicious.  My meals bring me great pride which make me want to share them...maybe too much.  I mean, my friends and family definitely aren't complaining about having to partake in the products of my culinary obsession.  However, I think that I have begun to wear away at their patients and interest when it comes to talking about food.  My food-talk is non-stop - a new recipe I saw online; Mark Bittman's ingredient of the week; the ground cherries I found at Gravity Hill and what I could possibly do with them; the daily question that grates at my family: "What should we have for dinner?"  When I go on a tirade about how I prepared the cabbage I made for dinner last night or an idea I had for zucchini oatmeal, my loved ones usually give me a patronizing smile and blankly nod until I've exhausted myself.  I have apologized to them, but I can't help it - food just gets me really excited, passionate, and apparently very talkative.  However, I think that I have found my savior, the solution to my gab problem, and her name is Chelsea.
Fresh farm veg on a cutting board is happiness.
Chelsea works with me at Main Street, moonlights as a chef at a New Orleans style restaurant, and is just as much of a foodie as I am.  She's a friend that I can talk to about the zucchini flowers I found at the farmer's market but don't know what to do with, and instead of having her eyes glaze over, her excitement rises to meet mine as she gives me her grandmother's fried zucchini flower recipe (which I made and was unbelievable).  What I appreciate most is that when we talk it's not one-sided, it's a conversation - we bounce ideas off one another, share advice, recipes, techniques.  I feel like I've learned so much just from talking to her over the past couple of months, but last week I went over her house for dinner and learned even more from watching her cook.  She made a simple pasta dish with roasted vegetables, except it was a completely innovative meal for me.  After she mixed the roasted vegetables into the pasta, she finished it off by sauteing some garlic in olive oil and pouring it on top.  Then - the most exciting part - the toasted bread crumbs.  On the table was a little ramekin filled with bread crumbs (for those who don't know, a ramekin is a little ceramic bowl that can withstand high temperature, which makes them the perfect vessel for cooking and serving dishes, and holding bread crumbs).  I didn't quite understand what they were for, until Chelsea sprinkled some on top of her bowl of pasta.  I was hesitant at first, but it was amazing.  It added crunch, a surprising texture, to the pasta that is usually lacking. Toasted bread crumbs!  On Pasta!  Who would've thought?!  Apparently Chelsea and her family, since they've been doing it for years.  For dessert, we had mini-blueberry peach pies also served in ramekins, which happen to be the perfect individual serving size.  Everything was wonderfully delicious, and she gave me so many ideas for things to do in my own cooking...which I put to good use this past weekend.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms thanks to Chelsea's Grandmother
My college friend Kit came for dinner, and Chelsea had a huge impact on the meal I made him.  Not only did she give me inspiration, but she gave me my very own set of ramekins since I couldn't stop talking about them, and I cannot express my thanks to her enough.  For Kit, I made tri-colored penne with roasted tomatoes.  Usually my pasta dishes come out pretty much the same, since I always use the same ingredients, ratio of seasonings, and techniques.  But for this meal, I stole Chelsea's method of pouring the garlic and olive oil over the dish at the end and finishing it off with bread crumbs - it turned a simple pasta into something new and different and fabulously delicious.  For dessert, I also made individual ramekin pies - I made a vegan chocolate cream pie since that's Kit's favorite and topped it with some honey glazed fruit, another Chelsea inspiration (except don't tell Kit it was vegan, he wasn't supposed to find out...oops).  Kit ate two mini-pies and finished mine that night, and then had two more the next day.  My brother, who is highly critical of my cooking and tired of my healthy meals, was impressed and said that I might actually be able to do this whole cooking thing for real - thanks, Des.  And I have to say, I even impressed myself with these little pies.

Moral of the story is that I am so happy to have found a fellow culinary enthusiast friend that I can food-talk with and who is just as passionate about it as I am.  I find that knowledge and understanding is best gained through sharing and conversation.  And it's far more enjoyable and much more potent than studying from a book or reading off the internet.  I just can't wait to have Chelsea over my house so I can cook for her.  Only question is...what should we do for dinner?

Roasted Tomato Penne

1 pint cherry tomatoes
10 basil leaves, sliced
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbs butter
½ lb penne
1 clove garlic, sliced

olive oil
salt and pepper

+ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
+ Halve most of the tomatoes, keeping a hand-full whole.  Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to sit for about ten minutes so that thee juices can seep out.  Then, add pepper and half the basil.  Drizzle with olive oil and mix so that all the tomatoes are well coated.  Place in a shallow baking dish, bake for 40 minutes, or until tomatoes are shriveled and juicy.
+ While the tomatoes are roasting, heat a splash of oil and butter in a medium pan.  Once hot, add panko.  Stirring occasionally, cook until the bread crumbs are brown and toasted.  Set aside.
+ Cook and drain the pasta.  Set aside.

+ Once the tomatoes are done, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a small pan.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic.  Saute until the garlic just begins to brown.
+ Toss the tomatoes and remaining basil in with pasta, mix until combined.  Drizzle garlic and oil over pasta.  Serve each bowl sprinkled with bread crumbs.

Boy-Approved Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie

makes 8 mini-pies
10 chocolate graham crackers
⅓ cup butter, melted
1 bag dark chocolate chips
⅓ cup coffee liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 package silken tofu, drained
3 tbs honey
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered

+ Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
+ Place graham crackers and butter in a food processor, blend until the crackers are broken down, and the mix resembles bread crumbs.
+ Place about three tablespoons of cracker into the bottom of each ramekin.  Push the cracker into the bottom of the dish, making sure there are no holes in the crust.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.
+ While the crust is baking, bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over medium heat.  Place the chocolate chips, liqueur, and vanilla in a medium metal bowl set over the simmering water.  Stir often to prevent the chocolate from burning.
+ Once the chocolate is completely melted, place the chocolate, tofu and 1 tbs honey in the food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Pour some chocolate mixture into each ramekin, leaving a little room in the top of each.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
+ Right before eating, toss berries in 2 tbs of honey, mixing until well coated.  Spoon some berries on top of each pie to serve.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beach Day Picnic

Sometimes all that good karma and positive energy that you've been putting out into the world finally works its way back to you, allowing things to fall perfectly into place.  Wednesday was one of these days.  A last minute shift change gave me the day off, and as I was updating my little day planner I realized that it was the official first day of summer.  The next morning, I was watching the news as I drank my breakfast smoothie (I believe it was blackberry, blueberry, dark cherry), and Al Roker informed me that on Wednesday temperatures would be reaching into the upper 90s, real summer weather.  It was then that it dawned on me - maybe it was with a little help from the karmic muses - beach day.  The universe was sending me a message, and that message was to grab a blanket, slather myself in sunscreen, and do nothing but lay in the warm rays all day.  And that's exactly what I did.
But who wants to spend a day at the beach all by their lonesome?  So, I convinced my best friend Brynn to come along with me (though she didn't really need that much convincing).  We got to the shore, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, almost died in the surf, got a bloody nose (well, at least me), and were laying, sunning on the blanket all before 11:00 AM.  We spent most of the day supine, flipping from back to stomach to assure even sun exposure, with short breaks to cool off in the water and partake in the picnic lunch we packed.  Brynn made an awesome bean salad -  red, white, and black beans, chickpeas, a couple spoon-fulls of pico de gallo, and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  It was hearty an filling, but light and fresh which was beach-day-picnic appropriate.  I made a fruit salad with watermelon, grapes, berries, and crenshaw melon - a sweet and incredibly juicy member of the cantaloupe family.  When I make fruit salads, I like to finish them off with the zest and juice of a lime.  There's something about the tang and tartness of the citrus that intensifies the sweetness of the fruits.  If you're making the salad the night before, the lime not only keeps the fruit fresh, but it also creates this lovely juice that keeps the whole thing moist and allows the flavors to melt together wonderfully.  The cold, juicy, sweet and tangy fruit was a great way to cool down when the sun got a little too hot.  I also packed up some seaweed salad I got from Wegman's because 1) I am currently obsessed with this surprisingly sweet and satisfyingly crunchy snack, and 2) it's possibly the most perfect beach food, I mean, what's better than eating seaweed salad while sitting in the sand staring at the sea?
We spent all afternoon just lying down feeling the sun beating down and cool sea breeze kissing our flesh, hearing the sounds of the surf and gulls and people, smelling the salt and sunscreen and water until we just couldn't take it anymore.  It was Brynn's idea to stop in a little beach town on our way out to get cold drinks for the ride home.  We ended up taking a stroll down the main drag, popping in consignment shops and boutiques for brief moments of air conditioned relief from the heat.  Heading back to the car, we stumbled upon Re-Juice-a-Nation, a cute little joint that offered fresh fruit juices and smoothies, including a bunch of vegan options.  After much deliberation (there were at least 30 drinks on the menu to choose from), I decided to go with the Bango - banana, mango juice, and mango chunks.  They served it up in a massive cup, I mean, if it had been filled with coke, Bloomberg would have cuffed me.  It was thick and cold and sweet, and as we drove out of town and away from the shore, the Bango was the perfect, healthy treat to end a beautiful beach day.

While I am so happy that karma gave me such a phenomenal day, I'm definitely not going to wait for the universe to do all the work.  I've never been what you'd call a beach bum, but I see myself taking the utmost advantage of my days off to lay a blanket in the sand and spend all day reclining in the sun.  And  now that I know where the good smoothies are, there's nothing stopping me.

Warning: When eating seaweed salad, the strands of seaweed have a tendency to get stuck in your teeth, especially the ones furthest back in your mouth.  Therefore, if said beach-picnic is a date-picnic, seaweed salad might not be the best option.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer: Then & Now

And another week flies by - that always happens with summer, the days all run into one another, with no thought for the date or day of the week.  I used to think that the cause of this phenomenon was due to the fact that my schedule was broken down, giving me nothing to judge time against.  But even with the firm regularity of a full-time job, I find myself unsure of what day it is, let alone what month.  I'm glad that the endless-summer feel of my childhood has not been lost in my slow, hesitant journey to adulthood.

With the arrival of the quintessential summer, what better way to celebrate than with a family barbecue?  Now, let's just say I kinda love my family.  Like a lot.  Not only are my immediate family and I freakishly close, but I'm lucky enough to have all of my extended family living within a 20 mile radius.  My aunts and uncles have always been some of my favorite people in the whole world, but as I've gotten older I've come to know them as more than just "aunts" and "uncles" and more as people, and they are really great people.  My cousins aren't half bad either - actually, our extreme closeness is starting to become a little bit of a problem as we have begun to morph into the same person, both physically and mentally.  This past weekend was one of said twin-cousin's 17th birthday (see right).  When she was younger she would have these big bashes in her backyard - the parents up on the patio chatting and sipping drinks that my Uncle "The Daiquiri Man" Jack mixed up, us kids tearing around the yard and occasionally across the patio, one after the other, during intense games of hide-and-seek tag.  We would take a break only long enough to grab a plate of food, sing Happy Birthday, and woof down some cake.  Losing the sunlight didn't stop us either, we actually looked forward to it, because it meant only one thing: Man Hunt - the only light being the moon and stars in the country sky (which made it both fun and frightening, especially when crouched in far edges of the yard near the thick line of trees in the back, the farthest point away from the patio and our parents).  And no party was complete without a half an hour search for some unfortunate guest's flip-flops in the endless darkness of the backyard.  My cousin hasn't had one of these parties in a few years, but this year, this was the year she brought them back.  While this time I spent the day on the patio with The Daiquiri Man, the tradition and nostalgia of the day was not lost, but I got to experience them from the other side.  I loved bonding with my aunts and uncles, and especially hearing stories of when they were younger, and laughing far, far too hard.  Another great thing about being a little bit older is being able to contribute - in the form of food of course.  Since hamburgers and hot dogs were already on the menu, I decided to whip up some Salmon BurgersDeviled Eggs, and Summer Green Bean Pasta Salad (recipe below).  This pasta salad, my mother's brainchild, has been a staple during the barbecue season for years, though I gave it a little update with the addition of chickpeas and a splash of ginger-mandarin dressing.  It felt really good to be able to bring something to the party, like giving back for all those great parties of summer's past.  Plus, I got compliments on both the burgers and the salad, which is always nice.

Summer Green Bean Pasta Salad
½ lb fresh green beans, ends removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb rotini pasta
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup ginger-mandarin dressing

+ Fill a large pot ¾ of the way up with water, salt and bring to boil.  Add pasta and cook until done, take pot off heat.  Remove pasta with slotted spoon or small strainer.  Place in large bowl and set aside.
Put the water back onto boil, and add the green beans.  Cook until soft, but slightly crunchy.  Strain and add to pasta.
+ Add the onion, apricots, cranberries, chickpeas, and dressing, then stir until well combined.  Best served right out of the fridge.