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A FEAST Fit for Fall’s Bounty

16 Sep

 

Ready for a taste of fall’s bounty

A Taste for Fall

Fall is beginning its descent all across the country. Here in Portland, it’s not coming fast enough for me. I’m ready for it to kick into high gear — maybe even wanting to force it a little before its true time.

As a fall baby, I’ve always had a great affinity for my birth season. Even in the midst of a 80 degree day, I can feel myself wanting to bake more. (I’m working on perfecting a super-moist, gluten-free pumpkin cream cheese muffin with candied pepitas right now. Look for it here on the blog soon!)

While we’re still ending our days by running the in-window air conditioner to get our room cool enough to sleep in the evening, I have a taste for the crunch of leaves under foot, the orange globes of ripened pumpkin flesh floating in Thai curry and the sweet, silken flavors of rich chestnut and vibrant butternut squash soups served with a crunchy baguette and a creamy shmear of  triple cream brie.

An Apology

Things have been a bit slow on the blog lately. For that, I apologize to you my Groovy Readers. Besides the usual balancing act of  running a freelance writing business and the needs of an extremely active and talkative toddler, I’ve been juggling two major ghostwriting projects due before the end of the year,  a visit from the mother-in-law, my son’s 4th birthday, the addition of  a bit of summer fun and the delicious foodie-focused events (IFBC and FEAST Portland) descending on Portland lately.

All of this has left little time for blogging, hence the wonderful guest post by my dear friend Brad over at Cast Iron Stomach last week. Brad has inspired me to purchase my own canning supplies and make my own fresh jam with the last of summer’s berry bounty, crisp homemade pickles and juicy bright flavors of homemade pasta sauce.

A FEAST to Kick-Off the Fall Season

In fact, over the course of the next couple months you can expect to see all of these recipes and more as I enter my favorite season for cooking — Fall.  Kicking things off in a big way is Oregon’s first-ever food culture festival, FEAST Portland: A Celebration of Oregon’s bounty.

It’s four days (September 20-23, 2012) of foodie bliss that promises to not only set foodie hearts aflutter with the likes of Mark Bittman, Food Editors from Bon Appetit and Portland Monthly and top chefs from around the country giving cooking demonstrations, talks and serving up some the best food Oregon has to offer, but all net proceeds will go to help end childhood hunger in our area.  Win, win, WIN!!

Check out my FEAST Preview Post on Oregonlive.com later in the week to plan your schedule of all the action.

 

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New Cooking Tools: A Busy Mom’s Best Friend

9 Sep

RIP old friend

The Loss of a Few Trusted Old Friends

Two years ago, my toaster oven died and I didn’t have the funds to replace it, so we began using the oven for our toast in the morning. We found it worked just fine as long as you kept an eye on the toast and remembered to flip it.  I had loved using my toaster oven in the summer for baking fish and other foods. It kept the heat in the house down and it did a great job at keeping the fish juicy too!  I’ve improvised without it for the last two years.

Then, last year, unexpectedly, as I was making a beautiful tomatillo sauce in my Cuisinart Classic Pro, I heard this VERY BAD sound in my processor, like metallic ricocheting off the sides of the bowl, as the blade in my processor whirred. I immediately stopped processing and found that a small chunk of metal had come off the blade and was being whipped around in my sauce. The blade and the sauce both went in the trash. When I contacted Cuisinart about it, they said they’d never heard of someone having a problem like this and that I could PURCHASE a new blade in their online store (the machine was like 10 to 13 years old and I didn’t even remember where I bought it, let alone had a receipt.)

A replacement blade was $40 a pop, but a new Cuisinart in the same model was selling for $89 on Amazon — but, I just couldn’t do it. I’d wait until I could afford a new machine (especially when pleas to Cuisnart’s marketing department for a partnership with my blog fell on deaf ears.)

So I began using my $10 blender for sauces and soups. At first,  everything seemed fine, I could still use my old Cuisinart to grate cheese, shred potatoes for hash browns and slice veggies — that is, until, rather suddenly, one day a big chunk of plastic to the locking mechanism on the machine’s lid flew off as it was grating some cheddar. The machine immediately stopped and so did my dreams of fast, easy cooking. I could not afford to replace the machine at the time. I was smack dab in the middle of launching my own writing business, in the most competitive writing market ever and the worst economy since the depression. Convenience was a luxury my family could NOT afford.

My third birthday with the cake my momma made.

The Cooking Lesson

What I learned from this experience is that poverty is something that can keep your cooking lean, mean and unpretentious. I grew up poor. My mom used the same dented, banged up and chipped pans and bowls my entire childhood. She never knew anything about Henkels or Wusthof knives, she didn’t use specialty avocado tools like those made by OXO, she didn’t own a food processor or an ice cream maker. There were no ricers, salad spinners or meat grinders.

My mother rolled and cut her homemade egg noodles by hand and then hung them on string throughout the house to let them air dry. The fanciest tool in her kitchen was an old stainless steel french fry cutter she picked up at an antique store around the corner from our apartment. She had only four cookbooks to her name — 2 classics (one of these a Betty Crocker), 2 obscure (including one that was just a collection of army wives’ recipes from my dad’s troop in Germany).

None of it mattered — what she didn’t have in tools, she made up for in tenacity, skill, love for her family and her love for cooking. Her repertoire included many Mexican favorites (she grew up in Los Alamitos, California) like chile rellanos and enchiladas, as well as dishes like lasagna, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, eggplant parmigiana, chicken and dumplings (with those homemade egg noodles) and dark chocolate satin pie (I swear, I requested this for my birthday every year for like 10 years!)

My mom’s kitchen tools may not have been worthy of the likes of Gordon Ramsay, but they made great meals, just the same.

Without the fancy doohickeys and time-saving devices, you learn how to cut, grate, chop and pulverize with much more efficiency — real chef skills. You learn that even a $10 blender can help take the place of a $150 food processor for soup,  sauce, and quinoa cupcake batter and that a cute and willing hubby can grate cheese just as fast.

My new baby!

Tickled Pink: Welcome Home New Besties

Still, when I received my advance for the book I’m working on, among the first purchases I made were those to replace these kitchen convenience items. After much research (looking at competing brands, reading reviews and talking to fellow food bloggers) I PURCHASED the new Cuisinart 12 cup Elite food processor in hot pink, the matching blender, and a Cuisinart toaster/convection oven.

I didn’t set out to buy Cuisinart again but when the feedback you get is this resounding (and the color is so sassy!) you just have to go for it. The great thing about the fact that I purchased these myself is that my readers (you guys) will know with 100% certainty that I have no feelings of obligation towards this brand and that over the course of the time that I use these on my blog — I will give you the straight dope on whether the purchases were worth it or not (so far it’s been bliss.)

Mama’s lil helper

Mama Needs a Little Help in the Kitchen

Why’d I go back to the tools? Because, when you’re busy juggling it all — a little help and a little speed are a welcome reprieve.  But the lessons I learned by first not having, then having and losing, will remain with me as a cook. They are the same lessons I take with me in life:

  • You can do a lot with a little
  • With a little ingenuity, a dash of commitment and fueled by love you can make magic happen
  • It’s not the tools, it’s the heart
  • Money can buy ease and convenience but not true joy

Tell me what your favorite tool in the kitchen is and what you love to make with it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Cooking!

It’s mate. . .

Marx Foods Makes Me Go Berserk! Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

21 Nov

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto w/spinach and brie stuffed chicken breasts

As a food blogger (and 1/12 of  The Virtual Potluck (VP)) I get to try out new foods, cookbooks and appliances from time to time for free — for a foodie like me, this is some kind of perk! Sometimes those perks are a little better than others and sometimes those perks go a little berserk.

Recently, the VP was approached by Marx Foods who, though based in our soggy sister city to the north –Seattle, I had never run across before. We agreed to let Marx put together a selection of random ingredients for us to try out in our own signature recipes this Thanksgiving. After perusing their site, I was excited to see what they would send us.

Wanna see what the other 11 foodies came up with? Visit our Host Page for this event and follow all the action on Twitter #virtualpotluck!

What I found, when I received the tiny brown box, was a menagerie of seemingly unrelated items, packaged in small quantities. Upon opening the box, I was hit full force by the sweet sensual aroma of dried Madagascar (bourbon) vanilla beans (they sent two small bags — Yay! extra vanilla!)  I confess, I couldn’t stop sniffing the bags– it was addictive!

Besides the glorious vanilla beans, which made their way into banana smoothies, raspberry thumbprint tea cookies, whipped cream filling in my decadent Mt. Hood cupcakes, and a bevy of other dishes and drinks (watch for them later in the week!) was that my box contained 2 deeply cherry-toned, dried Guajillo chilis, 9 dried fiery Habaneros, a palm full of dried porcini mushrooms, a slightly larger handful of dried Maitake mushrooms, and 1 cup of Italian Vialone Nano Rice — only THE best rice for making a saucy risotto!

While I was excited by the amazing quality of the ingredients (this stuff is top-notch — their quality control must be super sticklers — there was  not a bad, crumpled or spotted item in the bunch), I was sort of sad to see that I had so little,  in terms of quantity, to work with. We were all creating brand new recipes from scratch here and having so little of each ingredient, meant the ultimate test of cook’s skill, I was working without a net — I had to get this recipe right in one-shot! Could I do it? What ingredients should I choose? What wouldn’t be a lame cop-out — surely just whipping up some homemade vanilla bean cupcakes was too easy. What to do? What to do? And then it happened ~ all that thinking ~ all that pressure made me pop a spring!

So what did I do?I take that perfectly wonderful perk — and go berserk!

For those of you that do not know the proper definition of the word berserk let me present it to you now, courtesy of Merriam Webster:

1:  an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable

2:  one whose actions are recklessly defiant
Though this would be a frenzied battle (and one in which I would, indeed, prove to be invulnerable) I am NOT ancient (no matter what my 3-year-old thinks) nor am I — Scandinavian. I was however, in light of the short supply, recklessly defiant in my own kitchen. (Somebody call the authorities — I might just run with scissors next!)
I decided to use all of my supplied ingredients (each and every one but not all quantities provided) in one dish.  So I said it — out loud, for the first time, as a joke — “I should make spicy vanilla mushroom risotto.”  As the words escaped my lips, I laughed but inside a little voice said, quietly, “Why not?”
The next time I said it, was in a Facebook chat with my VP cookmates and as I typed the words, the little voice said, “You should do it ~ it would be a great challenge.” A few moments later, I found myself typing in “I’m not kidding. I’m gonna do it.”
And so — Can I get a drumroll, please? I present to you, my GrooVy Readership:  Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto
A few things you should know before you’re too impressed with me:
  1. I am NOT a risotto rookie. Do not try this at home unless you have mastered the art of risotto, first. I learned how great risotto should taste in Italy but I actually learned to make my first risotto well before that, from Nigella Lawson (or I should say from her fabulous cookbook, Nigella Bites, it just makes you feel as if Nigella is standing right next to you, chatting away as you cook together. So, NO. . .I do not actually know Nigella but I Love her just the same!)
  2. I remembered once seeing a recipe floating around the interwebs for Ostrich Steaks with Mushroom Vanilla Sauce, though I’ve never tasted, attempted, or known anyone who has tasted or attempted this dish — just knowing that it existed gave me the courage to dive off this recipe’s cliff.
  3. I am a wuss when it comes to heat (heartburn issues), so I was extremely happy that one of the peppers I was sent were the beautifully mild and sweet Guajillo (often used for tamales and mole’ dishes) and the small but fiery, Habanero (whose scale is only about 1 rung above cayenne’s in terms of heat units on the Scoville — it’s hot, but not Ghost pepper hot!)
  4. We all did NOT get the same ingredients. True — we all got vanilla and the same rice and we all received mushrooms and peppers but the combination of those peppers and mushrooms varied. The ingredients I received really lent themselves well to this dish.

The result was a distinctly flavored and pleasantly complex risotto — one unlike either I or my hubby has ever experienced. The flavor combination itself, was surprisingly, autumnal and very nearly addictive. (We devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day and he has already asked me to make it again.)

Moral of the story: It pays to take risks in the kitchen — all the best chefs do — you should, too! So the next time you have some seemingly random ingredients lying around your kitchen, I hope you think to yourself,  “Maybe I should go berserk and take a risk!”

Happy Cooking!

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

  • 2 small or 1 large shallot(s)
  • 2 ribs celery (cleaned and de-stringed)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of dried Porcini mushrooms (rehydrated, reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1/4 cup of dried Maitake mushrooms (rehydrated,reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1  cup Italian Vialone Nano Rice (you can sub Arborio)
  • 1 quart chicken stock (a little more or less depending on your heat and stirring action)
  • 1 med dried Guajillo pepper (rehydrated and de-seeded, ribs removed)
  • 2 small dried orange Habanero chilis (rehydrated and de-seeded)
  • 1 vanilla bean (scraped completely)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, plus more, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Good grating of fresh ground black pepper
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

Dice (or process) the shallots, onion and celery. Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan, adding the shallot, onion and celery mixture. Cook until softened and transparent (about 5 minutes), making sure it doesn’t stick. Drain the mushrooms (you can soak them together in hot water for 30 minutes) and reserve the resulting liquor. Chop the mushrooms and add them to your saute pan. Add the liquor to an already simmering saucepan of chicken broth, that is just waiting to be added to the rice, one ladleful at a time.

With gloves or well- oiled hands and proper eye protection, remove the peppers from their water (where they have been rehydrating for the last 30 minutes as well) and slice off their stems, cutting them open to de-seed and remove the ribs  (this reduces the heat — if you like more heat, leave them in.) Once the peppers are cleaned, dice these as well and add them to the sauteing mixture. Once it’s all been incorporated, mix in your rice, stirring to give it a good coating of flavor and oil.

Begin adding your ladleful of simmering stock to the rice, continually stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful continuing to stir. Continue to do this until your rice is al dente and saucy but not too thick and sticky. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to augment with additional hot water, if your stock runs out before completion.

Mix the scraped vanilla bean, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl or mug along with the grated parm and pepper. When the risotto done – the rice is no longer chalky but is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed but is not starchy – remove  it from the heat and add your vanilla, egg, cream mixture, folding it into the risotto along with the butter and salt, to taste. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with Parmesan.

Serves 2 to 4 by itself or as a side dish can work for 4 to 8.

I served mine with a simple spinach and brie stuffed chicken breast, seasoned only with sea salt and olive oil, because I wanted the risotto’s flavors to be the focus, with the chicken complementing its deep, rich flavors but ideally, you’ll serve yours with turkey this Thanksgiving!

Want to win some booty from Marx Foods?

Some of the Virtual Potluck members are giving away ingredient samples. Visit the host page and don’t forget to visit ALL of the blogs. There will be some things given away (different items on different sites),  some discounts  (how about 10% off your Marx Foods purchase, any time between November 21 and 27. Just enter the word POTLUCK into the Coupon Code field at checkout for 10 % off everything.) There’s also plenty of great recipes and fun to be had on Twitter–so make sure you check it all out!

A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Two Ways

12 Nov

Growing up, I was never much into squash of any kind. My mom seemed to favor zucchini and occasionally, yellow crookneck squash. She was passionate about fried zucchini (as was my middle sister) but I hated it! I didn’t mind the breading but when I got to the center and was met with the taste of squishy, squashy bitterness — ugh, I just had to pass. I remember, many a time, just eating the breading and then tucking the squash into a napkin, smooshing it smaller with each new piece added, in order to hide enough, that my mom would let me leave the dinner table. (I did something similar with the eggplant in another of my mother’s favorite dishes — eggplant parmigiana. Ick.)

The Picky Eater

Flash forward to today. I am a mom now, of a picky and precocious 3 year old. He is a child who loved his veggies before this last year — though, he was never too much into the green lettucy stuff. He used to love eating such a variety of good-for-him foods like broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, avocados, beans and sweet potatoes.

In fact, for a while we thought he was going to be a natural vegetarian because he wouldn’t eat meat (except for nitrate-free hot dogs.) But, alas those days are over and my pediatrician says it’s fairly normal for toddlers to give up the “bitterness” of veggies at this age, opting for the sweetness of fruits instead. (More TRIVIA: It has to do with our cave man survival instinct and the fact that, were we in the wild, our little ones might pluck something poisonous from a bush or vine and pop it into their mouths. Which means, at this stage in life, they are naturally averse to bitter flavors for their own protection.)

To top it all off, as much as I want him to eat his veggies, when he finally agrees to eat some (through sheer bribery or threats) I can’t stand seeing that look on his face when he’s chewing something he really hates. I know it all too well, the feeling like you might just throw up a little in your mouth. It’s at this point, I usually whisk the plate away and thank him for at least trying whatever it was.

UGH! Motherhood.

As I wait this stage out, I can’t seem to sit idly by and give up on him getting good nutrition. I fret about it and I find ways to sneak vegetables (and even some fruits) into the handful of foods he seems hell bent on eating each and every day. Noodles, it turns out, are the king of foods (along with pizza, burritos, and tuna sandwiches)  and I strike a balance by giving him whole grain brown rice noodles and Barilla’s Plus line of noodles that are full of a variety of whole grains and legumes, as well as Omega 3’s (and no they are not sponsoring my blog or paying me in any way to tout them — I just like ’em!)

So imagine my glee, when one of my favorite food bloggers (and one of my Virtual Potluck cohorts) FarmgirlGourmet posted her recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash & Brie Mac & Cheese with Smoky Bacon. It was as if the heavens had opened up and shined their golden butternutty light down upon my pasta. Yes! A new way to sneak a super healthful veg (TRIVIA: though considered veg in cooking, in actuality it’s a fruit) into my little one’s diet — and it comes on the holy grail of food for him — the noodle!

Creamy butternut mac and cheese

The dish is sweet, creamy and cheesy and was a big hit at our house.  I highly recommend you head on over to her blog for that recipe and the other bountiful ways in which she has been using up the butternut squash from her garden. We ate it for dinner and lunch the next day and it only used up half of a roasted butternut squash and half of the brie and cream cheese I’d purchased, so I decided to use those ingredients again for lunch the following day for soup, baguette with brie, and a wilted kale salad.

A little bistro flair at home

This bright idea was great for mom and dad (felt like upscale bistro fare for a weekday lunch) but the kiddo was not buying into the soup (he only likes — you guessed it — noodle soup!)  — which is why, I boiled up some more noodles and ladeled on some of the soup, topping it with cheddar cheese for a quick and dirty version of FarmGirl’s mac.) We paired this with some fresh strawberries for a well-rounded meal that any toddler will adore.

Soup Prep

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 an oven roasted butternut squash (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pds)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth (depending on consistency you like)
  • 1 small onion diced carmelized in a saute pan with 1Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (to taste and heat you desire)

Saute the onion in butter, caramelizing it lightly. Pour into blender or food processor. Scoop the roasted butternut squash out of it’s skin and into the blender, adding enough liquid to allow it to begin blending (you may need to do this in batches depending on blender or processor size.) Add the cream cheese and continue to blend, adding the additional broth as needed until the soup is smooth, creamy and the desired thickness you prefer. Then pour into a deep saucepan heating it on low, as you season to taste with cayenne and  salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 heaping bowls of soup. Serve with toasty baguette (we like Trader Joe’s parbaked whole grain baguette) and the wilted kale salad below for a warming taste of fall this holiday season.

Accoutrements, or in plainspeak -- sides

Super Simple Wilted Kale Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano

  • 1 bunch regular, lacinto or red kale
  • 1/2  to 3/4 tsp sea salt (depending on your tastes)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can change the vinegar to match your meal — apple works well with the squash here)
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano + extra for topping

Clean and destem your kale, patting it dry (with paper towels.) Cut or rip the cleaned kale into bite sized pieces or  ribbons. Add olive oil and salt. Next take your freshly washed and dried hands and work the salt into the kale by grabbing handfuls and kneading the kale tightly in your fist. Continuing throughout the entire bowl of kale. After it’s all mixed and the kale has significantly reduced in size (a few minutes) add apple cider vinegar to the mix and toss. Then, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes as you prep other items for your meal, this allows the kale to wilt, softening the leaves for easy eating and toning  down the bitterness. Add freshly grated parmesan reggiano and pepper to taste, tossing to mix. Serve topped with more freshly grated parmesan reggiano.

We love this with any kind of soup or as a side dish with chicken or beef. You can also use this recipe and add it to roasted yukon gold or new potatoes tossed with a little tahini and lemon for an out of this world hearty, warm salad.

Happy Eating!