Food Buzz


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Healthy(ish) dinner with friends!

A while back a few of us decided to start an impromptu Friday Night Dinner Club... simply because on Fridays we were exhausted from the work week but still needed to eat - why not do it together over wine!  Some of us had kids so if we just all stayed in at one house and cooked dinner and drank wine and caught up, it would be a really fun night. Due to my career change, I end up doing a lot of the cooking (happily, I might add) while the others bring wine or help chop vegetables or clean up. On these nights our group ranged in size from 2-8 people.  Of course after a number of weeks, a few of us would end up busy or on vacation or have some other good excuse and we ended up putting the FNDC on hiatus for a short time.

Last night we started up again, a small group of three, we made such a delicious meal found on the NY Times food column a couple of weeks back.  Our dinner was based on the recipe for Spicy Quinoa, Cucumber and Tomato Salad.  I made some changes to the original recipe based on items we had on hand and limited the spice because this would be a leftover lunch for my friend's toddler the next day. The recipe I made follows.

If you are wondering "what the heck is farro?" this blog does a good job of discussing and also provides another great recipe to try. 

Farro Salad with Cucumber and Tomato

1 cup farro, rinsed
3 cups water
Salt to taste
2 cups diced cucumber
1/2 small red onion, finely minced (optional)
2 cups finely diced tomatoes
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 avocado, sliced, for garnish

1. Boil 3 cups of salted water then add rinsed farro.  Bring back to a boil then lower flame to simmer, partially covered for 20-25 minutes (depending on consistency - we liked our slightly chewy, not mushy).  Drain and set aside covered.

2. Meanwhile, place the finely diced cucumber in a colander, and sprinkle with salt. Toss and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Rinse the cucumber with cold water, and drain on paper towels. If using the onion, place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for five minutes, then drain, rinse with cold water and drain on paper towels.

3. Combine the tomatoes, vinegar, lime juice, spices and olive oil in a bowl. Add the cucumber and onion, season to taste with salt, and add the farro. Toss together, and taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with sliced avocado. The dish can be swerved warm, cold or room temperature.
Although this dish turned out to be delicious, I would definitely add fresh herbs and maybe some feta cheese next time.  The original recipe had it right by using cilantro and jalapeno for a little kick.  My version of the recipe ended up becoming greek in flavor with the addition of dried oregano.  Even with the changes we gobbled this up!  I thought the colors were beautiful and also that this dish would be great to bring to a picnic since you can eat it at any temperature.

For dessert I served yummy Puff Pastry cups filled with fresh fruit and a fresh whipped cream with mascarpone and a little sugar.  This is another dish that could be brought on a picnic or made ahead.  Make the puff pastry ahead of time and wrap in tin foil, then keep the berries and whipped cream mixture cold until serving. Every dish was empty when we were done and we were all content and happy.  The wine may have helped that, too.

Thanks to M for hosting and C for bringing the lovely wine.  All in all a good night.  Now what will we make next time?

Do you ever meet up with friends specifically to cook dinner together?  It's a fun way to catch up for those of us who have busy lives.  Each person can bring a different dish or different ingredients.  For those who aren't self proclaimed chefs, you can bring a gourmet store bought dessert or wine.  If you have any Supper Club dinner recipes to share, please do so here!

Chow for Now!  :)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Best career choice EVER!

As I sit here eating devouring a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with left over rocky road fudge (yes) from last night's event, I am recapping the night in my head and can't think of a single thing that went wrong.  Of course, I am speaking of my VERY FIRST CATERING JOB! 

My new friend and fellow personal chef, Mandy, graciously asked me to co-chef this party with her, of course I accepted and after talking shop with her I knew this would be a great experience.  She did not disappoint.  Mandy also brought along two other wonderful, talented women to help prepare the twelve apps (including dessert) for a party of about 60.  The four of us were Team Awesome.  I can't help but cheer about it, it was just such a great experience which totally reinforced my decision to get into a food-related career.

Mandy blogged about it today and included all of our pics so I won't write too much - you can take a look at her blog here to find the list of appetizers, more about the catering love fest and great pics from the day. I'll just say that all the food came out great (including my bbq beef and chicken kabobs).  I was nominated to be the grill chef and I felt fantastic about it. It must be in my genes because my aunt Jo is a fabulous grill master. 

A couple of pics below... I look forward to working again with these talented ladies.  I also cannot wait to get my personal chef business going.  Tick tock - the time is now!

Who wants to hire me?  Come on, don't be shy!

Chow for Now! :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two very different sweet breads, both delicious!

Yesterday I made this Cinnamon Swirl Bread for my sister and her husband to enjoy (I got to taste some too!).  I scoured the internet for recipes that would at least partially work in the bread machine.  Now that I feel comfortable making the dough in the machine then baking it myself in the oven, I want to get some more practice in.  The recipe in the link above worked out really well.  The only thing I'd do differently is cook it for about 5 minutes more, as the bottomw of the loaf was a little dense. We tasted some toasted, but Nat was thinking about making french toast with it.  I look forward to hearing about it!

Today, I saw a recipe for Chocolate Flax seed Bread on one of my new favorite food websites:  I thought this was a brilliant recipe because it tricks you into thinking you are eating something healthy because of the flax seed when in realty there is still butter and sugar and white flour in it... but oh, so what, who cares.  Try it... it's still way better for you than a milk chocolate candy bar or most of the other junk food out there.

I didn't have whole flax seeds on hand so I just used the same amount of flax seed meal.  As long as the flax seed meal is fresh, you get the same benefits of whole flax seed (high in fiber, anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties) but without the crunch.  I thought the cake was light, airy and delicious.  As suggested by the recipe, it would taste great warmed up with a little vanilla ice cream. I had mine with a cup of skim milk.  A really nice afternoon snack.

The cinnamon bread was definitely more like bread, and tasted best toasted with butter.  The Chocolate bread was more of a light cake.  Both were really good and I'll file those away in my "future recipes" file.

I think i need to start cooking up some more healthy meals this week, so I'm working on that.  I've been in carb mode and might need to take a break before my clothes start fitting too tight! Do you have any favorite healthy meals you like to cook for your family?  Please feel free to share with us.

Chow for Now! :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Challah back, girl!

Last night I thought to my self...wouldn't it be great to have challah french toast in the morning?  Of course  I didn't want to go to the store to buy bread... nothing ruins a home made breakfast like getting dressed and leaving your house to buy ingredients.  Breakfast is best made and eaten with pjs on.

So, I decided to pull out the bread maker and make challah dough.  This is the first time I made dough without cooking the bread in the machine and it was easier than I thought. 

For those of you who aren't sure what challah bread is, it's a dense, eggy, braided bread that has a shiny exterior and looks like this.  It is typically eaten on Jewish holidays but I love it year round... mostly I buy it because it makes a delicious french toast.

It was a pretty simple recipe other than having to wait for the dough to rise twice (once in the machine, and once after it was braided). 


makes 1 regular loaf

1 egg plus enough 80 degree water to make 3/4 c
2 T vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
2 c bread flour
1 tsp active dry yeast

1 egg yolk, beaten
1 T water

1 tsp poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

1. Place all ingredients in your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer.  My machine then mixes and rises the dough for 1 hour 20 minutes.

2. Take dough out of machine and place on lightly floured surface

3. Cut dough into thirds and form each piece into a 10 inch long rope with tapered ends.  Pinch together the three ends and braid the ropes, pinching  together at the other end and secure braid.

4. Place the braid on a greased baking sheet; cover and let rise in a warm place for one our or until doubled in size.

5. Combine glaze ingredients and brush onto braid.  Sprinkle with seeds and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done.

I chose to make my bread seedless since I didn't want seeds in my french toast! This is what the finished product looks like:

And this is what my french toast looked like before I gobbled it up:

What is your favorite breakfast treat? Do you enjoy making home made bread?  Feel free to share your favorites here!

Chow for Now!  :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dean and DeLuca... you are killing me!

A while back, I sent a friend a basket of goodies from Dean and DeLuca.  For those of you not from NY or who have never heard of them... please check out their website.  They are a gourmet food market that has the best, most yummiest products, including: gourmet popcorn, aged balsamic vinegar and chocolate bars (including one with pepperoncini!). Since I ordered from them once before, I get the occasional "hey you former customer lady, order from us again!" email, like I did this morning...

When I opened that email up, this is the photo that jumped out at me:

Whoa. Are you freaking kidding me?  Don't these people know I've been on a graham cracker kick for the past week?  S'Mores?  With caramel?  And real gold flakes?  Are these people crazy?  Apparently so.  A S'mores making kit for eight (including a jar of gold flakes, D+D chocolate bars, home made marshmallows, graham crackers and caramels) will cost you a whopping $135.  But if you can forgo the gold, it's only going to knock you back $55.  Talk about luxury camping supplies!

So maybe you weren't planning on spending a chunk of your paycheck on high end sugary sweet camping treats.  You can still take a look at the Dean and DeLuca website and see what you might find.  Try buying yourself or a foodie friend a gourmet confection or some Maldon sea salt.  Maybe even try one of their cuts of meat or caviar. They even have a sale page where you can find great deals.  No need to spend an arm and a leg.  It's all about opening up your palate and trying new things.  You never know what you might like!

Do you have a favorite gourmet shop in your town or a favorite website to shop for luxury food items?  Please share here!

Chow for Now!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Keys keep on callin' me

So, after a coffee in Santa Monica this morning with my lovely new friend Mandy (blog writer, food stylist, chef extraordinaire), I rushed home to prepare my Key Lime Pie for lunch with Diana tomorrow.  Mandy and I talked a lot about Personal Chefing... it's exciting to think about my business coming to fruition...and soon!!

I've been looking forward to making this pie since I bought the bag of limes a few days ago.  I made amazing graham cupcakes with Key lime frosting and they came out wonderful, so I had high hopes for the pie.  I got this recipe from Epicurious:

Key Lime Pie

For crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice

For topping
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.

Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie:
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping:
Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream.


Other than squeezing 15 little limes and crushing graham crackers into dust, this was a pretty easy recipe to make. 

The crust took 10 minutes to bake and the pie filling will set in the fridge over night.  Tomorrow I will make fresh whipped cream to dab on top of each slice.  I can't wait to taste it... who am I kidding, I tasted it before I cooked it* and it was delicious.  I am sure once it is refrigerated, it will be even better. 

*keep in mind that this recipe contains raw egg yolks, taste the raw batter at your own risk!

The finished product:

I'm out of key limes... what's next for me?  Any thoughts on what I should cook next or what kind of cooking/kitchen advice you'd like from me?  I'm open to suggestions so feel free to comment below!!

Chow for now! :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

In a Key Lime state of mind

It all started with my cousin sharing a link to a great baking blog after she made home made thin mint cookies.  I started perusing the site and stopped short when I saw a recipe for Graham Cupcakes with Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting.  I knew I had to make them!

I happened to pick up a bag of key limes at the grocery store to make a key lime pie for a lunch I'm going to this week and I knew I'd have leftover limes... what better to make with those limes than CUPCAKES!

Key limes are smaller, thinner skinned, seedier, juicier and more acidic than regular limes.  They are not exclusive to the Keys in Florida but they were brought there years ago. I've never cooked with them and have always wanted to try them.  What a treat!

The cupcake recipe is below.  Stay tuned for my key lime pie pictures in a day or two.

Graham Cupcakes with Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, room temp.
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Mix flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt. Beat in butter gradually. Beat in sugar and mix thoroughly. Beat in eggs, then vanilla and milk until just mixed. Pour into lined cupcake pan. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out almost clean. (Check after 15 minutes so they don't get over cooked).

4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 stick butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 T key lime juice (approx 2-3 limes)

Mix together ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Frost cupcakes. Top with a lime slice and a sprinkle of crumbs.  Makes 12 cupcakes.


They do taste as good as they look.  :)

A hint: I used a coffee grinder to grind the graham crackers down to fine flour-like crumbs for the batter, but you could also just place a few cookies in a ziplock and roll a rolling pin over them.  It's just as effective. 

What should I do with the remaining limes (if I have any?)  Perhaps a cocktail?  Do you have a favorite lime flavored dish or drink that you'd like to share?

Chow for Now!  :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pardon the delay...

...but it's too hot to cook.  Hoping to be inspired this week by something that doesn't need to be cooked and can/will refresh me.

Will be back when that happens (or if we go back to the lovely weather we had before the heat wave).

Chow for now!  :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Birthday dinner - light, summery and delicious!

Last night I cooked a belated birthday dinner for my brother in law.  As you may remember from past posts, Nat and Jenn are not meat eaters so when I cook for them I have to keep that in mind.  I have been trying to come up with recipes that take into consideration the season and local ingredients and ended up playing with a couple of recipes I found online to make them my own.

I started with freshly baked bread from my Breadman of course.  Feta and cracked pepper.  Really delicious plain, with butter or dipped in soup. 

Then I made a grapefruit, fennel, avocado and butter lettuce salad.  It was so pretty!  For the dressing I squeezed fresh grapefruit juice, added salt, pepper, agave and olive oil until emulsified.  Sweet fennel and avocado and tart grapefruit marry together and are truly delicious in your mouth!

For the main course I made a smoky sweet corn and zucchini soup.  This came out AWESOME.  The original recipe ended with a very pretty yellow soup but I decided to use additional summer vegetables to make it a really pretty pale green.  It had a very creamy texture even though there was no cream, milk or dairy at all (would be great for vegans as long as you leave off of the queso fresco!).

Sweet corn and zucchini soup

2 large poblano chiles (I used one Anaheim and one Pasilla because that's what they had at the market)
5 ears corn, uncooked
1 T olive oil
1/2  large sweet onion, chopped
1 serrano chile, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchini seeded and cut into 1/4-in. dice (about 1 c) (I used one dark green zucchini and one "cue ball" light green round zucchini)
1/2 c queso fresco cheese, crumbled

1. Turn on burner on top of stove. Place one poblano directly over flame and turn from time to time.  You may hear popping which is totally normal. Turn with tongs until most of the pepper is charred. Repeat with second pepper. Put charred poblanos in a bowl, cover, and let sit 20 minutes to loosen skins; then peel, stem, and seed. Cut poblanos into 1/2-in. dice and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, slice corn kernels from cobs. Heat olive oil in a large, wide pot over medium heat and add onion, serranos, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and corn kernels and cook 3 minutes more.

3. Pour just enough water into pot to cover corn. Bring to a simmer, covered, and simmer 15 minutes.

4. Put diced zucchini in a small saucepan with just enough salted water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain.

5. Add most of the cooked zucchini and poblanos into corn mixture (saving some for garnish). 

6. Using your immersion blender, blend soup until it is the consistency you want it.  I blended until almost smooth but left some chunky vegetables for texture.  If you want a smooth soup, pour through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove chunks.

7. Divide among 4 bowls. Top each bowl with a few pieces of zucchini, a few pieces of poblano and sprinkle each with 1 T cheese and serve the extra on the side.
I used an immersion blender (if you've never used one, I say finish my blog then RUN out to HomeGoods or your local home store and buy one. I got mine for $20 years ago and it's paid for itself over and over by saving me from scalding burns trying to put a very hot soup into a traditional blender!). Using an immersion blender made the soup frothy and light.  We really liked the texture. I used farmer's market ingredients and the tastes were sweet and summery and the best thing is this soup can be served cold. We ate it hot because it was a cool night but next time I'll try it cold.

Of course a dinner isn't complete without something sweet... so, I made home made chocolate chip cookies with the remaining mini chocolate chips I had left over from my banana chocolate chip muffin recipe.  Yum!

Do you have a favorite light meal that you like to cook in the summer?  Please feel free to share here!

Chow for now! :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Breadman - my new favorite appliance!

Hey friends,

I've taken a little over a week off from the blog to visit my dad in the mountains and had a lovely trip.  How was your fourth?  I ate more BBQ than I'd care to admit... Oh, who am I kidding, I LOVE food - I'll admit it!  Dad and I ate bbq brats, ribs and london broil, roasted zucchini, lots of white summer corn, delicious salads and even threw some Mexican food in for good measure.  All was good and so was the company.

After a big drive home yesterday and a brief stop at the grocery store, I decided to eat light but still want to cook something.  So I decided to make a fresh loaf of french bread with my new Breadman  to bring along with meatballs for dinner at my friend M's tonight!  I've had some great luck with the bread I've made so far... a loaf of feta and herb bread, a cinnamon almond sweet bread and pesto bread (made with fresh basil from my garden)...  I started it at 7 last night and it wasn't done until 10:30.  You better believe I tried a slice even if it was a little late to be carbo-loading...

I have to say - this bread came out awesome!  Crunchy exterior, light and fluffy interior just like a loaf of french bread from any bakery...

The Breadman is really easy to use, especially for someone like me who isn't a fan of measuring. You basically decide what size loaf to make, throw in a bunch of ingredients into the loaf pan and hit start. The machine kneads, rises and cooks the dough! It came with a bunch of recipes but now that I've tried a handful from the book, I'm thinking about venturing out and trying some new recipes

One of the the best things about this machine is that you can use it to just make dough (for instance if you want to make a braided challah *yes!* or dinner rolls). You just take the dough out after the kneading/rising process and continue preparing as you would have if you kneaded the dough yourself! One of the biggest issues for me when making bread from scratch is I'm never sure if the dough is the right consistency and I don't want to over-knead it.  This machine eliminates that problem for me.

Do you enjoy baking bread from scratch?  Tell me your favorite kinds - maybe I'll make them next time!

Chow for now! :)