November 8, 2010

Shredded brussels with pancetta and nutmeg

I am not sure I fully appreciated my cousins growing up. They would visit once or twice a year and I remember shared activities such as carving pumpkins together, sliding down very cold mountain waterfalls, and throwing toy cars at one another.

They did, however, hold some degree of cool factor as my aunt married a Brit, so they lived (still do) in England, thereby possessing classic British accents. This provided ongoing entertainment for my brother and myself, as we tried to imitate their speech and use their different words and phrases – a “lorry” is a truck? “Bloody” is an explicative? “Brilliant!”

What I don’t remember is cooking together or talking about food.

I don’t know how this escaped us, because my aunt and cousins are apparently the best of the best in this department. Top rate Indian fare and on the fly seasoners – real artists my mother tells me. They have yet to cook for me, but when I posted my at the moment favorite brussels sprouts recipe last winter and my cousin chimed in with a suggestion of shredding the sprouts and sauteing them with pancetta, butter, and nutmeg, I was sold.  I knew that as soon as sprout season was back in swing, I had to try it.

Here’s what he said – I love his phrasing and I can just hear it in his lilting British accent:

“Another great way to cook them…is to shred them finely (like the mini cabbages that they are) and saute them in plenty of butter with crispy streaky bacon or (even better) some pancetta. Add a couple of twists of nutmeg right at the end along with your lemon juice and you’ve got a vegetable dish that is not exactly a healthy green veg, but delicious and also a world away from the insipid, soggy little balls of green mush that everyone passes off for sprouts over here in England!”

Ah! What else is there to say? Other than the fact that this kitchen averse pregnant mamma has made these twice in one week and cannot stop thinking about them.  They really are that good (so good, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed my camera on the fly and snapped this picture so I would have something, anything, to show you – so spontaneous – what is happening to me?)!

Shredded brussels sprouts with pancetta and nutmeg

2 1/2 lbs. fresh small, young brussels sprouts
4-6 ounces pancetta, sliced thin or diced small
2 Tablespoons butter (more as needed)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

Trim off the ends of the brussels sprouts and shred or dice into thin strips. Rinse and dry the shredded sprouts. Melt butter in a large pan. Add the pancetta and saute until beginning to brown. Add the sprouts and saute until they begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of butter for moisture and taste if needed/desired. Sprinkle nutmeg evenly over sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Turn heat up on the pan and deglaze with a couple of squeezes of lemon juice. The predominant flavorings should be the salty pancetta and the warm nutmeg, with only a hint of sour in the background from the lemon, so start with just a little lemon (1 tbs), and add more to taste. This will make 4-6 side servings.

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Posted in Side dishes | 10 Comments »

(hope you enjoyed it)

October 21, 2010

Gingerbread latte and vanilla bean speckled whipped cream

Summer is past. North Carolina Outer Banks, wild horses, a death, a conception, a Delaware reunion with dear friends, Myrtle Beach, a stay in the mountains, product photography in Indiana, long trips home, lots of eating out and bringing in, and very little desire to cook. I’m tired. A bit blue some days. Sick often.

But in the end, there will be a new little person, and that makes it all worthwhile!

I am pregnant – hence my long absence. Quite immediately after learning the news in August, I started feeling nauseated and near completely lost all desire to cook and even eat most days (no worries, I am definitely still eating).

Such a strange and foreign experience to not enjoy the foods I normally crave; sweets – blah, chocolate – ugh, vegetables – no thank you, cheese – gah, fruit – err…maybe citrus, bread – take it or leave it, red meat – normally nah but okay, coffee – shouldn’t, but please.

So, that’s why I dropped out of the blogosphere for the past three months. I’m in my second trimester now and starting to feel a bit better, and feeling quite negligent for not letting you all know what’s been going on.  Sometimes in life, there is only room for necessity.  This has been one of those times for me and I am thankful it is passing.

We are excited! A new life, a new love – what is more incredible or precious? Love, true unconditional love, is deeply powerful and capable of bringing wholeness and meaning in life. I don’t believe I have known love more completely than in the love I have for my son, and through that love I am urged and compelled to try to love others as unconditionally. Parenthood is life changing, and I am so very thankful to have the experience.

This latte is one of my very favorites.  Normally I drink my coffee with no sugar or flavorings, but around this time of year I start to crave seasonal flavors – ginger, molasses, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and of course, pumpkin.

I am trying to limit my caffeine intake now so I do not drink much at one time, but somehow the comfort and familiarity of my morning coffee has not left me in these appetite-less months, so I have allowed myself small indulgences here and there.

This is really a special treat if you have an espresso maker – quite like the gingerbread lattes you can get at your local coffee shops, but better, because you made it. I also included a recipe for brown sugar vanilla bean speckled whipped cream, because, obviously, this can do nothing but take the whole concoction over the top.

Thanks for checking in after so long!

Gingerbread latte
makes one 8-10 oz. beverage

2 shots of fresh espresso
1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh whole milk or half & half, steamed to total volume of 3/4 – 1 cup*
2 teaspoons full flavor molasses
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of allspice
pinch of ground ginger

Brown sugar vanilla bean speckled whipped cream
makes enough to top one Gingerbread Latte

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon dark or light brown sugar
1/8 seeds from one vanilla bean pod*

1. Prepare your espresso maker and grounds for two shots of espresso.

2. Begin the whipped cream by pouring very cold cream (whips better extra cold) into a medium size bowl along with the vanilla seeds (split the vanilla bean in half vertically with a sharp knife and scrape out 1/8 of the seeds) and brown sugar. Whip with a handheld electric mixer until soft and “scoopable.” Set in the fridge.

3. Next, pour the half & half and molasses into a mug and stir – place mixture in the freezer or fridge while making espresso (coldness & freshness helps make greater volume and foam).

4. Warm the espresso cup in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (to help keep espresso hot while steaming the half & half) and make the espresso according to your device.

5. Add all of the spices directly onto the top of the freshly made espresso.

6. Remove half & half molasses mixture from the fridge/freezer and steam according to your device instructions. If you do not have a steaming device, you may heat the half & half molasses mixture in the microwave for 30-45 seconds. In this case, there is no need to pre-chill and I would add extra dairy to compensate for the steam (water) that is added when steaming milk (unless you like your beverage extra strong, as I do).

7. Add the steamed half & half molasses mixture to the spiced espresso. Finish the breve with a dusting of cinnamon and the already prepared whipped cream. If the latte is too strong for your taste or not sweet enough, add more half & half or molasses and heat further. Too weak? Add an extra shot of espresso. Enjoy!

* 1/4 cup half & half = approximately 3/4 cup steamed half & half with foam and drink will fill an 8oz. mug, 1/3 cup half & half yields approximately 1 cup of steamed half & half with foam and will fill a larger mug. I use 1/4 cup half & half or milk resulting in a strong espresso based beverage. Many times I simply heat my dairy in the microwave, rather than steaming, for an even creamier and stronger flavor profile. Using the larger milk option will result in a less strong, more standard, coffee shop taste profile.
* If you do not want to spend the money on vanilla beans for the whipped cream, just substitute a dash (1/8 teaspoon) of real vanilla extract into the whipping cream before whipping.

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Posted in drinks | 11 Comments »

(hope you enjoyed it)

August 4, 2010

Sparkling blackberry limeade (spiked if you like!)

I can count on one hand the number of times Brian and I have gone out to dinner alone since Jonathan was born almost two years ago (where has my baby gone?). I know, I know, everyone says you need to be sure to get out alone with your spouse after having a child, and really, they’re right.

But here’s the thing. Aside from our traveling propensities, we’re really homebodies. Brian gardens (the sunflowers are blooming, the hops vines are over six feet now, and there is a freshly delivered pile of wood in my side yard destined for some new venture) in his free time, and I cook. Most of the time, we just enjoy doing our thing.

It’s not that we don’t like going out. We do. It’s just that we happen to live in an area that is sparse on unique, fun, non-chain restaurants. So, whenever we talk about going out, it usually ends up with us ordering sushi to-go from the decent spot not too far away (since we didn’t plan ahead and get a babysitter), or more usually, we stay home altogether and make homemade pizza that beats anything we could get eating out anyhow (I am so modest, no?).

Well, a couple of weeks ago we broke the norm. We happened to be up in the Washington D.C. area alone, together, with the rare opportunity to revisit one of our old haunts. Brian and I met in D.C. some seven plus(!) years ago now, and during our rather short courtship, we both gained at least five pounds eating out since we both had roommates, and the only way to be “alone”, was to go out. Funny how the table has turned!

Needless to say it was wonderful having a night to ourselves, eating great food someone else prepared, and revisiting sentimental memories. As it so happened as I was looking over the menu, I got fixated on a certain mixed drink. I actually do not remember the name, but no matter, the concept was simple: lightly sweetened lemonade mixed with fresh blackberries and blackberry stoli vodka.

I am not a mixed drink person. My drink of choice is red wine and usually when I try a mixed drink I am put off by the sweetness. But something about this blackberry lemonade concoction was calling my name – the waiter said he was “sure” I would love it, and if I didn’t, he vowed to bring me something different – how could I refuse?

Oh, I am so glad I didn’t – and I hope you will be too, since I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since, and have concocted this homemade version with just a couple of adjustments – I decided to use limes instead of lemons, and to make it sparkle. I love sparkle! (you can make your own carbonated anything – I’ve just discovered this – exciting!)

I made the alcohol optional so it could be an anytime drink, and finally, I tried it with muddled lavender (surprise, surprise), basil, mint, and fresh ginger (all testing completed sans vodka!). They were all interesting and alluring in their own way, but my favorites were the ginger, then plain, then the mint. I can’t believe I didn’t like the lavender best, but I have to say – the addition of fresh ginger added an aromatic spicy heat that was really quite extraordinary.

I added ice at first to try to pretty up these pictures, but I really don’t like ice in my drinks – especially in this kind of a drink where the potency of flavors is so important and I don’t want them watered down. So I took it out, on second thought.

All in all, the whole thing is pretty special, and I find it very satisfying to have made my own sparkling soda. I guess it’s good to break out of routine occasionally and experience a new thing or two!

Sparkling blackberry limeade

7 1/2 cups water
1 cup superfine sugar
6 medium juicy limes, juiced
1/8 teaspoon of active dry yeast
1 quart blackberries (4 cups)
2-3 tablespoons sugar (less for sweet berries, more for tart berries)
fresh ginger or mint (optional)
Stoli blakberi vodka (optional)
1-2 limes for serving, sliced thin

Begin this recipe at least 48 hours before planning to serve. Combine the juice from the limes, water, 1 cup superfine sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon yeast in a large plastic (not glass, as you may need to release gases as it carbonates) jug. Close container and swirl to begin dissolving the sugar. Any undissolved sugar will dissolve on its own through the carbonation process. Set the container/jug out at room temperature for 48 hours and then place in the fridge to cool before drinking.

Crush the blackberries with the 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, leaving some berry pieces still intact. Grate a couple of grates of fresh ginger into a glass or muddle 3-4 mint leaves (if using) into 1 1/2 ounces of blakberi vodka (if using) and place a slice or two of lime in each glass. Serve chilled with or without ice (I prefer without) using one part blackberry syrup to two parts sparkling limeade. If serving as a cocktail, begin with 1/3 cup limeade to 1/4 cup crushed berry syrup, and adjust to taste.

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Posted in drinks | 8 Comments »

(hope you enjoyed it)

July 24, 2010

Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

I’ve had a serious lavender crush for some time now – lavender infused truffles, lavender whipped cream, lavender butter, rosemary lavender shortbread - like I said, it’s a pretty serious crush.

It all started at a wedding and with my dear friend, Amy, who was the mastermind behind a layer of lavender infused wedding cake. I had been dating Brian for just three months at the time, and we danced the night away, not quite knowing yet that it would be us walking down the aisle just three short months later (no, your math is not incorrect, we quite apparently followed this path).

I do not remember any of the other cake layers, or the cake icing, but I remember that layer of lavender cake…

moist, softly sweet, and deliciously infused with just a hint of beautiful, floral lavender.

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

Amy, being often more daring in her culinary endeavors than myself, and likely simply altogether more sophisticated, has long been infusing lavender into foods, and her list of lavender creations has only grown over time.

It was two winters ago when Amy was visiting that I first tasted these muffins. As former college roommates, Amy and I have always loved cooking together.

Let’s see – on that particular visit we made double chocolate scones (twice), apricot couscous (note to self – must post this recipe!), Romanian chicken and rice (this one too – so simple and comforting), homemade pasta (didn’t we, Amy? – or should I say, didn’t you?), strawberry lavender jam, lavender brownies, and these lemon lavender blueberry muffins.

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin

These are very special little muffins. The base blueberry muffin recipe is courtesy of Alton Brown. It uses cake flour to create a perfectly light texture and fine crumb, and both baking soda and baking powder for a soft interior and lightly crisp crust. Yogurt adds both delicate flavor as well as acidity to leaven and lighten. There are no lack of blueberries within, and each muffin is dotted with additional blueberries, just for flair.

Alone this is a pretty awesome blueberry muffin.

But add the zest of three lemons and three teaspoons of crushed lavender, and what have you? Amazing, succulent, tangy floral berry wonderfulness – that’s what you’ve got. Flavors meant for each other – lemon, lavender and blueberry.

I think this could also easily be made into a loaf or sheet cake… drizzled with a concentrated lemon glaze? Ah, I think that would make Amy proud.

Nevertheless, it is quite amazing as little muffins, just like this, and little Jonathan can’t get enough of them – lucky him for falling for lavender well before his twenties – to think of all the lavender adventures that lie ahead!

Lemon lavender blueberry muffin
Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins
base blueberry muffin recipe found here

12 1/2 ounces cake flour (just under 2 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
heavy pinch salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
zest of 3 lemons
3 teaspoons lavender buds
2 tablespoons ground pecans mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 380 degrees F. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

In a food processor or mini chopper, pulse sugar and lavender buds together until buds are crushed and dispersed throughout the sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk together lavender infused sugar, oil, egg, and yogurt and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients, reserving one T of dry ingredients to toss with the blueberries. Stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated, add 1 cup of blueberries, and stir 3 more times. Reserve 1/2 cup of blueberries.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and then dot reserved blueberries on top, pressing down lightly. Sprinkle ground pecan mixture on top if desired.

Place muffins in the oven to bake and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-18 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for larger muffins, rotating pan halfway through.

Remove from heat and turn over and out, to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.

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Posted in Dessert | 20 Comments »

(hope you enjoyed it)

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