Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ticking One Off My Bucket List: Sour Cherry Rhubarb Bars . . . and a Giveaway!

I believe everyone has a bucket list of sorts. Some people’s lists may contain such lofty goals as climbing Mt. Everest or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, while other's lists may be a bit more humble. My own main list does contain a hike to Machu Picchu and visiting Gauguin’s grave, but I also have a smaller food driven list that I am starting to work on slowly.

It may sound kind of insignificant to someone who doesn’t really love to cook, but I am starting to use ingredients that I have heard of my whole life, but up until now have snubbed for one reason or another. For instance, as much as I cook I have never stuffed a squash blossom, sautéed an oyster or cooked a sweetbread. I’m not too sure if I really want to sauté an oyster or cook a sweetbread, but there they are on the bottom of my list. I did eat a raw oyster once when I was a squeamish eighteen year old and had a bit of a chicken fried calf testicle when I was two months pregnant and sick at the sight of pretty much anything. If I dwell on these experiences for too long I can still gag a little bit. . . peer pressure don’t cha know. Thank goodness I can check those two off my list.

Last week I had an occasion to cook with one of my bucket list ingredients when my neighbor brought over a bundle of rhubarb a friend had given her. I have grown up hearing about strawberry rhubarb pie my whole life but have always been put off a bit by rhubarb's celery appearance, the unappetizing name and a rumor I heard a long time ago that it is poison in its raw state.  Well, come to find out, the leaves in super great quantities that no one would really eat, have been known to make goats sick or something like that.

Knowing that this was my chance to tick one off my list I accepted her gift and went to work. I challenged myself to make something a little different than the usual strawberry rhubarb pie. I dug through my pretty well stocked pantry and came up with some sour cherry preserves which were given to me by another neighbor. I combined the two with some other ingredients I had hanging around and the result is a really great recipe if I do say so myself. Not only have I now come one ingredient closer to dying a happy cook, I understand what all the hoopla is surrounding this odd looking vegetable. So if you’re like me and haven’t cooked with rhubarb, or even if you have, give this recipe a try and I guarantee it won’t be your last time.





Sour Cherry Rhubarb Bars

2 ounces coarsely chopped almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sour cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small frying pan set over medium high heat, toast almonds (stirring frequently) until they are a golden brown; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the almonds, flour, oatmeal, butter and brown sugar; stir well to combine completely. Press half of the mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 9” square glass dish; set aside.

In a medium size sauce pan, cook water, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla over medium heat until it boils. Lower heat to simmer and cook until it thickens. Add rhubarb and preserves and cook until the preserves are completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and gently pour over the oatmeal mixture in the pan. Place pan into the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining oatmeal mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven and continue baking for an additional 20 – 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cover with foil if it begins to brown too much. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. The longer it cools, the better it sets.

Serve warm with ice cream or at room temperature.

Serves 8

Since I haven’t done a giveaway in a very long time, I thought it would be fun to do something a little bit different this time to say thanks to my followers. To enter just leave me a comment between now and June 10th stating what food is on your bucket list and you could win a $50 Williams Sonoma gift card. If you dance naked around a camp fire chanting my blog name you get an additional entry. No, just kidding, one entry per person please, and YOU MUST BE A PUBLIC FOLLOWER OF THIS BLOG TO WIN. On the morning of June 10, just before high noon, I’ll let Random.org choose my winner so thanks for playing and good luck!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Avocado Toast and Watermelon Margaritas

Every year when summer comes around I can't help but think about my first real vacation. I was about 8 and my mother, sister and I flew to California to visit my father's mother. She was quite a glamorous personality who was at one time a professional dancer.

Early in her career, feeling encumbered by her given name Bertha Mae (and who wouldn't), she adopted the more sophisticated name of Bunch. I have no idea what the history was behind this name or what inspired it, but to this day even hearing the word conjures up memories of this beautiful free spirit.

Even though she has been gone for some years now, I still remember that two of her special signatures in life were her intense pride in her Cherokee heritage and her tradition of always painting her front door a deep shade of coral.

She was also a real beauty with long dark wavy hair, piercing blue eyes and a lust for life, often throwing her head back and laughing out loud. I so wish I would have know her as an adult. It would have been so much fun having her as a girlfriend.

By the time we traveled from Texas to see her, Grandma Bunch had moved from her beloved Santa Barbara (I told you she was cool), to a 40 acre ranch outside Visalia complete with an orange grove and swimming pool.

Not only did she treat us to a day at Disneyland, but we swam every day and visited every historic Catholic church and mission in central and southern California. She even bought me a first communion dress while we were there. The funny thing about that was, we weren’t Catholic or even big church goers, but I loved that little lacey white dress and wore it every chance I got (good try Grandma).

Also very memorable to me about this trip was the food she introduced us to while we were there. Grandma Bunch was quite the cook. She made her own sourdough bread, spaghetti sauce and macerated apricots in brandy to serve over ice cream for the adults. I don’t know if I was that impressed or it was my mother’s reaction to these dishes, but they were very memorable all the same. On that trip she coaxed me into trying fried scallops and shish kabob, two foods that remain high on my favorite list to this day.

She also turned us on to one of her favorite discoveries, avocado toast. It was just a simple little recipe for buttered toast with creamy ripe avocado mashed and smeared on top like jam. It was then sprinkled liberally with freshly ground black pepper for an easy and delicious little snack that I still make often.

Over the years I’ve kind of customized Grandma Bunch’s simple little recipe, but frequently still go back to the original for a bit of instant gratification, or when I have super ripe avocadoes that I need to use. I have found that this little recipe can kick up a summer salad supper or help make a simple cup of soup a special meal. With good avocadoes available most of the year, this is a taste of summer you can enjoy anytime.


Dressed Up Avocado Toast

4 slices rustic bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large tomato sliced into 8 thin slices
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (or any other sharp flavorful cheese)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, seeded and mashed
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat broiler.

Arrange bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in the preheated broiler. Watching carefully, toast until golden brown. Turn bread over and toast the other side lightly (this step can also be done in a toaster). Remove from the oven, butter one side before topping with tomato slices and equal amounts of the Asiago cheese. Return to the broiler, and watching carefully melt the cheese until it is bubbly and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before topping with equal amounts of the mashed avocado. Sprinkle with a grinding of black pepper. Serve warm.


No tribute to my grandmother would be complete without something coral colored. Since Whole Foods had small watermelons on sale, I thought a refreshing Watermelon Margarita would go well with the avocado toast. My little watermelon produced approximately 3 cups of strained juice so this is kind of a benchmark for starting your recipe. Since I love sprinkling my watermelon with salt before I eat it, I think that the combination of salty and sweet on the glass rims compliments the watermelon flavor perfectly. Feel free to adjust this recipe to accomodate the amount of juice you get from your melon or to your taste preference.

Watermelon Margaritas

1 small seedless watermelon
Juice of 3 limes (approximately 6 tablespoons)
1/2 cup simple syrup (1/3 cup granulated sugar to 1/3 cup water, simmered together until sugar is dissolved then cooled)
2/3 cup tequila (or white rum for a daiquiri)
1 - 1/2 ounces orange liqueur
2 teaspoons very coarse salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Crushed Ice
Lime wedges

Remove watermelon pulp from the rind and place in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree. Over a pitcher, strain pulp through a sieve, pressing pulp with the back of a spoon to extract every bit of juice. To the pitcher add the lime juice, tequila and orange liqueur. Stir well.

Combine the salt and sugar on a flat surface. Run a lime wedger over the rims of four 10 - 12 ounce glasses. Gently dip the glass rims in the salt/sugar mixture to coat. Carefully fill glasses with the desired amount of ice. Give the watermelon mixture one more good stirring before filling glasses. Top each glass with a wedge of lime. Serve immediately. This recipe makes 4 nice big Margaritas.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cookin' It Old School: Fermented Refrigerator Pickles

I love the idea of preserving fresh foods. There’s just something about taking a vegetable or a fresh crisp piece of fruit, stuffing it in a jar and boiling the hell out of it that just makes my heart sing. My first experience of preservation was several years ago when my sister invited me over to help her can some dill pickles. Having always wanted to learn this process, I grabbed my purse and headed on over, first stopping by my local farmers’ market to pick up some pickling cucumbers. For those of you who have purchased these, you can probably vouch for the fact that most often they are quite expensive. I assure you that unless you have your own farm or garden, saving money is not usually the main objective in pickle making.

Fermented Refrigerator Pickles

To get started you really need to sanitize most everything in the kitchen. My sister made this easy by putting the jars in the dishwasher and hitting “sterilize” and simmering the rings and lids in a small pot on the stove. While that was going on she made a salt and vinegar brine by combining two old recipes that she found in a couple of church cookbooks. We washed each cucumber thoroughly and packed them in ice to thoroughly chill them (she swears that this make the pickles crisp).

We packed the very cold cucumbers and hot brine into the jars, along with some garlic and a few spices and fitted them with lids and rings before gently dropping them into the boiling cauldron she had on the stove. After a few minutes, we removed them from their water bath and left them to cool on a towel and waited for the vacuum to form and the lids to pop. Mission accomplished. We each landed up with six jars of the most delicious $35 a quart dill pickles I had ever eaten.

About 5 years ago I decided to give pickles another try on my own. I assembled all of the necessary accoutrements and went for it. The only sticky wicket that I ran across was the brine recipe. Since it had been a few years, my sister had forgotten which recipes she had used so, deciding that this must be pretty easy, I found one I felt pretty comfortable with and used it. Everything went well, my lids all popped and they looked just beautiful. After waiting the suggested month, I popped a jar open and bit into one. The brine was so vinegary and salty that I can only describe it as one molecule off from gasoline. All that time and expense completely wasted. I was totally bummed and hung up my pickle making gloves for six years. I’ve since had great luck with jams and preserves but have not attempted anything with vinegar in all this time.

As they say, time heals all wounds so this year when I ran across pickling cucs for 49 cents a pound I figured I had nothing to lose but about 5 bucks and a little time. In searching for brine recipes I decided to scrap that all together and try fermenting my pickles. I really liked this idea because since no vinegar is used, I can stop the fermentation process at any time I feel the taste is just right for me. It does take a little more time and patience but the thought of using a time honored and ancient method of preservation was really intriguing to me.

This process, properly called lacto or lactic fermentation, was the primary method for preserving vegetables before heat sterilization was discovered. The vegetables are cut up and seasoned with salt (or a mild brine) and herbs, and left to soak in their own juice. Lactic microbial organisms develop spontaneously and convert the natural sugars of the vegetable into lactic acid. This environment rapidly acidifies, to the point that it becomes impossible for the bacteria responsible for food spoilage to multiply. This process is so easy and effective that it is a shame it has almost disappeared from use.


Day One - Just getting started: fresh cucumbers, spices and salted water are combined in a 2 gallon glass jar with a loose fitting lid and weighed down with a couple of heavy ceramic tea plates

Day Four: Aged to my idea of perfection. The brine is cloudy but with hardly a trace of any "scum" at the top and a fresh dill scent.

Getting started is really simple all you need are small pickling cucumbers, salt, garlic cloves, pickling spices or a blend of your own and some water. I have read that it is best to trim 1/16" off the blossom end of the cucumber as it may contain an enzyme that can cause the pickle to be limp and soggy. Since I was planning on processing mine after fermentation I used one big jar because I thought it was easier but you can also use 5 or so quart jars. You place all of your ingredients together, weighing down the pickles with a weight to prevent any floaters which could cause spoilage, and place them in a dark place to do their stuff.

I checked my brew every morning and removed any scum (I know, sounds gross, but stay with me here) that accumulated at the top of the brine or any foul odor which signals spoilage, and tasted one to check for the perfect flavor. After four days I decided mine were aged to perfection and I drained off the brine and boiled it and ran it through a coffee filter in an effort to clear the cloudiness (which didn’t really work, but oh well they still taste great) and processed them in jars for longer storage. If you want to skip this step, pack the pickles in the brine and refrigerate until ready to use. They can last for up to 6 months when kept sealed and refrigerated. Always check any preserved food for appearance and smell before consuming them. If anything doesn’t seem right, discard them. This is now my answer to gasoline pickles. They are delicious.


Finished Product. Processed, ready and waiting. I got 5 quarts of pickles from my 8 (give or take) pounds of cucumbers. I made 2 quarts of unprocessed refrigerator pickles and 3 processed quarts (for more information about processing pickles click here) that I will store in a cool dry place until I am ready. I know without tasting that my unprocessed pickles with be a bit crisper than the three that were processed but they will last much longer. Give and take. . .

The recipe I used was one from Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking, which was recommended by David Lebovitz. David is one of my personal heroes and always a great source of information. His recipe for sour cherry preserves is my favorite of all time and the only one I ever use. I also used a reference book that I won last year from Angela Buchanan over at Foodie Road Show called Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning. This book is packed with great ideas and several methods of preserving foods from packing them in oil to lacto fermentation. What a great book Angela, thanks again. I really had fun with my little science project and plan on trying fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut sometime soon. I will definitely be making some fruit preserves and some sun dried tomatoes packed in oil later on in the summer so stay tuned for more deliciousness in a jar.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My post in 140 characters or less and a recipe for Lemony Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta

Hell is freezing over and the world will end on May 21st. My proof? I’ve joined Twitter.

Here’s a great recipe to enjoy in the meantime.


10 ounces Campanelle pasta
1 pound large shrimp, deveined with heads and tails removed and cut into bite size pieces
6 tablespoons butter (ah, what the heck, just use the whole stick if you want)
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain (reserving 1 cup of the pasta water) and set aside.

In a large frying pan set over medium high heat, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the shallot and sauté until tender, approximately 3 minutes; add garlic and red pepper and sauté for one minute longer. Sauté the shrimp in the butter mixture until they are just opaque, approximately 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and white wine. Simmer until it is heated through. Stir in the cooked pasta and toss with 1/3 cup of the grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with the remaining Parmesan. If pasta should start to dry out, add pasta water a little bit at a time to reach desired consistency.

Serves 4

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mother's Day, a food truck or two, and an arepas recipe

I always get a little sentimental and reflective around Mother’s Day. I don’t know if it is the emotions of being celebrated by my children or thinking of how much being mothered myself has meant to me. How do you really thank the first girl who held your hair back as you were sick, bought your school supplies and all of your lunches for the first 20 years or so of your life?

Now that I’m a mother I’ll tell you how, just be a good person. That’s it. It’s that simple. That’s all we mothers really want. Just be happy and be a good citizen of the world. Oh yeah, girls stay off the pole and don’t do anything on camera that you wouldn’t want your mom to see (I guess this one applies to both girls and boys). Finally and most importantly, parent your own children well.

My family is always really good about not making too many plans for me on Mother’s Day. They know that I just like to chill out and do what strikes me on the day. This year my day actually started on Saturday when I headed downtown with a couple of other blogger friends to eat off of the food trucks that were in town competing in Food Network’s challenge show, The Great Food Truck Race. We did managed to visit and eat off of two trucks which was no easy feat because of the large crowds. Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Quiero Arepas (ah-RAY-pahz) truck which was one I was really hoping to see. It’s a local truck so hopefully I’ll have my chance again. Oh well, the weather was beautiful, the food we got to taste was good and the urban crowd in Denver was predictably weird. It was a perfect day.

Korilla Korean BBQ
We shared some great teriyaki style beef soft corn tacos with a crispy sweet cole slaw type topping. I wish I had a photo but my assistant (ha ha) forgot to charge my camera battery and it died.

Lime from California which serves self described "California beach cuisine." They were a little slower starting up so we were unable to try any of their food.

Hodge Podge from Cleveland


Hodge Podge Dawg and Truffle Mac and Cheese - Hodge Podge Truck from Cincinnatti
We got to try a Hodge Podge Dawg which was a huge hot dog topped with cole slaw, sriracha mayo, bacon, shredded short ribs, and smashed truffle tater tots. My blogger friend Lea Ann shared her Truffle Mac and Cheese with us which was super rich with a very subtle truffle flavor and a not too strong goat cheese accent. Even though they were both very good, after seeing a couple of more orders coming off of the truck, I really wish I'd ordered the beautiful $17.00 Lobster Roll. You only live once.

On Sunday I decided that I was going to give myself a present and take a day off from domestic drudgery. I planned to more or less give the finger to bed making, dishwashing and yard work for a day. It was near bliss until I walked into my bedroom for the third time and could no longer stand it and had to make my bed. I went to put my coffee cup in the dishwasher and next thing I knew I was wiping down the countertops and sweeping the floors. I am proud to report that the yard work strike was one I was able to follow through with, since to be quite honest I really don’t do much of that anyway.

Since I didn’t get a chance to eat an arepa off of a food truck this weekend I decided to satisfy my craving by making my own. Arepas are no more than simple little corncakes from Latin America that are either filled or topped. I kind of prefer the Venezuelan style of arepa. They are about 1” thick and are split open after cooking and stuffed with a variety of fillings.

The Columbian style arepas are thinner and served flat and topped with your choice of savory and sweet ingredients (I love them with honey). Even though they are both pretty easy to make, finding the key ingredient (precooked cornmeal) may be not quite so simple. It is important that you use the correct type labeled as masarepa or masa al instante, as the more available masa harina is not a proper substitute. I managed to find precooked cornmeal labeled as P.A.N. in the Hispanic section of a Korean market (go figure), but with everything available on the internet, it can always be ordered if you too have a hankering for an arepa and there’s no food truck around.



Arepas

My arepa here is stuffed with seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, avocado and American cheese (yes, you read right - I read several references that state this is a favorite filling ingredient). I have a friend who loves stuffing hers with (speak of the devil) shredded short ribs, black beans and queso fresco. I'm also planning on trying the much referenced chicken, avocado and mayo mixture that is very popular in Argentina.

2 cups precooked cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 – 2/3 cups hot water
Cooking oil (optional)

Place cornmeal and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add hot water a stir vigorously to form a smooth and sticky dough. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Divide dough into five portions (for Columbian style, divided into 12 portions and flatten to 1/2" thickness) and roll each section into a ball. Place balls between 2 pieces of plastic wrap (this will make shaping the sticky dough much easier). Flatten to 1” thick with the bottom of a heavy, flat bottom pot. If cakes begin to crack, dampen with water and smooth edges. I have found that the best arepas are made from pretty sticky dough.

There are a couple of different ways to cook arepas, frying or grilling on a barbeque grill. To fry (my favorite), place a couple of tablespoons of oil into a medium size pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot fry corncakes until lightly browned on each side. Place arepas in a single layer on a baking sheet and place into a preheated 325 degree oven for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Properly cooked arepas should sound hollow when tapped. To barbeque, place arepas on a preheated, oiled grill and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Move to the outside of the grill and cook for approximately 15 minutes longer or until they sound hollow when tapped.

To serve, split arepas halfway down the middle. Carefully scoop out some of the center to form a pocket. Fill with your favorite ingredients. Suggestions follow.

Variations

•Filled Arepas: Split the arepas in half when finished and scoop out a little of the soft dough filling. Stuff with your chosen filling.

•Arepa de Pabellón: shredded, seasoned meat and black beans.

•Reina Pepeada: chopped chicken, avocado, and mayonnaise mashed together.

•Arepa de Dominó: black beans and crumbled white cheese.

•Arepa de Perico: scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers and onions.

•Columbian Arepas: make smaller and thicker and don't bake. Top with butter and melted cheese.

•Other possible fillings: grated white or cheddar cheese; guasacaca, ham and cheese, hard-boiled quails eggs.

•The sautéing step is sometimes skipped and the arepas are simply baked. In the countryside arepas are often cooked on the grill.

•Small arepas can be made and served as appetizers with garnishes on top instead of inside. Or they can be eaten as small biscuits.

•Sometimes a little sugar is mixed in with the dough to form sweet arepas (arepas dulces).
Notes

•The cornmeal used to make arepas is a special, precooked type that usually goes by the name masarepa, or masa precocida. It can often be found in Latino markets. The more commonly found masa harina is not the correct type to use for this recipe.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pimped Out Beans on Toast

The eating habits of the families of food bloggers are not always what you might think. Most of the people that I talk to about being a cooking contester and food blogger think that my family must be a lucky group of people to eat all of my culinary triumphs. Well, sometimes not so much. I mean sure, we are fortunate that we do indeed have lots of great food around here, but it may not always be at the optimum temperature or consistency when served to my hungry family after being photographed for 30 minutes.

The hungry family issue is usually why I try to prepare my recipes during the weekdays when everyone is gone and I can cook and photograph without the added pressure of “Hey mom I’m starving, when can we eat it?” This freedom in itself provides a unique set of problems. Usually as soon as everyone is out the door I get myself dressed and start cooking. On one particular day I decided to bake cupcakes which happen to be a recipe that I was developing on my own as opposed to using an existing one. On these days things often don’t go as planned and by 5pm I find myself exhausted from a day of mixing, baking and shooting in a disaster of a house with a neglected dog, an overflowing laundry basket and nothing for dinner but a dozen cupcakes, asking myself why I didn’t put something in the Crockpot?

When we were living in the UK there was a television program called Ready, Steady, Cook that featured two everyday Joes paired with a celebrity chef. The Joes were allowed to bring a bag of ingredients of their own choosing, that as I recall couldn’t cost more than 10 pounds or so. This challenged their chefs to produce a studio audience favorite dish or dishes which could win them. . . well. . . hell, I don't know if they won anything at all as a matter of fact. If any of my English readers remember if there was a prize, please let me know.

Anyway, they had access to the usual ingredients that you might find in a well stocked kitchen and 20 minutes to prepare it. I don’t know what these people were thinking many times because usually when they poured their ingredients out on the counter it often resembled the last bag of kitchen trash when you move houses. Stuff like rhubarb, a fruit and nut chocolate bar, half a dozen cockles, an artichoke and a pig’s trotter. I kind of know how these chefs felt upon seeing their ingredients because this is usually what I face after a long day of cupcake shooting. In 20 minutes or so Mrs. Harris, feed your family something delicious from the nothing you find in the bottom of your refrigerator.

Since I often use my life in England for recipe inspiration, on this particular day I enjoyed my own version of Ready Steady Cook. I decided on ramping up one of that country’s all-time favorites, beans on toast. I had a can of cannellini beans, bacon (I always have bacon), a couple of pieces of pepperoni and some olive bread. I threw them all together along with some miscellaneous ingredients from my larder and came up with one of my husband’s new favorites, especially after I added a poached egg on top. It was a challenge to photograph and definitely not a visual triumph, but simple to prepare and a snap to reheat.

Cannellini Beans on Toast

3 slices smoked bacon, cut into 1/2"slices across
12 pieces of pepperoni, cut into 1/2” slices
1/2 medium size onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 or so roasted tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, julienne sliced
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 – 15.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained
1/3 cup half and half
4 slices rustic bread
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Asiago cheese
4 poached eggs (optional)
2 green onions, light and dark green parts chopped for garnish

Place the bacon in a medium size frying pan over medium high heat. Sauté bacon until it is brown and crispy around the edges; add pepperoni and onion and sauté for 5 minutes more. Add garlic, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and beans; cook for one minute longer mashing some of the beans as you stir. Add the half and half reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 3 – 5 minutes to heat through.

Heat oven to broil. Place the bread on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven to toast on one side. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully turn bread over. Top each slice of bread with equal amounts of the cheese. Place the bread back in the oven to toast the cheese. When the cheese is brown and bubbly, remove from the oven and transfer to serving plates. Top with equal amounts of the bean mixture, poached eggs if desired and green onions. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Friends and New Flavors - Cooking with Green Garlic: Roasted Poblano and Green Garlic Soup

I’ve decided that I don’t get out enough. All too often I just settle into my day to day rut of housework, cooking (lots and lots of cooking) and blogging. Don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home wife and mother is the best job I’ve ever had and blogging helps me get up in the morning, but I’ve started to get a little stale.

For this very reason, when I was invited to join a bloggers’ meet up group a few months ago I was so glad to know that there was a whole group of people in my area that I could commune with. Although we all host food and/or recipe blogs, our interests and angles vary greatly. Most of us host general recipe blogs, but there are also some more specialized sites like dessert blogs, sauce blogs and restaurant review blogs just to name a few. We share some really great food, technical knowledge, maybe just a tiny bit of gossip and most importantly, friendship.

Last week I was invited to meet two of my new friends in beautiful Boulder for lunch. After much discussion, we decided on the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. I don’t want to bore you with too much information here but this little restaurant is breathtakingly beautiful to say the least. The structure itself was a gift to the people of Boulder from their sister city in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and was shipped from there in crates to be reconstructed here. The intricate colors and carvings have to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

In addition to the lovely atmosphere, the company of Kirsten of My Kitchen in the Rockies and Toni of Boulder Locavore made for a wonderful time which was enhanced by the good food and the luxury of lingering over a hot cup of tea.

Fresh Green Garlic

Before departing Boulder and heading home to the messy wreck that was my home that day, Toni gave us both a couple of bunches of green garlic that she had acquired from one of her favorite farms in Boulder County, Jay Hill Farm. Green garlic or spring garlic as it is also known is immature garlic that is picked before the bulbs form. It looks very much like green onions but with a subtle and pleasant garlic scent and flavor.

Kirsten got right to work with hers and made a beautiful Spring Garlic Risotto (visit her recipe by clicking here). Since we are just coming out of winter here in Colorado and the farmers’ markets in our area have begun to resemble something more like craft shows than fresh produce markets, I didn’t want to waste not one bite of this farm fresh goodness so I took my time deciding what I would cook.

As it worked out, I had so much that I cooked with it all weekend enhancing a couple of old favorites, a blue cheese spread and a red pepper hummus, that we enjoyed on our patio with a couple of tall drinks, and my husband’s new favorite, Roasted Poblano and Green Garlic Soup. Needless to say, with all that garlic we won’t have to worry about colds or vampires for some time to come. Thanks Toni and Kirsten for helping me get out of my rut!

Party on the patio with heavenly Blue Cheese and Green Garlic Spread, Red Pepper and Green Garlic Hummus and homemade Garlic Butter and Parmesan Pita Chips

Bleu Cheese and Green Garlic Spread

3 ounces (84g) blue cheese or Stilton, crumbled
3 tablespoons (45g) butter, softened to room temperature
3 ounces (84g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 pinch cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons green garlic or fresh chives, chopped

Place the blue cheese or Stilton, butter, cream cheese, cayenne, black pepper, thyme and garlic powder in a medium size bowl. Blend with a fork until mixture is light, creamy and thoroughly combined. Gently fold in the parsley and fresh chives. Press into a small bowl that has been lined with plastic wrap film or a decorative serving bowl with the back of a spoon. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

After chilling time, remove from the refrigerator. Serve in the bowl or mound on a serving plate. Serve with crackers, grapes, apple slices or crudites. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled for a larger party.

Red Pepper and Green Garlic Hummus

1/2 medium size bell pepper, roasted with skin, stem and seeds removed, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green garlic or 1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 - 15.5 ounce (439g) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons tahini
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all of the ingredients in a blender or mini food processor. Process or blend until smooth. Chill before serving.

Garlic Butter and Parmesan Pita Chips

Slice desired amount of fresh pita bread in half then each half sliced into three equal pieces. Separate the front from the back and toss with melted garlic butter, salt and grated Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Lay flat on a baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree preheated oven until the bread is dry, crispy and light brown. Turn heat off and leave in the oven to cool. Serve with hummus.

Roasted Poblano and Green Garlic Soup

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend furnish you with green garlic, chop a small bunch of green onions (white and light green parts) and 2 cloves of garlic as a substitute. If your peppers are very mild like mine and you like a little extra spice, roast a jalapeno or two, chop them and add them to the soup with the Poblano peppers.

3 medium to large size Poblano peppers
2 ears sweet corn
2 medium to large size potatoes (approximately 1 pound, 500g)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch green garlic, white and light green parts chopped, chopping and reserving some of the green tops for garnish
6 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable bouillon
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small bunch fresh cilantro stems removed and coarsely chopped and divided
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil spray

Place peppers over an open gas flame or under the broiler and cook until skin is dark and blistered on all sides. Remove from the flame and place in a large bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap; set aside for 5 minutes or so. Remove from the container and scrape with a knife to remove all of the charred skin. Remove stems and seeds and finely chop; set aside until ready to use. Place one ear of the corn over the same flame and, watching closely grill the corn until it has dark brown spots on all sides. Cut the corn from the cob and set aside until ready to use.

Roasted Poblano Peppers

Peel and chop potatoes and place in a large stock pot. Add the chopped Poblano (reserving 1/4 of one of the peppers for garnish) onion, celery, green garlic, water, bouillon, bay leaf, cumin and fresh cilantro (reserving a couple of tablespoons for garnish). Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low and covering.

Remove the corn kernels from the uncooked ear of corn and add to the simmering soup with the corn cob itself. Replace the cover and simmer until vegetables are very soft. Remove the soup from the heat. Remove and discard the corn cob and bay leaf before pureeing with a hand blender or, cool to warm before placing the mixture in a blender and pureeing, working in batches if necessary. Add the cream, stir well, reduce heat to low, cover and keep warm.

While the soup is cooking, spray the tortillas with vegetable oil spray. On a flat surface, cut the tortillas in half then in strips in the other direction. Place strips on a baking sheet and place into the preheated oven; cook strips until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove strips from the oven and cool on the baking sheet; set aside.

Ladle equal amounts of the soup into 4 serving bowls. Garnish with green garlic tops, tortilla strips, fresh cilantro, grilled corn and the reserved chopped peppers. Serve piping hot.

Makes 4 – 1 1/2 cup servings