Sunday, August 14, 2011

Strawberry-Basil Lemonade Popsicles

With all of the popsicle love going around these days, I decided it was time to grab a set of molds and try out some popsicle goodness myself. I started with a version of one of my favorite summertime drinks.

Strawberry-Basil Lemonade Popsicles
Lemonade (I used the 13.5oz bottle of Simply Lemonade)
2-3 strawberries
6-7 basil leaves

Combine all in the blender, pour into popsicle molds, freeze overnight. I found these to be just sweet enough, a great flavor, and the basil makes them soooo refreshing. They're also less than 50 calories each, and my popsicle molds are fairly large. Perfect for this insane heatwave that won't go away.

Incidentally, that drink I based these off of might have to be my next post. Hint: add strawberry vodka.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reminscing, Part II: Culinary Tour of Belgium, France and The Netherlands

My in-laws were kind enough to care for our dog, cat and vegetable garden while we were on vacation for 3 weeks, so a fancy-type feast was in order to show our thanks. Since our trip was to Belgium, France and The Netherlands, I made a dish from each place. From Belgium: a traditional fish stew with an ultra-light, but creamy base. From France: a potato gratin with Camembert and bacon, based on a peasant-style crepe we ate for lunch. From The Netherlands: Dutch apple pie, of course.

Waterzooi: I pulled the basic recipe from the Belgian cookbook I bought, and just altered a few things along the way for my own tastes (I also doubled it for our crowd). We ate this at a tiny restaurant in Brussels called La Villete, that specialized in traditional Flemish food...highly recommended.

2 Tbsp butter
4 leeks (cleaned and chopped)
2 large shallots (chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
3 cups fish stock or seafood stock (I used a mix of both)
1 cup white wine
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of saffron threads (if you have it - won't kill it if you don't)
Salt & pepper to taste
1.5 to 2 pounds of white fish, cut into chunks (I used cod - shrimp or scallops would also work, clear out your freezer)
1 cup light cream
3 egg yolks

First, melt the butter into a soup pot or dutch oven on the stove, then add the leek, shallot and carrot, cooking until just softened. (Hint: I used my food processor to do all of my chopping at once). Next, add the wine, stock, bay leaf, thyme and saffron, then simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes. Test it at this point for seasonings - mine required a lot of salt and pepper. Now, add your fish, and simmer another 10 minutes (uncovered) until it is just cooked through. While it is cooking, whisk together the cream and egg yolks, then temper the mixture by adding a ladle-full of the hot soup to the cream/egg mix, while whisking, to bring the temperature up. Do this a few times, so the egg mixture warms up a lot, but gradually (so that when you add it to the hot soup, it doesn't scramble the eggs). Add the cream/egg mix to the soup, and continue to simmer just until it is fully warm - do not allow it to come to a boil, or the cream will curdle. Time to eat!

Norman Potatoes: we had a lovely crepe dish at a roadside cafe near Pointe du Hoc, where the crepe was topped with ham, potato chunks, and melted Camembert cheese. I've recreated that here, minus the crepe.

4 slices bacon, chopped
3 baking potatoes, sliced
1/2 cup light cream
1 package Camembert cheese

In a casserole dish, put a thick layer of potato slices, then a handful of the chopped bacon. Continue layering like this until the dish is nearly full. Pour the cream over the potatoes, then top with Camembert (I just tore it apart in chunks and covered it as completely as I could). Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. That's it! Add a side salad and your meal is ready. It was all delicious, and made the perfect background for travel tales.

Time for dessert! We had a wonderful apple pie at a cafe near our apartment in Amsterdam, that I would like to eat again...frequently. I used a standard pie crust recipe (first time I've made my own - it was AWESOME), and combined a few internet recipes for the apple filling.

2 sticks of butter
2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
Ice water (start with about 1/2 cup)

Here's the trick: cut up the butter into small pieces, then put it in the freezer for 20 minutes. It has to be COLD for this turn out flaky. When ready, put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor, and mix until it looks like wet sand. Then add the ice water, 1 Tbsp at a time, and pulse until it sticks together in 1 lumpy mass (it won't be well mixed - you want the butter chunks). Put equal parts of the dough into containers (I used zip-loc bags), and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. They can then be rolled out on a floured surface. Place one in your pie pan, cutting any excess away from the edges, and cut the other into strips - these can be placed in a lattice pattern across the top once filled, and brushed with whipped egg whites so they turn brown and flaky.

For the filling:
4 apples (I used 2 Granny Smith and 2 Fuji) - peeled, cored and sliced THIN (I used the food processor)
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (1/4 tsp if using ground)

Mix sugar, flour and spices together, then toss with apples. Layer the apples into the pie crust, then sprinkle any leftover dry mix over the top. Attach pie crust strips as noted above, then bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Easy as...(wait for it)...PIE! Ha! Honestly, it's a lot easier than I thought.

The feast was awesome, and lots of fun. Thanks again family for taking care of our furry kiddos, and for letting us relive our adventure one more time. Sigh...I guess it's really back to reality now. After one more slice of pie of course...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flemish Stew

I've just returned from vacation in Belgium, France and The Netherlands, and have come to this conclusion: The Flemish are my culinary kindred spirits. Their cuisine is based on meat, potatoes (mostly french fries), cheeses, waffles, seafood and beer - and it hasn't changed much in centuries. And BOY is their beer tasty. Like ALL of it. I wanted to learn to make some of the foods I'd enjoyed, so I purchased a lovely book called "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium" by Ruth Van Waerebeek with Maria Robbins. One of my favorite dishes was the traditional Flemish Stew (over french fries of course), and here is the version from that book, which came out really well when I tried it on Friday night.

-2 pounds beef stew meat (I bought a roast and cut it into chunks myself - I sometimes find the pre-cut meat too tough after stewing)
-1.5 large onions, thinly sliced or rough-chopped
-2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
-1/2 stick of butter
-1/2 cup flour
-2 bay leaves
-1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
-1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (red wine vinegar would also work)
-Salt & pepper
-12 oz of Belgian beer: I used Allagash Belgian-style stout for strong flavor - a Dubbel (brown/bruin) would do as well...for lighter beer flavor try a Tripel-style (blond). A good American substitute would be either New Belgium's 1554, Sweetwater's Georgia Brown, or a Sam Adams Black Lager.

Start by seasoning the flour with about a tsp each of salt and pepper, while about half of the butter melts in a large saute pan.

Dredge the meat lightly in the flour, shake off excess, and brown on all sides in the butter. Do this in batches (don't overcrowd the pan) - too many in the pan at once changes how they cook. Replenish butter as necessary - it will turn brown as it absorbs meat bits - this is good. Place finished meat into a stew pot or dutch oven.

Once meat is finished, brown the onions in the same butter - you want them soft and translucent, but not burned. Once complete, place these in the pot with the meat.

Add all of the beer to the saute pan, bring to a boil. Scrape all of the buttery/meaty bits from the pan into the liquid and add the bay leaves and thyme, then pour all of this over the meat/onions. Cover the pot, bring the mix to a simmer, and leave it for 1.5 to 2 hours, until meat is tender and stew has thickened.

Just before serving, add the brown sugar and vinegar, simmering for another 5 minutes. Also taste it at this point, and add any salt/pepper as necessary. I did find it needed extra salt, but then it was perfect.

The stew is served in Belgium over a serving of french fries (I used store-brand frozen steak fries, crisped in the oven for 20 minutes), with salad on the side. With a cold beer to drink, this meal is just about perfect.

I expected to love the scenery, culture and beer in Belgium, but falling in love with their food was a surprise - I just didn't know much about it, honestly. Discovering the world through food and connecting with people over shared tastes and meals is one of my favorite parts of traveling. I am so thankful to have had these experiences, and to be able to recreate that feeling at home through food whenever I want.

What are some of your favorite food/travel memories? It's never to early to start planning the next trip...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weeknight Fish Love

This is the easiest thing I've made in months, and it was SO incredibly flavorful.

Whitefish filets (I had Swai because it was on sale)
Salt & pepper
Ground Coriander
Ground Cumin
1 Mango
1Tbsp fresh cilantro

Season both sides of the fish with all 4 seasonings. Just a few sprinkles of each. Put the fish in a pan and saute until flaky. Meantime, cut up the mango into chunks and mixed it with the chopped cilantro. THAT'S IT. And did you notice? The few calories you'll get from the fish itself and the mango chunks are it. This could not be better for you.

I used the Indian-style spices because I keep those on hand, but substitute whatever you like. It also goes perfectly with any side. I had some store-bought naan, so I warmed that up, and it was the perfect compliment.

Total cooking time: about 10 minutes. Just another reason to LOVE fish.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows - Totally Worth It

Went to the mountains this weekend with the husby, sister and brother-in-law to celebrate birthdays and Lindsay's grad school graduation. The cabin we stayed in had a nice fire pit. Naturally, that means a giant pile of graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows made the trip with us. As I wanted to make a special trip out of this, I decided it was time to try making homemade marshmallows.

Since I'm not usually a baker, I clearly did not make up a recipe for this, but borrowed Alton Brown's from the Food Network site. The only thing I did differently was to use 1 oz of Bailey's instead of 1 oz of vanilla at the end. It was so easy it was almost silly. The only bad part was cutting them up the next day - you really do have to roll your pizza cutter through the powdered sugar after almost every pass, and coat every surface of every square with the sugar or they'll stick to everything. But honestly, they melt in your mouth immediately, and I've never tasted a better marshmallow. It was completely worth the minor effort.

Be warned though: they don't blaze up in the fire like other marshmallows do, so you don't really get that charred effect if you like that. And watch the angle you're holding your stick at - we lost a few to the fire pit gods when they slipped off the end. Rest in peace, little yummies.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Take That Cancer! -or- Strawberry-Pomegranate Cake

Hal's school had a cake auction to benefit Relay for Life, a race that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Since it was heading into Easter weekend, we wanted to make a lovely springtime cake worthy of the Easter table. What I came up with is a rip on one of Sandra Lee's recipes. You know how I like to replace water with alcohol in my baking - well this was a similar idea. Make a regular strawberry cake according to directions, cutting oil down to 1/4 cup and replacing the water with one 11.3-oz can of strawberry nectar. I found this in my local Kroger's international section for $0.50. It would also have been great with pomegranate juice.

This is where I went in a bit of a different direction: between layers, I added pomegranate jam mixed with strawberries slurried in my food processor. It was probably about a cup of strawberries, and then I just mixed in the jam until it was thick enough to stay put on top of the cake. I think this added an extra layer of flavor, and brought down the sweetness just a touch.

With a thick layer of the mixture between cake layers, I mixed 1 container of whipped cream cheese frosting with half a container of strawberry frosting, and added two small shakes of ground cardamom - just enough to bring in that lovely floral scent and a hint of spice, again to calm the sweetness since there is SO much strawberry in the cake. Apply frosting generously. :)

I'm happy to say that the cake looked lovely in the auction, and sold for $50. What a sweet way to start the Easter weekend!

PS - I believe I have now corrected the issue with email followers being able to comment, if you care. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Grilled Greek Pizza

Spring came back to Atlanta today, so of course I wanted to use the grill tonight. Greek pizza, fired on the grill for a few minutes, was the perfect end to a lovely day.

1 refrigerated pizza crust
Olive Oil
1 Italian sausage
1/4 onion, sliced very thin
1 garlic clove, minced
Feta cheese crumbles
1/2 lemon, sliced very thin
Oregano to taste
Shredded mild cheddar (or mozzarella)

Brown the sausage, breaking into crumbles (easiest if you remove the casing first). Remove to a paper-towel lined plate once done, leaving the remaining fat in the pan. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook down until the onions are nicely carmelized. Scoop out and add to paper-towel lined plate. Add a bit of olive oil into the pan now if the fat has mostly gone - just enough to cover most of the bottom. Add the lemon slices, and fry until they just start to brown. Add these to the paper towel once done also.

To build the pizza: drizzle olive oil onto the crust and spread out very thinly. Start with less oil than you think you need - you can always add more, but you just want to make sure the crust is covered throughout, no more than that. Sprinkle the sausage on first, then spread out the onion/garlic mix. Cut the lemons into small chunks and sprinkle those on, then the chunks of Feta. Sprinkle a bit of oregano over the top (to taste - but you generally don't need much, it's a strong flavor). Since Feta doesn't melt, add some other shredded cheese to pull it together. I used mild cheddar, because I had it on hand, and the flavor worked really well with the fried lemon (which is not bitter anymore, but just the perfect slightly sour punch). Bake the pizza at 450 for about 10 minutes, then pull it out of the oven and slap it on the grill for another 5-7 minutes - this gives the crust an awesome charred flavor, perfect for enjoying on a lovely spring evening!

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