Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giving Thanks

Vegetarians have long known that the best part of a Thanksgiving feast is the side dishes and pies. No need for tofurky. I must say that my appreciation for tofu has lessened after years of hearing my brother refer to it as whale snot. But that's what brothers are for, right? Besides, the flavors that can be accomplished in the late- November kitchen from seasonal produce and aromatic herbs are so special that I never feel like I am missing out.

This Thanksgiving, my family decided to try some different takes on our traditional dishes. I am especially fond of the smashed potatoes. I mean, mashed potatoes are so last Thanksgiving...and the Thanksgiving before that...and the Thanksgiving before that..... In my opinion, the crispy skin of the smashed potatoes, the salt and the thyme are what makes them superior.

Sage is definitely an herb that comes to mind when I think of Thanksgiving. Not pictured above, was a particularly delicious gluten free sage stuffing. I know most of us have probably exhausted Thanksgiving themed recipes, but I do encourage you to try these dishes sometime in the future.

The appeal of this holiday, for me, is only partly about the food, however. I really do begin to realize just how thankful I am to have been given so many great opportunities, and I truly could not have a more supportive, loving family. I have come to the conclusion that because I am fortunate enough to have such a beautiful home and family, that is why I am so reluctant to go off on my own and be more independent. But I know that when I do go away, I will only appreciate all that I have even more. I know that I will continue to take the time to express my gratitude and reflect this holiday season. It is easy to get bogged down, but after all, gratitude and thoughtfulness are what holidays are all about.  

Kumquat and Cranberry Relish
makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups kumquats (9 to 10 oz), trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 (12 oz) bag fresh cranberries (3 1/2 cups)

1. Prick kumquats 2 or 3 times with a sharp fork. Cover kumquats generously with cold water in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse with cold water, then drain and rinse two more times (to remove bitterness).
2. Bring kumquats, sugar, and water to a boil in rinsed saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered.
3. Remove from heat and cool kumquats in syrup, about 20 minutes.
4. Transfer kumquats with a slotted spoon to a bowl, reserving syrup in saucepan. Add cranberries and 1/4 tsp salt to syrup and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until berries burst, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. While cranberries cook, quarter kumquats lengthwise, discarding any seeds.
6. Stir kumquats into cranberry mixture and transfer to a bowl. Cool completely, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Can keep in refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 week.

Recipe from Gourmet Holiday: Special Edition Fall/ Winter 2012

Smashed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Thyme
serves about 4

12 to 15 baby red potatoes
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried thyme

1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan (preferably in one layer) and cover with at least an inch of water. Add 2 teaspoons salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook potatoes until completely tender and can be easily pierced with a skewer, 30 to 35 minutes.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, set a cookie sheet on your counter top. As the potatoes finish cooking, remove them individually from the water, dry them well with a dishcloth or paper towel, then place them with plenty of room apart, on the cookie sheet.
3. Fold a dishcloth or paper towel into quarters, and using it as a cover, gently press down on one potato with the palm of your hand to flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Repeat with all potatoes.
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes, and using a spatula, lift the potatoes to let the oil run under them. Sprinkle the potatoes with about 3/4 teaspoons salt, pepper, and thyme.
5. Roast the potatoes until they are crispy and deep brown around the edges, about 30 minutes, turning over once with a spatula halfway through cooking. Serve hot.

Recipe slightly adapted from Susie Middleton of Fine Cooking 83

Roasted Cauliflower with Hazelnuts, Sage, and Shallots
serves about 4

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets about 3/4 inch wide
1/2 cup toasted, halved hazelnuts
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallot
1/4 cup olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread the cauliflower out on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts, sage, and shallot. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until edges of cauliflower begin to caramelize.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque du Souffle :)

Green Beans with Roasted Tomatoes, Toasted Pine Nuts, and Parmesan
serves 4 to 6

1 pound green beans or haricots vert, trimmed
8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half crosswise
olive oil for drizzling
salt, to taste
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan, asiago, or dry jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread out the tomato halves on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 30 minutes.
2. Fill a large pot about halfway with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place the green beans in the boiling water, and reduce to a simmer over medium heat. Cook just until al dente, about 3 to 5 minutes. Strain and rinse with cool water.
3. Return the green beans to the pot, add the roasted tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Drizzle with olive oil and salt, to taste. Toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the cheese.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque du Souffle :)

Let me know if you would like the recipes for the gluten free pies!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Some Seasonal Snacks

Last month I felt a little bit guilty because I neglected a lot of my duties to work on cranking out more frequent blog posts. This month, on the other hand, I feel a little guilty because I seem to have neglected my blog a bit!

You see, the problem with me is that my mind is constantly filling up with ideas, recipes, images. I get buried under them eventually and then the result I end up with is, well... nothing. I think it is about time that I find a better way to organize my thoughts and priorities. There is just too much to do in such little time!

The post I have come up with here is a rather weak attempt at a compromise for having been absent from my blog for some time. It is somewhat a collaboration of several intriguing finds that I have encountered at the local grocery store lately. Stuff like black radishes, blue sapphire popcorn and of course the gem of a fruit- the pomegranate.

If you don't have the time to spend in the kitchen, these snacks are the type of things you can whip up and still use some unique, flavorful, fresh, and maybe even adventurous ingredients. With Thanksgiving arriving in a few days, I am excited to finally be able to actually cook up components of a meal. Hopefully I can find a way to actually execute the recipe ideas I have come up with and share those with you shortly.

Rustic Bread with Black Radishes and Sea Salt (GF)
serves 4

4 slices of gluten free rustic bread (see A Woodland Inspired Feast post)
Kerrygold butter
3 to 4 black radishes
coarse sea salt

1. Spread a little butter over each slice of bread. Thinly slice the radishes. Place a few rounds on top of the butter on each slice. Season generously with salt.

Mole Spiced Royal Blue Popcorn
serves 3 to 4

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt*
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup blue sapphire popcorn

1. Combine sugar, salt, chili powder, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add popcorn, and cover. Cook, shaking pot frequently, until corn has finished popping. Add to bowl of spices, and toss.

*the salt does not stick to the popcorn as well as the other spices. I read that if you blitz the salt in a coffee grinder or spice mill, it creates more powdery crystals which stick better.

Pomegranate, Coconut, and Clementine Smoothie
serves 3 to 4

1 cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice*
1/4 cup of freshly squeezed clementine juice
6 ounces plain coconut yogurt (I used So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk)
2 cups coconut milk (I used So Delicious Original Coconut Milk Beverage)
1 tablespoon honey

1. Place all of the above ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth. Serve chilled with ice, if you like.

*I juiced a pomegranate using a traditional hand citrus juicer. 1 large pomegranate= about 1 cup juice

All of the above recipes from the kitchen of Cirque du Souffle :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Chestnuts, Cranberries, and Cinnamon

I have always favored savory over sweet. When I was younger, I refused to eat cereal, pancakes, or any breakfast that was generously spiked with sugar. I never liked juice or soda and always preferred water. In other words, I was an unusual child. Aside from sneaking into the school kitchen with my friends to steal sugar cubes, I have never been familiar with what it means to have a sweet tooth- besides I only really took part in the raids for the thrill of doing something forbidden.

It is kind of ironic that I declare myself "not a sugar person" when the majority of the recipes that I post on my blog fit into the sweet category. I just tend to lean towards baked goods and such because I find there is a lot more you can do with them artistically, which makes for more interesting photos.

But all this being said, I cannot deny that I have always loved the occasional crepe for breakfast. Even when I refused pancakes, crepes were an exception.

When we lived in the city, my mom and I used to walk down to the farmer's market early every Saturday morning. There was hardly anyone there, and I was always excited to be the first one at the crepe cart. I would anxiously await the lovely thin golden cake, warm off the skillet, stuffed with whipped cream and fresh raspberries or cherries.

Sadly, the cart stopped coming to the market, and my only other crepe destination to be had was a little corner side French bakery in Santa Fe. Obviously I can no longer eat the crepes at the bakery, since they are traditionally made with wheat flour. I was so excited when I saw this recipe for crepes on the back of a bag of chestnut flour in the grocery store. It was my first time making crepes and the first time I have tried chestnuts. Now I am hooked on both :) I look forward to a future endeavour of making a hundred layer crepe cake...

One thing that I always try to do in my cooking and baking, is incorporate a variety of spices and fresh herbs. I have decided that in the future if I do not have the space or capability of a full scale garden, I will just have boxes and boxes of herbs. Yes, it appears I will be an herb hoarder. 

The aroma of each type brings me back to a place, a moment, an occasion. For me, rosemary is particularly reminiscent of November, especially paired with cranberries. The same goes for spices, like cinnamon, which I swirled into the creamy ricotta mascarpone mixture used to fold into the crepes.  

Maybe I do have a sweet tooth after all :) 

Italian Chestnut Flour Crepes (GF)
serves 6 to 8

For Crepes:

2 cups Italian Chestnut Flour, sifted
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 egg
1 tablespoon melted butter, plus more for greasing
1/4 teaspoon salt

For Filling:

1 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup mascarpone
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Whisk together the flour, milk, water, egg, melted butter, and salt, in a medium sized bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Brush the skillet with a thin layer of melted butter. Pour 1/3 cup of batter in the skillet and swirl batter until the surface of the skillet is covered. 
3. Cook crepe until its surface is dry and its bottom is golden (about 1 minute). Flip crepe and cook other side until golden (again, about 1 minute). Repeat with remaining batter. Once all the crepes are made you may keep them stacked in a dishcloth to keep warm.
4. Whisk together the ricotta and mascarpone until smooth. Swirl in the cinnamon.
5. Fill each crepe with some of the cheese mixture, and fold. Top with blueberry cranberry compote or other sauce or fresh fruit.

Recipe for crepes from Dowd and Rogers

Blueberry Cranberry Compote with Rosemary
serves 6 to 8

2 cups frozen blueberries
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar
juice of 2 clementines
1 sprig of rosemary

1. In a medium saucepan, mix together blueberries, cranberries, 1 tablespoon of sugar, clementine juice, and sprig of rosemary. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until the cranberries pop and there is a good amount of berry juice extracted from the fruit.
2. Pour the berry compote through a fine mesh strainer and transfer the juice back to the saucepan. Stir in 1 more tablespoon of sugar and bring the juice back to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the juice has become a thicker sauce and has reduced to about half of its initial volume.
3. Turn off the heat and stir the berries back in. Remove the rosemary sprig, and serve warm over crepes, pancakes or waffles.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque du Souffle :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Squares (GF) and Reminiscing

There is just something about the month of November that I love. I can't put my finger on exactly what makes it so special, but it has always been one of my favorites. It may be the cold, the crispness of winter arriving with leaves flitting through the air, the cranes trilling as they fly to the river each evening, the fact that it gets dark and quiet around 5:30 (I both hate and love this), being able to spend more time with my family, or maybe it is the anticipation of the holidays. I assume it is a combination of all of these things and more.

Lately, our family has been discussing family traditions. At first, we thought that our lifestyles did not permit the establishment of traditions. But as we talked about it more, I began to think that traditions are really just customs that set the mood for special occasions. For instance, for the past eight or so years, we drove to my grandparents house in a small Northern New Mexico town for Thanksgiving. Each time I was there I would walk around the quiet neighborhood and for the first time realize how cold it is in late November.  I would help my grandmother and mother cook all day long, enjoying the company, the warmth, and the smells of the kitchen. My brother, my grandfather, and I would all settle in their cozy living room to watch the Macy's day parade.

Even though we no longer go to my grandparents house and do these things, I still always associate Thanksgiving with images of the leaves carpeting the sidewalk on their street, the elegant table setting my grandmother set out, the picture of the extravagant parade on the screen of their old fashioned television, and the wonderful conversations we had while sharing the feast.  For me it was those simple traditions we had that created memories that I will always remember.

My family is always experimenting with different recipes, so we only have a few foods that we traditionally make. These pumpkin chocolate chip bars are one of them. They are very nostalgic for me because my mother always made them around this time of year. This is the first time I attempted making them gluten free, but I was pretty satisfied with the results. For me they are just one of those baked goods that the moment you take a bite, you are brought back to earlier days. The spices, melty chocolate, and pumpkin marry together to create a perfect memory.

Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip Squares (GF)
makes 12 to 24 squares depending on size

1 cooking pumpkin or 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups Pamela's store bought gluten free flour mix (I used the bread mix and flour blend) 
1 tablespoon pumpkin- pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. If using a cooking pumpkin, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, cut it into quarters or eighths. Scoop out and discard the seeds and fibers. Place the pumpkin pieces skin-side down in a shallow roasting tin. Roast for 45 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. Leave to cool for a while, then scoop out the flesh and blitz it to a puree or mash well.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour mix, pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, and mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in pan.
5. Lift cake from pan (using foil as an aid). Peel off foil, and use a serrated knife to cut into 12-24 squares.

Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living