Saturday, August 9, 2014

Balsamic Roasted Black Cherry and Rhubarb Sorbet

Well friends, it has been close to a year since I have last blogged. I am excited to get back into the swing of things but let me first tell you why I have not been blogging. My husband and I are now almost 19 weeks pregnant...woo hoo! 

Unfortunately, it took us close to two years to get pregnant. That time was very difficult on both of us. For me, I started noticing that as "infertility" became a reality for me and my lovely reproductive system, that the feelings of infertility made their way to many other parts of my life. I started feeling as though I was not capable of being fertile or productive in anything...thus I slowly let go of this very creative part of my life. But I'm back and, thank God, am starting to step away from a lot of the habits and feelings that defined that time of my life. 

I came up with this sorbet recipe for an event that has been awesome and life-giving for me this past year... Epic Amazing Dinner Club. Last summer my husband, Sam, one of our foodie friends, Scott, and myself thought that it would be fun to host an Iron Chef-ish dinner party for our friends. Scott and I would compete in a head-to-head six course meal with each of us preparing an appetizer, entree and dessert. We decided that Sam would be the Grand Master of Ceremonies who would decide the theme, rules and mandatory ingredients for the night. Twelve friends came over. Everyone pitched in  $10 to help cover the cost of groceries and also brought a bottle or two of wine to share. The night was a blast. Scott and I got to be super creative. For a million times less than the cost of a fancy dinner out, our friends got to enjoy a six course meal. Needless to say, we all got a little addicted to the idea and, a year later, have successfully had seven dinner parties with every one on the guest list having taken turns cooking. Each party has had a different theme such as: Pearl Harbor, Love, Football Food, Home Cooking, The Rolling Stones and Barbecuing.

Master of Ceremonies John with competitors me and Christina at the Rolling Stones themed party

I made this amazing sorbet for my second dinner club competition in which the mandatory ingredients were based off of Rolling Stones' songs: dandelions, brown sugar, honey and cherries. We had to use all the ingredients but did not have to use each ingredient in every course.

I served this smooth and slightly tart sorbet on top of unbelievable almond butter bars, that literally tasted like marzipan and butter and topped off the whole thing with some sweet, aged balsamic macerated cherries. Oh man, the mixture of the sweet, decadent buttery almond bars with the light and tart sorbet was sooooo good! Please try this one out!

Balsamic Roasted Black Cherry and Rhubarb Sorbet
2 lbs. cherries [I used frozen black cherries because they were less expensive and were pitted]
1/2 lb. rhubarb
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 cup 100% pure cherry juice

Start by prepping your ice cream maker. I have a Kitchenaid ice cream bowl attachment which I have to let sit in a freezer overnight.

Rinse and slice the rhubarb into 1/4 inch slices.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the cherries, rhubarb, brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar together in a mixing bowl until the sugar has coated all of the fruit.

Spread the whole mixture evenly over an ungreased, rimmed baking sheet [the rim keeps the juices in the pan]. Roast for 45 minutes. The fruit will look slightly shriveled and will not be browned, as you might expect from roasting, but the flavors will definitely have intensified during the process!
Let the roasted cherries and rhubarb come up to room temperature then add them into a blender with the remaining tablespoon of vinegar and the cup of cherry juice. Blend until smooth-about a minute or two.

Put the mixture into your ice cream maker and let the maker go, per its instructions. My mixture took about 20-25 minutes until it had thickened. It should look approximately like slightly loose soft serve at this point. No worries, simply poor it into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. After some time in the freezer, it will be perfectly scoop-able.

It is awesome as is but if you want to do what I did, serve it on top of room temperature almond butter bars and top with balsamic vinegar macerated [fancy name for marinating fruit] cherries.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella

I got in trouble again this year for planting too many plants of the squash variety. Every year, I get addicted to planting squash-y plants because they make me feel like an ace gardener because they are prolific with little effort. My husband then gets annoyed with me for letting our garden become a tangled mass of squash and pumpkin vines and for needing to incorporate some form of squash into every summer meal. For example, after bringing zucchini to every BBQ we go to and handing them out as party favors, I still have a crisper drawer full of them. I just picked a GIANT Hubbard squash and have been eating it all week as a sweet afternoon snack. I roasted it and whenever I want a pseudo-pumpkin pie treat, I mash up a bit with cinnamon, brown sugar and butter and heat it. So good [which is good because my husband and son don't love it, so I have a lot to go through].

Our first few spaghetti squash were ripe for the plucking the other day. 

I normally roast them, scoop out the noodle-like interior and mix it together with marinara sauce and serve it as a typical spaghetti dinner [sometimes with turkey meatballs too]. I wanted something with the same flavor profile but a little bit sassier. I remembered that I had some fresh mozzarella in the fridge and knew exactly what I would do. Spaghetti squash mixed in its shell with a chunky tomato sauce, then topped with fresh mozzarella and broiled. 

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce and Fresh Mozzarella 
*Serves 2 as a hefty main course and 4 as a side [or a smaller main dish served with bread and salad]
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise with seeds removed
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced [grated mozzarella would be fine]
4 T grated parmesan cheese
2 T fresh basil, torn into pieces

Tomato Sauce
*One of the fun parts of this dish is that it can be as simple as opening a jar of marinara and adding whatever sauteed veggies you want [mushrooms, onions, zucchini, red peppers]. I chose to make a really chunky tomato sauce. 
2 T olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp balsamic vinegar [I used this in place of red wine]
2, 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes
1 tsp each dried oregano and basil
1/2 tsp sugar

Begin by placing both squash halves in a large stock pot and covering them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and then let boil for 15 minutes. 
I decided to boil up both of my squash so that the other one would be ready to go in the future!
While the water is coming to a boil, prepare your tomato sauce. If you decide to use a pre-made jar, warm it on the stove during this time and saute any veggies that you would like to add. 

My sauce was made by heating the olive oil and red pepper flakes together in a large frying pan over medium heat for about a minute. Add the onions, salt and pepper and let them saute over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and let that cook for about a minute.  

Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar. Add the diced tomatoes and mash them slightly with a potato masher [a fork would work fine]. Add the dried oregano, dried basil, sugar and stir to combine. At this point, I  added a couple leftover veggies that I wanted to use up [4 slices of leftover grilled zucchini that I chopped and half of a 10 oz. pack of frozen spinach]. 
Let the tomato sauce simmer until the spaghetti squash has cooked. Using tongs, remove each squash half from the stock pot. 

Use a fork to break up the inside of each squash and separate the squash from the skin, it should look like a "bowl" of spaghetti by the time you are done.
Add about a cup of tomato sauce to each squash half [feel free to adjust this amount to the size of your squash and your desired sauciness level]. Sprinkle a tablespoon of torn, fresh basil and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese over each squash half. Stir to combine the squash, sauce, parm and basil.
Top each squash half with 3 oz of sliced mozzarella.

Broil until the mozzarella begins to brown. Serve with extra parmesan and basil.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bacon and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

There is nothing I love more than the perfect combination of salty and sweet. A few years ago, my husband and I invited our soon-to-be couple best friends over for dinner. I had pork loin on hand and was looking for the perfect sweet-ish accompaniment. For a few years, I had been making a roasted potato salad that I made by roasting white potatoes and tossing them with my balsamic vinaigrette, some feta crumbles and torn basil leaves. It was, and is, amazing because it is so well balanced. Salty and briny from the feta. Sweet and tangy from the vinaigrette. Earthy and starchy from the potatoes. Herbaceous and sweet from the basil. 

I wanted a similar vibe but with a sweeter base. Enter sweet potatoes! Once roasted, I tossed them in the same vinaigrette that I used in my other potato salad but decided to substitute the salty feta with smoky and amazing bacon and the basil with green onion. One bite and my bestie declared, "This is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth!" This may be the dish that sealed the deal with our friendship.

When my friends hosted a potluck 4th of July BBQ this summer, I knew that I had to make the dish that brought us together! And yes, I did get another "this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth" from a fellow America-loving, BBQ-goer!

Before we begin here is a picture of the cute one, covered in ice cream, at our BBQ!

Bacon and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
*This served as a side dish for approximately 10 people
 8 garnet sweet potatoes, chopped into 1" pieces
1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper
7 T olive oil [canola or veggie would work fine too]
1 pound of bacon, chopped into 1" pieces
6 green onions, diced

1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 tsp brown mustard
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of oil evenly over 2 rimmed baking sheets. Divide the chopped sweet potatoes evenly between the two sheets. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss with your hands to coat with the oil. 
 Roast the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Swap the positions of the baking sheets in the oven and roast for another 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and slightly browned. Pay no attention to mine getting a little "more than brown" on one side.
While the potatoes are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan [if using less than a 12" pan, you might want to do it in 2 batches]. Add the bacon pieces and saute over medium heat until just brown and crispy. Once crispy, remove with a slotted spoon and let cool and drain on a paper towel lined plate. 

Make the vinaigrette by placing the garlic, mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and stirring together with a fork.
Add the vinegar to the mixture and stir to combine. Stream in the olive oil and whisk with the fork until combined.

Once all of your ingredients are cooked and prepped, simply toss the potatoes, bacon, green onion and vinaigrette together. Serve immediately. If you need to wait a little bit before serving, like if you have to transport the dish to a potluck BBQ, place the vinaigrette in the bottom of your serving bowl, top with the sweet potatoes and then top the potatoes with the chopped green onion and bacon. Toss right before serving [it tastes best when the bacon is still crispy and hasn't absorbed a bunch of vinaigrette].

Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the fully tossed salad because I was too busy eating a delicious 4th of July hamburger. I hope that this becomes a summer side staple for you!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Coconut Curry and Cashew Caramel Corn

This summer has been full of family vacations! In June, we drove to Montana for a week with the fam. Did I mention that Montana is especially breath taking in June?

Our road trip strategy [probably only successful because our kid is still in diapers] is to pack enough snacky/meal things so that we don't have to stop for food. I pre-sliced apples and cheese, froze yogurt sticks and had PBJ supplies on hand. Of course, I had to add in the Spitzer family required assortment of sour gummy candies. The only thing that was missing was something crunchy, sweet and salty. I began thinking about my mom's unbelievable caramel corn recipe. It is so good as is but I happened to be feeling a bit creative. I adore coconut and nuts and thought that warm, slightly spicy curry powder would be the perfect addition to the caramel.

It was unbelievable! We had enough to fill 2 gallon Ziploc bags which meant that we had a bunch leftover for vacation snackage.

Coconut Curry and Cashew Caramel Corn2, 9x 13 pans, greased with butter wrappers
5 qts popped popcorn [1/2 cup of kernels yields about 4 qts when popped]
1 cup salted butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking soda
4 t curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp good vanilla
1 tsp coconut extract or emulsion
2 cups of cashews
14 oz shredded, sweetened coconut

*In my original recipe, I used a couple more quarts of popcorn but decided that it would have been better with a greater caramel to corn ratio. The pictures of my caramel corn will look a little less caramelly than your caramel corn will. 

Pop your popcorn and divide into 2 large mixing bowls. Be sure to remove any unpopped kernels [They get rock hard during the baking process and can really hurt your teeth].

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pot.  Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt.  
Bring to a boil stirring constantly and then let boil for five minutes without stirring.  Remove from the heat. Stir in the baking soda, curry, cinnamon, vanilla and coconut extract. The baking soda will make the caramel foam up.
Stir the nuts and shredded coconut into the caramel. Gradually pour the caramel mixture over the popped popcorn and stir to coat and combine.  
Turn into 2 large baking pans.  Bake in 250ยบ oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Alternate shelves each time you stir for more even baking. Remove from the oven and cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, June 28, 2013

One Ingredient Homemade Dulce de Leche

For a few months, I have put off adding this recipe to the blog because it is so ridiculously easy [and borrowed from my sister's sassy Peruvian room mate]. Sometimes I get a little blogging pride and think that I can only put up cool things that I invented myself. Then I remembered how amazing spoonfuls of this dulce de leche tasted in my morning or afternoon cup of coffee. I remembered how good pretzels tasted dipped into it and how good graham crackers tasted, spread with a little cream cheese and dulce de leche. It would have been wrong to keep this to myself!

One Ingredient Homemade Dulce de Leche
1 can of sweetened, condensed milk
 *Let's be honest,this stuff is so good you might as well buy two or three cans to make at a time. 2 cans filled 1 1/2 pint sized mason jars for me. 

Place the can [don't bother to remove the paper wrapper-it will come off whole during the boiling process and can easily be plucked out with a pair of tongs] in the bottom of a stock pot. Fill the pot with water until the water level rests about an inch or so above the top of the sweetened, condensed milk can. If using more than one can, just place them all in the bottom of the pot. 

Bring the water to a boil and let it slowly boil over medium heat for 3 hours. If the water level drops below the top of the can, add a little more water.

After three hours, drain the water, lift your cans out of the pot with tongs and open. There should be a gush of amazing, warm dulce de leche that oozes out of the top of your can.

Move your dulce de leche into whatever storage container you like, of course after you have "sampled" a handful of spoonfuls.

No need to refrigerate!

P.S. I haven't tested this out yet, but imagine how amazing this would be slathered on a s'more!! Please try.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Man's Birthday Dinner- Steak Au Poivre, Cauliflower Puree and Feta Stuffed Peppers

A few weeks ago, we were invited to join some of our good friends' on their family's cattle roundup in Wyoming. I had so much fun and did my best to fulfill the role of the wide-eyed New Yorker, who marveled at every part of this very awesome and very foreign lifestyle. I snapped a ton of pictures, helped the little boys climb on tractors and ate!
Emmett and Ellis rolling around

Boys "posing" in front of the cows
One of the best parts of the day was when my friend Sarah handed me two grocery bags and walked me back to the meat freezer, teeming with frozen, beautiful cuts of all-natural beef. Because I hadn't had any fun and had toiled so much while playing with the little boys and hanging out in the kitchen with Sarah and her sister, I definitely deserved two giant bags full of steaks.

This amazing beef came in handy as Sam's birthday approached the following weekend. We were putting all of our birthday budget into a big ole' Spitzer backyard BBQ, so I didn't have a lot to spend on birthday dinner for my boy. I decided to use one of the delicious sirloin steaks that Sarah had given me. I made steak au poivre with a vermouth pan sauce, cauliflower-parmesan puree and charred, feta stuffed mini peppers. It was dang good!

Steak Au Poivre with Vermouth Pan Sauce
*Serves 2
1 large [16-20 oz-ish] sirloin steak [feel free to use whatever cut you like] or 2 smaller cuts
2 T black peppercorns
2 t kosher salt
1 T olive oil
1 T butter

Pan Sauce
All of the amazing bits of steak and pepper stuck to the bottom of the frying pan
3/4 cup beef or chicken broth
1/4 cup sweet vermouth [dry vermouth or red wine would be delicious as well]
Whatever juices may pool after the steak rests for 5 minutes

About 15 minutes before cooking, remove your steak from the refrigerator to bring it to room temperature. While the steak is losing its chill, smash the peppercorns by placing them inside a gallon size ziploc bag, spreading them out and smashing them with the underside of a sauce pan. Smash your peppercorns until all of them seemed to have cracked open. Remove them from the bag and mix the salt into the cracked peppercorns. 
 Place your steak on a cutting board or other flat surface and press half of the peppercorn and salt mixture into one side of the steak, and half into the other. 

Melt the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. When the butter has melted, add the steak to the pan. Cook for approximately five minutes a side for medium.

Once the steak is done, place on a plate, cover with a loose aluminum foil tent and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

While the steak is resting, make a quick pan sauce. Your pan should look something like this before you start:
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the vermouth to this seemingly burnt looking pan and stir with a wooden spoon, being careful to scrape up all of the delicious bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add the broth to the vermouth and scraped bits and let simmer until halved in volume, about 5 minutes. Right before serving, pour any steak juice that accumulated while the steak was resting and 1 T of heavy cream or half and half into the pan sauce. 

Our sauce was still pretty liquidy, so we served it in dipping cups on our plates. It was delicious!

Cauliflower and Parmesan Puree
1 large frying pan or stockpot with a lid
1 head of cauliflower 
1 t kosher salt
2 t butter
1 T sour cream
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
1 T half and half or whole milk
1/4 tsp each salt, pepper and garlic powder

Remove the leaves and the core of the cauliflower and slice the head into large florets. Pour about an inch of water into the bottom of your pan and add the teaspoon of salt and the cauliflower florets to the water.  Cover and steam for approximately 10 minutes or until the florets are fork tender.
To get the silkiness of mashed potatoes, drain the cauliflower and add it and all remaining ingredients into a food processor. Process until smooth and silky, approximately one minute. 
Charred, Feta- Stuffed Mini Peppers
1 lb. of mini bell peppers, approximately 12 
3 oz. softened cream cheese
6 oz. crumbled feta
1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper
1 T lemon juice
*We had friends make this dish with Alouette, herbed cheese. It was awesome. Feel free to experiment with any of your favorite soft cheeses or cheese spreads.

Remove the stem of each pepper by slicing the top off of each pepper. Scoop out any seeds that remain in the pepper with your finger. 

Mix the cream cheese, feta, salt, pepper and lemon juice together in a medium bowl until the mixture is homogenous. 

Using a small spoon [I used one of my son's baby spoons], stuff about a teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each pepper.
Preheat a large skillet until it is searing hot. Place the stuffed peppers in the pan and cook until both sides of the pepper have charred spots on them. You can also broil or grill your peppers to achieve the charred spots.
 These were so yummy, sweet and tangy. They were the perfect compliment to the creaminess of the cauliflower and the heartiness of the steak.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Peanut Butter Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ground chicken was on sale the other week and I was looking for a way to sass it up beyond burgers or tacos or in a sauce. I had an assortment of veggies on hand and thought that I would try my hand at making lettuce wraps. The main dish was light, really tasty and SO quick to make! And, lo and behold, the toddler version of the meal was enough to make my son forego his nightly request for "just 'nacks" instead of dinner. Wonder of wonders!

Peanut Butter Chicken Lettuce Wraps
*Yields approximately 4 servings of two lettuce wraps
1 lb. of ground chicken
2 tbsp oil
1/2 a large onion, diced
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 heaping tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup chopped cilantro

8 large lettuce leaves [I used red lettuce and held up very well]
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
3/4 of an English cucumber, julienned
Optional toppings: bean sprouts, additional cilantro, sliced jalapenos or crushed peanuts

*We served with a side of brown rice. This was a nice way to make the meal very toddler friendly. We added the chicken mixture and chopped veggies to the rice and stirred it up!

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and black pepper and cook until the onion is translucent, roughly five minutes. At that time, add the grated ginger and garlic and stir to combine. *Sidenote, I keep a large piece of fresh ginger wrapped up in my freezer. Whenever I need fresh ginger, I grate a bit of the frozen ginger on a microplane [small side of a grater would be fine as well]. There is no need to peel the frozen ginger, just grate off what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. Before I froze my ginger, I always felt like the ginger root would go bad before I could use it up. 

Add the ground chicken to the onion mixture and cook for approximately five minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, all the while breaking the chicken up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. 

Once the chicken has cooked, add the soy sauce, peanut butter and sesame oil to the pan and stir to combine. Once these condiments are combined with the chicken mixture, turn off the heat and toss in the cilantro.

For serving, place a couple tablespoons into each lettuce cup, top with the sliced cucumbers and peppers, wrap and enjoy!