Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who's going to watch "The Chew"?

Here's the promo video. It looks interesting. I just hope that the part that isn't about food won't veer too far off. I'll be watching it for the food and the food personalities.

We'll see. I'm going to give it a chance.

How about you?

Review: Weight Watcher's Fresh Meals

I've never been a member of Weight Watchers, but I know a few people who've had success with the program. And I know a few who, er ... fell off the wagon.

Unlike some diets that I think are totally insane, Weight Watchers seems pretty rational. Logical. Healthy, even. So when I got an email asking me if I wanted to review some of their new Fresh Meals and Deli Salads, I said yes. I mean, why not?

I figured that if they're selling fresh food, it might be interesting. And I don't have to be in the program to judge whether the stuff is good or not.

I thought they might send coupons for some of the meals, but the products aren't available locally. Even more reason to give them a test. The meals arrived in a large Styrofoam cooler. It was almost lunch time, so I popped a three-cheese ravioli into the microwave. A few minutes and 230 calories later, my first impression was that the flavor was decent - the sauce had a hit of spice - but that spiciness covered up the flavor of whatever the three cheeses were inside the ravioli. But still, it wasn't bad. I liked the sauce and even though the cheese didn't add a whole lot of flavor, it added a different texture.

I envision these meals as something you'd pick up at the grocery store and pop into the microwave at work for a quick lunch. But after eating that first one, I couldn't help thinking that it would have been a heck of a lot better for a meal if there had been a vegetable alongside. If you were eating these things at home, of course you could make a salad or cook some vegetables to go with. But for a quick lunch option, it would have been great if there had been some vegetables bulking up the meal a little.

Of course, that was just the first one I tried.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Serious Sandwiches - The Italiano at Caffe in Boulder

 Over at Serious Eats, there's a daily feature called A Sandwich a Day. This is one of my submissions for that feature.

Caffè is one of three restaurants in the Frasca Food and Wine family in Boulder. Co-owned by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, these restaurants focus on Italian food, and Caffè is no exception. The bread is made in the pizza ovens at sister restaurant Pizzaria Locale, and the meats and cheeses are imported.

Speaking of high end, the partners worked at the French Laundry before moving to Colorado and opening their first restaurant, Frasca.

At Caffè, there's a large selection of both hot and cold sandwiches. The Italiano ($8.50), is one of the hot sandwiches. It includes prosciutto, salami, mortadella and provolone. House-made pickled vegetables add a nice acidity that balances the richness of the meats.

Sandwiches are served with small bags of potato chips that are custom-bagged for the restaurant, and a pickle spear is an extra 30 cents. This sandwich is what an Italian-style submarine sandwich aspires to be.

1720 Pearl Street
Boulder CO

Friday, July 29, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: It's Time for Dessert!

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

Going to the store is so much more fun these days. Labels in the produce section at Whole Foods are changing from promoting grown-in-the-USA products to naming nearby farms. I know some of those farmers. How cool is that?

Right now, some of my favorite fruits are coming into season. Peaches, plums, pluots, and nectarines. Sigh. It's hard for me to buy those and cook with them. They just, um ... disappear. Yeah, that's my story.

But this time I decided to buy enough so I could bake with them. Yes, bake.

For those of you who don't live nearby and who read this blog and think I'm nuts to bake during the summer - particularly a hot summer like many of us have been seeing - let me assure you that I'm not completely mad. The weather here is usually pretty cooperative.

When the sun goes down the temperature start dropping, and it's common for it to go down 30 degrees or more. So if it's 90 degrees during the day, it can be 60 at night. Perfect for baking.

Sure, sometimes I bake earlier in the day, but it's with the knowledge that in a couple hours the outdoor temperature will drop and I'll turn the fan on and suck the cool air through the house. So maybe a little bit crazy, but not completely bonkers.

This pie I made is the rustic form, sometimes called a crostata. One thing I like about it is that it's self-adjusting to compensate for how much filling you have. More filling, you fold less of the crust over. Less filling, and you fold over more crust. As long as there's enough crust to fold over and contain the filling it's fine. And when the crust tastes this good, it's fine to have a little more crust per bite.

This recipe is actually a two-fer, with the pie and a raspberry sauce.

Plus a bonus beverage.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Faux lemon curd (and a bonus recipe!)

Lemon Curd Ice Cream
White this probably isn't appropriate for every possible lemon curd application, it makes a fine substitute when you're in a hurry. Or feeling a little less ambitious. I mean, it's two ingredients, and little work, and not much time. It doesn't have the translucent look of standard lemon curd and the texture is a little different, but it tastes pretty darned good.

And if someone won't eat eggs, this version is egg-free.

And did I mention that it takes no time at all to make? If you suddenly had to come up with dessert for unexpected company, you could whip this up and dollop it on top of some pound cake and top it with berries, and you'd be a genius. Or, if you happen to keep little tart shells on hand, you could have mini lemon tarts in no time. Put some on your yogurt.

I mean, really, use it for just about anything you'd use lemon curd for.

Faux Lemon Curd

1 can (14.5 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Whisk the lemon juice into the condensed milk. Use immediately, or chill until needed.

Light Lemon Ice Cream

1 recipe Faux Lemon Curd
Plus enough milk to make 1 quart (about 3 cups)
1 cup creme fraiche

Combine the faux lemon curd, milk, and creme fraiche. Whisk to combine well. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Note: If you can find creme fraiche or it seems too expensive, you can make your own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Creme Fraiche - Make your own

Don't you hate it when a recipe calls for creme fraiche and you go to the grocery store and wander aimlessly trying to find it. Is it with the sour cream? Is it by the cheese? Maybe it's by the yogurt.

And then you find a teeny container that seems to cost an awful lot.

Once you realize how easy it is to make your own, you'll probably never buy it again.

Creme Fraiche

1/4 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups cream

Combine the milk and buttermilk. Stir to combine. I usually do this in a pint jar and start with the buttermilk and add the cream until it hits the pint mark. Oh, and make sure your buttermilk has active cultures. I think all of them do, but I figured I'd mention it just in case ...

Now comes the difficult part. Cover the jar (or wherever you've done the mixing) and let it sit on your counter - yes, at room temperature - overnight. Like, 8-10 hours. Overnight is a good idea because if you're sleeping you won't be poking your finger in it and wondering if it's okay or if milk on the counter overnight is a bad idea.

The next morning, refrigerate it. There you have it. Creme fraiche.

Whenever I have cream - heavy cream, whipping cream, whatever - left over from a recipe, I like to make some creme fraiche, even if I don't have a recipe planned for it. I can always find a use for it, even if it's just putting a little dollop on some berries.

But here's the thing. The creme fraiche will stay good longer than the cream it was made from. So it gives you a little extra time to figure out what you're going to do with it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cheese and Sesame Flatbreads

Flatbreads are fun. They puff up when they bake, like little pillows. The cheese add a heck of a lot of flavor and the bottoms get a little crisp in spots.

Use these in place of buns, for wraps or like flour tortillas.

I used bits and pieces of a number of different cheeses. They were all medium hard - more like an aged cheddar than muenster.

If you've got a cheese that's starting to get a little dry, this is a perfect use for it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grilled Corn with Chili Lime Butter

What's better than summer, corn, and grilling? How about all three? And then how about gilding the lily a little bit with some extra flavors?

The method I use for grilling corn is probably a little different from what you'll see elsewhere, but I think it works better. The key to my method is that I don't peel the husks back - at all - until the corn is fully cooked.

That's right. I don't peek at the corn when I buy it, and I don't remove the silks before I cook it. Keeping the husks completely intact helps the corn steam while it’s cooking.

Don’t worry about the silks - after the corn is cooked, the silks peel right off along with the husks.

What about checking the ears of corn before you buy them? You can do that without opening them. There are two things you need to check. First, make sure you trust the seller. That's easy enough if you're buying from the farmer's market. Then, feel the corn through the husks to make sure the cob is full of corn.

When you get an ear that's not full, it will feel weird and bumpy or the kernels stop abruptly before you get to the top – it’s easy to feel. And if you're buying from a store instead of the farmer's market, you want husks that aren't dry or moldy. But you knew that, right?

Besides helping the corn steam better on the grill, keeping the husks fully intact helps the corn stay fresh longer. You still want to cook it as soon as possible, but the husks will buy you a little bit of extra time. And the farmers at the market will appreciate that you aren't defacing their corn before you buy it.

Grilled Corn with Chili Lime Butter

6 ears of corn with the husks on
1 stick of butter, softened
Zest of one lime
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more, to taste)

Soak the ears of corn in water for 15 minutes (or more) before grilling. Place them on the grill and cook, turning so that all sides are cooked evenly, until the outermost husk is charred, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make your butter. Add the lime zest and chili powder to the butter, mashing it in so it's evenly distributed, beginning with about 1/4 teaspoon of the chili powder. Depending on your taste for heat as well as the freshness and flavor of your chili powder, you might want to add more.

When the corn comes off the grill, pull back the husks, slather with butter, and serve. Bring the rest of the butter to the table.

You might have butter left over. Refrigerate it for later use. Besides corn, it's also good with chicken or pork.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rhubarb Butter

Rhubarb is an interesting ... er ... plant. It's a bit of a paradox. Botanically a vegetable, but in the US, it's legally considered a fruit. It's usually paired with something sweet, like strawberries, and it's seldom used by itself. It needs a lot of sugar before most people would consider it dessert-worthy, but it's almost always used for desserts. The stalks are edible, but the leaves are poisonous.

And it's one of those foods that people tend to love or hate.

Rhubarb was something I didn't grow up with, so it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon. Maybe if I knew just how tart it was, I might have started using it sooner.

Once you've made all the rhubarb-strawberry tarts and crumbles and pies that you want to eat, you might have some rhubarb left. A little goes a long way. Rhubarb butter - not like the fatty kind of butter, but more like apple butter or apple sauce - is a good way to use it up. It's simple to make, and it stores well in the refrigerator.

You can adjust this recipe up, down or sideways, depending on how much rhubarb you have. A pound of rhubarb will need 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. I'd suggest leaving it a little bit tart - you can add more sugar later, if you need it sweeter for a particular recipe.

Rhubarb Butter

1 pound of rhubarb
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Clean the rhubarb stalks and cut it into chunks. Place them in a non-reactive pan, and add enough water to come about 1/4 to 1/3 way of the way up the rhubarb. It will release more water as it cooks. Cook, stirring as needed, until the rhubarb is soft.

Add 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust sugar and salt amounts to taste.

Let the rhubarb cool for easier handling. Puree it in a blender, or use a stick blender or food processor, if you prefer. For a very smooth texture, pass the puree through a fine sieve.

Put the puree into a container and chill. Keep refrigerated.

But what can you do with this?

  • Add it to sparkling water or seltzer for a refreshing summer drink.
  • Add it to iced tea to make a Rhubarb Arnold Palmer instead of the traditional lemonaid version.
  • Use it to make a sweet-sour sauce for savory dishes.
  • Add it to fruit pies.
  • Serve it over ice cream.
  • Use it for mixed drinks the same way you'd use citrus.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lemony, Corny, Pasta Salad

I love a challenge, particularly when it comes to cooking. Sometimes the best challenges come in the form of contests that I enter.

In this case, it was a Kitchen Play contest sponsored by Dreamfields pasta. The deal with these contests is that you have to recreate/revise/riff on a recipe that another blogger created for the month's menu, using the sponsor's product.

Coincidentally, I recently did a review of Dreamfields pasta, so I had some on hand, If you want to read more about what I thought of it, check out my comments and my recipe.

The recipe I chose to riff off of was a pasta salad with corn.

That recipe had a Mexican slant, with jalapenos and cilantro. I decided to go Mediterranean, instead. I kept the corn, tbough. I like the sweet pop of corn kernels in the salad. Instead of hot peppers, I used a sweet bell pepper. And of course, different spices.

Chilled pasts makes a great summer side dish, or a light lunch. But boiling water for pasta can heat up your house a bit, right?

I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I cooked the corn first - putting it in cold salted water and bringing it to a boil, and cooking until done - then I removed the corn and used the same water to cook the pasta. I mean, why not?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Salmon Burgers, Purple Flatbreads, and Lemon Mayo

This post is not only brought to you by my friends at Whole Foods, but it's also brought to you by the letter "W." As in, "what on earth was I thinking?"

You see, the idea for this week's post started with purple corn flour. I saw that, and I immediately thought that cornbread or corn muffins would be awesome in purple. And then I thought that maybe I'd pick up some kind of fish to go with the cornbread. So I bought crab cakes.

It all sounded like such a good idea until I got to the corn muffins. Or rather, I decided to make biscuits. Let me tell ya, if granite and denim had a child, it would have looked a lot like those biscuits. If you closed your eyes, they tasted okay. But the color wasn't good - a mottled dark blue. And it looked worse in photos, if you can believe that.

Out of the oven, they're puffy.
And then I tried cornbread. I figured that less corn flour and a healthy dose of regular cornmeal along with some corn cut off the cob would mitigate the blueness. Riiiight. It looked like dark rock embedded with yellow teeth.

But still, I was determined to do something with the purple corn flour. It was so pretty. 

I started thinking about blue baked goods, and the one think I kept going back to was blue corn chips ... and blue corn tortillas. Those are pretty common these days, but I didn't want to make corn tortillas. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea of blue flatbreads made sense.

And here's the odd thing. The flatbreads were actually purple instead of blue like the biscuits and cornbread. The only thing I can figure is that it has something to do with pH levels. The biscuits and cornbread were leavened with baking powder. The flatbreads used yeast.

But I'm not unhappy about the purpleness. When you think about it, there are a lot more purple foods than blue ones. At least, that's what I'm saying today.

The nice thing about this meal is that you can make the flatbreads the night before, when it's cool in the evening, or you can make them on the grill, if you prefer.

The lemon mayonnaise I used was homemade, but you could simply add some fresh lemon juice to commercial mayonnaise if you prefer. Making it yourself only takes a minute or two in the blender, but you can make it in advance, if you prefer.

And the salmon burgers ... remember how I said I was going to make crab cakes? Well, those were tasty for sure, but when I started thinking about my blue flatbreads, I decided that the bright orange of salmon would make a much more interesting contrast. So I bought salmon burgers.

And then I topped the salmon burgers with some thinly sliced bell peppers (red, yellow and green) and then drizzled the mayo on top. The colors were stunning. Finally.

Grilled Salmon Burgers, Blue Flatbreads, and Lemony Mayo

Blue Flatbreads
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1/2 cup blue corn flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1 cup cold water

Place all the dry ingredients in your food processor fitten with the dough blade. Pulse a few times to combine the ingredients. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. With the food processor running, add the water as fast as the flour can absorb it.

Continue processing until the dough forms a ball, and then another 30 seconds. The dough should be smooth and elastic. If it isn't continue processing in 30-second intervals until it is smooth and elastic, letting it rest in between so it doesn't get too warm.

Take the dough out of the processor and form it into a ball. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil to coat the ball, the put it in a clean bowl. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. If you have a baking stone, preheat that in the oven. Otherwise, you can put a baking sheet in the oven (upside-down, so you won't have the edges interfering). Or, if you prefer, you can bake these on your grill - directly on the grates, or on a cast iron griddle.

One more photo. I think they're cool looking!
After 20 minutes, flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Knead it briefly, then divide into 4 pieces. Divide each of those in 4, so you have 16 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball, then flatten the ball and roll it to a circle about 5 inches in diameter.

Bake each flatbread for 2 minutes. You can bake them in groups, if your baking stone is large enough to hold several at a time.

When the flatbreads are done baking, remove them from the oven and put them on a rack, stacking them on top of each other. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. The flatbreads will probably puff up like balloons as they bake. Flatten them gently (and carefully, since they're full of very hot steam) as you stack them.

Note: If you leave the flatbreads in the oven too long, they’ll get crisp and then you’ll have puffy purple cracker balloons. Which is amusing, but not exactly what we’re looking for in this dish.

Continue rolling and baking until all 16 are done.

Lemony Mayo
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mild-flavored oil

Put the egg yolk in your blender and blend until they are light and thick. Add the salt and lemon juice and blend until they are mixed in. With the blender running, add the oil very slowly until your mayonnaise is as thick as you like it (more oil will make it thicker - if you prefer it thicker, add more, as desired.)

Transfer the mayonnaise to a storage container and refrigerate until needed.

For the complete dish:

Salmon burgers (one per person should be enough)
Red, yellow, and green peppers for garnish
Lemon mayonnaise

Cook the salmon burgers on the grill or in a lightly-oiled pan until it reaches 150 degrees in the center. Meanwhile, slice thin pieces of the peppers, as needed, for garnish.

If you prefer cooked peppers, that's fine - I liked them them raw, for a little crunch.

Serve the salmon burgers on top of the flatbreads. Garnish with the peppers and drizzle with the mayonnaise. Pass extra mayonnaise at the table.

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It summer. Chilled soup makes sense.

Every time I'm faced with a chilled soup, I remember a cruise vacation we went on. At dinner, we were seated with another couple who hadn't spent much time outside their small home town. When the soup arrived - vichyssoise - of course it was chilled, just as it said on the menu.

The fellow took one taste of the soup, and loudly proclaimed, "this soup is COLD!" His wife shushed him and explained that the soup was supposed to be cold.

Now, I'm not making fun of him. There's a first time for everything, and if you're used to hot soups, encountering a cold one would certainly be a bit of a shock. It was actually sort of cute, and once he was assured that the cook hadn't screwed up, he dived right in and ate the soup. But it's become sort of a buzz-phrase in our house for those times when something new and strange ends up on the plate.

There are probably a billion recipes for gazpacho, including some that have no resemblance at all to the original dish. This one is at least sort of related. And, if I say so myself, it's pretty darned tasty.

If you don't have exactly these ingredients, you can substitute. No romas? Use regular tomatoes. Use a few pickling cucumbers instead of the English. Or use a regular cucumber (seed it first, if the seeds are tough). Make it the way you like it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dreamfields Pasta Review (and a recipe)

Lately, this little blog has attracted the attention of several people/businesses in the "healthy food" category. At first, I thought that was a little bit odd. I don't post about diet foods or weight loss. And I do post about a lot of baking, including white breads and desserts.

I pointed this out to one of the companies. The response: "We're just interested in people who eat real food and are interested in local and seasonal foods." Well, okay, I can get behind that.

But it still puzzled me a little bit. Then the light bulb lit above my head. While I don't think of my blog as particularly healthy, it's also not laden with processed foods and cake mixes. I blog about what I cook, and that's mostly fresh and single-ingredient items.

Sure, I wander off into interesting sauces and condiments now and then, but I spend a lot of time making things from scratch.

Including noodles. I actually like making home made noodles. But I also buy dried pasta. It depends on my mood - and how much time I have - and what I'm making. Sometimes fresh pasta is perfect, and sometimes dried pasta is exactly right.

So when Dreamfields Pasta contacted me and asked if I'd like a sample of their pasta, I figured "why not?" Dried pasta is something I use quite often, so it's not like I was selling my soul for a sample of something that I wouldn't normally buy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sweet Potato Buns

There's no story for this recipe. I needed buns, I made these. They were yummy. And there you go.

These aren't as orange or as sweet-potato-y as other bread I made with this same flour, but it still adds a subtle flavor and a pretty color to the buns without hitting you over the head that there are different. The flavor is - for lack of a better term - buttery.

I used whey for these buns, but water is just fine. As for the sweet potato flour, it might be hard to find, but it's an interesting ingredient. If you can't find it, just add the same amount of bread flour.

Sweet Potato Buns
Makes 30 buns

2 cups whey (or water)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 cups (1 pound 2 ounce) bread flour
1/2 cup ( 2 1/4 ounces) sweet potato flour
1/2 cup (1 ounces) instant mashed potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine whey (or water), sugar, and yeast in the bowl if your stand mixer. Set aside until it's lively and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Add the bread flour, sweet potato flour, and instant mashed potatoes. Knead with the bread hook until the mixture is smooth and elastic.

Add the salt and olive oil and continue kneading until both are completely incorporated.

Form the dough into a ball, drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Return it to the bowl. cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough has risen, knead it briefly, then divide it into 30 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap and bake until nicely browned, about 25 minutes.

Remove the buns from the pan and place on a rack to cool.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hazelnut Cookies

The great thing about living where I do is that no matter how hot it gets during the day, once the sun goes down the temperature starts dropping.

Most evenings, it cools off enough that putting something into the oven for a little while isn't a big deal. Sure, you might not want to roast a turkey, but a little batch of cookies is no problem.

The nice thing about these hazelnut cookies is that they're designed to be baked from the refrigerator. So you can make the dough whenever you like, refrigerate it, and bake when it's cool enough, whether it's that evening or a few days later.

Slice-and-bake cookies aren't the prettiest things you can make. But here's the secret: instead of slicing and baking, you can scoop out small balls of dough and flatten them instead.

These cookies aren't terribly sweet, so if that's your preference you can sprinkle them with powdered sugar after you bake them, or drizzle them with a little chocolate. Or, if you're feeling really decadent, make sandwich cookies with chocolate-hazelnut spread in the middle.

Besides the hazelnuts, I used a bit of hazelnut extract along with the vanilla. If you don't have hazelnut extract (and who does, besides me?) use all vanilla.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sweet, Salty, Smoky Nuts

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes.

This time the product is Salts of 7 Seas Applewood Smoked Gourmet Sea Salt.

You know those sweet, salty, smoky nuts that are so great to snack on? Most of the time, almonds get that treatment, but I’ve seen other nuts as well on sale at boutique shops and markets.

What if there was an easy way to make your own smoky snacks with very little fuss? What? You don’t have a smoker? You don’t need one! All you need is a little smoked salt, your favorite type of nut, and just a few minutes of your time.

Be careful, though, these are mighty addictive. If you find yourself going a little nutty and eating too many smoked nuts, you can toss these into your granola, or add them to other snack mixes. Good thing they’re so easy to make!

Use unsalted nuts for this recipe, since you’re adding salt.

Sweet, Salty, Smoky Nuts

1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon Applewood Smoked Salt
1 cup of your favorite nuts

Melt the butter in a nonstick pan and add the sugar. When the sugar begins to melt, add the nuts and stir to coat. Turn the heat off, sprinkle with the salt, and stir to make sure the salt is well distributed.

It’s fine if you end up with small crispy clumps of sugar in the mix – those are fine little sweet-salty surprises.

Transfer the nuts to a dish to cool. They’ll be plenty hot, so try not to sample until they’ve cooled sufficiently.

To be clear, I'm not reviewing or endorsing the products in this recipe. I've created the recipe for Fooducopia to post its site and I'm re-posting the recipe here for my readers as well. Then again, since I created the recipe, rest assured that I liked it. I don't cook stuff that we're not going to eat.

Serious Sandwiches - The Bandit at Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse

Over at Serious Eats, there's a daily feature called A Sandwich a Day. This is one of my submissions for that feature.

Backcountry Pizza and Taphouse is known for its beers - over fifty on tap. There's also a pretty long list of sandwiches, all priced identically - 6” ($7) or 12" ($11).

Most of the sandwiches are hot, including one called The Hot Mob. Its cold counterpart is called The Bandit, and that's what I had. It includes ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing.

Sides include soup, salad, fries, pasta salad, potato salad or chips. We got the potato salad. And all the sandwiches come with a pickle spear.

The Bandit had a reasonable amount of meat and cheese on a section of French bread that was perfect for sandwiches – not too crusty and not too chewy. Let's face it, I'm a complete bread snob, and I know this wasn't made in-house. But it was the right bread for this kind of sandwich.

There wasn't anything special about the meat or cheese - your typical deli meat, from what I could tell. But the combination was good, and the leftovers made a nice lunch the next day. Can't argue with that.

Back Country Pizza and Tap House
2319 Arapahoe Ave.
Boulder, CO

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Whoo Hoo! I Met Sara Moulton

Sara comes to class in her casual clothes.
Okay, more about the King Arthur Flour Blog and Bake event, but this time it's not about baking.

Sara Moulton was on the agenda to teach some classes, so when I saw her show up when the first class was starting, I figured she was just checking in. But no, she took the class right along with the rest of us, and she ended up sitting right next to me.

We had a nice chat about the old days when she was on Food Network, and she asked about what I did. In no time at all, we were like old buddies, baking together and chatting about fun stuff.

Sara bones a chicken breast in class.
Later, Sara (see, we're like BFFs now!) changed her clothes and went into teaching mode. She had designed the dinner we would be eating that night at the Norwich Inn. In the class, she showed us how to make just about everything on the menu.

It was almost like watching her on TV, but without the editing. And no cameras, music, or close-ups. A big angled mirror above Sara's work area let us see what she was doing. Okay, they had those for the baking classes, too, but for the most part we just crowded around the teacher for those. Here. we sat down and were entertained.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Summer Pasta Salad

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

When temperatures soar, cold food starts to sound a lot better. Sure, you could make a sandwich, but why not go for something more interesting? How about pasta salad? It's infinitely customizable, depending on what you like, what you have on hand, what looks good at the store, and what you're in the mood for.

It's also really easy to shop for. One stop for pasta (if you don't happen to have any on hand) one stop at the deli/salad bar area for the pickled goods and cheese, and one stop for the fresh vegetables.

The recipe for this pasta salad was created while I was shopping. I knew I wanted to start at the salad bar and finish with fresh vegetables. My plan was to pick up a few marinated items so the marinating liquid would become the dressing for my pasta salad. I chose a mix of portabello mushrooms and red peppers. Since I was scooping from the salad bar, I didn't measure exactly, but it was about a cup.

You don't have to consider this a strict recipe - it's more of a template for you to follow. Add more of things if you like, and leave out the ones that you don't. If you've got leftover vegetables from other recipes, by all means, add them.

Bell pepper, either fresh or fire roasted would make a wonderful addition, as would broccoli or cauliflower - either cooked or raw. Left over corn on the cob? Cut the kernels off and add them to the salad. The more vegetables, the better - pretty soon you've got a vegetable salad with pasta rather than a pasta salad with vegetables. And that's a good thing, right?

As far as the pasta goes, choose a shape you like. I chose Pipe Rigate because I thought it the shape would look interesting with the vegetables.

Putting this together takes very little time. Sure, you have to cut up some vegetables, but that's done in the time it takes the pasta to cook.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This wasn't what I planned on, but it's chili

I had some ground beef on hand, and planned on making some sort of spaghetti-like thing, but the weather was hot and spaghetti seemed ... I don't know ... not what I wanted.

Spicy food can be very appealing in hot weather, so I decided to use the beef to make some chili.

Usually when I make chili, I cook dried beans ahead of time. It's cheaper, and it's easy to do. But this was a last-minute change of menu, so I bought some canned beans. Still a ridiculously cheap and filling dinner. And the spice hit the spot.

Sure, it's not a traditional chili, but I've never been a chili purist, anyway.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Creamed Kale (and creamed spinach!)

I while back, I was contacted by the publicist for Joy Bauer, who has written several healthy-eating sort of books and is the nutritionist for the Today Show. She asked if I wanted to review some books and maybe host a book give-away on my site.

Well, hmmmm... It all sounded so ... diet-like. I said that I don't use any diet foods or artificial sweeteners or any of that sort of thing. But they assured me that Joy is into local fresh foods and they'd be interested in my take on her recipes.

Okay, I can do that.

Two books arrived. One was Food Cures. At first I thought it was going to be some sort of hocus-pocus book that would claim to cure whatever ailed me. Instead, it was more about what nutrients are in which foods and what those nutrients are good for. So if you've arthritis or dull hair or whatever, there are foods that are better for you than others. That makes sense. Eat the right food to give your body what it needs.

The second book was Slim & Scrumptious which is a cookbook. I browsed through it a couple times, looking for a recipe that I wanted to try, but ... sigh ... the book uses a lot of low-fat products. I'm not morally opposed to low-fat products, particularly if the fat is removed in a non-weird way. Like milk. That's normal. Low-fat natural cheeses are fine, too.

Some of it, I don't care for. Like the products that use thickeners and stabilizers. Again, I'm not morally opposed to that stuff. Most of it is pretty normal, like adding gelatin to make the products thicker. It's just not something that I like, compared to the original versions. And frankly, some of that stuff is ... weird.

I realize that a lot of people like low-fat products, so I just didn't want to make a recipe from the book and substitute full-fat products for low-fat and call it a day. I wanted to stick to the theme and make something diet friendly.

It's not like I'm a fat addict or anything. When I think it's necessary for a recipe, I use full-fat products. On the other hand, I've been known to substitute my home made full-fat Greek-style yogurt for sour cream. It's got less fat than regular sour cream and none of the weird thickeners that I avoid. Sure, it's fatty for yogurt, but it's light compared to sour cream.

So I browsed through the book looking for a recipe I could modify for my style of cooking, but without upping the calorie count by a huge amount. I settled on the creamed spinach recipe that called for low-fat cream cheese.

The rest of the ingredients were pretty typical - garlic, red pepper flakes, onion ... not a lot left to be modified.

But then I figured that switching the main ingredient would do the trick. Spinach cooks down to nothing. But if I used kale ... well, it cooks down quite a bit, but it doesn't disappear the way spinach does. Leave the full-fat cream cheese in the recipe, but the number of servings would increase because the kale wouldn't shrink nearly as much. Problem solved.

The resulting dish didn't seem very creamy compared to creamed spinach that I've had in steakhouses. I thought the flavor was good, and the creamy flavor was actually discernible. To be honest, if I wasn't following this recipe, I probably would have skipped the cream all together and added some lemon juice or a flavorful vinegar and eliminated the fat issue entirely. But that wouldn't be a good adaption of the recipe, would it?

If I made it again and wanted it creamy AND lower calorie, I think I'd use my home made yogurt to add a lot of creaminess. To keep it from breaking down, I'd add it after taking it off the heat. I ran the numbers on it (using some estimates for the probable calories in my home made yogurt) and I figure I could add up to 1 cup of my homemade yogurt - which would be a lot - and end up with fewer calories per serving than the original recipe. I imagine I'd use a lot less yogurt, though, which would be even better.

To be clear, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the original concept - just that I don't buy low-fat products. If you use them, you'll probably love this book. And even if you don't use them, you could make these recipes with a few alterations.

Creamed Spinach (Original Version)
Adapted from Slim & Scrumptious by Joy Bauer

1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 10-ounce bags fresh spinach, large stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) low-fat cream cheese
1/4 tablespoon kosher salt

Liberally coat a large saute pan with oil spray and preheat it over medium heat.

Add the shallot and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Add as much of the spinach as will fit. Using tongs, turn the spinach over in the pan, adding more spinach as it wilts and makes space until it's all in the pan. Continue cooking until the spinach has wilted but still has some texture, 3-5 minutes.

Move the spinach to make space for the cream cheese. With the back of a spoon, mash the cream cheese to make it melt. As the cheese melts, stir it into the spinach until the cheese is completely melted and incorporated into the spinach.

Season with the salt and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Creamed Kale
Based on Slim & Scrumptious by Joy Bauer

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 of a medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 bunches kale, ribs removed, torn into pieces, and washed
3 ounces cream cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring as needed, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt, and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are soft.

Add the kale, along with any water still clinging to the leaves. Cook, turning the kale over with tongs, until the kale has wilted. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the kale is tender, about 10 minutes. If you need extra water to keep it from burning, add it as needed.

Uncover the pan and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Move the kale over in the pan, add the cream cheese, and mash it down to help it melt.  Stir to coat the kale with the cheese. Serve hot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls

When I was a kid, I used to love cinnamon toast. Back then, it was plain bread, buttered, and topped with a little bit of sugar and a lot of cinnamon. Sometimes there was no sugar. That's how much I love cinnamon.

For special treats, sometimes there would be cinnamon swirl bread from the bakery. And on very rare occasions, there would be cinnamon rolls. Those were very special, with the sweet sugar glaze on top, and the rich, buttery bread and the cinnamon swirl.

What's even better than buying cinnamon rolls is making them. Because the smell of cinnamon and sweet yeasty bread baking is almost as good as eating the rolls. Almost.

These are great fresh from the oven, when they're just a little bit warm. Leftovers are great for French toast or bread pudding. If you have leftovers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chicken a la Boyardee

When I was a kid, I remember Chef Boyardee spaghetti that came in a kit that included noodles, sauce, and cheese. It seemed so ... modern. Or it seemed modern compared to my mother's quaint way of making spaghetti sauce from scratch.

Recently, I saw a show on TV that mentioned Chef Boyardee and how he started the company. I was a little surprised that he was a real guy and a real chef rather than an invented spokesperson, but I didn’t give it much more thought until I got a copy of the Boiardi family cookbook.

When I think of Chef Boyardee, I think about the products that are sold in stores, but the cookbook paints a completely different picture. Since the guy was a chef, the food at home was no doubt a whole lot more interesting than the canned products we’re so familiar with today, and it seems that the rest of the family was just as interested in cooking as he was. While there's history of the family and the company in the book, the recipes aren't company recipes – they are family recipes.

The first one I decided to try was a chicken recipe. But of course I had to put my spin on it. The original recipe called for a whole chicken, cut up. Instead, I used chicken thighs.

This might not be the best recipe for a hot summer day - at least not the cooking part. The dish itself is nice and light, so it works well for a summer meal. You can serve it with rice to soak up the juices, or opt for vegetables for an even lighter dish.

But here's the thing - if you've got a barbecue grill, you can use that for the entire cooking process and make the cooking itself more summer-friendly. You wouldn't cook the food directly on the grates, but if you've got a heavy oven-safe pot, you can use that on a grill, just the way you'd use it on the stove.

Or, if you prefer, you could use a crockpot or electric skillet if you have one.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

TSA Tart

So, you might have read that on my way home from King Arthur Flour in Vermont, my pies got questioned by the TSA in New Hampshire before I boarded by flight.

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to carry the pies on board the small plane that took me from New Hampshire to Boston, but it never crossed my mind that pies might be on the no-fly list.

Luckily, my pies passed inspection and the nice TSA lady asked me how we made our pie crusts, then went on to describe how she made her crust.

When the questions were over I ended up with the TSA agent's pie crust recipe.

Or, more accurately, I got the list of ingredients for the crust, and a little bit of conversation. This is what it looked like.

She told me that she didn't chill the dough, she just rolled and filled and baked.

I used the recipe to make dough for a tart. Sure, the recipe is for a pie, but I only bought 4 apples. Ya gotta adapt, right?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Banana Granola Muffins

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes.

This time, the product I used was Bulumu Orange Ginger Cranberry Granola

Sure, you can just open the bag and eat your granola, but why not take advantage of the flavors for baked goods? If you like the flavor of the granola, why not use it to flavor your muffins?

These muffins don't have a lot of sugar, but the bananas and the granola itself add extra sweetness. Even so, they're not overly sweet. Perfect for breakfast or brunch.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Strawberry and Balsamic Ice Cream

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a classic combination. Strawberries and cream are a classic combination as well. And good balsamic vinegar drizzled over vanilla ice cream is yet another classic.

They all seemed like such good friends, I decided to combine them in a different way. Strawberry ice cream. Balsamic vinegar ice cream. Garnished with some fresh strawberries. No need for drizzling, unless you want an extra punch of flavor.

Or, for something different, macerate some strawberries in sugar and just a touch of balsamic vinegar, and use those as your garnish.

For the balsamic ice cream, I wanted something that started out sweet, but had a hit of the balsamic flavor at the end. The first version I tried started out with a custard base - cream, milk, lots of egg yolks - and while I liked the result, the balsamic flavor was a little too muted. I wanted something that had enough of the balsamic flavor to pair with the strawberry ice cream without getting lost - just like drizzling balsamic vinegar over strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

I hemmed and hawed a little bit about what sort of balsamic vinegar to get. The super-expensive, aged 100-year stuff was out of the question. But I didn't want the super-cheap stuff, either. I wanted the richness and depth of flavor to shine through before the acidity curdled the milk. In the end, I settled for a bottle of good vinegar made by Elsa.

Then I moved on to the pink part of the duo. The strawberry ice cream.

When I was a kid, it seemed like Neapolitan ice cream showed up at every birthday party I was invited to. Stripes of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, all in one container - and if mom or dad was adept at scooping, you'd end up with a scoop of ice cream with all three flavors. It looked pretty, but I absolutely hated the strawberry ice cream.

I liked strawberries well enough, but even as a kid I recognized that the strawberry ice cream of the day tasted very little like actual strawberries. And the little bits of strawberry were either gummy or icy. Neither was very good. The chocolate and vanilla ice creams in the Neapolitan combo were never outstanding, but they were edible. The strawberry, not so much.

I avoided strawberry ice creams forever after, only occasionally tasting it out of politeness. The cheap brands still tasted nothing like strawberries and even the better brands suffered from the odd texture inherent in frozen strawberries. The seeds were another issue. Strawberry seeds on strawberries are just fine. Flecked through ice cream, I wasn't a fan.

Until I made my own ice cream, I never found one that I liked well enough to try a second time. To take care of the texture issues, I puree the strawberries and strain out the seeds so there are no icy-gummy bits and no seed gravel. What I'm left with is a smooth, creamy ice cream that tastes like strawberries and fresh cream.

This strawberry ice cream isn't quite as creamy as some of the ice creams I make, since the strawberries add a lot of water to the mix. Even though I'm using all cream instead of half-and-half or milk in the mix, the fat content is reduced because of all the water in the berries.

In theory, you could cook the strawberries to reduce the amount of water, but then the berries wouldn't taste as fresh. Or you could reduce the amount of berries, but that would weaken the strawberry flavor. I think this version has just the right balance of flavor, fat, sweetness, and berry flavor.

Using egg yolks to make a custard would also thicken the ice cream and make it seem creamier, but that changes the flavor. It's a fine version of ice cream, but this one is all about freshness. Fresh berries and fresh cream. Like strawberries and whipped cream - but a little colder.

To make this ice cream, you don't need the prettiest berries. In fact, the ones that are just starting to get a little soft can be the sweetest, so don't be afraid to use those. Cut away any bruises or bad spots, but don't fret if they're slightly overripe.

This recipe calls for 1 pound of berries, but I'd suggest that you buy more so you have plenty to use as garnishes. Or, if you prefer, steal a few from the ice cream recipe and set them aside for your garnish.

Strawberry Ice Cream

1 pound strawberries
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups heavy cream

Combine strawberries, sugar, and salt in a nonreactive bowl. Stir to combine, then cover and refrigerate for at a least a few hours, or overnight. The berries will soften and the sugar will dissolve.

Put the strawberries and all the liquid into a blender. Blend until smooth. (You can also mash by hand or use a food processor. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer. You should have nothing left but seeds. Since the mixture will have warmed up a bit during this time, cover and chill it for at least an hour or so.

Combine the strawberry mixture with the cream. Whisk well to combine, then churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm.

Balsamic Ice Cream

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Combine the condensed milk, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of the balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Whisk to combine. It will thicken as you whisk.

Since balsamic vinegars will vary in tartness and depth of flavor, you'll need to taste and adjust this mixture. Keep in mind that both sweetness and tartness will be muted when this is frozen. You should taste a little kick of the vinegar, but it shouldn't be sour. Add more vinegar, as needed. For the vinegar I used, 6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) was the perfect amount.

Cover the bowl (or transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for at least several hours, or overnight.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof storage container and freeze until firm.

To Serve: You'll end up with about twice as much strawberry ice cream as the balsamic - and that's just about right. The strawberry should be the star. Garnish with extra berries.

When I was working on this recipe, I kept thinking that it needed just one more thing. I was looking for something that would add a little texture; a little crunch. But I didn't want anything that would compete with the flavor of the berries and balsamic. Nuts seemed wrong - too rich to go with the rich ice cream. Cookies didn't seem right, either.

Then I thought that maybe a dessert drink would work, so I made my way to the Whole Foods liquor store where I asked for advice. They suggested a bubbly wine - just a little taste - to go with the ice cream. It makes perfect sense. The crispness of the wine would cut the richness of the ice cream. So that was the final piece of the puzzle.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Walnut Breakfast Quick Bread

Does anyone else do this? You start with one recipe, change an ingredient, make it again, change something else ... add something, remove something, fiddle with technique? Then you have a completely different product. It's not anywhere close to what you started with, but it's really, really good.

It's like starting with spaghetti sauce and ending up with chili. There's still meat, but it's a completely different dish. That's what happened here. After enough changes, not only are the flavors completely different from the original, but the form and texture of the final product are different, too.

I wasn't sure exactly what to call this bread. The shape is like a scone. The texture is muffin-like, but with a little more structure and wonderful crispy edges and tender insides. Whatever it is, it's quick - mix, form, and bake. The assembly will probably be done before the oven is fully preheated.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mini Burger Appetizers

I ate three of these burgers. As an appetizer.
Why do I launch these crazy projects? Heck, I don't know. It sounded like a brilliant idea at the time, but in the midst of it, it started seeming like a lot of work - and re-work - for something so small.

But, see, if you decide to do this, it will be sooooo much easier. Because I've figure out all the silly details for you.

My plan was to make tiny hamburgers - single-bite sandwiches - for appetizers. I figured that shoestring potatoes - the kind that come in a can and are like potato chips - would make the perfect "french fries."

I started assembling my supplies. For tomatoes, the size that's just slightly bigger than a cherry tomato seemed perfect. Ground beef and cheese were no problem.

The french fries, on the other hand, were an issue. Seems to me that when I was a kid, shoestring potatoes were square-shaped things. I bought three different brands of shoestring potatoes and they were flat rather than square. Sigh.

I went looking for other options, and picked up a can of french-fried onions. They looked sort of square on the photo, but in reality they were a little lumpy. Ah well.

Burger buns were going to be easy, right? I make bread all the time.

Ha. Haha. Ha-ha-haha-hah. Riiiiiight.

It took me a couple tries to get buns that looked right. I won't bore you with the details of what went wrong, but here's what went right:

I made a basic white bread recipe, and cut off a chunk of dough to use for my little mini-buns. Unless you're making these for a huge crowd, you probably won't need a whole bread recipe worth of dough. I used the remainder to make regular dinner rolls.

And then:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take your lump of dough, form it into a ball, then flatten it. Then, using a rolling pin, roll it to about 1/4 inch thick. A little thinner is fine.

Using a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, or something of a similar size, cut rounds from the dough, avoiding the outer edges of the dough you rolled out, since it always tends to be thicker at the edges. You don't want lop-sided buns.

I know those raw edges are bothering you, but don't fret. It will work out fine. It actually keeps the tops from puffing too much and turning into balls instead of normal-looking burger buns.

Place the buns on a baking sheet and let them rise until they have just about doubled - about 15-20 minutes.

Brush the tops of the buns with melted butter, and bake at 375 degrees until they are golden brown - about 15 minutes. If they aren't browned, you can turn on the broiler and blast them for about 30 seconds.

Let the buns cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, the burgers. A one-teaspoon scoop, just barely over-filled, was exactly the right amount for my burgers. Scoop the meat, and flatten it as much as possible. It will seem way too wide, but it will shrink in width and grow in height as it cooks. If you don't flatten the heck out of it, you'll have a fat little meatball instead of a proportional-looking burger.

Cook on one side until brown, flip, add the cheese and cover the pan (or toss a piece of foil over the top of the pan). If you don't cover the pan, chances are that the cheese won't melt before the burger is overdone. That's a thin piece of meat.

For the tomato, slice very thinly if you want it to look proportional to the burger and bun.

If you have baby lettuce, it will work well, otherwise tear off small pieces of whatever thin-leaf lettuce you have. Iceberg might not be the best idea.

Top with condiments, if you want to, and serve.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.