Friday, November 28, 2008

Nuts for the Party!

The past couple of months I have been experimenting with flavoring & roasting walnuts, pecans and almonds. This is the first of a few recipes that I've been satisfied with; however, there can always be improvements. My initial motivation was finger food for a martini party, but since my apartment is so tiny, the party has been put on hold. Guess I'm stuck with my experiments...

I tend to stay away from white sugar mostly because I enjoy the subtlety of natural sweeteners like Maple Syrup and Agave Nectar versus the stronger punch of white sugar. Orange zest can give anything a bit of complexity in flavor and aroma. In this quick recipe, the zest lightens up the richness of the lone pecan. Also, the white pepper addition is up to you, but I think it's a perfect compliment to the sweetness... especially when served with a cocktail!

Roasted Pecans with Orange Essence
2 Cups Whole Raw Pecans
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup Dark Amber Maple Syrup
3 tbsp orange zest
3 pinches of coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp white pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Toss all of the ingredients in a large bowl; never hurts to sample a pecan before placing in the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread pecans out on the lined baking sheet and place in oven for about 12 minutes. To test that the nuts are fully toasted, break or bite on in half - the center should have some color. Remove from oven and drizzle with a little bit of agave nectar or maple syrup and a couple pinches of salt to your desire. Serve immediately once cooled.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stay Classy

Sweet Potatoes, the classiest of all potatoes, are one of my favorite root vegetables. Sweet Potatoes make the list of super foods for their delicious flavor and health benefits. When cooking them, I enjoy keeping the recipe simple using ingredients that enhance their natural sweetness. In the below recipe they are peeled and sliced into 3/4'' medallions. Almost like a fine steak, I only season them with salt, pepper and, my little kicker, Almond Oil. The salt brings out the sweetness and the almond oil is a nice compliment to the roasted flavor once they emerge from the oven. This dish is not only great for your health, providing omega 3's and loads of beta carotene, but also warms the soul!

Sweet Potatoes with Almond Oil
6 medium sweet potatoes - ends trimmed, peeled, rinsed and cut into 3/4'' rounds
3 tbsp Almond Oil
1 tbsp Coarse Sea Salt
1 tsp White Pepper
1/4 cup chopped Roasted Almonds (walnuts or pecans) to top it off

In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato rounds in the Almond Oil, Sea Salt and White Pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange sweet potatoes in a single layer and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place on the middle oven rack in a cold oven. Turn oven on to 425F and cook potatoes for 30 minutes.

Remove top layer of foil and return sweet potatoes to oven. Cook until the bottom edges brown up nicely, this will take around 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the slices over. Continue to roast until golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to your favorite platter and serve those hungry people!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cranberry Sauce 1, 2, 3

I'm so happy to be done with work for the week (I hope) and back in the kitchen with my mom. She always whips me back into kitchen shape - do this, do that! Clean up your mess! Then all of a sudden, voila! A delicious Thanksgiving meal is on the table. She is a stud in the kitchen and always impresses the best.

One of my favorite dishes on Thanksgiving is Cranberry Sauce. My secret ingredient is red wine or port as it adds some depth to a pretty basic recipe of simple syrup and cranberries. I will try to post some more recipes as time permits over the next couple of days. I love this time of the year!

Cranberry Sauce 1, 2, 3
2 Cups Cranberries
1/2 Cup White Sugar
1/4 Cup Agave Nectar
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Red Wine (I used Macleod Merlot - from an awesome family vineyard in Sonoma. A port would be great too, but I would consider using 1/4 Cup sugar if using port)
3 tbsp Orange Zest
Juice of 1/2 an orange
1 Cinnamon Stick

In a saucepan bring the Simple Syrup to a boil (1 Cup Sugar & 1 Cup Water). Add the Cranberries, wine, orange zest and cinnamon stick. Let them harmonize until sauce thickens. Remove Cinnamon stick.

There you have it! So simple and quick yet deliciously gourmet.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Summer Salad in November

The recent heat wave in San Francisco was brutally lovely. All I wanted to do was pour some sparkling white wine and work on my summer tan. Unfortunately, I have been under some of the most insane pressure at work: constantly re-evaluating properties and scrutinizing cash flows. So, Chinese Chicken Salad would have to do for my November, Summer-time fling.

A couple weeks ago I bought some cilantro, and the bunch has surprisingly held out this long for inspiration to hit. This recipe has come together through research in my cookbook collection and personal Chinese Chicken Salad experience. I'm a firm believer that to be a true chef you always have to be thinking: "Anything you can do I can do better." So stands true for this busy girl's take on the classic Chinese Chicken Salad!

This salad is somewhat fussy, but well worth the gathering of ingredients and follow-through of each step. Make sure you have some time on your hands, or an itch to cook for a couple of hours after work. First and foremost, think color! When I chose my ingredients I tried to vary the colors. At Tuesday's Farmer's Market I came across a pomegranate, green onions, daikon sprouts & carrots. Consider this a summer salad with a fall produce flare. Secondly, chicken with the bone in and skin on gives the best flavor, although I used quick chicken breast from Mr. Trader Joe. Don't forget the orange juice and ginger, as those are two key ingredients that will set this salad above the rest!

Chinese Chicken Salad
3 Cups Shredded Chicken
1/4 C Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Rice Vinegar
1 tbsp Agave Nectar

For the Salad:
Couple hand fulls of Daikon Sprouts
2 Cups shredded Cabbage (Napa Cabbage works as well)
1 Bunch of chopped Green Onions
1/2 Cup chopped Cilantro
1/2 Cup Carrot sliced in thin matchsticks
Pomegranate Seeds
1 Cup Roasted Unsalted Peanuts

1/2 C Sesame Oil
2 tbsp Rice Vinegar
3 tsp Orange Juice
1 tsp Agave Nectar (or honey)
1/2 tsp Red Chili Flakes
3 pinches sea salt
1 tbsp chopped Ginger
1 Clove Garlic chopped up

Poach the chicken and shred. In a bowl combine chicken, soy sauce, vinegar and agave. Marinate for a couple minutes, drain and throw chicken back in a pan. Cook over medium heat for a couple minutes. Put to the side.

Slice the pomegranate in half and let soak in a bowl of water. This makes it easier to release the pomegranate seeds from the pulp.

In a large bowl, place the chopped green onions, cilantro, cabbage, daikon sprouts and carrot. In another smaller bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Combine chicken in the bowl with the greens. Add peanuts and pomegranate seeds. Toss in dressing when you are ready to serve the salad. Top off with some chopped peanuts and pomegranate seeds.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Lets face it, I'm obsessed with Kale. Kale is an odd leafy vegetable that probably makes most people want to cringe at just the thought of eating it. But! Did you know, these leafy greens are packed with two-thirds of your daily Vitamin C, all of your Vitamin A, calcium, iron, antioxidants and flavor. Yes, flavor! But, coming from LA, I can't help but use enhancers. Kale loves garlic, lemon juice and salt. The salt and lemon juice tame the bitter nuance of the kale while the garlic simply adds to the rustic vibe of the dish.

Kale & Roasted Walnut Pasta has become my go-to dinner for any work-week night. It's healthy, satisfying, delicious and easy to make. Not to mention, it includes several super foods that do a body good. There are quite a few varieties of Kale, but I tend to use a variety of black kale, Laciniato, every time. When buying Organic Kale, look for a rich green color with no wilting, brown spots or yellow leaves.  Make sure to wash it well and slice into 1/4'' ribbons. I find if it isn't sliced thin the Kale is tough to chew and doesn't look very appetizing. The type of pasta you use can also make a difference. I like to use the Sprouted Wheat pasta from Trader Joe's. Quinoa or Brown Rice are also solid substitutions if you don't eat pasta or live life gluten free. You could also substitute the Kale with Broccollini or Rabini. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Rustic Kale & Roasted Walnut Pasta
About 8 oz Whole Wheat Pasta (I love Trader Joe's Sprouted Wheat Pasta as it adds to the rustic feel of the dish, but really any pasta of your choice will work)
3 Tbsp. Walnut Oil (Olive Oil is great as well)
4 cloves garlic
2 Cups of Ribbon Sliced Kale
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
Sea Salt to taste
1 C Roasted Walnuts
1/4 C Parmesan Cheese ( I prefer to grate my own )

Boil the pasta in a large pot until Al Dente.

While the pasta is cooking, chop the garlic and Kale.  In a braising pan, on medium heat, heat the Walnut Oil and Garlic for about a minute then add the Kale, 1 tbsp Lemon Juice & salt to taste (about 2 pinches). Let them cook together for about 5 minutes until the kale becomes a vibrant green (lemon juice also helps create this color). Turn off the heat.

Drain the cooked pasta, reserving a 1/4 Cup of pasta water, and toss pasta with the kale and garlic in the braising pan. Transfer this 1/4 Cup of pasta water to the Kale and pasta mixture, let them harmonize for a couple of minutes. Next, pour in the Cup of Roasted Walnuts. Put Kale dish in a large serving bowl and toss in the 1/4 Cup of Parmesan Cheese.  If you have any leftover roasted walnuts, you can chop these up and top off the dish.  Depending on my mood I may add more or less cheese; it's up to you and your preferences.

Serves about 4... or in my situation, covers lunch & dinner for the next day.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conversation Starters - Wine 101

A couple weeks ago I attended one of the fabulous and always engaging wine tasting events at Bion Divino Wine Boutique just off Polk Street. The wines were from the Italian region La Sibilla and were presented by quite the Italian, Vinicenzo Di Meo. Although I am far from a wine critic, this tasting was one of the more fascinating I had been to in a while. I left with a wealth of information and, of course, a slight buzz.

A lot of the wines I drink are from California vineyards or are your typical Malbecs and Merlots. I never took Italian wines too seriously, probably because they aren't as approachable as California wines. Little did I know, this was sure to change! We all know wines have a wonderful history in Italy, and I wasn't to shocked to learn the Falanghina grapes of La Sibilla were cultivated from 60 - 80 year old vines. More fascinating was that my palate was challenged by a new earthy, more mineral flavor of wine. The Campi Flegrei engulfed my palate with a mineral tartness reminiscent of their terroir - with each sip I could envision the red clay hills and rocky slopes where the vines grew. It was fascinating tasting terroir in wines as California wines always tend to be so fruity and bold.

Vinicenzo was passionate about not using oak in his wine making process. He made a great point that Oak overwhelms a palate making it difficult to pair such wines with food. Rather, a wine made without Oak cleanses and refreshes the palate, resulting in a wine that is much more suitable to pair with food... Something to think about for my next dinner party! But what really struck me was I had never consciously realized this dilemma of drinking Oak barrelled wines with food. This theory seemed so obvious, but struck me as I snacked on the available cheese and crackers. One of those "Aha" moments I guess (not to quote Oprah or anything).
I highly recommend purchasing these 3 wines yourself. Maybe try the reds next to a Merlot or a Pinot Oak Barreled wine and the Piedirosso next to a Chardonnay, would love to hear your opinion!
2007 Sibilla Falanghina, Campi Flegrei - younger version of the Campi Flegrei below, lots of terroir and minerality, as well as a subtle flavor of raspberries. Great with the manchego cheese they had at the tasting.
2006 Sibilla Falanghina, Campi Flegrei 'Cruna del Lago' - I'm saving this one for a special occasion. A delicious, smooth red. The terroir and minerality was there, but it was subtle. This was the one that did it for me, now I've almost become a little skeptical of CA reds... almost.
2007 Sibilla Piedirosso, Campi Flegrei - delicious white wine, high minerality yet nuances of Chardonnay sneak their way onto the palate. Very good with Brie or white fish.