Month: July 2014

Veni Vidi Veggie

I came, I saw, I veggied. That’s how Latin works, right?

I am going to preface this whole thing by reassuring you all that I’m not going full on vegetarian. I could do that, but I could also walk into the path of an oncoming city bus. I might survive it, but the rest of my life wouldn’t be much fun afterwards, right? Same same.

However, sometimes I just don’t feel like standing in a hot kitchen and filling it with the smells of cooking meat. I mean, it’s sort of a commitment, you know? You’re deciding that this is what you want your apartment to smell like for the next three hours or more.

So, I decided to keep dinner last night really simple. It was kind of an experiment… a tiny seedling of a thought that sprouted into sustenance. But, it turned out pretty delicious so I thought I’d share.  This recipe would serve 4 people as a side dish, or two people as a main dish.

Equipment:
Saute pan
Pot to cook the rice
Spoon, spatula, whatever you have handy for stirring and whatnot
Measuring cup and spoons
Knife and cutting board

Ingredients:
1 poblano pepper, deseeded, cut in half lengthwise and then cut into slices
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned of dirt and stems removed, sliced
1 T vegetable oil (canola or whatever you have is fine)
2 C cooked rice (I used brown rice. Brown rice takes forever to cook. If you want to use the boil in bag kind or the microwave kind, I will not judge. This is supposed to be easy, yeah?)
1/2 C of your favorite salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde)
1/3 C plain, non-fat yogurt
1/2 tsp some sort of Latin or Spanish spice blend. I used the paella spice blend I got in my June Hatchery box
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the salsa into the cooked rice. Set aside.

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Mix the spice blend into the yogurt, and season with S & P to taste. Set aside.

Saute your mushrooms and peppers together until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and both ingredients have taken on some color. Season to taste with S & P.

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Mound some of the salsa rice into the center of the plate. Arrange some mushrooms and peppers on top. Drizzle the whole thing with your yogurt sauce.

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It really doesn’t get much easier than that unless you’re cooking from a box or something, yeah? The salsa really adds a ton of flavor to the rice without much effort at all, and that yogurt sauce gives it a nice, tangy finish.

You could jazz this up even further with some fresh corn, red peppers, maybe some jalapeno if you like it spicier. Much like life in general, it really all depends on how much effort you want to put into it.

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Food, Food, Food, Food, Food

I literally could not think of a better title for this blog post. It might be a long one, because I have tons to tell you about.

I hope all of you had an amazing 4th of July weekend! Mine was pretty incredible. I had some amazing company, great food, and an incredible opportunity to work alongside a Denver area chef I really admire. As holiday weekends go, this one is going to be hard to beat. This was pretty much me, all weekend.

Let’s start off with Thursday night. A new place opened near my ‘hood about a month ago– Argyll Whiskey Beer. I’ve been wanting to go check it out, but I really prefer to wait a few weeks after a new restaurant opens to let them get their sea legs, so to speak. I’ve been hearing good things right from opening day, so my expectations for our dinner were pretty high. We were not disappointed.

Our evening started with a delicious gin based drink called The Stuff for me, and a glass of some fancy Scotch I didn’t catch the name of for my dinner companion. It’s been awhile since I’ve had gin due to a weird reaction I had the last time I drank it, but this beverage sounded so yummy I couldn’t resist.  It’s made with Bombay Dry Gin, pimms, lavender, lemon, and saison. Deeelishuzz.

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I’ve been kind of… not homesick exactly.  (I dunno, what do you call it when you’re really missing a place that isn’t your home? Vacation-sick? That doesn’t sound right.) I’ve just really been missing Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. The rest of the meal reminded me so much of some of the dinners I had while on vacation last year that I almost felt like I was back there for a minute or two.

There was the Scotch egg… with a decadently runny yolk that we absolutely loved, a complimentary basket of house made potato chips, silky smooth duck liver mousse and a slice of brawn (headcheese) that were perfectly complemented by little pots of yummy condiments and fresh bread, and a perfect portion of fish and chips with a cute little quenelle of  minted mushy peas.

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Friday, the fourth, we took it very easy for a large portion of the day. However, I’d gotten a cute little jar of white truffle mayonnaise from Empire Mayonnaise in my June Hatchery box, and a grilled burger with that mayo on it was literally all I could think about all week. The burger was seasoned with another Hatchery box goodie, beef spice rub from Stuart & Co., and topped off with a fried egg (i managed to kick out some perfectly runny egg yolks, which seemed to be a theme through the whole weekend). We also made some baked sweet potato fries seasoned with, you guessed it, another Hatchery box find– Paella spice mix from Whole Spice. It kinda feels like I go a couple months brainstorming what to do with the stuff in my Hatchery box, only to have a bunch of them come together for one meal.  If you haven’t tried out Hatchery yet, I really do recommend it. It’s $20 a month, free shipping, and you get five little presents to open every month, plus culinary inspiration for days. Totally worth it!

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Fast forward to Sunday, the last day of a local arts festival in the Cherry Creek area of Denver. I’ve volunteered at this event for the past two years, working at the culinary demo stage, and I was definitely excited to do it again. Not only do I get to spend the whole day geeking out while some of the area’s best chefs demo some of their best dishes, but I also get to try all of them, and learn a ton in the process.

This year, Chef Jensen Cummings, a local chef and restaurateur, was running the show. Not only is he really well respected around Denver for his food, but he’s also doing something I truly admire– focusing his passion to helping others. He’s started an organization called Heroes Like Us, which he describes as, “a nonprofit culinary coalition that works with health- and hunger-based organizations to put on charity events.”  Right up my alley.

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He actually let me help plate food for most of the day, which was really an amazing opportunity to just get in there with people who have a TON more experience than me and work our butts off. SO much fun. I’m hoping I’ll get to help out with a few more events, including two in August.

The morning started off with a demo from Jonathan Mendoza from Bad Apple, a pop up restaurant in the area. He made a hay smoked egg yolk with sherry cream and bourbon maple syrup. You guys… no kidding, this was the highlight of the day for me. The presentation was gorgeous. The yolk was smoked with hay and then cooked sous vide until it reached this luscious custard-like texture. Topped with the sherry cream and just a hint of sweet from the maple syrup, it was probably the most luxurious breakfast I’ve ever had.

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Next up, just in time for lunch, was Kyle Marley from Earl’s Kitchen + Bar. White Cheddar Chipotle Nachos. They were topped with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and avocado, and I will definitely be making these at home. I mean, really. Look at these!

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After lunch, one of the chefs from my school, The Art Institute of Colorado (a long time supporter of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival), stopped by to make Somen. Chef Scott Maxwell was my instructor for American Regional Cuisine last quarter. It was fun to be able to help him out without my grade being on the line!  Somen is a cold noodle dish with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, bonito flakes, kombu (seaweed), and mirin. I’m so glad all the chefs who cooked on Sunday kept it pretty light, because it was stupid hot outside. This noodle bowl is surprisingly easy and quick to put together, and you can customize it with any variety of condiments and fresh veggies.

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The last chef to present was Robin Baron from Silvi’s Kitchen (right down the street from my apartment, aren’t I lucky?) and Etai’s. She made a light, flavorful gazpacho with an  heirloom tomato salad. The Baron Group is known for its artisanal breads, and she brought a giant loaf of Rustico with her to cook with and to share.

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Her secret for adding a little extra flavor to your gazpacho? Toast the bread before you add it to the soup. It not only adds flavor, but the extra body the soup needs to go from side dish or starter to the main course.

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Yum, right? Of course, the whole point of demoing recipes at an event like this is to show how easily they can be adapted to a home kitchen. If you’re interested in trying out any of these dishes, you can find these recipes, plus all the others from every demo last weekend, right here.

Squashed Like a Tart

If you’re as big a fan of impromptu get togethers as I am, you probably already have a stable of “go to” recipes for party food at your disposal. You might even be more prepared than I will ever be and have stuff in your freezer that can be  popped into the oven when company drops by without much notice. Knowing this about you, I also suspect you’re always on the lookout for new recipes to add to your repertoire. So… here ya go!

This squash tart is super easy, totally customizeable, and can definitely be made with stuff you might even keep on hand. In fact, there’s no rule that says you have to use squash. I got my inspiration from this recipe on the BBC Good Food website. It’s basically some sort of crust, with some sort of creamy cheese that’s been flavored with whatever you like, and then topped with… something. Once I give you the original recipe, I’ll also give some suggestions on variations.

Equipment:
sheet pan
knife and cutting board
spoon
mixing bowl
parchment paper
saute pan & spatula of some sort plate or bowl to hold the cooked squash for assembly

Ingredients:
1 sheet of puff pastry, chilled (not frozen)
1/2 C Ricotta
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 yellow squash and 1 zucchini
2 tsp vegetable oil salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the sheet of pastry in half. Fold the edges of each half in to form an edge about 1/2 an inch wide and lay on the parchment lined sheet pan. Put the pastry in the fridge to stay cool while you make the filling.

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Thinly slice both squashes. Don’t stress yourself over trying to get them paper thin. Just try to keep them to about 1/4 inch or thinner. Add 1 tsp of the oil to the saute pan over medium low heat. Add 1/2 the sliced squash and season with salt and pepper. You want the squash to basically just cook through, but not brown. Remove the first batch of squash to a plate or bowl and cook the 2nd batch the same way. Set aside.

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Mix the lemon zest, juice and dried thyme into the ricotta, along with salt and pepper to taste.

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Get your pastry out of the fridge. Spread 1/4 C of the ricotta mixture onto each tart, then layer the squash over it. You might have extra squash left over. I did, but I just added it to some leftover brown rice with some other random leftover veggies later in the week and it made a really yummy lunch. Pop the tarts into the oven for about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes and cut into slices when you’re ready to serve.

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This one is delicious. I love recipes that follow a formula rather than demanding that you use specific ingredients, and this is definitely one of those recipes. You could keep everything the same and just change how you season the ricotta and get a whole new flavor profile. Maybe use some whipped goat cheese instead of ricotta. Or keep the filling the same and use tomatoes, roasted asparagus, or sauteed wild mushrooms, or even throw some pepperoni or Serrano ham on there, with or without a veggie.  You could embellish with a little crunch from pine nuts, like in the original recipe, or any other kind of lightly toasted nut, or even some grated Parmesan or Manchego. And those are just the savory options! Imagine mixing some maple syrup or brown sugar and a little orange zest into the ricotta, and topping the whole thing with roasted strawberries or peaches.

See where I’m going with this? Get the basic method down, and the only limit to the possible flavor combinations is your imagination. That’s also nice because instead of having that one thing you whip up or bring to every party, you can make it something totally different from the last time, but without all the stress of learning a whole new recipe. Neat, yes?

If you’re looking for other party food ideas, give these two a try. I tested them out at a little shindig the roomie and I threw at my place a couple weekends ago, and they were a big hit.

Chocolate Dipped Potato Chips: I know it sounds a little weird, but trust me, these are kind of life changing.  Just melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave, then dip the chips and let them set in the fridge. I like Wavy Lays vs. Ruffles.

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Mini Polenta Pizzas: Inspired by this recipe over at A House in the Hills. Again, this is one that could be topped with all sorts of things, although the ones in her recipe are pretty darn tasty!

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Go forth and party, my lovelies! We have all summer.