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!