Saturday, June 30, 2012

Delicious Summer Pasta

It's true, I eat a lot of pasta. But can you really ever eat too much pasta? The other day, I found myself with a great mix of flavors and textures to make a typical bowl of pasta feel gussied up. This could easily be turned into a vegetarian dish as well.

Here's what I used:
-1 avocado
-2 leftover chicken thighs (I prefer dark to light meat for more flavor, but anything works)
-1 ear of sweet corn, shaved
-half an onion, diced
-2 stems of celery, chopped
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-2-3 oz. of herbed chevre
-2-3 oz. cream
-1 lb. linguini

First, boil your pasta and get that out of the way. I love linguini because it's got some body to hold a heavy sauce, but works for more delicate sauces as well. Al dente, please!

Next, with a little oil or butter in the pan, toss in your onion till it starts to sweat. Add the garlic and cook till caramelized. (Sidenote: If your garlic starts cooking faster than the onion, I like to slow it down by adding a little water to let the onion "catch up." Many recipes start with garlic before onion, but that never seems to work for me- and I like the stronger flavor by adding the garlic later. But feel free to deviate if you're a garlic-first kind of person.)

Add the chicken and celery, just long enough to heat it up. (If you have raw chicken, cook that first!) Then toss in the corn. I like the corn and celery to have some crunch so the dish has a range of textures.

Add the cream and let it boil. I usually eyeball it to cover the veggies, but add more if you like a saucy pasta.

Toss in the linguini and using a tongs, mop up all that saucy goodness. Transfer to a bowl and add crumbled chevre, diced avocado and fresh pepper. Then invite me over for dinner.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nordic Kiss

My good friends know that I have trouble transitioning into summer drinks, given my passion for porters, stouts and whiskeys during the cooler months. Don't get me wrong, I love a cosmo or a gin and tonic as much as a gal can, but finding my "summer drink" is tricky. 

I drink Lillet on ice or Campari sodas when I'm with friends or in the garden, but I like having a regular stock of something more versatile in the home. And one should never drink Lillet alone, really.

I've made a couple Ikea runs since my move and I found a bottle of elderflower syrup. I was curious, and drawn to something that is sweet and feminine, but also recommended for flavoring water. How practical! I got a bottle, hoping I could get creative.

This is a lovely variation of a drink my godmother made me, only hers uses St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur in the most beautiful bottle you've ever seen. This is my take, a little twist on the French Gimlet.

 -2 oz. citrus vodka
-1 Tablespoon of elderflower syrup or St. Germain
-4 oz. grapefruit soda (you can use juice, but I like the bubbles for summer)
-slice or twist of lime

Serve up or on the rocks.

Great for a party, or just to celebrate you!

Use Those Ingredients!

Every year for Christmas, a good friend of mine makes this beautiful red pepper jelly and I never know what to do with it. It sits in a lonely cupboard and eventually gets pushed to the back until I do a reorganization and make it a priority to use it.

Now it's back in front and I have found there's nothing more fun than taking an unusual ingredient and building meals around it. The red pepper jelly is the new staple for my now "grown up" grilled cheese.

Here's what I do:
-one piece of bread gets mustard
-the other gets red pepper jelly
-goat cheese

Brilliant! I can't wait to use this for crostini. I'm nearly through the jar and already raided my dad's stash for when I run out. Luckily, Christmas is just around the corner.

Any ideas from your end? What item in your cupboard is leaving you stumped as to what to do with it?

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Box of Young Coconuts

Last weekend I made my first trip to the Asian grocery store in town. It's time I get away from my Euro-American cooking comfort zone and explore some new terrain. I asked my friend Chuck if she needed me to pick up anything.

"Maybe just a box of young coconuts."

A box? I looked all over the store, moving in slow motion along the aisles as I scanned every product. Thank goodness almost everything had a picture on the package. So many totally unfamiliar ingredients! I had a time just finding the basics to getting my feet wet, like soy sauce, nori, miso and soba noodles.

I finally went to the counter and asked the clerk. "How many boxes?" she asked. "We'll bring to your car."

"Just one." I had no idea what Chuck would even do with these.

Drink them! If you're on board with the coconut water craze, this is the source. They do wonders for getting you hydrated and are a cheaper way to go than the fancy water bottles in stores. Chuck's boyfriend showed me how to hack them open.

Just give them a couple hits with a hatchet, grab a straw and drink!

As to what to do with the rest of the meat inside, I have no idea. Any suggestions? Young coconuts have their own fan page, so that's my first stop in navigating their mystery.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grant's Tomb

More photos discovered from the New York trip! Today, it's from Grant's Tomb. Did you know that not only is it right in New York City, but is also the largest mausoleum in the country? I was happy to cross this off my old history buff list.

Grant and his wife.

Beautiful mosaic work in the park outside the mausoleum.

For more info, go to the official website here. More news and info here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Near Riot Chocolate Almond Whiskey Truffles

Have you ever made chocolate truffles from scratch? If you've followed my previous blogs, you know I make them pretty often for parties (they're especially great for vegetarians and those on gluten-free diets, don't need their own plates or utensils, are so rich and decadent that most people only need one, and they take a lot less time than most desserts). Dark chocolate is better for you than cake, anyway- and goes a whole lot better with alcohol.

I love the Pound Plus chocolate you can get from Trader Joe's. It's the best value dark chocolate and is easy to work with. Only I totally spaced at the store, and snagged the kind with almonds in it, which inspired this new recipe (normally I prefer to make ganache without nuts because it's one less step).

This is the easiest way I know to make truffles. It takes some time to let everything cool and set, but takes less active time than most desserts. If this is your first time making these, read through all the instructions first. If it's a refresher, hopefully it is a simpler recipe.

So here's the recipe:
12 oz. dark chocolate with almonds
6 oz. heavy whipping cream
2 oz. salted butter
2 oz. whiskey

5 oz. chocolate reserved for enrobing
disposable latex gloves

Have the chocolate well chopped and in a separate bowl. To give myself a head start, I leave the chocolate in the package and smash it against a tile floor or hard countertop until the seams look like they'll rip. It will save you a few minutes of prep time because who really enjoys chopping up chocolate?

Boil the cream and pour over the chopped chocolate in bowl. Cover with Saran wrap and let it steam before you start stirring (stirring cools it down too fast without giving the chocolate the chance to melt completely).

Wait a few minutes to stir in the chocolate completely, then add your whiskey and butter. Make sure the butter is chopped up in little pea-sized pieces or it takes a surprisingly long time to melt and your ganache will risk having butter streaks in it. Every ganache recipe is better with butter incorporated- it leaves a silkier texture and adds a little salt to bring out the flavor.

Mix well. Then let it harden in the fridge with a layer of plastic to prevent condensation.

When it is set, you can start to roll it into balls. Don't worry about them being even because they are meant to be uneven and look like real truffles from the ground. Roll out all of the ganache and put into a freezer. It's okay if they're lined on a sheet pan or stacked in a bowl. This is where I strongly recommend wearing a pair of latex gloves. It keeps the chocolate from sticking to your skin and provides an extra layer of insulation between the cool ganache and your warm hands. It also will prevent fingerprints later when you pick up the truffles and make your life a whole lot cleaner.

Melt your reserved chocolate. Don't let it get too hot! And don't ever put over direct heat, just set a bowl above boiling water and take it off every few seconds to keep it from scorching.

Chocolate is messy and does not have a long wait time, so make sure you have an assembly line ready to go. The more organized you are, the more fun it will be to make them.

I have all the ganache rolled out so you don't have to worry about having to remelt the chocolate. This way you get it all in one shot. Since tempering chocolate is its own beast, I have the melted chocolate a little on the warm side and the cold ganache makes them set up almost immediately. I like lining a sheetpan with plastic in case of drips. Start at the farthest end and line up the finished chocolate towards you so the new ones aren't dripping over.

Put a little melted chocolate on your palm and roll the truffle in it. It's that easy and you can see how quickly it sets up when the truffles are cold to start. You can also see how messy it is, even with the gloves! I find them essential.

You can put them back in the fridge to help them set up, especially if they'll be on a plate in a warm room. This is the best party treat because they're small and unexpected. They also last a few weeks if properly stored in the fridge, so it's a great thing to have in stock!

Please share your experience making them and let me know if there were any directions that needed clarification.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Born from Adam's Rib

 Real women love ribs. And barbecue. And hot sauce. Yesterday I had my first barbecue in far too long for a meat enthusiast to admit. Chuck and I met a couple friends in Calistoga for a luxurious day of mineral pools and hot springs. At Calistoga Spa, you can pay for day use on week days and soak up as much sun and water as your little heart desires. You can also bring in your own food and drinks.

So we did- a feast of treats from Oliver's Market: artisan truffled salami, cheeses handmade by friends, olives I'd never heard of, guacamole and Modelos to wash it all down. I wish I'd taken a picture, but I was too hypnotized by the perfect gooeyness of the Camembert that I forgot to grab my camera.

It seemed only fitting to max out our food lust with barbecue. We headed to Buster's on our way out of town, prepping ourselves for the legendary hot sauce. The clerk gave us an oral and a written warning on the spiciness. I took the challenge. Of course, I had nothing to prove. My pride was not at all riding on my ability to handle the deep, smoky edge of the firey sauce that stacked from my lungs up to my head with every bite. Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew, but I have no regrets. The pain was worth it.

It's hard to make barbecue look beautiful, but I'm sure you can appreciate the no-frills, no-nonsense approach of the presentation.

And yes, sometimes when I eat barbecue, I close my eyes. Doesn't everyone?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ettorina's China

When you're in college, there is nothing less appealing than relatives trying to pawn off their housewares onto you, especially when they're family heirlooms from aging relatives. It's not that I didn't appreciate my Uncle Clarence thinking of me. It was more of a what does a 19-year-old girl need her great-aunt's wedding china for? A hope chest? A dowry?

Plus, the design was flowery and finished with silver edges. This was at the millenium, you know, when plates needed to white and from Ikea. Or chipped and from Goodwill, like any proper college house.

Needless to say, the china sat in a box in my father's garage for the next decade.

Two weeks ago, I worked at a catered wedding full of Etsy inspired touches. The couple had been collecting old china from thrift stores for years and the mismatched, flowery plates on the tables with vintage books and mason jars was exactly my style.

I am only now, at 31, just discovering my style with a recent move into my own studio. For the first time in my life, I'm putting pictures up on walls, unpacking boxes completely, and buying flowers for the coffee table. I've never been much of a nester, so it's been a fun new exploration into the world of design and creating a comforting space.

And it also means this lonely china finally has a home! Thank you, Ettorina and Clarence. I promise I will put it to use.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Furniture Tour

Hey, art lovers. There's still one more tour we haven't seen from my wonderful day at the Met during my week in New York. And get ready, it's a nerdy one.

Royal furniture and stately rooms! I seriously can't get enough of this stuff.

The first stop was the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, though I think the craftsmen should get some credit. The entire room is wooden inlay, or intarsia, and uses the grains of wood to make the pictures look three dimensional. 

Notice the detail to use a different grain to cast a shadow.

Our curator shone light on one edge to show a better example of the 3D effect. This would be extraordinary if created now in the age of power tools.

Next came embroidery from Louis XIV. These are not tapestries, mind you. This was all done by hand, not loom.

Can you see the silver thread?

Another example of elaborate inlay using ivory, tortoiseshell and ebony.

Rococo chandelier.

Scallop shell armchairs with original tapestry from the mid-18th century. Take the oldest buildings in our country, and this chair is even older.

Lacquered desk of Louis XV, all part of a fascinating process of tapping trees in Southeast Asia for the effect.

Marie Antoinette's chair.

Can you see her insignia? It's in the center under the cabinet top.

A raised desk with compartments and a book slant for more comfortable reading. Kind of robotic for the neoclassic period.

By 1710 porcelain was made in France during the reign of Louis XV by the famed company Sevres. Porcelain was of particular interest with royal furniture because it retains its color over age. This furniture was intended for the women of the court.

The carvings on the side panels are Wedgwood.

I snapped these as I walked through Medieval art to catch up with the next tour.

Now I'm appreciating my Aunt Ettorina's wedding china she passed on to me. It has patiently waited in my father's garage for at least five years, and now it will be used everyday in my new little kitchen.

Stay tuned for the excitement! I don't think it's Sevres, but it's antique as far as I'm concerned.