Friday, July 30, 2010

Frothy Goodness paired with a Breezy Day

Sometimes you just have to write about things you enjoy, things you love. Today's entry is one of those times. Coffee is a connector, a mediator, a meeting maker. It's become a daily indulgence for lots of us and life long passion for many. I'm sitting outside on this beautiful, 'after the storm' summer day, at a place that I would love to call my own, Ellwood's Coffee. How many of you have thought about how great it would be to own and operate a coffee/wine bar/social gathering spot/community based business? I have. Many, many times...starting in college when I lived in a sleepy little Virginia town that tried to balance community and an ever-growing college population. Ellwood's has done it right, from the organic coffee right down to the energy efficient bathrooms.

And let me tell you, this latte I'm working on (my second) couldn't be better. Thank you, Ellwood's...Bellissimo!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Balsamic Glaze Take 2 - Eggplant Topping

I can see this eggplant topping off grilled bread, whole wheat pasta, sticky many possibilities! Since I had some of the glaze leftover from dessert last night, I took a look in the fridge for a veggie combination that could stand up to the intensity of the vinegar reduction. Only needed 4 fresh ingredients to make this one work and here's what I did:

1 whole eggplant diced

1/2 yellow onion sliced into thin rings

2 garlic cloves minced

1/4 mexibell pepper diced (a medium hot bell pepper to counter the sweetness in the sauce)

salt and pepper

1/2 cup to 1 cup balsamic reduction from last night's recipe

olive oil

In a cast iron skillet, add a few turns of olive oil over medium heat. Start by sauteing the onions until translucent. Next add the diced pepper, garlic cloves and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add in the eggplant and the balsamic reduction, stirring frequently until the eggplant is broken down and the liquid is absorbed.

I topped it off with sweet basil and had a few bites already - sweet and delicious! I can see spooning this over grilled bread with a little prosciutto and gorgonzola later today. My mouth is watering!

Grilled White Peaches with Balsamic Glaze

Supper Club! We grilled and we grilled, and then we grilled dessert. The glaze is a make ahead so the dessert goes from grill to plate in a matter of minutes. Here's what you do:
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
Pinch of salt
Few twists of black peppercorn
Bring it up in a boil on the stovetop or grill, stirring to blend the sugar, honey and liquid. Turn back the heat to a simmer and let it reduce down to about 1/2. Once this is done, pull it off the heat and add a little to the bottom of a baking dish. 1/2 the peaches, remove the pit and place them (cut-side) into the glaze. Let them soak up the flavor for at least 10 minutes, more if you have time.
Take them to the grill, place them on the grates cut-side up first. Flip after about 2-3 minutes, then grill cut-side until you see those caramelized tracks. Serve it up with a scoop of vanilla and top it with as much of the balsamic reduction as you can handle!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spinach and Chickpea Soup

With that recent cold snap (down from triple digits), I figured it was time for a hot lunch. We just got back from a long weekend away and I had a bag of fresh spinach that needed to be used up quickly. I didn't feel like having a salad so the next best thing was a quick and super simple soup! The base of this soup is really tasty and the add in's can be changed up. However, I really liked the combination of the leafy, green spinach and the protein-packed peas. It comes together in about 10 minutes so its a good one if you are in a hurry. Here's what I put together:

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup water

1/2 lemon (zest and juice)

1 piece of parmagiano reggiano rind leftover from some other fantastic meal

2 cups fresh spinach

1/3 cup chickpeas

4 basil leaves

Start by bringing the stock, water, lemon juice, zest and rind up to a simmer. The rind adds a nice saltiness to the soup and gets every, last bit of flavor out of that pricey block of cheese. Add in the spinach, peas and, at the very end, the shredded basil. Told you it was easy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sesame Pretzel Chicken with a Sweet Heat Sauce

I am always looking for new things to use as 'breading' for poultry or pork and, in my pantry, I had just the fix. When we went on vacation, I went a little crazy on the snack aisle, stocking up for the long plane ride and days on the beach. I happened to pick up sesame pretzels at Trader Joe's thinking they were peanut butter pretzels on sale. Wrong! No matter, they turned out to be tasty. With so many leftover though, I was looking for an innovative use and scored with a 'breaded' chicken dinner. These pretzels were multi-grain and packed quite a crunch so I pulsed them in the food processor until they were mostly crumbs, leaving a few larger pieces that aided in texture that resembled southern fried chicken. To pair with the sesame flavor, I opted for an Asian inspired sauce made from mustard, honey, crushed red peppers flakes and rice wine vinegar. Atop snow peas and mushrooms finished in sesame oil, this was a meal not soon forgotten. Here's the fix:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cups sesame pretzel nuggets

3 tbsp sesame seeds

1 cup all purpose flour

1 egg

salt and pepper


1 tbsp whole grain mustard

2 tbsp dijon mustard

1/2 cup raw honey

3-4 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp red pepper flakes (less for less heat)

fresh cracked black pepper


canola oil

garlic clove

2 cups snow peas

5 baby bella mushrooms, quartered

sesame oil

toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375° and start by using a basic breading technique for the chicken. First set up your breading stations with one plate for the ground pretzels mixed with the sesame seeds, one plate for flour seasoned with s & p and one bowl for the egg (beaten). When you are ready to go, pat the chicken breasts dry, season with salt and pepper and then start by dredging in the flour. Shake excess flour off and pull the chicken breast through the beaten egg. The last step is to lay the chicken breast in the pretzel mixture, pressing the crumbs over the entire surface on both sides. I wanted to retain the crunch of the larger pretzels pieces and simplify this dinner so I transferred the chicken breasts to an lightly oiled baking dish and baked them off for about 25-30 minutes.

The rest of the meal came together easily. All the sauce ingredients listed above go into a sauce pan on low heat and simmer away while the chicken cooks, stirring to help incorporate the honey with the mustard. About 5 minutes before the chicken is done, grab a sauté pan, add a little canola oil and a broken garlic clove. Over low to medium heat, add in the mushrooms and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the snow peas to gently warm. To finish, add a touch of sesame oil (a little goes a long way), a pinch of red pepper flakes and top with toasted sesame seeds. Plate the snow peas and mushrooms first, add the chicken on top and then smother in the sauce. Yum!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Macerated Melon and Basil

One more great summer recipe this week from the SOTJ market!  Love this one and it couldn't be any simpler.  We picked up a seedless Vanessa melon which yielded about 3-4 cups of melon balls. To that, I added 2 tbsp of granulated sugar and 1 tsp salt.  A chiffonade cut of basil really added depth and a refreshing flavor. The taste only gets better as the melon continues to macerate in the sugary fruit juice and because of that, I will be enjoying it for dessert again tonight!

Salsa Me This

This is a quick one and provided by Amy's Garden at our favorite Farmer's Market, South of the James. They sell salsa baskets complete with onion, tomato varietals, peppers and garlic. We like to kick up the heat so they threw in a hotter pepper (wish I could remember the name of) that had a great finish that packed the heat but didn't leave you running for the milk jug. When I got home, I first diced the onion (small, white) and 3 cloves of garlic. The mixture went into a glass prep bowl and I doused it with a hit of Merlot, salt and pepper. Then I went to work on the tomatoes - chopping, slicing, dicing. I pulled it all together with about half a tbsp of cumin, salt and a generous helping of black pepper.

This one is easy and tasty but the best part is talking with the folks at Amy's Garden booth during the market. They are friendly and helpful and provided info on the produce and tips on the recipes. Definitely one to hit up next time you are in town.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grilled Caesar! You've been wondering...

Now I know why everywhere I turn I see claims for 'a traditional Caesar turned up,' it's taste is over the top! This meal came together in about 20 minutes but the flavors were all intensified by the char from the grill.

While the grill was heating up, I prepared bread to make croutons and on hand, we had a most delicious selection to stand up to a grilled salad. Of course we headed over to the SOTJ Farmer's Market Saturday morning and saw THE bread man of Norwood Cottage Bakery. We slept in this weekend so we missed his Black Bean bread premier, however, we scored with a half loaf of Garlic Clove. Perfect for croutons for a Caesar Salad! I took 1/4 of the loaf and chopped it up into large square pieces, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and put them into a 350° oven for about 10 minutes and then shifted the oven to the 'warm' setting to allow them to continue to crisp while I put dinner on the grill.

For the remainder, I seasoned a boneless, skinless chicken breast with canola oil, salt & pepper. Since it takes the longest to cook, I put that on the grill first for about 5 minutes on each side. My grill was topping the 400° mark so it went pretty fast. While that was grilling away, I sliced a large head of romaine lettuce in half vertically so that the root was still in place to hold the leaves together. It was also seasoned with oil, salt and pepper but this time I used garlic salt, it is a Caesar Salad after all. I also cut two lemons in half to place on the grill with the lettuce (on lowered heat) when the chicken was almost done.

It all came off the grill with beautiful grill marks. We each got a half of the lettuce head topped with sliced chicken, the Garlic Clove croutons, parmesan cheese and a drizzle of classic Caesar dressing (if I am only having it every so often, I like Kraft's traditional dressing & dip), and two of the lemon pieces. Now, the biggest kick to this salad is the squeeze of the grilled lemon right before serving. The char from the grill adds a depth of flavor that is hard to explain but it is smoky & tart and because of the heat, you end up getting every drop of juice.

And just a heads up...when I went to get another napkin from the kitchen, my husband took about 1/2 of my croutons off of my plate and added them to what was left of his salad. Needless to say, the bread is that good! For those of you that don't live in Richmond, you may want to visit just for the bread.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Bellini for Everyone!

It's the perfect summer cocktail...or winter...or Sunday brunch...or special occasion...or, I feel like having a drink, Drink. I started by putting 3 fresh peaches in the freezer over night so they would be nice and cold for blending. I also had on hand some of the basil simple syrup from the Lime-Basil Sorbet recipe. I peeled the peaches, gave them a quick chop and popped them into my blender with the simple syrup (about a cup, maybe a little more). I blended until I just couldn't blend anymore and then I added the mixture to a nice, chilled Prosecco, equal parts of both. It is sweet and sinful and something I will be enjoying throughout the weekend!