Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blogging and Contesting: Sparkling Lemon Ginger Cooler and a Cooking Contest Central Membership Giveaway

 Unfortunately I have had to draw another name for my giveaway.  This time Random.org chose Holly as my winner for the CCC membership.  I'm sorry that I didn't get a screen capture to post here.  Congratulations Holly.  I hope you are a big winner in the months to come.

I have been blogging for going on five years now.  I started because I simply wanted to share some favorite recipes with others who love to cook and create recipes as much as I do.  Much to my surprise, many of you stopped by, left great comments and still come back all these years later.  You are why I keep going. Thanks for sharing your time with me.

My first couple of posts took me weeks of writing, rewriting and proofreading before I published.  Now years later I still care, but I am much more relaxed, so relaxed in fact, that I recently missed adding flour to a cake recipe.  DAMN!  There's a saying that goes, "If you want to find a mistake, just hit publish." So true.  I'd like to now extend my sincerest apologies to anyone (Susan) who made the flourless version of my Pineapple Macadamia Cake. 

Photography for my blog is a whole new animal altogether.  I first started out just snapping photos at the dinner table and soon found out that would never do.  I needed a DSLR, lessons to figure out how to use said DSLR, and lights and props . . .  lots and lots of props.  Almost five years and a couple of million dollars later, my photos have improved, but I still only get about 1/4 of then on the food porn sites.  Sometimes I understand why, sometimes I don't.

Even though I love it, the blogging world itself is a pretty competitive place.  I have never understood why we just can't be more supportive of each other.  Don't get me wrong, I have been lucky and met many great, supportive and talented bloggers who really want to share their knowledge and perks with others, but I have to say that they are not all so generous.  It can be dog eat dog out there sometimes, but I have learned to lean in and not forget why I started this in the first place.

One place where I have never been disappointed is in the world of contesting.  You wouldn't think that would be the case would you?  I belong to a couple of sites where we members chat mostly about contests, but often times life and family seep in there too and friendships develop.  If you need a question answered about contest rules, or opinions about a recipe you are entering, it will be answered thoughtfully and with great encouragement.  Even when there is a million dollars at stake, everyone is happy to help just hoping that someone from the "family" might be the big winner.  Honestly, I love these people.

This time of year there are more cook-offs and contests than you can shake a stick at.  Cook-offs are my favorite because not only do you win a wonderful trip to some place fun, but you usually get to cook next to someone that you've known for a long time but have never met.   Last year I got to meet several people at The Gilroy Garlic Festival that I have been wanting to meet in person for a very long time.  I didn't win anything, but I've never had so much fun at a cook-off before.  So far I know I'll be reunited with a couple of them at Pillsbury and I have my fingers crossed that the rest of them will make it and if that happens, watch out Vegas.

Trying to pick out a recipe to go with this post has proven to be difficult at best.  I have lots of great contest recipes in my archives, but I kind of like to keep them under wraps just in case the right contest comes along.  The the last one I retired and published here on my blog (Chicken Enchilada Mac and Cheese) was one of my most popular posts ever.  I had entered versions of it in a couple of contests without any attention from the judges, so when the Support for Sandy event took place I donated this great recipe for the cause.  Looks like those contest judges don't know so much after all.

Since it is finally summer here in Colorado, I thought I'd retire a version of a really refreshing drink recipe that I developed a couple of years ago.  It didn't win anything but accolades from my friends and family, but just like that mac and cheese recipe, I think the contest judges really missed out on something special.  Their loss is your gain because this is a sparkling, refreshing glass full of yum.  You are really going to love it.

Sparkling Lemon Ginger Cooler

2 ounce lemon ginger simple syrup (recipe follows)
1 - 1/2 ounces vodka (or a good glug of dry white wine)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ounces (or enough to top off your glass) sparkling water

Place a good handful of ice in a large glass.   To the ice add the Lemon Ginger Simple Syrup, vodka, lemon juice and sparkling water.  Stir well.  Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Lemon Ginger Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ounce fresh ginger, grated (a piece just a bit smaller than a golf ball)
Zest of 1 large lemon

Place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar dissolves (just a couple of minutes).  Remove from the heat and let it steep until it comes to room temperature.  Strain twice to remove all the bits. Use immediately or keep unused portions in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

To spread the contesting love, Kristina over at Cooking Contest Central has offered to give one of my blog readers a year's subscription to her site.  Cooking Contest Central is home to the most comprehensive cooking related contest listing on the web.  Not only will you find pertinent information about every cooking contest that you can imagine, but you are also provided with links to each contest site.  You will also gain access to a big warm group of new friends that are just waiting for you to arrive.

If you want to enter this little giveaway valued at $25, please just leave me a comment saying so.  If you want extra entries, you can sign up to receive my posts via e-mail (see field in the upper right hand side of this page), follow my page on Facebook,  Pinterest or Twitter, and there ya go!  Please be sure to leave a separate comment for each method of entry and whatever you do, make sure I have a way to contact you in case you win.  You will have 48 hours to claim your prize, if not a new winner will be drawn.  My lucky winner will be chosen on Monday, June 3rd at about noon mountain time.  Thanks and good luck!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Something From Nothing #12: Sausage Gravy

If you'll recall, the last SFN recipe I posted was for sweet milk biscuits.  This month I decided to follow up that recipe with another simple little mixture that together make one of my favorite meals in the world, biscuits and gravy.

Known in my friend circle in my 20's as the perfect after party food, you can't beat this combination of carbs and protein for its ability to sober  you up and get you back on the right track at 3 am. Even if you're not a drinker, you're going to love this soul feeding concoction for its delicious taste and thriftiness.  It can easily feed a family of four for just a few dollars.

Although this particular recipe is made with sausage, you can make it vegetarian by leaving out the sausage and using a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil for the fat you need to get started.   Then leave out the bouillon altogether or swap it with Better Than Bouillon's "No Chicken" or a vegetable soup base for extra flavor.   If you prefer a dairy free gravy, just replace the milk with all water and stock.  It will be more of a brown gravy, but that's what you get for being a vegan.

I have shown it as a breakfast dish here, but replace the eggs with a side of collard greens and you have a delicious southern-style soul food supper.

Sausage Gravy

1/2 pound (8 ounces) bulk pork sausage meat
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken base or bouillon
Black pepper

Fry sausage meat in a heavy bottom skillet over medium high heat, breaking it up into crumbles as it cooks.

When the sausage is browned and cooked through, sprinkle the flour over the top, stirring it in as you do.  Mixture will be very dry at this point.

In a container with a spout, mix together the milk and the water. Gradually pour the mixture into the sausage and flour, whisking constantly and vigorously as you bring the mixture up to a boil.   Add the bouillon and continue stirring.  Add a healthy grinding of black pepper.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.   Remove from the heat and serve immediately. 

If before  you serve it, the gravy continues to thicken, stir in small amounts of hot water to thin it back down.

Serves 4.

*I cut my Sweet Milk Biscuit recipe in half to make just 4 biscuits.  Along with this recipe for gravy, you have the perfect size meal for 4.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The New Jewish Table Cookbook Review and Giveaway: Potato and Cheese Knishes with Spring Asparagus and Pickled Red Onion Salad

Recently I got a chance to review The New Jewish Table cookbook by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, owners of the D.C. restaurants, Equinox and Muse.  This book is a collection of Jewish recipes (mostly traditional) which have been thoughtfully interpreted by Todd and Ellen for today's cooks.  Since I've been feeling a bit stale lately, I have been wanting  to try something totally new and different and this looked like my chance.

Being a die hard foodie, there isn't a style of cooking that I don't enjoy preparing and eating.  I guess out of all the types of cooking, kosher recipes must be the most foreign to me.  Not only do I not have a kosher kitchen, it just seems like there are so many rules that I am really afraid of breaking that I have just stayed away, but no more, this book has empowered me.  I'm going in.

For those of you, who like me, are unsure about the rules of kosher cooking, this book kind of spells it out in simple terms; and after reading that Todd was actually raised in a ham and cheese friendly Episcopalian home, I now know why. . .  he totally understands.  After reading about his upbringing I also understood why there is a recipe in there for mini Reuben sandwiches with pastrami and Swiss (even I know that's not kosher).  It was only after marrying his Jewish wife and enjoying her family's recipes that he fully embraced Jewish cooking.

As Ellen explains it, the laws that govern observant Jews when it comes to eating are called "kosher" which means, fit or correct in Hebrew.  This word's implied meaning is to do what is moral and virtuous.  She also goes on to explain that keeping kosher is not so much about a Rabbi blessing the food, but preserving and respecting the spirit of the things consumed.  This may explain why many people are drawn to kosher food today regardless of their religious beliefs.

After a little research I learned kosher cooking really isn't as confusing as it sounds.  Now I am in no way an expert on this, but as I understand it, the basic rules are that you cannot mix milk products and meat in the same dish.  Vegetables, grains, fruit, eggs and fish are parve (neutral foods that are neither milk or meat) and can be eaten with anything (according to some views, fish and meat should not be served together).  Only fish that have scales and fins are kosher, so no shellfish, and only animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud may be consumed, which of course means no pork.  I really don't want to simplify this too much so for more in depth information about kosher foods (and there is a lot), please CLICK HERE.

To help make menu planning a bit easier, the Gray's have divided the book into seasons.  Each season is then divided into six chapters: brunch, starters, lunch, dinner, sides and desserts.  Chapters are then broken down by headings such as meat, dairy, parve and mixed (for the Episcopalians and Presbyterians out there).  Each recipe also comes with a meat, dairy or parve designation.  There is also a special section reserved for traditional Jewish holiday dishes.  One of my favorite features is the chef's appendix in the back that provides recipes for seasoning blends, salad dressings, stocks and condiments.

After flipping through the book about a million times I finally settled on testing the recipe for Potato and Cheese Knishes because I have heard about them my entire life and never had them, and besides that,  the name is kind of fun to say.  In the book this recipe is categorized as a side dish, but I thought it would also be great as a vegetarian main course.  Seeing that this was a dairy dish I wanted a parve recipe to go with it, so I chose Todd's recipe for Spring Asparagus and Pickled Red Onion Salad, leaving out the Parmesan to cut down on the cheese content and calories of my meal.

Since everything for both dishes was made from scratch this was an involved meal, but the recipes were well written and easy to follow.  The only real adjustment that I needed to make was the baking time for the knishes, but that's not rocket science.  Since I live at 6,300 feet, it is not unusual that cooking times are often longer for me, so my knishes took 35 minutes to bake instead of the suggested 20.  They turned out flaky, buttery and all and all delicious.

What can I say about the salad?  This was the PERFECT accompaniment to the knishes.  The chilled asparagus topped with the homemade sweet and sour pickled red onions and the sherry mustard vinaigrette rocked.  I hate to use the word PERFECT again, but I can't think of a more perfectly delicious meal to eat under the stars on a hot summer night with a cold white wine spritzer.  Looking for an elegant lunch or dinner menu?  Here it is.

To sum it all up, I am so glad that I got to review this beautiful book.  The recipes are not only well written and beautifully photographed, but are also prefaced by interesting personal notes by both Todd and Ellen.  If you are looking for elegant and delicious recipes with kosher guidelines, this is a great resource.  Even if you are just looking for great recipes and don't care about the kosher aspect, this is a still a wonderful book.

Personally, this is going to be my go to book for the summer.  I can't wait to make the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich with some of my leftover pickled red onions or the Grilled New York Strip Steak with Caramelized Artichokes, or even the Smoked Salmon and Sweet Corn Beignets with Lime Sour Cream.  It's going to be a delicious summer at my house.

Not only did the wonderful folks at St. Martin's Press provide me with a free book for this post, but they also are providing me with an extra copy to give away to one of my readers.  Even if you think you don't need one more book in your collection, I encourage you to sign up for this giveaway or go out and buy a copy.

This giveaway is open to all of my US readers.  Just leave a comment saying you'd like to be entered.  If you'd like extra entries you can follow me by e-mail (just type your address in the field at the top right of this page),  follow me on Pinterest by clicking on the button under the e-mail sign up, follow me on Facebook by CLICKING HERE, or on Twitter by CLICKING HERE.  Be sure and leave a separate comment for each method of entry.  Entry time for this giveaway is from today 5/14 until noon on Tuesday, 5/21.  Good luck! 

*Please be sure to leave me a contact address if your info isn't available to me by clicking through on your name.  Winners have 48 hours from the time I contact you to claim your prize or another winner will be chosen.

Potato and Cheese Knishes 

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter (I know, I know, but it's worth it)
3 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water
1 pound (about 3 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup diced yellow onions, sauteed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Egg wash (1 egg + 4 tablespoons water, beaten)

Prepare the dough:
Sift the flour and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl.  Cut in the butter using two knives.  Add the shortening and egg yolk, beating until blended with a hand-held electric mixer on low speed; add the water and continue beating until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 2 minutes.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

*I used my food processor to prepare the dough and it worked beautifully.  I also prepared it in the morning, refrigerated it most of the day and baked it in the evening so I did not let it sit overnight.  My dough was flaky and tender.  Since I've never made it before, I don't know how good it would be with the extra time in the refrigerator, but mine was fabulous.

Prepare the potatoes:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling over high heat.  Drop the potatoes into the pot and cook until they are fork tender, approximately 20 - 30 minutes.  Drain in a colander and set aside to dry.  Put the potatoes through a food mill or the grating attachment of a food processor and place in a large bowl.  You will need 2 cups; if there is more, reserve the excess for another use.

Make the filling:
Heat the oil in a small saute pan over medium -low heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until shiny and aromatic, approximately 3 minutes.  Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the potatoes.  Add the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, the parsley, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper; mix together with a wooden spoon.

Fill the knishes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Divide the dough into three equal pieces.  Roll out each piece to a 6 x 8-inch rectangle strips (I made mine just a bit bigger, like 8 x 11").  Cut each rectangle into equal halves lengthwise.  Spoon 1/3 of the filling along the center of the three strips, leaving a 1-inch margin along each edge and at the ends.  Brush some egg wash along the margins; lay one of the remaining strips on top of each filled strip  (stretching it a bit to cover the filling) and press together along the edges forming a rectangular packet.

Bake the knishes:
Arrange the knishes on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, approximately 20 minutes.  Cut the knishes into 2 inch lengths and serve immediately.

Spring Asparagus and Pickled Red Onion Salad

36 jumbo asparagus spears, peeled
2 cups Pickled Red Onions (recipe follows)
3 cups mixed baby salad greens
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Parmesan cheese to shave over salad (I omitted this to make my salad parve)

Cook the asparagus:
Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to simmering over high heat.  Add the asparagus and boil until al dente, approximately 3 - 4 minutes.  Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to a bowl of ice water and chill completely.  Transfer the asparagus to paper towels to drain.

Arrange the salad:
Lay six asparagus on each of six plates.  Divide the Pickled Red Onions equally over the asparagus.  In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with sherry Mustard Vinaigrette to taste; mound them on top of the onions and asparagus, dividing equally.  Using a vegetable peeler or cheese plane, shave very thin slices of Parmesan cheese and lay on top of each plate of salad.  Drizzle with additional vinaigrette if desired.

Pickled Red Onions
Makes about 2 - 1/2 cups
Thinly slice enough red onions to equal 4 cups (about 2 large red onions).  Combine 2 cups of water, 1 cup of red wine vinegar, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a medium saucepan; bring to simmering over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Wrap 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, and 1 bay leaf in a small piece of cheesecloth, tying closed with kitchen twine (I never have cheesecloth so I emptied out a tea bag, stuffed it with the spices and stapled it closed).  Add this spice sachet and the onions to the sugar mixture and bring to boiling over high heat; immediately remove the pan from the heat and set aside to let the onions reach room temperature in the pickling liquid.  Discard the spice sachet and if not ready to use the onions, transfer them with the pickling liquid to a container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup
Whisk together 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 - 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon honey in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup olive oil and whisk until well combined.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Tribute to Sophia Lisa: Black Bean and Farro Burgers

Black Bean and Farro Burger Tortas

Thank goodness for the internet.  We are so blessed to have such a wealth of information at our fingertips.  It is sometimes hard to believe that not much more than a generation ago, we got most of our information from perpetually outdated encyclopedias that our parents had to finance to provide for us.  Now all we have to do is type in our query, and like magic we have thousands of results instantly.

My daily Google searches are usually limited to recipes and uses for things like samphire or pandan, why my tulips won't bloom or how I can get a stain out of velvet, you know, really important stuff.  Another one of my frequent searches, and I really hate to admit this, is the obituaries from the online newspaper in the town where we used to live.  Unfortunately, I have found as you get older you start to see more and more names on the screen that you recognize.

A few days ago I was reading through the obits and came across the name of an old friend from high school.  I had known for sometime that she was ill because a little over a year ago this same paper had done a long story about her.  She had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) several months earlier and her employer, to whom she had given several years of loyal service, was honoring her with a tribute and a large contribution to the ALS Association.  Now sadly, just a few short months later she is gone.

I met Lisa in high school.  She was the girlfriend of one of my boyfriend's friends.  She was nice enough, albeit a bit quirky, but that was kind of what I liked about her.  We would often eat lunch together with our boyfriends and it was at one of these lunches she introduced me to my very first veggie burger.  She had mixed it up from a package of soybeans and dehydrated vegetables, fried it and stuck it in between two slices of white bread.  Much to my surprise, it was actually quite good.  So good in fact, that I never forgot it. 

Lisa had aspirations of going to culinary school, which back then was a strange desire for a girl from a small Texas town in the middle of nowhere, but as I said before, she was a bit different.  Well, from what I understand she did head to culinary school and even spent time cooking in London and for the Merchant Marines before returning to Texas and settling not 40 miles away from that small town where we both grew up.  

It was about this time that she replaced the middle name she had gone by for so many years and started using her more glamorous first name, Sophia.  She eventually married, gave birth to three children and enjoyed a successful career in the beauty industry.

I ran into her several years ago and we did briefly exchange pleasantries but not much more.  I guess too much time had passed for us to rekindle our friendship and neither one of us felt it.  That was kind of a shame, because as I discovered from reading up on her, we had quite a bit in common.  We both had a passion for cooking, we both lived in England for a time, we were extremely proud of the families we created, and after a couple of trips around the sun, we had both landed up in the same place. 

So as you can tell, I've been thinking a lot about her these past few days.  I've also been thinking about her family and the painful struggle that they have all been through, and how much they are going to miss her.  Most of all, I am thinking about that healthy, vibrant young girl who split a soy burger with me in the middle of the city park, on a nice spring day while sitting on the hood of a red Opal Cadet.  What a nice memory.  Rest in peace Sophia Lisa.

By now I'm sure you've guessed where this post is going, and rightly so, because without a burger there wouldn't be a memory or a story.  The hardest part of this post was finding a recipe for a burger that was as good as that very first one.  After a couple of tries and much tweaking, I am happy to say that this is even better.  

This is a pretty lengthy list of ingredients, but if you use your food processor with the grater attachment to prepare the vegetables, you can assemble it pretty quickly.  Without a doubt this is probably the best bean/veggie/grain burger I have ever eaten, so you’ll find it is worth just a few extra ingredients. Even my son who is super, super picky, had to admit he loved these.

15 ounce can black beans, well drained
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
1 large celery stalk, grated
1 large carrot, grated
1/3 red bell pepper, grated
1/2 poblano pepper, grated
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 slices bread (I like to use a hearty bread like granary or whole wheat), grated  to make crumbs
1 cup cooked farro or brown rice
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small egg, beaten
1 cup flour
4 tablespoons cooking oil

Place beans in a strainer to drain; set aside.

Heat a non-stick or cast iron skillet over a medium high heat.  Add the grated onion, celery, carrot and peppers.  Sauté until they are soft and all juices have evaporated, approximately 5 minutes.

Place drained beans in the food processor and process until smooth, or mash well with a potato masher.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the sautéed vegetables, bread crumbs, farro or rice, lime zest, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, egg and salt and pepper.  Stir well until the mixture is completely combined.
Line a small cookie sheet or large plate with plastic wrap.  Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a ball then flatten into 1/4 - 1/2” patty that is a similar shape to the buns you will be using (they will be sticky).  Gently roll each patty in flour, dusting both sides and tapping off excess.  Place onto prepared cookie sheet, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour.

Pour the oil into a cast iron or non-stick skillet and heat over medium high.  When the oil is hot, add the patties being careful not to crowd them in the pan.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side or until they are golden brown and crispy.   If your pan is the same size as mine, I had to cook my patties in two batches, so I divided the oil in half for each batch.

Remove patties from the pan and serve immediately while they are still hot and crispy.  Leftovers are delicious but I prefer reheating the patties in a preheated 350 degree oven to restore the crispiness as microwaving will make them soft.

Makes 6 patties

I made my burgers into Mexican tortas with buttered and toasted bolillos, guacamole, chipotle mayo, Mexican blend cheese, and lettuce and tomato, but you can dress them any way you want.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

My Guest Post at Cheap Recipe Blog: Chicken and Spaghetti Salad

Chicken and Spaghetti Salad

Now that Haley has shared her delicious Chinese Chicken Salad recipe here, it is time for me to reciprocate with a recipe of my own over on her site.  It just so happens that I have been saving a favorite chicken salad recipe for the perfect occasion and this is it.  With warm weather on the horizon, this dish will be a great addition to your summertime repertoire.  To view this recipe and more of Haley's health conscious and budget friendly meals over at Cheap Recipe Blog, CLICK HERE.  Enjoy!