Monday, August 31, 2009

Carrot, Beet and Basil Salad

On very rare occasions, I throw something together on my own that is not only edible but something I want to share. This carrot, beet and basil salad came together right before my weeklong trip to Nagshead when I had these ingredients on hand and figured why not put them together? It is naturally sweet, has lots of crunch and doesn't require much heat making it perfect for summer.

Carrot, Beet and Basil Salad
3 beets, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 white onion, diced
1/2 c. basil, torn or chopped roughly
1-2 tbsp. creme fraiche (optional, I had it on hand)
salt to taste (not much for me personally)

It's easy enough to assemble. Dice the onions first and while preparing everything else, steam them lightly to remove some of their bite. Everything else stays raw. Combine ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Paella and Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

In an ultimately successful campaign to sell me on a September Spain trip, Leslie had her friend Kristin and me over to view Vicky Cristina Barcelona and to eat delicious Paella with Chicken and Sausage. It was rich and filling; I especially loved the fresh taste of the parsley which broke up the tomato flavor and color.

My contribution were these politically incorrect, delicious Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes. Frankly it has been so long since I made them that I don't remember my impression beyond finding them amazing and a bit time consuming to make. I want to say the cupcakes were moist, rich and dense. But who knows? I guess I'll have to revisit the recipe and drink more leftover Guinness. Damn! Life is hard...

Yes, this recipe taught me that I can drink beer and it really isn't so bad. I still don't go out of my way to consume beer but the 6 year "allergy" has ended.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mint-Parsley Pesto with Peas and Sauteed Chicken

Nothing to say really, except I was using up parsley yet again when I made this impromptu dinner of Mint-Parsley Pesto with Peas and Sauteed Chicken for good friends.

There isn't a recipe for the pesto... I just combined garlic, olive oil, parsley, mint, walnuts and Parmesan cheese in the food processor using portions similar to your typical pesto. For some reason I chose to saute the chicken before cubing it into the pasta, which made it take forever. It tasted good, but in the future I'd just bake the chicken while the pasta was boiling. If you put the peas in the pasta water about 2 minutes before your pasta is done, then you don't have to dirty an extra dish.

Less cleanup is always awesome, even at a friend's house with a dishwasher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Variation on Zucchini Strand Spaghetti

The other night I made this delicious sounding Zucchini Strand Spaghetti only I didn't have whole wheat spaghettini, the energy to make basil oil, a mandoline or a colander big enough to drain my noodles over the zucchini to cook it.

I improvised and it worked out wonderfully. I julienned the zucchini by hand and added it to the finished basil, garlic, red pepper and oil mixture and popped the lid on for a few minutes to steam it. Combined the whole thing with some creme fraiche and took in the smooth, creamy texture in big bites.

I didn't want to stop eating it. This pasta dish feels fresh like summer, practically melting in your mouth except for the pleasant crunch of the zucchini. I will definitely revisit it before summer squash season passes.

One warning, the garlic browns fast in the hot oil. I was watching with great pleasure as this happened and then BAM it was slightly burnt. It didn't kill the dish, but it certainly would have been more appealing with slightly less burnt garlic.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Polenta With Zucchini and Tomatoes

I loved, loved, loved this Polenta With Zucchini and Tomatoes. It is easy, hearty and filling. The basil is a light, refreshing note in the midst of the savory zucchini and tomato ragout. The vegetables' smooth, yet crisp texture provide a pleasant contrast to the polenta's firmness.

I used "instant" polenta and learned the valuable lesson that once polenta solidifies into a shape there isn't any opportunity for alteration, thus the lack of a nest for the topping in my polenta square. Next time I would definitely prepare the instant polenta at the last minute rather than doing it first.

I'll definitely revisit this recipe, probably even in the winter when it isn't in season. I think I'll like its warmth even more then.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Baked Risotto with Asparagus, Spinach, and Parmesan

During my asparagus kick back in June, I made this easy, healthy-ish baked risotto from Cooking Light. It is a solid recipe with a good flavor and attractive presentation, but it isn't as creamy and delicious as real risotto.

There is a high probabilty that the rice was undercooked and a bit firm due to my improvised dutch oven involving a glass dish and foil. Moving forward that won't be an issue thanks to self indulgence and the Le Creuset outlet in Williamsburg, Va. last week I now own a 6.75 quart black dutch oven. It's a beauty and I got it for around 60% off! I can't wait for it to reach me here in NYC. There was no way to carry it on the plane, unfortunately.

Back to the recipe, I like that it requires less attention than risotto and provided a close resemblance. I will probably try it again sometime if I'm feeling lazy. Otherwise, I'll stick to real risotto as I enjoy making things unnecessarily difficult sometimes!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

My first ice cream attempt was Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream, enabled again by an appliance Meg owned that I do not. The fact that I lack an ice cream maker hasn't stopped me from bookmarking recipes. I saved this one in 2007 and jumped at the opportunity to finally put it to use.

Preparing the caramel/custard base required a significant amount of time, but the heavenly smells along the way and the final result are worth the effort. I used kosher salt and half and half for all the required liquid instead of whole milk and heavy cream. Next time I might want to play with the amount and type of salt I use though since slightly salty ice cream didn't win me over completely.

The ice cream has a very rich, sweet caramel flavor; the 2.5 scoops below were a bit much even for my sweet tooth. And I skipped making the mix-in caramel praline! It freezes nicely, has a creamy texture, and is easy to scoop - no need to let it come to room temperature prior to serving. The only strange thing, and this is probably due to some error on my part, is my spoon always ended up with a slightly grainy texture after I indulged. Oh well! Still totally edible and eaten.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grilled London Broil and Vegetables with Peanut Butter and Jelly Claufoutis

I headed home to Virginia for Father's Day to "surprise" my Dad and gave him his choice of meals from my culinary school binder. Naturally he chose the section I found the least appealing - grilling. I enjoy how grilled food tastes; I just can't can't take the heat!

Rather than using a grill pan, we used an outdoor grill. It was less hot, but I found grilling outdoors harder as it made getting the correct grid marks near impossible since you have to keep the grill covered to maintain a steady temperature. This drove my inner perfectionist crazy. There also was the slight problem of no real light being present at 9:30 pm and the meat ending up slightly overcooked. In spite of how I felt, Dad was very happy with his meal, which is all that matters.

I was much happier with the clafoutis I made for dessert than our main course. I followed the basic recipe provided by ICE using grapes and beat a tablespoon or so of peanut butter into the batter. It tasted like a perfectly mashed down peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich from my childhood. Yum. This dessert never gets old!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pavlovas with Blueberries and Lemon Curd

With Meg's mixer available I no longer had an excuse for not attempting pavlovas. Over the years, I bookmarked at least 3 variations but I chose this one for my first try. I used cream of tartar instead of vinegar and made the 9 individual servings. The instructions were very simple and the meringue came together in a snap.

I can't begin to imagine hand beating the meringue, although in June I did manage to get egg whites to stiff peaks for a souffle once. I know I did it correctly as I turned the bowl upside down over my head without anything dropping on me or the floor. However, the whites fell quickly in my hot apartment and the souffle was a little, um, flat and heavy. You didn't get to see that.

The pavlova's were a greater success than the souffle. They were appropriately crisp outside and soft like a marshmallow inside. The only part that didn't go quite right was that they cracked. I suppose knowing my oven, setting a timer to check them before an hour and not getting distracted with a movie would prevent this issue in the future. By the way, this is not a dessert to bake and take with you. It does NOT travel well. The crumbles still taste delicious but don't have nearly the same effect as a full pavlova as you can see below.

I made this lemon curd to top them. I somehow skipped printing the middle paragraph, but managed to have the curd turn out delicious anyway. Its sweet, tart taste and smooth texture contrast perfectly with blueberries alone or on top of a pavlova. I'm happy to eat it by the spoonful and, unfortunately, have done so.