Monday, November 29, 2010

My Two Year Anniversary - Thank you!

This morning, I decided to double-check what my two year Blog Annivesary is.  With a gasp, I realized that it's today!  The cake photo is a "Tuxedo Cake" that I made a year ago.  It's made with my favorite chocolate cake recipe, and filled with a white chocolate mousse.   I never tasted the finished product, because I donated it to a church function. I have no idea why I don't post more baked goods on my blog.  I even took a cake decorating class, but I just can't seem to find the patience time to make fancy schmancy cakes!  See what I mean?

I have at least a dozen recipes I've photographed, but little time to edit the photos and write a post. So much for my brilliant plans I had-- like to post my favorite cake recipe... to write an updated bio of myself and to announce a CSN giveaway.  Alas, I have 15 minutes to write a post, and so my fingers are flying.   In case you've wondered (or not), I spend about 1 1/2 hours per post, creating a photo tutorial.  It's a labor of love, but I work full-time.  I just wanted to share some thoughts:

Like so many other food bloggers, I started my own blog as a place to store and share recipes with family and friends.  Little did I know that my blog would teach me so many things, such as:
  • There are countless food blogs out there, and I have collected more recipes "to make" than I'll ever live long enough to make.  I'm so thankful for those of you who visit my blog on a regular basis.  The odds are, if you're on my SIDE BAR Blogroll (left side, towards the bottom), you feel like family to me. I'm so honored when I see myself on someone else's blogroll, too.  It is such an honor and thank you!
  • There are so many food bloggers I am still getting to know.  If you leave a comment on my posts, odds are that I am coming to visit your blog.  I feel like I'm finding a treasure trove of folks who love baking, cooking, writing about food and photography as much as I do.  You inspire me to try new things. I love it.
  • I am thrilled when someone tries one of my recipes, and takes the time to tell me.  It means a lot to me. Just so you know, I've been told that someone has made a recipe of mine and they didn't like it.  Interestingly, they usually are anonymous.  Otherwise, I wouldn't take offense, but it would be nice to find out what might have gone wrong!
  • As I look back to my earliest photos, I'm determined to take new shots.  They are awful-- I have learned that flash photography makes food look ugly less appetizing. I have come a long way from using my inexpensive Fujifilm Finepix Point-and-shoot camera!  I am the owner of a spanking new Canon Rebel T1i EOS digital camera.  I'm still playing around with learning about white balance, ISO's and the bells and whistles that goes with it.  I can honestly say that as much as I love making a new recipe, it's photographing the process that I really enjoy.
  • If I could afford to make a living at teaching people how to cook, I would.  Still I am thankful for my job, my salary and the benefits that come with it and I'll have to wait until winning the lottery retirement so that I can  blog more often. For now,  I'm lucky to blog once or twice a week.
  • My husband has finally learned that when I yell "Dinner!", he waits for when I actually turn off my camera and put it away before he comes to the table.   Most every dish you see on my blog, is the "trophy plate" shot that ends up being served to my husband.
  • My husband and son are the driving force behind my love of blogging.  I pour so much love into each recipe, and their opinion of how it tastes and looks carries so much value to me.  
  • I'd love to go to a culinary school.  One day.  When my ship comes in. 
  • Being a food blogger has opened me up to trying new recipes-- and particularly, something that challenges me to try an ingredient, or process, that is new to me.  I am retraining my palate to try eating things I thought I hated, for most of my life. I am completely self-taught, but I've learned so many of my tricks and tips from recording countless Food Network and America's Test Kitchen episodes.
(I've set myself up for the perfect way of saying that I want to share with you one of my favorite things-- in a scaled down Oprah Winfrey moment..)

I want to give one lucky winner a set of America's Test Kitchen DVD' s from Season 10.  I love this show! But, I also want to give the same lucky winner a one year subscription to Cook's Illustrated Online!  I have subscribed to Cook's Illustrated for years, and their recipes never fail me.  With an online subscription, you can look up, store and print the recipes you'll see on the DVD (and more).  I've posted several of their recipes and have more to share (back to the lack of free time problem...)  GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED!

I am paying for this myself, by the way. Nobody is sponsoring this giveaway! 

To enter, please leave a comment and tell me something most of us probably don't know about yourself-- that is,  tell me something funny kitchen disaster story, or about something that you've always wanted to learn how  to make, or even who is your greatest inspiration as a homecook or baker?  I'd like to get to know you a little bit better.  If you can't think of anything, just say hello, where you are from and why you like me. Okay, skip the third thing. Just say hello.  I'll give you an example about me-- something you don't know...until now... ready?

I have a habit of heating my dinner plates, in the oven, before plating food. Why? I don't like to serve lukewarm food! 

Okay, one more...

I alphabetize my spices.  Oh, c'mon, I know I'm not the only person who does that?! Am I?

Thank you for making these last two years so much fun for me. I have more giveaways planned, so if you don't win this one... there's more to come.

Back to work-- it's my 4pm to 8pm night shift.(Oh, and it took more than 15 minutes to write this, but under 30. Shhhhh)

Thank you for two years of friendship and fun,

****THE GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED AT 7PM PST****  I will announce the lucky winner tomorrow.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Molasses & Vanilla Pecan Butter

If you despise the taste of Brussels Sprouts, I urge you to keep reading. Seriously, I am a convert of the I-Hate-Brussels-Sprouts Camp.  Actually, I think Brussels sprouts are kinda cute-- like miniature cabbages, don't you think?  To some palates, they can pack a very strong taste, I admit.  My conversion began when I made Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon.  Bacon makes most anything taste good? Are you feeling me? Then, Bobby Flay changed my opinion of Brussels sprouts forever.  I think he changed a multitude of hearts when he made this recipe on a recent Thanksgiving Feast Showdown with the very popular "Pioneer Woman".  I watched the episode (and I won't tell you who won, lest I spoil it for you).  I was intrigued by the components that Bobby Flay used-- Pomegranate Molasses... interesting, I thought.  Vanilla Bean -Pecan butter... Bobby, you're really talking to me, now.  He then sprinkles the roasted Brussels sprouts with pomegranate arils (that would be the beautiful seeds) For a final Ta-Da, freshly grated orange and lime zest.  Count me in!

I've never had pomegranate molasses, so I decided to research how to make it. It's very easy to make yourself, and I show you how here.  You can buy it, though I've never spotted it where I shop.

You need to make this Vanilla Bean - Pecan Butter.  Truly, you do.  Only, I'm going to show you how to make it right. I'm also going to share you with a nice little shortcut to using real vanilla bean. It's a lot cheaper, too.  Ready?  I buy Vanilla-Bean Paste.   Trust me, there is nothing wrong with using a real vanilla bean.  I just find them to be very sacred because they can be expensive.  I've purchased vanilla bean paste online, and have only recently discovered Singing Dog Vanilla products. I love the company, and their commitment to using sustainable ingredients.  In fact, being on the look-out for a Giveaway Promotion that I'll be posting very, very soon!  (My second anniversary is coming very in days.)

Whatever you do, don't use vanilla extract!  It's too potent for this recipe. (If you do, you'll be part of the family of folks who reviewed this recipe and complained that it was too sweet.) You're welcome.  To unsalted butter, you will add chopped toasted pecans and some vanilla bean seed (or vanilla bean paste). Mix it together and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  (I made something wonderful with the leftover butter, the next day. I'll post that later on.)

Now, you need to buy one Pomegranate.  Have you ever opened one up?  Neither had I!  But, I knew about the "under-water trick".  Why water?  Pomegranate seeds stain.  The water is a way to prevent the beautiful ruby-red juice from now staining your shirt, hands or anything else that's in the way.
First, put a couple of paper towels on your cutting board (unless you want a red-dyed cutting board).  Cut off the ends (I went a tad bit deep) and then score the sides, just until the pith (white stuff)...

In a bowl of water, begin to peel the Pomegranate.  The white stuff will float to the top, and the arils (seeds) will sink to the bottom.

Now, drain the bowl and pick out the white stuff that you missed.   That takes a little extra patience.
NOTE: It's a good idea to do this a day ahead of time.

I still had a little more picking cleaning to do....

Snacking on the pomegranate seeds brought back childhood memories of  my cousin's pomegranate tree.  These are so delicious and very healthy for you. Here's to Vitamin-C!!

I have a lot of arils left, but they are in an air-tight container, in my fridge.  They won't go to waste. 
Let's make Bobby Flay's recipe!  Let's begin with fresh Brussels sprouts.  Wash them, trim off the bottom end, and cut them in half.  You can use a baking sheet, but I like to use my cast-iron skillet. Add some coarse salt & pepper (to taste) and drizzle with a little canola (or olive) oil.  Your oven should be pre-heated to 375F.
Toss the vegetables and roast for 15-20 minutes.

Now drizzle 2-3 Tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses (and admire the rich color)...

...stir to combine and roast for about 3-4 minutes, more...
...let's get dramatic.  Add some Pomegranate Arils...

Look! Christmas Colors!

C'mon, doesn't that look good?  We're not through...

... add some pecan butter (go easy, you can always add more)

Sexy...colorful... want more?

...add fresh orange & lime zest.

VERDICT:  There is a good reason why Bobby Flay is a Food Network Iron Chef.  He has the gift of adding a variety of ingredients to create a symphony of flavor.  My taste buds worked overtime to process the zing of the pomegranate molasses, the sweet of the vanilla bean butter, the crunch of the pecans and the sweet-tart "pop of the pomegranate arils.  I truly loved this dish. Contrary to some reviewers who said this dish was too sweet-- I say that they took shortcuts that cheated them out of what Bobby Flay meant for this dish to be. It's colorful. It's flavorful. It's downright sexy.  I will make this for Christmas Eve dinner, for certain.  Brussels sprouts, you have arrived in my love life!

A printable recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Happy Holidays! One dish down and a few more to go!

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Pomegranate Molasses - How to Make Your Own

 I have a very long and overdue post that pays tribute to the Pomegranate.  A year ago, the lovely folks at Pom Wonderful contacted me and asked if I'd like to try some of their 100% pure pomegranate juice.  No sooner did I respond "yes, please" than UPS delivered six bottles of their 8 ounce juice.  I admit that, at first taste, I wasn't as smitten with the flavor of the juice straight out of the bottle.  On the other hand, I did mix up a POM Cosmo for a dinner party.  We liked it!   Hidden in the back of my new (and very large) refrigerator, three remaining bottles were forgotten.  (Ahem.  I apologize, POM Wonderful, for my bad manners.) Months ago, I saw a photo of Pomegranate Molasses.  I was intrigued enough to bookmark Alton Brown's recipe and life got in the way...

I recently spotted a recipe that sounded like the perfect opportunity to use Pomegranate molasses, so I bookmarked it for one our Thanksgiving side dishes.  I can't say that I've ever seen it at the various grocery stores where I shop.  At last, an opportunity to learn how to make some new had presented itself!  I wondered if the unopened juice (in my fridge) was still good, so I cracked one open.  No scary odors were detected, when I sniffed it.  With Food Network's Alton Brown's recipe printed, I got three ingredients together:

4 cups of Pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon of freshly lemon.  That's it!

Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved.  This is where patience comes in.  The liquid needs to be reduced for at least  on medium-low heat.  The recipe said 70 minutes, but I suspect it varies because mine took about 90 minutes.

TIP: To a wooden spoon, I add a rubber band to the top of where the liquid level begins. This way, I can visually determine how much the liquid has reduced.  (I do this, often, when I am making a pan reduction sauce.)  Since I am starting with four cups of liquid, I know that I three cups of liquid needs to evaporate.  Once again, be patient!  90 minutes later, the liquid has become thick and syrupy.  I like to freeze a spoon, to test how thick a liquid has reduced (an old jam "canning" technique).  The color look like liquid rubies!

The heat is turned off and I let the syrup sit in the pot for 30 minutes.  As you can see (photo below, top left), the syrup has begun to "set".  Using a sterile and clean canning jar, I begin to pour the pomegranate molasses...

This is such a beautiful color!  I'm so pleased with the thickness of the molasses.  It's that easy!

This will store in the refrigerator for up to six months. 

VERDICT:  At firs taste, the molasses makes me pucker a bit (I am very sensitive to sour taste anyway).  This is not an unappealing kind of tart, though.   It's a very rich and very concentrated flavor of pomegranates.  I actually liked it!

I am smitten with the beautiful red color!

So, what does one do with pomegranate molasses?  It makes a beautiful glaze.  I've seen dessert recipes and savory recipes.  On my next post, I'm going to show you how I took Brussel sprouts to a new height.  I'm pretty confident I'm going to turn non-Brussel sprout lovers into believers that Pomegranate molasses (and a few other lovely ingredients) will have you spooning seconds on your dinner plate.

You will want to make this dish.  I'm that confident.  So, hurry! Buy some POM Wonderful juice and make this molasses. It will rock your Brussel Sprout World, as you've known it.  It rocked mine. I'm a changed woman. Come to think of it, I'm starting to see Pomegranates as the new sexy food.  There are so many recipe possibilties to come. (I'd love to have  a lipstick that color...or toe polish.  Never mind.  It's post-turkey tryptophan!)

Thank you, POM Wonderful.  I really do appreciate your product and I'm a believer in the health benefits and I'm plotting to try new recipes, from your website.  (Psssst, I'd sure love one of those aprons. They are hilarious!)

A printable recipe card is at the bottom of this post.

Disclaimer: While POM Wonderful provided me with FREE pomegranate juice, have received no monetary compensation for my recipe or review. 

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving and I am very thankful

Here's to wishing all of you the very best of family, friends, food, laughter and joy.

I am so blessed to have four days at home with my family.  

I'm so thankful for your friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Cheese & Onion Enchiladas with Tex-Mex Chili Gravy

Don't let my platinum blonde hair color fool you (Spare me the quips on blonde jokes, please. I used to tell them, and now I am a blonde! )  As a young kid (see below) was born with thick black hair, that turned light golden. As I began to mature, my hair turned the shade of my father's dark brunette. In my early 20's, grey hairs began to reveal themselves startlingly early.  My mother's German DNA was beginning to take over my father's Mexican DNA.  Pardon the pun, but I do have Hispanic roots.

 Dad, Mom, Me (check out the German Dirndl), Alan (nice Lederhosen, eh?) and Fred

While my dad was stationed in Austria, he met the woman who would become his wife, and mother to his children.   My late father was born in Oxnard California. His father came from Spain, and married a woman of California-Indian descent.  I'm still searching for my ancestry, but haven't discovered a lot about my Great-Grandmother.  Dad's mom (my "Nana") passed away when I was in elementary school, and we didn't visit her often.  (I suspect that the Mother-In-law & Daughter-In-Law wasn't the most loving.) However, I can vividly remember how she made homemade tortillas and refried beans.  To this day, I cannot eat refried beans without flour tortillas. It's blasphemy!  I'm thankful that Nana taught her daughter-in-law (that would be my "Mutti") how to make Beef Enchiladas that are out-of-this world good.  I can make them, from memory, and they have become infamous among my family and lifelong friends as "DA's Enchiladas"...and, if I do say so myself, they are addicting!

So, I got to thinking-- why is it that I don't share more of the Mexican recipes that I have been making for decades?  Mexican cooking has become so much of my cooking repertoire that I've never thought to create a recipe with measurements.  As soon as the holidays slow down, I will start to do that.

Chili Gravy is an entirely new discovery for me.  I don't like canned Enchilada sauce.  I never have, and I make my own (yes, I'll post it). I bookmarked this recipe a while ago, when  I saw on a blog that I have been following for quite some time, called "Eating Etc."    I love Cheese & Onion Enchiladas, and I've been known to order this at a local Mexican take-out restaurant.  After reading her recipe, I soon realized that I could make this very easily, because I have all of these recipes on hand.   I decided to do a little research on Chili Gravy, and this is what I found:

Chili gravy” (or “chile gravy") has been called the soul of Tex-Mex. It’s popularly served with enchiladas (and is sometimes called “enchilada sauce"), but is served with tamales and other dishes as well. The brown gravy with Mexican spices has been described as neither truly American nor Mexican. Chili gravy is said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants, such as those in San Antonio.
“Chili gravy” is cited in print from at least the 1890s. “Chili gravy” was sold in cans by the early 1900s. 
-Source: The Big Apple
DISCLAIMER: The few times that my California feet have touched Texas soil is making a flight connection through Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport.  Decades ago, I drove through Texas on a endless long car journey from Florida to California. We never stopped there to eat, as we were headed to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Therefore, I have not experience true and authentic Tex-Mex.  There appear to be many different versions to making Chili Gravy. With that said, I'm sharing this particular recipe with you, because I loved so many things about the recipe. First, the chili gravy is very fast to make:

While I prefer using fresh herbs and garlic, I do keep an ample supply of dried spices and herbs. You need, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, chili powder, salt & pepper. Odds are (if you love Mexican food) you have these on hand.  Begin with heating oil in a medium skillet (or a pot) over medium-high heat. Stir in flour and continue stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.

Add remaining the spices  ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients.

This step is important, because "blooming" the spices really brings out the flavors. Trust me.

Add chicken broth, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens.  Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. May add water chicken broth to adjust thickness, if necessary.  NOTE: I added more chicken broth, as this gravy becomes surprisingly thick.  See what I mean?
I present to you Chili Gravy in 20 minutes. Amen.

VERDICT:  I think I've discovered one of Tex-Mex's best kept secrets. I really need to travel to the Southwest (or is it Southeast?) more often.  This chili gravy is liquid gold, I tell ya!  I'm used to a tomato-based enchiladas sauce, but this gravy has a smoky flavor of cumin that comes through. The chili powder doesn't overpower the flavor one bit. The ratios are perfect, to me, keeping in mind this is my first (and not last) venture into making this Tex-Mex sauce.  I can already imagine the possibilities... where was I? Roll up your sleeves, I'm about to take you one more level into cheesy goodness. Grab your Lipitor, because we're kicking up the flavors a few pounds notches:

Ask your husband to  Grate cheese. Lots of it.  I used a blend of medium and sharp cheddar. Mince some onion.  NOTE:  I rarely buy pre-grated cheese.  Did you know that you can often find corn starch and additives so that the cheese doesn't clump?  Just sayin'...

Pour 1 to 2 teaspoons oil in a small or medium skillet and heat tortillas, one at a time, on each side. Layer on plate and cover with paper towels (blot them) until all are heated.  NOTE: We're not making taco shells, so you don't need a LOT of oil, and you aren't trying to deep-fry them. We're just softening them a bit.
TIP: I've been known to quickly wet corn tortillas and to steam them in the microwave.  Pour about 1/2 cup  sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish or 7x9 dish.

Add some cheese and chopped onion.  (Yes, you can use beef, chicken, tofu, whatever sounds good to you.)

 Here we go...That's right...cover the enchiladas with this tasty chili gravy

We're not finished yet! We need more cheese...and more onion.

I made a smaller casserole and used some pre-shredded cheese blend that I buy at Trader Joe's. What? Didn't I just denounce the virtues of pre-shredded cheese?  Okay, I do buy these for pure convenience and I wanted to compare the results. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  The oven should be preheated to 450F. Bake until bubbly. In my oven, that took about 20 minutes. Oh, look!

Our kitchen smelled like a local cantina.  Corn tortillas and sauce... Mmmmm.

Rather than serving beans and rice, I did make a healthy Honey-Lime vinaigrette with a fresh Spring Mix and some grated Cotija cheese.  I'll have to recreate that dressing, as it was worthy of guiltless second helpings.

 ...though I have to say that a side of beans and rice would be quite lovely. 

My husband and I each ate two three, Forgive help us.  

VERDICT: Excellent!  Easy.  Perfect make-ahead meal to put together on a busy work night.  Make double...triple the chili sauce. Freeze it. Can it. Sell it!  So, um the next morning day I had some chili gravy left over...

...and I made three more enchiladas and added some sliced black olives.  I can clearly see the difference in using pre-grated cheese, though. It baked a lot drier and browned more.  Minor details, though.  

...but it tasted just a delicious. Maybe even more.

I think the chili gravy could easily be adapted for a vegetarian, by substituting vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.  I have my sights set on slathering scrambled eggs with this gravy.  I have visions of a breakfast-style casserole with tortilla chips, and cheese and.... well, I'm listening. Any other suggestions?

I have posted a printable recipe for the enchiladas and the chili gravy.  If you try this, and I hope that you do, you will never have to order this at a restaurant. It's that good!

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