Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ingredient: Juniper Berries

"A medium dry martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred." - Sean Connery as James Bond 

James knew the secret to a good martini, not the shaken or stirred part but the gin. Now if you know me you know I am a Scotch Whiskey man myself but even I have to admit that on a hot summer day nothing can taste better than a cold class of gin and tonic. It's the fresh taste that gin has, I just love it. To break it down even more what I love about gin is the Juniper. It's right there in your face clean flavor.

Juniper berries are not something that you'll find in everyone's spice rack but you can find at pretty much any mega mart grocery store. They are almost a staple in Scandinavian food and when paired with meat...well let's just say it's divine. Typically you'd see juniper paired with wild game meat but as I'm not a hunter and don't really know anyone who is I've not tried them in that context. However I've used them with pork, beef and turkey. The wonderful thing about the berries is that they add such an unexpected flavor.

Now you know a little bit about Juniper berries lets dive into an easy way to incorporate them into your foods.

The Juniper Jump

First take your favorite stew recipe (I used this one from TheWay The Cookie Crumbles but subbed beef for lamb)
When you are adding your aromatics (thyme, rosemary, sage etc...) throw in 3-4 crushed juniper berries to the mix as well.

It's that easy!
Then sit back and allow your family and/or friends to shower you with culinary praise! I believe the key to good home cooking is the flavors, we get so used to the same tastes. This will be sure to shake up the taste buds and add a new depth to your cooking!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Recipe: Three Cheese Tomato Tart

You know the scenario;  finally come home after a long day, frustrated from work or school or kids, and the last thing you want to do is cook. 
Even though you know you are yearning for something warm and delicious. Something to make you forget all the frustrations of the day and just relax. A transition into the evening if you will.  
That is exactly how I was feeling last week. I needed something easy and ever so tasty. So I dug deep into my recipe index and found this little gem just begging to be made. I happened to have most everything, finally my obsession with cheeses pays off, and in about a half hour I was enjoying a warm and unique meal. 

I got this recipe from Dishing Up Delights a while back and only now have gotten around to making it. I have kept the recipe mostly the same I tweaked a few things here and there for personal preference.  I also left out the changes I had to make due to not having all the exact ingredients on hand, but this is such an easy tart to make.  I know you'll be tempted to think of this as a variation on pizza but although some similar tastes do come though I assure you it's quite different. 

Three Cheese Tomato Tart
          4 small roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I only had larger vine on to use)
          1 sheet Trader Joe's all butter puff pastry frozen
          1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
          1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
          1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese (I didn't have any and used Munster)
          Smoked finishing Salt (like This)
          Salt and pepper
          2 tablespoons-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
          1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
         Parchment lined cookie sheet

First slice the tomatoes and place on a paper towel to soak up some liquid. This will help the tart from getting soggy. If you do this first then by the time you're puff pastry is thawed you're tomatoes will be good to go. 

Once the puff pastry is thawed, about 15-20min, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Take your cookie sheet and place the puff pasty on the parchment paper. Prick holes all over the sheet with a fork to prevent the pastry from puffing up while baking. If you have the smoked salt now is the time to sprinkle it about on the pastry. 

Next spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the puff pastry. Mix the cheddar and mozzarella (or my case Munster)  together and spread over the pastry. 

Line the tomatoes evenly on the pastry. Sprinkle each tomato with just a pinch of salt and then pepper.  When I say pinch of salt here I mean a little pinch especially if you used the smoked salt.  

Finally spread the Parmesan over the whole thing and sprinkle the basil.  Bake the tart for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbling and the crust is lightly golden. 
Let it cool for five minutes if you have a wire rack use it. Cut and serve warm!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Recipe: Warm up Chili!

Cold has set in and now begins the arduous process of trying to keep warm! Some try to wear layers, others it's a nice fall jacket but I know the best way to keep warm is a pipping hot bowl of goodness. Whether it's a stew, a soup, gumbo or chili if it's in a bowl and it's warm it's prefect for fall! For my first official warm up I went with chili. I know later on into winter I will be taking requests from friends and family for their favorites so I wanted to get my favorite in right away.

This is a pretty standard chili recipe feel free to play with the heat to get it to a level you like. Usually I like my chili pretty spicy so I'll throw in a few fresh jalapenos or a habanero. I like to add those not just for the spice but for the clean taste that fresh peppers add.

I also like to use a combination of half organic grass fed beef and half bison to keep it on the healthier side. I know that organic beef is still pretty expensive but I found that Costco carries an organic beef that is significantly cheaper than your usual mega mart.

Finally mix up the ratio of beans I'm not a huge fan of pinto beans so I add some black beans to the mix too.

Warm up Chili! (Adapted from Thick and Hearty Chili by Brown Eyed Baker)

          3 lbs. ground beef (or 1.5lb beef and 1.5lb bison)
          1 large yellow onion, chopped
          5 cloves minced garlic
          1 15-ounce can stewed tomatoes
          2 cups beef stock
          1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
          1 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
          1 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
          3 Tablespoons chili powder
          1 teaspoon dried oregano
          ½ teaspoon cumin
          2 teaspoons salt
          1 teaspoon ground black pepper
          ¼ cup cornmeal
          More Onion, Cheddar Cheese, and Sour Cream for fixings!

          Your favorite soup pot (mine is a 12 quart)

First brown the ground beef/bison with the onion and garlic over a medium heat. Drain the excess liquid and return to the heat.

Next add the beef broth, beans, stewed tomato, seasoning and cornmeal. Stir everything together well and cover. Keep it over low heat for about two hours and give it a stir occasionally.

After those two hours it's ready to eat, however, I know that chili is always better when left overnight so if you can let it rest overnight in the fridge do it! 


Monday, October 17, 2011

Recipe: Crêpes with Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

By now I'm sure you're all assuming that I only eat breakfast related meals.  A fair assumption indeed, and I do tend to lean toward breakfast foods in general. However I promise I will put up some more dinner/lunch ideas in the near future, especially with the holidays coming up soon. 

This post is a breakfast idea for you and in my opinion a little different way to look at crepes. I was at a French bakery that I frequent for their amazing croissants, when I spotted a Mille Crepe (literally translated: a million crepe) which in essence is a cake made with crepes. This one was layered with strawberry and cream and looked absolutely delicious! I resisted the urge to spend a pile of cash and exited the bakery with my half dozen croissants...and a few Madeleine. 

Now fast forward to a few days later when I was sitting in my living room trying to figure out something for breakfast, and poof, I had my inspiration. A toned down version of Mille Crape with Justins Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and stacked to a max of 6-7 crepe high (opposed to 12-14). Also I omitted adding sugar and extract to the batter as this is going to be sweet enough. 

I know you're thinking a couple things when you look at this idea and let me tell you: 
No, it's not going to be hard. 
No, it will not take a long time. 
Yes, it is probably as bad for you as it looks (just remember the mantra 'everything in moderation'). 

Crêpes with Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

          2 large eggs
          3/4 cup milk 
          1/2 cup water
          1 cup flour
          3 tablespoons melted butter
          Butter for coating the pan

          10" frying pan
          Long flat spatula (a cake spatula works well)
          Large cutting board

First whisk together the eggs, milk, water, flour, and melted butter.  Make sure the batter is smooth and combined but don't over do it. A minutes or so should be fine. 
Put the batter in the fridge for 5 minutes to rest and get any air bubbles out. This isn't a necessary step but it will help prevent your crepes from tearing in the pan.  

Heat the pan to medium, if at first you find this cooking a little too slow you can notch it up a little but it's always easier to add heat than take away. 
Coat the pan with butter and pour about 1/4 cup of batter in. 
Immediately swirl the pan around to evenly distribute the batter. 
Cook for about 30 seconds (yes it is that fast) then flip the crepe and cook for a further 10 seconds. 
Slide it out of the pan onto the cutting board to cool. 
Repeat this for the remainder of the batter. Your first few crepes will either be unsatisfactory or a complete disaster depending on your luck. It takes a little bit to get used to the heat and cooking time so allow yourself to make a few throw-a-ways.

After all the crepes are made put the hazelnut butter into a microwave safe little bowl and melt it down. High power for about 20-30 seconds should make it workable. You want it to be nice a spreadable but not a runny liquid.  

For the assembly lay our first crepe down and spread a decent amount of the hazelnut butter on it. Then place the next crepe down, so on and so forth. As you can tell from my picture I just topped it off by melting the nut butter a little more and drizzling it about. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Recipe: Candied Apples

Have I mentioned I love autumn? Granted it hasn't felt like fall here in Minnesota this week. I'm ready for the smells, the crispness of the air, the food... oh the food! If you don't much care for fall I can bet that you at least enjoy the food!
Now I have lived in Minnesota for most of my life but I still remember what it was like on the East Coast growing up. I remember fall most vividly, the trick-or-treating, Columbus Day and the beautiful trees. I store all these as precious memories and every year I strive to feel that innocent love of autumn again! It’s much harder when you grow up and life moves so fast, pretty soon October will be over and winter will be here before we know it!

So what do I do to try and achieve this dream of an autumn to remember? Well I take walks in the woods, I always watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and I make candied apples!
I know that some of my born and bred Minnesota friends at this point are wondering why I keep calling caramel apples, candied apples. Well it’s because my taste stem a lot from the east coast traditions and although I do enjoy caramel apples as well, I long for the candied variety. So read on and maybe you’ll be intrigued, if so try these out this year and have a little taste of the east coast this autumn!

Simple Candied Apples

8 apples (The ever popular Macintosh)
8 wooden chopsticks (you can use skewers too)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup red cinnamon candies
Candy Thermometer (VERY IMPORTANT)
Baking sheet
Aluminum Foil
Medium sized saucepot
Pastry brush (Optional)

First we want to get the baking sheet ready by lining it with aluminum foil then spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
Prep the apples now; wash and dry , remove the stems, and stick the chopsticks in the end where the stems were.
Put the corn syrup, sugar and water into sauce pot and turn the burner onto medium-high heat.
Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stop stirring and let the mixture reach 250 degrees. While you’re letting the mixture sit you can use the pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot, however I didn’t and still had plenty of candy coating.
When it reaches the 250, add the cinnamon candies stir just enough to make sure the candies are mixed in well.
Keep going until it reaches 285 degrees. Again you can wash down the sides here if you’d like, and again I didn’t.
Watch the thermometer and when it hits 285 take the pot off the heat and start to stir the candy again until it is smooth and even.
Now the fun part! Holding an apple by the chopstick, tilt the pan and dip and rotate the apple to cover it completely with an even layer.
TIP: if your candy mixture starts to harden, just put it back on the burner and gently warm it again until it turns to liquid again. If you do this don’t heat it too fast!
As you take it out of the candy twirl it a bit to remove the excess.
Set it on the sprayed baking sheet and let it cool at room temperature.
When you have all the apples finished place them in the fridge.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipe: Simple English Breakfast

Leaves are changing, the air smells of fire and I am already planning my Thanksgiving menu. That's right fall is here! So what do I love more than Autumn in Minnesota? Brinner! (Breakfast for Dinner) Lucky for me I've had both this past week. 

I view this as a little twist on a traditional English breakfast, minus the English baked beans.  The flavours here are what tips you off that this isn't you're everyday American meal, tomato with eggs is rare over here across the pond. Then using Speck rather than bacon or rasher just elevates the taste even more.
However the real trick to this dish is in the English style scrambled eggs. The technique is different than you're used to I'm sure but the results will amaze and delight you!

An American, English Breakfast

Software: (good for one sandwich)
3 large eggs
1/2 of an avocado
1 vine on tomato
1/4 cup Muenster cheese (or mild cheese of your choice)
1 tablespoon chives
3 strips Speck/Bacon/Rasher
1 slice of rustic or artisan bread 1/2in thick
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cream
Salt/Pepper to taste
Olive Oil for drizzling

1 small sauce pot
1 small skillet 

First you want to get everything prepped. That means slice up your tomato, avocado, chop your chives and grate you cheese.  Also now it a good time to toast your bread. I just set my panini press to a moderate heat setting so the bread doesn't burn while I'm working on the eggs and if I time it right the eggs get done just before the toast. I do the same for the Speck. Lay the speck in the skillet on medium heat and it should be done about the same time as the eggs. 

Now the eggs, turn your burner on to medium high heat add all three to the sauce pot along with the butter. That's right the small sauce pot is for the eggs, don't worry I promise this will all be ok.  This next piece is important do not, I repeat DO NOT add salt and or pepper to the eggs. Salt breaks down the yoke and will result in watery scrambled eggs, and we don't want that!

You will need to continually stir the eggs just as if you were making a custard. Along with that you'll need to practice a little heat control, if you notice the eggs cooking too fast take it off the heat and continue to stir. 
When they've started to come together and are looking fluffy take off the heat and add the cream. Continue to stir until the cream is incorporated. Now you can add the chives and season with salt and pepper. 

Take you're toasted bread and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Now we assemble! First put the tomato, then avocado, eggs and finally the cheese.  Lay the speck, or bacon if you chose that route, next to the sandwich and finally the best part enjoy!