Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow Day Soup!

I woke up to big, beautiful, sexy snowflakes this morning. We don't get those too often in Seattle. I should have just put on some mellow music and enjoyed the view out my window but I made the mistake of turning on the television to a barrage of newscasts interrupting regular programming - newscasts repeating the terms "treacherous" and "Thanksgiving Week Blizzard 2010" and images of abandoned cars because we had 2" of snow on the highways.

I've gotta say, this amuses a Wisconsin girl to no end. Oh Seattle, you don't know "treacherous" weather until you're a 16 year old, newbie driver driving in several feet of blinding, blowing snow with the temps far below zero...and it's MAY! Those, you Washington weather wimps, are treacherous weather conditions.

So in order to stay off the road and away from the crazies who think they know how to drive in snow but really don't, I put on my red and white polka dotted puddle jumpers (which occasionally double as snow boots) and walked to the store for "provisions". I fired up the bread machine and made a loaf of my tried and true gluten-free bread and pulled out the stockpot to make some soup. It's a tasty, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, little diddy that was easy and fast! Enjoy!

Zingy Red Lentil and Coconut Milk Snow Day Soup
4 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
5 Roma tomatoes
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
3 cups veggie broth
3/4 cup light coconut milk
Juice of one large lime
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
2"-3" piece of cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough EVOO or butter to brown the shallots and garlic
A few tablespoons of medium flaked coconut (Not the sugar coated yuckiness you find in baking isle but unadulterated, plain, flaked coconut)

In a small saute pan, brown the shallots in butter or EVOO (your choice) until golden and caramelized. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the chopped garlic and cook until soft and ever so slightly golden. Don't overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter. Add a few tablespoons of the veggie broth to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the tasty brown bits and transfer the browned bits, garlic and caramelized shallots to a stockpot. Don't cook the shallots in the stockpot you'll make the soup in as doing so won't result in nicely browned and caramelized shallots. In such a deep pot, you'll actually be steaming the shallots and they won't truly brown.

Add the the remaining broth, along with the chopped tomatoes, lime juice, lentils and spices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, as you'll be toasting the coconut to sprinkle on top of the soup upon serving.

Remove the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick from the soup and discard. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and puree until it's almost completely smooth. An immersion blender used right in the stockpot works well (and means less dishes to wash!) but be forewarned that the turmeric will stain your immersion blender, making it a lovely shade of bright yellowish-green. It may stain a clear, plastic food processor bowl, too. If this bugs you, the glass pitcher of a blender would be your best best choice to not end up with a turmeric-stained appliance.

Stir in the coconut milk, return the mixture to the pot if you pureed it in a blender or food processor and turn the burner to very low, just high enough to heat the soup through again. As the soup warms, sprinkle the coconut onto a baking sheet and spread evenly. Toast the coconut until brown, about 3-4 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the toasted coconut and dig in!

Afterthoughts: The 3/4 cup of light coconut milk is about half of a 14 ounce can. I like to heat the leftover milk with almond milk, a little cane sugar and good quality, dutch-processed, unsweetened cocoa to make rich, decadent and dairy-free hot chocolate!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bite into Bliss

How do I say this without sounding cocky? I think I've concocted one of the most amazing, gluten-free baked good in the history of gluten-free baked goods. Obnoxious? Full of myself? Ya, ya, I've heard it before and besides, I've been called worse.

Gluten-free baked goods are often dry and crumbly, but not these moist, tender lovelies. Mexican chocolate, browned butter, cinnamon, sugar. Have I got your attention yet? Make them for yourself and then tell me they aren't pretty damn fab and worthy of such bragging.

Mexican Chocolate and Browned Butter Bliss Cakes
2 cups brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
2/3 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon gluten-free baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
8 grated tablespoons of Abuelita Mexican Chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the dry ingredients, except for the grated Mexican Chocolate and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar and add the eggs one at a time. Add the dry ingredient mixture a third at a time, adding one third of the milk between each addition until all ingredients are just barely incorporated. Mix in the Abuelita by hand until well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into muffin pans and bake for 20 minutes. I use silicone muffin pans, so I don't need to butter the pans, but buttering metal pans would likely be necessary and you may need to adjust the baking time with metal pans. Cakes are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Here's where it really gets interesting....

While the cakes are baking, mix 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat until it starts to turn golden brown. Be careful because the point in which it's lovely, fragrant and has a slightly nutty, rich flavor and is just starting to brown and the point in which it starts to burn is mere seconds apart, so don't walk away from the stove! Set your browned butter aside.

Once the cakes are baked and cool enough to release from the pan and handle, dip them in the melted, browned butter and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Eat them while they're still warm and then die and go to heaven. Yes, they are that good. Makes 16 blissful bundles of fabulousness.

Afterthoughts: These really are best served warm, so dip them in the butter and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture just before serving. If you're not serving them straight from the oven, wrap the naked cakes in foil and reheat them in the oven for a few minutes. Make the browned butter as needed and dip the warm cakes in the cinnamon sugar mixture right before serving.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oooh la la!

A few months ago, I started a cooking group with some fabulous foodie friends. We rotate homes, meeting once a month, to feast on amazing dishes based on a theme. So far the themes have been Chinese New Year, North African Cuisine, Childhood Favorites and World Cup Soccer. Say what? Soccer? We're a creative bunch...the idea was to choose a dish from one of the teams in the playoffs. Germany, Italy, Japan, France and the U.S. were represented.

I was Team France. We were encouraged to wear soccer jerseys or at least don the team colors. I showed up in a French maid's outfit. Yes, I'm that kind of girl. ;0)

My culinary contribution was chocolate crepes filled with strawberries. I bought a wonderful, 8", blue steel crepe pan and perfected a great gluten-free recipe. The base is buckwheat flour. While buckwheat sounds like something we groovy gluten-intolerant people shouldn't eat, it's actually not related to wheat at all. It's a pseudocereal in the family of amaranth and the much loved (at least in my kitchen) quinoa.

That pan has been getting a lot of use in the last week...chocolate crepes for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Oooh la la, indeed!

Chocolate Crepes with Grand Marnier Strawberries and Vanilla Whipped Cream

Grand Marnier Strawberries (aka Boozey Berries)
Wash, dry and chop at least a pound of strawberries. This will be enough for about six 8" crepes. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with about a tablespoon of sugar. This is called mascerating and the sugar will mix with the juice from the berries and create a very flavorful strawberry, simple syrup. If you have Grand Marnier in the house, reduce the sugar by about half and pour in a splash or two of the Grand Marnier onto the strawberries and mix well. If you don't have Grand Marnier in the house, put on your shoes, go to the liquor store and buy some. ;0) Set the berries aside to mascerate at room temperature for at least an hour.

Crepe Recipe
2 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (minus 3 tablespoons) buckwheat flour
3 tablespoons good quality dutch processed dark cocoa
4 teaspoons pure cane sugar

Whisk the ingredients together, cover and let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for at least fifteen minutes.

Vanilla Whipped Cream
Whip the heavy whipping cream with good quality vanilla and a little sugar, both to taste. Did you know that if you chill your mixer bowl and beaters or wire whisk attachment in the freezer before use, you'll get a stiffer whipped cream?

Once the berries are nice and syrupy and the crepe mixture has rested a bit in the fridge, stir the mixture well before use. Brush your crepe pan with oil. Grapeseed oil is perfect for crepes because it has a high smoke point and you need the pan good and hot. Also, grapeseed oil is virtually flavorless. Olive oil wouldn't be a wise choice for a sweet dessert crepe like this because of its strong flavor. It could work for a savory crepe but may smoke, so grapeseed oil is my favorite all purpose oil.

Set your burner on medium and after a few minutes if a few drops of water sizzle when dropped on the pan, you're good to go. For an 8" pan, you need exactly 4 tablespoons of crepe mixture for a crepe that's not too thin or too thick but, as Goldilocks said, just right. Play around with the utensils in your kitchen beforehand to find a small ladle or tiny sauce pitcher or such that can hold 4 tablespoons, as you'll want to pour that amount in all at once and quickly swirl the pan for even coverage. Keep the pan on medium heat and don't walk away from the stove. Once the edges start to firm up and get crispy (after approximately two minutes) you'll want to carefully flip the crepe by using a small spatula to pry the crepe up a small section at a time. Cooking time really varies by stove and you'll get the hang of it, even if you botch up the first crepe or two. The recipe makes at least 10 or 12 crepes, so you have plenty to experiment with.

Fill the crepes with your wonderful, syrupy, boozey strawberries and top with whipped cream. A drizzle of chocolate sauce across the top wouldn't hurt either. Bon appetit!

Afterthoughts: The crepe mixture will keep in the fridge for two to three days in a covered, airtight container. The mascerated strawberries breakdown after several hours and get mushy. Pick up an extra pound of berries and prepare as detailed above right before use or try raspberries or some other fabulous concoction to go with the second round of crepes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


We're spoiled here in the Northwest. We have an abundance of amazing farmer's markets, great restaurants (including gluten free, vegan, organic, etc.) trendsetting food-based businesses (Fran's Smoked Salt Caramels get their props in this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living) and we have an abundance of fresh seafood options at the ready. Spoiled, indeed.

Tonight I whipped up one of my favorite seafood dishes, Sea Scallops with Capers. I made a simple salad of wild greens and baby spinach with sliced almonds and dried cranberries. A little goat or blue cheese would have been a nice compliment but I didn't have any in the house. The star of that salad, however, was a delicious vinaigrette made with my favorite flavored balsamic.

The balsamic is Tart Cherry Zinfandel Balsamic from Earth and Vine Provisions and I picked it up at one of our local wineries. Oh yeah, we're ridiculously spoiled with a lot of those in the Washington State area, as well. I love this balsamic whisked with olive oil for a simple and highly flavorful vinaigrette.

Finally, complimenting the cooking and dining experience this evening was Diana Krall's The Look of Love.

Sea Scallops with Capers
3/4 pound fresh or frozen scallops (About 10-12 medium to large scallops)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
The zest of one large lemon
The juice of half of one large lemon
2 heaping tablespoons of capers, rinsed
Sea salt
Grapeseed oil

When choosing scallops, choose the pinker ones. Those are the female scallops and they're sweeter and tastier. Once again, females are just better. Also, buy dry-packed scallops, as they don't have phosphate added. Rinse the scallops, dry them very well and set aside. In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat and saute the shallots until just before they start to brown. Add the wine, lemon zest, lemon juice and capers. Reduce the heat a bit and simmer until the wine cooks off and the sauce thickens, about 6 to 7 minutes. If the sauce isn't as thick as you'd like, go ahead add a little more's only better, after all!

You'll be cooking your scallops in a separate saute pan, or a cast iron pan if you have one. Be sure your scallops are completely dry and salt them with sea salt. Coat the pan with grapeseed oil. You don't need too much oil, just one generous coating on the pan will suffice. I like grapeseed oil as it's a flavorless, neutral oil and it has a high smoke point, making it perfect for searing scallops at high heat. Set your burner to high heat and once your oil is hot, add the scallops - flat side down. Be careful, as the oil will "pop", so long sleeves are wise. Don't crowd the scallops in the pan and cook them for 2 minutes on the first side. Don't do anything during those two minutes...don't move the scallops in the pan, don't peek to see if they're getting a nice sear, don't answer the phone...just be patient! After two minutes, flip them over gently with tongs and cook them for just 30 seconds on the second side. Immediately plate them and spoon the sauce over the scallops and dig in!

Afterthoughts: Note that the photo above does not show the scallops with the lovely sear you'll achieve if you follow the directions above. That's because I updated the instructions after I took a class in which I learned how to perfectly sear scallops after I posted this recipe, so I know that next time I make this dish , it will be even better now that I've perfected my technique for cooking scallops correctly!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I'm a Throwback

No, I'm not talking catch and release fishing...or dating. Dating in Seattle is a lot like catch and release fishing - dating the ones your girlfriends "threw back" or accidentally going out with a guy you've gone out with before and had long since forgotten. But you really don't want to get me started on that.

I'm talking eras. I think I'm a throwback to another era, and I've often thought I was born a few decades too late. I love all things retro. I drool over women's fashions and accessories from the 40's, 50's and 60's. In college, Patty (my BFF at the time) and I would search Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul secondhand stores for these treasures and we readily found them. If it was good enough for the Go-Go's, it was good enough for us. That should give you a hint of how very long ago I was in college. This was before dressing vintage was the trend and I was also, uh um, more petite in college. Weren't we all? And I wasn't in love with food back then the way I am now. Well, everything is a trade-off and besides these days it's harder to find clothes of those eras easily and on the cheap and if you do, they are really teeny tiny! I think the normal-sized girls wore the hell out of their clothes in the 40's, 50's and 60's.

Old Mason jars of buttons and marbles make me happy. My classic Schwinn makes me happy. There are times this very independent, single, city girl wishes she could transport herself back in time to a small town when life was much simpler and everyone knew their neighbors (and liked them). Throw in a big flower and veggie garden, a hubby, a few kids, a few of animals and an old, creaky, sunny, farmhouse with a big porch and I'm in heaven...canning, baking, crafting, chasing kidlets all day.

Ok, back to reality. I can still transport myself in time once in a while, as I did on a recent lazy, Sunday morning. I whipped up a batch of cornbread muffins. As I mentioned in my previous post, music that fits the mood normally accompanies my baking adventures. That morning a collection of torch songs from Ella, Patsy, Judy, Lena and their gal pals seemed most fitting.

So, I hope you'll transport yourself back to a simpler place and time with an old school favorite, updated to be gluten-free, of course. For full classic effect, be sure to eat these muffins hot out of the oven with butter and a drizzle of honey.

Cornbread Muffins
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup medium grind cornmeal
1 cup brown rice flower
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking soda
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1 and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another. Mix each set of ingredients until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing well to incorporate after each addition.

Spoon mixture into muffin pans. I use silicone muffin pans, so I don't use non-stick spray or muffin papers. One or the other is likely necessary for conventional pans or your muffins will stick. I love all my silicone bakeware and highly recommend it for avid bakers. Bake 19 minutes or until golden. Oddly, this recipe only makes 10-11 muffins. What is that, the baker's anti-dozen? Oh well.

Afterthoughts: I've read that corn is the most genetically modified crop in the U.S. (followed by soy and rice), so I always try to buy organic corn products. The bulk section in health food stores is a good place to find this. This is also the best place to find xanthan gum, which is essential for gluten-free baking. Xanthan gum is made by fermenting corn sugar with a microbial. It's used extensively in the food industry to make products thicker and it's a common ingredient in gluten-free recipes because it binds ingredients together. It is expensive and most recipes call for small amounts, so I always buy a small amount as needed from the bulk section.

I've made these muffins with and without the cinnamon and enjoyed them both times. The first batch, without the cinnamon, was paired with a friend's pot of homemade turkey chili for a party. Next time, I think I'll try the recipe with the cinnamon again, fresh blueberries folded into the batter and a topping of melted butter and sprinkling of chopped pecans. I like this recipe because you can play around with it, adding green chilies and cheddar for savory muffins or any other exotic mix-ins you come up with. The buttermilk makes the muffins really moist and light, even up against medium grind cornmeal and brown rice flour.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Orange You Glad I'm Your Main Squeeze?

So today is Valentine's Day and this year I don't have anyone to share such corny, lovey-dovey puns with. So, once again, I bonded with my sexy, red Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and created these Orange Coconut Macaroons Kissed with Dark Chocolate.

Ok, I wasn't completely alone. Lyle Lovett, She and Him, and Missy Higgins provided just the right recipe of irony, melancholy, longing and retro-flavored optimism for such an occasion. I'm convinced that everything I cook or bake tastes better if made while listening to music I love. And, by the way, Lyle Lovett is my boyfriend. He just doesn't know it yet.

Orange Coconut Macaroons Kissed with Dark Chocolate
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
10 tablespoons cane sugar
2 pinches of kosher salt
The zest of one large orange
The juice of half a large orange
1 egg, beaten
3 cups of medium flaked coconut (Not the sugar coated yuckiness you find in baking isle but unadulterated, plain, flaked coconut)
About 2 to 2.5 ounces of good quality dark chocolate (I love Trader Joe's Organic 73% cocoa dark chocolate bar and about half the bar should suffice. God knows I don't believe in wasting chocolate.)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Zest the orange and set aside. Do this first, because if you forget and juice the orange first, it's very tricky to zest a mushy orange. With a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the salt, egg, orange juice, orange zest and coconut. Mix until well incorporated. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. All cookies seem to bake more evenly and hold their shape better when the dough is chilled.

Once chilled, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and form mounds about the diameter of silver dollars. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until firm and the tops are golden brown and crispy. Let the cookies cool a bit before removing them from the parchment paper with a small spatula. If they don't hold together well, they're still malleable enough as you remove them from the paper to smoosh them back together. (Yes, "smoosh" is a technical term.)

Once the cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate. I prefer to create a double boiler with a glass Pyrex bowl with a lip that fits snugly in a small sauce pan filled with water or a small sauce pan and a slightly larger sauce pan filled with water. I know a lot of people like to melt chocolate in a microwave, but I always burned it when I used that method and it never melted evenly. Did you know that microwaving food changes its molecular structure? I got rid of my microwave last summer and haven't missed it once.

Transfer the macaroons to a piece of wax or parchment paper and arrange them so they're clustered in a circle and touching on all sides. This will insure that when you drizzle the chocolate on them the chocolate lands on the cookies, not on the wax paper spaces between the cookies. Using a wire whisk, flick (another technical term) the melted chocolate on the cookies. Transfer the cookies to the fridge to firm up and allow the chocolate to harden. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Who needs a sweetie when you have cookies like this? Oh, I hope Lyle didn't hear that. Yields 24 cookies, just the right amount for a party for one on Valentine's Day. ;0)

Afterthoughts: You'll likely have a some chocolate left in the pan. Again, wasting chocolate is sacrilegious, so whisk in some milk, heavy cream, a little sugar and a liqueur or choice and you'll have a decadent hot chocolate to enjoy with your cookies.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Have You Met Quinoa?

Do you know about quinoa?? If not, let me introduce you. Gluten-intolerant reader, meet quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa"). Quinoa, meet the gluten-intolerant readers. I'm sure you two will get along just fine.

Do you miss couscous or bulgar-wheat tabbouleh? Do you have to steer clear of corn or oats? Quinoa is a great substitution for recipes that call for many of these ingredients. It's also a very healthy alternative to rice and is packed with protein. It's an ancient grain from the mountains of South America. It has more protein than any other grain and it's a complete protein with an essential balance of amino acids. Quinoa also provides starch, sugars, oil (high in essential linoleic acid), fiber, minerals and vitamins. It's also easy to digest, which is important to many of us with sensitive tummies. It's good stuff.

Here are two recipes I've created, a breakfast quinoa loaded with protein for a tasty start to your day and a red quinoa salad that tastes light and fresh but will indeed fill you up!

Breakfast Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 cups of water or milk of choice (I use almond milk.)
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
Any additions you'd like such as nuts, fresh or dried fruit, butter, cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup...

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and combine with the liquid in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, transfer to a bowl and stir in the cinnamon and your desired mix-ins. My favorite is a pat of butter, a little brown sugar or cane sugar, pecans and fresh blueberries. That's a good start to any day.

Red Quinoa Salad
1 cups red quinoa
2 cups of water (For other quinoa recipes, I sometimes use chicken or veggie broth for more flavorful, but I like water best for this light salad.)
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
The juice of one large lime or lemon or combination of both
1/2 tablespoon oil of your choice (I use grapeseed oil.)
4 green onions, whites and greens finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and combine with the water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, allow it to cool, transfer to a large bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients. Chill well before serving.

Afterthoughts: Bulk quinoa is usually the most economical option. Just remember the one part quinoa to two parts liquid ration for cooking. Costco sells a four pound bag of organic quinoa for about $8 or $10 dollars. Trader Joe's has a small, organic box for $4, which is a good start if you're new to this ingredient. Finally, red quinoa can be trickier to find but most health food stores carry it in the rice isle if they don't carry it bulk.

This salad reminds me of a Greek salad I used to make with bulgar-wheat tabbouleh. To give this more of a Greek influence, add some feta cheese and toasted pinenuts.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fruity, Decadent Goodness

Pears poached in red wine, cardamom, cinnamon and orange. Fruity, decadent goodness. Give it a try. Oh and I bet you think that's a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream atop the pear, right? Oh no, you misguided soul, allow me to enlighten you. That, my foodie friend, is lemon frozen custard!

If you're not from the Midwest, you may not know about the delicacy that is frozen custard. Frozen custard is a type of ice cream but it contains more butterfat than ice cream (at least 10%) and also contains 1.4% egg yolk. Some ice creams do contain egg yolk, but less than 1.4%. Finally, frozen custard is churned much more slowly than ice cream, which creates less air in the product, and is served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream. All this creates a richer, smoother and denser frozen treat that puts traditional ice cream to shame. I was raised in Wisconsin, where the gold standard of frozen custard is Kopp's. Here in Seattle, where I live now, we are lucky to have Peaks made just like the best frozen custard I grew up with back home. If you don't have frozen custard in your town, I guess you'll just have to slum it with good quality ice cream. I'm sorry.

Decadent Poached Pears
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine (I used Malbec.)
2 cups sugar (I used organic cane sugar.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cinnamon sticks
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut in half (I used Anjou.)
Lemon frozen custard (Or lemon ice cream or sorbet, if you must.)

Combine the first seven ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the pears, cut side down, and return the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly until the pears are tender when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Transfer the pears to a plate and cover with foil if you'd like them to stay warm.

Boil the liquid in the saucepan until it's reduced to about three cups of syrupy goodness. This will take about 20 minutes. Allow the sauce to cool before serving or the hot syrup will instantly harden when it hits the frozen custard or ice cream. Serve the pears cut side up with a generous scoop of frozen custard or ice cream and drizzle some of the poaching liquid over your masterpiece.

After thoughts: Refrigerate leftover sauce and pears separately or the pears get mushy. Both can be reheated when leftovers are served or served cold. You will have plenty of syrup leftover which is tasty on frozen custard or ice cream on its own. Or you can drizzle it over goat cheese or blue cheese and serve with crackers, or drizzle it on pancakes and waffles.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haricot Vert Hodgepodge

I was never a big fan of green beans, until I started buying them at the farmer's markets. Green beans in the grocery store are too waxy and tough but fresh beans from the farmer's market are delightful. Well it's January and I've discovered a year round option that's also quite tasty - Haricot Vert or French Green Beans. Granted, they aren't fresh from the market but I like these smaller, more tender beans.

I recently concocted this dish, Haricot Vert Hodgepodge. I call it that because it was created with a hodgepodge of items in the fridge and pantry: haricot vert, shallots, water-packed artichoke hearts, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and sea salt. Amounts? Ratios? I don't know. You can wing it, just like I did.

Saute some shallots in oil until they just start to turn golden. By the way, I typically use grape seed oil when sauteing, rather than olive oil. It has a higher "flash-point," which means that it can be heated longer and at a higher temperature than olive oil before it breaks down and starts to smoke. I also like it because it has a lighter, more neutral flavor than olive oil.

Once the shallots are golden, add the haricot vert and chopped artichoke hearts and cook until the beans are tender. Add in some finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes and finally some pine nuts. Sprinkle with sea salt once plated and dig in.

After thoughts: I think I like this dish even better on the second day, reheated in the oven. By then the flavors have married and I like the crispiness that comes from reheating the dish in the oven.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Riches

Rumor has it that you should eat blacked-eyed peas on New Years Day to insure good luck in the new year and greens to insure riches. Hmmm, I don't have any recipes for black-eyed peas and I promise I will get around to posting something green and healthy on this blog...eventually. In the meantime, how about super rich risotto which was the star of this new year's feast? Hey, at least I put it in a green bowl...that should count for something!

Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto
5 cups of mushroom broth
14 ounce can of water-packed artichoke hearts, well-drained and chopped
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (Either oil packed or reconstituted dried ones.)
1/3 cup chopped shallots
2 cups Aborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more for plating
About 2 ounces of goat cheese
About 1 tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Warm the broth and set aside on a burner set on low. Saute the shallots in butter until the edges just start to turn golden. Add salt and pepper to taste and add rice. Stir constantly and cook until rice is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add wine and cook until absorbed. Start adding the broth, about a cup and a half at a time and cook, while stirring constantly, until each addition is absorbed. Add the artichokes after about the third addition of broth and the sun-dried tomatoes with the last addition of broth. Once all the broth has been absorbed, remove from the heat and stir in the two cheeses. Stir until melted and well incorporated. Once plated, add a little bit of finely grated Parmesan and dig in!