Easter Brunch Party Made Easy

Easter eggs // Ostereier

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Easter is next weekend. Whaa???  

Are you having friends and fam over for some egg hunting and nosh?

Yes.

Have you planned your menu?

 No.

No worries. Here’s a sample menu and some tips & tricks for putting together a simple, scrumptious and hassle-free Easter Brunch.

Brunch Menu

TIP: Go simple and make as much ahead as possible.

 A good brunch consists of the following:

  • Eggs
  • Pig
  • Bread
  • Fruit
  • A sweet treat
  • Booze
  • Coffee

 

Eggs

Now is NOT the time to prove your omelet making prowess (I’m speaking to you, gentlemen). Omelets keep you tied to the oven and away from your guests and the egg-hunting, Bloody Mary-drinking fun. Instead go simple but with panache. A big pan of scrambled eggs made a bit fancified by making the eggs with chives, heavy cream, and topped with smoked salmon or caviar. Or, go do-ahead style egg dishes such as quiche or strata.  There are a million quiche/strata recipes out there on epicurious.com or in your grandmom’s recipe drawer. Choose one or two that speak to you.  If you are having a crew of 6 or more over on Easter, make two – one meat and one vege.

Pig

Pig of some sort (or multiple sorts) is NECESSARY for a good brunch.  I’m addicted to brown sugar bacon. Actually, I’m just plain addicted to bacon but this candy version is muy bueno. Here’s the recipe:

Baked Brown Sugar Bacon

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Cover a cookie sheet with foil and place a cooling rack on top. 

Lay bacon on top of the cooling rack.  

Sprinkle brown sugar on top of bacon.

Lightly sprinkle freshly ground black pepper on top of bacon and brown sugar.

Put the lot in the oven.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. 

Delish!!!!

Bread

Every good brunch includes some bread-like substance. If you are an over-achiever you could make homemade biscuits or scones but I prefer to serve bagels with a couple of different schmears. I buy the bagels and provide a regular whipped cream cheese (whipped is easier to spread) and scallion cream cheese.  People go nuts over this home-made schmear and it’s beyond easy.  I actually get embarassed when people compliment me on it because it’s so damn simple.

Scallion Cream Cheese (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

Room temp, rectangular block of cream cheese (full fat, non-fat is for suckers)

2.5 to 3 hastily chopped scallions (make sure you use the white and green parts)

A scant teaspoon of milk (you may need more)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Place the first 3 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, pulse, pulse. Check the consistency. Are the scallions well incorporated? Is the mixture smooth and spreadable? No. Add a wee bit more leche and pulse, pulse, pulse again. Add s&p to taste.  Spoon into a pretty bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge until ready to serve. Can be made 2 days in advance.

Fruit

Fruit is necessary to brunch. Don’t argue with me, it just is. I suggest slicing up some nice melon or making a fruit salad. And don’t be chincy on the salad and make it mostly with bananas and apples. It makes an ugly salad and doesn’t taste that great.  Nuf said.

Sweet Treat

Brunch isn’t the time to pull out the triple layer death by chocolate cake. However, a little bit of sugar is a nice way to round out brunch. I like the idea of a blueberry coffee cake, lemon bars, or a pavlova (merengue shell filled with fruit and cream). Or, if you must have your choco fix, I’d suggest Molly Wizenberg’s Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger.  Slice it thickly, toast it, and then slather it with mascarpone cheese. 

Booze

Boozy brunches are the best! I generally offer guests two alternatives: mimosas and bloody marys.  Make the bar do-it-yourself.  Set up the glasses, booze, juice, and mix-ins in an easily accessible place and let the guests have at it. A complete bloody mary bar includes: vodka (the good stuff), V8, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, prepared horseradish, celery sticks, green olives, cocktail onions, pickled green beans, lemons, and limes. 

Coffee

Good strong coffee makes brunch, more brunchyee. I place the coffee with mugs, milk, ½ & ½, and sugar out on the bar with the booze set-up and let guests help themselves.

Easter Eggs

An Easter Brunch party wouldn’t be any fun without an Easter egg hunt. Even if your party consists of no one under the age of 30, you should still conduct a hunt and offer a prize for the finder of the most eggs.  If making hard-boiled eggs unnerves you, use my method for making tasty hard boiled use my method for making tasty hard boiled eggs

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The Art of Springtime Cocktailing

Zombie (cocktail)

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Spring has sprung! Well, if you live in San Francisco it hasn’t so much sprung as it has poked its wee nose out of the door to see what’s going on. I, however, have decided to throw off the vestiges of the dreary, cold winter. Towards that end, I’m done with the stodginess of wine, champers, nogs & ales and have turned my thoughts to pretty fruitilicious cocktails.

A good fruit cocktail generally includes four things:

  • Fruit juice (I buy freshly squeezed or make my own)
  • Simple syrup
  • Good liquor
  • Crushed ice (I love me some crushed ice)

I’m going to walk you through two drinks (one with alcohol and one without) that use a combination of these four ingredients.

Watermelon and Cucumber G&Ts (adapted from Cookling Light, July 2009)

1 mini seedless watermelon, rind removed and chunked up in big bits

1 english cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 handful of fresh mint, washed and dried

Juice from 2 lemons

2.5 cups tonic water

1.25 cups gin (preferably Hendrick’s)

Put some of the watermelon and cucumber with some of the mint and juice in a blender and blend until smooth. Meanwhile place a strainer over a bowl.  Place cheesecloth (or paper towels, in a pinch) into the strainer.  Pour the blended mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and let it hang out. Keep making batches of the mixture and straining until you’ve used up all of the first four ingredients.  Pour the strained mixture into a pitcher and place in the fridge to chill.  You can do this up to a day ahead.

At cocktail o’clock on a sunny day, combine 2.5 cups of the juice with the same amount of tonic and 1.25 cups of Hendrick’s (feel free to use a splash more if you are feelin’ frisky) in a large pitcher.  Swirl a wooden spoon around the vessel a few times to ensure the mixture is well-blended. Pour into old-fashioned glassed filled with crushed ice.  Place on a pretty tray and transfer to a sunny patio with a good view ASAP.  Enjoy!

Sparkling limeade

Juice from a boatload of limes (key limes are great to use)

Simple syrup

Sparkling water

Crushed ice

To make limeade, pour some lime juice into a tall glass and add a lil bit of simple syrup (I generally start with a tablespoon for one glass) and add sparkling water to fill the glass 2/3 of the way.  Swirl a spoon around to mix thoroughly.  Now taste it. Like it as is? Toss in some crushed ice. Too sweet? Add more lime juice. Not sweet enough? Add more simple syrup. Too too? Add more sparkling H2O.

How to make simple syrup: 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup water in a small sauce pan with tall sides.  Place over medium-high heat.  Cook until the mixture is clear (generally 3 to 5 minutes). Pull of the heat and let cool.  Place in an airtight jar in the fridge (can keep up to a month).

TIP: You can make flavored simple syrup by having yummy things steep in your cooked syrup. I add lime rind, jalapeños, rosemary, mint, etc… into the syrup after I take it off the heat and let it hang out to cool.  Once cooled, I run the lot of it through a china cap, discard the flavorings, and place the syrup in the jar.

BONUS recipe:  I’ve only made Tequila Tamarindo cocktails once but they are TASTY.  I recommend making the tamarind puree and ginger syrup a day or so before.

Are you inspired to try your hand at springtime cocktailing? Just remember freshly squeezed juices, simple syrup, good liquor, and crushed ice (it really makes a difference).

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Why I’m Crushing on My Freezer

 
Freezer with open door.
Image via Wikipedia

I have a HUGE crush on my freezer. Seriously!  I love to cook but most recipes serve 4 to 6 and it’s just me and one plant that hasn’t died, so either I have to eat something multiple days in a row or throw it out.  Freezer to the rescue!

Here is what’s in my freezer right now:

Red velvet cupcakes – I bought

 

buttermilk a few weeks ago for another recipe and had a ton leftover so I decided to make a batch of red velvet cupcakes.  I baked them off, let them cool, and then tossed the lot into two freezer-friendly bags.  The great thing about cupcakes is you can pull them out of the freezer individually so there’s no waste. Just don’t ice until after they’ve thawed.

Bananas I like to eat my bananas on the green-side so as soon as they go yellow into the deep freeze they head. Currently, I have 6 sitting in my freezer. When I’m being good, I peel and cut them pre-freeze. When I’m a bad kitty, I just toss them in whole and let them thaw in their skins and then de-skin to use. I put half of a frozen banana into my oatmeal (old-fashioned, not instant) and let it melt into the oats as they cook. It gives oatmeal a slightly sweet flavor that’s addictive.  I top the oatmeal with brown sugar and toasted pecans. No butter or cream needed.  It’s a healthy breakfast treat.

A baguette sliced into crostini-sized slices- Do not throw away the end of a baguette! Slice it up (on the diagonal) and store in your freezer. They make great croutons for soup or salads.

Bolognese sauce  I make meat sauce in big batches. I always give some to my friend Nancy, eat some, and put the rest away for rainy day.   

Homemade french onion soup  (Cooking Light, Mar 2011) – I made some on Sunday and popped half of it into my freezer for next week. THIS SOUP ROCKS!

Dark chocolate – No self-respecting female should be without chocolate in her abode. I keep some in the freezer to add to banana bread, to make brownies, or just to munch on when the mood strikes (TIP: let it get to room temp before you eat). 

 Blueberries –  I always buy a ton of blueberries when they are in season.  However, they go bad quickly so I put them in my freezer for later use. I use frozen blueberries in muffins, greek yogurt, and fruit smoothies.

2 bags of frozen peas – One package is for pasta, soups, and chicken pot pie.  And, the other one is for  my aching muscles.  

Chipotles in adobo – Use all of the chilies in one of these cans for a single recipe and your head may pop off of your neck! I generally use one chile at a time and put the leftovers in an airtight vessel and plop it in freezer.  I stir the frozen chipotles into stews and add them to meat for tacos. You could also chop and stir them into some greek yogurt with lime juice and cumin, and use as a topping for tacos, chili, or your famous seven layer dip (doesn’t everyone have a famous seven layer dip?).

What’s Next?

I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment. I was going to try and make a St. Patrick’s Day-inspired treat like this chocolate stout cake  (looks fantastic, right?) but time is not my friend this week so it’s no go.  One of my goals for 2011 is to try out a new recipe every week so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that inspiration will hit soon….stay tuned.

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My Version of Bolognese, Sunday Gravy, Meat Sauce or Whatever You Want to Call It…

Sunday Sauce with LinguiniThus far with the recipes I’ve shared, I’ve made an effort to provide those that are fast and fairly easy.  My Bolognese isn’t difficult to make but it has a lengthy list of ingredients and takes a long time to make so plan accordingly.  I often find myself making this sauce on rainy, cold Sundays (like this one). In fact, one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is making sauce and watching movies (preferably something on TCM from the 30s).  Heaven. 

Oh, and not to toot my own horn, but it’s really, really good. And, it freezes like a champ. It serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

Olive Oil

1 package of cubed pancetta (or two ½ inch slices of pancetta cubed) TIP: In a pinch, I’ve used prosciutto and bacon.

1 yellow onion (small dice, please)

2 or 3 garlic cloves very thinly sliced (use your paring knife to do this)

 1 small(ish) fennel bulb- cored and very thinly sliced

1.5 to 2 carrots grated (use the large holes on your cheese grater)

2 or 3 stalks of celery diced

1 generous tablespoon dried oregano

1 dried bay leaf

Crushed chili flakes to taste

1lb of ground beef (I prefer 15% to 20% fat)

2 or 3 Italian sausages (I prefer the sweet) – removed from the casings

2 tablespoons of tomato paste (TIP: look for and buy the tube of tomato paste. It is less wasteful and will save you $$)

1 large carton chicken stock (you may not need it all)

Generous cup of red wine (your choice, I often use a zin)

1 large can of Italian tomatoes (I use ¾ of the can and freeze the rest to make za sauce or add to soups)

¼ cup of heavy cream

Fresh italian flat-leaf parsley

Fresh basil

Salt and Pepper

Swirl some olive oil into a large stock pot/dutch oven and set on medium-low heat. Once the oil has heated, add in your pancetta, stirring occasionally. Once the pancetta has rendered its fat and is brown and smells yummy, toss in the onions, fennel, and celery. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to get gushy and good. Add in the grated carrot and stir. Add the sliced garlic once the rest of the veg has softened. Stir and let them all hang out for a couple more minutes. Salt and pepper the veg.

At this point remove all of the veg from the stock pot and put it in a bowl.  Add the ground beef and sausage into your heated stock pot and turn up to medium-high heat. Remember to break up the meat while it browns with a wooden spoon.

Once the meat browns, create a little open spot and stick in the tomato paste. This “fries” the tomato paste giving it more depth of flavor.  Let it sit for just a moment and then stir it into the ground beef/sausage mixture. Then add back in the veg and pig.  You can now toss in your dried herbs and spices- the oregano, crushed pepper, and bay leaf. Heat through. Next, pour in enough stock to cover the mixture.  Add the wine.  Let everything hang out for awhile uncovered as you are trying to reduce the liquid (which intensifies the flavor). TIP: Don’t let it get to a rolling boil though because it will toughen the meat just a nice, fast simmer. Once the liquid has reduced a bit, add in the canned tomatoes and turn down the heat.  Real bolognese uses only the tomato paste (or very little tomato). I like mine with a bit more tomato flavor so I use about ¾ or more of a large can.  At this point, I also add my secret ingredient: parmigiano rinds (which I keep in my freezer specifically for this reason). It gives the sauce a salty, rich flavor.  Let the sauce reduce down a bit again and then put the whole shebang on simmer and placing the pot lid on askew.  

I’ll leave the sauce on the stove for hour or so, coming back every so often to stir, taste, and season.  I’ll also add additional stock as needed (when the sauce gets too thick). 

Once it gets close to chow o’clock, it’s time to blend. First, remove the leftover parm rind and bay leaf from the sauce. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to pull it out from the recesses of your cabinetry. Stick the immersion blender into the pot and blend the sauce to a semi-smooth (or desired) consistency. TIP: Do it in short bursts as you don’t want to over blend and make it a paste (NASTY).  You can also use a regular blender. Just process in small batches and don’t forget to pull the little plastic cap off of the top of the blender (but cover the opening with a dishtowel!) so the steam can release.

Once the sauce has been blended to the desired consistency, add the cream. Stir in some Italian parsley and basil at this point.  Once again, you should taste and season.  Guess what? It’s ready to serve. I always garnish with more fresh basil and parsley and, of course, freshly grated parmigiano.

Serving suggestions: I serve my bolognese with linguini or penne rigate. When I get bored of the noodle, I toast up slices of baguette and pour some of the sauce over and top with provolone, arugula, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and S&P. Scrumdelicious!

S’more Brownie Update

The s’more brownies were very good. However, the next time I’d like to serve them warm. I had to make the chocolate goodies earlier in the day, hours before the party, so they were room temp by the time we munched on them.  Good, but not terrific. Serving them warm will make a big difference, methinks.

What’s Next:

I don’t know if this is the next recipe I’m going to try out but I do promise that I’ll bring this to the next dinner party I’m invited too. http://kitchenconundrum.com/2011/02/creamsicle-pudding-recipe/ It’s called creamsicle pudding. When I was a kid, my grandma had a gigantic freezer in her garage that she kept filled with creamsicles, which is probably why I’m so obsessed with making this recipe. Nostalgia, I hear you calling my name.  

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Knife Skills 101

Essential Knives and Accessories

 

I firmly believe that for the bulk of the human race, there are only a few utensils needed to be able to make good food fast. This post focuses on those that cut, chop, shred, peel and otherwise breakdown food into bits.

Chef’s Knife–  A chef’s knife is your kitchen BFF.  You can spend $20 to $500 on a chef’s knife. Choice is up to you and your budget. Go to a reputable knife seller. They should let you try it out before you buy it.  A chef’s knife should feel heavy in your hand but controllable. Chef’s knives can breakdown chicken, chop veg and fruit, slice steak, etc… If you are a kitchen ingénue, a shorter knife will probably be more manageable. The best way to hone your knife skills is to chop onions.  To chop an onion, slice off the end that doesn’t have the root, so you can stand it on its head. Slice the onion in half through the root-end so you have two halves with a root attached. This will keep your onion together while you slice it. Cut several slices vertically through the onion. Then, keeping one hand on top (while keeping fingers out of the way) slice through the half horizontally a few times.  You can now easily chop the onion into pieces of your choosing by cutting through the onion vertically again.  Try it. It beats the hell out of slicing the onion into thick slices and then chopping the onion into bits and pieces haphazardly.

Bread Knife– Bread knives are long, light-weight knives with a serrated edge. Once you use a bread knife to slice bread (especially our famous San Francisco sourdough) you’ll never want to go back to any other method. It makes breaking down a baguette into crostini-sized slices a snap.  I used to hate to slice bread before I discovered a sharpened bread knife. Now it’s one of my fave things to do in the kitchen (I’m serious).  Bread knives are also great for slicing tomatoes. 

Paring knives (often sold in sets, it’s useful to have multiples)- A paring knife is ideal for peeling and coring. I use my paring knife to slice garlic, score and cut mango, and hull strawberries. 

Sharpening Steel– If you are going to own decent knives you need a sharpening steel. I hold my steel upside down on my counter and hold the knife at a diagonal to steel and run it across.  I try and do this each time I use my chef’s knife and paring knife.  NEVER try to hone

your bread knife using the steel.  Take your knives to get sharpened once a year by a professional. It makes a big difference.

Kitchen Scissors– Scissors are a great tool to have in the kitchen. I cut string, herbs, scallions, and even use them to chop up tinned tomatoes in the can (much cleaner than putting my hand in the can and pulling them apart).

Microplane– I HEART MY MICROPLANE!!!!!!!  For some reason, I HATE chopping garlic. I HATE it.  So, I often substitute microplaned garlic for finely chopped. When I do this, I generally reduce the amount of garlic as the microplane releases a lot more juice so the garlic flavor is more intense. Try it the next time you make garlic bread. You’ll enjoy the wonderful perfume and won’t miss the little nubby bits of garlic.

Knife block/Covers for your knives– My kitchen is the size of a yoga mat. Well, maybe a little bit bigger but you get the hint. I have a galley kitchen (single girl city living, baby) so space is always an issue. That being said, I understand the importance of sheathing my knives. 😉 I don’t have the room for a block, so I bought handy, dandy plastic covers for my knives.

What’s Next:

I’m headed to an Oscar party on Sunday and I’m bringing dessert. S’more brownies. Yes, I said S’more brownies. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/smore-brownies-recipe/index.html They aren’t a very elegant choice but a girl can’t live by champagne and foie gras alone. For those of you that are hosting a swankified Oscar party this weekend, check out my blog post on hosting an easy, yet stylish cocktail party.  Another Oscar-worthy choice are my pate’ bites.  YUM.  

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24 Hours of Sandwiches- Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Sandwich Recipes

Just like Joey Tribbiani, I love sandwiches.  Club, open-faced, grilled cheese, and BLTs. I love them all. As a tribute to my love

Whole Wheat Bread, Crisped Proscuitto, Poached Egg, Arugula, and Hot Sauce

Sandwiches are a great way to start the day!

 of sandwiches, I’ve decided to provide you all with a guide for making sandwiches breakfast, noon, and night. 

Sandwiches in the AM

A good breakfast sandwich is my favorite thing to eat in the morning.  Here are the components necessary to a good breakfast sandwich:

  • Eggs ( I generally make one poached egg per sammie)
  • Toasted bread- a bagel, sliced whole wheat, baguette, sourdough, English muffin…. I generally make my AM sandos open-faced.
  • Pig- bacon, spam slices, or prosciutto. TIP: Crisp up prosciutto in a dry (no-oil) fry pan to give your sandwich some crunch. 
  • Cheese (optional, if you include pig but sometimes you need to gild the lily)- I’m partial to sliced provolone
  • Something green – I love arugula, but you can use spinach or even romaine in a pinch. Adding some green to your breakfast sandwich adds a fresh dimension to what could be a very heavy start to your day. Try it, you’ll like it.
  • A little bit of spice- I always top my breakfast sandwiches with fresh salsa, pico de gallo, or hot sauce. Just like the greens, the salsa is a counterpoint to the richness of the egg, pig and cheese. HINT: Take a sip of coffee after taking a bite of the sandwich with the salsa. There is something truly amazing about the combo.  Hot coffee enhances the good burn of salsa and hot sauce.

A Sandwich to Share in the Afternoon

In December, I posted my recipe for tapenade and a “muffaleta” sandwich I make for parties and picnics.  If you like spicy, salty, meaty, bready things you will LOVE this sandwich. If you are more of a cucumber/hummus/tomato sandwich type of person this probably isn’t the sando for you.

Nighttime is the Right Time for Sandwiches

This is another sandwich to share.  I make it when I have someone over for dinner.  It’s a bit more involved but worth the effort.

Burger with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions  

1 lb of ground beef (I like 15% percent fat)

Focaccia or rosemary Italian slab bread cut  into a 9-inch square ALTERNATIVE: Baguette sliced into 6 inch “rolls” or slider rolls (Trader Joe’s now makes slider rolls)

1 large yellow onion sliced into 1/3 inch rounds

2 pats of unsalted butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Creamy blue cheese (I hate those crumbles that come in the plastic container as they are generally pretty dry but if it’s all you have use them)

Arugula, Spinach, or Romaine

Salt and Pepper

For caramelized onions: place butter and oil in a medium to large-sized sauté pan set to medium. Dump in the sliced onions once the butter has melted. Leave them alone for five minutes or so. Once the onion pile has reduced a bit, turn down the heat to medium-low. You may now salt the onions.  Stir infrequently (I mean it, don’t stir them very often as the onions won’t caramelize).  It may take up to 30 minutes for your onions to get soft, melty, and translucent. Turn down to the lowest heat setting once the onions have become translucent. Continue to stir occasionally.

For burgers:  Heat a large cast iron pan lightly coated with canola oil. Get the pan VERY hot (my smoke alarm goes off every time I make burgers in doors) While the pan is heating, form two 7-inch rectangles with the ground beef. Salt and pepper both sides generously. Once pan is smoking hot (I’m serious it should be almost smoking before you put the beef in) place both burgers in the pan.  Leave them alone for 5 to 7 minutes and then lift one up and see if a nice dark crust has formed.  Once the burger has a nice crust and the burger has been cooked halfway through carefully flip the burgers over.  Let them cook for another 7 to 15 minutes depending on your desired doneness. It’s ok to turn down the heat a bit if your pan starts to smoke a lot (you’ll probably want to open a window too J). I actually like my burgers (unlike my steak) cooked through so I probably let burgers sit for at least another 10 minutes before I pull it out of the pan.  Place the hot burgers on a large piece of foil. Top with the blue cheese and cover loosely with the other half of the foil. Let them sit for 5 minutes. 

To assemble the burgers: cut the 9 inch square slab of bread horizontally. Put some of the arugula on the bottom half. Top with the two burgers (you should have a 1-inch well between the two burgers).  Spoon the caramelized onions on top of the burgers. Top with the other bread square.  Slice the square into 2 rectangles (use the 1-inch well between the two burgers as a guide). Then cut each rectangle into 2 squares.  Serve two burger squares per person. 

Alternative: Obviously, if you are going to use the baguette or slider rolls you’ll need to shape and size your burgers to fit.  Keep in mind, cooking time will shorten because the burgers are smaller.

Jalapeño-Popper Update

In my last blog post, I promised a popper update from Super Bowl Sunday.  The baked jalepeno poppers wrapped in bacon were a hit. And, they were fairly easy to make. If you are going to make them, keep in mind you need to keep the top of the jalapeño on when you slice horizontally. I tried both ways (chopping off the top before slicing and keeping it on).  The cheese stayed in mucho mejor when I kept the tops on but it did slow down the popper making process quite a bit.  I was in a rush that day and looking to find a faster alternative. Sometimes, slow and steady wins out.

What’s Next:

I’m waiting on some pics from a photo shoot a couple of weeks ago but if all goes well I’m going to do a knife skills post next week. 

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3 Quick Kitchen Tips for Working Drones (like me!)

In my effort to keep more $$$ in my pocket and less fat out of my a#$, I’ve taken to bringing breakfast and lunch to work nearly everyday.  Here are my top 3 quick tips to make bringing food along with you to the office less onerous:

1)      Make a stew, soup, or other one-pot meal on Sunday and pack it in individual portions to take with you for lunch during the week. Soups are super-easy to make. During the cold winter months, I try a new recipe each week. Last week it was Molly Wizenberg’s curried lentil soup, http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2010/12/curried_lentil_soup .  As soon as the soup was finished, I poured half of it into a freezer bag and portioned the rest into 3 glass bowls that had fitted lids.  During the week, all I had to do was grab one of the glass bowls out of the fridge and toss it in my work tote as I headed out the door. How’s that for fast?

2)      Buy the large-sized vanilla, greek, or plain yogurt instead of the individual-sized cartons as the larger container is cheaper and more versatile.  Before I go to bed, I pour some of the yogurt into tupperware, top it with a scoop of frozen berries and slivered almonds from the freezer, and pop it into the fridge. It’s a grab and go option that provides a healthy and yummy start to my day and a much cheaper alternative to the yogurt parfaits from the cafes near my office. As an alternative, I sometimes toss the yogurt and frozen fruit into a blender and whir up a delicious smoothie. My fave combo: frozen mango, strawberries, vanilla yogurt, milk  (or a cream if I’m feeling naughty), and a squirt of oj. 

3)      Make a batch of muffins during a slow weekend and freeze them. Homemade muffins are cheaper, healthier, and taste better than those ginormous, overly-sweet things you buy at Starbuck’s. I pull my homemade treats one by one from the freezer as I need them during the week and reheat for 20 seconds in the microwave when I get to work. This is my favorite healthy muffin alternative: https://ctacla.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/good-for-you-blueberry-muffin-recipe/  

What’s Next:

On a less healthy note, here’s what I’m making for SuperBowl Sunday:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/bacon-apple-jalapeno-pop-ems-recipe/index.html

Bacon. Jalepeno. Cheese.  YUM. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

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Good For You! Blueberry Muffin Recipe

Blueberries.

Image via Wikipedia

Here is an easy blueberry muffin recipe for those of you trying to kick the new year off healthfully. I adapted it from a recipe I found in the Press Democrat (my hometown newspaper) back in the 80’s.

This recipe uses oatmeal flour (don’t get scared, it’s just oatmeal whirred in the blender until flour-y) so the muffins are rich in fiber. Egg whites and canola oil replace whole eggs and butter so they won’t clog your arteries. And,  as we all know blueberries  offer powerful antioxidants. 

Best part about these muffins- they actually taste good without having to butter them up. Yay!!

2 ½ cups oats (quick or old-fashioned) TIP: Do not use steel cut oats unless you are a relative of Mr. Ed or like to eat food that is only fit for a horse. 

½ cups brown sugar (firmly packed)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1  scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

Grated zest of ½ of a large orange (or 1 lemon)

1 pint of blueberries (TIP: I buy and freeze blueberries when they are in season so I can make these w/ fresh blueberries year round)

2/3 cup skim milk

3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

2 egg whites, slightly beaten

Pam or some other spray oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Use paper muffin cups or lightly coat a non-stick muffin pan with Pam. This recipe usually makes 8 muffins.  Weird #, I know.

Place oats in a blender or food processor and blend/process until the oatmeal takes on the consistency of flour.  It generally takes less than a minute.  Once you’ve got the oatmeal all flour’d up, dump it in a medium bowl and add the brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and citrus zest.  Stir them all together to combine with a fork or small wisk.  Add the egg whites, oil, and milk.  Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.  Toss in the blueberries and stir to distribute throughout the batter.  Don’t over mix or you will get tough muffins. No one wants a tough muffin. Fill muffin cups almost full. (TIP: I use an ice cream scoop with a lever to ensure they are evenly filled)  Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until deep golden brown. Let them sit in the baking pan for a couple of minutes before you serve. Or put them on a cooling rack until they are room temp. Once cooled they can be placed in a freezer bag and tossed into the freezer to be reheated at will. In a pinch, I’ve even reheated them in a microwave for 20 seconds. 

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Need a last minute appetizer recipe for NYE? Try pate bites.

Need a last minute appetizer recipe for NYE? Try pate bites.

I developed this “recipe” after eating something similar at AOC in Los Angeles. If you are in the Southland, make sure you hit up this wine bar. Awesome food. I go almost every time I’m in LA.

Pate Bites

Sourdough baguette cut in ½ inch diagonal slices (TIP: slices are sexier when cut on the diagonal)

Fat slice of pate of your choice (I like the mine smooth and velvety)

Medium bunch of microgreens (if I can’t find microgreens I use arugula)

Champagne or white wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar will work in a pinch)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Place the baguette slices on a cookie sheet and stick in a 375 degree oven until brown and toasty. (TIP: Check them in 5 minutes and see where you are at.  I have a tendency to burn my first batch.)  When they are done place them on a cooling rack.

While bread is getting crunchy-good in the oven, get out a bowl that will fit the greens easily giving them room to groove.  Before putting the greens in the bowl, pour in some vinegar (about 3 or 4 tablespoons) and add a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil. Put in a pinch of salt and pepper. Wisk it together vigorously.  Pile the microgreens on top of the mixture. Don’t toss yet. Just set it aside.

Once the baguette slices (if we were Italian, we’d call them crostini) are cool enough to handle, slather some of the pate on each. Now you can toss the greens in the oil & vinegar and place a small bunch of the greens on top of the pate’d baguette slices.  

Arrange them prettily in a spiral pattern on a round platter. Serve with Campari and soda (my fave!), sparkling wine, or French 75 cocktails (hint: I had a version w/o the gin and it was delish).

Happy 2011!

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Tapenade Tacla-Style

I like being able to add a little something special to a cheese/charcuterie platter. I generally keep the ingredients for this tapenade in my fridge.  It’s da bomb and last 4EVER.

3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, roughly chopped

Lil bit of sun-dried tomato oil or olive oil

1 clove of garlic

¼ cup kalamata olives pitted and roughly chopped

¼ cup green olives roughly chopped

1 roasted red bell pepper roughly chopped (it’s fine to use one from a jar)

4 to 6 capers rinsed and roughly chopped

½ tsp prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon herbes de provence

½ tsp red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Big handful of Italian parsley finely chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste (TIP: the rest of the ingredients pack a punch so not much is needed)

Put a small saucepan on a burner set to medium low. Put a couple of tablespoons of the sundried tomato oil (omit the tomato paste if you use the tomato oil) or olive oil into the pan. Microplane the garlic into the saucepan.  Throw in all of the other ingredients through the tomato paste.  Let the ingredients heat through. Taste and add S&P as needed. Once all of the ingredients have become intermingled and yummy take off the heat and add in the chopped parsley.  Serve as an accompaniment to a cheese/charcuterie plate. It is especially good with fresh goat cheese or Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam

Bonus Recipe: You can also use this tapenade to make a “muffaleta” sandwich.  I slice one of those sour rounds horizontally and pull out a lot of the insides from each half leaving a one-inch border (you’ll have a nice valley to put all the filling in). Generously spread the tapenade onto the bottom half of the round. Layer in your choice of meat (salami, prosciutto, Spanish chorizo, bresaola…) and then add a layer of sliced provolone. Top with arugula. Place the top half of the bread on top. Wrap tightly in plastic (you may want to wrap twice). Place on a cookie sheet. Put another cookie sheet on top and weight it down (I use cookbooks and a full tea kettle). Stick it in your fridge and leave it alone for at least 2 hours. Unwrap and slice when you are ready to serve. It makes a great picnic sandwich. 

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