Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Comforting Calzones

[caption id="attachment_171" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="After."]
Before the bake...

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Sometimes it's just about recreating an old favorite.  When it comes to my husband's hunger and taste buds, that couldn't be more true.  He is a fan of all things cheesy & tomato sauce related so last night I surprised him with a make-your-own Calzone bar.  I just bought premade pizza dough, sliced and diced up some toppings and put out the cheese and sauce.  After that it was up to him to stuff away.  He got so excited he took a few pictures to post on the blog...attached are his 'before and after' pics:

He made more of a Stromboli with sauce, toppings and cheese and I made a Calzone with reduced fat ricotta, light sauce, turkey pepperoni, arugula, onions, mushrooms and basil.  We topped both with extra virgin olive oil and dried Italian herbs and spices and baked them at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

Served up with the same homemade marinara I included in the homemade ravioli post, they were warm, comforting, tasty, cheesy, filling, little pillows of yum.

[caption id="attachment_173" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Calzone Dinner"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_174" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Layers of flavor. "][/caption]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chilled Gazpacho Soup

Remember the marinated and grilled veggies post from the other weekend? I recently had an opportunity to make it again when we had some friends over to welcome them back to town (yahoo!). While at our favorite farmer's market Saturday, we bought a brown bag full of summer squash and baby zucchini so we threw those on the grill with spring onions, mushrooms and a baby eggplant. We used the same balsamic marinade and they came out just as tasty as the first time.

We had almost a pound of the grilled vegetables leftover so last night I decided to try making Gazpacho which, surprisingly enough, I've only ever tried once. We'll be changing that this summer! Here's how it came together:

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 raw white onion, diced

1/2 large green bell pepper, diced

2 garlic cloves

leftover grilled, balsamic-marinated summer vegetables

1-26 oz can crushed tomatoes with basil

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 cups low sodium chicken stock

2 cups water (or more if you want to thin it out)

fresh chopped herbs - I had basil, oregano and thyme on hand

crushed red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

I started by sautéing the onion and green pepper in the olive oil with a little S & P in my Martha Stewart Collection Enameled Cast Iron Casserole Pot until the onions were translucent . Next I turned up the heat on the stove a bit and added the crushed garlic, grilled vegetables, tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken stock. I broke out my trusty Cuisinart cordless hand blender and blended all the veggie bits together until there were no big bite-sized pieces left (although I left it a little chunky because I like that texture). Next I added the water, the fresh herbs, the bay leaves (these will come out before serving), a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch more black pepper. I brought the soup up to a boil and then put the lid on and took it off the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes.

From there the whole pot went into the fridge overnight and then the chilled soup went into my belly over lunch. With these 100° days, I've been craving ice-cold lunches and this one hit the spot. It's a great way to help meet your veggie quota for the day and enjoy a refreshing, cool meal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fresh Lime-Basil Sorbet

I found this recipe a few weeks ago while I was doing some research on different varieties of basil.  One could say I am a little obsessed with the bright, versatile summer herb that can be used for anything from pizza to dessert.

Couple things to note on this recipe:

1. Delicious.

2. You must like lime.

3. You must love basil.

Here's the recipe I found and some of my modifications listed below (pics to follow shortly):

Fresh Lime-Basil Sorbet
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (8 to 10 limes)
1 cup water
1 cup simple sugar syrup (1 cup sugar plus 1 cup water, boiled then cooled)
12 whole basil leaves
1 egg white (optional)

Combine all ingredients, except egg white, into a freezer friendly container and freeze 6 to 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer and allow to soften a little. Put chunks of frozen mixture into a food processor and process until all crystals have disappeared and mixture is smooth. Re-pack into container and keep frozen until needed. This will keep for up to 2 months. If you prefer a lighter, less icy sorbet, add 1 egg white during processing.  Yields 4 servings.
(Recipe from Herbal Gardens’ website)

In terms of ingredients, the only thing I modified was adding basil leaves to infuse the simple syrup (I pulled 8 leaves, gave them a quick chop and added to the water sugar mixture before it started to boil) .  Using equal parts sugar to water, I made a little extra syrup because I thought it would be a really tasty topper for fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream and I wanted to try making a lemonade basil cocktail with it.  More to come on those...

My changes in process included using my handy-dandy Cuisinart Ice Cream and Sorbet maker because I am not a patient person and it helped to speed the process up significantly.  I froze the initial liquid for about 4 hours, transferred to the blender and processed with one egg white and then transferred it to the ice cream maker.  My machine takes about 20-25 minutes to get the sorbet to a good consistency and then it only took about 2 hours in the freezer to get to that right serving temp.  I also like the texture that's created while churning away in the machine.

One last note, I think the 'yields 4 servings' is an understatement.  I was able to pack my quart-sized ice cream freezer container to the brim with the quantities listed above.  Also, because the sorbet is so tart, it is best served as a tasting rather than a heaping  scoop which means you can get a lot more than 4 servings out of this recipe.

One thing is for sure, it is a delicious and refreshing way to kick off summer!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

We are so happy to have two weekends at home so we can partake in one of our favorite summertime rituals - Saturday at the South of the James Farmer's Market!  We bike over early, head straight back to coffee from Blanchard's and then walk a straight shot across to our favorite bread-man, Norwood Cottage Bakery.  By then we are starting to wake up and we take a tour of all the goods.  We've never left without a full basket and then some.  Come to think of it, we need to travel with backpacks to get everything home.  Note to self...buy additional travel bags.

Anyway, one challenge I have is making sure I use every last drop of what I buy.  It would be a shame to waste all that sweat equity the farmer's put in, week in and week out.  This week I had an abundance of squash, mushrooms, onions and snow peas (already in my freezer) and it sounded like a good stir fry to me!   One other thing was on my mind though - little pillows of heaven.  I have an amazing friend by the name of Choo who has greatly contributed to my learning experiences in the kitchen.  Her mother taught her how to make homemade dumplings and Choo has been gracious enough to teach all of us over the past few years.  We love it so much that she, on occasion, will throw a Dumpling Party where about 10 girls crowd around her kitchen island to drink wine, stuff dumplings and well, have a ridiculously good time.  So, thanks to Choo, I was able to use the same ingredients listed above to make dumplings for an appetizer.  Little envelopes of delicious!

Here's what I did for these:

Wonton wrappers (usually found near the fresh herbs or tofu or tempeh in the produce section)

Added to the food processor:

Baby bella mushrooms

Scallions

Squash

Grated fresh ginger (I used about 1/4" of a knob)

I also added a tiny bit of rice wine vinegar since the mushrooms would soak it up and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

After the ingredients were pulsed, I dolloped a spoonful in the middle of the wonton wrapper.  To seal, you dip your finger in water and run along the edges of the wonton, then fold.  I did these like little envelopes by pinching the corners together but we usually fold over into a triangle shape.  Just be sure to seal the edges tightly so the filling doesn't have a chance to escape.  From here you can either steam them or get a nice crunchy exterior by pan frying in canola oil.  Yuuuuummm.  Choo makes the most amazing dumplings of all; sometimes pork, sometimes ground chicken, sometimes veggie for our Veggie friends.  She might share those recipes if you're nice.

The other nice thing about having Choo as a friend is that it means you gain her parents as friends also.  They are very thoughtful and when my husband and I were married, they gave us a rice maker for a wedding gift.  I hadn't seen one before but as a person that never, EVER, is able to make rice on the stove without having to toss out the pan due to the ultimate rice burn, I am very thankful.  The rice goes in with double the amount of liquid and you walk away.  Done.  Comes out delicious and fluffy everytime...even brown rice!  So for this dinner, cook the rice first because it takes the longest.  And then....

Stir Fry:

Beef strips for stir fry seasoned with salt, pepper and flour.  Brown in a saute pan with a touch of canola oil but be sure not to over-cook.  Move the beef to a plate to sit while sauteing the other ingredients in the same pan.  Throw in quartered mushrooms, sliced squash, quartered onions with two turns of soy sauce (I use lite, reduced sodium so I can still feel my fingers in the morning), one turn rice wine vinegar, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tsp ground ginger, a pinch of red pepper flakes and one clove minced garlic.  The flour from the beef should help the sauce to thicken but you can always add a little cornstarch to do the trick.  Add the sugar snap peas last to heat through so they retain their color. Add the beef back in and toss all together. These quantities make enough for two servings so you can always play around with it for more sauce if you are a saucy kind of person.

Transfer the brown rice to two plates and divide the stir fry mixture over both.  Top with fresh-cut scallions and sesame seeds.  Quick and delicious!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Polenta Fries with Basil Oil and Parmesan Dipping Sauce

The last time we were in Philly visiting friends, we made a pit stop between sports bars at a swanky little restaurant to get some tasty treats.  One of which came in the form of a french fry served with a fondue dipping sauce and a drizzle of basil oil.  It was probably one of the best small plates I've had so I decided to give it a try for Supper Club.  Still working with the premade polenta I bought last week, I sliced the brick into fry sized pieces and tossed them in olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper.  We baked them at a really high temp in the oven until they came out crispy and golden on the outside and still fluffy on the inside.  As a base, I made a parmesan dipping sauce that could be made ahead and warmed through on the stove at a later time.  Here's the fix:

Dice 1/4 white onion and saute in about a tbsp of olive oil.  Once the onions are cooked through, add 1/4 - 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup italian cheese blend, 1/4 cup shredded parmesan, cracked black pepper and 1 tsp nutmeg.  Whisk until the cheese is melted completely and the sauce is creamy.  Once at supper club, I transferred the mixture back to a sauce pan and warmed it through again on the stove top.  I started a bit too early so I ended up adding a few tbsps of white wine to loosen it up again.  I am convinced that wine only makes everything better, so I'll add that to the recipe moving forward. Delicious!

The basil oil couldn't have been easier.  I have globe and sweet basil in my garden so I gathered a few handfuls and blanched the leaves in a little salted water.   Once I patted them dry, I added the leaves to a food processor, blended and added oil until I felt I had the right consistency.  The blanching brings out the basil flavor and helps to retain that beautiful green color.

When we were about to serve the 'fries', I placed the glass container of basil oil in a sauce pan with about an inch of hot water to help steep the basil even more.  I left it on the stove for about 10 minutes to warm through.

Plate it up!  I smothered the parmesan sauce over a dinner plate and placed the fries directly on top of the fluffy, creamy goodness.  Topped it all off with a little drizzle of the oil and then I forgot my manners. I couldn't resist grabbing one immediately off the plate before everyone else was served.  Whoops!

And because we take supper club seriously, we had many more delectable delights.  I am hoping Alison will share her bbq sauce recipe...and Squints her gouda mashed potatoes and corn bread...or maybe we can just have another supper club, PRONTO!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Heart of Palm – a delicacy

I was just reading up on Heart of Palm and how it's harvested.  Things appear to be different today that even just a few years ago but I would say it's still a delicacy.  There is nothing else I can think of that matches it's texture and flavor and it's nutrient rich goodness.  This is a quick summer salad for lunch any day of the week:

1 can heart of palm

1 avocado

8 grape tomatoes

olive oil

red wine vinegar

basil

S & P

Toss it up and serve it cold!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lime Chicken with Polenta Cakes and Salsa

I look for any excuse to use my new citrus juicer from C & B.  There is something really satisfying about squeezing every last drop of juicy goodness from a lime and this recipe gave me the opportunity, 3 times over.

Lime Chicken marinade (for 2 boneless chicken breasts):

1/2 cup Canola oil

Juice of 2 limes

1.5 tsp cumin

dash of cayenne pepper

1 clove garlic

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

I let it sit for 30 minutes before throwing on high heat on the grill.

Before I doused the chicken in the marinade, I separated a bit to brush on the polenta cakes (I just added a bit more canola oil to coat evenly).  I found pre-made polenta in the grocery store that you can slice into strips, the flavor and texture turned out surprisingly great.  The marinade was painted on and the strips tossed onto the grill for about 5 minutes on each side to get some good grill marks.

The final piece of this easy and quick meal was the homemade salsa.  I change my recipe every time I make it depending on what's in my fridge, pantry and garden.  Last night I used grape tomatoes (halved), 1 can of Rotel tomatoes with chilis, 1 can of mild chilis, 1/4 white onion (diced), 1/2 avocado, chopped chives, fresh cilantro, lime juice, cumin, hit of cayenne and cracked black pepper.

Um, yum.  Really.  Wanna make it again tonight.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Veggies, compliments of f-ANNE-tastic!

We spent the weekend at my parent's house with my sister, brother, my brother's lady and, of course, my parents.  It's hard not to feel happy and content there, especially when they special order great summer weather complete with sunshine galore and one 'love to watch it roll in' summer thunderstorm.   It's even harder not to feel full when we are home, the Blue Ridge has a plentiful supply of homegrown veggies and herbs and yumminess.  We popped over to the Farmer's Market Saturday morning and ended up with zucchini, squash, green onions, eggplant, peppers and potatoes.  My sister brought her recipe for a vegetable marinade and we finished them off on the grill for a little extra flavor.  You have to check these out!

Marinade:

Olive oil

Balsamic Vinegar

White wine

Garlic

Fresh herbs- we used basil, thyme, green onion tops - some for the marinade and some to top the veggies when cooked.

S & P

Equal parts olive oil and vinegar with a splash of white wine.  Dice up the herbs and as much minced garlic as you like, salt and pepper to taste.

Slice up the vegetables but keep all the cuts fairly large so they can get plenty of surface area on the grill.  The potatoes should be boiled first to soften (don't cook all the way through).  The veggies should marinade for at least an hour but the longer the better.  When you put them on the grill, reserve the marinade at the bottom of the bowl to pour over the finished product.  Top with the remaining herbs and you are set!  The veggies and a few slices of specialty bread were plenty for the ladies but don't feel bad for the guys, we grilled some chicken that had soaked in an equally delicious marinade for the afternoon.

Marinade for grilled chicken breast with skin, bone-in:

Olive oil

Red wine vinegar

2 tbsp dijon mustard

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 tbsp dried thyme

2 bay leaves

Marinade for 2 hours in the fridge.  The chicken comes off the grill moist and flavorful (okay, okay, I had a bite).

Did I mention that I love summer?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rick Bayless recipe for Chorizo Verde

In keeping with the 'green' theme, I wanted to try a new recipe that uses fresh herbs, peppers, greens and pork...Chorizo Verde. I saw Rick Bayless making this on his PBS show.  The finished product turns to a queso like tortilla filling and is a slightly spicy treat.  I also put together a roasted tomatillo salsa that is super easy and adds a sweet element to contrast the heat.

Chorizo Verde:

1 lb pork

1/2 onion

2 medium poblano chilis

1-2 serranos

cilantro

beer

1 cup to 1.5 cup manchego cheese

2 cups raw spinach

Start by roasting the poblanos over a grill flame until charred. Remove charred skin by running under cool water and peeling off with your fingers. Poblanos then go into a food processor with the serranos and a medium bunch of cilantro.  Pulse until pureed.

In a large skillet, brown pork and then add the 'verde'.  Saute for a bit and add a pinch of salt and the onions.  Onto the queso!   Give the skillet 1 to 2 full turns of beer, enough to almost cover the pork mixture.  Add the shredded cheese and spinach.  Turn the mixture until the cheese melts and the spinach wilts - that's it!

Tomatillo salsa:

In the same food processor used for the poblano mixture (a little flavor will be left over), blend a roasted tomatillo, half to a full jalapeno, 1/4 cup onion, 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, handful of fresh cilantro.  Pinch of garlic salt, cumin and cayenne pepper and the juice of 1/2 a lime.  Pulse, pulse, pulse until it's the texture you like.  I like this one pretty thin.

Put it all together! Warm tortilla, scoop full of the chorizo verde, a few leaves of raw spinach and a couple of slices of avocado.  Yum!  Add the salsa to the tortilla, enjoy the salsa with chips or over some shredded lettuce.  Do whatcha like.  A margarita on the side never hurt anyone either...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Veggie Pesto

Non-traditional pesto has become one of my favorite go-to foods especially when trying to get in my daily 5.  Using veggies along with herbs, nuts, olive oil and good cheese, you can create a lot of different tasty combinations that are flavorful and healthy.  My favorite, as of late, is pea pesto and it whips up in a heartbeat so it's a great quick grab.  I blend it all using my Cuisinart hand blender with the processor attachment and I usually vary the ingredients each time.  However, here's one that is pretty standard:

1 can sweet young peas or 8 oz. frozen peas, thawed and rinsed

olive oil (about 2-3 tbsp)

walnuts (between 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on how much crunch you like)

parmesan cheese (about 3-4 oz)

a few basil leaves to taste (optional)

1 garlic clove (optional)

salt & pepper

Blend away!  Once it's whipped up, I use it as a sandwich spread (this morning I made an egg salad using 1 hardboiled egg and a tbsp pesto), a dip with crudite, a pasta sauce, a salad topper and occasionally just a bite by itself.  I feel okay about that though...it's a veggie pesto after all!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010