Shepherd's Pie

Brian has had to do a bit of traveling lately. So there have been lots of simple veggie meals along with lots of peas being consumed (Since Brian despises peas so much I take advantage when he is gone!). Also, now that the days of rain are fewer I have been trying to get back into my urban hikes. I power walk across Belltown, through downtown, and wrap around in Pioneer Square before heading back home. Depending of the day it results in four miles, give or take, with lots of hills and stairs being concurred depending on my mood. All that walking works up an appetite. With my hungry tummy, Brian home for a while, and St. Patty’s Day upon us, I thought an appropriate meal was deserved. I decided the perfect meal for such an occasion was a Shepherd’s Pie. A hearty one; with a layer of lamb, covered by a layer of veggies, and topped with mashed potatoes.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

The first time I ever had Shepherd’s Pie, believe it or not, was when I was away at college. It was sometimes offered as entree option for dinner. Growing up in an Italian American home this was something I never heard of or saw before. I gave it a try one night while being bored with my other options, and to my surprise is was quite tasty. I can remember being home at the holidays and at a family gathering and telling my aunts I tried it and thought it was good. My Aunt Mary Beth told me it was one of her favorites! (My Aunt Mary Beth is married to my father’s brother, and comes from a very large and fun loving Irish family.) She said she made it often as it was her father’s favorite dish. We bonded as my aunt told me the different ways to make Shepherd’s Pie.

Fast forward to about a year or so ago. I realized that I never really made a Shepherd’s Pie on my own. So I emailed my Aunt Mary Beth asking if she could tell me how she likes it best, and if she could share any tips. She wrote me back right away explaining how simple it was. She (and her dad she explained) liked it best with lots of Worcestershire Sauce to coat the lamb. She also said you can use any variety of veggies, but her favorite is a layer of corn between the lamb and potatoes. I have played around with a version of this that Brian has become fond of. I too use lots of Worcestershire Sauce, and mix corn in with other veggies. So, for St. Patty’s Day this year we feasted on a homemade Shepherd’s Pie! Of course I made a veggie one for myself that was lovely, but Brian’s lamb version made him giddy like a child. As he ate it he said, “This dish make me feel so special…I need to savor it all!” If you ask me, he made my Aunt Mary Beth proud, and without question it looked far better than that cafeteria version I first tasted!

IMG_0988

IMG_0988

Shepherd’s Pie (Feeds 4 - 6)

**Note: this is a dish that can easily be prepped a head of time / a day or two in advance and holds nicely in the refrigerator for two days, and bake when ready to eat. 

1 lb lamb stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1 cup onion, chopped small

1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup corn kernels, canned or frozen

1 cup broccoli florets, fresh or frozen

1 - 1 1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes

1/4 cup of milk

3/4 cup of shredded Irish cheddar cheese

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, place a large frying pan, or salute pan over medium heat. Melt your butter, and once melted add you onion. Let it simmer, stirring ti occasionally until it is softened; about 5 minutes. Add your lamb and let it sear on all sides, stirring it every so often.

Meanwhile, place your potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with salted water by at least 2 inches. Place it over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool a bit.

Next, add your Worcestershire Sauce over your lamb and stir well. Season it with a bit of fresh black pepper and let it simmer together, stirring it occasionally. It should simmer about 20 - 30 minutes  before removing it from the heat. Place the lamb with it’s onions and liquid in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate and set aside.

Then. place the potatoes in a bowl and add the butter and mash to your liking…with a masher, ricer, food mill, or electric mixer. Once potatoes are mashed add in the milk and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. stir it all together and season it to your liking with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Over the lamb scatter the corn and broccoli evenly. Top your veggies with the mashed potatoes. gently spread it over the top to cover the whole pie plate, without pressing the mashed potatoes down into the layers. sprinkle the top of it all with the remainder of your cheese. (**Note: If reserving this for another day wrap the plate tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator before the following step.) 

Finally, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover your Pie plate with foil and place on a baking sheet. When oven is heated place the plate int eh oven for about 20 minutes (35 if plate was refrigerated first) and then uncover foil. leave in the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes. You want to see the liquid around the lamb bubbling up and around the dish and the cheese should be melted and starting to brown across the top. Remove from oven and let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf

Let me be upfront here. Yes, I am a pastry chef. So, yes, I do spend my days melting chocolate, baking off cookies, crafting desserts, and producing sweet sauces; but I am not always baking and making sweets at home. Although, if you do look at my last few blog posts it may seem as though that is all I have been doing. Bananas Foster, Grapefruit Bunt Cake, Calas … Trust me there have been lots of savory natured things in between all of these. Yet, once again this post is of the sweet persuasion; but not tooth achingly sweet. This is just the right amount of sugary - almond - cake - loaf goodness. An Almond Poppyseed Loaf, to be exact. I was inspired to make this because of our most recent trip to New Jersey. While we were there I had this huge craving for a poppyseed cake. It is a very eastern european item and while growing up in Garfield, N.J. there were two different Polish bakeries we frequented that made them. The bakery version is more like a very sweet bread-like item that beholds a very moist poppy seed / almond flavored filling. One of the bakeries made it in a swirl, and the other made it like a stuffed loaf. I always loved it, and I can recall many evenings as a child sitting with my family snacking on this cake with tea while the adults talked.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf
Almond Poppyseed Loaf

When I was last in New Jersey I went to four different bakeries in search of a Poppyseed Cake. The first bakery was closed! The next bakery said they didn’t make any that day. The bakery after that one was closed too! (It was a Monday.) So I went into the Polish market around the corner from my parents home…no luck there either! I even wandered the isles looking for some sort of poppy seed / almond flavored like ingredients. My thought was if I could get my hands on anything like the filling I could attempt to make it on my own. I could not find any, just walked out of there with some kielbasa for my father-in-law and a beet salad for my husband and I to share. As we walked out I walked next door to a tiny bakery with only two cases. And there it was! Happily I purchased the cake and took it to my in-law’s home to share.

Low and behold this cake was a big disappointment! It was dense, had bits of candied citrus in it, and it possessed a very dry texture. It was totally missing the light and airy sweet bread with that moist gush of poppyseed and almond goodness. I nearly teared when I ate my slice. I was leaving the following day, there would be no poppyseed cake until my next visit back - but only if I am luckier than I was on this trip! While I was back home in Seattle I kept thinking about the flavors of that cake. I have to do a bit of research still on a recipe to master anything like the cake of my memory, but in the present I will have to settle on the Almond Poppyseed Loaf I created. The flavor profile hit very close to home, and the loaf had the loveliest texture and chew to it. I will admit I had two slices and another one the next day. I am grateful that Brian brought the remainder of this loaf in for his coworkers to try or I could have easily sat down and finished it while watching a Netflix marathon of any kind! I will report back in the future on a Poppyseed Cake, in the meantime this Almond Poppyseed Loaf will behold my heart.

IMG_0739
IMG_0739

Almond Poppyseed Loaf (Makes one 8 inch loaf)

8 oz butter, cut into small cubes, plus extra for greasing your pan

3 large eggs plus 3 large yolks

2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for flouring pan

1/2  tsp sea salt

2 tbsp poppyseed

1 1/4 cup sugar

7 oz almond paste, broken up into chunks

1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds, optional

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease you loaf pan well and line it with parchment paper (I like to lay a long enough sheet of parchment paper into the pan so it covers the bottom of the pan, the sides, and has a bit of an overhang. This will help you lift the loaf out of the pan easily once it is cooled.) Flour the sides of the pan that is exposed.

Next, in the base of a food processor place your sugar and your almond paste and pulse until the almond paste is broken down and evenly distributed amongst the sugar.You want to be sure the almond paste is no longer in clumps, and as finely broken down as the sugar is. Also in a bowl whisk together your flour, sea salt, and poppyseed.

Then, in the bowl of a mixer place your butter along with your almond sugar mixture. Mix this until it is well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while doing so. Once it is mixed cohesively and smooth, gently stir in the flour mixture. Mix until it is blended - but no further.

Finally, pour the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top if using. Place on a sheet tray and then place in the center of your oven. Bake about an hour, rotating it half way though. Be sure to test the cake after an hour. This is a very rich and dense loaf, so you want to be sure that a tooth pick comes out clean once it is inserted for testing. Mine baked for about an hour and fifteen minutes, but it can vary from oven to oven. Remove from oven and let cool an hour before removing it from the pan. Slice and serve once cool but at room temperature. (Will store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to four days.)

Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze

IMG_0696 The last couple of weeks Brian and I have been fighting a cold. Brian came home from a business trip feeling “head cold-ish’. He was feeling on the mend when we headed out to New Jersey for a quick trip to visit with our families. On our last full day there I felt something was coming on myself. No fun!!! By the time we were back in Seattle I was in full combat with this head cold ugliness. Once I was all better, Brian received round two! Napping, cold meds, hot lemon and honey water, cough drops, and sniffles. In two weeks we have been home we have been trying our best to not be cranky, but the influx of this illness has put us to the test.

The plus side, we got to spend a short but fun visit with our loved ones on the east coast. Lots of laughs and giggles were had. We spent an afternoon in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, got to see a dusting of snow, and ate a lot. We had some good New York pizza, feasted at a Polish restaurant, and my mom made my favorite dish of her's - lentil soup. It was an overall amusing trip. The colds we acquired though equaled to no fun.

IMG_0680

Due to the “ick” we've been experiencing we have overloaded ourselves with vitamin C. Naval oranges, pink grapefruits, meyer lemons, limes, blood oranges; you name it we have been ingesting it. Citrus in salads, citrus with roasted veggies, citrus in quinoa, citrus with soup…I think you get the feeling of where we were going. When I looked at the grapefruits instead of eating it whole I thought - Cake! After all, we have been so good. We were eating healthy and now almost fully rid of this yuckiness - we deserved a treat.

I made a bundt cake with lots of grapefruit zest in the batter. I made a syrup out of the juice from the grapefruit and gently spooned it over the freshly baked cake while still warm from the oven. Once the cake was cooled I pooped it out of the pan and drizzled it with a star anise spiced glaze. We enjoyed it with extra sliced citrus and mugs of tea. It was moist and slightly sweet, not to mention it paired well with the tea. Eating all that citrus to combat our colds was tasty, but I think in the cake form it is best. I just wish there was more, we shared it and disappeared fast!

IMG_0698

Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze (Makes one 9 inch round cake)

Cake

8 oz butter, softened (plus extra for pan)

2 1/2 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup yogurt

1/3 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

2 tbsp grapefruit zest

Syrup

1/4 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

3/4 cup sugar

Glaze

*Note: If you are not a fan of Star Anise you do not have to use it. You can simply replace it with vanilla extract to keep the glaze more simple.

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tsp ground star anise

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your pan generously. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a small bowl stir together your grapefruit juice and zest and set aside as well.

Next, in a large bowl mix your butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl in-between each egg; mixing until completely blended. Add in your vanilla and stir it together until combined. In two parts alternate adding the flour and then the yogurt.

Then, once all is combined stir in your  juice and zest mixture. When your batter seems evenly mixed pour it into your prepared pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake about and hour, rotating it half way though. Test it with a tooth pick to check the doneness of the cake. when toothpick is removed form the cake cleanly you should remove it from the oven.

Meanwhile, you should begin to make your syrup. Place the juice and the sugar in a small pan and bring to a simmer. You want to stir it continuously until the sugar  is dissolved. Promptly remove the pot from the heat, and with a sharp knife poke several wholes around the top of the cake. Generously spoon the syrup over the cake letting it seep into it. Place the cake (in the pan) in a spot to cool completely. At lest a hour.

Finally, you can make your glaze for the cake. In a bowl whisk together your powdered sugar, star anise, and water. Whisk it until smooth. Gently remove the cake from the pan. I used an offset spatula to carefully loosen the cake from the sides of the pan (you might need a firm hand in doing this as the syrup may have made the cake stick to the pan just a bit). I inserted the spatula along the side of the cake and gently nudged the cake away from the pan, then you flip the cake over onto a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan. Easily pour or spoon the glaze over the cake little by little. Let it drip on down the sides and become set onto the cake. Let the glaze set about 15 minutes before serving.

Cake will keep about 3 - 4 days if wrapped in plastic. Cake can be refrigerated, but let the cake come to room temperature before eating for best texture and flavor.

 

Bananas Foster

As always I like to keep fresh fruits on hand. At almost any given time you will find whatever fruit in season, and within reason; placed in a bowl on my dining room table. Two weeks ago it laid quite abundant with bananas. Coincidentally we were planned on taking a trip back to the east coast to visit with family, but what to do with these bananas? I hate to leave them here and come home to find out they spoiled. Normally when I have a few bananas that are ripe and I am not ready to use it is easy to peel them and seal them in plastic and place in the freezer for a future baking need. But these bananas were no way near ripe yet. That is when I though about Bananas Foster. Bananas that are sliced, sweetly sauted, flambed, and spooned warm over ice-cream. This is the perfect dish for bananas that are still firm. This is because if you were to use bananas that were quite ripe they turn too mushy as they cook.

IMG_0511

I learned to make this dish when I was in culinary school. Our last class was to work (both front and back of the house) of the fine dinning restaurant on campus where Bananas Foster was on the menu. When working the front of house and this dessert was ordered you had to wheel a cart over to the table (this cart was stocked with bananas, brown sugar, butter, rum, and a small portable butane burner); and prepare the dessert in front of the guests. The reason for doing this table side was for the show and spectacle of it. Sounds simple, yes? But hold on there just a moment. Let me use this moment to state that I completely disliked doing this and was terrified each time it was ordered. Each and every time an order would come through I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, while a small sweat would start to form under my pressed white button up dress shirt.

IMG_0542I personally felt as though we did not get enough time to practice the recipe ourselves before making it. When making this dish as you start to flambe the pan with the rum -if done right- a flame will shoot up out of the pan burning off the alcohol in it. In my opinion, and that of some of my classmates; the ceilings were not very high in the dinning room. I had this gut wrenching panicked feeling that the ceiling would end up with a smoke stain or worse. Not exactly the type of experience you want when dinning at a fine restaurant. Rest assure that as we finished out the course there were no flambe casualties. The ceiling remain smoked stained free, no unintentional fires started, and I became much more confident in making this dish.

IMG_0519

That is until I made it at home the other day. It had been quite a while since I flambed  anything, and some of those unconfident feeling snuck back into my psyche. I asked my husband to stand by in case I needed help to put a fire out, and also to take pictures of it all. I need the evidence of it not only to show you here, but for my own acknowledgement of future flambe attempts. The ending result was triumphant. There was no fire, although the flame did get larger than I had remembered. The bananas were sweet and kept their shape. The lightly spiced brown sugar and butter used to create the sauce paired perfectly with the vanilla ice-cream. We enjoyed some Bananas Foster, and when finish I packed some things for our trip to New Jersey. I will admit, my confidence was back in place and I hoped our future trip would be as exciting as making this dish.

IMG_0539Bananas Foster (serves 2 - 4)

*Note: if you are concerned about the flame from the rum you can always add less rum, but that will compromise your the amount of sauce you create with the bananas. You can also try not to ignite the pan, but were is the fun in that?!?

2 firm bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices

2 tbsp of butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 cup dark rum

1 tsp vanilla extract

Vanilla ice-cream of choice

Matches, in case you are not using a gas stovetop

First, have I like to have the ice-cream scooped into the bowls and placed in the freezer until ready to pour the sauce over. It is best to keep the ice-cream cold, or the warm sauce and bananas will end up in a creamy puddle!

Next; in a bowl mix together your brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon - place it aside. Aslo place your vanilla in the same container you have you rum and set it aside as well. Place a large saute or frying pan over medium heat and once heated though add your butter and melt it.

Then, when butter is melted add your bananas. stir them to coat them in the butter. Once coated sprinkle you brown sugar over the top of it all. Keep stirring until the sugar is quite melted and bubbling. Carefully lift the pan away from the heat and pour in the rum and vanilla.

Finally, if using a gas stove raise your burner to high heat and carefully return the pan to the burner while gently tilting the pans lip toward the flame. The rum should ignite quickly. If using an electric burner raise the heat to high and place your pan gently over it. Carefully light your match and place it’s flame toward the pan to ignite the rum. After igniting the rum in either way the flambe will be high and your pan will sizzle away. The rum’s flame will subside once the alcohol is cooked off. When that happens you can remove the pan from the heat and quickly spoon the bananas and sauce over your chilled ice-cream. Serve it promptly and enjoy!

Calas

I noticed the other day that in some ways I have been feeling like I am in a bit of a rut lately. It is hard to explain. The days are short, and yet we are both super busy with our work, day to day life; yet everything has a level of lackadaisical to it. It is as though there have been a case of the “blahs” casted over me. I know some would attribute this to January or winter, and I was beginning to believe that might be true. That was until I was reading through at an Indian cookbook I received as a gift. There it was right in front of me. I was planning to go to India for the past six months and postponed those plans after our most recent voyage out of the states. Let me just say that it left us stressed, and exhausted. To some that may seem like all the more reason to go away again. Unfortunately, we knew we were just not mentally ready for a long voyage of that nature.

Cala batter resting and letting the years work it's magic.
Cala batter resting and letting the years work it's magic.

Then I realized that last year this time we were in New Orleans.  It was the first time I visited that beautiful city, and we enjoyed every bit of it. At that moment I put down the Indian cook book and started looking into all the foods we enjoyed while we were in New Orleans. There was the ever famous Beignets, Cheesy Grits, Praline Bacon, Stewed Okra, and a personal favorite: Calas! I’m sure you are wondering what this is. Calas are somewhat of a rice fritter. The history of the Cala dates back to plantation times, they were made by slaves and sold on the city streets on their day off. The money they earned from selling these was put towards buying themselves their freedom. As time passed the Calas were still made, but usually for more celebratory times. Today you can often find them on menus at restaurants from time to time.

IMG_0489
IMG_0489

In researching recipes about the Calas I found lots of differences. Some were like fried rice patty cakes, some were leavened with baking powder, and a few recipes used yeast. In making my own I opted for a yeast version. I imagined they would be light and airy in texture, and the result was just that. Light, airy, fluffy, with the tiniest bit of chew from the rice. I made the batter for the Calas early in the day and let the yeast work it’s magic. When we were through with dinner that night I heated up some oil and fried them off. While still very hot and warm I dusted them with powdered sugar. Biting into them I was super pleased. They were everything I thought they would be like. They were much fluffier than the ones I had when I was in New Orleans, and had the tiniest bit of subtle sweetness. They were a great ending to our meal, and a perfect pick me up from the blah mood I have been in. A trip to India may have been pushed back a bit, but Calas are a great pick me up in the meantime.

Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.
Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.

Calas (serves 6 or more depending on size)

**Note: I am sure any type of rice is possible to use for this recipe. By tradition they use a medium grained rice…Although, something like a short grain, sticky rice might not be appropriate. You want the rice suspended in the batter and not clumped up. I did find in my research that a parboiled or instant rice is strongly not suggested.  

2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast

1/2 cup of warm water

2 cups of cooked and cooled rice (I used Basmati)

3 large eggs

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups of flour (plus more if needed)

1/2 cup of light brown sugar

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Peanut oil (at least a pint)

Powdered sugar

First, place the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Cover the yeast with the warm water and let it dissolve and start to foam.

Next, add the rice, eggs, and vanilla to the yeast and stir it well. Over the top of this add your flour, brown sugar, and sea salt. Stir it together well. It will seem gloopy and spongy, that is normal. You are looking that you can scoop the batter up with a spoon and scrape it off with another spoon smoothly.

Then, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature (and away from any draft) for about 4 hours, or double in size. At this point check again that the batter is scoopable with two spoons. If you feel that the dough is too wet you can stir in a bit more flour…Try to do this no more that 2 tbsp at a time.

Finally, add the oil to a 4 quart pan and heat it to 350 degrees. (You can use a deep fryer if you have one.) When the oil is ready, drop the batter by the spoonful and fry until they are golden and flip them over until they are equally golden on the other side. (Be sure to keep an eye on your oil temperature as you do not want it to get too hot or it will burn your calas.) Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Dust the calas with powdered sugar and serve while hot, and enjoy!

***Note: I fried off half the batter and placed the remainder batter in a sealed plastic container at least double the size of the batter. I stored the batter in the refrigerator and fried it off two days later. It did expand a bit more as it rested in the refrigerator, and it fried off just as well as it did before. Although I would not let the batter sit much longer than that, because the batter has a tendency to begin to have a sour dough taste to it.

Harissa Roasted Carrots & Onions, with Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranates

The holidays were here — I feel as though, they came and I conquered! Gifts all arrived to their destination on time! When all your family is on the east cost and we live on the west cost, this is a big deal. I will admit, I made Brian do the wrapping, shipping, and card addressing this year. I needed a break as I have been responsible for all of this the past 17 years give or take. But besides that there were cookies made & decorated, pies baked, holiday parties attended, cocktails consumed, entertaining executed, and a christmas dinner devoured with leftovers to spare. We also worked our jobs and snuck in a few naps; but the holidays were here and they were crushed in a triumph. IMG_0261

Time for the new year to roll in. Time to sit back and enjoy what is left of the 2015. Time to nibble and savor. Time to reminisce at all that went right! Wrong? Made us laugh! And even want to dismiss from the mind. Recently we were reminiscing of a dessert we tried on one of our travels. The texture was weird, it was somewhat rubbery, and not very sweet. The look on Brian’s face when he tried it was priceless as he politely chewed on it. Did it make us laugh? Yes, but the taste and experience left a lot to be desired. We can forget that one.

FullSizeRender-3

I do remember harissa roasted carrots and onions - this is one recipe worthy of reminiscing. The carrots and onions were coated in olive oil, dusted with harissa, roasted until tender, served over a layer of lemony thick greek yogurt, and sprinkled on top with pomegranate seeds. Paring this with some warm pita and bright green leafy salad is perfection. Time to make this to bring in the new year…it is slightly spicy, smoky, earthy, and deeply robust. Depending on the spice variety you use, the flavor can vary. Although the one that I use is a nice balance of chilies, paprikas, fennel seeds, along with a variety of other spices. The spices pair nicely with the lemony yogurt, it mellows out the spice while leaving just the right amount that is needed. The pomegranets are bright and burst with flavor amongst the sweet roasted veggies. Over all, this simple dish is one of the more perfect things I ate this year. A dish to remember, a dish...holiday worthy!

FullSizeRender-2

Harissa Roasted Carrots & Onions, with Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranates (serves 4 - 6 as a side dish)

**Notes: If you are looking for a Harissa Spice, you can always order it. I personally like this blend and the company here: https://www.worldspice.com/blends/harissa

6 - 8 large carrots; peeled, trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces

1 onion; trimmed and cut into 1 inch strips

1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil

1 tbsp harissa spice

sea salt to taste

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the carrots into thick sticks, about 1/4 - 1/6 of their whole. Place the carrot sticks and onion pieces in a bowl. Mix the olive oil and harissa together and toss it with your carrots and onions until coated.

Next, on a lined baking sheet place your dressed carrots and onions. Sprinkle it to taste with sea salt, and place it in your prepared oven for about 40 minutes (or until they start to caramelize). You will rotate the pan and stir the veggies half way though roasting.

Then, in a bowl mix together your Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Sprinkle it with a couple pinches of sea salt and layer it on the bottom of your serving platter. Chill until ready to serve.

Finally, when the carrots and onions are roasted place them over the lemon yogurt mixture and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds. Serve while still warm. Scoop onto plates; being sure you get the harissa roasted veggies, pomegranates, and a bit of the yogurt. Eat and enjoy.

 

Red Wine Braised Beef Stew

The weather outside is frightful…maybe? I mean everyday since December hit we have been faced with wind, strong wind! Rain, lots of rain, drizzling, and more rain. The temps have been chilly, and each morning when I wake I find myself trying to hold on to my warm and cozy pillow a bit longer. Then I drag myself out of bed, throw myself together, and head out into the unexpected nastiness. In no way am I feeling delightful. Veggies searing for your stew.

As I walk to work at 5 A.M. it is not uncommon to find my ears numbing from the wind and my nose buried in my scarf by the time I reach the kitchen door. On mornings like this I set up my station and get the pastries underway. It is not uncommon to find warmth next to the ovens and defrost with some INXS or Depeche Mode playing. But when my day in the kitchen is through and I head home, it is time to face the rippling wind and rain again. While it is tolerated, I do admit that I miss those warm days of sunshine we had just a few weeks ago. And if you were to ask me this rain and wind is not really “holiday” feeling. Not quite feeling that festive mood I think I should be in right about now.

IMG_0182

So once I’m home it is time to get something cozy and warming on the stove. I’ve been playing around with long and low temperature roasting, along with braising. Both of these make the apartment feel so warm, cozy, and puts a little pizzaz in the dreary days we have faced so far. But the Braising is what I need to tell you about here…Braising!!! The kind that slowly simmers, reduces, and intensifies flavors. The other night for Brian I braised a beef stew in red wine that he described as intensely unami and luscious. It was deep in flavor as the red wine reduced and  glazed over the meat and veggies it cooked with. It had herbs and straight forward beefiness that pleases ones soul and makes you feel merry. Possibly we are getting into the holiday vibe, you never know. But what I do know is more braising dishes in the future. Let it snow if it wishes…I’ll stay inside braising away and staying cozy.

IMG_0185

Red Wine Beef Stew (serve 6)

**Note: I like to serve this with a creamy polenta. However, potatoes, rice, or crusty bread works well with this dish too.

2 lbs beef stew meat; cubed

5-6 cipollini onions; trimmed, peeled, and halved

3 large carrots; peeled, trimmed, and cut into 2 inch pieces

4 stalks of celery; trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves

several stems of fresh parsley

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bottle of dry red wine

sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a dutch oven or large roasting pan fitted with a lid over medium heat. Place your butter and olive oil in the pan. Once the butter is melted add in your veggies and let them sear about 5 minutes. Meantime, tie up your thyme, parsley, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine.

Next, once the veggies are seared and have gotten some caramelization add in the beef. Stir it all together to coat it all and season it with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Be sure the beef sears on all side. It will take about 8 minutes.

Then, once the beef is seared you can pour the wine over all of it. Along with 2 - 3 cups of water.  On top of this you can place your herb bundle and cover it all. Reduce the heat to low, letting it braise away about an hour. Stirring it every once in a while.

Finally, when the wine is reduced and you meat is cooked though remove the pan from the heat. Remove the herb bundle and season it all with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Serve while still warm.

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potatoes

The holiday season is here. As always we are now in what I like to consider the mad dash to the end of the year! The fun filled, non stop weeks of festivities. Festivities with friends catching up, families celebrating, joy being spread, parties to attend, presents to be purchased, presents to be wrapped, traditions to be served, and food - so much food. In between the craziness of it all, I find I need a simple meal. I do not know about you, but after the Thanksgiving feast we had and what lies ahead I really want to eat something that keeps me going. Something nursing and satisfying to balance out the intensity of it all. Something without the richness and heaviness, but tasty. It must be tasty!

Japanese Sweet Potatoes.

When I am in search of an item like this I tend to experiment a bit. I look to other cultures and flavor profiles. By combining and crossing borders with my food the result is usually something gratifying in taste, along with texture.  I was thinking of these things when I was in the market the other day and caught a glimpse of Japanese sweet potatoes (I love theses little treasures). You see they are more of a golden, mellow yellow fleshed potato. The interior tends to be flavorful, lightly sweet, fluffy, and not as moist as a traditional American sweet potato or yam. My though was to bake them and stuff them with some asian influences.

Once I baked the potatoes, I made a compound butter with white miso. If you are not familiar with miso you should defiantly start to get acquainted. It possesses a deep umami flavor profile and lends a bunch of flavor in small amounts. I combined this with some stir fried chopped kale; seasoning it with coconut aminos, garlic, and chili flakes. To top it all off, I sprinkled roasted and chopped cashews over it. All together this stuffed potato was perfection. The flavors mingled on my tongue and satisfied my belly. I enjoyed the leftovers; and to be honest I might make it again this week as I marathon this holiday mad dash.

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potato, miso butter, and spicy kale --Yummy!

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potatoes (serves 4)

4 Japanese sweet potatoes, no bigger than your fist

1 bunch of kale, washed well and finely sliced

2 oz of unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp white miso paste

2 - 3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves of garlic, chopped small

3-4 tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)

1/2 - 3/4 cup of cashews, toasted and chopped

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and pierce them with a knife in a few spots. When oven is at temperature place the potatoes on a lined baking sheet. Put them in the center of the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. I like to rotate them and check them at around 30 minutes, to gauge how much longer they will need to cook.

Next, heat a large frying pan or salute pan over medium heat. Once pan is warmed though add the olive oil. Then add the kale, stirring and tossing it constantly. Once the kale starts to soften add in the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Keep stirring to be sure it distributes and cooks with the kale (about 5 minutes) and set aside from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a bowl add your butter with the miso paste. Combine them together until is is mixed well and not streaky in appearance.

Then, check your sweet potatoes to see how done they are. When they are pierced easily with a knife you can remove them from the oven to cool a bit. Reheat the kale over medium heat, and when it starts to sizzle add the coconut amino to the pan and too it all well to be sure the kale is seasoned and heated through evenly.  Once the kale is related and seasoned you can remove it from the heat.

Finally, to plate it all cut your sweet potatoes in half length wise. Carefully cut the flesh of the sweet potatoes in a criss cross pattern without cutting the skin of the potato. Fluff the potato interior with a fork, and then spread a bit of the miso butter over each prepared half of the sweet potato. Over the top of the potatoes spoon your kale over it all, and then sprinkle it with your chopped cashews. Serve immediately.