¡Una Fiesta Para Mi!

My birthday was rapidly approaching (okay it was two months away), and I was craving a fiesta complete with a piñata, taco bar, Coronas with lime wedges, and a margarita station. So I made it happen.

The piñata, Smiley the Duck, didn’t start to break until the 14th person in the line-up gouged his abdomen with a blow of the broom handle. It took three more people, unblindfolded, hitting on him to get all the candy and treats to fly out for the kids and adults alike to scramble after.

Back inside, kids compared treats, and we continued to enjoy the taco bar and drinks. For the taco bar, I had three types of tortillas (flour, corn, and soy), MexiCali avocados shipped in from my parents’ yard in California, lettuce, tomato, sliced green onions, shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt to serve as sour cream, and two types of homemade taco meat included beef and chicken.

Guests loved the chili-seasoned shredded beef and the roasted chicken with southwest spices and asked several times how I made them. This is the first time I’ve made the shredded beef but the chicken is one of my trusted standards for a dinner party, easy, inexpensive, and delicious. In face, every time I’ve made my southwest-seasoned roasted chicken, guests want the recipe. So I’m going to share with you the technique and recipe for The Zin Diva’s Roasted Chicken.

This delicious, moist chicken uses two “secret” techniques that increase the flavor intensity and retain moistness, including in the notoriously dry breast meat. First, we’ll rub seasoning directly on the chicken meat not just the skin. To do that, we’ll loosen the chicken’s skin and spread our seasoning paste over the chicken’s breasts, legs, thighs, and possibly back and wings. Second, we’ll turn the chicken over twice while roasting to allow the juices to flow into the breast meat yet finish with a browned crust of skin.

Also, I do not truss my bird as many recipes direct. I find that the bird has a beautiful shape without the time and effort required to tie it up.

The Zin Diva’s Roasted Chicken

Tools: Roasting pan w/ rack or broiler pan, tongs or other device to turn the chicken
Time: 15 minutes to prep, 60-70 minutes to roast, 10 minutes to rest
Oven: 400 F 

Ingredients

1 Whole Fryer or Broiler Chicken, giblets removed, rinsed and patted thoroughly dry w/ paper towels
3-4 Tbsp. Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming Seasoning
2-4 cloves Fresh garlic, minced (optional)
Olive oil
Kosher Salt

1. Loosen the chicken skin from the meat using your fingers for the breast, legs, thighs, and back and wing areas if desired. Try not to tear the skin in the process. Place the bird on the top of grates of the broiler pan or on the rack of a roasting pan.

2. Mix together the Arizona Dreaming seasoning, the minced garlic if using, and enough olive oil to form a loose paste.

3. Using your fingers, spread the paste directly on the chicken’s meat, under the loosened skin, turning the chicken as needed. After the paste is gone, remove excess paste from fingers by rubbing them on the bird’s skin.

4. Rub the outside of the bird with olive oil. Sprinkle kosher salt on the bird. Sprinkle with Arizona Dreaming seasoning. Pat the salt and seasoning onto the bird to help it adhere.

5. Place the bird breast side up on the rack and roast for 30 min in the preheated oven. Remove pan from oven. Flip the bird over using tongs and a spatula/wooden spoon. Roast back side up for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the bird over to be breast side up. Roast another 5 to 15 minutes until done as tested with a meat thermometer inserted in the breast. The breast should be moist but no longer pink.

6. Allow the bird to sit on the rack for 10-15 minutes to allow juices to settle.

7. Carve as desired and serve.

Variation 1: Replace the Arizona Dreaming seasoning with another southwest seasoning that you like or create your own version with ancho and chipotle chile powders, cumin, oregano, paprika, etc.

Variation 2: Go Mediterranean in style instead. Replace the Arizona Dreaming seasoning with fresh or dried rosemary leaves (cut up) and/or thyme, red pepper flakes, fresh lemon zest. Be sure to use the minced garlic in this version. In step 4, don’t sprinkle with the Mediterranean seasoning as it will scorch.

¡Es una fiesta en la boca!

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A Taste of Italy

So for my latest adventure in wine tasting, I hosted “A Taste of Italy” wine dinner party at my apartment. I had 12 bottles of wine, my 3-day-3-meat sauce, and 15 guests.

For the wine portion, my co-conspirator in blind wine tastings, Dona, bagged up the wines and randomly numbered the three whites and then the seven reds. We had two Prosecco wines open for aperitif.

About 10 of us decided to take part of either a blind or semi-blind wine tasting challenge. Four of us “called the wines,” which means we described the visual cues, the nose, the taste, the mouth feel, and the finish of each wine and then tried to identify what varietals the wine was made of and where in Italy the wine was from.

Proseccos and Italian Whites

First up, we tasted the whites—two Pinot Grigios and a Soave. They smelled and tasted so nasty and dull that I didn’t even try to identify which was which. We suspected that the wine glasses were causing some of the off-odors of play-dough and clay, so we cleaned the wine glasses again before moving on to reds and had better results—at least as far as the nose and flavors are concerned! It was another story altogether on our ability to identify the wines. Lesson learned: Make sure I smell the wine glasses after I wash them to ensure they’re clean! I’ve taken this to heart and even started polishing my wine glasses so they sparkle AND smell clean.

We had red wines labeled #4 to #10, and I knew what the wines were but not the order so, in theory, I had an advantage. The guests who tasted “semi-blind” had the list of wines in alphabetical order. Those who tasted blind only knew the wines were from Italy.

Blind Tasting Results

So here’s how I identified the wines (* indicates that I loved it):

*#4 It’s so delicious, balanced, and smooth and not too acidic or tannic for my tastes. So it must be the Super Tuscan that I had selected rather than another type of Sangiovese-based wine. Call: Super Tuscan 2007
*#5 Yum! Lots of dried fruit, seems big and full. This is how I remember Ripasso tasting. So: Ripasso 2007
#6 Seems big and bold like I’d expect Amarone to be. Call: Amarone
#7 Tastes like a Sangiovese-based wine, dried fruits, violets in the nose. I already picked the Super Tuscan and it seems too beautiful for a Chianti, so I pick Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
*#8 It’s so soft and sweet. It must be the “little sweet one,” that is, Dolcetto. Call: Dolcetto.
#9 I’m running out of choices. I don’t recognize the flavors on this one, so maybe Barbera? Okay, Barbera 2008.
#10 It tastes Sangiovese-based again but all my options are gone except for one so let’s pick the Chianti Colli Senesi.

Italian Reds in Blind-Tasting Order

And here’s what they actually were…

*#4 Barbera D’Asti. Uh, oh. This isn’t good. I didn’t even get close to the right type of grape or region. But I guess I like Barbera more than I thought!
*#5 Chianti Colli Senesi. Oh my! I had no idea a Chianti could taste so good!
#6 Dolcetto. Are you serious? How could I mix up Dolcetto (the little sweet one) and the big, bold Amarone?! Yikes, I’m bad at this.
#7 Vino Nobile di Moltepulciano. Woo hoo! I got one right! I think it must be luck since I knew what the wines were.
*#8 Amarone. Okay, what is up with the Amarone and Dolcetto mix up? This Amarone was a gift and I think it was a Trader Joe’s wine that cost less than $20 and Amarones are routinely upwards of $40 for just a regular one. Maybe this is why is doesn’t taste intense like I expected.
#9 Ripasso. Huh. Well, I have had only one Ripasso before, so I guess I just need exposure to more Ripassos so I can get a better idea of this wine’s profile.
#10 Super Tuscan. Yea! I got that is was Sangiovese-based! Does this count for one right? But wait, I thought this was my favorite before the tasting… And I haven’t been a very big Chianti lover due to the medium plus acidity and high tannin levels (see Chianti call in #5 above) except with food… My world is shifting…

For the exact details on the wines, download the list I printed for the party: Italian Wine List.

On to the Food!

Okay, so I flopped this blind wine tasting. But so did everyone else! Misery loves company. But we didn’t wallow for long because we had lots of delicious wines to drink now that we had tasted and spit for the past, oh, two hours.

And we had 3-day, 3-meat sauce over penne waiting along with Caesar salad, garlic bread, and tiramisu.

As we settled into the social mealtime, we poured more wine and enjoyed the deep flavors of the meat sauce. Jennifer, who has trained as chef, said it was one of the best meat sauces out there and she wanted the recipe. I responded, “It’s made with love.”

I’ve been making some version of this meat sauce since 2003, inspired by my friend Carol of Italian descent who has her own family recipe, the 1997 “Joy of Cooking” Italian American Meat Sauce recipe, and the wild boar meat sauce at Sienna Restaurant on Daniel Island in SC. As I have grown in my love for food, wine, and cooking, my meat sauce has grown with me, and it truly is an act of love and generosity to make it for those around me.

But really, I’ll give you my 3-day, 3-meat sauce recipe. It’s up to you if you’re up to the challenge of dedicating so much time and love to one dish.

The Zin Diva’s Three-Day, Three-Meat Italian Sauce

Special equipment: 8- to 12-quart bouillabaisse pot or French (Dutch) oven, large frying pan, food processor
Total Time: 2-3 days Prep Time: 2 hours  Initial Simmer Time: 6 hours  Flavor Integration: Overnight in Refrigerator  Reheat: 1 to 2 hours  Total Active Time: 10 hours
Servings: 12-20 depending on portion size

Ingredients

Meat
5 lb. beef rump roast, trimmed of excess fat and patted dry
10 oz. pancetta, diced
3 lb. sweet or spicy Italian sausage (reduced fat works too!)

Everything else

4 jumbo white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 28-oz cans whole plum tomatoes crushed between your fingers as you add them to the pot OR 4 28-oz cans petite diced tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine (such as Chianti, Tempranillo, Syrah)
1 6-oz can tomato paste
3 sprigs fresh basil (plus extra to balance flavors)
2 Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds from consumed hunks of Parmesan (I store the rinds in the freezer until I make sauce)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Italian Parsley
Fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the 8-quart pot on the stove top over medium to medium-high heat until you can feel a good heat rising. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When oil is hot, add the rump roast and brown on each side until nicely browned but not black or burnt. Continue to step 3.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the frying pan over medium heat until you feel a good heat rising. Add the Italian sausage and brown on all sides until sausage is firm and cooked throughout. Remove sausage from pan and allow to cool on a cutting board. Repeat until all sausage is cooked. After the sausage is cooled, slice it into ¼ inch thick slices. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed in step 4.
  3. Once the roast is browned, add the onions, pancetta, and garlic to the 8-quart pot with the meat still in the pot. Stir regularly, making sure to rotate/shift the beef occasionally so that the onions can absorb its juices. When onions are softened and almost translucent, about 20 minutes, add 1 cup water and continue to stir until a bit of a sauce forms and the water is mostly evaporated, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and their juices, red wine, tomato paste, and basil, stirring to integrate well. Add the parmesan rinds. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir as often as needed.
    For a straight-sided pan, I found I needed to stir every 10-20 minutes to reintegrate the top layer that bubbled up. For the natural-convection promoting bouillabaisse pot, I only stir every 30 minutes to an hour. Every 2 hours, turn the beef over so it cooks evenly.
    Cook the beef for four to six hours until it is knife tender, i.e., a knife blade inserted in the roast is inserted and is removed with almost no resistance.  Remove the beef from the pot and let cool. Add kosher salt and black pepper to the sauce to taste. Add the sausage slices in the pot. If making this over two or three days, put all items in the fridge and return the next day to complete.
  5. Cut the beef into ¾ inch cubes and pulse in batches in the food processor until shredded but not mushy. Return the shredded beef to the pot, stirring after each addition to integrate. Allow the pot to simmer to integrate flavors.
  6. Add 1 cup chopped parsley and chopped basil leaves from one sprig to the pot and stir. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings to taste. To further meld flavors, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day, adding water as needed if the sauce is too thick. Remove parmesan slices before serving.
  7. Serve hot sauce over pasta such as whole-grain penne. Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

Old World Food and Wine Pairing: Bison Bolognese Sauce

Cava, Spain; Trebbiano, Italy; Macon-Villages, White Burgundy, France; Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese blend, Italy; Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy; Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva, Italy

I’ve been hosting several parties that I call a “Wine and Food Pairing Experience.” Each person brings a food item and a bottle of wine to pair that fits in with the theme. After I order the bottles in a logical tasting order, we try each wine and food pairing and the person who brought the item explains the food and wine pairing.

For my recent Old World themed “Wine and Food Pairing Experience,” I made a bison bolognese sauce served over whole grain pasta topped with Parmigiano Reggiano and paired it with a Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva 2007. Typically for an Italian meat sauce, I’d choose Chianti Classico Riserva, California Old Vine Zinfandel, or Italian Primitivo. In this case, I needed to stay Old World and I wanted something traditional like Chianti, but a friend was already bringing the Classico so I opted for another one of the seven Chianti DOCGs. Delicious! Several people asked me to post the recipe for the bison bolognese sauce.

So here’s the background on the sauce. I’ve made a few recipes in my Cuisinart electric pressure cooker and have started to get the idea of how to modify the techniques to make the food taste as delicious as if I had slow-cooked it on the stovetop. First, instead of using the low heat of the pressure cooker to saute or brown ingredients, splurge on getting an extra pot dirty and start the recipe on the stovetop. Second, for recipes like stews or meaty sauces that might take several hours on the stovetop to cook, use the “natural steam release” of the pressure cooker instead of the “quick steam release.” This technique seems to integrate the flavors much more thoroughly. My pressure cooker reverts to a “keep warm” setting after the steam is released. Since we’re talking stews or meaty sauces, keeping the pressure cooker on warm is like simmering the sauce longer on the stovetop, which is great for continuing to integrate flavors. Third, make the sauce the night before you plan to serve it and refrigerate it to allow flavors to further integrate. Reheat the sauce the next day in the pressure cooker on the “keep warm” or “low” setting. Finally, taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings (e.g., salt, pepper) as needed. Serve!

I served a Chianti Colli Fiorentini Riserva 2007 with a Bison Bolognese served over whole wheat pasta and topped with fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

For this particular recipe, I started with the “Quick Bolognese Sauce” in The Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Tori Ritchie. I’ve made this recipe per the directions before and I wanted to update it to be healthier and reflect my personal tastes (more onion and garlic, please!). First, I replaced the 1 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb. ground pork or veal with 2 lb. ground bison. Bison is a leaner meat than the beef, pork, or veal and, I suspected, a more gamey or earthy flavor, which would be perfect for pairing with the more earthy Old World wines. Next, I cut down the olive oil by 2/3, increased the pancetta by 1/3 for flavor, and increased the quantities of onion and garlic. Instead of using crushed tomatoes, which have a reputation for being the leftover and less desirable parts, I used whole plum tomatoes and crushed them in the food processor. I eliminated the optional heavy cream.

Bison Bolognese Sauce

Special Equipment: Pressure cooker, saute pan; Active Time: 30-45 min stovetop. Passive time: 45 min pressure cooker to cook including steam release, overnight melding of flavors in fridge, 1 hour reheat in pressure cooker
Serves 6

Ingredients

2 lb. ground bison
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 oz. pancetta
1 jumbo yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk (or 2 if using celery hearts), diced
1/4 cup parsley, flat or curly, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, crushed in food processor
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

1. On the stovetop, heat a large (3-4 qt) saute pan over medium heat. When you can feel a good heat rising, add 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil and distribute evenly. Then saute the bison until brown, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon. Drain off any remaining fat.

2. Add 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil to the hot pan and distribute. Add the pancetta and allow some fat to release from it. Then add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, onion is translucent, and pancetta is lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes depending on your cookware and stovetop.

3. Stir in the parsley, garlic, a pinch of salt, and black pepper to taste. Cook for about 30 second to 1 minute until the garlic starts to release its aromatics but without it burning. Add the wine and cook until wine is reduced by half, about 2-5 minutes.

4. Return the bison and any accumulated juices to the pan, and stir to combine. Then stir in the tomatoes and 1/2 cup water.

5. Transfer to the pressure cooker pot. Following the manufacturer’s directions, lock the lid in place. Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Use the natural steam release and allow the sauce to sit on the “keep warm” setting for up to an hour before refrigerating. You can transfer to the refrigerator sooner depending on your schedule. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

6. Reheat the sauce in the pressure cooker over the “low” or “keep warm” setting. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as desired. Serve over whole wheat penne. Pass the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy!

 

© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

Nutty Apple Crisp

My roommate and I had a housewarming party on Friday, and of course I wanted to make sure people had plenty to eat and snack on–with the caveat that it was healthy enough for me to eat too. So I made hummus to serve with veggies, roasted a whole chicken, and baked an apple crisp.

So this sounds basic enough, but I wanted to reinvent the already healthy and relatively low-calorie apple crisp to be low-glycemic and reduce the sugar content. So I grabbed my traditional Better Homes & Gardens Apple Crisp recipe and went to work on changing it.

First, I wanted to eliminate the 1/4 cup white flour in the topping so I replaced it with 1/4 cup almond flour. I also nixed the 1/2 cup brown sugar and replaced it with 1/4 cup agave nectar for sweetness and 1/3 cup wheat bran and 1/4 cup flax-seed meal for texture (and health!). I replaced 4 Tbsp. of butter with 1 Tbsp. olive oil to reduce the overall fat and saturated fat and then added a pinch of kosher salt to make the flavors pop. I added 2 Tbsp. of unsweetened coconut and 1 oz. of chopped almonds for flavor and texture. I kept the rolled oats, even though they are medium-glycemic, because they are fundamental to the texture and taste of my apple crisp. I also added Ceylon Cinnamon to the topping.

For apples, I used half Pink Lady and half Braeburn. I rarely use Granny Smith apples for baking because they have an inconsistent texture depending on age and time of year. One time in college I made apple crisp with all Granny Smiths, and someone asked me if I used applesauce in my apple crisp. Ouch! Since then, I have used a mix of apples and ones that stay firmer during baking. To make the apple crisp faster to make, healthier, more toothsome, and colorful, I don’t peel my apples.  Then, instead of adding 2-4 Tbsp. sugar to the apples, I tossed them with 4 packets of Truvia (Splenda would also work) and some Vietnamese cinnamon.

With baking the crisp, I realized that this topping can burn a lot easier than the butter-based version, so the crisp should be checked at 15-20 minutes instead of the 30 minute mark. To help the apples bake in the right amount of time, I cut the apples thinner than I normally do, more of 1/8 inch thick than 1/4 inch like usual. Each 1/8 inch apple wedge was then sliced in half. If the topping is done before the apples are soft, cover with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking.

I loved this apple crisp. The topping had a nuttiness and chewiness to it that was very satisfying. The apples turned out perfectly. And I loved that this dessert was guilt-free!
 

Nutty Apple Crisp

Special Equipment: Knife, cutting board, casserole dish or pie plate; Time: 20 minutes prep, 20-30 minutes bake at 375°

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

For the apple filling:
3 Pink Lady apples, thinly sliced (~1/8 in.); do not peel
3 Braeburn apples, thinly sliced (~1/8 in.); do not peel
4 packets Truvia or Splenda, or to taste
1/2 tsp. Penzeys Vietnamese cinnamon

For the topping:
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup almond flour
1/3 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup flax-seed meal
1/2 tsp. Penzeys Ceylon or Vietnamese Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 oz. almonds, coarsely chopped

1. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°.

2. Place the sliced apples in a large mixing bowl and lightly toss with Truvia and cinnamon.

3. Combine the first six topping ingredients together. Add the agave nectar and olive oil and mix til crumbly (you may need to use a fork or your hands for this). Add the coconut and almonds and toss lightly.

4. Place apples in a casserole dish. Add the topping and spread evenly over the apples.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until top is golden brown and apples are soft but not soggy, about 20-30 minutes. If topping is done but apples are not, cover with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Traditionally accompanied with ice cream or whipped cream, though I did not serve either to keep it healthy.)

Wine-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Reverse-Braised Brussels Sprouts

I moved apartments during the month of May, so I didn’t get a single blog post out during May. However, I did make this “reverse-braise” and flounder piccata for lunch while two of my friends hung art in the new place. Perfect timing—it took me about 20 minutes start to finish to make the two dishes and it took my friends 20 minutes to hang the art. We all got the best of both worlds—eating a delicious lunch while looking at photos of cheese and olives on the dining room walls!

So when my friends said they were hungry, I was a bit nervous. We had finished up all the fresh food the day before when we had salad. I turned to the freezer, a last resort for this fresh food junkie. I found a bag of flounder and a bag of Brussels sprouts. My mind, The Flavor Bible, and my pantry went to work to create a frozen dinner feast.

I had never cooked frozen Brussels sprouts before because I always make fresh ones, and I really, REALLY didn’t want to microwave them. So I decided to poach them in a dry white wine to defrost them, heat them up, and infuse them with wine. But poaching is not the most flavorful technique, so after poaching, I browned the outsides of the sprouts in garlic-infused olive oil, essentially creating a “reverse-braise” technique. To make the flavors pop, I added a bit of lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Meanwhile, the flounder met a similar fate in a sauté pan with olive oil. After both sides were cooked, I added lemon juice, white wine, capers, and pepper to make a bit of a sauce. No salt here because capers are super-salty. Done!

My friends loved the Brussels sprouts and flounder piccata and were quite pleased they had let me cook while they made the house beautiful.

 

Wine-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Special Equipment: Large sauté pan with lid; Time: 20 minutes, start to finish

Serves 4 as a side-dish

Ingredients

1 family size bag frozen Brussels sprouts
½ cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay
2 tsp. olive oil
3 garlic gloves, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, to taste (opt.)
Red Hawaiian sea salt, to taste
Black Pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, to taste

1. Heat large sauté pan on stovetop over a medium-low heat. When hot add the frozen Brussels Sprouts, breaking apart with a wooden spoon as needed.

2. Add ½ cup wine to the pan. Stir. After wine is heated, cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally.

3. Cook the Brussels sprouts in the wine until fork-tender, about 8-10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid from the pan. Stir, incorporating the wine into the sprouts.  When the wine is evaporated, push the sprouts to one side of the pan.

5. Heat the olive oil in the open area in the pan and add the minced garlic. Sauté garlic until lightly golden brown. Spread the garlic-infused olive oil throughout the pan.

6. Reintegrate the Brussels sprouts, allowing them to brown slightly after each stir.

7. When Sprouts are nicely browned, turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir. Sprinkle with lemon juice until the dish has the desired brightness. Then sprinkle with Parmesan to taste. Serve.

 

© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets

So here’s another recipe from Easter Brunch that was a huge hit: Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelettes. People could not believe their taste buds and ears when I told them this recipe was completely diet-friendly! I was thrilled with how many compliments people gave these omelets. One person said, if this is diet food, I need to be on this diet. 🙂

So here’s what I did to turn a moderately healthy but high calorie recipe into an “Eat Clean” recipe that was both healthy and moderate in the calorie count (~150 cal if divided into 8 servings). I modified a Gordon Ramsay recipe to increase the number of servings, increase the nutritional value including more lean protein and veggies, and decrease the fat per serving while keeping all the flavor. To do that, I kept the number of whole eggs the same at 4 but added a carton of egg whites, equal to 10 egg whites. I increased the baby spinach from 2 oz. to 6 oz. I eliminated the 2 tsp. butter and decreased the olive oil from 2 Tbsp. to 4 tsp. I kept the amount of goat cheese the same at 4 oz. but increased the amount of Parmesan Reggiano from 2 Tbsp. to 3 Tbsp. and upped the quantities of sea salt and black pepper. Overall, this upped the number of proposed servings from two to between four to eight depending on whether this is the only main course or served in a buffet as we did.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets for a Crowd


Special Equipment: Broiler, broiler-safe skillet, large sauté pan
Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

Ingredients

6 oz. baby spinach
1 tsp. olive oil
4 whole eggs
1 container egg whites, equivalent to 10 egg whites
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt to taste (I prefer red Hawaiian sea salt)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. goat cheese
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Reggiano

  1. Preheat the broiler. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. When skillet is hot, add 1 tsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom in the film of oil. Add the baby spinach to the pan. Stir and toss with a wooden spoon until the spinach is lightly wilted. Remove the spinach from the heat and place on paper towels. Tease the spinach leaves apart with a fork. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and the egg whites. Do not add salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the broiler-safe skillet over medium-high heat (medium for cast-iron). When you feel a good heat rising, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat.
  4. Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. Using a metal fork, continuously stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure the eggs do not stick. When eggs are 2/3 set, stop stirring, making sure the eggs are evenly distributed prior to the next step.
  5. Add the spinach leaves, spreading them evenly over the surface of the eggs. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Pinch the goat cheese into small pieces, spreading over the top of the spinach. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the omelet. Turn off the stove burner.
  6. Place skillet under the broiler until the cheese is lightly browned but not burnt, about 1-4 minutes depending on your broiler and pan. Serve in the pan at the table or at the buffet.

Tahini Salad Dressing

I just tried a great yet simple salad dressing tonight, courtesy of the recipe on the side of Azar’s Tahini Paste. 🙂 Azar’s is a family-owned restaurant in the Hampton Roads area, which sells tahini paste under its own label. I use it for my hummus and now, apparently, my salad dressing!

Tahini Salad Dressing
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. red Hawaiian sea salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup water

1. In a food processor, finely mince the garlic. Add the lemon juice, tahini paste, water, and salt and run the food processor until well-blended. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

2. Serve on salad. Pairs esp. well with chicken served on salad. Enjoy!

Variations: Add cracked pepper to the dressing. Or try adding spices from my hummus–I’m considering cayenne, Aleppo red pepper, cumin, Smoked Spanish Paprika, though not all at once!

 

© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

Sweet and Spicy broccoli for snack or light lunch!

I tried out this combination last night for dinner and was surprised how good the cooked broccoli could taste with a sweet and spicy blend. I cooked the broccoli in the microwave then added Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey), red Hawaiian sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper. I tossed with a fork and it was done!

Sweet and Spicy Broccoli

Prep Time: 1 min
Cook time: 5 min
Special Equipment: Pampered Chef veggie steamer for microwave OR bowl w/ Cling Wrap

Ingredients:
10 oz. broccoli, e.g., Bird’s Eye box of broccoli
1/2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Sprinkle to taste of Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey)
Pinch of red Hawaiian Sea Salt to taste
2-3 grinds of black pepper

1. Cook broccoli according to package instructions, about 5 minutes.
2. When cooked, drain off the water.
3. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the broccoli.
4. Toss, serve, and enjoy!

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Have you ever just had a feeling that you should try something new in the kitchen? That the flavor combination or cooking method will just work out for you even though you haven’t done any research? That’s how I felt last week when I made what I’m calling “Roasted Eggplant Fries.”

At girls’ night last week, Rafah had purchased a couple of eggplants that she didn’t plan to use for our dinner of Stuffed Grape Leaves. I had an idea. What about cutting up the eggplant into steak fries, lightly coating with olive oil and a bit of kosher salt, and roasting in the oven for about 30 minutes? I tried it and it worked. Not only did it work, but Katie and I nearly polished off the two eggplants by the time Rafah and Erika even got to try the fries. At Rafah’s suggestion, we dipped the roasted eggplant strips in my homemade hummus. Oh my goodness! Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

I love these eggplant fries so much that I have made them two more times this past week–once for a dinner party and once for a girls’ hangout night. Still a hit! So I have to tell you all how to make them. Trust me–this one’s easy.

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Special Equipment: Oven, baking sheet or roasting pan (nonstick is preferable), knife, cutting board

Prep Time: 10 min; Cooking Time: 15-30 min
Preheat Oven to 425º

Ingredients
4 eggplants
4 tsp. olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Hummus, to serve (optional)

1. Rinse and dry whole eggplants.

2. Cut eggplants into about 3/4 inch strips. If eggplant is longer than 5 inches or so, cut the eggplant strips in half.

3. Apply 1 tsp. olive oil to the baking sheet, spreading with your hands to coat. Sprinkle kosher salt on the baking sheet to taste.

4. With the oil still on your hands, rub the eggplant pieces. Pour another 1/2 to 1 tsp. olive oil to your palms and rub your palms lightly to coat. Rub a set of eggplant pieces lightly to transfer olive oil to each piece while minimizing oil use. Place the lightly oiled eggplant pieces on the baking sheet, skin side up where applicable. Repeat until all pieces are lightly coated.

5. Sprinkle the eggplant pieces with kosher salt to taste. Drizzle another tsp. of olive oil over the eggplant pieces if desired.

6. Roast at 425º for about 15-25 minutes until the bottoms are nicely browned. Flip the pieces over and roast another 5 minutes or until eggplant in nicely browned but not burnt. (The eggplant fries will not be crisp.) UPDATE: I found the roasting time varies greatly depending on the packing of the eggplant fries, the thickness of the fries, and the oven in use. Also, while flipping gives the best results for appearance and texture, I have neglected to flip my eggplant fries several times and they still taste great. 🙂

7. While still warm, serve with hummus. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer.

I love braises!

Okay, so I’m about to share the Lamb & Dried Bean Stew recipe that I made for my Lebanese dinner party. It took me awhile to type it up and get it to you, because I wanted to get in all the attention to detail that I use to create the dish.

For me, a braise or a stew is a work of art and, dare I say it, an act of love. It creates amazing depth of flavor through careful browning, slow simmering, and intuition-led adjusting of seasonings/acidity/sweetness at the end of the cooking process. In all, braises/stews are my favorite types of meals to cook for company. They fill the home with mouth-watering aromas and the whole process is therapeutic for me. And, of course, my friends love the food!

With a braise, I love to serve a rich red wine such as Syrah, Zinfandel, or a big Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins in the wine and the slightly higher alcohol levels (at least for New World wines) balance well with the intensity, flavor, and depth of the braise. Also tomato-based dishes just scream red wine to me. For a more Old World style wine, I’d recommend Chianti Classico Riserva, a Priorat from Spain, or a Cote-du-Rhone.

I hope you will come to love cooking and eating braises and stews as much as I do! Now for the recipe, including plenty of techniques to take with you to other braises/stews.

Lamb and Dried Bean Stew


Special equipment: 8 quart soup pot, bouillabaisse pot, French oven, or heavy bottomed stock pot; Pressure cooker or pot for cooking dried beans or use canned beans; sauté pan/frying pan or Le Creuset 3.5 qt casserole pan; tongs

Prep time: 40 min to pressure cook beans (can be concurrent); 2 hours to prep stew; Cooking time: 2-2.5 hours

Ingredients

2 lbs dry white beans (Great Northern)
6 large onions, diced, divided
9 cloves garlic, minced
4 lbs leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes by butcher
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 28 oz cans tomatoes, petite-diced, diced, or whole tomatoes crushed between fingers
12 Tbsp. tomato paste
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1 Tbsp. Lebanese mixed spices (recipe to follow), more to taste as desired

1. Following the directions for your pressure cooker, cook the 2 lbs dry white beans. In the Cuisinart Pressure Cooker, I cooked the beans for 25 minutes and used the natural pressure release. Alternatively, cook on the stove top (I haven’t done this, so I can’t give you the details). Another option is to use canned beans—I estimate about 5-6 cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained.

2. Place both the soup pot (or alternate) and the sauté pan on two front burners. The soup pot should be on a medium heat while the sauté pan will be a medium high heat. The soup pot will be used for sautéing the onions and garlic while the sauté pan will be used for browning the lamb.

3. After you feel a good heat rising, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the soup pot, rotating the pot to cover the bottom in oil. Add about 1/3 of the onions to the pot, stirring to cover with the oil and transfer the heat. Stir occasionally. When the first batch of onions is soft and has just a bit of color developing, transfer to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of this step until all onions are cooked except for three handfuls to use to deglaze the lamb sauté pan.

4. After the onions are cooked, add 1 tsp. olive oil to the heated soup pot to cover the bottom. Then add all the garlic to the pot, stirring continuously. Cook for about 1 minute until you can smell the garlic and the garlic is golden brown. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove to the holding dish immediately.

5. Meanwhile, dry the lamb cubes with paper towels. When you feel a good heat rising from the sauté pan, add 1 tsp. olive oil and rotate the pan to cover the bottom in oil. Add the lamb cubes, one-by-one, leaving at least an inch between cubes in the pan. If the pan is overcrowded, the lamb will steam instead of brown. When the first side is browned, use tongs to turn the lamb cubes over. When nicely browned, turn the lamb cubes to get a light browning on the other four sides. These sides will not take as long to brown, so watch carefully. When the first batch is browned, transfer to a holding dish. To remove the browned bits and retain their flavors, add ½ tsp olive oil to cover and throw in a handful of diced onions and sauté until onions are done and have removed most of the browned bits from the bottom. Transfer onions to the holding dish. Repeat from the beginning of the step, ensuring the lamb cubes are still dry, until all lamb cubes are browned.

6. To get the last of the lamb bits out of the pan, add the juices of one can of tomatoes, stirring to work the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow the tomato juice to reduce slightly, creating a richer tomato juice base flavored with lamb. When done, turn off the burner for the sauté pan.

7. At this point all lamb, onions, and garlic have been browned/cooked. Add the tomato paste to the Soup Pot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes to add complexity. Then return the lamb, onions, and garlic to the Soup Pot. Add the reduced tomato juice, the canned tomatoes, two pinches of salt, a tsp. of pepper, and the mixed spices. Stir to combine and cook for about five minutes.

8. Add the cooked Great Northern beans until the pot is nearly full or the beans are gone (I used a 7 ¼ quart pot and had about 2 cups of beans left).

9. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer until the lamb is fork-tender, about 2 to 2.5 hours.

10. Adjust seasonings to taste, including salt, pepper, and mixed spices.

11. Serve and enjoy!

Lebanese Mixed Spices

Combine equal parts of the following:
Allspice
Black pepper
Cinnamon
Cloves
Nutmeg
Fenugreek (You can substitute fennel seed if necessary)
Ginger

1. If any of the spices are whole, grind through a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or coffee burr grinder on the finest setting or use a mortar and pestle to grind as finely as possible (not ideal).

2. Store in an airtight container. Used in many Lebanese dishes.