Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Food Venture: Polenta

I've always been curious about polenta. I actually bought a box last June, and have waited until now to even think of using it. I really liked the idea of making polenta but when it came down to it, I wasn't exactly sure what to do with it. I've only ever had it at restaurants, and typically find it a bit bland for my taste. There are only a handful of times that I can recall ordering a dish with polenta and truly being "wowed". Of these seemingly rare occurrences, the polenta was well seasoned, had cheese incorporated into it and was either seared or baked. After going through a copious amount of recipes I finally discovered an interesting "polenta tart" recipe on the Whole Food's website. It was exactly what I was looking for, not to mention I'd be killing two birds with one stone by checking both "polenta" and "tart" off of my New Food Ventures List for 2010.

It was fantastic and so filling! Not to mention that I got quite the arm work out from stirring the polenta for almost 10 minutes! The base tasted slightly similar to corn bread, and was both dense and moist. The Parmesan cheese I incorporated in the batter was a nice touch, and brought out a sweet note in the cornmeal. To finish, I topped it with goat cheese, baby heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions and basil. It was a refreshing combination, that felt both luxurious and healthy, what a treat! I couldn't believe that I made this stunner!

Until Next Time,


Friday, January 29, 2010

PHO-nomenal PHO-riday

I find the extent to which food differs from culture to culture extremely fascinating. No two have the same staple flavors or ingredients in their defining dishes, yet they never fail to provide comfort and warmth. When I have the opportunity to try new foods I always jump at the chance. Not only am I excited to try something new but I also enjoy engaging in cultural experiences.

I've been wanting to try Pho (Vietnamese noodle dish) for a while now. I have seen it featured on various food websites and in magazines(even more so in the winter months) and was curious about the elements that make this dish so prominent. Whenever I have something for the first time, I always make sure it is as close to authentic as I can get, so that I am REALLY immersing myself in the heritage it originated from. After looking through many reviews, and speaking to local residents who are Vietnamese, I found a small family owned restaurant not too far from my apartment.

I dined with two of my closest friends and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was a quaint place and the atmosphere was both comfortable and welcoming. To start, we each ordered fresh spring rolls which were comprised of thin strips of pork and shrimp, vermicelli noodles, mint leaves, wrapped in rice paper and served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. For our main course we had "Pho Ga" aka chicken pho. It is the coldest night of the year thus far, and this could not have been a better choice for dinner. It was a gigantic bowl filled with delicate rice noodles, tender pulled chicken and onions in warm broth carefully flavored with chives and cilantro. It was served with a plate of bean sprouts and lime juice to be added at one's preference. I added a mound of bean sprouts, 2 lime wedges and sriracha chili sauce to give it a bit more kick (Hey, it's cold!). The bean sprouts absorbed the broth and still maintained a crunchy texture, and the lime was a perfect accent to the cilantro in the broth. This dish was amplified by the chili sauce. I added it after analyzing all of the flavors and tasting the dish in pure form. Let me tell you, unlike most hot sauces, the sriracha did not mask any flavor, it enhanced it. Each bite was soothing my cold bones.

I will PHO be back,


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Peanut Butter and Jelly Time!

I just wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to the good 'ole PB&J. For some reason, lately I haven't been able to get enough of it. I've been creative too. Of course I've made the standard PB&J sandwiches but have expanded my repertoire to include peanut butter, banana and strawberry paninis, I've smothered crunchy peanut butter and strawberry preserves on toasted English muffins, rice puffs and crackers, layered the combo between sliced bananas, and (sadly) enjoyed peanut butter spoonfuls topped with jelly. After all this you think I'd be sick of this dynamic duo, right? WRONG! I have even discovered a new on the go snack: Peanut Butter and Jelly Lara Bars.

First of all, I must profess my love for Lara bars. They are up there in my top 5 snack bars, and never fail to satisfy me and provide the pick-me-up I'm looking for. Why do I love them so much? They are all natural and organic! If you look at the label you will find the following:dried fruit and nuts. That's it. I feel like I'm spoiling myself but in reality, it is SO good for me. Being the PB&J aficionado that I am, I was skeptical of this bar ACTUALLY tasting like the real deal. I absolutely love the pistachio, peanut butter cookie, cherry pie and cashew cookie Lara bars, so I thought it was worth a try. It is a fusion of ground peanuts, dried cherries and dates...hmmm I had to wonder if it cherries and dates would live up to the "jelly" aspect I was looking for. The bar was slightly crunchy and I could distinctly taste the peanut...and...THE JELLY. PHENOMENAL! I was so excited to see one of my favorite combination in all of it's glory.



Speedy Foodie Dinner: Spicy Shrimp Stirfry with Quinoa

A few days a week I find myself running between meetings and work, with little time to prepare dinner. I am operating on a tight budget (most of which goes to food anyways...I rather buy quality items!) and do not want to unnecessarily spend money on prepared meals. I also hate having dinner well after 9pm. It is with this mentality that I took 20 minutes to fix a quick Spicy Shrimp Stirfry with Quinoa. I used proteins and vegetables I had on hand and decided to make quinoa (nature's perfect protein) instead of rice. I hadn't had quinoa in a while and love it's nutty flavor and slight crunch. It was easy to prepare and a light yet substantial dinner. All I had to do was pack it up, bring it to work, and reheat. I love feeling thrifty and I saved myself some money!

Bye Bye Lame Dinner Blues,


p.s Note the picture in gladware!! My portable dinner.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon

Taking some inspiration from Julie and Julia and the direction of Ina Garten, I made Boeuf Bourguignon aka beef stew with red wine. It is a culinary endeavor that I had been DYING to try ever since I saw the movie, and my trusty Ina Garten happened to have a recipe for it in Barefoot in Paris (still hording from my mom). It was a tedious step by step process that then required an hour and a half in the oven, but it was well worth the wait. I found that cooking the vegetables in fat rendered from the beef and bacon made the dish rich and flavorful. This dish gets a lot of it's flavor from the sweetness of the carrots and onions. I hardly had to season it, because it was already so rich in flavor from the meet, vegetables and, of course, the wine. A hearty meal for a cold winter Sunday.

Until Next Time,


Friday, January 22, 2010

Bored Foodie

Cooking has always been my hobby. I always find it relaxing to go into my kitchen at the end of a busy work day and artfully craft something delectable; creating a great meal is a gift you give yourself. I'm the type of person that could never pop a cellophane covered frozen entree in the microwave on high for five minutes...I just cant. Even at the end of my busiest day, I like to take the time (or I at least go to the prepared food section of my grocery store) to have a real meal. Although I do find joy in cooking for one, there is NOTHING like cooking for and dining with others. I am only truly satisfied knowing that all my time spent in the kitchen brought some small joy to those around me. Regardless, when I am subjected to the silence of my apartment, with nothing to do, I cook. My boredom this week brought me to a new dish I call "Chicken Malbec". I used ingredients that I had around and needed to use to make a work of art. I had half a bottle of Malbec in the fridge from the previous week and some mushrooms and thought I would use the same method for Chicken Marsala with Malbec. Malbec is a smokey, hearty wine so I pared it with earthy bella mushrooms and wilted spinach, sweet roasted beets (left over from quesadilla night), tangy goat cheese and toasted walnuts. It seemed like the type of meal I would order at a bistro. GO ME! The only sad part of the meal was when it was over, and I was still alone. Good thing I had some ice cream and mini candies in the freezer, and Grey's Anatomy was new. How typical female of me.. LAME!

Pitty My Loneliness,


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Roasted Beets

I have to admit that my motives were not pure when deciding on this new venture. I recently was inspired to be creative with quesadillas after ordering a goat cheese, mushroom and spinach quesadilla at a modern Mexican restaurant. I loved the creaminess that goat cheese lends when it is heated; rather than the typical mealty/gooey cheeses (Although, I do love that too.). I've made quesadillas before so that alone wouldn't qualify this as a "new food venture", but I figured if I attempted an element of the dish that I had never tried before, I could sneak it by. The element of choice: roasted beets. I think they are stunning but have never had them outside of restaurant fare, as they seem somewhat tedious to make. In fact, roasted beets are simple: wash and scrub beets, lightly cover in olive oil, wrap in tin foil and place on a tray in a 375 oven for about 45 minutes. After they have cooled, you peel the skin away and you have a succulent, flavorful roasted beet.

I love the combination of avocado and beets; the density of the beet paired with the creamy avocado has a tremendous mouth-feel, and the tartness and sweetness of both are prominent when combined. I thought this combination would pair nicely with a creamy, tangy goat cheese to complete the dish. Because all of these elements have fairly tart flavors and tender textures, I decided to create a fruit salsa with grapefruit and pomegranate seeds. I marinated the fruit with jalapeno, Cayenne, cilantro and lime to offset the citrus, and to give it some Mexican flare.

It was a messy process but the end result looked beautiful, and tasted great! It was the first time I have truly been innovative with cooking, and I can check another food venture off my list for 2010. I have a few more things lined up for the next few weeks, but have been searching for new things to try. I want to go outside my comfort zone. I want to study recipes and learn how they work. Suggestions are always welcome!!

Be Creative!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Roquefort Souffle

Souffle=Scary... Or so I thought. After hearing many stories of souffle failures, I became too nervous to even try such a feat. Keeping true to my New Year's resolution, "be fearless", I found it suiting to make a souffle as one of my first new food ventures. I recently purchased Barefoot in Paris, an Ina Garten cookbook (Christmas gift for my mother, that I tend to monopolize), and found a wonderful recipe for a Roquefort souffle. I decided that this would be my first attempt. I studied and calculated each step, so when it came time I would be prepared. I found a comparable recipe in Food and Wine, and made some edits to form a finalized outline of the recipe that I would try.

Before starting I made sure I had all of my equipment out and ingredients prepared and measured: Mise en place. All I had to do was make sure everything was combined properly. I was extremely nervous that my souffle was going to fall, and as anxious as I was, I made sure not to open the oven until the complete 20 minutes had passed (cardinal rule of making souffles: DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!).

It was was was... SENSATIONAL! I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened the oven and the perfectly golden and fluffy tops held strong. They were begging for someone with a fork to pierce them and devour the deliciousness inside. The nutmeg and cayenne pepper proved to be excellent accents for the full-flavored, earthy Roquefort blue cheese. I chose to serve it with a light mixed green salad and roasted pork tenderloin for a substantial dinner. (This would also be perfect with a fruit tart for brunch). My drink of choice was a 2007 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling; a nice balance for the bold flavors in this dish.

My first attempt at a culinary success! I will maintain my fearlessness and try a souffle again, perhaps with a different cheese, spinach and/or ham!



Saturday, January 9, 2010

I <3 Avocados

Avocados are one of nature's hidden treasures. Upon first impression, they appear to be ugly and unappetizing. As the dark bumpy skin is removed a brilliant, glossy, light green flesh appears surrounding a smooth and perfectly round core. The symmetry of an avocado is quite impressive. The taste is creamy, smooth and refreshing; there is nothing quite like it. Eating an avocado feels like you are indulging with something decadent, but they are extremely healthy for you. A serving of an avocado provides 20 essential nutrients and heart healthy unsaturated fats; necessary for growth and development. (Good to know that something I could eat morning, noon and night is also good for me.)

I recently used half of an avocado in a quesadilla and, still craving more the next morning, decided to use the other half in an omelet. The thing I really love about avocados is that they provide a great texture to any dish and are meaty and filling. I called it the "Refreshing California" original. I wilted about 1 cup of baby spinach (best spinach flavor in my opinion) and chopped and sauteed about 5 baby bella mushrooms as the main filling for my omelet. In a separate pan I added my egg mixture (three eggs whisked) and let is set up. Once it was set, I added the spinach and mushrooms, Swiss cheese, fresh slices of Roma tomato and thin strips of avocado. I folded the omelet allowing the cheese to melt and the tomato and avocado to warm slightly. I topped the omelet with more avocado and tomato and finished it with fresh ground black pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce. The flavors all melded nicely and the warm avocado was simply luscious. What a great way to start my day.

Add avocados to everything,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Food Venture 1: Poached Pears

In my down time I tend to be a foodnetwork junkie. From Thanksgiving to Christmas I have seen poached pears made over and over AND over again. They look so elegant and light...what a nice way to end a meal. I always have to have something sweet after dinner and the holiday season has left me all cookied and cheese-caked out, so I decided for my first new food venture I would attempt poached pears. Typically pears are poached in a sweet wine and spice mixture. After studying a few different recipes, I decided to put my own spin on it and threw a bunch of things I thought would work into a pot, hoping for the best. I chose a Madeira wine and added sugar, honey, whole all-spice berries, a cinnamon stick, bay leaf, orange peal and vanilla to it. I decided to use Bosc pears; I really like their shape and they are sturdier than other pears.

The boiling wine and spice mixture made the whole house smell like winter--it was fantastic. Madeira was a good choice for a base; it is sweet enough that it really doesn't need much else to make a great sauce, and the color is wonderful. I considered using a Riesling but I don't think it would have made as much of a statement. I served the pears with the warm poaching liquid (after reducing) and vanilla ice cream, which combined into creamy-syrup sauce that was delicious. Unfortunately, I don't think I poached my pears properly, as they were still a bit hard and caused eating to be both challenging and messy. I know the pears were ripe because I purchased them about 3 days in advance, so that couldn't have been the issue. The poached pear is supposed to be very tender just break with a spoon...I needed a knife to cut mine.

Next time I am going to poach the pears for a longer time or use Anjou pears which are a bit smaller and naturally more tender. I guess this was lesson number one for the New Year. I will definitely attempt these again. They are so simple to make, can be done in advance and would surely impress company. This dessert is the perfect dinner party dessert for the fall/winter. Lesson learned, and still waiting to master this method.

Staying committed,