Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkeytini: A Thanksgiving Cosmo

Thanksgiving, year by year, is rising in the ranks as my #1 favorite holiday. There are a number of reasons for this:
  • Aside from some serious grocery shopping, the spirit of Thanksgiving hasn't been diluted with consumerist hype they way some other holidays have. 
  • It's a holiday with no dividing lines, at least within the U.S., it's a holiday everyone can celebrate. 
  • It's all about food. On Thanksgiving, we unite around the table to do two things: give thanks for our bounty, and EAT! We fill our bellies together, and appreciate the blessing of fullness.
  • It's simple, it's beautiful, it's delicious, and it's all about the most transformative force in the Universe: Gratitude. We each have things to be thankful for, and somehow, reflecting on them inspires generosity. Gratitude, I've found, works like that every single day of the year.
  • And of course there's my newest reason, which I'll present to you in just a moment.
Last Thanksgiving I shared a story with you called, "Spirit of the Raisin," about bringing deep presence to the ritual of eating. It's one of my all time favorite posts, but this Thanksgiving, I offer you a different flavor of holiday spirit: 

MARTINIS!!!!!!!!!

The Turkeytini
(Makes 2 cocktails)

This Thanksgiving-inspired cosmo is a festive, rosy-hued cocktail. Some very good friends gave us a beautiful bottle of Yazi Ginger Flavored Vodka from Hood River Distillers, which I highly recommend if you can find it. If not, use plain vodka, and toss a few coins of freshly sliced ginger root into your cocktail shaker. Hubs and I really enjoyed the uh, "recipe testing" for this one. ; ) 

In a cocktail shaker combine:

4 ounces Ginger Flavored Vodka (or substitute plain and toss in a few slices of fresh ginger root)
2 ounces cranberry juice
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed grapefruit
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lime

Add plenty of ice, shake well, and pour into martini glasses. Garnish with one of the following:

A twist of grapefruit peel
A slice of lime
A thin slice of fresh ginger

Enjoy! But please, not if you are driving. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving dear Food-G readers. I will be counting you on my gratitude list in a very big way tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuscan Style Pot Roast : A Ski Bum's Dinner


Fall has ended here in Western Montana. Boom. Done. Kaput. Finito!!!

Last Wednesday a cold wind blew the last of the leaves away and fleece jackets were traded for down ones. Stylish sportster caps were traded for knit woollies with ear flaps. Anklets and running shoes were traded for thick Smartwools and winter boots. The snow began to fall in white waves, dusting, melting, dusting again, and now, staying put. Big flakes are flying this very moment, and the view from my office looks like a freshly shaken snow globe. The heat of summer is so fresh on my skin, it's hard to believe our highs this week are in the single digit range.

The ski areas are set to open right on schedule, and that makes me a very happy girl. Skiing is what brought me to this state 15 years ago. Oh, that and college ; )  It's also what overlapped my path and Noah's. I met him on a weekend trip to Big Sky. He was a lift operator there, and a snowboarder. He had long hair like The Black Stallion, and it was love at first sight.

As soon as we started dating, Noah got me into snowboarding, and I haven't really been skiing since. Maybe once a season, but I fell as madly in love with the sensation of surfing through deep, cold smoke powder, as I did with Noah.


That's me after doing some backcountry riding in Rogers Pass, B.C., New Years Day 2008

 I've been a knuckle dragging shred betty for the 14 years we've been together. Now, in keeping with what has become our, "Life Under Renovation," all that is about to change. Noah and I are switching to skis.

Non-skier/snowboarder types might miss the significance of this transition, but to us, and to our clan of Montana snow bums, this is BIG. By no means am I abandoning my beloved snow stick, but all I can say is that I haven't been this excited to hit the slopes, well, since the heli ski industry stole my favorite riding buddy 5 years ago. See, Noah had this dream to be a heli ski pilot in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. These were the mountains we watched in ski movies, back when he was bumping chairs in Big Sky. It was a good dream, and he did it for about 4 ski seasons in a row, collecting some of the most spectacular memories a person can claim.

Noah flying the A-Star in Alaska's Chugach Range.
Note**: In case you have no idea what heli skiing is, he dropped skiers off on the tops of those mountains, and picked them up after they had skied to the bottom.

The only problem-- nay, 2 problems: 1) We had to endure 3 solid months  and most of the ski season apart, and 2) The pilot doesn't get to ski!!!!!

Okay, maybe he got to ski a little. There's Noah in the yellow circle, coming down the backside of the Mendenhall Towers. Juneau, AK.

That's Noah, and that's why I love him, but I am very glad he's back now. We have remodeled our set-up for our new life, and some new two-plank adventures.

Any night now, I will have the first of the season's snow dreams. The kind where I can do anything, huck any cliff, rip any chute, thread my way trough perfectly spaced trees, the snow falling in glittery clouds as I pass. Flying, floating, on bottomless powder with a face full of snow, headphones blasting Beastie Boys. I'm giddy just thinking about it. I wonder though, will my first snow dream of the season find me on one plank, or two?

***************************
Mmmmm.... On to winter food. Ski food. Warming-up-after-a-day-in-the-snow food. This pot roast uses lots of flavor and slow braising to turn a cheaper cut of beef into a luxurious supper.

Tuscan Style Pot Roast
(4 to 6 servings)
Adapted from a recipe for Italian Pot Roast or "Stracotto" in The Joy of Cooking. I used their technique of piercing holes in the roast and stuffing with a fresh herb paste to infuse the meat with flavor. I also added complexity with some aromatic spices in the tomato-based braising liquid. Many Italian Pot Roast recipes mention that it is almost always served with polenta, but I couldn't resist the tender bite of some long linguine pasta paired with the meaty-rich tomato sauce. For an ultra-nutritious and lower-carb option, try serving over roasted spaghetti squash.

P.S.- The leftovers make great oven-toasted sandwiches. Split open a soft hoagie or kaiser roll, top one half with some of the sliced roast, and a bit of the tomato sauce. Top the other half with sliced mozzarella or provolone. Place open-faced on a baking sheet, on middle rack of oven, under the broiler until heated through and cheese is bubbling. Toss in a handful of chopped fresh arugula or spinach if you like. 
  
2 1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup water
A dash or two of ground cinnamon
A dash or two of ground clove
A dash or two of ground allspice
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 - 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Using the garlic, and fresh herbs, either make a paste using a mortar and pestle, or very finely mince. Using a small paring knife, make about a dozen deep slits in the roast, and stuff with  about half of the herb mixture, setting the rest aside for later use. If necessary, wipe excess herbs from surface of roast with a paper towel, so they don't scorch when you brown the roast. Sprinkle the roast on all sides with 1 tsp. kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Heat a medium (5-quart), non-reactive dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan, and once heated, add the roast. Sear the roast until well-browned on all sides, monitoring the heat so that a nice brown crust (i.e. fond) forms in the pan without scorching. This may take up to 20 minutes.
See that nice brown crust both on the roast, and in the pot?
I'm rather fond of "fond."

Once browned, remove roast from pan, and set aside. Immediately add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and water. If you have some, sliced mushrooms would also make a nice addition. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan. Saute until vegetables are very soft, 7 to 10 minutes.

Add ground spices, red wine, and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and let bubble until liquid is reduced by half. Add crushed tomatoes and remaining fresh herb paste, and stir to combine. Nestle the roast into the sauce, spooning some of the liquid on top of roast. Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to lowest setting possible while still maintaining a low and slow simmer.

For a small roast like this, it's best to flip the meat about every 20 to 25 minutes. I used to think pot roast was done when the meat shredded easily with a fork, but by that point, the meat is not only stringy, but dry. The meat will be tender and more juicy if it is not cooked to the "shred" stage. A roast this size may be done in as little as 1 1/2 hours, but may take up to 2 1/2, so give yourself some leeway with dinnertime. The Joy of Cooking recommends testing for doneness by slicing 2 small pieces from end of roast. If the inner slice is firm-tender and a bit moist, the roast is done. There may even be some pink in the center of the roast.

If necessary, skim fat from top of cooking liquid once the roast is done. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the roast from the liquid, slice across the grain, 1/4-inch thick, and serve with polenta, potatoes, or pasta, and generous scoops of the sauce. A simple green salad and the rest of the red wine make lovely accompaniments to this soul-warming meal.

Here's us at the beach, on a little island outside of Cordova, on one of my visits to heli ski "man camp".


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Food-G Followers, Meet Nourish Network

Sometimes, embedded in the ocean of people that surrounds us, there are special people, stand-out people, visionaries who devote their life's work to being part of the solution. Using my blog to share uplifting information with you, and to support those hardworking visionaries in their efforts, is one of the most meaningful things I can use my voice for.  
Food-G readers, there's someone I want to introduce to you...

In case you don't already know her, meet my friend and mentor, Lia Huber. Lia is doing amazing work from the launchpad of her vibrant online community, Nourish Network. Her mission: "Nourishing body, soul, and planet with every bite."

I rarely use my blog to promote products or people, but this is important, and not only because I've recently written a couple of articles for her.



If you want to skip straight to my story on the importance of cooking with the whole animal, including a recipe for Cremini and Short Ribs Ragu, go right ahead.



Or if you'd like to read my Thanksgiving tips, including a recipe for Wild Rice Salad with Pistachios and Golden Raisin Vinaigrette, be my guest.

While you're there, tootle around Nourish Network and you're sure to find inspiration to help you enjoy good food.

Lia knows that it's not just what we eat, but HOW we eat that sustains us. Nourish Network is about good food, not "diet" food. It's about loving our bodies enough to put good things inside. And it's about how doing that impacts the world around us, like the ripples from a rain drop.

Through a steady stream of engaging food articles, videos, and group or individual counseling, Lia helps people improve their relationship with food, by shining a light on new pathways, helping us learn to love eating in a healthier way-- a less self-destructive way. Lightbulb moment, anyone? 

Having walked her own harrowing path of disease and near-death diagnoses, Lia walks her talk. Just knowing her has made me feel more vibrant, alive, and committed to making the best choices I can, both in my life at the table, and away from it. So check it out! Join the community! Enjoy! Learn! Glean! Be inspired!

That is all dear Food-G readers. I know you will be as glad to have crossed paths with Lia, as I am.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce


Dear Noah was home from work yesterday with a pinched nerve in his neck. He tried sitting, laying, moving around. Nothing was comfortable. Sometime in the late afternoon, he finally fell into the deep sleep of someone who has been in pain all day.

He slept and slept and I didn't want to wake him from what would hopefully be a healing rest. It was getting close to dinner time and  I needed to get cooking. The problem was that I was making Chicken Piccata for dinner.

Chicken (or Veal) Piccata consists of thin cutlets of meat, pounded with a mallet, lightly floured, browned in butter, and served with lemon. Sometimes a pan sauce is made with capers, butter, mushrooms, shallot, and more lemon. Considering our bedroom's proximity to the kitchen, going to town on some chicken with a meat mallet would be like, totally uncool. Plus, it was getting late. It had been a long, chaotic day of catching up from my trip to San Francisco, and I didn't really feel like taking the time to deal with cutting and pounding eight or ten pieces of sliced chicken breast.

But could I make whole, pan-seared, Piccata-style chicken breasts that were worth eating? Would they be dry and boring and lacking flavor? Would the floured exterior burn before the breasts were fully cooked?

Turns out the answers are yes, no, and no, in that order.

This is a mallet-free, weeknight version of Piccata-style chicken. Faster, easier, and still delicious enough to serve to company on a Sunday night. You might call it, "Lazy Man's Piccata", or "Piccata for People with Sleeping Spouses." Whatever you call it, just be sure and do one thing: make this dish.

Noah woke up just as I was snapping the last of the photos and getting ready to fill a couple glasses with the leftover white wine. Seeing, smelling, and tasting good food put a smile on his otherwise pained face, and that made the whole meal taste that much better.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Caper Pan Sauce
(Serves 3 to 4)
Adapted from "The Best Recipe," published by Cook's Illustrated

3 tablespoons of oil and butter might sound like a lot to saute the chicken, but don't be tempted to skimp. The fat, in combination with high heat, is key to a chicken breast with a lightly crisped exterior, and juicy interior. You won't be adding additional fat to make the pan sauce, so this turns out to be a relatively light version of this dish. I served this with some simple roasted squash, but angel hair pasta tossed with a little olive oil, Parmesan, and garlic salt would make a simple and lovely accompaniment.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 large clove garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
6 ounces (2 cups) sliced mushrooms, button or cremini
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
few grinds black pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley
Lemon slices, for garnish

In a medium mixing bowl combine first 5 ingredients, and stir to combine. Add Chicken breasts and toss to coat. Let sit while you slice the mushrooms.

Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate and dredge chicken breasts in flour, coating all sides.


Set oven to 200 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil in a large nonreactive skillet** (see note) over medium-high heat. Butter will foam and then subside. When it begins to turn light golden brown, with a faint nutty aroma, it's time to add the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook breasts 4 to 5 minutes per side. Use tongs to flip as necessary, and lower heat as needed, to prevent scorching.


When chicken feels firm to the touch, remove to an oven-proof plate or serving platter, and place in warm oven. Immediately add white wine or chicken stock to the pan. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce liquid by half. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, a few grinds black pepper, and 1 tablespoon capers. Continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until mushrooms have released their liquid and the pan is nearly dry.

 

Add 1 teaspoon flour to mushrooms, stirring to combine. Add 1/2 cup water, bring liquid to a simmer, and reduce by half, or until a light sauce-like consistency is reached. Add chopped parsley and stir to combine.


Taste and adjust seasonings. If you used chicken broth in place of white wine, you may wish to increase the acidity with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.

Spoon mushroom mixture over chicken breasts, garnish with sliced lemon, and serve.

** A Note on Pan Choice: Best choices for creating this kind of pan sauce are stainless steel or enameled cast iron, because they get a nice brown crust, or "fond" on the cooking surface, and are non-reactive. When liquid is added and the fond is scraped up, these brown bits add tons of rich flavor. Nonstick will do just fine if that's all you have, but won't produce much fond, or the same rich, brown flavor. Also, since this dish uses acidic ingredients like lemon juice and white wine, cast iron or aluminum pans are not recommended. These metals will react with the acid, giving the sauce an aluminum taste.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Foodbuzz Blogger Fest 2010: Tips, Tricks, and Pics

San Francisco! It's been such a long time. The last time I walked these streets I was in chef's whites and hounds tooth pants, lugging my knife bag and tool box to and from the California Culinary Academy. This time, I was lugging my laptop, camera, and business cards, around the 2nd Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. How is it that I always end up roaming these streets with a pack of unabashed food-worshippers? What can I say? This is my tribe and I love 'em.

One of the highlights of the weekend was getting to meet superstar Chef, Mary Sue Milliken, of Border Grill.
She was here with the folks from Alaska Seafood to announce The 1st Ever Wild Alaska Fish Taco Recipe Contest. Anyone can enter, and the winner gets an all expenses paid trip to LA to serve their winning taco from the Border Grill Truck with the Too Hot Tamales (Chef's Milliken and Feniger). You also get $500 bucks, a snazzy camera, and a bunch more stuff. I don't know about you, but my taco wheels are a turnin'.


I learned a new tortilla trick from Chef Mary Sue:

Pro Tip for reheating corn tortillas: dip them in water before giving them a quick one-two-flip in a hot skillet, for moist and pliable taco wrappers that won't break when you bend them.

I also got to meet one of my all time favorite food bloggers: Marc from No Recipes.


His food photos make my tummy growl. When I see his pics, I wonder, "How did he do that?!" He shared some of his photo expertise in a Breakout Session called:



Marc taught us a surprising trick for creating bright, Martha Stewart-like food photographs:

Pro Tip for food photography: Use back lighting to create bright and glowy food images with a feeling of suspense and mystery. 


I couldn't spend a weekend in San Francisco without running into someone from my culinary alma mater. Chef John taught computer skills at CCA, and is now blogging full time at Food Wishes , which features video recipes, prepared by Chef John, and requested by his readers-- hence, their "Food Wishes". His site is the web's LEADING video recipe blog! Go Chef John! He explained how he has filmed most of his 500+ online cooking videos:


Pro Tip for video recipe blogging: Skip the hair and makeup session by filiming in a style called "hands-in-pans". No need to show your mug when the camera is strictly pointed at the food.

Aside from the standard elbow rubbing, connection building, and shop talk typical of such events, what made my first Foodbuzz conference stand out was, well, the FOOD. And the beer. And the wine. It was like a 48-hour cocktail party with the most outstanding hors d'oeuvres, and no one was complaining about that. Last night's Gala Dinner was hands down the best plated dinner I've ever had at a 350+ event.
Much as I enjoy food and wine pairing, the bona fide German bier frau in me enjoyed many a glass of barley pop throughout the weekend, all from members of the San Francisco Brewers Guild-- an apparently robust and flourishing organization. One of the most memorable flavors of the weekend for me was this Watermelon Wheat Beer from 21st Amendment, served at Saturday afternoon's Tasting Pavilion.


Even at the end of it's summer season, this refreshing brew managed to feel both light and substantial, quenching my thirst with a juicy hit of watermelon, without being sweet. Sweet beer has it's place, but it's rare that I sample a beer made with fruit that I want to keep around a 6-pack of. This was an exception, and I put in a request that they start distributing to Montana, asap.

There is so much I'll be taking with me back to Montana. Like new and rekindled friendships with: 

My Luscious Temple
You Can't Eat What?
Living My Whole Life
A Foodie Stays Fit
The Enchanted Cook
The Nutty Fig
Ash and Lew Plus 2
Nibbles of Tidbits
And too many more to mention!


I'll also be taking home a heap of swag, a mild hangover, and a few extra pounds. It was worth it! Every delicious, organic, aromatic calorie. Foodbuzz, you know how to have fun. Thanks for making this weekend as dreamy as this spectacular city.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alton Brown's Tres Leches Cake and El Dia de los Muertos


Yesterday marked the Mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead. Here in Missoula, Montana we celebrated with our own version, based on the traditional Mexican ritual of celebrating the souls of our departed. In Mexico, graves are adorned with flowers, candles, and treats for departed loved ones. Sugar skulls and marigolds are common ornaments.

It is a day of remembrance and of summoning spirits, more celebratory than solemn. Death wears a vibrant mask on El Dia de los Muertos: colorful, flowered, and candied. It's a refreshing departure from some of the more despairing views of this inevitable part of life, and I think many Americans are intrigued by the holiday because it gives us a way to bring back the souls of our departed, and to dance with them. 



Here in Missoula, that's what happens every November 2nd. The Day of the Dead Parade, like a high-spirited and costumed funeral procession, toddles down Higgins Avenue, to Caras Park. As the sun retreats, candles are lit, fire dancers appear, hand drums start beating, and the dancing begins.

Missoula loves and celebrates our version of this ritual. In the cool shadow of Halloween, artwork, costumes, and dancing, all interpret and pay homage to the dead in some way.

What would Missoula's Day of the Dead Parade be without a couple of dead tubers?


After the parade we headed back to our pal's house for a Latin American treat: Tres Leches Cake, or Three Milks Cake. Tres Leches is just that: a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half. After sitting overnight and soaking up all that sweet milky goodness, the cake is topped with a whipped cream frosting. Served chilled, this cake is sweet, cool, creamy and beyond moist, like a dense marriage of flan and souffle. If you've never had Tres Leches cake, you're in for a treat. There's nothing else like it. 


I think my buddy Logan liked it, even if she did only eat the frosting : )

Click here for Alton Brown's recipe for Tres Leches Cake. I've made it twice and both times it has been wonderful. Two tips though:

1. I think that 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream would make plenty of frosting. 2 cups seems like too much.
2. Be sure you let the cake soak overnight, or 24 hours. It takes a while for the cake to absorb so much moisture.



I try to remember the light spirit of death we felt yesterday, which turned out to be a day that took one of the greatest surfers who ever lived. Andy Irons was far too young and full of promise to be taken from his friends, fans, and family so soon. I dedicate this post to him. Rest in peace, Andy Irons. May you be dancing down that great blue wave in the sky.

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