Monday, December 26, 2011

Season's Eatings!

I sure hope that everyone out there has had as delicious of a Christmas as I. I am so fortunate to have wonderful friends and family, near and far, and was able to spend time with so many loved ones this season. As we head into the new year, I'm going to leave you with a few visions of sugarplums... or at least visions of some of the goodies I feasted on over Christmas....

Guacamole with pomegranate seeds

Roasted pine nuts

Mini tarltet appetizers (pear and brie with blood orange syrup; gorgonzola with almond sorrel pesto)

Roasted apple and butternut squash soup


Fresh-baked cinnamon rolls

On that note, I'm over and out for a few weeks as I embark on my annual foreign escapade. Destination: Myanmar. Tasty tales and of course, fare to remember, will ensue. Cheers!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Coconut Flour Pancakes: It Must Be Sunday!

Nothing says Sunday like pancakes, at least in my world. Pancakes don't have a place in my breakfast lineup any other day of the week - but on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! - if all is right in my world, I can have a leisurely morning and a breakfast that includes a big stack of carbs. Ah - nothing better.

My current pancake obsession, however, is a complete departure from any traditional pancake that we all know and love. I've been converted to coconut flour pancakes. That's right - not a grain to be found in these fluffy flapjacks. No flour, no buckwheat, no sourdough. Hell - there's not even any dairy in the version that I make. Well, ok - eggs (if we're calling those dairy) - but no milk. They are totally caveman approved (perfectly paleo, if you're into that sort of thing... which I am, more and more) - and gluten-free as well. I saw them on the Nourishing Days blog, and tried them immediately. I haven't looked back since.

My main reason for giving these a go is that when I was in Laos, I had a coconut pancake of sorts made by a woman squatting in the street over a tiny coconut husk fire. The cake from her griddle was incredible - fluffy and savory, with a hint of coconut flavor. I've wanted to recreate it ever since, but I had no idea if her cake had a name or where I might find a recipe. So when I found this recipe, I was hoping it might somewhat replicate that delicious morsel of Lao street food. Well, it didn't. But boy - it sure is a damn good pancake regardless. So it's now my go-to. I love them because you can't make them very big (the batter just doesn't allow it) - so it satisfies my pancake craving without having to eat more than I should. In fact, when I'm making them just for myself, I cut the recipe in half, which is more than enough for one.

At any rate, I've included the Nourishing Days recipe in full below since it's obviously been perfected to perfection. I, however, don't add any sweetener or vanilla to mine. Just straight up works for me. I hope you give them a try!

(Note: You can buy coconut flour in bulk at Whole Foods. The recipe says you can use regular cow's milk or coconut milk - I always use light coconut milk from Trader Joe's.)

Fluffy Coconut Flour Pancakes
Recipe Notes: Both cow and coconut milk work well in this recipe. You can also add cinnamon or fruit as desired. Just keep the pancakes small and watch them so they don’t burn.
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk (raw cow’s or coconut both work)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey or a pinch of Stevia
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • coconut oil or butter for frying
Preheat griddle over medium-low heat. In a small bowl beat eggs until frothy, about two minutes. Mix in milk, vanilla, and honey or stevia. In a medium-sized bowl combine coconut flour, baking soda, and sea salt and whisk together. Stir wet mixture into dry until coconut flour is incorporated. Grease griddle with butter or coconut oil. Ladle a few tablespoons of batter into pan for each pancake. Spread out slightly with the back of a spoon. The pancakes should be 2-3 inches in diameter and fairly thick. Cook for a few minutes on each side, until the tops dry out slightly and the bottoms start to brown. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve hot with butter, coconut oil, honey, syrup, or fruit.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soup's On! Italian Chicken Sausage and Artichoke Soup

Sometimes a little down time in your doctor's office waiting room is a really good thing. At my last doctor visit, I had a solid block of time as I sat waiting (and waiting... and waiting), so I had the chance to read an entire rumpled year-old copy of Sunset magazine, cover to cover. It was actually quite a luxury in the middle of a work day!

What I found that day in the pages of the tattered magazine has turned into this chilly season's go-to soup. I saw the picture (the same one that appears here), and I knew I would make it based on looks alone (it was a good first impression, what can I say? I'm a sucker for a sexy soup). When I read the super-simple ingredients and close-to-zero prep time, the deal was sealed.

As advertised, it was quick, delicious, gorgeous and YUMMY! The only change I made to the recipe was to use spinach instead of Swiss chard, since that's what I had in the house.

So, this recipe comes HIGHLY recommended from little old me. Take it or leave it - but trust me - you want to take it.

Italian Chicken Sausage and Artichoke Soup
Sunset Magazine, January 2011
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian chicken sausage, casings removed and meat broken into chunks or rolled into meatballs (the fennel flavor of Italian sausage tastes fantastic in this recipe, but any type of chicken sausage will work)
  • 3 cans (15 oz. each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and halved
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (1 lb.), stemmed and chopped (I used spinach)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook sausage until browned, stirring often, 10 minutes. Add broth, artichokes, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add chard and cook, covered, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beet It!

I love vegetables that taste like dirt. Mushrooms, spinach, carrots... all dirty-tasting veg in their own special ways, and I love em. But the topper has to be beets. I freaking love beets. (Qualifier: I love beets that are roasted. You can keep the sickly pickled beets out of a can that somehow found their way to the top of every green salad served in the 70s and tainted my love of beets until I grew up and wised up. Gag. As Oprah always says, "When you know better, you do better" - I know better and roast my beets these days. I'm catching up for nearly four decades of beet deprivation. But I digress.)

So when my mom was in town recently, we found some gorgeous beets at the last St. Helena Farmer's Market of the season. We decided to try and recreate a dish that we'd shared together when mom treated me to dinner at Pago in Salt Lake City that made me swoon: Cinnamon Beets.
Since the dish is no longer on their menu anymore (bastards!) we were recreating from memory. Luckily, it was pretty straightforward: roasted beets on a bed of simply-dressed arugula (lightly coated with EVOO) and served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. The twist was that the beets were topped with a generous sprinkling of a cinnamon/walnut crunch concoction that resembled the texture of a finely-ground cinnamon lollipop combined with finely chopped walnuts - it was the consistency of sand.

I will admit I was skeptical at the time: cinnamon and beets? Such an earthy (dirty) main ingredient paired up with basically cinnamon candy? Oh Lordy - am I ever glad I gave it a try (and you should too!) because the combination of flavors is dynamite. Damn you beets with cinnamon - I can't quit you!

Thank goodness my mom was around to help me with the candy part of the recipe. I would have had to search online (or more likely knowing me, wing it!) for a hard candy recipe that I could tweak to get maximum cinnamon flavor. But dear old mom basically had a hard candy recipe in her head. How handy is that?! So, we gave it a go, and the results couldn't have been any better. Her candy recipe is below. (Note: it makes LOADS of the stuff - I won't have to make it again for years - so you could probably cut it in half and still have extra to go around.) The rest of the dish is basically as I described above. If you don't know how to roast beets, I'm afraid you're on your own. (Just kidding! Check here.)

But seriously give it a try. So freaking good. Thanks Pago.

Cinnamon Hard Candy
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cube butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
Combine all ingredients except for the cinnamon oil in a saucepan; stir over medium heat until all ingredients are melted into a syrup and come to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and continue to cook at a slow boil until the mixture has reached the hard-crack stage*. Once at hard-crack stage, add the cinnamon oil and stir well. Pour the candy syrup into a flat, greased cookie sheet and spread it out until it is very thin (be careful - it will be molten hot!!). Cool thoroughly.

Once cool, pop the candy from the pan (you may need a knife to break it up into large shards), and crush it by using a meat tenderizer or other heavy object! (Place it under a sheet of plastic wrap and pound away until it is crushed to the consistency of sand). Combine with an equal amount of finely-chopped walnuts for the beet topping.

*Not familiar with candy-making (what the heck is hard-crack stage??)? Here's a quick primer thanks to The Science of Cooking:

As a sugar syrup is cooked, water boils away, the sugar concentration increases, and the temperature rises. The highest temperature that the sugar syrup reaches tells you what the syrup will be like when it cools.

Hard-Crack Stage
300° F–310° F

The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature you are likely to see specified in a candy recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup. Drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads that break when bent. CAUTION: To avoid burns, allow the syrup to cool in the cold water for a few moments before touching it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olive Oil Tasting at Round Pond Estate

Who says that the Napa Valley is all about wine? True... wine factors pretty heavily in our way of life and it's the main reason people visit our little corner of the world, but it's not all that we've got going on. Case in point: I took my mom to a fabulous olive oil tasting at the Round Pond Olive Mill in Rutherford over the weekend.

Now I've done some olive oil tasting in my time (most memorable being the one I did in Mendoza, Argentina), but the Round Pond tasting was by far and away the best I've ever experienced. It started out with a walk through one of the estate olive tree groves, moved on to a tour of the state-of-the-art Italian mill, and then transitioned to a sit-down, guided tasting of their estate olive oils, vinegars and syrups. The tasting was then followed by a pretty lavish spread of gorgeous food, where we were free to try different combinations of the goods with complementary fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread. (And don't despair - tastings of Round Pond's award-winning wines were also available... we can veer from the wine path around here, but we can't exit completely!)

I learned so much during the tour and tasting - but I won't divulge too much because you really should come and do the tour yourself! But a few nuggets:
  • Save the extra virgin olive oils for dressing salads or enjoying straight from the bottle as a finishing oil - just don't cook with it! Heat raises the levels of oleic acid in the oil, making it bitter. Use a virgin or regular olive oil to cook with, since you won't be paying the premium required to produce the low levels of oleic acids in the extra virgins.
  • It takes about two trees worth of olives from the Round Pond groves to produce one gallon of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Coughing when tasting olive oils is considered a compliment. (You cough when the oils hit the back of your throat.)
  • The best way to sample vinegar is to pour a few drops over a sugar cube, then suck on the sugar cube before it dissolves.
At any rate, the whole experience at Round Pond was stellar. Come up and give it a try sometime - I'll go with you!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Foraging Figs

Look at these beauties - I believe these are Adriatic figs - the tree from which I nabbed them growing in a ditch in a vineyard. Laden with fruit, the tree was the last thing on the minds of the vineyard workers harvesting the grapes. So, no harm no foul, I took home a stash. Since this variety is not as sweet as the Black Mission Figs that I love to eat raw, I broiled them with some honey to bring out their sweetness, and finished them off with a sprinkling of sea salt. It made for a sweet and savory breakfast. Thanks Mother Nature!