Jun 12 2013

String Cheese Theory

All the way back in December a friend of mine gave me the gift of a cheese making kit. Or rather an online gift certificate for a kit to be ordered and sent to my home upon my request. As soon as I could I ordered it. So excited, I couldn’t wait to try it out.  I waited for its arrival, patiently; ok impatiently, but I waited and waited and waited. You see the kit will not ship in extreme temperatures due to the sensitivity of the rennet (coagulant). Did I mention I currently live in northern Vermont? I do and something you may not be aware of it that it can get pretty darn cold in January. In fact this year we saw record inducing lows; think in the range of -15. You see when it gets that cold I just hibernate; I don’t look at the temperatures I just feed the fire and stay indoors. The farm sending me the kit deemed those temps to be in the extreme and I had to wait and wait I did, till MARCH!

Now I am not bitter, not in the least. I got my kit and went straight out to buy whole, organic milk from my local farmers market/COOP.  I then began researching for the best recipe and technique to making fresh mozzarella. This took me to YouTube primarily. I watched old Italian ladies pull cheese over and over again, I watched talented young chefs give demonstrations, and finally I watched some home cooks who were as excited as I was to make their own cheese.  After all this “research” I came up with what I was calling “My technique” an amalgamation of all that I had watched. Next I set up my station; 2 stainless steel work bowls, 1 large stainless pot, a spider, chef’s knife, latex gloves, cheese cloth, thermometer and a binder clip. I began with 1 gallon of whole organic local milk and poured it all in the pot and began to bring it slowly up to temp, 86 degrees.  I then followed the farm kit instructions on adding citric acid, lipase powder (optional), calcium chloride, and rennet.  Once I had the desired curds I let them set for a bit in the pot. I sliced through the curds with the chef’s knife and scooped up all the curds with the spider into the prepared cheese cloth. I gathered everything up, secured the bundle without pressing on the delicate curds and hung with a binder clip over the small stainless bowl for 2 hours. I reserved the leftover whey and rinsed out the pot so that I could boil the water to pull the cheese.  I recut the drained curds into manageable slices and placed in the second (large) stainless steel work bowl. In the small bowl I added warm water and to the pot of boiling water I added a lot of sea salt. On a side note did you know that in Naples Italy it is tradition to use water straight from the sea to pull the mozzarella?  I thought that was a cool tip and seasoned my water accordingly. I donned my gloves, I double gloved, this will get very warm! To the bowl with the cheese curd I added a small amount of the warm water and a ladleful of the boiling water and began working the cheese. As the water cooled I drained it and added more and more boiling water till the cheese was nice and melty. Now the fun part, using mainly my hands I grabbed a large handful of cheese and began to pull. The cheese will get very shiny. As it did I rolled and tucked the cheese ball as if I was working with a small ball of pizza dough. Then when I was happy with the ball I squeezed it off into the cool bowl of water. I did this with the remaining cheese curd and ended up with 3 medium sized balls of cheese. I let them cool and set up in the cool water then went to town! I ate one right off the bat with some salt; delightful. Then I made a small mixed greens salad with basil and small grape tomatoes topped with slices of the fresh mozzarella and a quality Italian olive oil saved for special occasions that I got from my last trip to Eatily in NYC and a little sprinkling of flaky sea salt. It was sublime! I encourage anyone who thinks they want to try this to give it a go. It is surprisingly simple once you have the chemistry part down and that’s what the internet is for right!

Fresh Mozzarella

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May 1 2013

Spring Fever

Spring is in full effect around here and it is absolutely beautiful! I am loving this weather and I am loving my grill. I have hardly used my stove to do much more than boil water for tea in over a week.

Today M and I went out for a lovely midday hike in our woods and by the time we got home we were starving! I knew I wanted something light but filling so I cranked up the grill or more accurately M cranked up the grill while I ran to take a quick shower.

Post shower I had a game plan. Considering May is National Salad Month I decided on a beautiful grilled vegetable salad.

This recipe is really more a method you can use with whatever veggies you like. I used thick cut eggplant, red bell peppers, and big beautiful tomatoes.

Marinade:
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
2-3 cloves grated or minced garlic
Handful fresh chopped oregano

Mix marinade and coat veggies. I left the red bell peppers whole to char nicely. You can marinate for a few minutes like I did or up to a couple hours. I wouldn’t go too long since the eggplants will suck up all that dressing.

Once grill is hot grill the larger veggies first, for me I put the peppers on then the thick eggplant then lastly the tomatoes for a quick sear. While they worked their magic I sat outside in my favorite chair, thumbed through Facebook and enjoyed a cocktail….

Flip, arrange, poke, sip…. sip, sip, flip, arrange….

Then I had another idea! I know 2 in one day I’m on a role. I ran inside and fished out some smoked mozzarella I had hiding out and sliced it. Then I grabbed a few pitas.

Back to the grill and the cocktail. When everything was just about done I put the cheese on the eggplant and the pita on the grill and closed the lid. A few sips later or a couple minutes everything was perfect.

I pealed and sliced the pepper and then layered everything; eggplant with cheese, grilled tomato, peppers, and repeat! Top with a little fresh torn basil and a drizzle of some leftover marinade and serve along side the grilled pita.

Grilled Veggie Salad

It was amazing! Now how do I top that for dinner?

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Apr 20 2013

Wing Dings!

I have had enough cold rainy weather up here! Today was a bit gloomy, a tad windy and oh just a little on the chilly side. Given all that I decided today would good day to break out the grill!

First BBQ of the season was grilled smokey chicken wings with a honey chipolte BBQ sauce. They were awesome!!I paired it with a southwest avocado salad with a cilantro lime dressing. It was a great first meal and an indication of the rest to come.

Honey Chipolte BBQ Wings

Recipe:

Chicken wing pieces, rinsed and patted dry
2 T. oil

Dry Rub:
2 parts chili powder
1 part cumin
1 part coriander
1 part smoked paprika
salt and pepper

Sauce:
2 T. chili powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
3 T. chipolte puree (more or less to taste)
1 cup honey
2 T. cider vinegar

Mix together all ingredients of dry rub and liberally dust all the wings add the oil and massage. Let sit for anywhere from 1 hour to over night.

Ready the grill. I used charcoal which gave a nice smokiness, if using gas I would add a tray of soaked smoke chips but it is not necessary.

When grill reaches 400 degrees arrange wing pieces on hottest area. As wings get crispy and flip and remove to lower heated area.

When wings are done toss with some of the BBQ sauce and serve with a cucumber ranch dipping sauce!

Honey Chipolte BBQ Wings
Honey Chipolte BBQ Wings
For the salad combined corn, black beans, diced avocados, sliced cherry tomatoes and lettuce of choice. Dress with a mixture of cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt & pepper. Pretty easy!

Enjoy with a beer! :)

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Apr 16 2013

Rainy Day Soup

It’s cold and rainy this “spring” day in northern Vermont so I needed a little warmth and bounce put in my step. I have to go shopping so my pantry and fridge is looking a little lean and I certainly didn’t want to venture out of the house so I had to utilize what I had on hand. Anyone who knows me knows I keep a pretty well stocked Asian pantry so it was a no brainer to make an Asian inspired soup, Thai to be exact. This soup came together pretty quick and was exactly what I had in mind. It was perfect for this dreary day and would be perfect for the dead of winter to warm the soul and great if feeling under the weather. I added spicy shrimp dumplings to make it absolutely divine!

Soup:
1 T. coconut oil
1/2 onion diced
1 carrot sliced
Handful spinach
1 Thai bird chili
2 kifir lime leaves or a few peels of a fresh lime
1 clove garlic
A few coins of ginger (for flavor)
A few torn leaves Thai or regular basil
2 cups stock
1/2 can coconut milk + 1/2 can water
a few dashes fish sauce

Saute the onion, ginger, carrots, garlic and Thai chili in the oil until fragrant and translucent. Add the stock, fish sauce, and lime leaves and steep until the veggies are tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and enjoy! Serve with extra fish sauce on the side. You can make this with any veggies you like. I just used what I had on hand but I would definitely make this again with maybe some shiitake mushrooms and maybe a little red bell pepper and green onions.

Thai Inspired Coconut Soup with Spicy Shrimp Dumplings | Selective Palate

Shrimp Dumplings:
1/2 lb raw shrimp (can use cooked just adjust cooking time)
1 tsp. minced ginger (to taste)
1-2 Thai bird chilies minced, depending on taste
2 tsp. finely chopped Thai basil
A few dashes of fish sauce
wanton wrappers

Mix all but the wrappers together till it forms a paste like texture. Fill the wrappers with a small amount of mixture, do not over fill. You can fold them however you like; easiest is a simple triangle or “hats” which is just a triangle with 2 ends sealed together. Remember to make sure you get all the air out. A good trick to sealing them tight is a combination of corn starch and water to moisten the edges. It forms a good tight seal. If I had it on hand I would have added green onions but I didn’t miss them at all!
You can steam these, fry them, cook like a pot sticker or like I did, boil gently in soup for a few minutes. I would say for raw shrimp cook about 3-4 minutes, cooked 1-2. Trust me they are light, delicate, a tad spicy and totally delicious!

Spicy Shrimp Dumplings

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Apr 15 2013

Happy Hour

Its cocktail hour over here and today I really needed one! However, I was having a hard time figuring out what exactly I wanted. It is too warm for a Manhattan, its too cool for a Margarita and a vodka tonic is just too, too,… boring! So after careful contemplation I came up with this, not too warm, not too cool, fresh Berry Vodka Mojito!

Berry Vodka Mojito

Here’s the recipe and yes very easy!

A few ice cubes
A few frozen berries (blackberries, raspberries, etc…)
A few sprigs of fresh mint, crushed

Throw all that in a rocks glass or really whatever size glass you want! Then add 1.5 parts vodka, 1 part lime simple syrup (or Rose’s Lime will work), a plash of either cranberry juice or berry puree and a splash of club soda.

That’s it, ready to make anyone’s happy hour HAPPY!
Your welcome!

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Feb 15 2013

Well Hello There Gorgeous

Well it has been a whole year since I have been around here. Life sure does have a way of getting in the way of things. I was thinking about totally forgetting about this blog and deleting it but then I saw that apparently people are still pretty interested in what I have to say! So to all of you out there that keep looking me up a big THANK YOU!

So to kick this thing back off right how about a little food porn! I have not been in the kitchen as much as I would like this past year due to some health issues but I did manage to whip up a quick batch of potato pancakes, better know as latkas to go with some smoked salmon and domestic caviar. It is a simple breakfast that we enjoy every Christmas morning! I have to be honest I don’t even really make these myself anymore, several years ago M took over in the fry department and we whip these up in minutes!

For the recipe it is really easy there are only 5 ingredients unless you count salt and pepper which I don’t they are standard!

3 Russet Potatoes grated and squeezed
1 Onion grated and squeezed
1 Egg
Flour
S&P

I grate the potatoes and onions together and then squeeze them out until they are good and dry to the mix stir in a beaten egg. Now begin to add the flour a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is just right. It should stick together but not be dry; this usually takes about 1/4 of flour but it varies. Season your mixture!!! Now heat a skillet, we use cast iron but any skillet works here. Melt fat of choice and a small nub of butter, we use coconut oil it’s a great all purpose oil. When it’s hot but not smoking you can add your silver dollar sized potato patties to the pan. Fry until golden brown on both sides and remove to a plate lined with paper towels and then salt them right away!!

Serve warm or at room temp. These are great topped with the smoked salmon but just as yummy on their own with either sour cream, creme fraiche, or apple sauce. Use your imagination!

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Feb 17 2011

Mangia!

So like I have said about 100 times by now we have just been crazy busy around here and it has been freezing, aside from a few strangely warm days thrown in to confuse us! So I have the added challenge of warming comfort food that is also quick and easy to make. So to me that means pasta! We usually don’t eat a ton of pasta around here but we do love it and there is little else as comforting to me as a nice warm bowl of pasta topped with cheese; well anything topped with cheese!

In the spirit of trying to be a little bit more healthy I have been trying to buy only whole grain or whole wheat pastas. For the most part this works out just fine and M can’t even tell the difference between white and wheat so that is good. I myself like the nutty taste of the whole grain pasta. The only problem I have is with variety. I usually can only find penne, elbow, spaghetti and little else. But I love fettuccine! Especially when I am in the mood for something other than red sauce. So I was thrilled when I found a fresh, whole grain pasta in my tiny little town. Add that to some canned artichokes I had in the pantry, a tomato that was on its way out, along with a few leftover garlic scapes I still had in the fridge and of course lots of cheese and you have yourself a quick and delicious warming winter meal!

Recipe:
1 lb or 1 container of Fettuccine, which ever kind you like I used a whole grain but spinach would be great too
1 can artichoke hearts quartered
1 tomato chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic sliced Goodfello’s like
Small handful of fresh basil torn in small bits
1-2 garlic scapes chopped
olive oil
squeeze of fresh lemon (if you like)
Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

In heavily salted water boil pasta al dente. Mean while in a large saute pan heat up a few turns of the pan of oil. When hot but not smoking add the garlic, saute for 30 seconds then add the artichokes and tomatoes and season with a little bit of salt and pepper. As soon as the pasta is done add directly into the saute pan with the artichokes, tomatoes and garlic. Finally add the torn basil leaves, the garlic scapes, and test for seasoning. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (if you like) and top with as much cheese as you like. A restaurant meal in a matter of minutes!

Artichoke Fettuccinni

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Feb 14 2011

Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentines Day all! I know many people don’t like this holiday much but I actually find it nice. I know you should show your love all year long but I think it is nice to set aside a day of the year that you are allowed, no required to be all lovey dovey!

I also never turn down an opportunity to get or give gifts! Now I love flowers as much as the next girl. I mean they are pretty and smell nice. But let s be honest, they don’t last all that long and they cost a fortune (especially this time of year) for something that is going to turn rancid and ugly and end up in the trash! Now plants are very nice if you can manage to keep them alive. I love plants but I manage to kill everything. I am not the green thumb in this house, M has that duty.

I tend to like more practical things.  In past Valentines Day I have been the recipient of such goods as beautiful chef’s  knives, exceptional cheese, Laouille steak knives, etc… he does good doesn’t he! This year was no exception!

BEHOLD, MY NEW BEAUTY!

Isn’t it beautiful! It arrived today in the biggest box you could possibly imagine, with enough packing material to ship a small child! It is a massive 2′ x 1.5′ and weighs in at whopping  18 lbs! The thing is massive and takes up a good chunk of my counter, but oh isn’t she sweet! I am waiting for my “Mystery Oil/Cream” that Boos recommends so I can use it but until then I can think of all the things I want to cook, any ideas?

Oh on a side note I also got an awesome cookbook and a brand new shiny lasagna pan! But that was not for V-day it was a happy accident! All in all I’d say I am having a good month so far!

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Feb 9 2011

Kitchen Therapy

With all these easy meals I tend to make when things get really hectic and stressed I seem to forget how nice it is to actually get into the kitchen and cook up something that takes time and care; a little looking after. Things that make the house smell wonderful and really impress those you serve even if it is only myself and M. When I am in my kitchen diligently chopping and slicing, stirring and testing everything else seems to just slip away. I guess you could call it my therapy; my form of meditation. I have decided that I need more of that. I need to just relax and make something yummy! With that in mind and the cold, snowy weather I set my eyes on making a traditional slow cooked French Onion Soup. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it can be really therapeutic. What with all the slicing of the onions that comes with a good cry, the slow, gentle caramelization of the onions that invokes a great deal of patience; you cannot rush that. Then the release of  deglazing the pan with its sudden and exciting burst of steam! Then the slow and methodical simmering to make sure everything comes together just right! Let us not forget  toasting a hearty slice of  baguette making sure not to burn it  and all the satisfaction of  melting the cheese just right so it is just slightly brown and perfectly melty as it sits atop the lovenly cared for soup,  I mean who needs a shrink right? Well lets get right to it so you too can have a little kitchen therapy!

Recipe:
2 lbs. sweet onions sliced (give or take)
3 T. butter
1 T. honey (or a sprinkle of sugar but I like the taste of the honey)
1/4 cup Cognac (or brandy)
1 T. flour
1 cup of dry white wine
2.5 cups chicken broth or stock
2.5 cups beef broth or stock
2 bay leaves
2-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper – liberally

Topping:
1 Fresh or stale baguette sliced think
1 – 2 cups of Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese, sliced or grated (I like sliced)
1/2 clove of fresh whole garlic
Spinkling of fresh thyme leave for garnish

First you start out by slicing all those onions. You will have what seems to be an exorbinant amount! You can take your time and slice each onion meticulously, this will really induce a good a cry! Or you can do what I did and employ the use of your handy Mandolin or V-Slicer. It makes quick work of those onions but be careful not to slice your finger, pain is not therapeutic!

When finished you should have a pile that looks something like this.

Now in a large dutch oven melt 2 T. of the butter until just foamy over medium heat then add the onions to the pot making sure to stir completely and coat all the onions with the melted butter. As soon as the onions begin to turn slightly transparent you can add the honey and some salt. Again, stir to coat and melt the honey. Turn the heat to medium low and begin to caramelize the onions, stirring from time to time to redistribute the onions. This will take a good while, about 45 minutes to and hour; trust me it is worth every minute. Don’t forget to check in on them, you don’t want anything to burn!

When you have successfully caramelized the onions you should have something that looks like this; isn’t that beautiful!

Once you have reached this stage the fun begins. Cognac has a way of bringing out the fun in things doesn’t it? Ok, now increase the heat to medium high and as soon as the pot comes to temp (it will be quick), with flat edge wooden spoon in hand poor in the Cognac and immediately begin scraping up all the good bits from the bottom of the pot. Continue to do this until the Cognac has almost completely evaporated.  You can reduce heat again to medium and throw in the last T. of butter. As soon as that melts sprinkle in the flour and completely stir to combine. Cook the flour, butter and onion mixture for at least 1 -2 minutes, you don’t want a flour taste in the finished product. Now you can add your liquids. First start with the white wine. Let that cook down a little before adding the rest of the liquid. This helps to concentrate the flavors. I know it seems like a pain but trust me these little things make a big difference. Now add the remaining 5 cups of liquid, the bay leaves, thyme, pepper and test for salt; depending on your stock/broth you may need more, less, none. Give a good stir to combine and bring to simmer. Now lower the flame and gently simmer for a minimum of 1 hour, if you have more time you can on very low heat simmer for up to 3. It tastes great now but if you leave it overnight and reheat the next day it is even better! Don’t forget before serving take out the bay leaves and the remaining twigs from the thyme.

Now for something completely different!

Slice your baguette in either thick rounds or on the bias depending on your serving bowl for the soup. You want enough bread to cover 90% of the bowl (give or take). Place bread slices under the broiler till just turning a light gold. Take out and scrape the toasted bread with the fresh garlic half. Now this is not traditional but I think it adds a nice subtle hint of garlic.

Ok, now you have a choice. You can ladle out the soup in your oven proof serving vessels, place the croutons on top and layer the cheese on the soup covering the bowl then broil until all is bubbly and slightly browned. This looks great and is very traditional. However, it creates VERY hot dishes and can be not the easiest to serve. Not to mention you have to tell everyone that the bowls are hot and then they will all have to touch them; ‘cos of course you are a liar! Then you will be treating burn victims and by the time you get to your soup it will be cold! Ok maybe that is an exaggeration but it could happen! Just to be safe and prevent anything like that from happening I place the toasted croutons on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil and generously layer on the cheese making sure to get some around the edges so that when it melt it will fall down the sides like a skirt. Then place back in the broiler. Meanwhile I ladle out the soup in my bowls and just as the cheesy croutons are done and all melty and wonderful I scrape them up, cheese skirt and all and place them on top of the soup. Garnish with some torn thyme leave and you are good to serve. No bowl burns here! And trust me it looks just as impressive!

Now I know this is a bit time consuming but it truly is one of the best winter comfort, elegant, impressive, and down right tasty soups going! You can serve this as a starter to a beautiful multi-course dinner party or like we did along side a fresh hot roast beef sandwich on a cold winters night! And the best part, the longer it sits in the fridge the better it gets! But it won’t last that long! Oh and it freezes well too, how convenient!

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Feb 7 2011

Heat Wave

Unless you live under a rock it has been a bit cold in New England lately not to mention being snowed in at least once a week. To combat the frigid temps we have been hunkering down enjoying the fire and eating lots of comfort food. I live with an Italian so comfort food usually includes some kind of pasta. We try not to eat too much of it or at the very least make it a bit better by using whole or multi-grain; M can’t tell the difference really anyway. So as we watched the snow fall  I decided we needed a nice bit of spicy comfort to keep us warm. I settled on a nice Roman pasta dish, Arabbiata Penne or Angry Penne! It sure was spicy but I don’t know how angry it was we ate it too quick to find out!

Arabbiata Penne

Recipe:

1 lb. Whole Grain Penne Pasta cooked al dente (or any pasta you like)
1 24 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 T. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less depending on how you like it)
2-4 cloves garlic chopped
Handful of fresh basil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive Oil

Boil pasta in heavily salted water per package directions but drain when quite al dente. In a large skillit heat a few turns of the pan of oil till just hot add garlic and saute until fragrant no more than 30 seconds, add the crushed red papper flakes; I rub them between my palms first to release the oils. Saute another 30 seconds or so being sure not to burn the garlic and pepper flakes. Then add the tomatoes and saute a few minutes to blend flavors. Add salt and pepper and pasta. Cook pasta in sauce until the pasta is compleately done. Quite a bit of the tomato juice should get soaked into the pasta if it gets too dry you can add a little chicken stock or water. When done check seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or crushed pepper flakes. Take off heat and tear the basil directly into the pasta, combine well. Sever topped with grated parm, a drizzle of tasty olive oil, and more torn basil! Almost too easy.

I added a bit of leftover chicken I had on hand but it was unnecessary but still tasty! Arabbiata Penne and a nice glass of Chianti and its a perfect way to spend a snowy and cold night!

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