Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Almond Joy Pie for Mother's Day

My family rarely ever celebrates Mother's Day like normal people.  For one thing, we often don't celebrate Mother's Day on Mother's Day.  The Saturday night before Mother's Day is always so much more convenient for celebrations. 

We also don't do wimpy brunches. I never understood why Mother's Day is always about brunch.  After all our mothers do for us, don't they deserve more than brunch?  Kevin and I like to serve our mothers something more substantial.  Last year I made a pot of Sunday Sauce and piles of good ziti.  Pasta is my mother's favorite food and why should I serve her anything other than what she loves for her day?

This year I decided to maintain the tradition.  Big pasta dinners make everyone happy (except for my nephew, and I'm sure he'll outgrow his aversion to tomato sauce eventually). 

This year's Sunday Sauce is the same as last years.  I made a hearty sauce and filled it with meatballs, sausage, and beef shanks.  I served with a bit of antipasto consisting of olives, roasted peppers, cheese, and some local salumi.  I accompanied all of it with fresh bread and good wine.  This is what family dinners are supposed to be about.

The one part of the meal I changed this year was dessert.  I haven't made any new desserts lately and I was itching to make a new pie.  I decided to come up with a pie that would combine two of my favorite flavors: chocolate and coconut.  I took that over the top by adding almonds to the mix too.  My new creation was appropriately called Almond Joy Pie, in honor of the similarly flavored, beloved, candy bar. This pie would consist of an almond flavored crust, chocolate coconut filling, and a topping of almond whipped cream, garnished with crunchy almonds and toasted coconut.

My idea for an almond flavored crust was a crumb crust made of almond flavored cookies.  This was one of the biggest challenges.  It's not easy finding an almond flavored cookie that makes a suitable crumb crust.  The most common type of almond cookies are biscotti, and biscotti are rock-hard.  I was afraid they would make a hard crust.

Eventually I found these almond wafers.  These were perfect since thin wafer cookies make the best crust.  Unfortunately, they were a little too strong in the ginger department with little pronounced almond flavor.

I crushed them up, mixed them with butter, and baked them.  It worked perfectly.

The other tricky part was adapting a chocolate pastry cream recipe that would incorporate coconut flavor. I didn't just want to add a bag of coconut to chocolate pudding.  I wanted the flavors to be blend together seamlessly.  That meant making coconut milk part of the custard base.  Would that work?  I have made coconut cream pie with coconut milk in the custard before (thank you Elaine Corn), but I haven't ever tried it with chocolate.  This would be interesting.  I crossed my fingers and adapted my favorite chocolate cream pie recipe with coconut milk replacing some of the milk. 

Finally I topped the whole thing with fresh whipped cream blended with amaretto.  I topped it with more toasted coconut and sliced almonds.

It was a hit!  I will definitely do this one again.

Almond Joy Pie


  • 1.5 cups crushed almond wafer cookies
  • 2 Tbl sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 Tbl butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 can coconut  milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tbl butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 Tbl amaretto
  • 1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds 
Heat over to 350 degrees.  Mix together crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt.  Gently press into 9" pie plate.  Bake 8-10 minutes or until firm and set. 
Whisk the sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in 1 cup half and half. In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining half and half and the coconut milk with the egg yolks.  Whisk them into the mixture on the stove.

Keep whisking the mixture over medium high heat until it thickens and boils.  This should take about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and butter, whisking until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla. Transfer filling to crust, press a piece of plastic wrap over directly over the top, and chill for at least 6 hours.

Beat cream, sugar, and amaretto on high speed until thick and fluffy.  Spread on top of pie.  Sprinkle generously with almonds and coconut flakes.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Amsterdam Food Travelogue

I know I haven't been keeping this blog up lately.  I do have some new projects in the works for the coming months, so I hope to be a little better about adding more posts in the near future.

One type of post I love to make is about the food I eat when I travel.  Since I took a trip to Amsterdam last week and did a lot of eating, I had to make sure it was well documented here.

If you want to read the non-food story of my trip, it's on my other blog. You can see a full set of photo here.

During a bus tour during my trip to Amsterdam, a guide said The Netherlands doesn't have many specialties in the way of cuisine.  When I booked my vacation, my focus was not on food because I wasn't sure what to expect.  However,  like most cosmopolitan cities, Amsterdam has its share of fine dining.   Even if I didn't have much of a clue about  Dutch cuisine (other than herring and Gouda cheese), I knew there would be some special restaurants regardless.  I was looking forward to seeing what I might find in the city.  I was not disappointed by what I found both in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. 

As always, if all you want to see if photos, you can view them on my Facebook.  If you would like to know more about the touristy aspect, please see my other blog.

Day 1 - There was a lot of food served on the flight, so when I landed in Amsterdam mid-morning, I wasn't terribly hungry.  When Kevin and I arrived at the hotel, the restaurant, Lotti's was still serving brunch.  At first I didn't want anything, but I found myself tempted by the sight of all of those mimosas and decided to have one.

Since we couldn't check in right away, we did some exploring.  By mid-afternoon we were finally starting to feel hungry.  At first we thought we only wanted a snack like a coffee and some pastry.  We spotted a restaurant called Quattro Gatti near our hotel that had a tantalizing assortment of cakes in the window, so we thought we would give it a try. (Also, how can I not want to eat at a place called "Four Cats"?)

The restaurant was small - more like a little coffee shop.  The decor was simple.   An assortment of copper pans hung on the back wall, but there was little other ornamentation.  The open kitchen at the back was tiny.  It looked like the kitchen of a humble Roman apartment.  The smell of fresh herbs permeated the place (unlike so many Italian restaurants that only smell of garlic).  I was immediately charmed by the simplicity of it.

When I looked at the menu, I knew I wasn't having dessert.  I saw an impressive list of homemade pasta dishes and I knew I had to have one.

I chose spaghetti carbonara.  I ordered the small portion, and this photo makes it look as if it was indeed small, but this plate was deceptively deep.  I was trying to eat light, but there was plenty of pasta here.

I think this was the best cabonara I ever ate.  How many times have you been to an Italian restaurant and ordered the carbonara and found the chef cheated and used cream to avoid clumpy eggs?  That happens to me all the time.  This was not the case at Quattro Gatti.  This chef knew how to stir his eggs into the sauce properly.  Even though I thought it was a bit too salty, it was so rich and satisfying and expertly prepared, I will stand by my statement that it was the best I ever ate.

Kevin ended up having dessert.  He loved this chocolate almond cake.  He had his regrets about the pasta though.  We hoped to come back here, but they are only open to the public for lunch and we were never in the neighborhood at lunch time after this.

I will always regret not coming back here.

We stayed in the neighborhood for dinner.  In fact, we didn't even leave our hotel.  We had dinner at Lotti's.

I had my pasta later in the day and it was filling, so I wasn't terribly hungry at dinner.  I avoided
appetizers and focused on the main course.  I decided to make a radical change to the types of foods I normally order in restaurants and went vegetarian.  I had this dish of mixed roasted parsnips, some wrapped in filo dough, with a radish salad.  It was an unusual dish, but I thought it was also a fun deviation from stuff I normally eat.  I just wish there was more filo involved.  Only two large parsnips were wrapped in it.  I was thinking it would be more like a strudel.

Day 2 - We always ate breakfast at our hotel and I tended to keep it simple with a cappuccino and a croissant with an occasional fruit salad.  Lotti's served American pancakes, but I was more interested in trying traditional Dutch pancakes.  After spending the morning touring the Anne Frank House, we met up with our friend Miriam (whom we met during our Italy trip six years ago) at Pancakes Amsterdam.  I said at the beginning of this post I wasn't aware of many Dutch specialties, but I knew pancake houses were a popular lunch staple in the city and I was excited to try one.  They serve the traditional, flat, crepe-like pancakes, American pancakes, and the traditional puffy poffertjes.

I was having such a good time with Miriam and her kids, I forgot to take a picture of my lunch.  I chose a flat pancake topped with Camembert, raspberry sauce, chicory, and ham.  It was delicious and I'm happy I tried it.  One of my lesser food regrets is that I never tried the poffertjes during my trip.  Those looked good too.

That evening I tried another Dutch tradition that isn't Dutch.  I wanted to try the Indonesian rijstaffel (rice tables) that are a staple of the Amsterdam food scene.  I did some searching online and found Sampurna was a popular option. 

On the map it looked as if Sampurna was reasonably close to my hotel.  It was less than a 10 minute walk according to Google maps.  Unfortunately, it was raining steadily when we were walking over there and that made the walk more uncomfortable than expected.  It's too bad because the stroll along the Singel canal looked interesting.  The restaurant is right alongside the famous flower market, but it was closing up when we arrived (and we wouldn't have wanted to hang out there in the rain anyway).

I was glad I made reservations for the restaurant a couple of weeks prior to the trip.  The place was as crowded and they asked if we had reservations as soon as we walked in.  During the course of the night there was a constant stream of people coming in and out.  They managed to keep the service consistent and friendly despite the crowds, so I give them a lot of credit.

There were a la carte options, but I wanted to try the full rice table meal.  They had three options to choose from.  We could order extra spicy, spicy, or vegetarian.  I went for the spicy meal for two. 

They gave us shrimp crackers and dipping sauces to start.  The sauces were quite fiery, but they were delicious.  For our appetizer we could have soup or fried chicken dumplings.  We were on vacation, so we had the dumplings.  They came with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce.  They were good if you like fried food (I do) but if you were looking for a more unique flavor, you would have found them ordinary.

Once we finished our dumplings the full meal came out.  There was a sweet spicy beef and sate skewers (my favorites), chicken in a coconut sauce (Kevin's favorite), shrimp in coconut sauce, and a few different vegetable dishes (including marinated cucumbers which were another favorite).  We had peanuts and soybean crispy stuff to sprinkle over it all and plenty of rice to go under it.

Some of the dishes tasted a bit too similar to each other, but it was fun to have a sampling of so many foods.  Other than the chicken, Kevin was less than impressed.  I felt a bit bad about that since the restaurant was my idea.

I guess if we had never tried it, we wouldn't have known, so no loss.  It's better to have tried it than wonder what it would have been like.

My dessert was truly extraordinary though.  It was described as a light fruit pudding on the menu.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It had a burnt sugar topping like creme brulee`.  Underneath were layers of fluffy cream with flavors of pistachio and a fruit I couldn't put my finger on.  The contrasts in textures and the creaminess and the unusual flavors surprised me in the best way possible.

After that long walk I learned on our last night in Amsterdam there was an Indonesian restaurant just a few doors down from our hotel.  It was in the opposite direction from which we usually walked, so I never saw it until it was too late.  Maybe it would have been less crowded than Sampurna and Kevin would have liked the food better.

Day 3 - We took a day trip to the countryside today.  We started out in the windmill village of Zaanse Schaans.  The village looked like it had a few specialty food shops, but our time was limited and we were there to see the windmills.  We went inside one of the mills and had a demo on the process of grinding linseed oil.  That particular mill was right next to a hot chocolate shop.  I could smell that hot chocolate everywhere in the vicinity of the mill.  I was dying for a cup of it by the time we left.

Our next stop on the tour was to the lakeside village of Volendam.  There were a couple of local specialties here.  The first one is cheese.  We went to The Cheese Factory.   It's not really a factory.  The cheese itself is made elsewhere, but they have a demo room and some equipment to show how traditional Gouda is made.  We sat in on the demo and let's just put the emphasis on CHEESE.

Do you know how the Dutch eat cheese?  They slice it thin and put it on sandwiches.  Who would have thought someone would do that?  They use this tool to slice it.  You can conveniently buy the tool in the shop.

The store was filled with free samples, so I'll stop complaining.

We had lunch at a recommended restaurant called De Lunch.  I don't know if it was the best restaurant in town, but our time in Volendam was limited and our guide said that restaurant would have the fastest service.

This was where Kevin sampled the other culinary specialty of Volendam - a local cod fish called kibbeling.  De Lunch makes it into fish and chips.

Our server tried to steer me into ordering it, but I had to politely tell her I don't like fish. I had a pork schnitzel instead.  There were french fries of course.  There were always french fries.

I satisfied my craving for hot chocolate here.  This was some seriously over-the-top hot chocolate.  They served me a mug of hot milk and a cup of chocolate chips.  I just stirred the chips directly into the milk  I could make it as strong or as weak as I wanted (I'm sure it's no surprise I used all the chips).  It was accompanied by both whipped cream and marshmallows.  It was so good, I think it made the Belgians nervous.

We returned to Amsterdam in the later afternoon and had no dinner reservations for the evening, so we thought we would explore the neighborhood and see what restaurants looked good.  (This is when we found out we couldn't get dinner at Quattro Gatti.)  We ended up at Het Paleis, a restaurant that was kitty-corner to our hotel.  We could see it from the window in our room, which helped pique our curiosity.  It is named The Palace because it is on Paleistraat, the street that eventually leads to Dam Square and the Royal Palace.

After such a filling lunch I wasn't in the mood for anything heavy.  I started with some tomato soup.

It's always a relief  when you order tomato soup and it doesn't taste like it came from a can.

My main course was a portobello and goat cheese sandwich.  I ruined the idea of eating light when I thoughtlessly agreed to having  fries on the side.

Everything was good and the service was as friendly and prompt as every other restaurant I had eaten at so far.  The Dutch get a thumbs up for excellent customer service.

Did I say I wanted to eat light?  Maybe we shouldn't have shared the apple pie.  But how can you be in the Netherlands and not have apple pie?  Look at all these apples.

Unfortunately it also had raisins.  No big deal.  I picked them out and Kevin ate them.  (Who is the pickypants now?)

Day 4 - We spent an intense day visiting the van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum.  We ate our lunch in the van Gogh museum cafe`, Le Tambourin.  My lunch was not particularly interesting (just a decent caprese sandwich), but I give the place credit for the name.  One of the paintings in the museum is of the owner of a cafe` called Tambourin who was once van Gogh's lover.  She is seated at a table shaped like a giant tambourine.  I liked the way the museum cafe` paid tribute to that painting.

Even though I didn't know much about traditional Dutch food, I was looking for some kind of kitschy, semi-authentic experience for one of my meals.  I wanted to eat at a restaurant that would recall another era.  In short I was looking for the Dutch version of a restaurant like Plzenska from my Prague trip.

I found what I was looking for in Haesje Claes.  This was another place I found online that seemed popular and well-loved. Once again I was smart enough to make reservations a week or two before the trip.  There were so many people coming in here, the host had to turn away anyone without a reservation.

I got my desire for some over-the-top, old fashioned décor.  We had a great table.

Our time in Volendam the day before put me in the mood for cheese.  I ordered a simple appetizer of aged Gouda.  This was a lot of cheese.  Of course Kevin wasn't interested in sharing.

There were many tasty sounding dishes on the menu and it was difficult to choose, but the traditional dish on the menu was something called stamppot, which is mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables.  I had mine mixed with sauerkraut and topped with a meatball, a sausage, and a strip of thick bacon.  The meatball was slightly rubbery, but it was a satisfying dish overall.  Kevin went a little crazy and ordered beef tenderloin.

I almost wish I had come back here to try the stamppot with lamb, or the duck confit, or the croquettes, or the tomato-pepper soup.  This rich and heavy type of food is right up my alley (although for the sake of my health, it shouldn't be).

We both had stroopwafels (waffle wafer cookies filled with sweet syrup) with a giant wedge of nougat ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert.  I love syrup waffles.  They're not easy to get in the US.  The ice cream was excellent too.  It's hard to describe the flavor, but it's not as vanilla as it looks.

 For dessert we tried some of the local firewater.  The restaurant offered a variety of locally made liqueurs with all kinds of unusual flavors.  They also had some comical names like Little Hans in the Cellar and Heaven on Earth.  I had one called Marasquin, flavored with berries and cherries.  Kevin had the Heaven on Earth.  It was flavored with chocolate and spices.  They were both so strong they veered into cough syrup territory.  I still felt a burning in my chest a few minutes after I drank mine.  I was reminded of the rakjia I drank in Montenegro, although not quite as strong.

Day 5 - We took another bus tour today.  We went to Brussels and Antwerp.  If you check out my other blog, you will see it was not the best day of my vacation.  Foodwise it started out poorly, but improved tremendously.

We were in Antwerp at lunch time. We had little time to grab lunch before heading to Brussels and ended up in a fast food joint.  We were trying to avoid McDonald's (there were two of them within two blocks of each other), but we might as well have eaten there because we ended up eating fast food burgers and fries.

Toward the end of the day in Brussels we tried a bakery with table service called Maison Dandoy.

This is where I was finally able to eat a liege waffle in Belgium.  It was topped with strawberry sauce and ice cream.  I had a rich cup of hot chocolate to go with it.  This was the best part of my day.  Kevin had never tried a liege waffle before, so he was in for quite a treat.

It was late when we returned to Amsterdam.  It was also King's Day.  The party was ending, but we had to fight a lot of crowds who were heading in the same direction we were heading away from.  We ate dinner in our hotel.

I stuck with an appetizer and tried the Lotti's steak tartare appetizer.  I didn't have my camera with me, so I had no photos.  It wasn't as good as the waffle in Brussels, but it was a tasty end to the day.

Day 5 - For the final day of our trip we took one last bus tour.  This time we went to Bruges.  It was a much better trip than our Brussels and Antwerp tour.  Our guide for the day made a point of saying frites, chocolate, and beer are a major part of Belgian culture.  (Belgians are bigger pleasure seekers than the Dutch.)

We went to the recommended restaurant Old Bruges.  Once again the guide recommended this because they would serve us quickly. Social media posts all say this is a pretty lackluster tourist trap.   This is the problem with bus tour meals.  The places the tour companies steer you to are often not great, but you don't want to take the risk that service elsewhere will be too slow to enjoy the rest of the day. 

I tried the traditional Flemish beef stew with fries.  It was nothing special.  I thought both dishes could have used a bit more salt. Stew was kind of bland.  Dutch and Belgian fries are way less salty than American fries.  It's too bad I like salty fries.

Would another restaurant have done it better?  Who knows?

It could have been worse, but if I had to do it over, I might have tried to find another restaurant.

Our next food stop was Galler chocolates.  We knew we wanted to take home some Belgian chocolate from Bruges, but there are so many shops we weren't sure which one to pick.  Galler was the one our guide recommended.  We bought a box of pralines and truffles (all exquisite).  Kevin didn't just want truffles and pralines though.  He wanted some bark.  We found it in another store called Mary.  We bought white and dark chocolate bark studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios.

There was a waffle truck conveniently parked next to our bus when we left Bruges, so we made sure to stop for a last waffle drizzled with Belgian chocolate sauce.

Once again it was quite late when we returned to Amsterdam.  We could have eaten at our hotel, but I wanted to try something new for our last night.  We asked the front desk for some late-night recommendations.  He suggested Cafe Libertine.  That was certainly an appropriate name for a restaurant in a city where prostitution is legal.

This was a place for young hipsters.  At first I didn't mind.  I loved the décor and the open kitchen.

The menu was a bit limited, but the pizza sounded interesting, so I ordered one with speck and some kind of cheese I can't remember.  Kevin had one with spinach and egg.  Tasty, but the crust on mine could have been a bit crispier.

Service started out good. Our server was friendly and cheerful.  Unfortunately we were abandoned after a while.  The young hipsters received all the servers' attention.  We wanted to order dessert, but they were ignoring our table.  Kevin got frustrated and asked for our check at the register and paid there.  We went back to the hotel for dessert and a final cocktail.  It was hard going to bed knowing the next morning we would have to leave.

One more breakfast and it was time to go.  My overall impression is that when it comes to food, there isn't much you can't get in Amsterdam.  The restaurant options are endless.  Except for the glitch at the end of our dinner at Libertine, we never had bad service.  Everyone was friendly and almost everyone spoke perfect English.  Some meals were better than others, but I never had a bad meal.  Amsterdam is a wonderful place to visit even without the food, but the food definitely made it that much better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Decade of TERP! (Also, A New Corn Soup Recipe)

On March 22, 2007 I made my first post on The Essential Rhubarb Pie (which I now lovingly refer to as "TERP").

I still feel like this is my "new" blog.  I had been writing Shipwrecked & Comatose (on MySpace no less) for a few years before that.  I felt my brain is so preoccupied with food, I needed a separate space just to talk about it.

The blog has come a long way.  In those early days I would write about any food-related subject that came to mind.  I reviewed just about any snack that ventured near my mouth.  I would log every recipe I made.  I rarely wrote out the recipes properly in those days and I also never included photos.  I can't believe I managed to have any sort of audience.  I certainly appreciated the audience I had.  Over the years I really do appreciate those of you who have kept reading.

I know my blogging has been slow in recent years.  Part of it is life gets in the way.  I don't have the time to be rattling off every food-related thought in my head online.  Another part of it is I have a harder time maintaining an audience when there are so many better blogs out there.  The final part of  it is I realized my recipes were beginning to repeat themselves a bit.  I found too many of my recipes were similar to each other and I didn't want to be boring. 

I still want to keep this blog going.  I still love inane food-related ramblings and I will keep sharing them.  I still do create new recipes.  Maybe this blog won't be as regular as it was 10 years ago, but I believe it deserves to continue.

Speaking of new recipes, I am sharing a new one in celebration of my first decade online.  I made a delicious corn soup for my lunch this week.  The recipe had two distinct sources of inspiration.

The first inspiration for my soup was a Thai-style sweet potato soup I used to make for dinner parties.  It had coconut milk, hot pepper, lemongrass, and cilantro in it.  I haven't made it in ages since Kevin doesn't like sweet potatoes.  I don't remember where I got the recipe from.  I have searched online, but I'm not sure any of the recipes I found are the same recipe.

The second inspiration came from my Hawaii vacation last year.  On our final night in Oahu, we had dinner at Roy's.  I had a delicious dish of red curry chicken topped with coconut creamed corn.  I never considered corn and coconut together prior to this dinner.  It was an awakening.

In honor of that Thai-influenced soup and the coconut corn under my Thai-influenced chicken, I created this soup.  It's a mixture of sweet, sour, and spicy and it makes a tasty lunch.

It seems odd every recipe I have posted in 2017 has been vegan.  It's not on purpose.  I guess if my goal is to make sure any new recipes I post here are creative and original, then a vegan recipe is going to require a lot of creativity since I don't normally cook vegan food.

If veganism isn't your thing, tune in for Easter.  I'll be showcasing meat and dairy all over the place.

Thai-Style Coconut Corn Soup

  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 small red chili peppers
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 4 2" pieces of lemongrass
  • 1 10 oz package frozen corn kernels (divided use)
  • 6 leaves Thai basil.
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 15oz can coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a pot of low heat and add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the stock and the lemongrass to the pan.

Simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the lemongrass stalks from the pot. Using a stick blender (or transfer to a food processor), blend  until smooth.  Then blend in the coconut milk and the lime juice.  Taste and adjust the salt to your preference.

Stir in the cilantro and the remaining corn kernels and serve.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking for a Healthier 2017

2016 has been quite a year.  Whether or not you look back on it with fondness or sadness, you can't deny it was eventful.

So what's on tap for 2017?  I don't know about the rest of the world, but I am working on making sure I stick to a nutritious meal plan.  As I stated on my other blog, I am challenging myself to go as long as possible without sweets and limit alcohol only to when I'm out.

So what's on the agenda for those nutritious meals?

My main goal is to keep everything heavy on the vegetables.  My experiment for the first of the year was Cauliflower Tacos.

My inspiration for these tacos came last summer when I tried Pico Taqueria in Chincoteague for the first time.  They had a cauliflower taco that was so tasty I didn't miss the meat at all.  I even thought the cauliflower taco was tastier than the chicken taco I ate with it.

Pico's had crispy onions, aioli, capers, and cheese.  I decided to continue the idea of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, but do it my own way.

I roasted the cauliflower with chili powder and cumin until it was nice and soft.

I made caramelized onions and added some vinegar for tang.  I made them in my new pressure cooker (awesome Christmas present from Dad).  You can do it the traditional way if you don't have a pressure cooker or just prefer doing it that way.

I got the creaminess from avocado and then additional spice and creaminess from a "crema" made from cashews and chipotle powder.

So my first new recipe of the year (and my first dinner of 2017) was vegan.  You know this carnivorous lady rarely does vegan.

I recommend making the cashew sauce ahead of time so the flavors can really blend.  I made mine the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. 

These were unique and delicious.  I will definitely put this recipe in regular rotation.

Cauliflower Tacos

  • Corn Tortillas
  • 2 Avocados, diced
  • 1 Tbl lime juice
For Cauliflower
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp salt
For Onions
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbl red wine vinegar
For Crema
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbl white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder

Place the cashews and water in a bowl and allow to soak for about 15 minutes.  Blend the water and cashews in a food processor with salt, vinegar, and chipotle powder until smooth. Set aside.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cauliflower with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  Spread out on cookie sheet.  Roast for 40 minutes or until soft. 

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pressure cooker on saute mode.  Add onions and cook until onions are beginning to soften and give off their liquid.  Put lid on the cooker and cook on manual for 20 minutes.  Quick release the steam and remove lid.  Stir in the vinegar and allow to sit in the pressure cooker on warm for 5-7 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Alternately, you can slowly cook the onions for 4-60 minutes in a frying pan over low heat.

Toss the avocados with the lime juice.  Heat the tortillas for about 15 seconds in the microwave.  Layer the avocados, onions, and cauliflower and drizzle the crema over the top. 

In case you are wondering why I don't have a Christmas post, it's because I didn't host this year neglected to take a camera to Christmas dinner in order to get good photos of the food.  I made my short rib ragu and layered it with noodles, bechemel, and parmesan, and mozzarella for a new twist on lasagne bolognese.  (All I had was this poor quality phone photo).

Prior to Christmas I had some other family gatherings.  The week before Christmas I went to Chicago to spent time with Kevin's brother and attend a live taping of "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me".  We ate well while we were there.  We had dinner our first night at Rosebud Prime where I dined on a bolognese sauce that was almost as good as mine (and even had Peter Sagal drop by my table).

The next night we went to Lawry's Prime Rib.  Yes, it's related to the seasoned salt company.  The prime rib is to die for.  Even Kevin ate it.

Upon returning from Chicago, we were in NYC with Dad for an early Chirstmas dinner at Lincoln Square Steak.   It was a charming old-school NY steakhouse.  I never took any food photos, but I cant tell you after eating so much red meat all weekend, I went for the pork chops this time around.  

No wonder I started the new year with vegetarian tacos!

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Sweet New Chili For Chilly Days

When people say they love fall, do they include the month of November?  When I think about November, I can't relate it to the basic blather about fall leaves and crunchy air.  November is just a cold, dark, prelude to winter.  Daylight Saving Time is over and every day grows painfully shorter.  The pretty leaves have fallen from the trees.  The weather is cold and sometimes even wintry.  Other than Thanksgiving, November has few redeeming qualities (unless you are one of my friends who was born in November of course).

Food bloggers are eternal optimists though.  Whatever unpleasantness exists outside, a food blogger will always spin it as inspiration to cook.  Is the weather cold and the sky dark?  Well that's all the more reason to cook up comfort food.  If the only fresh vegetable available is a root vegetable, let's find a creative way to cook it.

As a master cynic who tends to shun the cliches of the season, I'm not immune to the need for comfort food on a cold dark day.  I spend my weekends outdoors no matter what the season and I appreciate a warm, heavy, meal at the end of the day. 

Since I am out all day on weekends, my slow cooker has been helpful in allowing me to eat more home-cooked meals.  It used to be when I would come home from a long day with the horses, I wouldn't feel like cooking. That meant putting on decent clothes and going back out into the cold to a restaurant.   My slow cooker makes it possible for me to sit down to a hot meal with no waiting and I can wear what I want and stay warm.  It can be challenging coming up with new recipes for it.  How many times can I make my standard turkey chili?  (Not enough if you're my husband.  My standard turkey chili is one of his favorites.)

Chili is such an easy dish to make and it offers so many variations (unless you're a Texas chili purist and I am cool with that).  I am so picky about how I like my chili that I don't go too far from my standard formula.  When trying to come up with a new chili recipe, I do try to remember what my standards are for chili and how will the recipe follow them.

1.  It must be meaty (unless I'm making a vegetarian chili of course).
2.  It must have a thick, substantial sauce.  I want a stew and not Sloppy Joes.
3.  It must be spicy
4  It can't contain vegetables other than tomatoes, onions, garlic, and hot peppers. Most vegetables turn limp, slimy, and unappetizing after long cooking.

There are many regional variations for chili and I doubt I'll ever really know them all.  I know Texas chili is made from stew meat cooked in hot peppers with no beans.  I know Cincinnati chili is made with ground meat and sweet spices and served over spaghetti.  Until recently I never knew Vermont had its own version of chili.  It was no surprise it featured Vermont's most famous ingredient - maple syrup.

What chili recipe would scream "Fall Comfort Food" more than one made with maple syrup?  (Don't say a chili recipe with pumpkin or butternut squash please.) Even though I say I don't like my chili to be sweet, I became curious about a sweet-spicy chili.

 In order to be more health conscious in recent years, I usually double the amount of beans and cut the meat in half (reversing my classic recipe).  For this recipe I put a little meat back in.   I only used one package of turkey, but I added some sweet sausages. There is a vendor at my local farmers' market who makes the most creative homemade sausages.   I used smoky spices to complement the sweetness and did not add my traditional lethal mix of hot peppers.  Some dried chili powder and a single jalapeno were sufficient.

I added a bit of Jack cheese (leftover from the tortilla frittata night) and served some necessary homemade cornbread on the side. 

I find after I spend time cooking something new, I have a hard time tasting it objectively.  My taste buds grow weary after hovering over the same pot.  I wasn't sure this tasted too different from my regular chili recipe.  I didn't think the sweetness of the maple syrup and the smokiness of the spices came through.  My more objective husband assured me this didn't taste like my regular chili, but that it did taste good.

Spicy Sweet Maple Chili

  • 1 Tbl oil 
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (according to taste) seeded and chopped
  • 1lb ground turkey meat
  • 4 links sweet sausage (such as apple breakfast sausage) cut up into chunks (fresh or pre-cooked)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbl chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • Salt to taste
Heat oil in a large pan.  Add onions and cook until they soften.  Add the cinnamon, paprika, and chipotle powder and stir to coat the onions.  Cook until very fragrant.  Add the garlic and jalapeno and continue cooking until the pepper softens a bit.  Add the sausage if you are not using pre-cooked sausage and cook until lightly browned.  Add the turkey, breaking it up as you put it in the pan and cook until browned.

Mix together maple syrup and tomatoes.  Add these to the pan along with the beans.

You can continue to simmer this on the stove top for another hour, or transfer to a slow cooker and let it cook on low for 4 hours.  Serve with shredded cheese and a side of cornbread.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Return of Casual Friday - Tortilla Frittata

I noticed I haven't done a Casual Friday post for a long time.  For those of you unfamiliar with this type of post, Casual Friday is the kind of meal I make on a Friday evening when I have to cook, but don't want to make a huge effort.

Frittata is one of my go-to meals for when I don't feel much like cooking.  There are few things simpler than throwing some eggs and tasty bits of this and that in a pan.  This week I decided to have some fun and use something other than the standard vegetables and cheese.  I went with a Mexican theme and added whole tortillas.

I left the tortillas whole creating a sort of layered dish.  I would almost call this an egg-adilla, but that just sounds too corny.  Besides, unlike breakfast burritos or quesadillas, I had tortillas in the eggs and not eggs in the tortillas.

For my version I used (store-bought) fresh salsa made with tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro along with plenty of Monterrey Jack cheese.  For my husband's  serving, I just used the salsa.  I think you could also do some sauteed peppers, onions, and tomatoes, or beans (whole or refried), or chorizo.  Really just add whatever you want to add.

I suppose if I cut the tortillas into strips this would more closely resemble migas, but I liked the aesthetic of a whole tortilla.  In order to keep the tortillas centered within the egg, I cooked one serving at a time in a small pan.

I'm not going to give an actual recipe because this is a truly free-from dish.   However, I will show how I did it and hope I can provide some inspiration for your future Casual Fridays.

I heated some oil in a small pan over medium heat and added my first tortilla layer in the pan.  Salsa and cheese went on top of the tortilla.  Yes, I know I should have shredded my cheese.  It's Friday and I don't want to be bothered.

I put a second tortilla on top of the salsa layer and repeated the process with more salsa and cheese.  Then I capped it off with one more tortilla and a bit more cheese.

I added 3 eggs to the pan over the top of all the tortillas.  It would look  more charming if the eggs didn't flow around the tortilla stack, but how a food looks is irrelevant on Casual Friday.

I let the eggs sit for a while.  When the edges were set, I would lift the edge up and tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs on top to flow to the bottom of the pan and cook.

 Once most of the excess liquid egg was gone from the top I put the frittata under the broiler for 3 minutes until set, puffed, and golden.

Invert on a plate for a pyramid effect and put a bit more salsa on top.

Eggs, gooey, cheese, spicy salsa, and the corn flavor of tortillas.  It's a great and easy combination.