Salt and the Sea

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” – JFK

It has been far too long since my last post. Embarrassingly long.

So much has happened in the past five months and so much is going to happen in the next five months.

My dearest Shane has applied and been accepted to several grad-schools for Applied Mathematics. Each program in a different part of the country and each requiring a significant life change for the two of us. Together. That’s about the only word that keeps me going right now. Change has never been easy for me, if I can imagine it, if I can picture myself there it’s just a bit easier to handle, but generally speaking it’s the hardest thing I ever ask myself to do or really sign myself up for. This kind of change is the kind I look at as the definition. Job – out the window, community – different, friends – so far away, family – more than a 15 minute drive, home – who knows, future – one big question mark… l don’t exactly cope well with all of this. I can tell you I’m excited and that I’ve never been more certain that despite the fact that I am putting my career and the next steps for me behind what’s next for Shane, I want to be with him.

At the end of the day, what I continue to fall back on is the comfort and safety I feel knowing that I’ll be by his side and by the sea. Close to the water. Near a place that calls me home, even when what I’m doing is making a new home.

By April 15th we’ll know. We’ll know where we’re going to spend the next handful of years, where we’ll be making so many changes to our lives as they exist today and I really don’t think that I can imagine doing it with anyone else.

If I could, the answer would be easy. I would be headed to the Pacific Northwest, at least for a few years. I’d make my mark and let it make its mark on me. I’m ready for a change, ready to feel the impact that something new can have on me. This stagnant, comfortable, stable life, while sure, is not me. I’m ready for this, as ready as I have ever been, to make my way to the salt and the sea.

Inspired by ingredients that are easy to keep around, this appetizer or light lunch can be made in a hurry or as a delightful weekend treat. I forget sometimes how much I feed my own soul when I remember how the Tang of the knife feels in my hand, and grains of salt feel between my fingers. This one is an original, one that, should I actually publish a cook book of my own, (something that Shane has not stopped suggesting) will end up in the book… it’s pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself.

Simple Tomato, Prosciutto, and Ricotta Bruschetta:

  • 3 T. Chopped Parsley
  • 1 C. small, diced, fresh Tomato
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 T. Shredded Parmesan
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 t. White Truffle Oil
  • 1 t. Salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 slices good, crusty bread
  • 8 slices prosciutto
  • Good, creamy ricotta

Preheat oven to 350, oil each piece of bread and place on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, or until crispy and slightly browned.

In the meantime, chop parsley, tomato, garlic, & shallot and place in a small bowl. Add salt, olive oil, truffle oil, parmesan and mix until well incorporated.

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Once the bread is toasted, rub a clove of garlic on one side of each piece of bread.

Spread about 2 T. of ricotta on each piece of bread and place 2 pieces of prosciutto on top.

Put back in the oven for about 3-5 minutes, or until the prosciutto starts to look crispy and the ricotta starts to bubble.

Once the toasts are complete, spoon a generous amount of the tomato mixture on top of the toasts and serve immediately.

Maybe cut in half, or just enjoy.

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Until next time – which I’m sure will be soon. My ‘editor’ (Shane) has me scheduled for one recipe a week.

Creamy Roasted Tomato Basil Soup and Grown Up Grilled Cheese

Tonight was a night where I was craving something healthy and comforting. Most of the time this feels like a complete contradiction when it comes to cooking. More butter means more flavor, more more more. I remember when I was younger, my Grandpa was on a diet over the holidays and my Grandma decided to support him in his effort to be healthy by baking sugar-free, fat-free christmas cookies. Sugar cookies to be precise. I have no clue how she did it and it was a valiant, sweet effort, but boy were they something. She had us try them and after taking one bite and looking at her with apparent disappointment on our faces, she tried one too. “Oh, throw them away!”

Sometimes you can’t go without butter or sugar; they are ingredients that truly do make things so much tastier.

Tonight was a perfect compromise though, and frankly this has become one of our go-to favorite recipes. Whenever it is cold out, whenever I want something comforting, or whenever I just really have a hankering for tomato soup, this is the recipe.

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Bless you Spoon Fork Bacon.

While the original recipe is truly delicious, I have found a few ways to cut corners that make pulling this soup together in about an hour instead of an hour and a half or two much more plausible. This soup is truly a delight – whether you make it quickly or let the tomatoes roast a bit longer and the soup simmer for a bit more time, you will be delighted. I guarantee it.

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs Roma tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups low sodium chicken broth (or 2 1/2 C. if you like your soup less thick)
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream (or whole milk depending on how creamy you like your soup)

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375

Slice your roma tomatoes lengthwise, place on a cookie sheet cut side up, drizzle (lovingly) with olive oil, sprinkle generously but to taste with salt and pepper. If you like a little kick, I add red pepper flakes here, too.

Place in the oven and roast for about 1 hour. I have upped the temperature on my oven to about 400 and cooked them for 4o minutes instead, too with equally good results.

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While the tomatoes are roasting, in a large pot melt the butter over medium-high, then add onions and saute for 5 minutes or until slightly translucent and fragrant. Then add the thyme and garlic and saute for 5 additional minutes. Thyme is a very resilient herb, one with a thick stem that stands up to a little manhandling. So, when you are attempting to remove the leaves from the stem (because you don’t want to include the woody part) run your fingers from the top of the branch to the bottom – this should pull most of the leaves off of the stem with minimal effort. Season with salt and pepper.

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Once you have sautéed your veggies and herbs, add the crushed tomatoes, basils, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes

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*Quick interjection – there are several opportunities for you to season your soup with salt and pepper. Obviously seasoning with both is optional and to taste. However, a word of direction, if you want a creamy, mildly-sweet tomato soup, use less salt. If you favor a more traditional, savory tomato soup, season at every opportunity with a generous pinch of good sea salt. I love salt, so I prefer the latter. However, we have made it both ways; creamy (heavy cream and less salt) and sweeter, or less creamy (more broth, whole milk instead of heavy cream, and more salt) and it is always a hit.

After the tomatoes are all roasted and caramelized-looking, add the tomatoes and the chicken broth. If you like your soup creamy add just what is listed in the directions. If you like your soup, well, soupy, add about 1/2 C. extra broth. I bet you know what’s next… salt and pepper!

Now…when I’m in a hurry I tend to skip this next step, but if you have the extra 30 minutes to wait I would recommend you let this delightful tomato-laden treat spend a little more time melding its flavors and simmer the soup covered for 1/2 hour.

However, if you don’t have time to spare – NEVER FEAR!

I use an immersion blender for this next step (less dishes!), but you will want to blend your soup until it is smooth. Either pour into a blender, food processor, or use an immersion blender and make everything nice and smooth. Next, stir in the cream (or whole milk) until fully incorporated, simmer the soup for about 3 more minutes to make sure it is warm.

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Ladle into bowls and eat up! (Optional: top with goat cheese and basil)

 

OR you could add a sandwich: If you are really in the mood for something comforting, pair this with a yummy grilled cheese.

We put a soft farmer’s cheese and a soft white cheddar on ours, some extra thyme, and peppadew peppers sliced up.

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Butter the outsides of your bread, place the filling in the middle and toast in a pan on the stove over medium-low heat. This will make sure your sandwiches are golden brown, not burned, and that the center  is nice and gooey.

If this isn’t like a warm hug, I don’t know what is… Enjoy!

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Epic Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Sour Cream Frosting

Yes, you read all of that right.

Chocolate Stout. Cake. Chocolate. Bourbon. Frosting.

Last weekend some of my dear friends gathered for a delightful dinner party where we had a divine lemon, onion, and chili powder chicken breast, fall root vegetables and tubers, tasty green beans, delicious bread, a fabulous salad and started the whole thing off with appletinis and brie with a spicy fruit jelly… My mouth is watering thinking about it.

I volunteered to bring dessert and in homage to the fall season I tried to pick a dessert that had a bit more substance. This meant chocolate. Add bourbon and chocolate stout and I was sold – but this cake had to pass Shane’s 1:1 elimination test of the rest of the delicious chocolatey desserts I had picked as options. I would propose 2 options and he would pick option 1 or 2, whichever advanced would be up against the next option. It was like a Big 10 Dessert Bracket.

When we settled on this one it was because of the bourbon and chocolate stout that really seemed to fit the ambiance of changing leaves, cool, breezy weather, and crisp air.

Fair warning, this cake is a little labor intensive so if you like to bake and are willing or in the mood to spend a few hours in the kitchen, proceed! If you need a quick dessert, this is not it – but boy is it tasty and you should definitely attempt it some time.

Courtesy of The Beeroness: Epic Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Sour Cream Frosting

Ingredients

For the Frosting:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 cup dark chocolate chips, melted & slightly cooled
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the Cake:
  • 7 oz at least 72% dark chocolate, chopped (about 1 ½ cups) (I used two bars of Lindt 80% dark chocolate)
  • 1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 12 oz Chocolate Stout
  • 3 and 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs + 2 yolks
  • 1/4 C canola oil
  • 2/3 C sour cream
  • 3 C flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 T espresso powder
  • ¾ C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t kosher salt

Directions

*Just a quick note – as I went through this recipe I repeatedly wished that I had let my butter sit out at room temperature for a few hours to soften. If I can give you any one piece of advice it would be to let your butter get soft in advance of starting this cake. In the frosting-making process, my butter was so cold that it took quite a while for the chocolate and butter to melt together. In the cake-making process softer butter would have whipped better, faster. While I could have used a microwave, someone recently shared some information with me that has led me to believe (right, wrong, or indifferent) that microwaves don’t do our food a whole lot of nutritional good, so I’ve been on a bit of a microwave-aversion-bender. I’ll get off my soap box if you promise me you’ll let your butter sit out for a while before you start making this cake.
For the frosting:
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the softened butter on high until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sour cream, beat until light and fluffy.

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  • Slowly pour the melted chocolate into the mixer, beating until well combined with the butter mixture.

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  • Add the powdered sugar and slowly building up speed, beat on high until well combined.
  • A few tablespoons at a time add the bourbon and the cream, allowing to fully incorporate before adding more. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
  • At this point in time my frosting was actually quite thick and though I followed the next step I wasn’t very happy with the results, probably user error, but if your frosting already seems thick I would not do the following – cover bowl and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. *Remember – do this ONLY if your frosting seems like it isn’t thick enough to spread on a cooled cake.
For the cake:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350.

In the top of a double boiler (or a bowl set over gently simmering water), add the dark chocolate, and butter, stirring frequently until just melted. Stir in the chocolate stout.DSC_0633

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the sugar, eggs and yolks until well combined, light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

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  • Add the oil and sour cream, beat until well combined.
  • Slowly add the chocolate, beating until all ingredients are well incorporated, scraping the bottom to make sure all us well combined.
  • In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, espresso powder, cocoa powder, and kosher salt.

…any time I use a Nestle product (cocoa powder in this particular instance) I can’t help but think about the episode of Friends where Monica is desperately trying to figure out Phoebe’s Grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe. She makes some ridiculous number of batches and at the last try when it’s not quite right, Phoebe says some of her Grandma’s relatives in France might have a copy of the recipe; ‘My Grandmother got the recipe from her Grandmother, Nesele Tolouse. Monica asks, ‘What was her name?’ ‘Nesele Tolouse.’ ‘NESTLE TOLLHOUSE!?!?!’ Monica stomps to the cabinet and whips out a bag of Nestle chocolate chips, turns the bag over to the cookie recipe on the back and says ‘Phoebe, is this the recipe?’ Phoebe: ‘Yes!’ … ‘Ohhh.’

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  • Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, stir until just combined.

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  • Grease (*really, really well) and flour 3, 9 in. cake pans (or 2 cake pans, and 12 cupcake tins, or 2 cake pans and 1 of any other cake pan you have that will hold a standard single size cake. I used 2, 9 in. cake pans and 1, 8 in. cake pan that had higher walls than my 9 in. cake pans).
  • Pour the batter evenly between the pans.

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  • Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched, (15-17 minutes for cupcakes).
  • Allow to cool, remove from pans (it’s easiest to transfer to a plate lined with parchment paper.)
  • To assemble a tall cake it’s easiest if all ingredients are cold, warm cake and frosting tend to slide. For best results chill the cake layers for 1 hour prior to assembling.
  • Chill assembled cake until ready to serve. I placed mine in the fridge because I was short on time and because that’s what the directions say, but if you have some more time, I would recommend just letting them cool on a cooling rack or out on a cool surface for a while. I think this helps the cake release more easily from the pans.

*I’m not kidding here. I thought I did a really good job of greasing and flouring my cake pans. Perhaps I was just eager to assemble my cakes, but they did not come easily out of the pans. So if you spray Pam, spray a lot of Pam and do a very thorough job of coating in flour. Maybe even try greasing with margarine or Crisco before you flour. But do not cut corners on this step or you will end up with chunks of a cake instead of a whole, lovely, spongy, dreamy cake.

When frosting a cake I like to turn my cakes upside down, it means the flat top will be on the top!

Layer 1: Frost the top of the bottom layer of the cake by lifting a large scoop onto the center of the cake. A frosting spreader is ideal for this job, but a spatula (rubber scraper) would be a fine substitute. Work your way from the middle out in smooth, back and forth motions to cover the center but don’t worry about making it look perfect, you’re putting the next layer on top! There is plenty of frosting to go ’round with this recipe so don’t feel like you need to skimp if you like frosting.

Layers 2 (and 3): Place the second cake on top and repeat the process with the top of the cake (and again if you are doing 3 layers.) When frosting the side of a cake the principle is the same, but you don’t want to throw your dollop of frosting at the cake. Instead, scrape the frosting off onto the side using the ‘edge’ of the cake, work in the same back and forth swiping motions, but in one direction around the cake. I usually use my left hand to turn the plate clockwise while I am frosting counter-clockwise around the edge of the cake. You will need more frosting for this than you think, so just keep applying.

Once you have frosted the sides and are satisfied with how they look, add a little more frosting to the top and smooth out the edges so that any frosting that has come up from the sides doesn’t look like it’s going rogue.

I took a little more cocoa powder and dusted it around the edges of the cake because I thought it would look pretty. This would also be nice with a pink-colored sugar or sugar in the raw around the edges.

Voila! …now eat it, really. Because this cake is a treat, and if you made it through this recipe post, you deserve it!

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Until our next culinary adventure…

Leave a comment, request a recipe, tell me what you think!

A French Dinner Party

Here I am, practically two weeks later, sitting at the same table where our French Dinner Party took place. Still reminiscing and still doing a terrible job of posting more than a week apart in time. However, I would truly be remiss not to post about this evening of fun and memory-making with some of our very favorite friends.

My sister and my mom traveled to France earlier this summer and I suppose that is where a portion of the impetus came from, but there are so many things about French cuisine that lend themselves so easily to entertaining and enjoying your company and food while still being able to prepare the meal. Since we have had our own place and it is very possible that entertaining will be one of my very favorite things to do. Period. I asked Shane if we could throw a French themed dinner party. He acquiesced without much effort on my part, a dinner party means good food that he gets to eat and enjoy, too.

So I started planning… pretty much immediately. Having events like this to look forward to add so much life to my demeanor and really act as an incredible creative outlet, thank goodness Shane is so supportive of my kind of expensive, but always delicious passions.

Searching online for traditional French coursed meals, traditional French dinner, traditional French dinner party, and any variation in between believe it or not, turn up not a lot of information and drastically varying results. So I picked and chose things I liked the most, orders that made sense, a meal that would allow me to plan ahead and end up enjoying the majority of my evening talking and enjoying my time with our friends.

Le Menu
Le Menu

We began with the L’Aperitif (before dinner drink), a lovely, dry Prosecco to toast the evening.

This was accompanied by two kinds of Hors-d’oeuvres; Mushroom puff-pastry wheels & Toasted Goat cheese Crostini with Basil and Red Onion Jam.

Both were delightful, both were insanely easy… If you’re going to make one the puff-pastry wheels are sure to be a crowd pleaser, IF your crowd likes mushrooms. I actually preferred the crostini, I thought the jam had a distinct sweet and savory flavor that lent itself nicely to complementing the tang and saltiness of the goat cheese, and the basil added that final bright, fresh finish. Oh. I would just like to have these again.

The thought of an Onion Jam weirded me out a bit too to start, but really this is a brilliant topping for any crostini/cheese/herb pairing. It would be delightful with a slice of pear and blue cheese if you are into that. It would also be incredible with a hard cheddar and some bright mint. So, so many options with this little guy AND (as with many things I made for our dinner party) it can be made ahead!

From my new favorite online recipe site: Food52

                                       

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For the red onion jam
  • medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
For the crostini

  • baguette
  • log fresh goat cheese (depending on how much you like you may want either a 4oz. log or an 8 oz. log)
  • 30-40 small basil leaves, rinsed and dried (some how I did not need this much basil… then again, I did not have a full-sized baguette. Basically the moral here is that you should have as many leaves as you need for however many pieces of bread you slice/crostini you want to make.
  1. To make the jam, cook the onions, butter, sugar, salt and pepper in a covered saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add the wine and vinegar and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using. The jam may be prepared as much as two weeks in advance and refrigerated. (Makes about 2 cups jam.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the baguette thinly on the diagonal and arrange on a baking sheet. Cut the goat cheese into 1/4-inch slices (unwaxed dental floss works well for this) and top each baguette slice with a basil leaf, followed by a slice of cheese. Bake the crostini for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown lightly. Top each toast with a small dollop of red onion jam and serve warm.

For the Pinwheels

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The pinwheels I made the night before rolled them, wrapped them, and froze them. Ultimately, it made slicing them into their little pinwheels so much easier on the day of our party. I let them defrost for about 20 minutes, sliced, placed on a baking sheet in the oven, and boy were those little morsels delightful. Everyone raved. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, can you tell?

This does not make many…so if you are attempting heavy appetizers, I would be sure to double the filling and make both pastry sheets.

  • 12 ounces mushrooms (your choice, I used Portobello), diced finely
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • sheet puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package)
  • egg beaten with 3 tablespoons water
  1. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the diced mushrooms, thyme, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and they become a little brown and caramelized. Set aside to cool.
  2. Take the puff pastry sheet and roll it into a uniform rectangle about 10 by 12 inches.
  3. Spread the mushroom filling over the surface of the pastry and then roll it jelly roll-style starting with the long side.
  4. Refrigerate the roll for about 20 minutes before slicing into 1/4-inch rounds. (Or wrap and freeze the roll for later use.)
  5. Place the little pinwheels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dab each with a little of the egg wash.
  6. Bake at 425° F for 12 to 15 minutes and serve warm.

In true French dinner form, we sat in the ‘lounge’ for an hour or so before we even moved to the dining room.

I dressed up the table a bit with chalk paper adorned with names and place settings from PaperSource, some fresh flowers, and fresh French bread from the bakery.

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Our first course was a light mixed field greens salad with a traditional french vinaigrette.

I love this recipe for vinaigrette. Then again, I love shallot, mustard, olive oil, salt, and vinegar, but I truly cannot express to you just how deeply I love this recipe. Courtesy of David Lebovitz, this dressing will change your life, and so will his post.

But here it is:

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The key here is to use good ingredients.

  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar (we used sherry vinegar because we planned to have sherry as an after dinner drink)
  • 1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon) …I used a bit more
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (this is key; you must find good Dijon) Taste your dressing, you may want more mustard than this. I did!
  • 3 T to 4 T GOOD olive oil

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

2. Mix in the Dijon mustard, then add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary.

I chopped up some chives and mixed them in with the greens, then tossed with the dressing. This salad was delightful, light, fresh, tangy. Just really good.

Our Plat Principal, the main course, was a traditional Sole Muniere.

Normally I would be skeptical, because I am not an avid lover of fish. I like it, but not fishy fish. I had never had sole, but it was traditional so we were having it… I probably should have thought that one through. BUT it actually turned out quite well. For those of you who are not aware, Sole is a relative of Halibut, so it is also a very light and flaky white fish. In fact, Sole is even more mild and is served in a filet style, where Halibut is much larger and resembles a fish steak. Long story short, this is a very very safe fish to cook with.

This recipe was courtesy of Saveur Cooks Authentic French (borrowed from my mother’s recipe library).

For Clarified Butter:

  • 1 lb. unsalted butter

For Sole:

  • 4 – 14 oz. whole dover sole (I doubled this recipe as there were 8 of us)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour
  • 1 C. clarified butter; see step 1
  • 1 lg russet potato, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 16 tbsp. (2 sticks) utter
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  1. For clarified butter, put butter in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat. Do not stir or allow to come to a boil. When butter has melted, completely skim off foam and carefully pour yellow fat into a clean container, discarding milky sediment on the bottom of the pan. Keep refrigerated. (AGAIN – you can do this ahead!)

I purchased Sole fillets that were ‘pan-ready’ so I did not have to worry about whatever it is you have to do to clean fish.

The cooking goes fast, so do this just as you are ready to serve.

  1. Wipe fish thoroughly and pat dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, shake off any excess.
  2. Pour 1/2 C. clarified butter in each of 2 large skillets set over med-high heat. When butter is just smoking, about 3 mins, place 2 fish into each pan. Quickly place a slice of raw potato under the tail of each fish to raise the thin end up from the heat/prevent overcooking. Brown the fish 3-4 mins on each side, pressing down with a spatula and basting constantly. Add 2 T. of regular butter to each pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and baste for 1 more minute. Transfer to a serving platter to keep warm. Repeat with remaining filets.
  3. Melt remaining 12 T. butter in small skillet over high heat, swirl pan over heat until butter foams and turns light golden. Whisk in lemon juice and pour over sole, coating them completely. Serve fish on a platter garnished with lemon and fresh herbs.

Oops. No pictures. We ate it right up!

Next came Fromage, the cheese course.

Traditionally the French cheese course is served with candied walnuts and honey. I selected a honeyed Chèvre (goat cheese), a Brie de Meaux, and a Roquefort Bleu.

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Now it’s time for dessert! Apple Tartine with Lavender and honey infused crème fraiche.

For the Tartine:

For Pastry:

  • 2 C. flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 9 T. butter, cut into small pieces

For Filling:

  • 3-4 granny smith apples
  • 1/4 C. sugar
  1. For pastry sift flour, salt, and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add butter, I used my fingers, blend butter into flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. This takes a few minutes, but you will recognize when it is thoroughly blended. Add up to 6 T. ice water, 1 T. at a time mixing with a fork until dough just holds together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins.
  2. Preheat oven to 425. Roll out to dough on a lightly floured surface int a 14″ round. Fit the pastry into a buttered 10″ false-bottomed tart pan (this would be ideal for serving, but since I plated, I just used a tart pan with a non-removable bottom). Take care not to stretch the dough. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the tart pan to cut off excess pastry. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork.
  3. For filling, peel, core, and thinly slice apples. sprinkle 1 T. sugar across surface of pastry. Working from outer edges toward the center overlap the apple slices in concentric circles, then evenly sprinkle with remaining 3 T. sugar. Bake until edge of tart is golden, about 10 mins. Allow to cool before serving.

For the Crème Fraiche:

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This recipe may seem a little … funky. But oh my goodness is it delightful.

  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 1/2 C. buttermilk
  • 2 T. dried lavender buds
  • 2 T. dark wildflower honey or other dark honey
  1. Make crème fraîche: pour heavy cream and buttermilk into a clean jar, stir to combine. Add lavender buds and stir again. Let sit uncovered in a window sill, stirring and tasting occasionally for about two days or until thickened and pleasantly tangy. Skeeved out? Don’t be. The acid in the mixture prevents bacteria from growing.
  2. Once the crème fraîche is thick and tangy strain out lavender with a fine mesh sieve. Store in a clean jar in the fridge until use.
  3. When you are ready to serve, lightly whip one cup of the cold crème fraîche by hand with two tablespoons of honey just until it reaches soft peaks.

I served the tart and the crème fraiche separately to let everyone dollop on their own, but I would recommend a hearty plop.

In traditional French dinner style espresso and tea were offered. Following this was a selection of Sherry or Cognac as an after-dinner palate cleanser.

The best part of this evening was enjoying the joining-together of good friends of ours who didn’t know each other well and the wonderful conversations we had into the night when Shane’s sister, Megan, looked down at her watch and asked “Is that what time it is!?” We had gone on for 4 1/2 hours talking, laughing, and enjoying the food and company around us. It was a success on all accounts and I am so thankful to have such a wonderful group of people in my life who enjoy good food and good company!

Until the next post…

Which might be today, but I shouldn’t jinx myself.

Almost Crispy and Just in Time for Fall

I’ve done a poor job of sticking to my own personal goal of one post a week. But I think I’ve got a good line up coming this week and next for you. On Saturday we are throwing a French dinner party with a few close friends and I am so excited! I will be posting about my culinary adventures as well as adding to my Design repertoire with a pin on the event planning map! Busy has been the name of the game for the last week and a half, so I am trying to make up for some lost progress.

It appears that fall is upon us already and while in the dead of winter I long for the warm, bright days of summer, I will gladly admit that fall is my favorite. There is so much beauty and change happening all around us and it happens all too fast, if you don’t stop to admire all it has to offer you will likely miss it. This seems to be an equal metaphor for life.

I went down to visit my sister at college this last weekend and it was so lovely to see her paving her own way in a beautiful town that is so close to my own heart. It was quite cold during the evening in Decorah, so over night the leaves were changing from bright emerald green to limes, and lemons, a little orange here and some red there… I love Decorah in the fall and was so happy to have just a taste of it.

However, last week we were still enjoying some of the last warmer days of the season, so we had (amazing) turkey burgers and for the side I tried to make something near and dear to my heart. Sweet potato fries. Ohhh mamma do I love me a good, crispy, sweet potato fry. Now, here’s the tough part: deep-fried sweet potatoes take all of the nutritional value (or potential for) and throw it in the trash, so the alternative is baking, but so often when you bake a potato, well, baked sweet potato fries can quickly turn into sweet potato mushy wedges. Tasty. But not at all as satisfying as the crisp of a sweet potato fry. Admittedly, these did not turn out quite perfectly. But they were the best attempt I’ve ever made and they were quite delicious, so I figured it was worth posting, especially since someone who has the patience to not cut corners the first time (NOT ME!) might end up with stellar results.

So here goes:

Preheat your oven to 425. Start with 2 large sweet potatoes. Peel (I didn’t do this, so you should), cut your fries into “matchstick” size pieces (mine were generous matchsticks…make yours smaller), and soak in cold water for 1 hour or overnight (this draws out the starch and gives the potatoes a better chance to crisp up in the oven or in oil). Rinse well, then dry off well.


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Add two generous handfuls of sweet potato matchsticks to a gallon sized plastic bag, add a teaspoon of corn starch, seal the bag with all the air you can keep inside, and shake vigorously until all of the matchsticks are coated and no fry is particularly doused in corn starch (that makes for chalky fries). Dump those fries into a bowl and mix with (cayenne or red pepper if you like heat) 1 Tbsp. canola oil. DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL. Unless you want smelly billowing clouds of smoke coming from your oven after only 5 minutes of baking your fries which will definitely not be crisp that fast. Repeat until you have coated all of your fries in starch and oil.

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Place foil on 2 pans (dull side up) and grease with cooking spray. Really. You really, really want to do this. After you make your first batch of fries place them on a cookie sheet and make sure there is no touching. But I would also encourage you to keep them far enough apart that they won’t let off enough steam to steam the fries next door (mine are too close together). I would say that this is the step you should pay the most attention to. Don’t try to cram them all on one pan or even two, I know you will be tempted, but the more room the little guys have, the better. Repeat with the second oiled-up bowl of fries and remember – no touching! Note: DO NOT SALT YOUR FRIES RIGHT NOW. You can add salt later, I know it is part of the characteristic charm of sweet potato fries, they are sweet and salty and depending on how you cook them, fatty. They are the triple threat! But if you salt NOW the salt will draw out moisture from the sweet potatoes and they will be mush fries. Which is not the point of all of these laborious steps to begin with. So, I beg of you, do not pre-salt your fries.

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Place in the oven for 15 mins, one sheet in the top 1/3 of the oven and the other sheet in the bottom 1/3 of the oven. Then remove from the oven and flip all of your fries over. you want to make sure that the bottom is now on top using either a spatula or tongs. And again, no touching! Switch the trays from top to bottom and vice-versa. Also, rotate which direction faced front – so the fries in the front will now be in the back. I know that sounds nit-picky, but it really helps in getting you a crispy fry! Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and prop open the oven door while letting your fries continue to sit in the oven for an additional 5 minutes. They will continue cooking and crisping up!

NOW you can add salt.

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Yum. Yeah, they weren’t perfectly crispy, but boy were they good.

Served alongside a Magic Turkey Burger. Ground turkey seasoned with “magic dust.” I mixed about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of ‘magic’ dust in with 1 lb. of ground turkey and formed 4 patties. Even Shane, who isn’t really a huge fan of turkey (because he thinks it’s bland), thought they were delicious and juicy.

We also used this rub last week on pork chops and this week on a pork tenderloin. It’s awesome.

Mike Mills’ Magic Dust Rub:

  • 1/2 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground
  • 1/4 cup sugar (we substituted brown sugar – I stand by that choice)
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne

Right brain nights, fancy dessert, and sibling love.

My little sister has moved away to college. What. Is. This.

For the longest time it was really okay. I have been so excited for Anna to venture off, have her own experience, be away from home, enjoy having all of her belongings in one location, and make amazing life-long friends and memories. I still am excited for that. However, it took me until last night… 4 days after she moved away, for me to articulate exactly why I’m having such a difficult time with it now. It’s not because I didn’t want her to go, it’s because of what it means when she’s not here. Since I was 8 my little sister has been more of a rock to me than I think she will ever know. Not necessarily because she is the epitome of emotional stability, but because she is constant and always has been. When our parents divorced she was always there, even when mom wasn’t or dad wasn’t. When our parents remarried, she was there when our families were acclimating to new parents and step-siblings. Big or small, my sister has been around to experience point for point what I have when it comes to our family. So when I went off to college it wasn’t a big deal…for me. I still have the sign she made for me: I love you Emily! I’ll miss you while you’re at Luther! Well ditto, kid. I love you Anna! I already miss you and you’ve only been gone 4 days at Luther! Now when I think about going home to mom’s or dad’s it is not the same because I’m not returning to a constant. My constant is in Decorah, Iowa.

Weird. That was more poetic than I intended.

So I suppose in some very appropriate twist of life events, I am the constant now. But I wasn’t before… because I went away first. I hope that being here for Anna’s freshman year will provide some kind of constancy that is welcoming and comforting when things get uncomfortable at home. Because despite the fact that we couldn’t always talk about what it was, a hug from Anna was all I needed. I felt needed and loved and man if that isn’t enough to make me thankful for her and for our relationship every damn day.

I’m sure that in the end, and probably in a few weeks, this will feel more normal. This will become the new constant. I will embrace my justified ability to go and visit the town of my Alma Mater and my sister at the same time, to revisit beautiful memories and beautiful places. And I think that those places will become even more beautiful now that my sister has an opportunity to make her own memories in the same beautiful places with new beautiful people. I know this will comfort us both in moments when it is hard to be apart. But it’s only day 4, so I’m cutting myself some slack, feeling thankful that I get to see her in a week and a half…and a small part of me may still be pretending that she’s upstairs in her room at home.

Miss you kid and love you more than you know. Thanking God that I get to see you soon. My sister, my constant. You’re pretty darn awesome. You know that?

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This.

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It came out of my right brain. Well, I had a lemon and half a red onion, chicken breasts, rosemary, prosciutto, olive oil, salt and pepper, and they all seemed like they went together. So go together they did. In this baking dish at 400 degrees for … I don’t know how long. Until the chicken breasts were no longer pink in the middle. But I was very careful to not OVER cook them, because there are arguably few things worse than dry, chewy, chicken. Except for wet socks. Wet socks win that contest for me a thousand times over.

Here it is:

Chicken with lemon, rosemary, onions, and wrapped in prosciutto.
Chicken with lemon, rosemary, onions, and wrapped in prosciutto.

Then the corn. Corn, rosemary, thyme, olive oil, garlic, scallion, salt, pepper, chili powder, cotija cheese at the end. The only direction with this one is to sauté the herbs in the olive oil before you add the corn. Easy.

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And this BREAD. UM. Yeah… leftover… but oh so delicious. So here is the recipe. Thanks to Savory Experiments for this indulgent and amazing treat.

Dinner on Monday night; rosemary roasted chicken, corn saute, and pull apart cheesy garlic bread.
Dinner on Monday night; rosemary roasted chicken, corn saute, and pull apart cheesy garlic bread.
INGREDIENTS
  1. 1 large, round loaf Italian bread
  2. 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  3. 1/2 cup Parmesan Romano cheese, shredded
  4. 3 scallions, whites and greens, chopped
  5. 3 garlic cloves, crushed for finely minced
  6. 1/2 cup salted butter, melted
  7. 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  8. 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
  9. 1 teaspoon sea salt
  10. 1 teaspoon black pepper
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Score the bread loaf crosswise and lengthwise into 1 inch squares, cutting almost through to the bottom, but leaving it intact. The goal is to spread apart the bread pieces to “bloom”, but be able to pass it around and gently pull a piece off.
  3. In a small bowl combine cheeses, green onions and garlic, mix. Stuff cheese blend evenly into all of the slits, nooks and crannies. After stuffing all of the cheese it should be coming out the top- keep stuffing!
  4. In another small bowl combine melted butter and remaining ingredients, whisk together. Spoon or pour mixture evenly over stuffed cheese slits.
  5. Wrap entire bread loaf in heavy duty aluminum foil and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove loaf and open the top of the aluminum foil to expose the top of the bread. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and tops are nicely brown and crisp.
  6. Remove from oven, allow to cool for several minutes before serving, you don’t want your diners to burn their finger tips trying to get at this delicious bread! No serving utensils required. Enjoy your Pull Apart Cheesy Garlic Bread!

Some nights are like this and I have to remind myself it’s okay. I didn’t feel like it was anything fancy, but I put in the effort. I set out cloth napkins, lit a candle, turned on some Madeline Peyroux and BAM everything was more indulgent.

Then my dear asked about how my dessert stomach was feeling. Empty.

So Barbette catered dessert and after-dinner drinks on Monday night. That was a good choice.

Chocolate and red wine can really make a girl feel amazing.

Monday was a good day. I had an awesome, relieving work out, I talked to a good friend, texted my sister, talked to my mom (who is also a good friend). I made a tasty dinner, indulged a bit for dessert. All in all it was lovely. If only there were more hours in the day. Because when I look back, I want to always cherish those moments where I am sitting by the window with the love of my life, the city lights and warm flicker of a candle dance across his comforting eyes. Moments like that don’t feel real, they are so beautiful and poetic and inspired. But they are real and it’s so thrilling to think that things like that happen in the lives of perfectly, wonderfully, mundanely, ordinary people.

And then there is a cup of coffee…

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This last week has been so busy and while I could have taken pictures of what I made last night to post and share, it has been far more important in the last few days to just be where I am and to be present in those moments.

So at the moment, in order to continue on this creative trajectory and in order to keep myself accountable, I’m posting today while sitting up at my Grandmother’s beautiful cabin overlooking Lake Plantagenet, drinking a cup of Highlander Grog coffee with a cozy woolen blanket on my legs. There is storm in the sky. The current is fast today and the wind on the lake is busy. This time of year is a very introspective time to be up at the cabin. It is so quiet and is usually cool and overcast which makes it easy to just be. So that’s what I’m working on doing – just being.

Being content with where I am, who I am, what I’m doing, how I’m living my life. I’d love to be ecstatic and thrilled and overwhelmed with all of the good and truly there are days, but some days I just need to focus on being okay with reality, too.

For me there is a lot of truth in a cup of coffee. Whether it’s because so many honest conversations happen on weekend mornings over a cup of coffee, or because there are days where it gets you from one frustrating hour to the next, or because it’s warm and comforting and smells like so many memories that feel honest and bring you back to a place and time where life felt a little bit more secure and certain, coffee is kind of like a warm hug, for me at least.

There could be and, arguably, is a lot to be desired in this life. Some more nobly than others, I’d say. But it is moments like these that remind every cell of my being to be nothing but thankful for this moment, right here and all I have in it.

Promising more posts this week. Until then, take a moment to remember to just be, whomever you are.