Monday, April 25, 2011

easter eats & a tart treat

I have always adored Easter!

Along with the joyous religious celebration of the day, I have always been in awe of the springtime decorations and culinary traditions of the holiday.

Growing up, my mom would always surprise me with a unique Easter basket and chic collectibles to start the morning. This year, she didn't fail to impress with a precious Pottery Barn basket, chocolate bunnies wrapped in golden foil and bright candies nestled all around the house.

Early Sunday morning, I awoke eager to make breakfast before Easter Mass. Thick slices of local challah bread were dredged in a rich egg custard dotted with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla bean and orange zest then finished on the griddle until golden brown.

Organic chicken sausage and thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon drowned in pools of syrup and creamy butter as we devoured our sweet feast.

After mass, I dashed home to make this sweet, tart and nutty crumble perfect for a crowd. This recipe is simple and can be adapted with other seasonal fruits. It took me 10 swift minutes to get this dessert into the oven.

Rhubarb & Raspberry Crumble with Toasted Hazelnuts

yields 10-12 servings

3/4 c AP flour
1/2 c sugar plus 2/3 c
1/2 t salt
6 T unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
1/2 c old-fashioned oats
1/2 c hazelnuts
2 t vanilla bean paste
4 c frozen raspberries,
thawed under running water a few minutes
12 ounces rhubarb (bright red), ends trimmed, diced*

To dice rhubarb, first cut off woodsy ends then wash. Slice each stalk horizontally (like you would celery), then line rhubarb "sticks" into two bundles. Slice bundles into 1/2 inch pieces (as shown).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 11 x 7 x 2 inch glass baking dish. Mix frozen raspberries with rhubarb, 1/2 c sugar and vanilla bean paste. Set aside to macerate while preparing other ingredients.

In a food processor, pulse hazelnuts to grind. Larger chunks of hazelnuts are perfectly A-Ok. Normally, I always toast nuts to bring out their inherent flavorful oils. Because the hazelnuts will toast regardless atop of the crumble, you can omit this step.

In a large bowl, add flour, remaining sugar, salt, oats and hazelnuts. Add in cold cubes of butter and combine with hands to the dry ingredients (as shown). Rub butter cubes in with fingertips until mixture sticks together in clumps (small chunks of butter are fine).

Transfer macerated fruit mixture to bottom of buttered glass dish, spreading evenly, then top with an even sprinkling of hazelnut topping.

Bake crumble until fruit mixture is thickened and bubbling and topping is golden brown, approximately 45 minutes. Let cool 15-30 minutes before serving.

After my crumble cooled, we headed off to an Easter celebration for 50 friends and family. Our never-ending food spread centered around a huge smoker and my Uncle Jeff slow-smoking delectable whole chickens, beef, pork loin and the best pork tenderloin I've ever put in my mouth.

I hope everyone had a blessed
(and scrumptious) Easter celebration.

Monday, April 18, 2011

creamy grits & sweet apple balsamic

A few posts ago, I blogged about the glory of one-pot meals.
Today, we're talking about the excellence of one-bowl meals.

Balsamic-Glazed Spring Vegetables atop
Yellow Corn Grits with Fresh Basil and a Poached Egg

This vegetarian recipe fuses three main components:

rustic, creamy grits
in-season vegetables with rich balsamic
and a perfectly poached egg (over easy, of course)

The integration of these three things seem so simple but make magic together.

Magic, I say!

I've often embarrassed myself talking incessantly in public about my love for the perfectly runny yolk (I won't get into it now), but this bowl is a sexy combination of silky, runny yolk, al dente vegetables glistening with sweet vinegar, creamy grits full of texture and pungent fresh basil.

The trick to this recipe is very simple:
use the best ingredients you can find.

I used organic, yellow corn grits, local asparagus, organic, cage free eggs, sweet apple balsamic from Italy, fresh-cracked peppercorns, aged Parmesan Reggiano and sea salt.

Who needs meat anyway?

yields 2 servings

1/2 bundle asparagus, ends trimmed
2 c water
1/2 c yellow corn grits
1/4 t salt
2 T unsalted butter
splash of vinegar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 zucchini, diced small
1 T fresh garlic (about 2 cloves), minced
2 T fresh basil, sliced chiffonade, plus additional to garnish
1 T fine balsamic
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
shavings of parmesan to garnish

Begin by blanching asparagus. Submerge asparagus into boiling water approximately 2 minutes until bright green then submerge into ice water (as shown). Slice in 1 inch pieces on the diagonal and set aside.

Make yellow corn grits. Combine water, grits and salt into a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, stirring constantly, and simmer for a few minutes to thicken. Add butter, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside off the heat.

Meanwhile, begin simmering water in a large saucepan with a splash of vinegar to later poach eggs. Then, heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, zucchini, asparagus, basil, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Saute approximately 5 minutes to soften (as shown). Off the heat, stir in balsamic to combine then set aside.

Finally, with a slotted spoon, create a circular vortex motion in simmering water. Crack eggs into two small bowls (as shown) then gently slide into heavily simmering water. Poach approximately 3 minutes for an over easy egg. Remove eggs, one at a time, with a slotted spoon.

To plate, spoon grits in two bowls. Top with vegetables and poached egg. Finish with salt, pepper, fresh basil and parmesan shavings.

Now for the best part.
Break that beautiful yolk.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

popcorn aplenty & tart lemonade for many

This April, I collaborated with a sweet client interested in throwing a precious, farm yard-themed baby shower for her friend's baby-boy-to-be!

This client has a sublime eye for interior design and executed the baby shower decorations with perfection. Yellow gingham patterns mixed with bright blue hues and retro coke bottles were nestled in an over-sized silver ice bucket along with sea foam green glass bottles.

Precious cupcakes were dotted with barnyard animal tags and stacked on a bright-white wire layered stand.

I made simple, hand-written food tags with flower embellishments for my dishes. I just love the intimance of hand-written tags.

After brainstorming all things baby boy, we created a menu to reflect the precious theme perfect for a springtime afternoon shower.

Fresh Lemonade with Basil Syrup

This lemonade was lovely because it truly boasts the anise essence of basil mixed with fragrant lemons. You'll be juicing for a while if you don't have an industrial juicer (which I don't), but the tart result is truly worth the wait!

yields approximately 1 gallon

juice of 18 lemons, strained to remove seeds
8 cups water plus 7 cups to mix in later
zest of 4 lemons
4 ounces fresh basil
4 c sugar
lemon slices & fresh basil leaves to garnish

Start by making basil simple syrup. Combine 8 cups water, sugar, basil and lemon zest in a large saucepan. Simmer on medium high heat approximately 45 minutes to reduce. Strain and let syrup cool completely.

Combine lemon juice, remaining water and strained simple syrup in a large 1 gallon pitcher. Chill completely and serve over ice with fresh lemon slices and basil leaves. The shower hostess provided mason jars with bright, cherry red straws for a playful touch.

Fruit Skewers with Poppy Seed Yogurt

Fresh fruit is always a good decision on a hot afternoon. I stuck with a berry-hued color theme and used blackberries, garnet strawberries and red grapes to offset the bright white yogurt sauce with flecks of ebony poppy seeds.

yields approximately 30 skewers

2 pints fresh blackberries, rinsed and dried
7-9 large strawberries, cut into fourths
30 seedless red grapes, rinsed and dried
3 c vanilla bean yogurt
1/2 t pure almond extract
1 T poppy seeds
zest of 1 lime
30 wooden skewers

Combine yogurt, poppy seeds and lime zest. Chill while assembling fruit skewers. Arrange fruit pieces on each skewer. Serve with poppy seed yogurt.

Crudités with Buttermilk & Chive Ranch Dressing

These individual cups of crudités were elegant, crisp, fresh and so easy to execute!

yields twenty individual cups (I used 6 ounce clear plastic cups)

2 English cucumbers, cut into 40 slices on the bias
5-6 carrots, peeled and cut into 40 slices on the bias
2 bundles red radishes, cut into 40 slices
3 large scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
2 cups sour cream
2 cups buttermilk
4 T fresh chives, sliced thin
2 ranch seasoning packets (I used Simply Organic)
salt & pepper to taste

I sliced vegetables and chilled them while I made Buttermilk Chive Ranch Dressing. To make dressing, whisk together sour cream, buttermilk, chives, ranch seasoning, salt and pepper. Chill until ready to assemble cups.

To assemble cups, place 2 spoonfuls of ranch in the bottom of cups. Top with two cucumber slices, then two carrot slices, and two radish slices. Finish with a small sprinkling of scallions and fresh-cracked pepper.

Popcorn with Thyme Butter, Pecorino & Black Pepper

This popcorn is addictive! The fragrant lemon-flavor of the thyme adds a unique twist to melted butter. Pecorino and black pepper add a sharpness to the crunchy combination.

yields approximately twenty mini cups

two 6 ounce bags lightly salted popcorn
1 lb unsalted butter (4 sticks)
2 T fresh thyme leaves plus additional to garnish
salt & pepper to taste
shavings of pecorino and black pepper to garnish

Begin by slowly melting butter over low heat with fresh thyme, salt and pepper until melted completely. Store warm butter in a squirt bottle or in a bowl to spoon over popcorn.

To assemble popcorn cups, squirt (or spoon) warm thyme butter atop individual popcorn cups. Top with a few shavings of pecorino, fresh thyme and fresh-cracked pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Key Lime Pie Parfaits with Lemon Lime Curd,
Chantilly Cream and Graham Cracker Crumble

These mini desserts were delightful!

I was inspired to make these after sampling grapefruit curd parfaits compliments of Artisan Baking Company for a Foodways Texas event I attended.

I liked the ease of making a "deconstructed" key lime pie that tasted just like the real thing! Make sure you have a piping bag (or plastic bag) and star tip to make assembling these gems much easier than spooning.

yields 20 mini parfaits in 1/5 ounce clear cups

1/2 c lemon juice (3-4 lemons)
1/2 c lime juice (3-4 limes)
2 T lime zest plus additional to garnish
4 eggs
1 c sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 graham crackers
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t sea salt
2.5 c heavy whipping cream
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 c confectioner's sugar

Begin by making Lemon Lime Curd. Over a simmering double boiler, constantly whisk together eggs, sugar, and juices until thickened and an instant thermometer reaches 160 degrees. Remove thickened curd from double boiler and place over an ice bath.

Stir in butter and lime zest, stirring constantly until butter is melted completely (as shown). Place plastic wrap directly over surface of curd (to avoid custard getting a skin) and cool completely.

While curd is chilling, make graham cracker crumble. Pulse graham crackers, cinnamon and sea salt in a food processor or hand crush in a sealed, heavy-duty ziploc bag. The crumble doesn't have to be perfectly uniform. No stress, y'all.

Right before assembling parfaits, whip your heavy cream to stiff peaks with vanilla and confectioner's sugar. This is now considered a chantilly cream (sounds fancy, yes?) Set aside.

To assemble parfaits, sprinkle bottom of mini cup with graham cracker crumble. Spoon lemon lime curd in a piping bag then pipe curd halfway up cups. Rinse pastry bag then fill with whipped cream using a star tip. Pipe chantilly cream in a circular motion to come to tops of mini cups.

Garnish with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumble and a touch of grated lime zest. Serve chilled with mini spoons (I found both my cups and mini spoons at Ace Mart Restaurant Supply).

Make-Your-Own Ice Cream Sundaes

I loved the idea of a sundae bar! I pre-scooped ice cream into dainty clear cups then re-froze them to firm up completely. Cups of ice cream were able to sit out 10-15 without melting. Arrange ice cream cups, several at a time, with a unique spread of sauces and toppings for variety.

Cherry Raspberry Sauce

This sauce is rich, tart and beautiful to look at.

yields approximately 2 cups

1.5 c frozen sweet dark cherries
1.5 c frozen raspberries
2/3 c sugar
2/3 c water

Simmer all ingredients over medium high heat for 30 minutes until reduced. Chill then serve room temperature with ice cream sundaes.

Chocolate Ganache

If making this ganache for children, opt for milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips. For adults, I prefer the bittersweet to tame the sweetness of ice cream and other toppings.

yields approximately 2 cups

1.5 c heavy whipping cream
1.5 c bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli)

Simmer cream over medium heat until bubbling. Pour over chocolate chips in a bowl and mix until smooth and glossy. Serve room temperature with ice cream sundaes.

Along with these two sauces, I served honey-roasted peanuts, rainbow sprinkles and retro maraschino cherries.

During the relaxed shower, gorgeous ladies sipped champagne with raspberries, sampled handmade snacks, and indulged in ice cream sundaes and cupcakes while chatting. Cheers!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

a dessert, light as air & tostadas to share

The past weekend was considered a "working" one while I spent a few days with my parents in Austin. Fortunately, working was a joy surrounded by sweet yellow labs, 70 degree weather, wine spritzers on the patio and a gorgeous view of the Hill Country.

Although I was glued to my laptop writing, finishing taxes with my accountant and financial advisor (my dad), and returning endless emails I was finally able to pause and write some healthy spring recipes perfect for a party!

After I launched my new menu planning service for Linguine and Dirty Martinis, I decided to make a few recipes I shared with a client who was interested in balancing healthful foods, lean protein and whole grains with the rich tastes inherent in comfort food.

Comfort food to me is Tex-Mex laced with a warming spice and multiple textures. To appeal to these comforts, I settled on a bright tostada bar for the family fusing crunchy, savory, sour, sweet, spicy, earthy and buttery flavors all in one dish!

My make-your-own tostada bar was complete with:

Tamarind-Grilled Chicken, Stewed Black Beans with Chipotle, Baked Whole Wheat Tortillas, Fresh Avocado, Kumquat Pico de Gallo and Queso Fresco

The glory of this meal is how surprisingly light it is. One tostada serving (as shown) falls under 400 calories for a healthy portion. Bon appétit!

Tamarind-Grilled Chicken

I became a huge fan of tamarind paste after making Tamarind-Glazed Chicken with Fresno Chiles and Ginger for a colorful feast this past September.

I love the curious tart flavor of the paste combined with the wood-fired flavor from the grill. This chicken takes the tostada bar to the extreme of deliciousness (yes, deliciousness), but would be quite lovely served alone.

I marinated and chilled the chicken a few hours before dinner and left the grilling up to my Dad because that's what dads are for!

yields 4 servings

1 T seedless tamarind paste
2 T extra virgin olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In the bottom of a plastic container, whisk together tamarind paste, olive oil and lemon juice. Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt and pepper then dredge both sides in marinade. Cover container and chill to marinate approximately 1-3 hours.

After marinating, grill chicken on a charcoal grill approximately 5 minutes per side until just cooked through. Set aside to rest then slice for tostada bar.

Stewed Black Beans with Chipotle

yields 4 servings

one 15.5 ounce can black beans, undrained
1/4 c green salsa (of your choice)
1 T chipotles in adobo, minced
salt to taste

This recipe is so, so simple. Simply simmer ingredients together over medium heat to warm through. Serve warm or room temperature with tostadas.

Baked Whole Wheat Tortillas

yields 4 servings

4 whole wheat tortillas
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush olive oil on both sides of tortillas. Position on a sheet pan and bake approximately 5 minutes until light brown, crisp and puffed. Set aside for tostada bar.

Kumquat Pico de Gallo

I was planning on making a nectarine salsa for this dish but my eyes fell upon a gorgeous basket of kumquats and I fell in love.

I switched my salsa idea to a rustic, pico de gallo-style topping with large chunks of tart fruit mixed with fresh vegetables, peppers and herbs. A swirl of glossy honey balanced the tartness.

yields 4 servings

1 c kumquats, sliced
1 c red cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions, sliced thin
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 T fresh mint, minced
1 jalapeno, ribbed, seeded and minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 t honey
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill to combine flavors. Serve chilled with tostada bar.

To assemble tostadas, spread baked tortillas with black beans, sliced chicken and fresh, sliced avocado (1/4 avocado per serving). Finish with a sprinkling of kumquat pico de gallo and crumbled queso fresco.

I also served an ever-s0-simple salad with our tostada bar to add color and nutrients. Top a spinach/arugula mix with thin-sliced red onions, the dressing of your choice and fresh-cracked pepper. We used Sass All Natural Smoky Ranch dressing.

You didn't think I forgot dessert, did you?
Believe me, I didn't.

I was planning dessert the evening before when clouds of angel food cake were swirling around my head. My mom had gorgeous, ripe mango around the house and I knew the airy cake had met its match. Strawberries, too? Join the club.

Angel Food Cake with Mango Strawberry Compote

yields 12 servings

  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar (stabilizes egg whites)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Always begin baking with your mise en place (having all ingredients in their place as shown).

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees, with rack in lower third of the oven. Separate your eggs. *Reminder: eggs are always easier to separate when cold but egg whites whip up better when at room temperature.

  • Sift together flour and 3/4 cup sugar. Repeat sifting four times.

  • Beat egg whites and the warm water with a mixer on low speed until foamy. Add salt, cream of tartar, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Raise speed to high, and beat until peaks are stiff and glossy (but not dry), about 2 minutes more (as shown).

  • Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Sift flour mixture over egg-white mixture in six parts, gently folding in each addition with a rubber spatula.

  • Gently pour batter into a 10-inch tube pan. Run a knife through the batter to release any air bubbles, and smooth with an offset spatula.

  • Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched, 40 to 45 minutes. Picture shown is mid-way through cooking. My cake took exactly 40 minutes to bake.

  • Invert pan on a wire rack, and let cake cool about 1 hour. Carefully run a paring knife around side of cake to loosen, then unmold onto the wire rack.

  • Mango Strawberry Compote

  • yields 4 servings

  • Tragically, I only made several servings of this delicious compote. Make extra-- you will definitely fly through it.

  • 1 c strawberries, washed and cut into eighths

  • 1 mango, diced

  • 1 t lemon zest

  • 1 T sugar

  • How to dice a fresh mango (Callie's way):

  • Slice the mango lengthwise along the flat side next to the seed. Turn mango over and repeat on the other side.

  • With each side, carefully cut a cross-hatch pattern through the mango pulp down to the skin, being careful not to cut through the skin. Using a spoon, scoop out cubes (as shown).

  • Combine mango with strawberries, lemon zest and sugar. Chill, covered, to macerate. Serve chilled with angel food cake and unsweetened heavy cream whipped to soft peaks with a touch of pure vanilla.

    Now you're reading to float away with dessert pleasure...

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