Friday, August 21, 2009

Vin de Noix

I should NOT read The Kitchn over my lunchbreak. It just may be my downfall. It gets the creative juices flowing and then I just cannot shut my brain up. I'm editing 30 posts to add new info, I'm creating another 30 drafts to finish later, and hell, even posting a few right away.
I ONLY HAVE AN HOUR AT BEST, THE KITCHN. I do not have time for you to distract me with your incredibly fantastic ideas like this. I think we need to take a break. Now, come on, don't cry. It's just for a little bit. Like maybe until lunch tomorrow. Fine; I'll write ONE quick post. Thank God I eat fast.

My friends think I'm some sort of culinary goddess. It's a trick (well, I am pretty goddessy, but I don't know if I reign over the culinary arts quite like they imagine). They think I whip up these meals for them using nothing more than a whif of something at the farmer's market and the Muse of flavor ingenuity. Lies. I AM A COPYCAT. Okay fine, sometimes I tweak things to my own specific tastes, or manage to understand which flavors work well together, or piece together how some other chef may have made a dish and recreate it at home; but does that make me creative? An inventor? I think not. The person who invented post it notes, vs. the person that decided to make them in different colors and shapes. Different wavelengths, people.

Well, I'm up to my old tricks again, but Christmas 2010 will no doubt see everyone clamoring over how clever and magical I am when I can gift them with some lovely Vin de Noix which I've cleverly packaged with bottles from the interwebs or local restaurant supply shops, and stuck Avery labels on in some lovely font that I've downloaded for free and drawn over with sparkly pens.
(also, if you follow all of my links and do the same thing, I will CUT YOU, IDEA STEALER)

I missed the window this year, only learning of this elixir today; so boo. I am just over a month too late and this pains me so. So much that I'm determined to maybe find some green walnuts anyway, even though I know better.
The Kitchn has tons of great resources linked to their blogs for your perusal.
Look, I found a local vendor! Clary Ridge Ranch near Sacramento; and they'll even deliver so I don't have to cut the local Francophiles at the Alemany Farmer's Market next June.
Look, I found a fantastic blog and recipe from someone who clearly knows what she is doing! Lucy's Kitchen; which, let's face it, is golden. Otherwise I'd be doing this. Sorry Amelia.
Forums are another great spot for advice and pointers.

Version 1:
Liqueur de Noix

38 green walnuts, quartered
1 vanilla bean
2 star anise
2 long peppercorns
2 thick slices of lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup grade B maple syrup
500ml or 2 cups Noilly Pratt Original Dry
1 bottle of vodka
Mix in a large bowl and cover; let it sit for a few months. At the two month mark it will probably still be bitter and medicinal, but go ahead and bottle and put away for several more months. Check in on it regularly to familiarize yourself with the process and the phases it goes through, and well, I guess it's ready when it tastes good!
GAH I wish she had clearer directions; covered the bowl with what?! You let it SIT OUT? Contaminatey! So many questions. . . luckily, she seems willing to answer them, at least in her comments!

Version 2:
Vin de Noix

Per 1.5 liter jar:

About 8 nuts each jar
500ml vodka
1/2 cup grade B maple syrup
1/3 vanilla bean
2 cloves
1 t. szchuan peppercorns
2 slices of an orange
top off with a full bodied white burgundy (Bourgogne) wine (used 5 bottles to fill all 6 of the jars to the top).

Vin de noix, in order to turn it's beautiful deep dark color, needs contact with some air. This is why mason jars are perfect for this - because you can close them without using the rubber gasket and they'll have enough air circulating to allow the liquid to turn black. Once 2 months have gone by, filter and bottle your vin de noix. Seal the bottles tightly then, and allow it to mature for another month or two before giving it away. By all means, taste it at every step, to understand how it develops and what to expect. You'll be suprised at the many different stages it goes through. I'll report back when this is ready to bottle.

Regarding finishing and bottling:
Cover the strainer on a French press with a coffee filter to help remove as much sediment as possible.

I am also curious to try my hand at:
Vin d'orange (from Epicurious or Sunset)
Limoncello (from Vox or Giada if you're skurred)
Plum wine (Umeshu), or maybe apricot wine, or maybe something with pear or apple. My Dad has an Albanian friend that makes apricot brandy that is like woah.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Muscles and Brussels

Sheryl and I have an action packed Thursday night planned. Color consultations; walks (and maybe some squats and lunges even); and then dinner. Project Runway if we aren't sick of each other by 10.
On the menu so far? This numtastic Brussels sprouts recipe I found on Kalyn's Kitchen. You should check out her blog of recipes if you're also doing SB or some other low GI type eating plan. She's got some good stuff.
I was looking for something non-bacony (even though I bought turkey bacon just in case) and fell in love with this immediately. I cannot WAIT to eat these. Is that sad?

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Recipe with Balsamic, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts
(Makes 3-4 servings, recipe created by Kalyn with inspiration from Fine Cooking Magazine on roasting vegetables, November 2007.)

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into quarters
2 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 T Parmesan cheese (preferably fresh grated)
1 T pine nuts (preferably toasted, could substitute other nuts of your choice)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Trim brussels sprouts, remove any discolored leaves, and cut into quarters (or halves if they are small.) Put sprouts in mixing bowl and toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Cover roasting pan with foil if desired, and spray with non-stick spray if needed. Arrange sprouts in a single layer on roasting pan, and roast 20 minutes, turning occasionally, or until sprouts are slightly crisp and golden brown on the edges.

When sprouts are nearly done, toast pine nuts in a dry pan about 2-3 minutes, until barely starting to brown. (Be careful, they can go from lightly brown to overdone quite quickly.) Put cooked sprouts back into mixing bowl and toss with parmesan cheese. Arrange on serving plate and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve hot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kill me, kill me now

I'm posting a Sandra Lee inspired recipe. But come on, we've all seen something using similar flavors so can we really give her credit? Plus, I'm not posting it exactly as is; I'm posting it as I'd make it. I still feel a little nauseous, but hey, credit where credit is due, and I was indeed watching her show and thinking, "yum." If you are unfamiliar with Sandra and her work, a quick web search will give you the actual scoop, and then if you scroll down, the mountains and mountains of angry, hateful, vitriolic websites and parodies dedicated to her. It's her own fault, really. Really.
And while I'm here talking about this one; I'll share a recipe that a friend of a friend made for a recent party:
Little crostinis
goat cheese
sliced dried figs
white truffle oil
Top the crostinis with goat cheese, a slice of dried fig and drizzle with truffle oil. Die and go to heaven.

Fig & Prosciutto Crostata
1 pre-made pie crust
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (OR! 2 oz cream, 2 oz goat; OR! add some blue cheese crumbles on top of the fig preserves)
1/2 (10-ounce) jar fig preserves
1 (3-ounce) package prosciutto, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the pie crust onto a baking sheet. Spread the cheese over the crust leaving a 1-inch border. Top with fig preserves (and sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles if using). Fold border over fig spread and top with prosciutto strips.

Lightly beat egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a pastry brush to brush edge of crust with egg wash. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with arugula (simply dressed with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper) if you dig it (which I do).

This is similar to another party snack I like to make using premade pizza crust (or even pita), smeared with goat cheese and then topped with caramelized onions and shallots with the little arugula salad on top. Yum.


For the first, oh, 23 years of life I'd say I was pretty anti-fish. Oh sure, fishsticks and tuna fish sandwiches as a kid, but that stopped pretty early on; before I was a pre-teen (and old enough to learn about the plight of the dolphins). I finally grew up a little, and started working in NICE restaurants. Restaurants where I could not distract people with my humorous flair, but had to actually understand the dishes and the flavors and which wines might work well. It wasn't enough to say, "oh, I don't eat fish so I'm not sure" when someone asked me if the halibut was good. I needed to be able to talk about how it was prepared and how the flavors worked. And so, the first small, trepidatious bites at line up followed. Shortly thereafter, I allowed myself to be coaxed into sushi. Nevermind that it took a little liquid courage to get over my mental hangups, and that once I thought it about the next morning I literally made myself sick. What a pansy.
From there, I started eating sushi more regularly (though I'm still not all that adventurous - I know what I like and I pretty much stick to it), and having a couple of bites of a friend's fish at dinner. And then, scallops came into my life. I will never forget my first scallop. I was working at a restaurant in San Mateo and the chef made these amazing, tropical inspired scallops with flavors of mango and coconut and yummy, smooth, almost risotto like rice and WOW. I started ordering this dish on my own; not just to share a few bites. I think scallops are really what pushed me over the edge. Now, I no longer skip over the seafood section of a menu - I'll order up a yummy sounding piece of fish at a restaurant without thinking twice. Of course if I'm faced with super fishy fish or salmon, we're still in trouble. But that's because I don't like those things, not because I'm afraid of them.
In any case, my love for scallops led to me preparing them at home one night. They turned out wonderfully, yay! But, so I like seared scallops. Okay fine. How else can I make them that I'll still like them? Enter Ina Garten, of course. This woman is my hero. Left corporate life behind for a happy little food shop on the coast that she felt passionate about. A (seemingly) very happy marriage, and simple (yet successful) life. Yeah, she's not a size 2. But she eats well, and hey look everyone, she's HAPPY and in love with someone who loves her and they still have fun together and do sweet things (on tv anyway). Imagine that.
So thanks to Ina, for a tasty, artery clogging new to me way to prepare scallops.

Bay Scallop Gratin
(serves 6)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium shallots, minced
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, minced
4 tbsp minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp Pernod - this is an anise flavored liqueur and I want to trust Ina, but eeeew, anise
2 tsps kosher salt
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
6 tbsp good olive oil
1/2 c panko
6 tbsp dry white wine (a little more than half a cup)
2 lbs fresh bay scallops (the little guys)
lemon, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place 6 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

To make the topping, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt, and pepper and mix until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise, until combined. Fold the panko in with a rubber spatula and set aside.

Place 1 tablespoon of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. With a small sharp knife, remove the white muscle and membrane from the side of each scallop and discard. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and distribute them among the 3 dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the top of the scallops. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the topping is golden and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. If you want the top crustier, place the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes, until browned. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty French bread.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Italian Dinner in Chester

I spent the weekend in Chester with my darling friend Shannon and her family, soaking up sun, eating, and drinking wine. And catching up too, I'm sure we did that at some point. To thank them for having me (and feeding me, and pitching a tent-suite for me in the back yard because I am horribly, horribly allergic to their darling cat Murphy, even though I love him big time), I made an Italian dinner, inspired by the squash blossoms I saw in Shannon's gorgeous garden.
I managed to stay South Beach about 60% of the time, and ate fried things and burgers and delicious chocolate-banana milkshakes and s'mores the rest of the time. Whoops.
We had chicken Friday night, so we decided to go with an eggplant parmigiana and Giada's squash blossoms. I knew I had a recipe in my cookbooks at home, but as I was about five hours away from them, I had to rely on the interwebs.
It turned out wonderfully, and while it was a little bit time intensive, it was super easy. The kids ate it up, as did the husband, and of course, us girls. This will definitely be made again.

Sauce - Shannon had a premade garlic/tomato one (Shan, if you read this and remember, comment on it!)

1/2 small onion, sliced, chopped, whatevered

1/4 tsp minced garlic, preferably fresh

1/4 c. olive oil

8 oz. fresh mushrooms


lowfat mozzarella


Spray 2 cookie sheets with olive oil (or Pam). Slice an eggplant into 1/2" slices. Now, spray the tops. At 350-degrees, bake for about 30 minutes, or until browned. Turn after about 15 minutes.

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add tomato sauce and mushrooms. Stir well. Simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Layer in a baking dish: 1 c. sauce (or more), eggplant, and then on each slice of eggplant - shredded/sliced mozzarella, sauce, eggplant, mozzarella, sauce, and top with mozzarella and a little Parmesan.

Bake at 350-degrees about 30 min. or until cheese is hot and bubbly.

And because Giada's recipe is hard for me to find, I'm going to repost that here as well.

Fried Squash Blossoms
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sparkling water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/3 cup (2 ounces) goat cheese at room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons heavy cream - I've used whole milk (AND nonfat milk) and it's been fine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves - this last time we used lemon basil and OMG - use lemon basil
1 green onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
8 zucchini blossoms* see Cook's Note
Vegetable oil, for frying
Serving Suggestion: serve with your favorite marinara sauce or vinaigrette
Cook's Note: Zucchini blossoms can be found at farmer's markets and specialty grocery stores.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, water and salt until smooth. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, heavy cream (or milk), basil, and green onion. Mix until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons filling into each blossom. We used this handy dandy little gizmo from the pampered chef and it could not have been easier. The kids, Shannon and I then licked the entire contraption clean which helps with cleanup. Close the blossoms and gently twist the petals to seal.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 350 degrees F. (If you don't have a thermometer a cube of bread will brown in about 1 minute.) Dip the stuffed zucchini blossoms in the batter and allow any excess batter to drip off. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Allow the cooked blossoms to drain on paper towels.

Season with salt and serve with your favorite marinara sauce or vinaigrette. If you're having this with the eggplant, you can use some of that sauce.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Loving the latest Food Network Star

I caught the premiere of Melissa D'Arabian's new show on the Food Network this weekend and it was tasty.
She thinks she can help me make Ten Dollar Dinners and WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT MS. D'ARABIAN. Who do you think you are? Sandra Lee? (who by the way you guys has made it clear to me that I can only have you over for brunch or breakfast type foods because omg, she made a multicourse meal for 4 for a few bucks per person, versus the $30 I'm usually spending BECAUSE I LOVE MY FRIENDS).
In any case, chairs on tables and cocktail time aside; Melissa's French bistro menu looked omg so good and not South Beachy. Wait, the salad was South Beachy. The torte, not even a little bit. Seems I'm not the only fan because her first show was on Sunday and her recipe already has almost 300 reviews with a four star rating overall. That spells delicious in my book. The dressing she uses on the green salad is a great basic vinaigrette and I can't wait to try it out - the addition of soy sounds fun (again, not alone here; nearly 100 reviews with a FIVE STAR rating). Plus, her little granita could not be easier to make, just don't forget it's in there until it's a solid brick like someone may have done when she made granita with her leftover popsicle fixins.

Now that I'm dying for potatoes and thyme cream and gruyere and flakey, delicious pastry, I'm wondering if there are any South Beach options that come anywhere near this. I'm going to guess no, but a search for "South Beach torte" brings up a few options anyway.

Flourless Chocolate Orange Torte - I am so wary of the SB desserts that I say you are on your own if you try this; but please let me know how it turns out
Asparagus Shallot and Spinach Torte - now we're getting somewhere. . . . I'm a little afraid of the crust and I'm thinking you might be better off buying something ready made from a low-carb outlet like the Brazilian Cheese Bread Company, or maybe using the Carbquick.
More desserty options here that use beans as the base. Um. ?
This one here is just for my mom, even though she doesn't really read my blog. Rude.

All in all, I think if I want that delicious salty, creamy, potatoey torte, I'm just going to have to go for it and you'd better believe I will enjoy every second of it. Until then, maybe I can satisfy my craving with SB Pot Pie?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Update to popsicle season

How can I not do lemon blueberry popsicles first after all the air time I've been giving this flavor combo lately? I couldn't and that's all there is to it.

2 cups water
3/4 cup Splenda
1 cup lemon juice

Add Splenda to water and heat over medium for a few minutes to dissolve. Add lemon juice and stir to combine. Fill popsicle molds 3/4 full and put in the freezer.

(I really want to try this with fuzzy water to see if I can make my pops frizzante and jeezly crow, did you guys know about this?! Now I totally have to try it.)

1 punnet of blueberries
2 spoonfuls of Splenda (or to taste)
flour or cornstarch

Add Splenda to berries and heat over low to make a blueberry sauce. Once berries are mostly broken down, add a teaspoon or so of flour to thicken the sauce.

Keep a close eye on the popsicles in the freezer; you need to let the pops freeze up a LITTLE and then add the blueberry sauce and swirl it through with a skewer. If you wait too long you'll be too late and have to try a layered version, if you do it too soon it will all settle in the bottom of the mold and you'll still have to do a layered version.

"Spanish" rice

My grandfather is of Spanish descent. This rice reminds me of paella. Is it wrong to call it Spanish rice? This was one of the dishes I used to make when I was living in Australia and missing home. Had I ever eaten anything like this at home? No, not really. But to this day, this dish reminds me of my independence, and maturation into an actual self sufficient human being. I made it up, I didn't use a recipe, I didn't ask my Dad, I had no idea what I was doing; but it turned out. My friends started to request that I make it. Holy cow you guys; I was living in another country, on my own, and cooking my own dinner and feeding my friends. Because this is a Jen Original, please don't quote me on it and feel free to taste and modify as you go.

1 can crushed tomatoes in tomato sauce (about a cup and a half)
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup rice (I'm trying it with brown rice today - wish me luck)
cooked chicken - I used a ready to go roaster chicken that I pick apart and shred with my fingers
cooked sausage - chorizo or some other spicy sausage is perfect for this
scrambled egg
green onions

Bring the tomatoes and broth to a boil, add rice, cover, and turn heat down. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the rice is done.
Fluff rice and stir in chicken, sausage, scrambled egg and green onions - you be the boss on how much you use. (I'm gonna say two sausages, 1/2 c - 3/4 c chicken, 1-2 eggs, and 1-2 green onions thinly sliced if you MUST have measurements.)
* nom *

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hell yeah suckas - it's POPSICLE SEASON!

After Quinn commented on my popsicle molds the other day when searching my cabinets for ginger, I had a little "oh yeah, I forgot about those" moment. And then today, Liz posts THIS little beauty on Twitter.
What about Thai Iced Tea Pops?! Oh man - now I'm really daydreaming you guys. Think of all the SB possibilities I could try to come up with! Because this? Meh.

Chocolate banana (duh)!
Strawberry banana!
Banana "caramel" (Quinn once accidentally tried making caramel with Splenda - I think it kind of worked for like a minute, right?)
Tropical fruit flavors like pineapple cream!
Mango cream!
Traditional orange cream!
Root beer floats or Brown Cows if you must (mmmm, like the real one last night at Luna Park that was def not SB)!
Combo flavors! Pineapple raspberry!
Blueberry cream!
Strawberry lemon!

Oh man, guess who would be making popsicles all weekend if she wasn't going to be lounging poolside instead. Oooh!
Lavender lemon fizz popsicles (sans vodka obvi)!!!! I wonder if our hotel room has a freezer. . . .

Lime in da coconut pops - I think kaffir lime is the way to go, maybe with a little kick of spicy chili
Lemonade rosemary (easily made into lavender lemon fizz)
Creamsicle-esque - also making me think of rootbeer granita
Margarita pops (wondering how I can make sangria pops. . . . . )

Monday, August 3, 2009

Craving Curry

If there is one thing I love about SB it's the variety the diet affords. I've been craving Indian food lately, and so I whipped up a tasty SB curry last night, with some lentils - which were AMAZING, and totally made the dish.
I'm all about the lentils right now it seems.
(cook's note: recommended appetizer)

Indian Chicken
1 1/2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken, cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 (2 lb) head of cauliflower, cut into florets (4 cups)
1 can light coconut milk
1/2 c low sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper

Season chicken well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil over med-hi and cook chicken til lightly browned. Remove chicken to a plate using a slotted spoon.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add onion, garlic, curry & ginger. Cook about 2 minutes. Add cauliflower, coconut milk and broth; cover and simmer - stirring occasionally until veggies are crisp-tender (about 5 min). Add chicken back to pan, and let cook uncovered to thicken sauce - about 5 minutes.

Indian Spiced Lentils
4 tsps evoo
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp curry powder
1 c dried lentils, picked over and rinsed (I used the already cooked beluga lentils from TJ's)
1 1/2 c low sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (which I totally did not know went into this recipe until right now - which means you can skip it and it'll still be good)
salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and sautee about 3 minutes til soft. Add garlic and sautee another minute. Stir in curry powder and lentils. Add broth, bring to a simmer, cover and cook til tender about 20 minutes (or less if you got the already cooked kind!). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fight over spoonfulls to eat with your chicken and cauliflower curry.