Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spring Leek Hash with Polenta and Goat Cheese

When we first moved here a few weeks ago, I tried to get a CSA membership, but unfortunately it was too late in the season. So on Saturdays, we go to the downtown market, but many of the vendors have the same exact produce, and I've been a little unimpressed with the selection. I did some google-ing and found an organic produce delivery service that is for the Pacific Northwest, and all produce comes from WA, OR and CA. While they're not in-my-backyard-local, they are all bordering states, so I gave it a try. I was a little unimpressed with the quantity, but liked the selection as it included a lot of fruit and a variety of vegetables.

I had ideas for all of the ingredients included in my first box except the leeks, so I did some searching for a recipe. Luckily, I already had polenta and goat cheese on hand, so making this hash was a piece of cake! I much prefer to make polenta than buy the tubes. If you're in a time crunch, you can always make it ahead of time. I whisked up a pot of polenta while making breakfast, then spread it onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and refrigerated it all day. Right before assembling, I used a biscuit cutter to cut out rounds.

It was great at dinner, but would also work for a brunch. We had faux chicken patties on the side (I can't quit the MorningStar Farm's Italian seasoned type no matter how hard I try! But I do limit them to 1-2x/month since it's overly processed soy) but fried eggs would be another great vegetarian protein option! Though this is titled Spring Leek Hash, I think it is very appropriate for both fall and winter

Spring Leek Hash with Polenta and Goat Cheese
slightly adapted from Vegetarian Times

2 c. vegetable stock
1 c. 1% milk
1 c. polenta (we love Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed, halved and chopped**
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
4 thyme stalks or 1/2 tsp. dried
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 c. vegetable stock
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese

To make polenta:
Bring stock and milk to a simmer in a heavy bottomed pot, whisk in polenta, salt and pepper.
Turn heat to low, continue to whisk for 10 minutes, adding more stock if necessary.
Turn heat off, whisk in butter and parmesan.
Cool for 10 minutes, then spread onto a parchment lined jelly roll pan.
Refrigerate until chilled and solid.

Preheat oven to 400*
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, add leeks, bell pepper, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Saute for 10 minutes, add broth and garlic, stir well and reduce.
Turn heat off, arrange polenta rounds in an even layer, sprinkle with goat cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes, until goat cheese begins to brown and is soft.

**I let them soak in a large bowl of water once chopped so the sand can fall to the bottom, then scoop with a slotted spoon and dry on a towel before cooking

Friday, August 23, 2013

Layered Mexican Cornbread

This recipe should probably be called "The Cornbread that's Lucky to be Blogged"
It all started a year ago... I made a pot of chili for a friend who was ill, and wanted to include a dipper. Corncakes are our usual (layer it on the bottom, chili on top, so good!), but I didn't think they'd hold up as well. I searched and found this Layered Mexican Cornbread, and it sounded great! 

I baked a loaf of it, cooled it, then stored it in a plastic bag on the kitchen table. Well, this was around the time Violet earned her nickname "Hurricane Violet" because she loved (and sometimes still does) to run through the house, pulling things off of tables, counters, chairs, etc. The cornbread never stood a chance. However, in a way I'm glad she did it because JJ and I ate the crumbled cornbread mess, and it was amazing! 

Like so many dishes do, it fell off my radar and wasn't made again. Last week, I decided to try to make a new chili recipe (coming soon!) and remembered this cornbread. This time, what made me second guess blogging it was it's a Paula Deen recipe. I'm sure everyone knows the Paula scandal, and after reading some of the court documents myself, I'm grossed out by her, her family, and their "well, it's how we were raised" BS. So while I won't be supporting her at all in the future by purchasing anything of hers (if there's even anything left to purchase?), I don't think this recipe supports her in any way. I really hope like so many Food Network Star recipes it was really made by the test kitchens because WOW, is it good!

The first time I made it, I did exactly as written, but the second time, I subbed Greek yogurt for the butter and used green chiles rather than jalapenos because Violet would be eating it, too. The substitutions made it just as good as the original, though I did like the heavy spice from the jalapenos.  I am quite sure this recipe won't be forgotten, and will be our new chili pairing in the future!

Mexican Layered Cornbread
slightly adapted from Food Network

1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 tbsp. baking powder
2/3 c. milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. nonfat greek yogurt
1 tbsp. honey
2 scallions, sliced thinly
1 14 oz. can creamed corn
1/2 c. corn kernels (defrosted, if frozen)
1 c. grated cheddar
1 4 oz. can diced green chiles or diced jalapenos

Preheat oven to 350*
Grease a 8"x8" square or 10" round pan, set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, salt, yogurt and honey.
Add flour, cornmeal and baking powder.
Fold in scallions, creamed corn and corn kernels.
Pour 2/3 of the mixture into the pan, spread in an even layer.
Top with the cheddar and chiles, then add remaining batter, spread evenly over top.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes, then slice and serve wamred.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Dora Birthday Party & Taco Bar

When Violet was about 22 months old, my husband turned on an episode of Dora the Explorer one morning to see if it would keep her occupied while he showered. The rest is history. I don't know what is it about Dora, but Violet is obsessed in every sense of the word. Luckily, there's plenty of Dora themed books, stickers, coloring pages and dolls to keep her from just watching TV all day... though that's what she'd prefer to do, I'm sure. Dozens of DVDs are what allowed us to survive the 30-hour drive to Boise, no lie. 

So when it was time to plan her 2nd Birthday Party, Dora seemed like the obvious choice. I wanted it to be Dora themed for her, but not like the Dora aisle threw up on my parent's deck. We had the party in Cincinnati, it wasn't exactly on her birthday, but close enough. Since I knew I wouldn't be hosting any parties, showers, or dinners for the next year, I really enjoyed planning for, setting up, cooking, and celebrating with everyone! I used Dora's clothing colors as the party colors, and incorporated little Dora elements here and there while still keeping it child focused. We had about 20 adults and 6 children, and I made a Taco Bar for lunch and ordered an ice cream cake. I've made them in the past, but didn't have all of my bakeware with me to make one there. Plus, the chocolate crunchies from DQ are so good!

I found these adorable invitations on Vistaprint, I got the matching envelopes. They came quickly and were great quality!

For the decor, I used pink and orange table cloths, streamers and balloons.

For the tables, I found Dora markers and coloring page table runners, then decorated with fresh hydrangeas (from my sisters flower beds!) and bubbles as well as the goody bags! 

The design of the goody bags is not original (found using google image search - Dora Birthday ideas), it's just a plan purple treat bag decorated as the backpack and map. For the map, I used rolled up index cards stapled to the side of the bag.

Rather than fill the bags with candy (though there was a bit!) I thought of a snack I could associate each of the main characters with eating. Here is what I came up with:
Boots the Monkey - Banana Chips
Benny the Bull - Apple Juice
Tico the Squirrel - Peanutty Bar
Isa the Iguana - Strawberry Fruit Strip
Swiper the Fox - Bunny Crackers
Dora - Fruit Snacks

For the beverages, I bought reusable (but labelled disposable) Dora the Explorer Munchkin cups for each child (here's a link, but I got them for $4.99/3 cups at Kroger).

The beverages I served were:
White Grape and Apple Juice with Frozen Green Grape Ice Cubes
Plain and Chocolate Milk
Water and Soda Water
Classic Sangria (with Blackberry Brandy!)
Corona and Corona Light

While guests arrived and got drinks, I also set up tortilla chips and various dips. I made standard guacamole and pineapple-green chile guacamole, then purchased Trader Joe's Corn Salsa and Restaurant Style Salsa. 

(Banner found here, the age is interchangeable! We can have Dora parties forever!)

Now after working for Moe's for 2 years and purchasing several caterings from there, I felt confident that I could produce something similar. My mom has chaffing dishes and pans, so all I had to do was buy the food and cook it! The only place I was concerned was quantity, but I way overshot it. I have scaled a bit back here to better represent what you might need for 20 adults and 6 children (but you'll still have leftovers).

Taco Bar:
2 dozen hard taco shells and 2 dozen soft taco shells
2 lbs. crockpot salsa chicken
2 lbs. seasoned ground beef
2 lbs. seasoned tofu cubes (I used TJ's sprouted tofu, very firm, holds up well)
2 lbs. seasoned black beans
1 head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
3 cups pico de gallo
2 lbs. shredded monterey jack cheese
6 oz. can sliced black olives
8 oz. jar sliced pickled jalapenos
16 oz. tub sour cream
Small bottle of hot sauce

I seasoned all of the food mildly since children (and my mom!) would be eating it, and then put out hot sauce so the adults could season it as desired.
For the tofu, I sauteed one small onion and 3 garlic cloves in a little olive oil until soft, then I added the cubed tofu, a 4 oz. can of diced green chiles, chili powder, cumin, corriander, salt, pepper and 1 c. vegetable stock. I didn't measure anything, just tasted and eyeballed the seasonings.
I used the same recipe with the ground beef, and had my brother in law taste test it for me.
The chicken was just simmered in a crock pot with a large jar of salsa for 4 hours on high, shredded, then seasoned with chili power, cumin, salt and pepper, again, taste tested by my brother in law.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the food! Taco bars are a great crowd pleaser!

When it came time to open presents, Violet was completely shy and sat with Aunt Kristine, while the other 5 kids and I opened her gifts!

For dessert, I ordered a Dairy Queen birthday cake. The sheet cake feeds up to 36 and was $35, including decorations! My mom cut giant slabs for everyone and there was still quite a bit left over. I used the Dora candle found here, and the standard "2"!

Violet and her best buddy in the whole world, cousin Evan, enjoyed their cake!

We also had the kiddie pool set up (with the Dora sprinkler, we got it at Target) for entertainment and Dora tattoos. It was truly a great party, Violet still talks about it!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jerk Sweet Potato Fries with Spicy Ketchup

As soon as we arrived in Boise, we began scoping out the local restaurants to make a bucket list of places we wanted to go in the next year. Near the top of the list was Boise Fry Company, a place that specializes in Fries. They offer different cuts, potato types, salts and dipping sauces. Overall we liked, but didn't love our meal there. However, it gave me the idea to go outside the box with my normal sweet potato fries. I've done tex-mex sweet potato fries before, so I tried to think of something new.

Sweet potatoes are used so frequently in Caribbean cooking, and Jerk seasoning seemed to pair perfectly! I used a combination of two recipes to make the seasoning, one from the back of my (empty) Penzey's jar, and one from Food Network. To get the seasoning to really stick and add some island flavor, I doused the fries in fresh pineapple juice whisked with olive oil.

Finally, for our dipping sauce, I made something a little spicy! Just a pinch of cayenne, some cholula and ketchup whisked together made the perfect spicy ketchup. You can definitely adjust the heat level to your preference by adding more or less cayenne.

Jerk Sweet Potato Fries with Spicy Ketchup
spices adapted from Food Network and Penzey's

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, scrubbed well
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. fresh pineapple juice
1/4 c. Jerk Seasoning (recipe follows)
Kosher salt 
Spicy ketchup, for dipping

Jerk Seasoning:
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. thyme
Whisk all spices together, place in an airtight jar and use within 6 months

Preheat oven to 425*
Slice potatoes into wedges about 1"x4"
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil and pineapple juice.
Add 2 tbsp. Jerk seasoning, whisk to distribute evenly.
Add potatoes to mixing bowl, use a spatula to coat potatoes evenly.
Arrange potatoes on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.
Sprinkle fries with remaining 2 tbsp. Jerk seasoning and 1 tsp. kosher salt
Bake for 20 minutes, then flip and bake for another 10 minutes, until crisp and browned.
Serve immediately with spicy ketchup.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mushroom Barley Veggie Burgers

There are very few foods I love more than a really good, homemade veggie burger. Bean burgers can be good, but I like burgers that are out of the box. My only problem with veggie burgers is I love to eat them on a bun, with fries. Since many veggie burgers include rice, oats, breadcrumbs or other starch fillers, I feel like it's a carb overload. Lately, I've been wrapping my burgers in iceberg or romaine lettuce cups, and I really enjoy them that way! I also have tried using different things as fries, but nothing compares to a good potato.

So when I stumbled across these burgers out of this cookbook, I instantly put them on the menu. I saw the barley from the photo, but it wasn't until I read the recipe that I saw potatoes are used as a binder. Double the starch, but one potato spread over 4 burgers isn't too bad. I used a mix of cremini, button and shiitake mushrooms, which gave such great flavor. I also topped our burgers with caramelized onions and goat cheese, and a smear of dijon on the lettuce wrap. The barley gave these a nice light chew, the mushrooms were full of flavor, and the potato bound them nicely and gave a creamy texture.

The original recipe calls for keeping the mushrooms sliced and then running them through the food processor, but I don't have that luxury here, so I finely minced mine before cooking. In fact, last night I shrieked for joy when I realized I brought my dutch oven with me. Literally, I'm living on 2 pans  and a cookie sheet here (and now, a Dutch oven!)

But it's not all bad, I promise. Since I'm gushing about potato-ey burgers, let me also gush about Potato Country! We are absolutely loving Boise! The greenbelt, parks, restaurants, stores, landscape, weather, it's all perfect and we couldn't be happier. Best of all, my husband feels 100% sure that he made the right choice accepting his residency position and our family is able to spend so much more time together. And dinners together mean more time for me to cook without a 2-year-old tugging on my shorts and someone to hold her back while I take photographs! The blog lives on for at least another year, until the next move :)

A few photos from the greenbelt, the view near our apartment and one of the Boise River, which is really just gorgeous!

Mushroom Burgers with Barley

1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 oz. button mushrooms
8 oz. cremini mushrooms
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms
1 small yellow onion
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
1 c. cooked barley
Kosher salt and black pepper

Other burger ingredients
Caramelized Onions
Goat Cheese 
Dijon Mustard
Lettuce leaves or Buns

Steam the potato until tender, mash in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil. 
Snap the stems off the cremini mushrooms, finely mince and add to the skillet along with the cremini and buttom mushrooms, also finely minced (but you can use the stems, just trim the end)
Finely mince the onion, add to the mushrooms and continue to saute' for 5-10 minutes, until moisture has cooked out and mushrooms are beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. 
Add thyme, season with salt and pepper, stir well.
Add balsamic vinegar, turn heat off, use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape up mushroom bits off the bottom of the skillet.
Add mushroom mixture and barley to the potato, use a spatula to fold and press.
Use the back of the spatula to press mixture tightly into the bottom of the bowl. 
Score into 4 sections, then place bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to solidify a bit (not totally necessary, but helps).
Preheat oven to 375*
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp. olive oil.
Form burgers into patties, then place in the pan.
Brown the first side for about 4-5 minutes, until crisp and brown.
Flip burgers, place pan in the oven (be sure it's oven safe!) and turn burner off.
Cook burgers for about 10-12 minutes, until hot.
Serve with onions, goat cheese and dijon.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Green Beans with Garlicky Shiitakes

A common theme among posts these days seems to be recreating things I've eaten while at restaurants. I don't think I go out to eat that much, maybe once a week, but with all of the travel I've done lately, it's been more than usual. I had the great opportunity to spend some time with my best friend from high school while I was crashing at my parents' house in Cincinnati. We met for lunch each Friday for 5 weeks, and this was definitely the highlight of those meals out. While looking up places near the office, I found Brown Dog Cafe. The menu looked great, and the food was exceptional.

I had the grilled vegetable sandwich and got the green beans as my side dish. Green beans are one of my favorite vegetables, and this preparation took them over the top! It was super garlicky with earthy shiitake mushrooms in a light vegetable broth, but the green beans were still the highlight of the dish. I will definitely be making these again and again, they're easy enough for an average dinner side, but fancy enough to serve for a holiday or fancy dinner party.

Green Beans with Garlicky Shiitakes
adapted from Brown Dog Cafe
Serves 4 as a side

1 lb. green beans or haricot verts, trimmed
1 tbsp. butter
4 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
6-8 oz. shiitake mushrooms
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 c. vegetable stock
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt and drop in green beans.
Cook to al dente, then drain and rinse in cold water to preserve color and crisp.
In a large saute' pan over medium heat, melt butter and add garlic and mushrooms.
Saute' for 5-7 minutes, until mushrooms begin to brown and garlic is soft - do not let garlic burn!
Add green beans and stock, cover and bring to a simmer, remove from heat.
Pour green beans into a serving dish, top with grated parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Blue Cheese, Garlic and Green Chilie Guacamole

As soon as I found out my sister was expecting a baby in February, we decided to spend a week of vacation in Cleveland to meet my nephew. We chose Memorial Day to take advantage of the three day weekend,and figured it would hopefully be warm in Cleveland by then! My sister was an incredibly gracious hostess and tried to pack in as much fun and relaxation as possible. We had an amazing week, and I almost forgot at times that we had one week to pack our house and move when we got back to Jacksonville! And let me just say I do not recommend going on vacation a week before you have to move... stressed was an understatement!

One of the highlights of our vacation was our parents night out. A few months prior, JJ and I saw an episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives where Guy went to Momocho, a restaurant specializing in guacamole and other upscale Mexican dishes. We had an amazing meal at Momocho, my favorites being the specialty Margarita sampler (especially blood orange) and the amazing guacamole combinations. We actually played rocks, paper, scissors to see who got to lick out the bowls!

The four main guacamoles we tried were blue cheese, goat cheese, pineapple and crab (each with a few other supporting ingredients!) My absolute favorite was the blue cheese, with the pineapple as a close second. I knew I had to recreate this guacamole since we're now a far, far drive from Cleveland!

While it may seem strange, the blue cheese adds a huge punch of flavor, the avocado is a subtle base flavor, and the garlic and green chiles keep it bright and each bite is different, some with a large chunk of blue cheese, some with a piece of garlic.

After dinner, we headed to Progressive Field to watch the Indians game. Coincidentally, they were playing the Reds. Too many Summer Shandys were shared by my sister and me, I don't even remember who won the game! But we had so much fun.

The rest of the week was much more family friendly, we had a great time with the kids at the Memphis Kiddie Park and the Children's Museum of Cleveland. While people joke about Cleveland, it really is a great city and we had so much fun there. And Baby Eli is truly the best baby ever, it was such a joy to get to finally meet him in person!

Blue Cheese, Garlic and Green Child Guacamole
adapted from Momocho

2 ripe avocados
1/2 lime, juiced
Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3 oz. chunk of blue cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp. diced green chilies (canned)
1 head of roasted garlic (or roasted garlic cloves in olive oil from salad bar)

Halve avocados, remove pit and spoon flesh into a mixing bowl.
Add lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and cumin, mash avocado with a fork.
Crumble blue cheese into avocado mixture, add green chilies and garlic, gently mix with a fork until just incorporated.
Taste and add more salt and lime juice, if desired.
Serve immediately with a lime wedge and tortilla chips.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oasis Chickpea Salad

As I briefly mentioned in the post about our trek to Boise, we absolutely fell in love with Iowa City, IA. I have to say I was pretty shocked, sorry for judging you without getting to know you, Iowa! Ironically, JJ randomly said to me he was pretty bummed his residency program was in Boise, not Iowa City, and then I reminded him that he applied for one at the University of Iowa, which he had forgotten about! After realizing that, and thinking about 3 more days of travel, we were both extremely disappointed... but everyone kept telling us how great Boise is, so we tried to not dwell on it!

I spent some time planning our trip out to Boise, it was not a spontaneous affair. I mapped out mileage, strategically found cities the appropriate miles away from each other, front loaded the first two days a bit, booked pet friendly hotels with pools, found parks nearby, and even researched yelp and urbanspoon for restaurants that had good take-out. It was all printed out, hole punched, and put into my binder. As much as I would have liked to go as far as we could and stop when we felt like it, travelling with two cars, two dogs, and a toddler though some pretty desolate areas, being a planner worked in my favor!

When I researched restaurants in Iowa City, Oasis The Falafel Joint was top rated everywhere, and I knew there would be plenty of vegetarian options for us! I printed out the menu put it in my binder. That night when we were at the City Park, I pulled it out and called in our order to pick up on the way back to the hotel. I settled on Whole Wheat Pita, Baba Ganoush (one of Violet's favorites), Cucumber and Tomato Salad, Tabbouleh, Falafel and Chickpea Salad.

(our glamorous hotel spread)

I knew we'd love everything, but JJ and I both agreed that the Chickpea Salad was out of this world! He asked me to please recreate it as soon as we got to Boise. It tasted similar to my favorite butternut squash and chickpea salad, but much easier to prepare and summer-friendly! I made this along with a homemade baba ganoush (which, let me tell you, is difficult with no food processor or blender!), chopped tabbouleh salad and pita, and it was almost as good as the delicious meal we had from Oasis! 

Oasis Chickpea Salad
adapted from Oasis, The Falafel Joint
serves 4 as a side

1 large lemon, juiced
1/4 c. tahini, well stirred
kosher salt and black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground corriander
2 scallions, sliced thin (white and green part)
3 c. chickpeas (I use dried, canned is fine)
1/2 lb. carrots, shredded (3 large)

Add lemon juice, tahini, salt, pepper, cumin and coriander to a bowl, whisk well.
Toss in scallions, chickpeas and carrots, mix well to distribute dressing.
If salad is too dry, add a drizzle of olive oil.
Set aside for at least 30 minutes so flavors can develop, serve chilled to room temperature.