Friday, July 29, 2011

Short and Sweet: Carrots and Roasted Beet Salad

Long story short, I just got all my wisdom teeth yanked. I’m finally starting to snap out of the very unpleasant anesthetic aftermath and painkiller fog and am slowly but surely picking my butt up off of the floor, where it has been dragging for the past couple of days.

Whether or not you needed to know all that is debatable, but it does explain why I’m keeping this post to the minimum. Plus, I just heart my descriptive words; and here come the analogies…

As I sit here frustrated from a lack of snacks and/or solid foods with a face like Don Vito Corleone and a taste in my mouth like Hannibal Lecter, I’m thinking pleasant thoughts of sunny Sundays at the farmers’ market and technicolor beets.

Drawn to their vivid descriptions, I could already envision their “golden” and “candy striped” presence on my plate before I even cut into them.

[Raw golden and candy stripe beets]

Inspired by a nicely executed, simple dish that I had at a restaurant, I roasted the beets and combined them with shredded carrots for a really light summer salad that I topped with feta cheese, chives, and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and cherry balsamic vinegar.

[The combination of yellow and candy stripe beets make for a beautiful presentation, even though after roasting the candy stripe beets they kind of bleed into no-stripe light pink--still pretty though! For an even more colorful appearance, I would add red beets too.]
Salads like this are the best. Easy peasy. The roasting and peeling are the hardest part when it’s hot out; I roasted these babies in a heat wave (granted, it was in the morning…and in the AC), and it was totally worth it for the tasty results that came at dinner.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad:
Yield: about 4 appetizer size salads
- 3 bunches of small-medium-sized beets (in an assortment of colors if desired)
- 2-3 medium-sized peeled carrots, peeled into curly strips with a vegetable peeler
- Feta cheese
- Fresh chives, chopped for garnish
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Good quality balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit. Cut the tops off of the beets and lay them out on a foil-lined sheet tray. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, until all are fully coated.
• Depending on the size of the beets, roast for 45 minutes- 1 hour or more, until they are fully cooked. Remove from the sheet tray and place into a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes to help loosen the skin. Peel the skin off of the beets and slice thin. (This step can be done a day ahead).
• On a small plate, arrange the beets so that they are slightly overlapping each other. Top with carrots strips, feta cheese and chives. Season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle the top with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sour Cherry Shortcake, Goat Cheese Cream on Top

Since I have so many great photos, I’m going to do things a little differently with this post. With only a few poetic words, I’m going to tell my story through images--like A Cook’s Book picture book. How artsy of me, I know. A short explanation of the dish follows.

I visited the Farmers' Market and what did I see? 
Beautiful sour cherries, that seemed to say, "Pick me!"

So gorgeous and glossy, they didn’t look real
I wondered: do they make this color in heels?

I grabbed them, paid, and stowed them away
I could hardly wait to get in my kitchen and play.

Then I found goat cheese, but what are those specks?
Fresh ground black pepper and lemon zest flecks!

From one of the smiling vendors all lined in a row,
I bought a cute lemon sour cream pound cake, wrapped with a bow.

When I got home and looked at my loot;
There were berries and cherries and veggies that root.

A huge bunch of carrots, bright orange and fun;
I brought them home to share with my bun.

There were squash and herbs that smelled like perfume
What on earth would I make or do?

I took a moment to sit and smell the flowers
With so many ideas I could sit there for hours.

All of my thoughts went back to those gems,
Those bright red cherries, with their long slender stems.

A cherry shortcake is what I decided,
Where cherry compote, pound cake and goat cheese collided.

A twist on a classic and I liked it a lot;
Sour cherry shortcake, goat cheese cream on top.

The goat cheese cream for this shortcake was really experimental. In the electric mixer, I added sour cream, confectioner’s sugar and butter to the black pepper and lemon goat cheese. My goal was to sweeten the goat cheese without losing its great flavor, while also creating a more stable, whipped consistency. In the end, the cream tasted good but could have been a little thicker.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the goat cheese didn’t need to be sweetened at all. If I had more, it would probably have tasted just as good, if not better, to just whip it smooth and lay it on thick between the layers of pound cake and sour cherry compote.

I’ve provided the recipe for the compote. With a little bit of Grand Manier added at the end, it is delicious. If not used in shortcake, it can also be enjoyed over ice cream or yogurt, and even on savory chicken and pork dishes.

Sour Cherry Compote:
Yield: 1 cup
- 1 pint sour cherries, stemmed and cleaned over a bowl to catch any juice
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Grand Manier or other orange-flavored liquor
• In a medium sauce pot, mix sugar and cornstarch together, then add water and mix until smooth. Add cherries and any juice to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes then drain cherries in a sieve set over a bowl and set aside.
• Return the juice to the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened. At the last minute, stir in the Grand Manier. Pour syrup over the cherries and cool.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grilled BBQ Pizza

As if good old oven baked pizza is not delicious enough, there is also grilled pizza.

Stepping into the pizza arena with flames blazing, the ingenious grilled pie makes its mark, “one upping” the classic slice with its smoky essence and char striped crust.

The best part about grilled pizza is that it can easily be made at home, cheap and for no trouble at all. Conveniently at the helm of your backyard grates, you can produce a pie with flavor and crunch reminiscent to those made in wood-burning brick ovens.

Like a culinary canvas for creativity, pizzas are a fun addition to the grilled fare of summer. Play around with different toppings to make personal pies, share a pie with friends as an appetizer, or cut larger slices for a meal. As two things that are often enjoyed communally, hanging out around the grill and eating pizza go hand in hand.

When making grilled pizza, you can start from scratch or purchase the dough; I found mine at Trader Joe’s. Seeing that floppy ball of dough resting somewhere near the cheese is what originally set the light bulb off to make my grilled maple barbecue chicken pizza with cheddar.

Once you stretch and shape the pizza dough, it goes directly over a medium high grill and cooks for about four minutes on each side until it is crisp and cooked through. After you flip the crust, assembly begins on the cooked side while the bottom half gets its turn over the flames.

Sweet homemade maple barbeque sauce made with quality syrup and whole grain mustard gives this pizza great flavor. A small part of it is tossed with the tender shredded chicken topping while the rest is ladled onto the crust as the first layer and base of the pizza. Sharp yellow cheddar is then sprinkled on top and slowly melts as the shredded chicken and scallions are added.

A pizza, topped with barbecue sauce, prepared on the grill--I’d say it’s just about the most perfect convergence of Italia and Americana there is.

Grilled Maple Barbecue Chicken Pizza with Cheddar:
Yield: 1 pie
For Maple Barbecue Sauce (Yield: 1 cup):
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 2 heaping teaspoons of whole grain mustard
- ½ cup ketchup
- 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 heaping tablespoons light brown sugar
- A dash of hot sauce
- ½ cup water
- Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
- 2 whole chicken breasts or thighs with skin removed
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1-2 cups salted water
- 1 pound, homemade or purchased ball of pizza dough
- 2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar
- ½ bunch scallions, thinly sliced
• For barbecue sauce: in a medium pot, whisk all ingredients together. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally.
• In another medium pot, cover chicken breasts with 1 cup chicken stock and 1-2 cups salted water (or however much is needed to cover). Bring liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer; simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender. Remove chicken from the cooking liquid and using two forks, pull in opposite directions to finely shred. Mix shredded chicken with about ¼ cup of barbecue sauce—you want to use enough sauce to coat the meat while still making sure you have plenty for the crust.
• Heat the grill to medium high and clean well. Pound out and stretch pizza dough to form a fairly thin crust—it does not have to be a circle. Lay the crust on the grill grates and keep a watchful eye. The dough will have a nice char, but you will need to spin it once or twice as not to burn it. When one side looks crispy and well-browned, flip the dough over. Each side takes about 4 minutes.
• On the cooked side of the dough, pour on barbeque sauce and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with a layer of cheddar cheese. Continue to keep an eye on the crust, giving it a slight spin if needed to keep from burning. Top the cheese with the saucy chicken and finish with a sprinkle of sliced scallions. *Towards the end, you may want to lower the grill and let the pizza sit for a few minutes to make sure that the dough is cooked all the way through on the inside and to get the cheese nicely melted.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nuts about Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Peanut butter ice cream is my latest obsession.

I’m pretty much always craving ice cream, but lately it’s been all about the peanut butter variety, and I know exactly what got me started on this kick.

It all began not too long ago when I first tried the creamy peanut butter ice cream flavor at Five Pennies Creamery in Rockville Centre, New York. The old-fashioned style parlor makes all of their ice cream and Italian ices from scratch, along with a variety of other fun treats like smooth Coney Island custard, Brooklyn egg creams, ice cream pies, and this mix of soft-serve custard and Italian ice, called a Cyclone:

Five Pennies has been in business for just about a year now. I visit often; whenever I’m looking for a sweet ending (or middle) to a nice day, it always hits the spot. The old-school feel of the shop along with all of their delicious homemade flavors make me light up like a little kid. Of course, I always scour the tubs to see if creamy peanut butter is on the day’s menu.

You know how sometimes you’ll get the urge to stick your finger (or if your more civilized, a spoon) into the peanut butter jar just to get a taste. Chances are that after you get that taste, you’re probably going back for more. Peanut butter ice cream is kind of like that, only colder and sweeter—and maybe sometimes with Reese’s Pieces or chocolate chips mixed in. It is so very…desirable.

I recently made my own peanut butter ice cream for the Fourth of July. The recipe described it as one of the easiest, richest flavors you could make. Rich it most definitely is, super smooth and creamy too. I added peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chips, and I was in heaven. It was almost as good as Five Pennies. A must-try for those who have ice cream machines.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Recipe adapted from Cuisinart, Recipe Booklet for Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, “Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream.”
Yield: about 6 cups
- 1 cup quality smooth peanut butter
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large handful peanut butter chips, optional
- 1 large handful semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional
• In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the peanut butter and sugar until smooth. Add the milk and mix on low speed until the sugar is dissolved, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours, or overnight.
• Add the ice cream base to an ice cream machine and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. When mixture is just about ready, add peanut butter and chocolate chips, if using. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer for about 15 minute before serving.