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Thursday
Apr152010

HONEY ROASTED PEARS

pear_0001

I am testing recipes for a cooking class I am teaching next week. Though I assume there will be ladies of all different skill levels, I feel it is a unanimous preference to have a simple dessert recipe under your belt. We will make a naturally sweetened cake too, for those that like to spend more time on their treats. However this recipe requires one mixing bowl, and everything else goes straight into the pan. Since I will be acting as both teacher and dishwasher, I strongly approve of the limited mess involved here.

I think this general idea inspires so many other combinations as the seasons change. In the summer you could substitute peaches, and use vanilla bean instead of cinnamon in the yogurt cream. Or I imagine in the fall, you could give the pan a bit of extra time in the oven and use apples instead... then sprinkle some granola and nuts on the top. It's dessert, but I mean, if there is granola involved, you can call it breakfast. That's what I tell myself when I get into the oatmeal cookies first thing in the morning. Don't judge me.pear_0002pear_0003

HONEY ROASTED PEARS // Serves 3-6 depending on pear distribution
Inspired by Joy the Baker

I used three pears, because that is what fit perfectly into my cast iron skillet. You could probably adjust more or less depending on what type of pan you use, just be certain it is heavy bottomed and oven proof. I don't often push an organic agenda, but since this is a short list of ingredients, I'd suggest using organic dairy products for best flavor results.

3 Ripe Pears (Bosc worked beautifully)
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Honey
1 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
2 Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Thyme Sprigs
Salt

8 oz. Whipping Cream
1 tsp. Cinnamon
2 Tbsp. Honey
3/4 Cup Plain Greek Yogurtpear_0004

Oven to 450'

1. Cut the pears in half length wise, use a small spoon or melon baller to remove the tough seeded center.
2. In a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet, add the butter, honey, vanilla, muscavado or brown sugar, thyme sprigs and a generous sprinkle of salt. Let everything come to a gentle boil and stir continuously, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the halved pears to the pan, cut side down. Give it a shake and let them simmer on the stove about 2 minutes. Turn the pears over so they are now cut side up and transfer the pan to the oven, middle rack. Bake for 12 minutes until the pears are soft and the sauce has caramelized.
4. While the pears are baking, beat the cold whipping cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Add the honey, pinch of salt, cinnamon and beat another minute to combine. Gently fold in the greek yogurt, this will make it a bit thinner, but that's ok, it still tastes lovely, I promise.
5. Put one or two pears on a plate, drizzle with a hefty spoonful of sauce with a sprig of thyme for garnish, and a generous dollop or yogurt cream.

* If you were serving this to guests, you can do most in advance. I would pull the pears out of the oven just a few minutes early, let it cool and leave it covered at room temperature until you are ready to reheat them in the oven. They should probably warm back through in about 6 minutes. I don't suggest making the yogurt cream in advance, as the weight of the yogurt and honey will make the whipping cream fall completely.pear_0005

Thursday
Apr082010

SCALLOPS ON CREAMY LEEKS 

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The funny thing about this recipe is that I don't even care much for scallops, or any shellfish for that matter. However, I felt we were due for another simple meal option. I had the sweetest comment back when I posted the Walnut Crusted Salmon and Edamame Mash from a reader named Mel (are you still out there Mel? Because I've been thinking of you.) who said that recipe was her go-to dinner for entertaining. So Mel, hopefully this is another idea for you, if of course, you are one for scallops. It is fairly quick, simple and tastes much more impressive than the effort it requires. I'm pretty certain that is an instant selling point right there.

My suggestion would be to have all the ingredients for the scallop portion, cut and ready to go, because once you start searing the scallops, everything moves quickly. If you aren't a scallop person either, the leeks are worth your time. We're on the tail end of their season around here, and the two giant ones I found were just fabulous. Leeks are one of those impressive vegetables where less fuss, is more. They reduce down to pillowy, subtle onion strings of caramelized wonderfulness. I generously shared the scallops we made, but the extra leeks got tucked away in secret tupperware for yours truly.2 copy

SCALLOPS ON CREAMY LEEKS // Serves 2 to 3 people
It's hard to be exact with this, as the size of scallops you buy will vary the cooking time and amount of butter and wine you will need. For an entree, I suggest using larger scallops. If you can find a fish monger who sells fresh scallops, not frozen/thawed ones, the texture will be best.

3 Cups Cleaned, Chopped Leeks (2 Large Leeks, halved, sliced)
1 Tbsp. Butter
1/4 Cup Milk
Salt/Pepper

1/2 Lb. Fresh Scallops
1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (I Imagine that rice flour would work as a gluten free alternative)
1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/3 Cup Chopped Shallots
3-4 Tbsp. Finely Chopped Parsley
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon3 copy

1. In a large saute pan, heat the first 1 tbsp. butter until melted, add the leeks and salt, and stir around to coat. Add a tbsp. of water if the pan is looking really dry. Leave the heat on medium and continue to stir every few minutes to avoid any burning, for about 15 minutes. Prepare your scallop ingredients in the meantime.
2. Add the milk and pepper to the leeks, turn the heat to medium/low and continue to cook while you take care of your scallop business. As long as the heat is on low, you can't really overcook them here.
3. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Gently toss them around in the flour.
4. In another pan, let them brown on one side (about 2 minutes), gently flip to the other side and place them in a buttery part of the pan if possible (sear another 2 minutes). Add the shallot, dijon, wine and parsley and give the pan a few shakes to move things around and allow the temperature to come back up to a simmer (again, probably 2 minutes). Remove the scallops to a plate, use the spoon to scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan and stir the sauce. Pour the sauce on top of the scallops. Squeeze the lemon juice on top.
5. To plate, put a big spoonful of the leeks and then the scallops on top with some of the shallot sauce goodness. Garnish with the lemon zest, fresh ground pepper and fresh parsley.4 copy

Thursday
Apr012010

SAVORY ROASTED ALMONDS

ALMONDS_01

So, yesterday I was partaking in one of those extremely overpriced flavored nut packs, and as tasty as they were, I couldn't help but think "I can totally figure out how to make these myself". Some ladies buy fancy shoes, fancy purses, or fancy makeup... I spoil myself with fancy snacks. However, as my days of corporate employment are coming to a close, a girl must learn to make fancy snacks on her own. I studied their salty, crispy parmesan crust and mix of herbs. I finished the bag (not difficult since there are about nine almonds per package) and set forth to make my own. No time to waste, I get a rush out of things like this.

A plain almond only satiates the mildest of hunger, but my goodness, these almonds are like the princess of nut snacks. They are the fancy shoe, fancy purse and fancy makeup of the snack family. I will show you big fancy nut company! Mine are fresh and I can have more than nine at a time! It's the little things isn't it? ALMONDS_02

SAVORY ROASTED ALMONDS
The spice measurements here are pretty moderate, if you like it spicier or love lemon for example, adjust as you desire. I know the sugar seems a bit out of place here, but it helps with the crust. Also, because ovens are all a bit different, test them after the recommended time. Note that they will dry out and crisp up even more once they cool out of the oven.

3 Cups/16 oz. Raw Almonds
2 Small Egg Whites (OR 1 Extra Large Egg White)
1/3 Cup Fresh Thyme Leaves
2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 Tbsp. Dried Oregano
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
3 Tbsp. Lemon Zest
2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. Natural Cane Sugar/Sucanat
Sea Salt

1/2 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan CheeseALMONDS_03

Oven to 275'

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a bowl, or pestle and mortar, add the thyme, red pepper, oregano, garlic powder, black pepper, lemon zest and sugar together. If you have a pestle and mortar, grind all of the spices together to break them up a bit. You won't get much of a paste, but the thyme should break down a bit and the red peppers will get smaller. Otherwise, the back of a heavy spoon will suffice as well.
2. Whisk the egg whites until frothy (about 2 minutes). Add the almonds, and fold them over to coat. Add the spices mixture and mix again until they seem evenly distributed.
3. Spread the nuts out on the baking sheet and give them all a very generous grind of sea salt. Sprinkle half of the parmesan evenly, and toss to coat. Make sure the nuts are spread in a single layer, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the nuts. At this point, I added a fresh grind of black pepper all over, but that is your choice.
4. Bake in the middle rack for 25 minutes. Remove to cool completely before serving. And a final little dusting of parmesan when they are hot out of the oven never hurt anyone either. ALMONDS_04

Friday
Mar262010

SPICY CHAI LATTE

CHAI_01

Dear sister,

I've been thinking of you since the other day when we were at the gym. I like when we talk about life while moving our bods, feels so productive and efficient of us. You said, "I didn't realize being 23 was going to be this confusing" and I wanted to jump straight off my elliptical pedals and hug you. I didn't, because... well, neither of us are much for a 'scene', and I know you didn't mean much by it, but the empathy rushed through me like stepping into a cold shower. I know we are completely different people, in all sense of the word, but please believe me when I say I know exactly how you feel. Once a 'grown up' (read, graduated), we were under the impression that if one works hard, you get what you want/need. It seemed a realistic expectation to me too, and the reality of it is, like you said, far more confusing than we romanticized this phase of life to be.

Though I've only got a few years on you, and am clearly still figuring things out, I promise you that this will pass. Life will surely become more expensive, and more responsibility will rear it's head, but you continue to grow up with those things. By observation and life experience, we write our own definition of what love is, and then giving and getting that kind of love, seems to be most important to all these other little things. Sappy, I know, deal with it. I don't have answers, but I know our hopes of cute houses, dinner parties and traveling aren't far off. I am so proud of you, and the fact that you are pursuing what you love inspires me.

This lovely beverage, in an ironic way, is kind of what I am trying to say. I initially followed a recipe; it wasn't spicy enough, it suggested you steep the tea in milk (which never works) and was less than impressive. When I tried it again, MY way, it was better than I thought. You may have to figure through this crazy life a few different ways, but in the end it will exceed your expectations.

Love, your STILL confused yet motivational sister xoCHAI_02

SPICY CHAI LATTE // Makes 4 Small Cups

4 Bags of Black Tea (English/Irish Breakfast, Darjeeling etc.)
1 Cup Milk
2 inch. piece Fresh Ginger, cut into pieces
1 tsp. Cloves
1 tsp. Cardamom Seeds
1 tsp. Black Peppercorns
3 Cinnamon Sticks
1 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
Star Anise (optional)

Muscavado/Brown Sugar or HoneyCHAI_03

1. In a small plastic bag, combine the peppercorns, cloves and cardamom. Use a heavy mallet or skillet to crush the spices into coarse pieces.
2. In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the milk, crushed spices, cinnamon sticks, ginger pieces, and fresh ground nutmeg. Allow the milk to come to a gentle boil, then cover and turn off the heat. Allow everything to steep for about 15 minutes.
3. While the spicy milk steeps, bring water to a boil. Combine the 4 tea bags with two cups of boiling water. Allow the tea to steep for about 4 minutes and discard the tea bags. Add the tea to the warm spicy milk.
4. Put a fine mesh sieve or coffee filter over a pitcher, and strain the spice chunks out of the tea. Put one Tbsp. of muscavado sugar or honey in each cup and pour the tea latte on top. Stir and enjoy warm.
* If you like it cold, add the sweetener and chill the pitcher for a few hours. Do not pour over ice immediately or it will be watery and tasteless. Serve over ice once the chai is completely cold.CHAI_04

Monday
Mar222010

YOGURT & GOAT CHEESE TART

GOATTART_01

First of all, thank you. Your encouraging comments and snippets from your own personal experiences, have been so encouraging to read (and re-read when I was convinced I should ask for my job back at 3am a couple nights ago). I think you're pretty neat, and if you are ever in my area, I will share this tangy spring tart with you.

I am not a good sleeper. I think and overanalyze until my brain simply can't take it anymore, and only then will I fall asleep. A best friend, being short on time, asked me to come up with ideas of things she could cook WHILE taking a shower. It's these kinds of questions which keep me up at night. Having answers can be consuming, and I mean that for both the big and small questions in life.

I come up with cooking ideas that sound good in theory, but with no certainty that they will turn out. This tart was one of those experiments. I'd plucked pieces from other blogs, pictures I'd seen in magazines and mixed them together into something I envisioned would taste good and look pretty. A few tries later, and forcing the imperfect tarts on everyone I've seen in the past week, we finally have something worth sharing. It is light, to welcome spring, but still rich enough to taste like a satisfying dessert. You can't make it while taking a shower, but it's worth your time.GOATTART_02GOATTART_03

YOGURT & GOAT CHEESE TART // Serves 8
I love the swirl of the acai puree here because it is different. Sambazon frozen packets are fairly easy to find, especially at a health food store, but any berry puree (fresh or frozen) will work, it just won't be as smooth. As I mention in the directions with the acai, you will need to reduce it down a bit for a thicker consistency.

1 1/2 Cups Lowfat Plain Greek Yogurt
8 oz. Chevre (Soft Goat's Cheese), at room temperature
1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
4 Large Egg Whites
1/3 - 1/2 Cup Honey
2 Tbsp. Reduced Acai Puree*

* Thaw the frozen acai packet or berries, blend if what you're using is not already blended. Simmer on stove on medium for about 2-3 minutes until most of the water is released, and you have a paste left. Mix that paste with 1 tsp. of honey. Set aside.

// Crust //
1 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 Cup Oat Flour
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter, softened
1/4 Cup Muscavado/Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Real Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Fresh Ground NutmegGOATTART_04

Oven to 350'
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, muscavado or brown sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Add the softened butter and mix to create a moist crumb. Coat the bottom of a glass or ceramic 10'' pie pan with a thin swipe of butter, and distribute the oat mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides. It's ok if it's not perfect, rustic looks pretty.
2. Bake the crust on the middle rack for about 12 minutes. Cool while you make the filling.
3. In the meantime, put the chevre and yogurt in a bowl and beat on low with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes (or briskly with a whisk) until combined and smooth. Add honey and lemon juice and combine. With the egg whites in another bowl, loosen them with a whisk for a minute, and add them to the goat mixture. Beat with the mixers/whisk for just 30 seconds to combine. You don't want to incorporate too much air or it will get too poofy in the oven.
4. Put the acai puree in the yogurt filling bowl, and give it one or two folds to swirl in the color, as you pour it into the crust, it will swirl more.
4. Place the pie dish in a larger (I used 13x9) pan, and fill it with water until it comes up about 1/2'' up the side. Bake in the middle rack for about 30 minutes until the edges are set. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar, and allow the tart to sit in there another 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
4. Refrigerate for at least two hours for the tart to firm up. Cut it with a clean, sharp knife, and clean it with a damp cloth between slices.GOATTART_06