Monday, February 27, 2012

The gift of food and Blood Orange Marmalade

Why do I cook? 

There are many different answers to that question, but my reason usually varies depending on the day and my mood. Mostly, I truly love being in the kitchen. Of course, when life gets in the way, making a dinner can seem like an impossible task to conquer. These nights are deemed “date nights,” which make us feel better about eating out…we’re being romantic, not lazy!

I find that even on the days when I’ve declared a hiatus in the kitchen though, it calls my name. Take-out menu in one hand, phone in the other, I’ll suddenly decide instead that I’ll just make a “quick” sauce with the tomatoes and peppers sitting in the fridge. Once that first onion is chopped, I’m in another world, suddenly relaxed, relishing the time it takes to make what has turned into a not-so-quick sauce after all. To me, there is such comfort in cooking that it only takes moments to turn a bad mood around. I’m amazed to find myself singing and dancing along to music mere minutes after I’ve been ranting to Andy about my “awful” day. Perhaps it’s that my day wasn’t actually so bad? In the grand scheme of things, no, it definitely wasn’t, and cooking somehow gives me that perspective.

What else do I like about cooking? 

I like the look on someone’s face when they really love something you’ve made. My sister is notorious for this face. Her eyes roll slightly back and her mouth turns up in a Cheshire Cat-like smirk. She gets “the face” when she eats Cadbury eggs, chocolate or bacon, among other things. Turns out, she also gets “the face” when she eats my blood orange marmalade.

My sister has recently taken up residence in another state. Her move didn’t come as a big shock, and due to her travelling the past few years, I’d already gotten used to her not being just down the street. With technology being what it is, we get to “see” each other often and are up-to-date on the current goings-on in each other’s lives. But she was here visiting last week and seeing her face-to-face made me miss some things more than usual. I miss our after-work happy hour meetings where we’d dish on our day, nothing too inconsequential to mention. I miss our inside jokes that would leave others looking at us like we were insane. I miss stealing her clothes and then blatantly lying about it, sometimes while wearing said item of clothing. I miss throwing cashews in her eye. (Really, who doesn’t close their eye when a cashew is coming towards it?) I miss our Spock-like mind meld, where all we’d have to say was one or two words to get our point across. But mostly, I just miss my sister…period.
So when she tasted my marmalade and made “the face,” I promptly made an extra batch to send home with her, under the guise of wanting to tweak the recipe a bit. Why the guise? I’m still not sure…the best I can come up with was that I wasn’t quite ready to admit how much I miss her; wasn’t ready to shed the tears that accompanied that admission.    

As I was making the second batch, I thought about the look on her face when she tried it, how much I appreciated that look, and how I hoped she would make that face every time she ate it. And also, how I hoped that every time she ate it, she would think of me. After all, the gift of food is a powerful one…hopefully as much for the recipient as for the giver.

Whether you're cooking to relax, cooking for yourself, or cooking for others...enjoy.

Blood Orange Marmalade with Clove and Vanilla

Makes about 4 cups

1 pound blood oranges
1 Meyer lemon
4 cups water
3 cloves
1/2 vanilla bean
3 cups sugar

Trim the ends off the oranges and lemon. Thinly slice fruit, then cut slices into small pieces. Split vanilla bean in half and scrape out seeds.

Combine citrus, water, cloves, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a heavy simmer. Let simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rinds are very tender.

Remove cloves and vanilla bean from mixture. Stir in sugar. Return to a boil, then reduce to a heavy simmer. Let simmer for about 70 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into glass jars. When cool, refrigerate to set completely.

I’m not normally a big fan of orange marmalade, but the floral notes from the blood oranges, along with the clove and vanilla, make this a marmalade I can get behind. It doesn’t have that overt bitterness that I usually associate marmalade with, which is why I like this one. It’s perfect on toast, and might even make an appearance in cheesecake soon…hint, hint.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not-So-Fat Tuesday with Baked Catfish

I'm in a blog slump. Lack of motivation and a busy schedule are the main reasons, but I also felt like I just needed a break. And for the first time in a long time, I'm not worried about tumbling stats and slow traffic. That's progress, huh?

So I'm only popping in quickly with a Mardi Gras recipe for Pecan-crusted Catfish. Really, I could completely bypass the fish and just eats spoonfuls of the accompanying Cajun-spiced Pecan Compound Butter, which would actually be appropriate on a day named Fat Tuesday. But all in all, this recipe is actually fairly figure-friendly (so long as you don't go crazy with the butter), since it's baked rather than fried. 

What I learned as a result of this recipe is that there are two camps when it comes to catfish: you either love it or you hate it. If you hate it, halibut would make a fantastic substitution. Or you could drown the catfish in so much butter you don't taste it. Okay, okay...enough about the butter...  

Happy Fat Tuesday...indulge while you can!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A #LaRomanella Recipe: Tapenade-topped Halibut

What do you do when you’re asked to create a recipe and you have a freezer full of meat? Go out and buy fish, of course.

I recently cleaned out the freezer and declared that we would most certainly NOT be buying any more meat. In our freezer, pork and beef are the main attraction, and it’s all thanks to the meat clearance section at the grocery store. As I wrote that, I realized that meat clearance doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?

But there’s nothing wrong with this clearance meat, other than it’s quickly approaching sell-by date, and we are incapable of passing up a good meat deal. At the grocery store just days after I had made this no-more-buying-meat declaration, Andy walked up to our grocery cart with a 50% off package of pork chops, looking lovingly at them as he put them in the cart. And what did I do? I marveled over the fact that we were getting THREE HUGE PORK CHOPS for only $3! We’re hopeless…

So…when I was selected to participate in Smart & Final’s campaign to come up with a recipe using their La Romanella products, do you think I took it as an opportunity to use up something we already had in the freezer. Nope. Once again, instead of pulling from our frozen stockpile, I went out and bought ridiculously expensive halibut at the fish market.

When browsing for inspiration for this recipe, I knew immediately that I wanted to create two things: a spicy tapenade and a quick tomato sauce. Fresh canned tomatoes make a homemade sauce really easy. And there is no shortage of all things pickled in the La Romanella aisle. Olives, capers and pepperoncini would definitely go into the tapenade.

Here is my Italian-inspired entrée, sans any pork or beef, of course…

Tapenade-topped Pan-seared Halibut over Spaghetti

Serves 4

1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and rinsed
1/3 cup Manzanilla olives, pitted and rinsed
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon chopped La Romanella pepperoncini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pasta sauce:
1 can (28 ounces) La Romanella whole peeled pear tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons red wine
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

4 halibut fillets, about 5-6 ounces each
olive oil

cooked spaghetti

For tapenade:
Put olives, capers, and pepperoncini in a mini food processor. Pulse until chopped finely, but not pureed. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in olive oil and lemon juice. Reserve.

For pasta sauce:
Remove tomatoes from juice and chop roughly. Reserve juice and tomatoes. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic, cook about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and juice, red wine, cayenne pepper (if using), salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30- 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For halibut:
Lightly oil halibut and season with pepper. When sauce is ready, heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add halibut fillets and cook 3-5 minutes per side, depending on thickness, until just cooked through.

To serve, plate spaghetti and top with sauce. Place halibut on top and add a spoonful of tapenade.

This turned out to be one of those dishes that completely exceeded my hopes and expectations. It was really, really, really good, and I want to eat it again very soon. The halibut stays so tender, the sauce tastes fresh and light, and the tapenade offers a salty bite with a kick. If you’re trying to get more fish into your diet, dishes like this make it easy.

This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias #CBias. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The obligatory pink martini for Valentine’s Day

Let me admit something up front: I am not a Valentine’s Day celebrator. But the food blogging world is, so here I am.

Don’t get me wrong…I love being in love and expressing that love. What I don’t love are overpriced roses and jam-packed restaurants charging an obscene amount for a subpar prix fixe menu. In my mind, you should get flowers any old day, for any old reason, and especially when they don’t cost four times as much. And you should go out on a date with your husband just because, not just because it’s February 14.

Hang on a second here…let me just get down and put my soapbox away.

Okay…that’s done. Now let me tell you what I do like about Valentine’s Day. I like that it’s a good reason to do a pink martini test kitchen. There’s really no other time of year when you can get away with that. Maybe Easter, but that’s stretch. I think more yellow and green for Easter, and those colors don’t necessarily lend themselves to appealing cocktails. So that leaves Valentine’s Day. And you’d better believe that I created a pink martini.

Not only is it the quintessential pink, it’s also creamy, chocolaty and super girly. (Although that didn’t stop Andy from guzzling drinking his.)

So, for those of you wanting a pink cocktail to toast with, check out my Pink Chocolate Martini recipe here.

And for those of you who can’t wait for all this to be over, you’ve only got one more day, but this martini might help you feel better in the meantime.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sometimes blunders turn into Coconut Curry Turkey Pitas

A couple weeks ago, I was having another one of those days in the kitchen. Nothing was going right; seemingly simple dishes were eluding me; I was getting more frustrated by the minute. I have to remember that sometimes, incredible meals are born this way.

My only task that day was to make two dipping sauces for shrimp cocktail. That doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Well, three different versions went down the drain. I was in a foul mood. Spending HOURS working on a couple of measly dipping sauces is not my idea of time well spent. Eventually, I ended up with two that I thought were passable. At that point, nothing seemed good enough, mostly because of the sour taste in my mouth from the whole experience. At the last minute, I grabbed some leftover coconut milk from the fridge and made a third contender with curry, which actually ended up being the one I was happiest with. However, when my official taste tester got home and sampled all three, he deemed the coconut curry sauce to be too potent for the shrimp. Even though I was on the verge on tears by that point, I knew he was right. It went into the refrigerator to be put to use another time.

A few days later when I used the curry sauce, I was actually glad for the dipping sauce debacle. If I’d nailed those sauces right away, this meal never would have come about.

Coconut Curry Turkey Pitas

Makes 24 turkey patties (about 6 pitas)

Curry Sauce:
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Turkey patties:
1 egg
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped red Fresno pepper
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1.25 pounds ground turkey
canola oil

Pita pockets, cut in half and separated
Sliced red Fresno peppers
Sliced tomato

For curry sauce:
In a small saucepan, heat canola oil over medium heat and quickly cook garlic and ginger. Stir in coconut milk, curry powders and salt. Let mixture simmer and reduce for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream and vinegar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For turkey patties:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together first 9 ingredients. Add turkey and incorporate well.

Form roughly 24 patties (about 2” x 3/4") and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. When ready to cook, heat canola oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook patties in batches for about 3 minutes per side, until cooked through. (Time will vary depending on thickness.) Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

To assemble pitas, spoon sauce into pockets, then stuff with turkey patties, cilantro, arugula, tomatoes and peppers as desired. Spoon more sauce over the top if desired.

The flavors and spice in this dish are huge and fresh. Just looking at these photos made me want to change my dinner plans tonight. Next time I’m having an off day in the kitchen, I’m just going to make this instead.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Time off and slow-cooked chicken

This is my view. I am in love with it.

I’m sitting on the deck next to Andy, looking out at this amazing landscape, and the only sounds breaking the silence are a very occasional car, a crow cawing in the distance, and the water lapping at the shore. The sun is warm but a chill in the air still requires a sweatshirt to be comfortable. The rain all day yesterday has washed everything clean. My feet are sore from hiking. I may have touched poison oak on said hike but I’m trying not to think about it. We’re going to have cheese and wine for dinner, and for dessert we bought an armload of candy bars at the little town store.  These are the moments we live for. And I couldn’t be happier.

We went back and forth this year about what our anniversary trip would entail. There were many options, most involving a lot of travel and a lot of activity. At the last minute, we did a one-eighty and went for complete relaxation only two hours away. Sure, we threw in a hike or two, but for the most part, sitting on this deck or in front of the fire has been our number one priority. And although I’m obviously not doing the best job of unplugging completely, I’ve done far better than I hoped.

With that in mind, I’m taking a shortcut and padding this post with photos from our trip and a jump to a recipe I wrote earlier this week. Forgive me...

If you're in need of a make-ahead dinner for Valentine's Day so you can spend the evening cooing with your loved one, check out this Slow-cooked Chicken and Potatoes in White Wine Sauce recipe. The meat is so tender you'll be lucky to get it out of the slow cooker attached to the bone. And you won't have to do a thing once it's cooking...except eat it later.

Now back to the vacation photos... more food shot:

Now I'm unplugging again...see you Monday.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Spicy Bloody Mary: The Ultimate Hangover Cure

After a day of overindulging during the Super Bowl, some of us could probably use a little hair of the dog, eh? Enter the Bloody Mary…and since it has tomato juice in it, it’s totally breakfast-appropriate.

Back in September we took a trip to Santa Barbara, where I experienced the most perfect Bloody Mary EVER at Brophy Brothers. Since then, I’ve been working on replicating it, which is a really, really tough job. Now, I can’t say that this is an exact replica of Brophy’s version since it’s been awhile since I’ve tasted theirs, but I can say that I love it. A lot.

This will be a shorter than usual post, since I’m attempting to take some time off this week as Andy and I celebrate our anniversary. Andy does not believe that I am capable of abandoning my online world, and he’s probably right. The semi-remote location where we’ll be spending a few days may not have a television or phone, but it does have Wi-Fi. (Yes, I checked and yes, I have a problem.) Making it even harder for me to unplug: I got to write my first “trending” articles last week and I’m hooked. They’re fast-paced, time-sensitive pieces, and that means that I don’t have the luxury of overthinking or procrastinating. I definitely got an adrenaline rush doing them, and that means I keep checking my email to see if any more opportunities have come my way. What’s that? You want to see these trending pieces? Well, I'm so glad you asked…click to learn all about the salmonella outbreak at Taco Bell or the Wing Bowl championship. (Seriously, 337 wings is no small feat.)

But...keeping brevity in mind, I’ll get straight to the cocktail.

Spicy Bloody Mary

Makes 4

2 cans tomato juice (11 ounces total)
6 ounces vodka
1/2 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
celery stalks
lime wedges

Mix all ingredients well in a pitcher. Pour over ice. Garnish each glass with a celery stalk and lime wedge.

It’s a stiff drink. It’s spicy. And it’s exactly what your hangover needs.