Friday, December 28, 2012

A Hearty and Meatless #PROJECT RECIPE Dinner

I'm a huge fan of the Meatless Monday campaign. With the right recipe, eating meatless one day a week is a win-win... win, win.

It's cheaper. Going meatless one day a week stretches your grocery budget. Vegetables, especially humble seasonal vegetables like acorn squash, are always going to be cheaper than even the most economical cuts of meat.

It's healthy. Eating a vegetarian meal even one day a week has huge health benefits. Here's a link from the Mayo Clinic that points out that plant-based meals that emphasize vegetables, whole grains and legumes are higher in fiber, vitamins and nutrients. In the case of this meal, we got a good dose of beta carotene and fiber.

It's good for the planet. According to the U.N., the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all of the cars, trucks and motor vehicles in the world. Even switching out one meal a week makes a huge difference.

And with hearty dinners like this one of roasted acorn squash and sweet corn risotto, the meat on the plate isn't even missed.

The recipe for the roasted acorn squash is from the Food Gal Blog. What grabbed me about this recipe was that it is from Chris Cosentino's new cookbook, Chris Cosentino Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal. Chris Cosentino is the chef at Incanto in San Francisco, and is probably most famous for bringing offal back to modern cuisine. It might be surprising to some that this recipe doesn't call for some sort of organ meat or charcuterie, but I think this is California Cuisine at it's best: fresh, seasonal, simple.

Changes I made to the recipe: I substituted goat cheese for the stracciatella. I couldn't find the specialty cheese, or even burrata, which was the suggested substitute.  I think you can't ever go wrong with goat cheese.

Here is the link to the original recipe and post by the Food Gal. Here's how I made it different:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Sage and Goat Cheese (Serves 2)

1 medium acorn squash
kosher salt and pepper
1 oz. fresh sage
extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tb butter
a splash of white wine
2 oz. of goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds (save them to roast if you like). Pour a little olive oil on the inside of the squash and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put 1 cup of water and the bay leaf in a 9x13 casserole dish. Pick the sage leaves from the stems and reserve the leaves. Put the stems in the casserole, and then place the squash skin-side down in the casserole. Roast the squash until it's fork tender, about 1 hour. Remove from the casserole and let cool enough to handle. Cut each half in half lengthwise and peel. In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until it begins to foam a bit. Add the sage leaves and fry stirring frequently until fragrant and crispy, about 3 minutes. Keep heat on medium to medium high and be careful not to burn the butter. Remove the sage leaves and set aside. Brown the squash pieces in the butter until nice and seared and brown on all sides. Remove the squash from the skillet and place on plates. Add a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan, stirring up browned bits from the skillet. Top each piece of squash with crumbled goat cheese, then pour over wine mixture from skillet. Top with fried sage pieces.

Project Recipe verdict: I'd make it again. It's one of those seasonal dishes that you'd probably only have once or maybe twice a year, depending on availability of acorn squash and how well you like it. It's a nice and easy way to use a vegetable that I don't see too many recipes for.

For a side dish, I made sweet corn risotto, on a whim actually. I was thinking about what I could make with the squash at work, and came up with this idea for a sweet and salty risotto that might pair well with the squash. I figured the squash would be sweet like other winter squash, but this acorn squash wasn't really sweet at all--which was fine by me. The risotto turned out wonderful, nonetheless. I knew that I had some fresh corn frozen and some corn stock. The risotto came together easily.

Sweet Corn Risotto (Serves 4)

1 cup arborio rice
4 cups corn stock* (see below)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tb butter
2 tb extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 tb minced garlic
2 cups corn
1 tb kosher salt (if you use store-bought stock that is not reduced sodium, omit the salt)
1/3 cup grated parmesean
more grated parmesean for topping

In medium sauce pan, heat the corn stock and vegetable stock. In a skillet, melt the butter and add the oil. Saute the onion until it begins to soften and becomes translucent. Add the garlic and saute another minute more.

Add the rice and stir until all the rice is coated in the oil and butter, and begins to get translucent on tips. Add 2 cups of stock and the corn, and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the skillet.

Cook at a steady simmer, stirring frequently until the liquid is almost absorbed, and add another cup of stock at a time until each is absorbed and the rice is tender. You may not need all the stock and you may need to add some water to finish cooking the stock. Cook the rice to desired tenderness. Some like their risotto al dente. You'll need to taste it along the way (oh, darn...) As a rule, I stop cooking it when it feels like the middle of the grain of rice doesn't have anymore crunch. You can tell when it's done by the texture. Remove from heat and add 1/3 cup of parmeseam cheese.

You can also add another tablespoon of butter here if you like, but it's not necessary. Stir well until the cheese (and butter) melts. Serve immediately and top with more grated cheese.

Last summer, I made several batches of corn stock when I was making corn jelly. I only needed a couple cups of it for the corn jelly, but you might as well keep what's leftover rather than throw it out. I have used it in place of water for soups and this risotto, for some extra flavor.

Corn Stock (makes 2-3 quarts)

6 ears fresh corn
enough water to cover the corn if the corn was in the pot (3 ish quarts)
bay leaf
pinch of kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the 6 ears of corn. Boil until about 5 to 8 minutes, so that it is just tender. (If you're going to eat the corn right away, I boil it slightly longer, maybe 10 minutes, until it is completely tender when pierced with a fork). Remove the ears from the water and let them cool until they can be handled. Stand the ears up on the stem end on a large cutting board or in a large bowl, and with a sharp knife, cut the corn off the cob by making one long cut along the cob down the lenght of the ear. Repeat this all the way around the ear. I freeze the corn in 2 cup containers for soups and casseroles. Place the corn cobs back in the pot. Add the pinch of salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer steadily 45 minutes to an hour. When you're finished, the liquid should be slightly more milky looking. Remove the cobs. You can strain the liquid at this point, but I don't. I like the little bits of corn left in the liquid. Freeze in one-quart containers for soups, etc. I have used corn stock mixed with another stock in clam chowder, vegetable soup, and corn chowder.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#PROJECT RECIPE: Mac and Cheese with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Bacon

Ahh, mac and cheese. The king of comfort food.

Seriously, is there a single solitary human who doesn't like it? I'm not talking about the stuff that comes in a cardboard box with neon orange powder cheese. I'm talking about the real deal: the gooey, cheesy, toasted-corners, carbo-loaded goodness that is homemade mac and cheese.

Like this.

This recipe for Mac and Cheese with Balsamic-Roasted Tomates & Country Bacon comes from the Local Kitchen Blog. I think I stumbled on this blog from a Dark Days Challenge or something. I can't remember. I've been reading it for a few years. Kaela is so lucky to be living in New York's Hudson Valley, where so many delicious veggies are grown. Her blog is filled with beautiful pictures and mouth-watering recipes for local and seasonal dishes.

This recipe begged me to print it because anytime "bacon" and "mac and cheese" are in the same sentence how can you not try it? The Hubs loves mac and cheese, and I love bacon. Win-win, right?

Changes I made to the recipe: I didn't have fresh tomatoes (it's winter), so I used sun-dried tomatoes. I rehydrated them for a few minutes in some warm water so they wouldn't be too chewy in the mac and cheese. And I plum forgot to put balsamic vinegar on them. Also, I didn't have smoked mozzarella. I had about half a cup of regular mozzarella and some monterey jack cheese.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. Like for real. I'm going to write this recipe down in my spiral bound recipe book that also has recipes from the Hubs's mother and grandmothers. That's how much I liked this one. I think I'll even write it down just like I made it. It might be good with fresh tomatoes, but the sun-dried tomatoes in it were little tangy bites mixed in with the salty bacony bits and the rich cheese. It was a nice combo that I think wouldn't be as pronounced if you used fresh tomatoes.

It was super-easy to put together. Although, I hated that you had to use so many pots. You can wash the dishes while it's baking. Or do yoga like I did. It made me feel a little better about all those warm gooey calories.

I'll let you follow the link to get the recipe. Maybe you'll fall in love with Kaela's blog, The Local Kitchen, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Restaurant Redo: Vodka Pizza

A few weeks ago, when I visited New York City, I had New York style pizza in Little Italy at Pomodoro Restaurant. It was so simple, but so delicious. It got me thinking that I could make it at home. The Hubs and I make pasta with vodka sauce as our Valentine's Day tradition, so by the time I left the restaurant, I had this pizza halfway made at home in my mind.

The pizza dough recipe I use makes a huge pizza, so I usually divide it in two and make two smaller pizzas since it's just the two of us. After I made the kale pizza last week, I wrapped the other half of the dough in plastic wrap and put it in a ziplock bag in the fridge. I planned on using it the next night, or at the most, two nights from then. But, alas, life happens. It was a crazy week with plenty of errands to run, Christmas revelry, and evening meetings. I didn't have a single night at home all week. And my dough just sat there patiently and sadly in it's baggie.

Ya remember the last post about how I broke my pizza crust fail streak? Yeah, well. Dough karma got me. It must have been because it was in the refrigerator for a week, because the kale pizza crust was awesome.  Sadly, this crust did not get perfectly crisp. It was a little soggy in the middle. Mental note that dough will not keep seven days in the fridge.

But the pizza was pretty tasty otherwise. I kicked it up a notch with some stuff I had on hand in addition to simply vodka sauce and fresh mozzarella that the original from Pomodoro had on it. I had roasted some cloves of elephant garlic a few days earlier when I had the oven on for something else. Seriously, if you're going to be baking something around 350 for more than 15 minutes or so, just throw some garlic in to roast. It barely takes up any space, and it'll keep in the fridge for a week or so. I also had bought a big container of organic fresh basil that was marked down for quick sale, and I had a handful of fresh basil leaves left after I made a batch of pesto for the freezer.

The pizza was pretty quick to put together. The vodka sauce recipe we use is from Rachel Ray. It's called "You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta", which I think is adorable. Spread vodka sauce on the pizza, top with basil, roasted garlic and bocconcini mozzarella. I baked it at 500 degrees for 15 minutes, like the kale pizza.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

#PROJECT RECIPE : Crispy Kale and Winter Squash Pizza

I heart homemade pizza. Pizza dough was my first foray into yeast-leavened dough. Using yeast to get dough to rise used to intimidate me. What if I couldn't get it to rise? I figured since it was going to be flat for pizza anyway, what the heck. As it turns out, it's not really as hard as I thought.

The last few times I've made pizza though, I've had trouble with the crust. It doesn't get crispy, and sometimes it's still right down soggy in the middle. I figured it was because I wasn't using a pizza stone. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I'll never make great pizza unless I invest in one.

However, this is the recipe that broke my crust fail streak. I think I wasn't baking it hot enough and for long enough. Let me just say that I never follow a recipe for pizzas once I get the crust made. It's pretty simple, right? Put some toppings on the pizza crust and bake. Turns out I just needed a little direction on the baking part.

This recipe is from the Parents Need to Eat Too blog. Even though I don't have any children, I still like to read blogs like this. I've been interested nutrition for a while, and one of the biggest issues of our generation is the obesity epidemic. I read a lot about childhood obesity, partly because these issues interest me, and partly because of my job. One of the things I do in my nine-to-fiver is monitor and research health policy. Obesity is at the forefront of every conversation about public health and the role government should play in addressing it. Debbie Koenig's blog addresses the issue of childhood obesity by taking the focus that, like language or people skills, eating is something that children learn from their parents. Raising children that prefer and eat healthy foods can combat the childhood obesity rate. Her blog is an inspiration for parents and non-parents both, demonstrating that healthy food is also delicious.

This recipe jumped out at me because of two words: "kale" and "pizza." Kale is my new favorite vegetable. I'll admit, I had maybe only eaten it once before I bought some from the Monroe Farm Market last fall. I don't know why I was denying myself this complex, bittersweet superfood!

Changes I made to the recipe: I substituted goat cheese for the cheddar cheese and used butternut squash instead of delicata.

The PROJECT RECIPE verdict: It's a keeper!

Here's the recipe as I adapted it:

1/2 recipe pizza dough (see below)
1 small bunch of kale, ribs removed (I used a mix of baby red and tuscan kale)
1 ish Tb of balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1 cup roasted winter squash, cut into flatter chunks
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Spray a  baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray (and spray your hands, too). I spread the pizza dough by pressing it around the pan until it's 12 inches or so across. It doesn't necessary need to be round, this pizza was a square. Tear the kale leaves into bite size pieces and place in a bowl. Toss with balsamic vinegar, a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, until all pieces are covered. Spread on the pizza dough, then top with the winter squash chunks. Finally, top with goat cheese crumbles and another light drizzle of olive oil.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five Gifts Foodies Will Love

I love, love, love this time of year. But I hate shopping for Christmas gifts. Wanna know why? Because I see stuff I want everywhere. And it's on sale! And I have coupons! But I don't want to blow my shopping budget on myself. That would be rude. It is agony.

So, I've decided that I will scratch the itch to buy these things by offering them up in a list to you. And if any of you are looking for a gift for your favorite food snob--wink, wink. Just kidding. Kinda.

No really. If you want to buy a gift for someone who likes to eat good food or is learning to cook at home, that person would definitely be thrilled with these kinds of things.

1. Numbero uno on my list is this Iberico Ham package from Food52's offers page. I am seriously thinking about buying this for myself. Iberico ham is definitely on my foodie bucket list.

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What is so special about Iberico ham to charge $59 for, you may be asking. Well, Iberico ham is considered the best in the world. It is a Spanish product made from free-range pigs that roam the forests of a specific region and feast on only acorns and such. And, to add to the allure and mystique of this Spanish pork, until only recently, it was outlawed in the United States.

This package is ideal because there are several different products included, so you can sample the meat in different forms. Actually, there are a number of neat offerings on Food52's Shop. It would be a great place to shop for a foodie on your list.

2. Anyone on your list who might have expressed an interest in canning would love a Ball Canning Kit, that includes everything needed to wade into the waters of home food preservation through hot-water bath canning. This is a good deal for all the items shown at $55.

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 I was tickled to death to get one of these kits for Christmas a few years ago. Now my larder is lined with neat rows of jams, salsas, and fresh veggies that are there to enjoy year round. Water bath canning is so easy once you get started. There are only a few rules to keep in mind, and for that, you can add a copy of the Ball Blue Book to your gift. This book is the absolute authority on home canning, and has been so for more than 100 years.

And if you gift this to someone, you might receive a gift basket next year of home-canned goodies from the lucky recipient. So, it's like a gift you get back.

3. Who doesn't know someone who loves beer? With the explosion in popularity of craft and microbrews, everyone has a friend who's curious about making their own brew. The Brooklyn Brew Shop makes it easy for a novice to jump in with their complete kits.
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I first heard of this shop on a documentary about beer in America that I watched a couple years ago. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the documentary, but the cute couple behind Brooklyn Brew Shop and their simple, straightforward attitude toward homebrewing stuck with me. I've bought beer kits before, like Mr. Beer brand, that have a powder that you just mix with hot water and leave sitting and that's basically the beer. This one is different because the ingredients you get are raw-er (if that's a word), meaning that you get the grains that you have to cook down and make the wort and take some extra steps. It's a little truer to the actual process of making beer, I think. By the way, my secret ambition is to be a brewmaster. Wouldn't that be the coolest job?

4.  One thing that drives me insane are bad kitchen knives. Why do they even sell them??? I don't care what your income level is, there are plenty of decent knives out there at every price point. Sometimes people don't know and think any old kitchen knife is as good as any other. But for the love of GOD, buying a knife set at the Dollar General store or similar retailer is NOT acceptable.

If you know someone who has a set of these dastardly devices, do them a favor and get them a decent set. Or even one or two good ones, if you don't want to spring for a whole set. Take advantage of sales on kitchen items at department stores, or even big box stores. You don't need to buy good knives from a fancy place like Williams Sonoma. Top brands include J. A. Henckles, Wustof, and Victorinox. These are great, but expensive. If you find a good deal on them, grab them--and one for yourself. But you can find decent sets at places like Target, which carry mid-level brands like Faberwear and Calphalon.

My set came from my wedding registry at Target, and it's a Chicago Cutlery set. It wasn't super expensive, and I'm satisfied with it. They are sturdy and there's a variety of knives in the set. It has a sharpening stick which is nice. The most important thing about knives, is to keep them sharp, sharp, sharp. You're more likely to cut yourself badly with a dull knife than you are with a sharp one, because the knife doesn't go where you intend it to go when you're cutting, and you have to force it sometimes. That is how people cut themselves--trust me, I know.

5. And finally, fancy-pants barware always pleases the hard to shop for set. I am drooling over the gorgeous pieces from the Target + Neiman Marcus Collection. You can give someone a really nice set at a fraction of the price you'd actually pay for it at Neiman Marcus. And the lucky recipient can toast the New Year with some seriously luxurious looking barware.

Altuzzara Shaker and Double Old Fashioned glasses, set of 4, both 49.99 each

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Hopefully you've all been good enough this year for Santa to bring you some of these things. At least, I'm hoping I have.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#PROJECT RECIPE: Blueberry Muffins from Whole Living

You may remember last month, when I promised to tackle my growing stack of recipes printed from the Internet. I promised to make five per month--which if I didn't add any to the stack (I already have, I can't help myself...) would have me working my way through the stack in approximately 16 years.

For December, I've got one down and four to go! I made a blueberry health muffin recipe I printed from Whole Living Magazine's website a while back.

The thing that caught my interest about this recipe was the wheat germ. I have some wheat germ, and I don't know what to do with it. I order my flour and cornmeal from a local mill, Reed's Mill Flours in Second Creek, West Virginia. At one point, the guy who runs the mill sent me some samples of wheat germ, wheat bran and buckwheat bran with my order. He included some recipes for the samples for breakfast cereals, but I've never tried those. Wheat germ is super-healthy, being a good source of fiber, folate and several nutrients.

Changes I made to the recipe: I accidently used a whole cup of milk instead of 3/4 a cup, and it was whole milk, not 2%. Also, I always substitute apple sauce for oil in muffin and quick bread recipes. You save yourself some calories and fat by doing that, and you really can't tell the difference. Instead of brown sugar, I use Florida Crystals Demerara Sugar. It's less processed than regular brown sugar.

Did you know that to make brown sugar molasses is added to refined white sugar? But molasses is a by-product in the refining process of making sugar. So basically, molasses is removed from the raw sugar then added back to it to make brown sugar. Makes no sense to me. Plus, I love that Florida Crystals is certified carbon-free, meaning the production of sugar is completely carbon neutral.

I make muffins quite a bit because the Hubs and I like them for breakfast. This is probably a recipe I'll make again. They actually taste pretty sweet, although they have less sugar in them than my regular muffin recipe. They are slightly higher in calories, though, but not by much. My LoseIt! app tells me they are each 169 calories, based on the way I made them.

The PROJECT RECIPE verdict: this one's a keeper!

Blueberry Muffins with Wheat Germ adapted from Whole Living Magazine

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used stone ground winter wheat flour)
1/2 cup plus 2 Tb wheat germ
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar (I used Florida Crystals natural cane sugar)
1 Tb coarse sanding sugar (I used Florida Crystals demerara sugar)
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup apple sauce (or 1/4 cup canola oil)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blueberries (I used frozen)
1/4 cup old fashioned oats

Spread wheat germ on a rimmed baking sheet and place under a broiler on low for 5 minutes, or until you begin to smell it. Check it and shake the pan to mix it around. Broil a it until it browns a bit. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, 1/2 cup of the toasted wheat germ, baking powder, and salt. Add milk, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Gently mix only until mixture is uniformly moistened. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter into a 12-cup muffin tin coated with non-stick cooking spray. Mix remaining wheat germ, oats and coarse sugar, and sprinkle about 1 tsp on each muffin. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

#MixedCon and the time I got to meet Duff Goldman

Last weekend, I snuck away to the picturesque Mountain Lake Resort in Pembroke, Virginia, and completely immersed myself into food blogging at the Mixed Conference. It was so awesome, I didn't want to come home. I just wanted to stay there eating cookies and drinking cocktails, hanging out with my new blogging friends and watching movies.

I've never been to a food blogger conference before, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but I can't imagine an event being any higher than this one was on the "wow" meter.

It was hosted by two lovlies, Paula from Bell' alimento and Susan from She's Becoming Doughmesstic. I'd never met Paula before, but her down-to-earth fun attitude was infectious. I kept thinking all weekend about how much she reminded me of a friend from high school I played on the basketball team with. I've known Susan for a few years through a mutual friend, and she's been trying to talk me into getting onto the food blogger conference circuit for the past couple years. I can't thank her enough for talking me into registering for this conference. I'm totally drinkin' the kool-aid now.

I was pumped to go the conference to learn how to do this better. But the dizzying array of prizes and giveaways that Susan and Paula put together didn't hurt either. Oh, yeah... and the chance to decorate cakes with Duff Goldman. I'm serious.

Upon arriving at the resort, each registrant got a swag bag bursting at the seams with goodies from sponsors such as OXO, Dixie Crystals, KitchenAid, Way Better Snacks, Hershey's, Dreamfields Pasta, Roland Foods, Duff Goldman, California Raisins, and the like. Score!

Friday night, there was a KitchenAid "Mixer", where the bloggers could mingle with each other over Captain Morgan cocktails supplied by Diageo, the importer of the rum, as well as many other brands. In the weeks leading up to the conference, Dixie Crystals sponsored a Bake-It-Forward cookie contest, in which bloggers could submit their best cookie recipes using Dixie Crystals sugar. Two finalists were chosen, and at the mixer, we got to sample the two finalists' recipes and vote for our favorite. Dixie Crystals would award a cool $500 to the winner, so a lot was riding on our tastebuds! Congrats to Aimee Broussard for her Pecan Praline King Cake Cookies recipe--a nod to her home state, Louisiana!

After the mixer, the fun continued with a Midnight Mac and Cheese party, hosted by Dreamfields Pasta, that featured another winning recipe submitted by a blogger. Dreamfields had requested bloggers to submit their best mac and cheese recipes, and the winner walked away with a case of Dreamfields pasta and $200. Ali from Gimme Some Oven won the hearts and stomachs of Dreamfields with her roasted veggie mac and cheese. It was divine! We all got to try it at the party, while we watched "The Shining." I love that movie, but it was a little creepy watching it in an old hotel that also happened to be closed for the season.

Saturday morning, we started early, learning food photography from one of the best--Bree Grossman of Baked Bree. Since I know next to nothing about any kind of photography, I was soaking it all up like a sponge and taking notes furiously. I think this was probably my favorite session because I learned SO much. I've already started playing around with some of the techniques she went over, and even using my iPhone camera, I think I'm getting way better pictures.

We had a session on food styling from fashion stylist-turned professional food styler, Tami Hardeman from the Running with Tweezers. There were so many tips she shared that, once I was hearing them make perfect sense, but just had never really dawned on me before. She addressed what to do with brown food--which is usually something delicious, but not that pretty. Some of the info was probably a little advanced for me, but what I took away from the presentation will definitely help me now, and down the road as my little blog grows!

Next, I got to decorate Christmas cookies with Marian from Sweetopia. It was a hands on session, and I love that. Not only did I learn a few tricks, I (well, Jeremy, mostly) got to eat my homework!

I had never worked with royal icing before, but I'm excited to try this for a cookie exchange I'll be going to next week. The session was sponsored by Real Butter, and we walked away with a little kit to take home with cookie cutters and wilton icing bags and tips.

I saw in the program that there was a session on videography, which completely intimidated me before it started. I never dreamed I would even attempt something like producing a video for my blog, but the presenter, Lenny Ferriera of ChezUs, made it seem completely accessible. I've even got a couple ideas for simple videos I want to experiment with. By the way, all of the presenters blogs are absolutely beautiful and you should definitely check them out. But Denise and Lenny's blog is simply stunning--and I want to make every single recipe on it. Isn't that the point of a really great food blog? To make you want to cook what they've made?

My next session was the one that everyone had been eagerly awaiting--cake decorating with Duff Goldman, of Ace of Cakes fame. I've followed him on Twitter for a while, and I have to say that in person he comes across just exactly like he did on the show and on his twitter feed--totally low-key and fun to hang out with. Had I not been nervously giggling like a schoolgirl the whole time, I might have actually gotten more out of the session, but I was too busy just watching him bounce around the room from table to table helping out participants with their cakes--spraypainting, airbrushing, making black fondant. Finally, I realized I had to get something completed or I would be so embarrassed, and I got to work. I was paired up with Lindsay from Laughing Lindsay, and we made the cutest snowman cake. Even Duff said it was adorable!


We wrapped up the educational part of the weekend, with a session from Heidi of Foodie Crush Magazine on producing an eBook. The eBook market is exploding, and the same is true, if not more so for cookbooks. This session was way above my level, but it got me thinking of the eBooks I've bought from cooking sites over the past year or so. It never occurred to me that I could make my own, AND make money on it, but Heidi walked through some basics and gave us some tips from her own experience.

After a full day of sessions then dinner, we assembled for the closing party and quite possibly the most impressive display of kitchen-related prizes ever gathered and poised to be doled out. The closing party was again sponsored by Diageo and Wisconsin Cheese, and featured the most adorable three-piece band in all of western Virginia, that played covers of Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show songs. Each registrant was entered to win the prizes, and extra tickets were sold with the proceeds going to Cookies for Kids Cancer, the charity started by two OXO employees that raises money for pediatric cancer.

I was the lucky winner of a Le Creuset steamer set, which looks like the bomb from the picture. Le Creuset will ship it to me in the next few weeks. I am stoked. So is the hubs. The first thing he requested was steamed shrimp!

When the closing party ended, we headed back to the hotel for another midnight movie, this time Dirty Dancing. Mountain Lake Resort was where it was filmed, and it served as the Kellerman's in the movie. It was completely exhausted from the full day of learning bloggity stuff, so I couldn't even stay awake to watch the movie.

The conference was worth every penny considering how much I learned, all the swag, and the wonderful friends I made networking with other peeps who are just as passionate as I am about creating and eating good food--then putting pictures of it on the internet. Susan and Paula were kicking around ideas for a Mixed Conference next year, and I encourage anyone who is even remotely interested to go. There was something for everyone. Not everyone there had a blog. I gained a few pounds new blogs to add to my RSS feed through the presenters and fellow bloggers, and I learned a few tricks, which I am super excited to roll out on my blog--at the beginning of the year. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Leftovers: Preserving Turkey Stock

Like "Black Friday" sales, one thing you can always count on seeing right after Thanksgiving are dozens of recipes for leftovers.

You can only reinvent Thanksgiving leftovers so many ways. And, I'm generally tired of turkey after Thanksgiving, anyway. So my favorite way to do leftovers is to make soup and put it in the freezer for later.

I never buy stock for my soups because I love making my own. It's ridiculously easy. You know exactly what's in it. It's economical. And bone broth stock is actually really really good for you--it's a natural anti-inflamatory. Here's a great site that explains it much better than I, with all you need to know about why you should make your own stock.

Once processed, it's better to store your canned goods without the ring, and always label and date them.
 Last year, I started making stock in my crockpot rather than a big stockpot on the stove. The goal in making stock is to slowly cook the bones so they release their flavor, as well as minerals and nutrients into the water. This process is helped by the addition of an acid, like white wine. The crockpot is great for this because it maintains a low simmer for hours, and costs pennies to operate. I usually cook my stock in my crockpot for between one and two days.

This Thanksgiving, I was in New York City, but my mother-in-law saved her turkey carcass for me. I was tickled to death to learn that she'd decided to make a second turkey for Thanksgiving. Two carcasses! Score!

I used the two carcasses in separate batches, which yielded about five quarts of stock each. With the first carcass, I made a pot of turkey vegetable soup with a quart of stock and the meat bits left on the bone, and I froze the rest of the stock. I usually freeze a variety of sizes; quarts, pints and 1/4-cup portions (frozen in a muffin tin and stored in a gallon zip-lock bag in the freezer). However, this time of year, my freezer space is running at a premium. After the first batch of stock, I didn't think I had room for another pint!

I checked the Ball Blue Book to see if you could can stock, and sure enough, you can! By the way, in my opinion, this book is the authority on canning. Any home canner should have a copy. Because it's a low-acid food, to can it properly, it needs to be pressure canned. I'm not totally comfortable pressure canning, like I am hot-water bath canning. I've only helped my mom pressure canning a couple times, never done it on my own. Luckily, my mom was coming over to my house, so she could supervise me to make sure I wasn't forgetting any important steps.

Mom reading the directions to me--ALWAYS follow the directions that came with your canner.
I was thrilled to get a pressure canner for Christmas a couple years ago from my in-laws, but I'm ashamed to admit I'd never used it. Chalk it up to my fear of pressure canning, and the fact that I have a glass-top range. It's not recommended that you use a pressure canner on those, because pressure canners require a high level of heat, which can crack or break the glass.

However, both my mom and mother-in-law have glass-top ranges which they use their pressure canners on, so I put my fears aside and cracked open the box to the pressure canner. I'm the owner of a really nice pressure canner actually. Too bad I waited so long to start using it.

Here's my step-by-step for making stock:

You will need:

1 turkey carcass (or equivalent amount of chicken or beef bones--about 2 pounds)
1 cup white wine
about 2 cups of vegetable scraps*
1 Tb of kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 tsp of ground black pepper
1 Tb of minced garlic

Place the bones in the bottom of the crockpot and add the wine. Add the vegetable scraps and fill the crockpot with water to the rim. Add seasonings. Cook on low setting at least 24 to 48 hours. Broth will be improved the longer it is cooked. After cooking, let stock cool slightly. Spoon out large bones and scraps with a slotted spoon, then strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve. You can either freeze or can the stock. Refer to the Ball Blue Book, or another reputable source for canning instructions. Stock will keep in the freezer 4-6 months, or canned up to 1 year.

*I keep a zip-lock bag in the freezer to collect carrot peelings, bits of onion or tomato that you would normally discard when chopping, stems from parsely and other herbs, broccoli stalks, the ends of celery stalks, etc.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eating the Big Apple

Last week, I marked something off my bucket list: seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in-person. It. Was. Amazing. Since I was little, I love watching it. Mostly because of the Rockettes. I secretly aspired to be one, I think. I am the right height, but I don't think I can do those eye-level kicks anymore. At one time, like maybe when I was 14, I could though.

Every year for the past few years, I would tell my mom, "Next year, we're going." This year I decided to do something about it and make it happen. And US Air was having a fire sale or something, so I got airfare for crazy-cheap. Out of CRW even.

I think my mom likes travelling with me because I plan meticulously. Of course I researched all the places to eat. I poured over reviews from Yelp and recommendations from friends. In a city that has just under 19,000 restaurants, most of which are on par with the best in the world, I didn't want to be wandering around aimlessly looking for some where to eat and hope I stumbled on a good one.

The hard part was fitting everything that I wanted to see into three days. My mom and I have both been to New York City twice before, and with a limited span of time, I didn't want to duplicate sightseeing.

We arrived around lunchtime on Wednesday, and after checking into our room in Long Island City, and a short subway ride into Manhattan, we hit The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal for lunch. Based on what I'd read, this establishment was a bit touristy and had some unfavorable reviews for food other than oysters. But, my mom wanted to try it, and I never turn down an opportunity to eat raw oysters, especially at a place with such a huge selection. We started with six raw oysters, and I chose local offerings: three Long Point and three Montauk. I couldn't believe the difference in taste. When you order two different kinds, you can really tell the differences. They were all DELICIOUS. The Montauks tasted saltier, but were still exquisite.

We also ordered seafood entrees, and I have to say that we were not disappointed with the food, like some Yelp reviews indicated. Mom had scallops and I had wild-caught salmon. I don't eat salmon very often anymore because the most widely available salmon (especially restaurant entrees) is Atlantic salmon. This is actually farmed salmon, which is NOT a sustainable source of seafood. I was happy that the menu proclaimed that it was wild-caught Alaskan salmon, so I jumped at the chance. I had a local beer, Bluepoint Toasted Lager, which was an amazing compliment to the seafood.

After lunch, we walked down Museum Mile and through Central Park. The weather was gorgeous--sunny, but brisk, and perfect for strolling through Central Park. We headed down to Columbus Circle and did a little shopping in the Time Warner Center. I drooled all over the only LK Bennett store in the United States (For those not in the know, LK Bennett is the beloved shoe brand fo Kate Middleton.). The other reason for the stop at the Time Warner Center was because I figured that location of Bouchon Bakery would be less crowded than the Rockefeller Center location. The man behind the bakery is Thomas Keller, who is also at the helm of the famous restaurant, The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Thomas Keller is also probably responsible for the recent elevation of the macaron in America. I had to see what all the fuss is about. Macarons are cookies, but they are not to be confused with macaroons, the heaps of toasted coconut, egg whites and sugar. Macarons, are French sandwich cookies made of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar, with a creamy filling. They are almost always a dazzling rainbow of pastel colors, and come in flavors like vanilla, mocha and pistachio.

The pastry case at Bouchon Bakery.

Mom and I split a pistachio macaron and a nutterbutter cookie. The macaron was way better. I wish I'd gotten two instead.

After getting a sugar and coffee fix, we marched on down to Rockefeller Center and to Times Square, taking in the eye candy that is Fifth Avenue along the way. We hopped back on the subway and travelled on down to Union Square, to see the largest farmers market in New York City, the Union Square Greenmarket. This place was unbelievable! If I lived here, I don't know how I could resist stopping here everyday and buying as much as I could carry away. The only thing that stopped me from buying it all was I didn't know what I'd do with it at the hotel or in my luggage.

 The smell of those carrots was amazing. So pretty! And neither mom or I have ever seen brussel sprouts sold on the stalk like this. The only way I've ever bought them fresh is in a bag at the grocery store, or from the farmer's market, already cut off the stalk. How interresting!

It was getting dark, and being two country girls, we didn't want to be wandering around much in the big city after dark, so we headed on to Eataly for shopping and dinner. Eataly is a huge Italian market, with a handful of casual sit down restaurants inside, each with a specialty. There was a pizza place, a pasta place, a seafood place, a little more upscale restaurant, specializing in meats, and a wine bar with light snacks. We chose the vegetarian restaurant, and it was spectacular. I could have easily spent all afternoon wandeirng around Eataly. There were hundreds of kinds of olive oil, along with every shape of dried pasta you can imagine. They had a fresh pasta station, where skilled pasta makers were making orecchiette, my favorite. We bought a small loaf of bread studded with fennel seeds,  some pesto and a bottle of wine to take back to the hotel room to snack on during the rest of our trip.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to get to our spot for the big parade. We chose 66th and 7th Avenue, near the start of the parade route, hoping it would be less congested than Columbus Circle and south. We got to our spots around 6:50 am, and the crowd was already three people deep to the street. It didn't make any difference though, we could still see everything since the floats are so big and the balloons are a few stories high. And we're both pretty tall. It's hard to tell in this picture, but that's Chef Geoffrey Zakarian on the front of the Food Network float waving. Again, the weather was absolutely beautiful, and we got some great pictures.

We had a few hours to kill until our reservation for Thanksgiving Dinner at Pappardella at 3 pm, and not much was open on Thanksgiving Day. We took the four-minute tram over to Roosevelt Island and explored for a couple hours. It was so peaceful and quiet, compared to the crowds and chaos we had just left surrounding the parade route. Neither of us had heard of Roosevelt Island before this trip, but I would encourage anyone to check it out. You can spend a few minutes or a few hours there. The tram ride was free with a Metro Card, but otherwise, only costs $2.25. The southern tip of the island is the FDR Four Freedoms Park, inspired by a speech given by the late president.
We headed back to Manhattan and toward Pappardella, for our Thanksgiving Dinner reservations. I didn't want to miss out on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, even though we were away from home, and I decided a prix fix dinner would be best. I did some research, and found prix fix Thanksgiving Dinners at every price point. I stumbled on this place from Yelp, and with a $35 price tag, $55 with wine pairings, I was sold. The restaurant is rustic Italian, and the dinner had a bit of that twist, but didn't stray too far from traditional Thanksgiving. It was free-range (bonus points) turkey, both light and dark meat, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry relish and sauteed brussel sprouts, for the main course. There was a choice of a soup, salad or pasta for the first course, and pecan pie or pumpkin bread pudding for dessert. I had the pasta, which was butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage, and Mom had the warm lentil salad with prosciutto. The wine was amazing, and just the right amount--about half a glass with each course. Actually, the wine pairing for the main course was from a winery we'd visited on our California trip, Black Stallion Winery! Our travels came full circle!

Dinner was amazing, and we were both full by the time the dessert and coffee were cleared. We headed down to the 9/11 Memorial, which we reached after dark. I would recommend anyone see it after dark, if possible. It was absolutely stunning. The waterfalls and the names of the lives lost are all lit from behind. It was truly beautiful.

The next morning, we slept in a little bit because after two days of getting up before 6 am and walking ourselves to death, we were exhausted. On the agenda for Friday, was the High Line, which is a wonderful park. It is a retired elevated railroad that has been converted into a walking trail with greenery and art along the way. It was quite crowded on Friday morning, but still preferrable to walking along the street for navigating Chelsea. I took the High Line right to Chelsea Market, another place I could spend all day in just browsing. Don't miss Artists and Fleas, if you have a fetish for unique jewelry, like I do. I also bought some flavored salts at The Filling Station, which specializes in olive oils. The variety of oils they have is dizzying. And if you buy a bottle, you can bring it back and refill it for a discount. I bought smoked salt for myself, and bacon salt for my brother, for giving me a ride to the airport.

I had lunch at one of the many eateries in Chelsea Market, The Green Table, which is a farm to table restaurant. It took me forever to decide what food to order for lunch, but I knew what beer I wanted right away: Mother's Milk Oatmeal Stout from Keegan Ales, a local brewery.

I finally decided on the beet and goat cheese stack and a side of macaroni and cheese. I think it was because goat cheese was mentioned in both the descriptions. I find it hard to resist. Both were very good, but the beet stack was amazing. There were watermelon radishes on bottom, and it was dressed with an orange reduction. I practically licked the plate.

After an amazing lunch, I walked it off in Greenwich Village. I wandered down to Washington Square from Chelsea Market. I'd been there before, but it was a beautiful day and Greenwich Village is such a neat place to visit. I walked along Fourth Street, and even snapped a picture of Jones Avenue, because I'm a huge Bob Dylan Fan. He was walking down Jones Avenue on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album. Specifically, in Greenwich Village, I wanted to check out what's known as the North Village. The North Village is a little pocket of Italian culture in Greenwich Village, kinda like a mini Little Italy.
I went in both Murray's Cheese Shop and Faicco's Italian Specialties. Both were amazing. Murray's has an eye-popping variety of cheeses and other Italian staples such as olive oil, pasta, honey, pastries and sauces. Next door, I bought a rice ball at Faicco's to take back to the room. I wish Charleston had these kinds of places. The were just so steeped in history and had so many choices. If we did have shops like that, I'd either never be able to make up my mind, or I'd just buy it all.
Up the street from Murray's and Faicco's, is Pasticceria Rocco, a landmark Italian pastry shop that has a take out counter and table service. I wanted to relax a little, so I opted for a table. I had a classic canoli and a pumpkin cappuccino. The pastry display was amazing, and all the pies were half off. That's the problem with only being in New York City for three days and not checking any bags...

From the North Village, I wandered on down Bleeker Street, the heart of Greenwich Village, past several historical night spots such as Marie's Crisis and the Bitter End. Bleeker Street runs south and into NoLita, which then bleeds into Little Italy. I stumbled on a Tory Burch shop! And it was "Black Friday!" But I didn't buy anything, as tempted as I was. I shopped at a couple other small boutiques, working my way down to Mott and Mulberry Streets, the center of Little Italy.

I weaved my way up and down the streets of Little Italy until dark, browsing in boutiques and through a street market with jewelry and trinkets. I wanted to go to Lombardi's for dinner, but it was packed, and they don't sell pizza by the slice. Lombardi's claims to be the oldest pizzaria in the United States, dating back to 1905. Authentic New York style pizza was on my list for this trip, and it was my last night. Luckily, I was in Little Italy, and the are any number of good choices for pizza. The opposite corner from Lombardi's is Pomodoro Pizza, advertising that it was home of the famous vodka pizza. And it sells it by the slice. Sold.

The vodka pizza was the bomb. Just fresh mozzarella and vodka sauce. I need to try to make this at home. And the slice was massive. Like the size of a baby. The staff couldn't have been nicer either. I am fascinated by pizza dough tossing. Always have been since I saw that Visa commercial a few years ago. You know the one I'm talking about.
Anyway, this dude wasn't really throwing it in the air, but his technique of just stretching it over his knuckles was still quite impressive. I was trying to snap a good picture of him in action. I could watch pizza dough being made all day long. I'm not even kidding.

I came home exhausted, but at least well fed. We really had an amazing trip. New York City is one of those places where it's just impossible to see everything, even on your third trip. So many more things I'd like to see and do and eat there. Maybe next Thanksgiving...