Sunday, November 28, 2010

A West Coast Thanksgiving

Yesterday I came home from a week long family vacation in California. I didn't do any of the traditional Thanksgiving cooking this year but I did a lot of eating so I thought it was still blog worthy.  Our trip started in Sonoma County where we explored beautiful wineries and took a hands-on cooking class at Relish. The cooking class was definitely one of the the highlights of the trip for me. It was great that while we were miles away from home my family could still spend the evening in the kitchen together. 

                                                 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Sonoma County

                                                       Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma County

The theme of the class was Moroccan and my family and I, as well as a few other couples, prepared a meal consisting of Moroccan Flatbread, Pomegranate Glazed Moroccan Lamb with Dried Apricots and Bay Leaves, Halibut and Pumpkin Tangine with Chickpeas and Oil-cured Olives, Saffron-Orange Couscous, and a Fig-Orange Tart with Pistachio Crust for dessert. I thought all of the food turned out delicious but I will tweak a few things when preparing these items again and at that point I promise to share the recipes!

From Sonoma we headed to San Francisco where we spent two days exploring the city.  We ate steamed Dungeness crab at Fisherman's Wharf, sampled Sourdough Bread at Boudin Bakery, had fresh pasta at Trattoria Pinocchio in Little Italy and awesome fish tacos at Fog City Diner. We also explored China Town which was a very eye opening experience, ie. grocery stores with roasted ducks, chickens and other unknown small birds hanging in the store front.  

       This is as close as I came to seeing turkey this Thanksgiving!
                                                        Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory

After spending two days in San Francisco we flew down to Orange County where I had ample opportunities to enjoy more fish tacos.  Unfortunately the weather was too cool to take full advantage of the beach but we bundled up to walk the trails along the beach and watched as surfers braved the cold.  We drove along Pacific Coast Highway and explored Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point,.  I think the highlight of the trip for my brother was when he spotted Lauren, aka LC, Conrad's parents home from back in her Laguna Beach days.  That was as close as we got to a celebrity spotting...

While this was not our traditional Thanksgiving spent at my Grandmas house eating turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie it was a fun trip exploring a part of the country I had never been and it was so nice to be with my family.  I am now looking forward to what the rest of the holiday season will bring- making Christmas cookies, walking through Lincoln Park Zoo's Christmas light display and a traditional Christmas at my Grandma's!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sweet & Sour Pork

Stir fry is a great dinner option because it's fast, healthy and always satisfying.  There isn't much to the stir fry I typically make: pieces of cut up chicken, frozen stir fry vegetables from Costco and House of Tsang Szachuan Spicy Stir Fry Sauce.  Pretty simple, basically a step above dialing for take out.  I have collected numerous recipes for Chinese take-out inspired dishes and have all of the standard sauce ingredients, I really don't have an excuse but pure laziness. 

Last week Brady found a recipe for Sweet & Sour Pork on Handle the Heat. It sounded great and I was very excited to make a stir fry dish that didn't involve frozen vegetables and jarred sauce.  We gave it a try on Friday night and it was great!  I loved the flavor that the Chinese Five Spice brought to the dish, I had never used this before and it was a great addition.  The sweetness of the pineapple went perfectly with the pork and this honestly tasted like a dish that you would get at a good Chinese restaurant. 

Sweet & Sour Pork
** adapted from Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
printable recipe

Serves 2
Prep/Cook Time: 25 minutes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c. long-grain or basmati rice
½ pound pork tenderloin
1 small red onion
1 red or yellow bell pepper (or ½ of each)
A thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger
2 cloves of garlic
½ - 1 fresh red chile or jalepeno pepper
a small bunch of fresh cilantro
peanut or vegetable oil
1 heaped teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 8-ounce can of pineapple chunks
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and add the rice. Cook according to package directions. Drain the water and cover to keep warm until needed.

Meanwhile, halve the pork tenderloin and cut into ¾ inch cubes. Peel and halve the red onion, then dice into ¾ inch cubes. Halve the bell pepper, seed, and cut into ¾ inch cubes. Peel and finely slice the ginger and garlic. Finely slice the chile. Chop the cilantro and set aside.

Preheat a wok or large frying pan on high heat and once it’s very hot, add enough oil to coat the pan (a couple teaspoons should do) and swirl it around. Add the pork and five-spice powder and stir. Cook for a few minutes until browned, then transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon.

Carefully give the wok or pan a quick wipe with a ball of paper towels and return to the heat. When it’s really hot, add more oil (another teaspoon should do) and all the chopped ingredients. Stir everything together and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Let everything cook for 30 to 40 seconds, then add the pineapple chunks with their juice, the browned pork and balsamic vinegar. Season with black pepper and a little more soy sauce, if needed.  Break open a piece of the pork, check to see if it’s cooked through, and remove from the heat. Reduce the sauce to a gravy-like consistency by cooking for a few minutes more.

To serve the stirfry, divide the rice between two bowls or plates. Spoon the pork, veggies, and sauce over the top and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and reserved cilantro leaves.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Southern Birthday Dinner at Table Fifty-Two

I love the South, I love its old charm, the beaches and of course the food.  My family used to vacation at Wild Dunes, a beach resort in South Carolina and I have some of the best memories of hours at the beach, crabbing in the intercoastal and eating bowls of She-Crab soup at night. 

Right down the street from my apartment is Table Fifty-Two, Chef Art Smith's restaurant known for bringing Southern classics to Chicago.  Sunday night Brady took me there for my birthday dinner and I was able to get a little taste of the South.  It was AMAZING.  I loved everything that I ate, and trust me I ate a lot! Definitely not a healthy dinner by any means but if you are going to go all out why not do it with biscuits, grits, and fried chicken?!

Dinner started off with complimentary deviled eggs for each of us and a goat cheese biscuit to share.  The biscuit was so flavorful and I loved the addition of the goat cheese.  I have already searched online and found Art Smiths recipe. For an appetizer Brady and I shared Low Country Shrimp and Grits- shrimp sauteed in a spicy tomato sauce served over stone ground grits.  This dish definitely made me feel like I was back in the Carolina's!

 For our entrees Brady and I both ordered the Fried Chicken which is only available on Sunday nights.  I was a bit unsure of how you eat fried chicken at a nice restaurant but quickly learned that you just use your hands and dig right in- thankfully it wasn't our first date!  The Fried Chicken was nice and crispy, wasn't greasy and was well seasoned.  As a side dish we ordered Three Cheese Mac which came to the table piping hot and with a nice crust on top.  Is your mouth watering??  Unfortunately no room for dessert but we'll definitely be going back because the menu had so many other items to choose from.

Besides the food being everything that I had hoped, the restaurant itself was beautiful.  I felt like we were in someones Charleston home. The restaurant is set in a charming house which after checking out the restaurants website I learned was the 19th Century carriage house of the Briggs Mansion which survived the Great Chicago Fire (Brady, this answers your question as to what the restaurant was in its prior life).  The copper ceilings, low lighting and candles and the open hearth oven in the back of the restaurant make it an absolutely beautiful dining experience.  It would have been a great birthday dinner anywhere we went but I am so glad that we went to Table Fifty-Two, it's nice to know that my Southern favorites are no longer a plane ride away.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sausage, Grape and Gorgonzola Flatbread

One of my favorite food blogs is We Are Not Martha.  It's a blog written by two twenty-something women who have been friends since 2nd grade and live in Boston.  Their recipes always sound so good and they are always throwing fun theme parties and well frankly, I really want to be their friend.  I kept a eye out for them when Brady and I recently visited Boston, we even went to one of their favorite restaurants.  I am pretty sure that had I run into Sues and Chels we would have hit it off and been instant friends :)

I have been wanting to make the Sausage, Grape and Gorgonzola Flatbread featured on their blog for awhile now and finally had the opportunity to make it this weekend.  It was delicious!!  Brady and I both loved it and the great thing is it was easy to make.  The recipe required minimal ingredients and was ready in 20 minutes.

I would typically just buy my pizza crust from Trader Joes but the We Are Not Martha girls provided a link on their blog to a homemade pizza dough recipe and I figured why not give it a try. The recipe came from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day which is apparently a favorite amongst many home cooks.  I now see why, this was the easiest pizza dough recipe.  You can either mix up the dough, let it sit for 2 hours and then it's ready for use or you can mix the dough, cover it and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  I did the overnight version and it turned out perfectly.  The other great thing is that the recipe makes 4 pizzas!  I used a grapefruit size ball to make our pizza and then formed three other dough balls and froze them for later use. You really can't beat that!

No Kneed Pizza Dough
** from Steamy Kitchen and found in the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

Makes: 4 pizza's
Prep: 5 minutes to mix, two hours or overnight to rise

2 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 T granulated yeast (I used rapid rise)
1 1/2 T salt
1 T sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plan to look into a whole wheat version of the recipe next time)

Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a large bowl. Mix in the flour without kneading, with a large spoon.  Then cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours or you can refrigerate and use over the next 12 days. The dough can also be frozen for later use.

 Sausage, Grape, and Gorgonzola Flatbread
** from We Are Not Martha
print recipe

Serves 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 10 minutes

1 1/2 T olive oil
3 links sausage (whatever kind you like, I used sweet Italian turkey)
1/2 cup grapes, halved
3/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
1/2 onion, sliced
pizza dough, grapefruit size amount

Before you start, preheat your oven to 500, or however high it goes and put the baking sheet you’ll use in the oven. Then roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface. You can do it by hand or with a rolling pin. Roll the dough into what shape pan you will be using, I used a round pizza pan so my dough was round.

Remove casings from sausage and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until thoroughly cooked through.  Set aside. 

Caramelize half an onion in another skillet and set aside.  Cut grapes in half and set aside.

Remove baking sheet from the oven and work quickly to to put the rolled dough on the pan.  Drizzle the olive oil over the dough and use a spoon or pastry brush to spread it out.  Next top the dough with the grapes, the sausage, sprinkle with gorgonzola and then put the onions on top.

Put the flatbread in the oven for about 7-10 minutes but keep an eye to make sure it is browning nicely but not burning.  Mine took longer because I didn't turn my oven up as high out of fear of it burning.  My oven has a tendency to burn things though.  I would suggest following the recipe and just watching the pizza closely.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Healthy Cinnamon Apple Muffins

I have been craving some sort of fall muffin or bread for weeks and finally broke down and baked muffins last night.  I found this recipe for Cinnamon Apple Muffins on the Cooking Light website and actually had all of the ingredients- too perfect!  These muffins are low in fat and calories and after reading the recipe reviews I was able to find a few ways to lighten it up even more.  Not only did the muffins turn out great but now my apartment smells like apples, cinnamon and sugar!

Healthy Cinnamon Apple Muffins
** Adapted from Cooking Light
printable recipe

Makes 18 Muffins
Prep/Cook Time: 30 minutes

2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. finely chopped peeled Golden Delicious apples, I only had to use 1 large apple
1 c. nonfat yogurt
1/3 c. skim milk
1/3 c. light ricotta cheese
3 T. unsweetened applesauce
1 T. vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
Cooking spray
3 T. sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in apple, and make a well in center of the mixture. Combine yogurt and next six ingredients (yogurt through eggs) in a separate bowl.  Add yogurt mixture to the flour mixture and stir. Spoon batter into 18 muffin cups coated with cooking spray.

Combine 3 T. sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle evenly over batter. Bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes or until done.  Be careful not to over bake. Remove from pans immediately; cool on wire rack.

** The recipe is great as is but if you don't want to use ricotta I think apple butter would be a great substitute.  I plan to try this next time.  I use apple butter in my oatmeal cookie recipe and I love the flavor it adds and I also think the muffins might turn out a little more moist. 

** According to reviews these muffins freeze well.  I froze half and brought the rest into work.  I figure I don't really need 18 muffins tempting me and they'll come in handy the next time I have a craving for a healthy muffin and don't feel like baking!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seared Mahi Mahi with Edamame Succotash

I have made this Cooking Light recipe a few times now and each time I think to myself I should make it more often because it is incredibly easy, tasty and healthy. While the original recipe tastes great, it involves broiling red peppers and removing the skin, chopping and then mixing the peppers with frozen corn and edamame.  Not incredibly difficult but I have found a way to cheat and make it a little easier without giving up any of the flavor. I use frozen premixed Edamame Succotash from Trader Joe's which consists of frozen corn, red pepper and edamame, how perfect is that?!

Seared Mahi Mahi with Edamame Succotash
** adapted from Cooking Light
printable recipe

Serves 2
Prep/Cook Time: 10 minutes

1 cup frozen Trader Joe's Edamame Succotash- or other brand containing corn, red pepper and edamame
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

Mahi Mahi:
Cooking Spray
2 (6 oz) mahi mahi fillets, or other firm white fish
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Heat grill pan or outdoor grill to medium high heat.  Coat grill pan with cooking spray.  Season fish with salt and pepper and place on grill plan.  Cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat frozen succotash in microwave safe bowl for 2 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, thyme through garlic, to the bowl and stir to combine.  Serve with grilled fish.