Category Archives: Main Course

A Pizza Pie for Pi(e) Day

March 14, 2014

Depending on your level of cynicism (here’s looking at yours, Will C.), today is either a day for nerds to enjoy being punny or a day for pun lovers to pretend to be math nerds. Why?

Salad and Pizza

March 14 = 3/14
Pi= 3.14
Pi sounds like Pie and voila! National Pi Day is born [an excuse to eat pie, make pi references and test your ability to recall the endless digits beyond the 4].

Fennel Craisin Salad

Since I like to eat a salad with my pizza, might I suggest:
Spinach, Fennel, Feta, Cranberry & Chia Seeds with Homemade Dijon Vinaigrette

I fall somewhere between nerd and pun lover, but I’m definitely a theme enthusiast, which might explain my exuberant devotion to Pi(e) Day.

Salmon Pesto Pizza

In honor of today, I bring you a super simple method for an individual pizza using one of my favorite flavor combinations. I love sharing a more official version of this pizza with friends and watching their faces savor what’s in their mouths. Then we all ask ourselves, “why isn’t this on pizza menus everywhere?!?”

One Slice

My Favorite Pizza

Whole-wheat pita or a pizza crust
Pesto
Goat Cheese
Smoked Salmon
Black Olives
Capers
Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese, grated
Fresh basil when it’s in season

Arrange the ingredients to your liking. If you’re making the quick pita style, heat it in the toaster oven for an easy, delicious lunch. If you’re making a pizza crust, prepare the crust according to instructions and then bake in the oven at 425 degrees until the goat cheese is melted and softened and crust is warm, about 10-15 minutes.

Single-Grain

Happy Pi(e) Day!
-Quelcy

Wild Rice Salad with Pomegranate & Roasted Squash

January 2013

Though I have visually feasted my way through the food magazines strewn across my dining room table, all too often my meal choices remain unaffected by their inspiration. However, life is all too short to fill with the same old routines. One of my [loosely defined] goals for the new year is to eat better balanced, more varied meals (don’t let blogging fool you, I too fall victim to last minute scraping and convenience), so I started simply. I dogeared one recipe to try; I shopped appropriately, and voila…

Wild Rice Salad 01

A healthy bowl full of colors emerged!

Wild Rice Salad 02

I adapted this recipe ever so slightly from one of the Bon Appétit issues in said dining room collection. This rice salad is substantial enough to stand alone, or pair it with a dijon roasted salmon for a more mixed plate. In an effort to be resourceful (and maybe in some subconscious, knee-jerk reaction to being vegetarian?), I roasted my squash in a cast-iron skillet coated with bacon grease leftover from an artisan cajun bacon, and I used the entire squash versus the prescribed half. Though I do not show it above, I recommend a few crumbles of chèvre as well.

Black and Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Squash
adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups black rice
1/2 cup wild rice
Kosher salt

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into pieces
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey

2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup roasted pistachios

organic mixed greens
local chèvre

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°.

Cook black rice and wild rice in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender, 35–40 minutes; drain and rinse, shaking off as much water as possible. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool.

Meanwhile, toss squash with 1/4 cup oil on another baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden brown and tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool.

Whisk vinegar, honey, and remaining ¼ cup oil in a large bowl.

Add black rice and wild rice, squash, scallions, pomegranate seeds, and pistachios; season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Serve over a bed of mixed greens. Add some chunks/crumbles of chèvre.

Make Ahead:
Salad (without mixed greens) can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

Thanksgiving Recipes: Mini Whole Wheat Turkey Pot Pies

November 2013

Thanksgiving and turkey are so synonymous, but for our Harvest & Gather Thanksgiving dinner, my partner and I wanted to serve the traditional bird in a nontraditional way… a la mini pot pies.

Thanksgiving Spread

I never focus on precision when it comes to making pot pie filling. Once the pie crust is in place, I mound ingredients by sight and taste, so the “recipe” below should be taken with an [approximate] grain of salt. When making these for a dinner occasion, it’s helpful to make extra filling to serve to your gluten-free guests (sauté all the ingredients together to serve). I also recommend making a few vegetarian pies with a different scored design to distinguish them from their meaty counterparts.

Mini Pot Pies and Cranberry Sauce

Mini Pot Pies

Mini Pot Pie

Tangy & Flaky Whole-Wheat Pie Crust

Ingredients 

2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
3/4 cup organic, unsalted butter, chilled
5-8 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar, chilled

Directions

Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Cut butter into 12 pieces and rub into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with some pea-size pieces.

Sprinkle apple cider vinegar over mixture, one Tablespoon at a time and knead lightly just until dough forms.

Form dough into a ball. Cut in half and press each into a disc shape. Wrap each disc in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

Makes two 9-inch pie crusts (16 slices).

Bake crust following your pie’s instructions or pre-bake at 375°F for 25 – 30 minutes.

Individual Turkey Pot Pies

Ingredients

1 lb butternut squash, cubed, roasted w/ olive oil, salt, pepper & herbs
2 shallots, sliced, roasted w/ the butternut squash
1 lb turkey breast cutlets, seared in local bacon fat & cut into chunks
pre-sliced & pre-cooked chestnuts (available at Trader Joe’s)
fresh sage, to taste
fresh thyme, to taste
organic kale, chopped
shredded organic gruyere cheese

Directions 

Roll out the pie dough and cut into pieces small enough to press into the individual sections of a cupcake pan (I used a larger sized cupcake pan).

Remove the cupcake pan from the freezer. Add the ingredients to each pie crust. The ingredients can form a mound higher than the pan height.

Use remaining pie dough to form the tops of each pie. Chill in the freezer while preheating the oven.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Single-Grain

Bon Appétit!
-Quelcy

ps: All photos in this post were taken by my talented friend Chris Goodman

A Low Country Boil with e2 at Bayardstown Social Club

September 2013

If Fräulein Maria had raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and warm, woolen mittens all at once, I imagine her sentiment would have matched my excitement for the Pittsburgh Urbanist‘s Low Country Boil. This dinner event definitely encompassed a few of my favorite things..!

Bayardstown

A Favorite Location: Bayardstown Social Club

In its own words, Bayardstown is a members-only social club in the Strip District of Pittsburgh that offers a shared backyard space to gather, eat, and drink [also a few of my favorite things]. In my own words, Bayardstown has been a unique and much appreciated addition to my list of summer sites. I’m a big fan of someone else making a campfire and playing great music for me.

Founding Members

The club takes its name from one of the oldest monikers given to the area and its inhabitants, the legendary Bayardstown Boys. Bayardstown was, and is, a group bound by community and while memberships are limited, the club serves as a place for members to hang out. Club members will be young city dwellers who share a love for the outdoors. Think of Bayardstown as a place to connect with those you would not normally encounter at work, at the bar, or down the block. Every night promises a different experience.

Chef Fit

A Favorite Chef/Restaurant: Kate Romane of e2

How do I love Kate and e2? Let me count the ways! Between beignet brunches, saucy dinners, pop-ups, farm dinners and more brunches, this girl has always delivered in a big way, and this night was no exception. This was a BIG low country boil! Forget Cross Fit. These ladies should patent “Chef Fit!”

Take A Picture

Kate Feeds The Masses

Low Country Boil

Ivy and Green Beans

Farm Fresh Tomatoes

Greens

Lawn Chairs and Food

Sunset and Lights

Smores

Libations

Delicious. Relaxed. Beautiful. Affordable.

If you see the Pittsburgh Urbanist or e2 names backing an event, be sure to attend!  I hope this is the first of many food-centric gatherings at Bayardstown because this night was up there with bright, copper kettles and brown-paper packages tied up with strings. It was definitely one of my favorite things!

Best of the PittsBurgers: Burgatory

July 2013

You might not remember May of 2011, but to some, it was nearly the end of the world. Back then, Harold Camping predicted the return of Christ, the emergence of Christians to Heaven, and the dawn of fire and brimstone for those of us below. It just so happened my pal’s birthday fell on Rapture eve. Being the heathens that we were, we decided the event called for a pre-celebration in the form of burgers and cocktails in a very fitting place…

B for Burgatory

Though Christ did not return to earth that fateful May, I have returned quite a few times to Burgatory, making it count amongst my Best of the PittsBurgers locales!

Burgatory

Fox Chapel / Waterworks
932 Freeport Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
412.781.1456
*This is the location I frequent, but there is a second locale in Robinson.

Blessed Be The Burger

Ambiance/Design

Strategic. Industrial. Witty. A Little Bit Mischievous.
Burgatory channeled the big guns for their branding, and it shows. Infographics and witticisms accent the industrial interior. Its location in a strip mall makes the interior an odd diamond-in-the-rough situation (unless your cups of tea are big-box stores, then diamond-in-a-diamond). Exterior and collocation aside, the interior is energizing but also arranged in such a way that individual tables and conversations feel relatively private, albeit, a bit muffled by said energy.

Honor Thy Burger

Burgatory Booth

Very Important To Note

Sourcing of the Meat

All Natural, Hormone Free Burgers are better for you and the environment. Plus they taste a HELLUVA lot better! Our beef burgers are ground and hand formed daily using our private label blend of sirloin, chuck, brisket and short rib. All of our burgers can be served TOPLESS or NAKED (WE’RE TALKIN’ NO BUN, FOLKS!) upon request. You can also substitute an All Natural Chicken Breast for any burger if you want to cluck it up. 

Burgatory makes a big deal about the purity of its meat, which I appreciate, but what is missing [or in any case, isn’t glaringly obvious] is the name of the meat source(s). Give me that assurance, and my locavore-loving heart will be completely at ease.

Burgatory Burgers

Quality of Meat Preparation

“Red, Pink or No Pink Center”

It’s hard to assess the inherent quality of the juicy, ground beef under all those rich toppings, but the burgers are prepared according to the more playful take on the rare-to-done spectrum and delivered as promised.

Pink Burgers

Toppings (ie: This is why you go to Burgatory!)

Life is all about choices. Do I strive to be a saint or do I revel in sin? Burgatory is all about choices. Do I want Angel Dust or Bourbon BBQ… or both?!? Picky people and confident creatives alike will relish in the control the grill relinquishes to them, and these power grabs span the entire menu. This also makes Burgatory a blessing when dining with kids who might not see the value in Truffled Shallot Aioli. These offerings aren’t limited to “do you want lettuce, tomato and onion?” I’m talking an infographic guided tour through robust flavors and potential combinations. The only danger zone is dining with the easily overwhelmed, indecisive type, in which case, point them to the classics and forbid them from flipping pages.

Sides

I revered potato chips as a food group when my lunches still came with notes on the napkins. As a noteless “adult,” these chips strike me as a cheap ploy. Clearly, the obvious companion to a burger is the french fry, so to make me pay extra for the rightful complement is counterintuitive. As expected, the fries also come with their fair share of options, so any inkling of an inner tantrum is quickly reversed.

Free Float for Kids

Cocktails

My most recent trip was a family affair, so I refrained from boozing, but in the past, I’ve partaken in delightful, fresh cocktails. If you’re going for icy decadence, you can also upgrade your milkshake to an adult milkshake. If kids plow through their entire meal to arrive at the clean plate club, they receive a free ice cream float. Burgatory means well with this gesture, but I’m not one to reward gluttony, so I’m on the fence about that incentive.

Price

The standard [but decadently stacked!] menu burgers range from $9-$12, which is consistent with other burger joints around this region and worth the cost of supporting local meat (see Sourcing of the Meat). As mentioned, paying extra to swap fries for chips grates on my sensibilities just a smidgen, but even that fee is pretty harmless. With so many options though, including boozy shakes and cocktails, the numbers can quickly add up to a decent investment.

In Conclusion…

Life is full of contrasting choices, blacks and grays, but sometimes, the middle territory is a helluva good time! Enjoy!

Pulled Pork & Plantains

July 2013

As a child, I met my pulled pork quota in the autumn months, in conjunction with the cider donuts and hayrides of the “Harvest Days” festival at a local farm. The fall association lingers, but lately I’ve been rethinking that timing for a few reasons. First, there is never a bad time for pulled pork unless you’re at a vegan festival (is that even a thing?). Secondly, I’m no grilling expert, so this is a convenient slight-of-hand, meat decoy.

Pork and Onions

Thirdly, even if I were a grilling expert, at some point, I’d want to join the gathering instead of watching it from behind a plume of smoke. Lastly, wouldn’t we all rather be lounging at the pool or in the thick of some summer activity while the meat cooked itself? In conclusion, pulled pork is summer brilliance (everyone knew that already, and I’m just late to the conclusion)!

Barley Beer

I’m also really late to the world of beer (ie: can count on one hand the number of times I’ve finished an entire beer all by myself!!!), but I do know it does wonders for meat, and bourbon does wonders for sauces!

Pulled Pork and Plantains

…and fried plantains do wonders for the whole compilation, so have yourself some summertime pulled pork ‘n plantains and thank me from your poolside lounge location!

Pulled Pork and Plantains and Bourbon

Pulled Pork & Plantains

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder (*or 6 lbs pork hip area?!?)
12 fl. oz Uinta Anniversary Barley Wine Ale (or the beer of your choice)
4 Tablespoons organic liquid smoke

Sauce Ingredients

1 cup local apple butter
1 cup organic ketchup (don’t go the corn syrupy ketchup route; just don’t!)
1/2 cup apple-cider vinegar
1/3 cup bourbon
2 Tablespoons Bourbon barrel aged Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons all natural Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Directions

Place onion slices in an even layer in slow-cooker insert. Trim skin and any excess fat from pork. Lay over onion. Pour in ale and liquid smoke. Cover and cook on low until meat is very tender, about 8 hours.

Remove pork to a large cutting board and onion to a large bowl. Discard liquid. Using two forks, shred pork.

Whisk apple butter with ketchup, vinegar, bourbon, Worcestershire, Tabasco, garlic powder and ground ginger in a large saucepan, then set over medium-high.

Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, until apple jelly is dissolved and sauce is smooth, 6 to 8 min.

Add shredded pork and onion. Stir until all meat is coated with sauce. Remove from heat.

Serve on a grainy roll with fried plantains. Pork will keep well, refrigerated, up to 3 days.

Fried Plantains

Ingredients

1 plantain
3/4- 1 cup high quality peanut oil (enough to cover the plantains when frying)

Directions

Preheat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat.

Peel the plantain and cut them in slices. Carefully add the slices to the heated oil.

Fry the pieces until browned and tender.

Drain excess oil on paper towels.

Sweet Potato & Red Lentil Curry Stew

April 2013

Like the tumultuous teen years, April brings many ups and downs. April in Pittsburgh feels like summer, then winter, then fall…all in the course of one day, which is why there is still time for a bowl of spicy stew with the fresh, summery accent of basil. Share with friends or feed yourself for a week!

Soup and Spoon

Sweet Potato Curry 01

Sweet Potato & Red Lentil Curry Stew
Adapted from Food52
serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 Tablespoons ginger, minced

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about two large), chopped into 1 inch chunks (or a little larger)
1/2 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and drained
1 can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
1 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
2 teaspoons Cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric, ground
dashes of Cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon Sea salt (or to taste)

4-5 cups vegetable stock + extra as needed
1/4 cup creamy almond butter (or nut butter of your choice)

4 cups mixed greens (kale, chard, collards)
fresh basil, to taste
salted peanuts, chopped, to taste

Directions 

Heat olive oil in a large pot set on medium heat. Add the onion and begin sauteeing until onion is getting translucent (about 3 minutes).

Add the garlic and ginger, and continue to sautee for another 3 minutes, till garlic is fragrant.

Add the sweet potatoes, the red lentils, the tomatoes, the cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne and give it all a quick stir to combine.

Add 4 cups vegetable stock and bring mixture to a boil. If there isn’t enough broth to cover everything but at least 1 inch, add another cup of stock.

When soup boils, reduce to a simmer and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until sweet potatoes and lentils are very tender.

If you need more broth as the mixture cooks, add it.

Add almond butter and stir well.

Using an immersion blender or a food processor, blend soup till about half of it is pureed and the other half still has texture. The soup should appear creamy, but chunks of sweet potato should be visible.

Stir in the greens and let it wilt.

Season to taste, adding more salt and pepper as needed.

Serve, topped with fresh basil and crushed peanuts.

Chicken Noodle Soup Like Mom Makes

February 2013

As a child, I had a love-hate relationship with my mom’s soups.

Bowl of Soup and Baguette

The timing of her homemade soup was always perfect. Though she did tell me to put on more layers instead of raising the thermostat (what do I put over a sweatshirt mom?), at least she filled my wintry, cold core with warmth. My childish objection, however, was the ramifications of using a home-cooked chicken- the occasional bone or bit of fat or tendon, which prevented me from slurping recklessly to the bottom of the bowl.

Spoonful of Soup

Then I grew up. I roasted many a chicken and saw how much remained to be used, so finally I did what mom did. I boiled that leftover chicken with plenty of vegetables, added too little salt and mixed in plenty of [brown rice] noodles. As I ate spoonful after spoonful, the warmth of nostalgia superseded all my childhood complaints. Now it’s just a love relationship.

Much like my mom’s main kitchen repertoire, this soup is recipe-less. Just wing it!

Thai Chicken Curry

January 2013

With the sights, smells, sounds and whirling traffic patterns of India still whirling inside me, I was drawn to the curry element of this one-pot wonder from Bon Appétit (albeit a Thai chicken curry). In an effort to make the recipes of my monthly subscription, rather than just admire the beautiful food photography, I prepared this recipe for friends who had similar journeys still whirling inside them.

Thai Chicken Curry 01

An inexplicable potato-peeling zeal led me to overshoot the quantity of potatoes in this recipe, making my version thicker than the magazine photo I had admired, so choose your fancy. To potato or not to potato? One potato, two potato, three potato, four (pounds and then some)? Whatever your potato fancy, I do highly recommend sharing your version with good friends and the type of cocktails that improve as conversation flows and flavors come together!

Thai Chicken Curry 03

Thai Chicken Curry
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil
4-6 ounces red curry paste (I used mild)
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 pounds organic russet potatoes (1 bag), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I may have gone a little overboard on potatoes)
1.5 pounds organic, skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can (13.5-ounce or 15-ounce) unsweetened coconut milk
Chopped fresh basil
1 cup cashews, chopped

Directions

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.

Add curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add carrots, onion, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add potatoes, chicken, coconut milk, and 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Divide curry among bowls, and top with basil and chopped cashews.

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: A Fall Flavored Lasagna

September 2012

“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” -George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

I do find autumn to be quite delicious, especially when fall’s flavors are layered between noodles and cheese! The original Bon Appétit recipe called for broccoli rabe, which I replaced with brussels sprouts. Firstly, I associate those mini cabbages with fall more than broccoli rabe, and secondly, that’s what was available at my grocery store. I also used a brown rice noodle for the health and flavor merits, and this recipe could easily become a gluten free staple if you use an alternative flour (I only had whole-wheat pastry on hand). Extra dashes of red pepper flakes, added to the squash roasting stage, made for a kick of spice, contrasted by hints of cinnamon and nutmeg in the béchamel sauce.  Enjoy with hot cider or hard cider before your migration to successive autumns!

Squash and Brussels Lasagna

Adapted from my food publication deity, Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

Filling

1 local butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons olive oil plus more
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh brussels sprouts (the typical grocery store sized bundle), rinsed, stalk removed and pulled apart into leaves

8oz fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/2 lb whole-milk ricotta
1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan
coarsely grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

Preparation

For the Filling

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place squash and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; season generously with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat squash evenly.

Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, spreading out in a single layer, overlapping slightly.

Roast until tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix mozzarella and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

*DO AHEAD Squash and cheese mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.

Béchamel and Assembly

1/8 cup organic unsalted butter
1/8 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 cups (or more) organic half-and-half
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon
1 fresh bay leaf
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

10 oz Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles (Tinkyada)
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Béchamel and Assembly

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat.

Add flour; stir until slightly thickened (do not allow mixture to turn brown), 2–3 minutes. Increase heat slightly.

Slowly whisk in 2 1/2 cups half-and-half, 1/2-cupful at a time, allowing béchamel to thicken between additions (adding half-and-half gradually will help to prevent lumps from forming).

Add 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and cinnamon and bay leaf.

Reduce heat to low and cook, thinning with more half-and-half if too thick, until sauce is a milkshake–like consistency, about 10 minutes longer.

Cook lasagna noodles in a pot of well-salted boiling water until still quite al dente, 8–9 minutes. Transfer immediately to a large bowl of ice water to cool. Drain; spread out noodles on a kitchen towel or baking sheets lined with parchment paper, placing a kitchen towel or parchment between layers.

Ladle about 1/4 cup béchamel into a 11x9x2-inch baking dish; spread evenly over bottom. Line dish with a single layer of noodles, cutting as needed to fit (use large scraps in subsequent layers).

Layer 1/3 of squash over.

Scatter brussels sprouts leaves over the previous layer.

Dollop 1/3 of ricotta mixture randomly over greens.

Drizzle 1/2 cup béchamel evenly over ricotta mixture.

Repeat process 2 more times for a Total of 3 layers, finishing with a layer of noodles. Spread remaining béchamel over; top with Parmesan. Leftover noodles can be used for a freeform version with any leftover components.

*DO AHEAD Lasagna can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Return to room temperature before continuing.

Preheat oven to 375°. Bake lasagna uncovered until bubbly and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Turn oven to broil. Cook until browned and golden, 4–7 minutes.

Let rest for 20–30 minutes before serving.

No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of spring. 
-Samuel Johnson

May you taste the fruits of delicious autumn! Bon appétit!

My Special’s One’s Birthday: A Most Memorable Main Course (Lamb Shank)

April 2012

After enjoying my fair share of lamb shanks, I added “prepare a lamb entree” to my mental list of New Year’s food resolutions. My special one’s birthday proved to be the worthy occasion and proved I’m clearly not the type of kitchen adventurer who practices and fine tunes a recipe before serving it on a special occasion.  I embrace the risk and take the plunge!  The birthday boy said this was one of the top dinners I’ve made him so far which sounds a lot like “goal accomplished!”

In the realm of slow cooked meats, this recipe felt like cheating.  Less than three hours for tender, flavorful lamb that fell off the bone?  Don’t question it.  Just make it!

Lamb Shanks Fit For A Birthday
Adapted from Bon Appétit 

Ingredients

Black Forest Bacon Fat (I happened to have this in my skillet, but olive oil will work if you don’t have bacon fat)
1 large red onion, chopped (about 1 ¼ cups)
3 large whole garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
3 large lamb shanks (about 3-4lbs total)
Whole-wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
2 cups dry red wine
1 can (14 oz) cherry tomatoes in sauce
.1 lbs dried porcini mushrooms
1 Tablespoons dried herbes de Provence
~1 pound organic carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-long pieces

Directions

Heat bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat.

Add red onion and garlic; sauté until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to small bowl.

Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper; dust with flour to coat.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.

Add lamb and cook until brown, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes.

Add red onion mixture, wine, tomatoes with sauce, mushrooms, herbes de Provence, and carrots.

Stir to coat lamb with vegetable mixture.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lamb is very tender, turning twice, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Uncover and continue to simmer until sauce reduces slightly, about 10 minutes longer. Spoon off fat from pan juices. Season lamb to taste with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm, covered, over low heat before serving.

Voila!

Easter Dinner (Part II)

April 2012

The air was crisp, but the sky was brilliant blue!  It was the perfect Sunday afternoon for an Easter meal.

Two handsome gents arrived, and they had put a lot of effort into meticulous matching, right down to their identical socks (yes, you read it correctly- identical socks!).

Fortunately, I had set an Easter table worthy of such fastidiously fashionable fellas.

It was time to eat, but joining my table usually includes a rite of passage.  I’ll give you a hint- it rhymes with “if tile”… (please pardon my laser beam death stare!  Where did that come from?!?!)

The Easter Menu Breakdown…

Easter Ham Glaze

~2 1/2 cups Turkish apricots (all natural)
~ 1/2 cup Rum (Kraken)
1/2 cup organic orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Bonne Maman peach preserves

Directions

Slice the dried apricots into fourths and soak in rum overnight.

Heat the apricots and rum in a saucepan over medium heat until boiling.

Reduce to a simmer and add orange juice concentrate, maple and peach preserves. Stir until well combined.

Add to black forest ham slices and bake in oven to warm the ham.

Pommes Anna
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Review

Pommes Anna

Ingredients

3lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/16 to ⅛ inch thick
5 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup peanut oil
Salt and pepper
Grated pecorino romano cheese
Fresh thyme

Directions

Toss the potato slices with melted butter in a large bowl until the potatoes are evenly coated.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F.

Pour the oil into a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Swirl to coat the skillet bottom, and set the skillet over medium-low heat.

Begin timing, and arrange the potato slices in skillet, starting in the center to form the first layer.

Sprinkle evenly with approximately ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the second layer of potatoes, working in the opposite direction of the first layer; sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper as in previous step.

Repeat layering potatoes and sprinkling with salt and pepper, until no slices remain.

Continue to cook over medium-low heat until 30 minutes elapse from the time you began arranging the potatoes in the skillet.

Use a 9-inch cake pan or a metal spatula to press down the potatoes firmly to compact them.

Cover the skillet, and place it in the oven.

Bake until the potatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes.

Uncover the skillet, and continue to bake until the potatoes are tender when a paring knife is inserted in the center, and the potatoes near the edge of the skillet are browned, about 10 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, line a rimless cookie sheet or the back of a baking sheet with foil and coat it very lightly with oil.

Drain off the excess fat from the potatoes by pressing the potatoes into the skillet with the bottom of the cake pan or metal spatula while tilting the skillet to pour off the fat.

Set the foil-lined cookie sheet on top of the skillet. With hands protected by oven mitts or potholders, hold the cookie sheet in place with one hand and carefully invert the skillet and cookie sheet together.

Remove the skillet carefully.

Carefully slide the potatoes onto a platter.

Cut into wedges and serve with pecorino romano cheese and a thyme garnish.

Roasted Champagne Mangoes

Ingredients

1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
3 tablespoons organic agave syrup
4 champagne mangoes, peeled, pitted, cut into long slices

Garnish

1/4 cup crème fraîche or yogurt
1/3 cup natural unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°.

Stir first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until sugar dissolves.

Add mango chunks; toss to coat. Let marinate, tossing occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Place mango in a cast iron skillet; reserve marinade.

Roast mangoes for 15 minutes. Turn, brush with marinade, and roast until tender and caramelized, 10–15 minutes. Drizzle remaining marinade over; let cool slightly.

Eat plain or garnish with greek yogurt and pistachios.

Sauteed Asparagus with Sesame Lime Dressing

Ingredients

juice from 1 honey tangerine
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1/4c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1Tbs. black sesame seeds

You remember that cake!  I already talked about that lovely little layer cake.

Lobster By Night/Lobster By Day

Lobster by Night
March 2012 

It had been a while since the two of us had gathered at my dining room table, so I proposed a date of the domestic sort.  As I began menu scheming, I turned to the stained and tattered pages of my trusted America’s Test Kitchen magazine, through which I have faithfully been working.  When I saw a lobster recipe with the words “lazy man” in the title, I found that weekend’s winner!

Yes, that is frozen lobster.  I love him (↓), and I love a special dinner, but I was in no way prepared to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws! Sorry friends.  Not this time!  My other justification was this- if I am going to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws, I’m not going to cut up the meat and bake it in a gratin.

The recipe had me with this opening description…

Lobster is a classic choice for an elegant dinner for two.  Most people boil or steam their crustaceans and serve them whole with a side of drawn butter.  While there’s nothing wrong with this simple, traditional approach, fumbling around with a cooked lobster, hammering down on shells and poking around for meat isn’t exactly a tidy affair.  I wanted a refined lobster dinner for a couple that delivered the sweet, rich flavor of lobster and didn’t require a bib to eat.  - Dan Zuccarello, America’s Test Kitchen Books

Lazy Man’s Lobster for Two (By Night)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen magazine

Filling

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
Dash of cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup red wine (cabernet sauvignon)
8 oz vegetable broth
1/3 cup organic heavy cream
12 ounces lobster meat (frozen), chopped coarse
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
Yakima smoked salt
Pepper

Topping

1 slice high quality wheat bread
3 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tablespoon minced sage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon paprika

For the Filling

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering.

Add the shallot and cook until the shallot is softened, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the red wine and simmer until it has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the thyme and cayenne.

Whisk in the broth and cream and simmer until the liquid has thickened and reduced to ¾ cup, 10-12 minutes.

Off the heat, add the cooked lobster meat and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mixture evenly between two 2-cup gratin dishes (or similar baking dish).

For the Topping

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pulse the bread in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.

Combine the bread crumbs, the pecorino, sage, oil and paprika in a bowl.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the gratins.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Salad

Goose Creek Farms Mizuna
2 champagne mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 avocado, sliced
green peas

Dressing

Juice from 1 honey tangerine
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1/4c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1Tbs. black sesame seeds

My own personal mixologist shook up one of my favorites:

Buffalo Trace bourbon
AITA Snap
Peychaud’s bitters
Dried cherries rehydrated with bourbon

Well, he actually shook up TWO of those for me!

Lobster by Day

The recipe said “Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two,” but that “two” would have to refer to two rather large and very hungry New Englanders as far as I can tell.  Accordingly, “two” for us meant two meals, and our leftovers  transformed into a delicious brunch!

Babies’ first ever poached eggs (a team effort in progress)…

Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two (By Day)

(from the bottom up)
Whole wheat bread, toasted
Speck
Cahill Irish Whiskey Cheese
Leftover Lazy Man’s Lobster (see recipe above)
Poached eggs (from local/free-range eggs)
Smoked black pepper

Leftovers are just new opportunities I say, so Happy Leftovers!

ps:  That’s some leftover Post Patty’s Brunch French Toast on the other side of the plate.  It was quite the morning in the dining room!

Progress and Persistance (Cabin Weekend, Part V)

March 2012

More years ago than I care to admit, I found myself staying in an enviable adobe house in the Arizona desert as part of a volunteering trip.  Each volunteer was in charge of one dinner.  College freshman me was not the With The Grains me, and I was completely out of my element.

My dinner “menu” was a sad “taco” comprised of a canned trio of beans, salsa from a jar and a sad excuse for cheese (I was still under the impression “low fat” was something I should seek on a label).  Though the diners were positive in their reviews, I can only assume that taco meal was lackluster to say the least.  Fast forward to a dinner at the special cabin in the woods, and I do say so myself- I have progressed tremendously!

While I was busy in the kitchen witnessing my full progression, he was busy proving persistance pays off…

… pays off in the form of 1000 pieces forming a sea bass(?).  ONE THOUSAND PIECES!  He did it allllll by himself too!  I literally did not help in the least bit, and my dorky heart fluttered a bit at the sight of his nerdy puzzle persistance [bordering on obsessiveness].

Beef Enchiladas
(A far cry from sad “tacos”)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Review 

Ingredients

3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon organic brown sugar
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Salt
~1 lb local beef chuck flat iron steaks
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 red onions, chopped (~2 cups)
1 (15 oz) can organic tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
8 oz organic cheddar and monterey jack cheese, shredded (~2 cups)
1/3 cup cilantro
1/4 cup chopped canned pickled jalapeños
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

Directions

Combine the garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, sugar, cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl.

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.

Cook the meat until browned on both sides, about 6 minutes.

Transfer the meat to a plate. Cut the meat into strips and set aside.

Add the onions to the pot, and cook over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic mixture and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the tomato sauce and water and bring to a boil.

Return the meat and juices to the pot, cover, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer until the meat is tender and can be broken apart with a spoon, about 1 ½ hours.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Strain the beef mixture over a medium bowl, breaking the meat into small pieces; reserve the sauce.

Transfer the meat to a bowl and mix with 1 cup of cheese, cilantro and jalapeños.

Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a cast iron skillet (I used an 11 inch skillet).

Spread 1/3 cup of the beef mixture down the center of each tortilla, roll the tortilla tightly, and set in the skillet, seam side down.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas and beef mixture (squish if need be).

Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and spread to coat evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheese evenly over the enchiladas.

Wrap the baking dish with foil, and bake until heated through, 20-25 minutes.

Remove the foil, and continue baking until the cheese is bubbling and has browned slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Serve to a puzzle pro (who may be convinced to take a break in order to mash up some guac), and enjoy how far you have come in life!

Header_I Like You

Valentine’s Day Observed: The Dinner With My Valentine!

February 2012

It was time to put all the Valentine’s Day plans onto one table, for one meal, with one special Valentine!

I washed off the beet stains [as best I could], dusted off the flour, crafted some skewers, set the table in a brand new way and somehow managed to shower and put on a dress before the designated dinner time. Our Valentine’s Day Observed was about to begin!

The Menu

Heart Beet Ravioli
Charcuterie Plate
Heirloom Wheat Bread 
Heart Beets Salad
Chocolate Hazelnut & Cherry Cakewich

Lots of wine!

Beets Are Red & Cheese Are Blue:  A Charcuterie Plate 

Danish Blue Cheese Hearts
Roasted Beet [Heart]
Speck & Honey Maple Ham
Fig Hearts
Cranberry Orange Chèvre
Raspberries

*The fig, blue cheese and raspberry combined best with a drizzle of honey on a slice of the heirloom wheat bread.

Heart Beets Salad

Roasted Red Beets
Endive
Radicchio
Blood Orange Segments
Honey Toasted Pecans
Raspberries
Fresh Mint
(play it be ear…or by heart… or by bad puns?)

Dressing
Olive Oil
Dijon Mustard
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Maple Syrup
(mix to taste)

Remember I said “Lots of Wine?”  I wasn’t kidding!  We first gave a proper toast and a “sip”…

Then we gave proper attention to the food on the table.  We both really appreciate good food, and that shared interest means a lot to me!

Then we just acted weird because we do that a lot… (I guess the photo only makes me look a little weird, but don’t let him fool ya…look at that stare)!

The libations theme for the night was wine, but the theme for Valentine’s Day gift giving was Let’s Learn To Mix More!  I couldn’t resist throwing in a little Black Velvet and that cool southern style (via Canada), plus an infographic to teach us much, much, more mixology  I’m looking forward to a wee baby cocktail in one of those little chocolate cups.

There’s just one more element to this Valentine’s Day Observed series- a very special finale.

Stay tuned (and please excuse my handwriting… I had a lot going on)!

Valentine’s Day Observed: Heart Beet Ravioli

February 2012

Heart Beet Ravioli
Ricotta & Chèvre Filling w/ Lemon, Basil & Mint
(part of my Valentine’s Day Observed Menu)

A few things to know about me:

♥  I used to watch in awe as my mom would make pasta.  I can still see the sun shining through the kitchen window, onto those egg noodles, and I remember thinking how she was really making the soup, down to the very noodles most people would simply buy and boil!

♥  I had never made pasta myself.

♥  I did have a goal to make pasta myself.

♥ I have an affinity for beets, and I also got me a fella who shares my affinity.  Thankfully!

♥  I saw this recipe for beet pasta, and I thought, I could do that, and I bet I could even one up that Martha!

♥  (I’m actually not that into hearts, but I am super into themes!)

♥  I MADE PASTA!!!  Turns out, it was not as intimidating as I had perceived.  Granted, this was just me dipping my toe in the proverbial pool of pasta.  I acknowledge other varieties probably entail their own challenges, but I have been inspired nonetheless!

♥  I may relish the spotlight, but I dare say I don’t usually toot my own horn too much in the kitchen.  I was nervous until the very first bite of beet ravioli, but I am going to say this: Take this (↓) Martha…!!! (I’m also pretty competitive…all in good fun?)

Valentine’s Day Observed: Hear Beet Ravioli

♥ Ingredients

1 medium sized red beet, without greens
1 large egg (local/free-range)
1 large egg yolk (local/free-range)
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon Yakima Applewood smoked sea salt
Flour for dusting

3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese (about 6 ounces), drained 30 minutes
3/4 cup fresh goat cheese (about 5 ounces), room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus more for serving
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus a few leaves for serving
Coarse salt
freshly ground smoked pepper

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons coarse salt

1 stick organic, unsalted butter
grated pecorino cheese, for serving

♥ Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap beets tightly in a piece of foil, and place on a baking sheet.

Roast until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool. Use a peeler to remove skins.

Meanwhile make the filling: Stir together cheeses, lemon juice, ginger and herbs; season with salt and pepper. Keep chilled. Allow to come to room temperature before stuffing ravioli.

Puree peeled beets in a food processor.

Add eggs and yolk to puree in food processor, and process until combined.

Pour the beet puree into a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Use a spatula to combine until dough comes together, about 20 seconds.

Transfer dough to a well-floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes, adding up to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is sticky. Use a rolling pin to form a sheet, about 1/8in thick.

Cut pasta dough into desired shape, using more flour as needed.

Spoon a dollop of filling onto one dough heart. Cover with another heart and pinch edges. Use water to seal the seam and pinch once more.

Transfer ravioli to an airtight container lined with parchment paper. Use additional parchment paper in between layers if the container is smaller.

To store, lightly dust ravioli with flour, and refrigerate up to 4 hours. Alternatively, freeze ravioli in a single layer on a baking sheet, about 15 minutes, and then pack as described above; freeze for up to 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add olive oil, salt and the ravioli. Cook, stirring occasionally to separate, until edges are just tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a colander to drain.

While the pasta cooks, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add extra mint and basil.

Combine the pasta and browned butter and herbs in a bowl.

♥ Serve with grated pecorino cheese to someone special! ♥

Stay tuned to the rest of this Valentine’s Day Observed series for the final ravioli picture.

♥,

With The Grains

A Cooking Adventure in a Foreign Territory

November 2011

I very recently explained my seafood virginity after skipping the much talked about Point Brugge brunch mussels option, so you can imagine my own surprise when I found myself really craving scallops while menu planning (which I have eaten and enjoyed a fair number of times despite my overall lack of seafood experience).  Make my own?  As if offering moral support, the issue of America’s Test Kitchen, through which I have been faithfully working my way, featured an approachable pan-seared scallop recipe.  With the added pressure of a dinner guest, I willingly voyaged on a cooking adventure in a foreign territory:  the sea!  I would say so myself, but my dining partner said it for me:  success!  Merci dining partner!  The full menu featured a few parallel flavors:  lemon, sage and overall autumnal palette.  My landlocked roots added a bit of turf to the menu in the form of Merguez in a side dish.

The Foreign Territory Menu

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter
Roasted Acorn Squash with Sage Butter
Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Merguez
Lemony Pear & Sage Bourbon

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Brown Butter Sauce
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Review Magazine, March 2011

Pan Seared Scallops

~1 pound dry sea scallops (about 10 scallops)
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
2 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

Lemon Brown Butter Sauce

4 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) organic, unsalted butter
3 large pearl onions, diced
1 Tablespoon minced parsley
Juice from one lemon
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

For the Scallops

Place the scallops on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a paper towel.  Place a second paper towel on top of the scallops and press gently on the towel to blot liquid.  Let the scallops sit at room temperature for 10 minutes while the towels absorb the moisture.

Remove the second towel and sprinkle the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch non-stick saucepan or skillet over high heat until just smoking.

Add the scallops in a single layer, flat side down, and cook, without moving, until browned, 1 ½-2 minutes.

Add 1 Tablespoon of the butter to the pan.  Using tongs, flip the scallops and continue to cook, using a large spoon to base the scallops with the melted butter, tilting the pan so the butter runs to one side, until the sides of the scallops are firm and the centers are opaque, 30-90 seconds longer (remove smaller scallops from the pan as they finish cooking).

Transfer the scallops to a large plate and tent loosely with foil.

For the Brown Butter Sauce

Add the butter to the pan over medium heat and cook, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter turns dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 4-5 minutes.

Add the pearl onions and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the parsley, lemon juice and thyme.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm on top of the pan-seared scallops.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Browned Butter and Sage

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 medium fresh sage leaves, chopped

Directions

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the oil on the glass baking dish, and poke holes in the sides of the squash.

Roast until soft, about 40-50 minutes.

When the squash is almost done, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.

Add the sage and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is golden brown and the sage is crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cut-side up.  Pour in the sage butter sauce, and use a brush to butter the sides.

Serve immediately.

Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Merguez

Ingredients

1 satchel* of Brussels sprouts, rinsed and sliced in half
2 local merguez sausages, casing removed, cut into chunks
2 small local apples, chopped
2 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
cinnamon
nutmeg

*I say satchel because I bought a little mesh bundle of Brussels from Whole Foods and didn’t bother to quantify it.  About one sauce pan’s worth of sprouts?  This isn’t a science.

Directions

Bring a saucepan of water to boil.  Add the Brussels sprouts and boil until slightly soft and bright green in color.

Remove from heat, and drain water.

Add the butter to a skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, add the merguez sausages.

Once the sausage has begun to brown, add the Brussels sprouts, stirring frequently.

As the sprouts start to brown, add the apple chunks, and continue to stir.

Add the cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.  Stir to combine, and then remove from heat.

Serve immediately.

The Sour Wisdom Bourbon Cocktail
There was wine for dinner and bourbon cocktails for dessert!
(Makes two cocktails)

Cocktail Ingredients

½ cup fresh pressed pear juice
1 cup fresh pressed lemon juice
2 shots of bourbon
dash of angostura bitters
4 Tablespoons sage simple syrup*
2-3 dashes of angostura bitters

*Sage Simple Syrup Ingredients

1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup water
5-6 sage leaves, plus 2 for garnishes

*For the Sage Simple Syrup

Combine 1 cup turbinado sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and add 5-6 sage leaves.

Simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

Strain sage leaves from liquid and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

For the Cocktail

Divide the juice between two mason jars.

Add a shot (or two!) of bourbon, followed by 2 Tablespoons of the simple syrup to each glass.

Finish with a few dashes of bitters in each glass.

Stir each glass and add 1-2 ice cubes.

Serve!

Note:  Because I used fresh juice I made myself, the texture was thicker than the average cocktail, making the experience a bit like sipping on a deliciously boozy slushy or a smoothie. 

Rum Regards/Let’s Get HAMmered?

November 2011

This happened.  Then Jono’s friend sent him an email proposing they eat a ham soaked in rum, so instead, Jono emailed me…

To The Loveliest Lady in the Whole Wide World,
[ok, I may be embellishing the email intro just a tad]

Apparently “rum ham” is a reference to It’s ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ I’m unaware of, and although [my friend's] preparation technique sounds atrocious, I now want to make a ham with some sort of rum-sugar-cinnamon glaze. Any way we could make this happen?

Rum Regards,

Jono

Of course we could make that happen, but I couldn’t stop at the ham.  I wanted an entire rum themed meal…

The Rum Regards Menu

Black Forest HAMmered with an Apple & Beet Compote
Smashed
Sweet Potatoes with Grated Pecorino Cheese
Buzzed Sprouts with Slivered Almonds
Sauced Chocolate Coconut Cake
Spiked mulled cider

Had there not been good friends, dancing dates and brunching dates all the weekend long, this would have been a more homespun ham roasting experience, but using the precooked ham served us really well under busy circumstances.

There was some debate and hesitation as we leaned over the skillet of sprouts.  Add rum?!?  Why not?!?  We went for it, and they were delicious!  The combined natural spice of the under appreciated veggie and the added flavors really harmonized and completed the overall theme.

Let's-Get-HAMmered

However, rum and chocolate for the dessert course was an easy decision.  Dessert was my only solo effort.  Other than that, Jono had a tipsy hand in all the other aspects of the meal.  Go team!

The Recipes

Spiked Mulled Cider

Ingredients

1 Quart local apple cider
1 cup Spiced Rum
2-3 small local apples
cinnamon sticks
nutmeg dash
1” chunk of fresh ginger
A handful of fresh cranberries, cut in half
4-5 cloves
1 organic orange, peeled, sliced

For the Cider

Combine all of the above in a crockpot and allow to mull as the rest of the dinner comes together.  Serve with dessert.  [Full disclosure?  We drank red wine with dinner.  It just went so well with the flavors, I couldn't resist].  Feel free to add an extra splash of fresh rum to the hot bevvie if you want a smidgeon of an alcohol content.

********

HAMmered Black Forest Ham
With Apple & Beet Compote

Ingredients

1 small, all natural, preservative-free, precooked, black forest ham “nugget”
(the package actually called it a nugget)
½ cup water
¼ cup organic brown sugar
2 organic fuji apples, peeled and sliced
1 large roasted beet, peeled and sliced
½ cup fresh cranberries, sliced
dash of cinnamon
dash of ground ginger
zest of one orange
½ cup rum

Directions

To Roast the Beet

Wrap the beet in tin foil and place in a pan to catch the juices.  Heat the oven to 425 F.  Bake the beet for about one hour or until soft.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool before peeling and slicing.  Set aside.

For the Compote

Heat the water and brown sugar over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to medium.

Add the apple and beet slices.  Stir continuously.

Add the cranberries and spices and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, slice the ham, wrap in foil and place in a baking dish.  Warm in the oven or microwave, depending on your preferences.

Once the apples are soft, remove from heat and mix in the rum.

Serve warm over black forest ham slices.

********

SMASHED Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

2 large sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon spiced rum
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream
~1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

For the Sweet Potatoes

Peel and rinse the sweet potatoes.  Cut them into 1-2” chunks.

Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the potatoes.  Boil for a couple minutes, and then reduce to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft.

Drain the water and return to low heat.

Stir in the butter, rum, maple syrup, brown sugar and cream.

Use a mixer or food processor to puree the potato mixture until creamy.

Lastly, sprinkle with the cheese and spices before serving.

********

Buzzed Sprouts*
*This is more of a guide than a recipe.

Ingredients

1 little mesh bag of Brussels sprouts
Olive Oil
Fresh ginger, grated
A handful of slivered almonds
Splash of Spiced Rum
A dash of cinnamon
A dash of nutmeg

Directions

Wash the Brussels Sprouts.

Bring a saucepan of water to boil.

Add the Brussels Sprouts and cook until bright green and slightly soft.

Allow to cool slightly.

Slice the sprouts.

In a large skillet, heat 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.

Add the Brussels sprouts, stirring constantly.

Add the almonds, and continue to stir.

Once the Brussels sprouts have begun to brown, add the ginger.

Turn off the heat.  Add the splash of spiced rum.  Stir to combine.

********

Sauced Chocolate Coconut Cake

Ingredients

6 eggs (local/free-range), separated
2 cups organic evaporated cane juice sugar
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
zest of one organic orange
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons spiced rum

Sauce

1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1 can (14 ounce) coconut milk
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/3 cup local heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons spiced rum

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a glass 9×13 baking pan.

For the cake, in a large bowl combine flour, cocoa, spices, baking powder and orange zest.

In a medium size bowl, combine the milk, vanilla and rum.

Set both aside.

Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat at high speed until peaks are formed.

Turn the mixer down to medium speed and gradually add the sugar to the egg whites.

Once the sugar is dissolved, add egg yolks and beat for 3 minutes.

Continue beating egg white mixture on medium-low speed and add flour and milk alternately until well blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the pan.

While the cake is still warm, punch holes in cake with wooden skewer.

Combine the sauce ingredients and pour evenly over the cake.

Place the cake in refrigerator to cool until ready to serve.  The longer it soaks, the better the burst of rum flavor in each bite!

Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Serve.

********
Fin.
********

The Purple Lips Dinner At Last

The Back Story

Me:  “I’m a sucker for romantic stories.”
Nicole:  “Please, there was no story with my ex.  When I met him my lips were stained purple with Malbec.”

Somehow that became one of my favorite stories anyway.  Purple lips.  Sometimes they are sought.  More often than not, they appear before you know it, and even more often, you find yourself flirting through purple lips you didn’t even know you had.  On other occasions, that lip stain is the goal of the evening.  This was one such occasion.  We were gathering around the table to be ladies with purple lips.  The menu in my head filled the table with purple foods for the occasion.  The song in my head was this.

The Full Dinner At Last…

Sara came down with a flu and was in a dayquil fog, so sadly, I had to remove one plate.

The Beets

The Chicken
(looking slightly massacred after I took a test cut)

The Purple Potatoes and The Almond-Pear Wine Tizzy

The last little drops…

…and the wine-stained end!

Preparing A Dinner For Purple Lips: The Chicken

October 2011

Me:  “I’m a sucker for romantic stories.”
Nicole:  “Please, there was no story with my ex.  When I met him my lips were stained purple with Malbec.”

Somehow that became one of my favorite stories anyway.  Purple lips.  Sometimes they are sought.  More often than not, they appear before you know it, and even more often, you find yourself flirting through purple lips you didn’t even know you had.  On other occasions, that lip stain is the goal of the evening.  This was one such occasion.  We were gathering around the table to be ladies with purple lips.  The menu in my head filled the table with purple foods for the occasion.  The song in my head was this.

Looking at that image of the open jar, I literally begin to smell the smoked sea salt, so powerful is its aroma.  Opening that jar transports me to a campfire.  I’m wearing flannel at that campfire.  Flannel with elbow patches!

Here’s the before:  the purplish skin.

Ingredients

1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken (free-range, hormone free)
Yakima Applewood Smoked salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, melted
1 large red onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into thick slices
3 turnips, chopped in 2-inch chunks
Olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets.

Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken.

Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of the lemon and all the garlic.

Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.

Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.

Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan.

Toss with salt, pepper, additional sprigs of thyme and olive oil. Spread the vegetable mixture evenly around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.

Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes.

Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables.

Stay tuned for the dinner pictures to see the final chicken.