Saturday, February 26, 2011

Appetizers for Oscar Night (Otherwise Known As My Fourth Favourite Night of the Year!)

I love movies.  I really do.  One of my favourite things to do is to duck into a theatre on a Sunday afternoon and escape for a couple of hours.  The first movie I saw in a theatre was 101 Dalmatians; I must have been 7 or 8.  It was in a small town Saskatchewan theatre, and I loved it.  All those poor puppies and that horrible Cruella.  My taste has expanded over the years, from movies that made me laugh so hard I thought my ribs would crack ("Death at a Funeral"; "Napoleon Dynamite"), to those that broke my heart into a million pieces ("Away From Her"; "Finding Neverland"; "A Single Man").  Those that were visually stunning ("Scent of the Green Papaya", "Bleu", "The English Patient"), and those that I never wanted to end ("Almost Famous"; "Lost in Translation"; "Edward Scissorhands"; "Little Miss Sunshine"). Then there are those where I thank the Lord that John Hughes was ever put on this planet ("Sixteen Candles", "Pretty in Pink", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), and those movies I just love and could watch over and over again, and I do ("Love Actually"; "Sense and Sensibility"; "Four Weddings and a Funeral", and of course "Bridget Jones' Diary".  Hmmmmmm.  Those all have Hugh Grant in them.  Coincidence?   Maybe not.  Then there are those movies where I screamed in the theatre, to the horror of my friends ("Silence of the Lambs", "The Sixth Sense"), and those movies that freaked me out so much I had to sleep with the light on for weeks ("Blair Witch Project", "The Ring").  Some movies made me want to dance in the theatre ("Dirty Dancing", "U2: Rattle and Hum", "Muriel's Wedding").  And some where I actually did ("Rocky  Horror Picture Show", several times).  Then there are those movies that were so unique and flabbergasting, I walked away in awe, wondering what the hell just happened ("Memento", "Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind"; "Inception")  And those movies about finding true love, and never giving up on it ("Once", "(500) Days of Summer", "The Princess Bride"). Being that I'm all about food, I love movies that made me hungry ("Like Water for Chocolate", "Big Night", "Julie and Julia") So you get the picture.  I love movies. A lot.

After my Birthday and Christmas and Summer Solstice, Oscar Night is my favourite night of the year.   Not just for the glittery glamour and Oscar pools and cute boys in tuxedos, but I love the celebration of movies and the art of movie making. Sometimes the best movies don't win, and most often my favourites don't.  But what the hell.  I watch year after year, staying up too late, snacking on too many snacks, but loving every minute of it. 

So this year for Oscar Night I'm whipping up some appetizers to take over to my Mom's (she has the bigger and better TV!).  Gotta have good eats for the night.
The Artichoke and Asiago Dip is truly killer.  Like, eyes will roll in the back of your head killer.  It's full of calories and fat, but don't say I didn't warn you.  Slather it on some good, fresh baguette, and it will make you very very happy.  You may even coo!  This Dip is totally my friend Monica's fault.  She made it for me several times in Edmonton - where many a night we would coo over it.  (Adapted from "The Girl Can't Cook" by Cinda Chavich.)


Asiago and Artichoke Dip

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Cup good quality mayo (I used the olive oil kind)
1 Cup grated asiago cheese
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 398 ml can of artichoke hearts, chopped
paprika for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350*F
In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients. Pour into an oven proof dish and bake for 15 minutes
or until golden. Put on a platter with good bread or pita chips.  Dig in.

You can't have a party, or sit in front of the TV for four hours without some shrimp.  These coconut/panko/chili lime babies will fulfill that need.  Spicy and sweet, and yes, there is a little deep fry action going on.  But oh so worth it.

Coconut and Lime Battered Shrimp

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 finely shredded coconut
1 tbsp finely grated lime zest
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs
18 large, peeled and deveined shrimp, tails on
Peanut or Canola oil for frying

Line a bake sheet with parchment paper.  Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a shallow  bowl.  Whisk eggs in a medium bowl.  Add the shrimp and toss well.  Working one shrimp at a time, use your left hand for placing the shrimp in the crumb mixture.  Use your right hand to press the crumbs onto the shrimp and place it on the bake sheet. Continue until all shrimp are battered.  Heat the oil in  skillet, about 1 inch deep, over medium high heat.  Test it by dropping a piece of coconut in and see if it fries immediately.  Working in batches, add shrimp to hot oil and fry 2 min per side, until golden.  Drain on paper towels.  Arrange on platter, serve warm, garnished with lime. (Recipe adapted from Epicicurious)  

And finally.  We have Asparagus, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Phyllo Bundles.  Crispy on the outside, salty, creamy, asparagus-y in the middle.  Flavour flavour everywhere. 

Prosciutto, Goat Cheese and Asparagus Phyllo Bundles

12 asparagus spears, blanched
4 large sheets of phyllo pastry, thawed
12 thin slices prosciutto
1 small round of goat cheese (I used stuff with herbs, but you can use plain.  Or used any other cheese you like: old cheddar, Swiss, etc.)
4 tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 375*F
To blanch the asparagus, heat a pot of boiling water.  Drop the asparagus in and cook one minute.  Have a bowl of ice water beside, and drop the hot asparagus into cold water.  When completely chilled, remove and drain on paper towels.
Lay first sheet of phyllo down on cutting board.  Brush with  butter.  Repeat for next 3 layers.  Cut into 12 squares.  Lay one piece of prosciutto on each square, then the cheese, then the asparagus.  Roll up tightly.  Place on a  parchment lined bake sheet, and brush with more butter.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm.  Oh my God.  So good! 

So who do I think is going to win big tonight?  Well, here are a few of my thoughts:  Best Actress will be Natalie Portman, but after seeing Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine" last weekend, my heart is pulling for her.  A raw, heart wrenching performance, too bad not that many people saw.   Best Actor will be Colin Firth for "The King's Speech".  Yeah, he rocked it.  And I think he was robbed last year for "A Single Man", when Jeff Bridges won.  I like Jeff, but J'adore Colin.  Supporting Actors are all about "The Fighter", a movie I haven't seen yet (not super big on boxing movies after seeing Hilary Swank get crushed  in "Million Dollar Baby" ) but looks like Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are going to take those two categories.  Which leads to Best Picture.  I think "The King's Speech" is the favourite, and while I really really liked it (I'm a sucker for historical movies, especially with a Brit in them!), I'm kinda hoping for "The Social Network" to pull off a surprise victory.  I was captivated from start to finish, and really, who doesn't want to know more about how and when and why Facebook started? And to be honest, I really wouldn't be writing this blog if it weren't for Facebook.  While I was a long time holdout, vowing never to join, once I did, I revisited old friendships, posted lots of pictures of food, and was practically begged to start writing a food blog.  Which I'm very happy to do :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sweet and Smokey! Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup with Irish Soda Bread

When people first meet me, and find out what I do for a living, I'm almost always asked "Hey Renee, what is your favourite thing to make?"  Invariably my answer is always soups and desserts.  If you haven't already noticed, I have a major sweet tooth.  Love me some sugar.  But I'm also a Taurus, and I crave comfort.  Be it in my home or  my food.  Comfort food is king.  And of course, you can't get more comfort than a big steaming bowl of soup. I'll make big batches of it on the weekend, and freeze portions so I have something to take out on a weeknight for dinner, because like you, I don't always feel like cooking after a long day at work.  The soup has to be hearty, like a ham and lentil, or a spicy Thai noodle, with lots of shrimp and chicken.  Or classics like minestrone, mulligatawny and of course cream of mushroom (but definitely not your Campbell's variety!)

This Roasted Yam and Garlic soup ranks right up there amongst my favourites.  It's super easy, has loads of flavour and freezes really well.  And it looks pretty! Yams are superfoods, and we should all eat a bit more yam.  I like mixing mashed yams with good ol regular potatoes as a topping for Shepherd's Pie. Slice them into wedges, toss with olive oil, oregano, a bit of chili powder and Parmesan cheese and they make great oven fries.  This soup has other roasted vegetables in it too, and the mellowness of the roasted garlic is a nice touch.  Your house will smell amazing!  Maple syrup, lime juice and spicy, smokey chipotle peppers are the stars of this soup though - the flavours complement each other really well. The basis of any good soup is a good stock.  So either make your own chicken or veggie stock, or look for a low sodium organic variety in the grocery store. 

Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup

3 large yams
coarse salt and pepper
3 garlic bubs (can roast with the yams, or roasted separately (slice tops off, place on tin foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap up tightly,roast for about 30-40 minutes, until golden and fragrant)
4 tomatoes
2 red peppers
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground sage
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
3 tsp. chipotle puree, or chipotle hot sauce
8 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 tbsp. maple syrup
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 375*F

Peel and chop yams into 1-2 inch slices.  Toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, coarse salt and pepper.  Place on a parchment lined bake sheet and roast until soft and golden, about 35 minutes. If you haven't roasted your garlic separately, you can add the bulbs to the bake sheet as well.  When done, squeeze the flesh from the roasted bulbs. 
Halve and seed the peppers. Place them and the whole tomatoes on a parchment lined bake sheet and roast until skins puff and turn brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 15 minutes.  Peel away the skins, and set aside.  (OR, you can add one small can of stewed tomatoes, and a few tablespoons of roasted red pepper spread, if you want to save a step.  Still turns out
Heat the veg oil in a large soup pot.  Add the chopped onions and saute until translucent.  Add garlic and spices and herbs and cook until garlic is golden.  Use medium heat.  Stir in the seeded and roasted veg
and soup stock.  Stir really well.  Add the chipotle puree or hot sauce.  Bring to a boil,  reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender, and stir in the maple syrup and lime juice. If it seems too thick, add more stock.  Season with salt and pepper, more hot sauce and lime juice if you like.  Garnish with toasted pecans. Serves 6.

Of course you can't have a nice hearty bowl of soup without a hunk of bread.  I seldom make yeast bread.  I love it when I do, but somehow I never find time for it, except at Easter, when I make this lovely egg bread, studded with dried fruit and nuts.  But for everyday occasions, you can't go wrong with this rustic Irish Soda Bread.  It's hearty and substantial enough and yet not lots of work.  My favourite!  With whole wheat flour and bran, it's full of fibre, and like I've said before, you can never get enough fibre!

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup bran, or oat bran
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 scant cups of buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375*F.  In a large mixing bowl, add your dry ingredients.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, until crumbly.  Combine buttermilk and egg in a separate bowl.  Stir this into the dry mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.  Turn out onto floured surface and knead gently about 10 times.  Shape into round ball and place on parchment lined bake sheet.  With a sharp knife, cut a X shaped slash in the top.  If you like, sprinkle some poppy seeds on top.  Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Serve warm.  Makes one large loaf.  (recipe adapted from a Five Roses booklet)

There you have it ~ one of my favourite soups and my all time favourite quick bread.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Taking Chances: Rustic Apple Tart with Dulce de Leche and Lavender

Sometimes you know within the first five minutes of meeting someone that you are going to be friends for life.  Such is the case with my friend Mindy.  We met two years ago this month, at a dinner meeting for women new to the city.  We all know how hard it can be to make new friends as we get older.  Add moving to a new city into the mix, and it can be downright daunting.  At first I wasn't going to go to the dinner (because I'm a little bit shy), but then I thought "what the hell!".  Nothing to lose.  So I went, and ended up sitting beside Mindy, where we bonded over cats and karaoke, gin and geraniums. And we've been friends ever since.  I wasn't even scared off as she dragged me to a NKOTB concert!  Mindy is the kind of friend you want in your corner.  She was with me in that small, sad room, as I put my beloved cat to sleep, handing me Kleenex and letting me sob uncontrollably on her shoulder.  She's tagged along as I stalked, er, "investigated" potential mates.  Mindy has pretty much made it her mission to find me a boyfriend, and I think she tries harder at it than I do.  Some days I think what would have happened if I hadn't gone to that dinner.  I would have missed out on a kindred spirit, and you never want to miss out on those. 

Mindy has pretty much declared herself the official "sweetsugarbean" taste tester, which is fantastic because there's no way I can eat all of this food!  She was popping by on a Friday afternoon, so I looked in the fridge, assessed the contents, and decided to make this apple tart.  I had a bag of apples, a little on the tired side, a sheet of puff pastry, and a jar of the glorious Dulce de Leche. Not really having a recipe to go by, I knew I wanted a tart, not too dry, thinking that the Dulce would add some caramel goodness to it.  The lavender was a last minute addition, but one I thought would be amazing.  I've made cookies before with dried lavender.  Even adding it to roast chicken, along with rosemary and thyme and sage.  I LOVE the lavender in this tart.  It's subtle, but combined with the cinnamon and apples, it adds another flavour dimension.  This recipe is quick, and simple.  I'm looking forward to slices of it with my coffee for tomorrow's  breakfast.

Maybe it's adding lavender to an apple tart, or putting up an online dating profile, but everyday it seems there's an opportunity for us to take chances.  So.  Are there any chances you need to take?

Rustic Apple Tart with Dulce de Leche and Lavender

one sheet of puff pastry, rolled out to approx. 9"x13" (the size doesn't have to be perfect.  It's rustic after all!)
3-4 medium apples.  I used gala, but you could granny smith or golden delicious too.
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tsp. dried lavender.  Check any specialty grocery, or health food store. 
1/3 Cup of Dulce de Leche (I used the PC brand)

Peel, core and thinly slice your apples. Put into a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and lavender. Stir well.  Add the  melted butter.  Stir again.  Roll out your puff pastry, and place on a parchment lined bake sheet.  I rolled the edges up a little to make a border. Prick the sides and centre of the puff pastry with a fork.   Spread a thin layer of the Dulde de Leche over the centre. If you need more, than add a little more.  Layer your apples, overlapping, over the caramel goodness.  Looks pretty, hey?  Bake in the lower third of your oven at 375*F, for about 35-40 minutes.  You want a golden crust.  Let cool before cutting into wedges.  You could serve with whipped cream, or ice cream, but I liked mine straight up, with some organic strawberries.  Oh yeah, Mindy loved it too, and lucky girl got to take some home.  Her job as official taste tester done for the day!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Flourless Chocolate Cake: A Love Affair

I can't believe it's taken six posts to write about chocolate.  Sacrilege!!!!  Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm pretty tight with chocolate.  I almost always stick with the dark stuff, because it's full of antioxidants and practically health food, but every once in a blue moon I'll fall back onto my ultimate fave - milk chocolate with toffee chunks.  Cuz, me and toffee, we are pretty tight too.  And it's no coincidence that today is Valentine's Day, or Love Day or Chocolate is a Boyfriend Substitute Day (do they make cards for that?).  I kind of love Valentine's Day (ha ha).  Over the years there have been the boys that brought me beautiful flowers and cooked me dinner, but the Valentine's Days I really remember are the ones spent with friends.  Long ago, living in Montreal, me and my roommate sat at our kitchen table and made beautiful Valentine cards for our loved ones back West, and our friends in the city.   Using coloured paper and my oil pastels, we lovingly cut them out, and wrote quotes on them.  I think I still have the ones she made for me.  The other Valentine's Day that stands out, is again in Montreal, me and my friends had an "Anti Valentine's Day Party"  which was dessert potluck.  Maybe we were bitter about boys, but that was one helluva party.  And really you can't be too bitter, eating chocolate and dancing to Prince!   Even though there is no one special this year to buy me flowers and cook me dinner,  I'm still surrounded by people who love the bones off me, and that's really all that matters.  I'd rather be single and pretty happy, than in a dead end miserable relationship.  And being bitter is a waste of time.  We all know that.  So whether you are spending V-Day solo, or with your loved one, or with a room full of loved ones, consider this my Valentine to you. 

I've never made flourless chocolate cake before.  Always loved it eating out, so thought I'd give it a try, after seeing a recipe in one of Martha's magazines.  The great thing about this is cake is that it is not only full of chocolate and butter, but also, it's GLUTEN FREE!  And if you have a loved one who is Celiac, you know, like I do, how it can be a bit difficult to cook and bake for them.  This cake doesn't need any specialty flour or ingredients.  Just lots of eggs and chocolate and sugar.  I didn't use super good quality chocolate, just President's Choice brand Extra Dark 300g bar.  You know the ones they were clearing out after Christmas?  The chocolate isn't hideous, and sometimes you just have to use what you have in the cupboard.  Be sure to beat the eggs for the specified times, cuz that's what give it it's oomph.  It bakes up high, then condenses down into beautiful crackles, with a super fugdey centre.    Drizzle with some of the Espresso Glaze, a little whipped cream if you are totally decadent.  I spent my small life savings on some organic raspberries, but couldn't resist them.  It's been 5 months since I've had a fresh raspberry, and I only eat organic berries (don't even get me started on pesticide residue on berries), so I paid the small fortune for them.  Completely worth it.  Chocolate + Raspberry = perfection. 
From one girl who loves chocolate to all of you, who I'm sure do too, Happy Valentine's Day!  Share this cake with someone you love.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Espresso Glaze 

For the Cake:
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 Cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
1/4 Tsp. coarse salt
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

For the Glaze;
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
1/4 Tsp. coarse salt

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350*F.  Butter the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan, and line the bottom with parchment, cut to fit.  I buttered the sides too.  Melt the chocolate and butter over very low heat, stirring and keeping close eye on it so as not to burn.  With a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar, until thick and pale, about 3 minutes.  Add espresso powder and salt, and beat for 1 minute.  Add vanilla and chocolate mixture and beat for 1 minute more.  Transfer this mixture to a large bowl, and wash the  mixer bowl and whisk with hot soapy water. 

In your clean bowl, add the egg whites and whisk until foamy.  Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat the heck out of it, until stiff peaks form and hold their shape.  Fold the white goo into the chocolate mixture, in three additions.  Fold fold fold.  Pour the batter into your prepared pan. 
Bake until set, about 40-45 minutes.  Let cool completely on a rack, and then carefully remove pan from sides.  Lift cake with spatula and remove parchment. 

To Make the Glaze:
Combine chocolate and butter and vanilla in a bowl.  In a saucepan, add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring well.  Pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth.  Serve warm glaze with cake.  The glaze seemed to get a little thick on me, so you may want to add a bit more cream to thin it out. 
Cake serves 6-8.  (Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Pot of Tea, a Good Book and Lemon Cream Cheese Muffins

There's something almost luxurious about having a weekday off.  Especially if it's a freezing cold Monday in early February.  While everyone else is out there miserably scraping their windshields, I was all tucked in, snug as bug in my warm little house.  Rising later than 6:00 and staying in my pajamas until I feel like it is a total treat, and not one I get to indulge in too often.  On this particularly frigid day, I was glad I had nowhere to be until my yoga class later in the afternoon.  A whole day with a blank canvas stretched before me.  What oh what was I going to do?  Why, bake of course!!!! All I really wanted to do was whip up these divine lemon cream cheese muffins, brew my polka dot tea pot full of good tea, and curl up with a favourite read. I'm currently loving "Cool Water" by Regina author (and winner of this year's Governor General's Literary Award for fiction!) Dianne Warren.  Throw a cat or two along for the ride.  If I curl up, they curl up.

Now let's talk about these light and lovely lemon cream cheese muffins.  After I graduated from Culinary School, I worked in the Yukon that summer.  There was a really talented pastry chef on staff and she gave me this recipe.  I learned quite a lot that summer, while having the time of my life, cooking and adventuring in the wild!  Good times.  But back to the muffins.  The batter is light, with little chunks of cream cheese thrown in for some decadence. I like to leave some bigger chunks, because then you bite into this cakey cream cheese lemony loveliness. Brushing the tops of the hot muffins with sugar and lemon juice is a nice finish.  They are pretty dreamy as is, or you can further up the dreaminess by topping with a little lemon buttercream.  These are perfect for a baby or bridal shower, or a birthday, or just an everyday treat, when you want a little nurturing yourself.  Kind of like the day I had planned.  A little self-nurturing goes a long way in my world.

I hope my handwriting is legible enough...Combine the dry ingredients, cut in the cubes of cream cheese.  In a separate bowl combine the wet ( I like to add more lemon zest and a bit more juice for extra flavour.)Add the wet to the dry, mixing just a little until all is combined.  This recipe makes about 10 muffins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes at 375*F, and brush the 2 Tbsp. each lemon juice/sugar mixture on top of hot muffins.  Glorious!!!!

And don't forget to have a nice cup of tea with your little lemon lovelies.  Somehow tea always tastes better in my vintage cups.  Just a matter of choosing which one I'll use that day!

Blue it is!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cooking For My Mama: Sausage and Shrimp Jambalya With Cheddar Cornbread

I have a good Mother.  We've always been close, and since my big move back to Saskatoon a couple of years ago, we're even closer.  Three blocks apart, actually!  I pretty much love being this close to my Mom, and given that I moved out when I was 20, and was on my own for so long, it's nice being able to have each other over for dinner, or go for lunch or a movie or scout for deals at the vintage stores in town.  My Mom is my hero and inspiration in so many ways.  As a single parent, she raised four pretty great kids, and if you ask her how she did it, she'll just say she just did it for us. There's no doubt I get my strength and bravery from my mom. She sets a fine example.  When I was a young lass, and wanted to move across the country, to a city where I knew only one other person,  and where I would be studying, of all things, art, she let me go.  Not once did she try to persuade me to study something more "practical" or to talk me out of following a passion of mine.  Given my, um, stubborn nature, I probably wouldn't have listened to her anyway, but at the time, and even more so now, I appreciate that she let me go.  While I was brave to jump at that chance to have an adventure, and let the rest of my life begin, my Mom was brave for letting me go.  Inside she probably had massive reservations, but to let her daughter run out and see the world and study art, well, that was pretty cool.  When it dawned on me that I need a practical skill to balance out the creative, she was a strong supporter of my going to Culinary school.  So cheers to my mom! She's a huge part of why I do what I do.  If I keep rambling, I may start crying, and I've told myself, there's no crying in Food Blog! 

I had my Mom over for dinner one night last week, because she wanted to see the "blog thing" I've been working on.  She loved the first post, but didn't think I should have had the orange slices on the plate.  (She's not shy about giving her opinions!)  So what to cook this mama of mine?  I had some beautiful Chorizo sausage and some juicy jumbo shrimp; the makings of a fine jambalaya.  Comfort in a bowl, and it's always so satisfying. My sister's kids love it. This recipe is a keeper!   You can always substitute chicken for the sausage, if you like.  I'm picky about meat, only buying from the local farmer's market, or driving out and purchasing from farms around the city.  After seeing movies like "Food Inc."  and "Fresh", I just can't eat feed lot meat any more.  Quality and peace of mind are totally worth the small increase in price. (I tend to get a little preachy about meat. Please forgive?) The recipe is adapted from one of Bonnie Stern's Heartsmart cookbooks, thumbed through many times. I can't have jambalaya without cornbread, so whipped some of that up too.  It's best eaten the day of, spread, of course, with plenty of butter! 

Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red sweet pepper, diced
1 green sweet pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 pound of hot Italian sausage or Chorizo sausage, OR boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes.  I take the skin off of the sausage, and cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups of long grain rice (OR if substituting brown rice, add an extra 1/2 cup of stock and bake casserole for 40 minutes, until rice is tender)
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 cups of homemade or store bought chicken stock
1/2 tsp (or more!) of hot sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch (or more!) of cayenne
1/4 pound (125g) peeled and cleaned shrimp
2 green onions chopped
lemon slices for garnish

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in large, flat  oven proof casserole dish that can be used on the stove top.  Add onion and garlic, cook on med, for a few minutes.  Add peppers and celery, cooking a few minutes  more.  Transfer mixture to a bowl, and set aside.  Heat remaining oil, and cook off the sausage or chicken on medium high heat, browning on all sides.  Stir stir stir.  Return the veg to the pan, stirring in tomatoes and rice, cooking for 3 minutes.  In a bowl, combine the tomato juice, stock, hot sauce and seasonings, and stir this into the rice mixture.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  Add the shrimp to the casserole, and bake 5 minutes longer.  I like to garnish with chopped green onions, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and more hot sauce, cuz I like it spicy!

Cheddar Cornbread

11/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup unbleached white flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/3 cup honey
3 tbsp butter
1 egg
11/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated old cheddar

Preheat oven to 350* F.  Butter a loaf pan.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, mixing very well.  Melt the butter and honey together. In a medium bowl, beat the egg, stir in the milk and the honey mixture.  Add this to the cornmeal mixture and stir in the cheese.  Stir just until everything is combined. Scrape into prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, testing with a toothpick (it'll come out clean, of course!) when it's done.  Loaf should be golden brown on top.  Serve with the jambalaya and a nice garden salad.  Delish. Cheers to your Mama too!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Apple Blueberry Walnut Crisp On the Coldest Night of the Year

I have the most beautiful apple tree in my backyard.  When the tree is in bloom,  it gives off the most glorious scent, and I love to sit on my deck, in the warm sunshine, and just smell.  Pure heaven.  In Summer, it is lush with leaves and tiny crab apples, and my cat Sunny will climb around in it for hours, hoping to catch a bird, which he never does, thankfully.  Autumn turns it into a golden orb, creating the most beautiful light.  But in Winter, it looks a little sad.  So bare and brittle. So solemn.   This tree gets no love in Winter. Tree and I are in the same boat: anticipating Spring with bated breath.  As I write this, on the coldest night of the year, I need some sort of reminder of what it is not be Winter.  I need some crisp!


In the back of my freezer, I found a Ziploc full of apples I had picked and peeled, cored and sliced.  Perfect for an apple crisp!  Also had some frozen organic blueberries.  Perfect. I'm so happy I froze so much fruit last summer, needed especially for days like today.   Can I just say a crisp is the perfect comfort dessert?  Any combo of fruit is amazing.  Add some nuts into the topping, and everyone will think you are a rock star.  To really put it over the edge, serve with whipped cream, or ice cream. But I never eat ice cream in winter.  I figure I'm cold enough, why get colder?  It's important to use real butter in the topping.  For any baking, I only ever  use butter.  There are no evils of hydrogenation or trans fat to worry about, and God love it, butter does make everything better.  In this recipe, you don't need a lot of it, but if you want an extra buttery topping, by all means, add more.  I won't tell.

Apple Blueberry Walnut Crisp

6 Cups of peeled, and sliced apples, and blueberries.  Any combination of fruit works. 
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tsp. Pure vanilla extract
2 Tsp. whole wheat flour
2 Tsp. cinnamon

2 Cups of large flake oats
1/2 Cup brown sugar (or a bit less, if you want it not as sweet, depending on the fruit you are using)
1/3 Cup butter (salted is fine) adding more if you want a super buttery topping. 
1/2 Cup of walnuts, or pecans, or almonds. 

Preheat oven to 350.
In a mixing bowl, combine the fruit, with the honey and vanilla and flour.  Stir well.  Pour into a baking dish, 8x8 is fine.  In the same bowl, mix your dry ingredients, adding butter, and use your fingers to incorporate it all.  Add in the nuts.  There should be nice clusters and clumps, if not, add more butter!  When you are satisfied with the how buttery you want it, place the topping over the fruit.  Place the baking dish in your preheated oven, and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until the topping is golden.  Turn off your oven, and let it sit for a few more minutes.  Take it out, let it cool, then tuck in.  I love it for breakfast the next day, topped with vanilla yogurt.

And now at look at my beloved tree....

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