Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One More Before I Go

Sorry if TERP has been a bit slient lately. I've been running around like that proverbial chicken with her head cut off trying to handle mutltiple projects at work, tie up loose ends, and try to finish all of the packing and planning for my upcoming vacation. I have at least made sure to stop by everyone's blog and say hello before I go away.

I did manage to do as I promised and make the risotto with the Noble Pig wine. I love making risotto. It's just a soul-pleasing dish, and while it takes a bit of atention, it isn't difficult.

My risotto was a basic recipe flavored with lemon juice, lemon zest and wine. I added half a large package of frozen chopped broccoli and some toasted pine nuts. On top I added some browned sweet Italian sausage for some added protein. For Sir Pickypants I simply thawed some frozen shrimp. It was a happy dish all around.

Oh, about that vacation, if you haven't been reading my blogs lately, or haven't been paying attention to my endless, long-winded comments on your blogs (what is it about my tendency toward novel-length comments on blogs?), I'll let you know now that I'm leaving for Paris on Saturday. I've never been to Paris. I have always wanted to go.

A year ago I realized I was turning a certain age and that life was getting shorter and it was time to make things happen. I started putting small amounts of money in an envelope every week, hoping to save enough for a nice Paris trip. With a little help from generous family members at Christmas and birthdays, I was able to make it happen. Now when I have lunch with other food bloggers and they start discussing whether or not Parisians are snooty, I can actually participate in the conversation and stop feeling like such an uncultured bumpkin.

There will be blogs when I return. I will blog about the food. I will blog about the non-food. I plan to eat in as many restaurants as possible and see every tourist attraction I can. (I am a tourist taking her first time in Paris. I'm entitled to visit the big tourist spots!)

I am very excited to be trying the food in Paris. I'm just quite overwhelmed by my choices. Everyone has a recommendation for me and I don't even know where to start. I was told yesterday by someone online that I should make reservations 10 days in advance! Did I mention I'm leaving Saturday night? How am I supposed to make decisions about where I want to eat in a place I've never been? I also have had some sticker shock at the cost of some places in Paris. Eating out isn't cheap. But what's the alternative? Thanks to Emily, I've learned that the food in France isn't always as sublime as expected, (although I can't wait for the ice cream). It's probably best to spend money on quality. All I can say is it's our vacation, and it's also our anniversary (on October 6th). We are just going to have to do some spending.

Don't miss me too much while I'm away. One downside of going to Paris this weekend is that I'm missing the family pig roast. I asked my brother if he would cover it for the blog. He said he would be happy to, so drop by and say hi while I'm gone.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Here! Noble Pig Wine

I have no doubt that many of the folks who read TERP are also a fan of Cathy's blog. I have described Noble Pig as being like that proverbial box of chocolates. You never know what kinds of things you will find in any given post. Sometimes a post will end up in a place totally different from where it started. You do know that you can expect to find an endless variety of recipes (and doable ones at that), great wine tips, gorgeous photos, and plenty of fun anecdotes on her family - particularly her two beautiful boys. (I'm not sure how I feel though when I learned from there that my gyno really does notice if my toenails are polished or not.)

One major theme of the blog that anyone who has been following it for the past few years has been enjoying is the creation and development of Noble Pig Vineyards. We have watched it grow from just "the vineyard property" that she would visit regularly, to a working winery. It has been an exciting trip for her, and no less so for those of us following the story.

Once the wine went into production, I was more than ready to try it. After all, I had felt in some small way that I was part of the whole enterprise. Besides, Cathy seems like such a lovely person and I am more than happy to support her efforts. On a less emotional note, I haven't really drunk much in the way of Oregon wines, so this would also be a new taste adventure for me.

I was thinking I would order some at holiday time when I could bring bottles with me to parties to share. I found I just couldn't wait. I was growing more impatitent to try it. I would have it all to myself!

I had a choice of pinot noir, or pinot gris. I opted for two bottles of the pinot gris for now. If I'm having it around to drink and cook with at home, it makes the most sense as my husband only drinks white wine.

I probably should have purchased more than two bottles since the shipping cost me more than the wine itself. Oh well. I'm sure it's going to be worth it.

Along with the wine, they also sent a card with specifications on how to best chill it, and a cute little wine cork key ring. Two days later my printed receipt arrived with a sweet, handwritten thank-you card. What service!

I didn't want it to be shipped to my home since I'm not often around to receive packages, so I had them ship it to my office in Connecticut. I didn't really consider what day it would arrive. It happened to be the day that I am at my NYC office. I'm glad that whoever signed for it and put it on my desk was honest. The labels on the box clearly state that there is alcohol in the package. The way they drink in my office, I wouldn't be surprised if someone decided to take it for himself. :-)

So once I had my wine home, the next big decision would be what I was going to make with it. The website suggests fish, pastas, and spicy Asian food. Many websites on food and wine pairings say to stay away from things that are too acidic since the wine itself is acidic (like citrusy foods or tomato sauces). I'm not a fish eater. I'm trying to cut back on pasta as we're still working on the gluten thing (and gluten-free pasta tastes better with a strong sauce). Chicken was the obvious choice, but what?

In the end, I decided to go with a very classic meal. One comfort food I'm known to be passionate about is roast chicken. Something so classic and simple was perfect to have with my wine.

I split a whole chicken from Feather Ridge Farms and laid it on top of some lemon slices and fresh rosemary sprigs (another pick from my limited garden), rubbed the outside a paste made of garlic, thyme, salt and olive oil. The I roasted it at 350 for about 45 minutes (I know some folks like to roast at higher temps, but the ladies who sell me the chickens always tell me they roast best at 350.)

To split a chicken, use kitchen shears and simply cut up one side of the backbone and then down the other.

On the side were some green and wax beans, lightly steamed and then sauteed with a little red pepper flakes and oregano in olive oil. I even splashed a little wine in the pan.

Also some mashed potatoes. I have about a hundred variations on 'taters, but this one I think is my favorite. I saute shallots in lots of butter (sort of like pierogi filling) and mash that into yukon golds.

Now for the wine.

Here's the pour into a glass. Can't wait to take a sip.

I'm terrible at wine tasting. I can't taste those "subtle notes" this fruit and that herb. I have a hard time describing the things I taste in wine, so please forgive me if my assessment is less than professional sounding.

At first the wine gave a pleasant tingle on my tongue. I love it when wines do that! Then it just felt simple without anything really jumping out at me. It was very drinkable with no bad surprises. It went down easy. The more I tasted it though, the more things I noticed. I was tasting something different every time, particularly after I ate some food with it.

I took this photo to show what it was like having a nice relaxing evening at home with a friend's wine. I had been at a conference all day, so it was nice to change into comfortable clothes, stick my hair in a nice sloppy ponytail, cook and eat one of my favorite dinners, and top it off with some nice wine.

Can't wait to order more of this. Definitely something to consider for the holidays. I have to make sure I try the pinot noir next time.

I also think this wine would be excellent in risotto - another one of my favorite things to cook.

Corn Soup - More on Late Summer Bounty

Fall is about to begin and soon the best of summer's bounty will be a distant memory. This weekend I tried to remedy that by hitting the farmer's market and buying everything I could in large amounts. Sadly, I'm not like Heather or Peef and Lo, who have the whole canning and preserving thing down to a science. One thing I can do, though is make some of my favorite things and stick them in the freezer.

Marinara Sauce (This is just one container of it).

Pesto (from raiding my own basil bush), frozen in ice cube trays and ready to be defrosted at a moment's notice.

I also wanted to get as much of that delicious butter and sugar corn from Newgate Farms down my gullet as possible. The creamed corn I made with it last week was beyond delicious. I wanted more.

Thanks to The Blonde Duck, I was so ready for some corn chowder, and it was asking for that corn.

I wanted to do a fun new take on corn chowder. I thought about something spicy and really hearty. Rather than fill it with potatoes (too starchy), I decided to make it chock full of the beautiful peppers that shared the booth with the corn. I was looking for a bit of southwest flare, but the sausage is a hot Italian beef sausage from Kiernan Farm. Had I been able to get some chorizo or andouille, I would have used that.

I started with onions and minced jalapeno softened with the sausage. Then I added plenty of chopped bell pepper in mixed colors and five ears' worth of corn kernels. The I poured in some homemade stock (I had more than I knew what to do with in my freezer) and a can of evaporated milk for the liquid. Throw in some chipotle powder for even more kick and a hint of smokiness.

(Eaten at my desk at work)
The result? Meh!

It wasn't really thick and creamy enough. It wasn't what I was craving at all. Also, the taste of the bell peppers was overwhelming. Honestly I thought to myself when I ate it that it felt like something Rachael Ray would make - you know, one of those frankenrecipes where she might say something like, "How about I combine the flavors of sausage and peppers with corn chowder and call it 'stoup'?" I definitely should have given more thought to the recipe.

How I Should Have Made the Soup

- After sauteeing the sausage and veggies, I should have used the drippings to make a roux and given the soup a bechemel base. I could have simply thinned it out with stock as needed
- Use less stock. I will say I used a quart, but the container of frozen stock was likely more than a quart's worth
- Use fewer peppers. Too much pepper flavor and not enough corn flavor.
- More chipotle powder

How I Made The Soup

5 ears of corn
1 lb spicy Italian sausage, removed from casing
4 bell peppers of various colors, diced
3 small onions, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded, and minced
1 quart chicken stock
1 12oz can evaporated milk
2 tsp chipotle powder

Remove kernels from cobs with a sharp knife. Then scrape the cob with the dull side of the knife to get as much of the corn "milk" as possible. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, cook sausage until no longer pink. Drain off some of the excess fat, but leave some for the rest of the veggies. Add onion and jalapenos and cook until transparent. Add peppers and corn and cook until peppers just begin to soften.

Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add the milk and chipotle powder.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Summer's End

When summer is ending, I always feel the need to have a dinner party.

The end of summer means that I have just a few short weeks left before fresh produce declines. The corn, the tomatoes, and the peaches will not be with us much longer. I want to make the best use of them I can before they disappear and all I see at the farmer’s markets are apples and potatoes.

Once August hits, I start searching for a guest list and a reason to have a party and make a date. This year Kevin and I kept it to a family party. We wanted to have his mother come over for dinner with her friends as well as my own mother. We had the added bonus of a reason to party since Mom retired in July (she went to Chincoteague for a vacation – and then extended that vacation forever) and we hadn’t made any official observation of it.

It’s still summer on the calendar, even if kids are back in school and the pools and beaches have closed. The days are still warmer than the night for the next couple of weeks. Summer weather still sticks around. A party of late summer foods is the best way to remind us of that. I needed reminding this weekend. This was my “summer day”.

Oh well. Let’s hope the food is still good.

When everyone arrived, I began pouring bellinis. I was inspired by Bellini Valli and her namesake cocktail.

I started with a salad of grilled tomatoes from a recipe I found in Food & Wine. I used a nice variety of heirlooms from the farmer’s market. They go on the grill pan and are lightly dressed with lime juice. In my version I used some grated local pecorino and left out the scallions. It was a delicious salad served with herb foccaccia that also came from the farmer’s market. Unfortunately, I forget to take a photo of it.

Our main course was duck breast, glazed with a fig-balsamic reduction, a recipe mooched from Zen Can Cook. I added a tablespoonful of honey to the glaze though.

Duck breasts were browned well in a pan, 15 minutes on the skin side, and 5 on the other. Periodically I drained out the excess duck fat. Then they were brushed with the glaze and placed in the oven an additional 10 minutes. I would not normally put them in the oven so long but I had people who insisted on no visible pink in their duck.

On the side was creamless creamed corn. This recipe was supposed to be with shitakes, but I used cremini since I don’t like shitakes. The corn I used was just excellent. The fresh corn just make this dish scrumptious.

Dessert was the most fun. Two of my friends gave me this cool cake pan set for my birthday.

They gave me a cake mix to go with it, but I opted for a homemade recipe provided on the box. It’s a rich, brownie-like cake.

Instead of cream filling, I filled it with ice cream. In this case, a hazelnut-vanilla ice cream. I found the recipe in the NY Times. They were doing an article on cream based (rather than custard based) ice creams . This one sounded simple and delicious.

I adapted the recipe to be gluten-free. The cake is made with Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour. I decided I didn’t want to mess around with figuring out how to mix my rice and almond and sweet rice and coconut flours. I just wanted one plain substitute.

I was suspicious of Bob’s flour at first. It is a mostly bean-based flour. It had that vegetal, raw-bean smell going. When I mixed up the cake batter, the raw-bean taste was there as well. I really hoped my cake would not taste beany.
The cake ended up tasting quite good. I would use this flour again.

Now what will I make for my fall dinner party (if I have one)?

Hazelnut Ice Cream Cookie Cake (Gluten Free)(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma)
For Cake
7 oz bittersweet chocolate,chopped
1 3/4 sticks butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 cup cocao powder, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and brush cookie pan well with butter and dust with cocao powder.

Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler until all is melted and smooth. Allow to cool.

Whisk together flour, cocao powder, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well mixed. Add chocolate and whisk until incorporated. Whisk in the flour until well combined.

Pour into prepared pans evenly. Bake about 35 minutes or until tops are shiny and toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached.

For Roasted Hazelnut Vanilla Ice Cream (Adapted from the NY Times)1 cup hazelnuts, shelled, skins on
1 vanilla bean
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, divided
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Cognac or aged rum
1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

Line a round cake pan with plastic wrap.

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Toast nuts for about 10-12 minutes, or until fragrant. Rub the nuts in a clean kitchen towel to remove skins.

Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into a saucepan. Add milk and cream and the bean pod along with 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Cook over medium low heat for about 8 minutes or until everything has dissolved.

Combine the nuts along with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the rum. Process about 3-5 minutes, until a paste forms. Add to saucepan and cook with milk mixture until it dissolves - about 5-7 minutes. Discard pod and stir in extract.

Chill completely in the refrigerator then transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Pour chilled ice cream into the pepared pan. Freeze until set.

To assemble
Once cake is cool and ice cream is solid, place one cake layer on the plate. Unwrap solid ice cream and place on top. Place top layer on cake so that the cookie inscription shows.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ezme For the New Year

Hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend filled with great barbecues and such. I actually never ate a single piece of grilled food. Instead I spent the weekend with my horses, staying at nearby resort. I did lots of riding, along with swimming and jumping off of cliffs into freezing water, and yoga, and eating meals at fun restaurants like The Homestead Rest and my much-beloved Iron Forge Inn

I survived the weekend intact. I’ve been riding Mom’s young Chincoteague pony, Riddle lately and this weekend I learned just how hard she can buck.
Don’t let that sweet face fool you. I think she’s up to something!

So now that one holiday is over, we have another upon us - Rosh Hoshanna . We have a new year coming. It makes sense for there to be a new year now. We have a new school year after all.

I am trying to make a tradition for the holiday, so last year, you may recall I perfected a chicken recipe for the occasion. Since the holiday is all about making the new year sweeter and apples and honey are traditional foods, I came up with the Meshugge Skiksa’s New Year Chicken, made with cider, wine, ginger, cinnamon, and apricots.

I made it again this year as I want it to be my new traditional recipe. I think this year’s version was even better than last year’s for some reason. I’m not sure what I did differently (other than cut the apricots in small pieces) but it was really, seriously good this year. Oh yeah. I left out the garlic this time. Think that made a difference?

What I did that was new was my side dish. Remember how I fell hard for Ezme in the local Turkish restaurant? Well, I really had to try it for myself. It’s just the most delicious way to prepare tomatoes and cucumbers. I never got the recipe from my neighbor, but I took what I could from what I ate in the restaurant, and what I found about ezme online. I was fortunate enough to obtain some nice garden cucumbers and hot peppers from a friend this weekend as well. I mixed that with tomato, pomegranate juice, onion, lemon, and mint (I picked the mint wild at the barn).

The chicken was yummy, as mentioned earlier. The salad was also really tasty, although not as good as the ezme at Turkish Meze. I accidentally bought the pomegranate-kiwi version of POM instead of the plain pomegranate. I don’t think it ruined the salad.

I don’t know if this is weird or not, but I mix my onions and peppers into my dressing and let it sit while I mix up the rest of the salad. That keeps the onions from being too strong. I’m not a fan of raw onion, but letting it sit in something acidic helps cut that linger-on-the-breath sharpness tremendously.

I used a food processor to chop my salad in small pieces. When I’m at the restaurant, it looks as if a very patient chef has diced the veggies fine himself. It makes for a prettier, more uniform salad. I have neither the knife skills nor the patience for that, so I just use a food processor.

Ezme My Way

1 cup pomegranate juice
½ Red onion, finely diced
1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon paprika
½ tsp salt
2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 handful fresh mint, finely chopped
8 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

In a small saucepan gently boil the pomegranate juice until reduced by half.

Mix the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, paprika, salt and olive oil. Add in chopped onions and hot pepper and the mint.

Place the cucumber and tomato in a food processor. Pulse into small pieces. Don’t let it go too long. You are making a salad, not a paste.

Place the tomato cucumber mixture in a bowl and mix the dressing into it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chicken Parmigiana Feast

When it comes to Italian food, is there anything quite as beloved as chicken (or veal, or eggplant) parmigiana?

My favorite story of parm-love is something is also one of my favorite Silly Celebrity Tidbits. Jennifer Lopez was in Italy and was being interviewed by Italian journalists. She told them how much she loved Italian food. They asked her what her favorite dish was. She said chicken parmigiana.

The journalists asked her what that was.

When she told them, they were kind of grossed out.

The published interview stated that Ms. Lopez's favorite food was a chicken dish regularly eaten in the Bronx (the assumption was that she's from the Bronx, so it must be a Bronx related dish).

So I guess chicken parmigiana is not exactly Italian, although it uses some common Italian ingredients. Let's face it, in Italy they tend to go for lighter, simpler fare. Chicken parmigiana would be quite overwhelming to folks in Italy where they would likely be having their cheese, their breaded chicken, and their marinara-dressed pasta as separate courses and not thrown together on one plate.

On the other hand, here in the US, it is a much beloved Italian-American favorite. It is a humble dish,served over pasta in every "red sauce joint" or thrown on a wedge* in pizza places and delis. If not strictly Italian, it was certainly inspired by the food of Italy and introduced and distributed by Italian-Americans. It may be an overloaded plate for Italians, but Americans love the many layers of flavors and textures: crispy cutlets, warm spicy, drippy sauce, and gooey cheese all sinking into a plate of pasta or onto hearty bread.

It's not something I make much myself due to the cheese factor, but lately I've been noticing Sir Pickypants ordering it often in our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. He asks me why I never make it.

I'll never really get my husband's relationship with cheese. He'll act like it's the most revolting thing in the world one minute, then eagerly eat ravioli with a Lactaid the next. It doesn't just seem to be about lactose intolerance, but I'm not sure what it's about.

I have come to the conclusion that if I want my husband to eat cheese, at least two of the three conditions below must occur:

1. The cheese must be white cheese. When I say white, I mean white. White cheddar is not white. Ricotta is white. Mozzarella is white.
2. The cheese must be served warm. Caprese salad will never be touched, but put that mozzarella on a pizza, and the Lactaid pills will come out.
3. The cheese must be mild. Any hint of scent or sharpness will result in non-consumption of said cheese.

Of course, even if all three of these conditions are met, there is no guarantee he'll eat the cheese. For example, the cotija often sprinkled on enchiladas is white, bland, and warm, but if the chef in the Mexican restaurants neglects his request to leave it off, he'll still pick it off.

Melted mozzarella is safe though, and seemingly enjoyed, so last night I decided to do us a chicken "parm".

I tried to lighten it up a bit. I used a homemade marinara that I made from fresh tomatoes purchased this weekend at the farmer's market (using this recipe). The coating was made from almond flour instead of bread crumbs. I served it over a small pool of polenta. The mozzarella was just regular mozzarella.

A word about the cheese. Foodies always hold this belief that fresh, wet mozzarella is the only way to ever eat it. Any mozzarella that doesn't drip profusely is worthless.

The problem with using super-fresh cheese is that it's crap for melting. Put it on your pizza and you're guaranteed soggy results. The Italian specialty store in my neighborhood makes the most delicious mozzarella ever, but if you go in there and try to buy the stuff that was just pulled that morning, they will ask you if you plan to eat it as is or cook with it. If you tell them you want to melt it, you will be directed to the refrigerator case for a more aged version. You don't have to buy a block of shrink-wrapped Polly-O, but don't spend your money on hotty-totty fresh cheese if you're planning to make my recipe.

Short (dis)Order Cook's Chicken Parmigiana

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
Flour or potato starch for dredging
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk
1 cup almond flour
2 cups good marinara (How Ina Garten of me to say that!)
1/2 pound mozzarella, sliced
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place flour, salt, and pepper in one dish, the egg in another, and the almond flour in another. Dip chicken in flour, then in egg, then in almonds until evenly coated.

Heat butter and olive oil in a pan. Cook chicken breasts about 5 minutes per side until golden.

Pour tomato sauce over the chicken and place pan in the oven for 10 minutes.

Set oven to broil and place slices of the cheese over the chicken. Broil 5 minutes or until cheese is well melted and gooey and a tad brown (if you like it that way).

Serve over pasta or polenta or on a wedge of bread.

*Yes, a wedge. It's a wedge. It's not a sub, hoagie, hero or grinder. It's a wedge. Even if you spell it s-u-b, it's pronounced "wedge". That's how we roll in my neck of the woods.