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Satisfy My Soul: Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Collard Greens Stew

14 Jan

Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt remember the “Mystery Food” series. For a couple of summers, I participated in Community Supported Agriculture programs in the NoVA area. Basically, it’s like buying stock…only more delicious. You pay a lump sum to a local farm at the beginning of the growing season, and once a week receive a box full of whatever has been harvested that week.

What I miss the most about it is that it forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to plan meals around whatever appeared in that box—and during some times of the year that meant figuring out what to do with massive quantities of squash, apples, or greens. Kale must grow really well around here, because boy-howdy did I eat a lot of kale those summers.

So when my friend Heather tipped me off to a special deal on Relay Foods, a grocery delivery service that sources from local stores, restaurants, and farms, I was excited to find they had their own version of this CSA-type share called a Bounty Box. Cha-ching! Time for vegetable roulette. I ordered one and anxiously anticipated what might appear on the porch.

There were some glorious pink lady apples, a jug of fresh apple cider, a nice fat little tomato, some white potatoes, watercress, curly kale, an enormous pile of collard greens, and several very hefty sweet potatoes. I was definitely pleased with the haul, but a little thrown for a loop. Confession time: I never buy sweet potatoes or collards. I have nothing against them, but I just never buy them or cook with them.

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Nothing like a mystery box to let your mouth know what it’s been missing! Seasonal food is awesome, because it’s exactly what the earth has to offer at that moment—and wherever you are, it’s probably exactly what your body is asking for too. Think about it: Collards packed with vitamin c, k, and soluble fiber (not to mention factors that regulate immune function) and sweet potatoes full of fiber, beta carotene, vitamin c, vitamin b-6, and potassium. Yep, mother earth definitely knows you need some protection against flu season. And nothing says yummy winter food like a stew…

Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Collard Greens Stew

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • 3-4 cups collard greens, large ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 1 15.4 oz. can of no salted added chickpeas, drained, or 2 cups of dried chickpeas soaked overnight
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (approximately 1 lb.), peeled and diced
  • 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by heating the olive oil, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and coriander seeds  in a large pot over medium heat. Heat for about one minute, and then add the chickpeas and stir to combine. Cook the chickpeas until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove, and set aside.
20140109_171922Add the onions to the pot and cook until soft and somewhat translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute more, stirring frequently so that the spices don’t burn.

Add the diced sweet potatoes to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
20140109_173252Once the sweet potatoes have softened slightly, add enough vegetable or chicken stock to the pot to just cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are very tender.
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Remove the pot from the heat and blend or mash the soup until you like the consistency. I like to leave some chunks of sweet potato, rather than making this smooth like bisque.
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Return the pot to the stove over medium heat and add the collard greens and chickpeas. Simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes or until the greens are tender.
20140109_191507Serve hot, garnished with some roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds for some crunch.
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Nothing like a bowl of something hearty to warm your body and soul on a cold January evening. And a reminder that sometimes being thrown out of your regular routine leads to a whole new experience of comfort, ease, and culinary satisfaction.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Dreamy Creamy Greens: Vegan Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

12 Jan

Happy New Year, dear readers! I am so grateful to all of you who visit and spend some of your time perusing the blog. I can’t believe that Neen’s Notes celebrates its SIXTH birthday this year. Here’s to another year of sharing and cooking wonderful things together.

Like many, I find myself reflecting at the start of a new year on the goals I did or didn’t accomplish, what brought joy or sadness, and even how I changed on a physical and spiritual level. 2013 forced me to re-evaluate myself in the deepest, most raw way. Losing the “definition” of who I was when I lost my job forced me to acknowledge that I was defining me by an occupation that could change at any moment. Gently, I let it tug me toward finally making the leap to start yoga teacher training, let myself go deeper and find a better sense of self and how I connect and interact with everything and everyone else. And I guess it’s pretty obvious that it has been a powerful and eye-opening experience thus far.
I enter 2014 stronger, more flexible (in mind and body), and eager to learn.

Though I don’t make new year’s resolutions, a general mantra of adding more good to life and causing less harm overall has been at the forefront of my mind. And for me, part of causing less harm and adding more good to my culinary life means less meat and more plants. Even as a conscious omnivore who sources animal proteins from local, sustainable sources as best she can, I can’t deny that eating animal protein is an indulgent choice. It has a greater impact on the environment, is less economical than producing plant protein, and is cruelty toward a sentient being. So rather than beat myself up for not going full vegetarian or vegan, I’m simply focused on adding more good to life, learning more plant-based recipes and techniques, and eating more plant-based meals. Taking and wasting less overall is something that would make me feel like a better citizen of the planet.

And of course, anything worth cooking is worth making delicious. This week, I’m sharing a soup that hits all the right notes: It’s creamy, comforting, rich, and earthy, is loaded with health benefits and cleansing ingredients, and is free of most common allergens (gluten, nuts, and dairy). It might not cure whatever influenza plague seems to cling to most cities in the winter months, but I’d call this the best tasting preventative medicine I’ve ever had.

I loved cream of broccoli soup growing up, but always bogged down with milk and cheese. Nothing quite like a rich, salty, cheesy bisque surrounding little florets of broccoli. And while there’s nothing wrong with fat in your diet, I thought “we can do better!” Let’s give the body a break–digesting dairy is difficult. In fact, a whole lot of people lack the lactase enzyme almost entirely. Instead, our friend light coconut milk comes in here and brings the creaminess to the party, while simultaneously raising HDL levels and helping improve the blood cholesterol profile. Broccoli helps to modulate the body’s immune response because it’s loaded with vitamin c and and iron, and the addition of spinach brings even more iron, vitamin a, folate, b vitamins, calcium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids (talk about a super-food). Ginger adds a special spiciness to the blend, and can also soothe an upset stomach and act as a mild anticoagulant and improve blood circulation. Finally, the soup is simmered with a piece of kombu, an edible sea vegetable that contains a large amount of glutamic acid, which brings that savory, umami taste to the pot. Kombu is a great way to achieve an earthy flavor and body in soups without adding animal protein. It’s also rich in iodine that helps regulate the thyroid, which in turn, helps you stay hormonally balanced and healthy. Why aren’t you eating this yet??

Oh…my bad. Here’s how to get it:

Creamy Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 in. coins (discard dark green parts for use in stocks or broths)
1 in. piece of ginger, chopped
3 cups broccoli, rough chopped
3 cups spinach, rough chopped
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (or water)
1 piece kombu
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and leek to the pan and cook until mostly translucent, but not browned, 5-7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook one minute more.
20140112_101930Add the spinach and broccoli to the pot and mix well.
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Add the broth and spices, raise the heat to high and allow the soup to come to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
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Add the kombu to the pot and simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 10-15 minutes.

20140112_102729Remove the pot from the heat, discard the stick of kombu, and puree the soup in a blender (working in batches to avoid splatters), or using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and return the soup to the stove over low heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
20140112_104033Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs.

20140112_12094520140112_121018Treating yourself to this soup is a gift in so many ways. Not only does it taste rich and velvety, it feels like it was meant for comfort on a cold winter day, and all those health benefits are a present for your body. And because it’s free of animal products, gluten, and nuts, it’s something you can share with a great majority of folks. And you know, I think food almost always tastes better when shared.
Ciao for now,
Neen

Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.

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Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
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Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.

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Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

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Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.

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Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

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Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.

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Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.

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Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.

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Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.

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In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.

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The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.

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Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

Giardiniera
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.

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Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange

Filling:

  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.

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Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.

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To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.

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Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.

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Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.

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Pour the filling into the tart shell.

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Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

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Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?

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And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:

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Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,
Neen

Waffle Makeover!

15 Jun

The Carbo-Queen, as my family used to call me, is serious about waffles.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve tried every waffle mix there is, and have made them completely from scratch about a thousand times. There’s just something about achieving that perfect mix of sweet and savory that makes my mouth really, really happy.

But (there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there?) I’m supposed to focus on eating protein first at meals. Sure, a side of wheat toast with some eggs and turkey sausage is fine, but a meal of waffles? Probably not the best option for me, although I do treat myself to the occasional plate of French toast or slice of banana bread.

When I want to slay my waffle cravings without trashing my diet and going into a carb-coma, I turn to this recipe. It turns out crisp, light, and super-flavorful protein-filled waffles. You won’t miss the cups of flour, believe me. The secret to making these really delicious? Use full-fat ricotta to keep the insides rich and moist. Fresh-made would be the very best, but hey, there’s not always time for that.

Because I am usually only cooking these for me, this recipe yields a small amount (4 square waffles), so feel free to double or triple it if you’re feeding a crowd.

Pecan Ricotta Waffles

  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or brown rice flour, almond meal, rolled oats, buckwheat flour…etc.)
  • 1 tbsp. ground pecans
  • 1 tbsp. sugar, honey, or light brown sugar (or less, if you prefer more savory waffles)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 egg whites and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, ground pecans, and a pinch of salt.

Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and beat until soft peaks form.

Fold the ricotta mixture into the dry ingredients. The batter will seem very stiff at this point.

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.

Cook in a preheated waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions. In my waffle iron, they take about 2-3 minutes to get nice and golden brown. If they seem slightly soft when you remove them from the waffle iron, just put them in a warm oven or toaster for a minute or two to crisp up the outside. Leftovers freeze pretty well and take about 3-4 minutes in the toaster oven to reheat.

Bust out the maple syrup and enjoy. These are already on the lightly sweet side, so go light on the syrup. I barely used a teaspoon on these and it probably didn’t even need it. They’re also good with peanut butter, bananas, berries, jam, and probably whatever other toppings you can dream up. I personally like something crunchy like more chopped nuts or some chopped, crisp bacon on top.

Seriously, writing this post has already made me hungry for more of them! And at under 100 cal. per waffle, why not? Go to it, friends.

P.S. In case some time goes by and you wonder why you’re not getting your fix of food porn, just FYI Neen’s Notes is going on vacation for a little while.

“Why Neen? WHY would you do such a thing?”

Oh, I’ll be busy marrying my best friend, that’s all.

But don’t worry, I’ll write again in a few weeks…maybe about something tasty inspired by our honeymoon abroad. Until then, “mangia bene!”

Ciao for now,

Neen

Joe’s Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

21 Mar

Who here liked Funfetti cake as a kid? Okay, now who here still likes Funfetti cake as an adult? No shame in admitting it. There’s nothing quite like rainbow cake to bring some unanticipated cheer into our lives. And while that box of color speckled white cake is pretty tasty, the truth is that you can make it yourself with very little angst.

This is what Joe requested for his birthday, and here’s how I put it all together.

White Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

White Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup of multi-colored sprinkles

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup milk

Grease and flour two 9 in. cake pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and  1 ¼ cups of sugar and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes on medium speed. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and then add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk until everything is combined. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand-mixer bowl thoroughly and then add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to it. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds almost stiff peaks.

Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest. Add the colored sprinkles and fold them into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly among the two pans and then gently tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.

Bake the cakes for 30-40 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15 minutes and then turn them out onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before frosting. It is best to wrap the cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight prior to frosting.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter on medium speed until very smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar and butter are combined, then add the vanilla extract, salt, and milk and beat on medium speed until thick. It will take about 3-4 minutes.

Frost and decorate the cake as desired! You will probably not use all of the icing, but it’s better to have extra for decorating. No one wants to run out in the middle of frosting a cake (which I did while testing variations of this recipe).

So freaking good. You can also use a Swiss Meringue Buttercream on this cake, which is a slightly more involved recipe. The upside is that it uses much less sugar and a little less butter without sacrificing consistency or taste.

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 13 oz. butter, softened and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Place a large bowl over a pot of simmering water and add the egg whites and sugar to it. Whisk them together until the sugar is completely dissolved, meaning it does not feel grainy in the slightest. Transfer this to a stand mixer and whip until the meringue is white and doubles in volume. Add the vanilla and pinch of salt.

With the mixer running, slowly add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, making sure the additions are thoroughly combined before adding more. Do not panic if the mixture starts to look like it is separating—trust me, it will come together. Once all of the butter has been added, whip the buttercream on medium-high speed until thick and creamy. It may take 5 minutes or maybe a little more, but it will come together. Scout’s honor.

Both the quick buttercream and meringue buttercream will hold up at room temperature for an extended period of time, although the latter is more susceptible to condensation. So if you have a particularly humid refrigerator I would recommend using the first recipe.


Happy birthday super-fiancé! I hope all of your wishes come true.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Oktoberfest Brew-Curds Cheddar

12 Oct

October has definitely arrived. Fortunately, that just means we’ve moved into football/beer season.

And comfort food season! Fall food is my kind of food. This weekend I decided it was finally time to combine cheese making and beer. Ever put beer in a mornay sauce? Do it and tell me if you ever make macaroni and cheese without it again.

Back in March, I made a wheel of Farmhouse Cheddar that came out pretty darn good. Good, but not great. For the last few months, I’ve been having some…issues…with cheese making. My wheel of gouda dried out because the humidity in my cheese fridge kept dropping too low. I pressed a second one over the weekend, but it will be waxed this time since my cheese making cohorts have advised me that the coating will protect it in a slightly less-than-ideal aging environment. Part of the reason it dried out so easily was due to equipment problem number 2: My pot. Because my largest pot (that fit a burner on my electric range) was still too small to fit two gallons of milk, I was halving recipes and making smaller wheels of cheese. I might have gotten away with the thicker rind on a larger wheel of cheese, but on the small ones it just meant the whole thing turned into a little brick.

Undeterred, I scoured the Internet until I found just the ticket: A 12 quart double-boiler. Now I could finally heat 2 gallons of milk evenly over a water bath with greater accuracy and better long-term temperature control. Armed with a new pot, new blocks of shiny red wax, and recently calibrated thermometer, I got back on the horse with a decidedly autumn cheese:

Brew-Curds Cheddar

 Just in time for Oktoberfest, it’s a cheddar wherein the curds are soaked in beer before pressing. Let’s do it.

Ingredients

  • 2 gallons whole milk
  • 1 packet mesophilic starter
  • ½ tsp. calcium chloride diluted in ¼ cup cool water
  • ½ tsp. rennet diluted in ¼ cup cool water
  • 1 bottle stout or ale of your choice , at room temperature. Pick something that you enjoy drinking!
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Cheesecloth

 

Method

Slowly heat the milk in a pot set over a water bath to 88 degrees F over a period of about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the starter into the milk and allow it to rehydrate for five minutes before stirring it into the milk thoroughly with a whisk using an up and down motion. Maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen for 45 minutes.

Add the calcium chloride and mix for one minute, then add the rennet and mix for one minute. Once again, maintaining the 88 degree temperature, cover the pot and allow the mixture to set for 30-45 minutes or until the curd gives a clean break when cut with a knife.

Cut the curd into ½ in. cubes and let them sit for 5 minutes.

Over low heat, slowly bring the temperature of the curds to 102 degrees F over a period of about 40 minutes. Stir continuously throughout heating to prevent the curds from matting together. The curds will release a lot of whey and shrink to the size of peanuts. When 102 degrees F is reached, turn off the heat and rest for 30 minutes while maintaining the temperature. The curds will sink to the bottom of the pot.

Place a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth over a pot or bucket large enough to catch the whey. Gently pour off the whey into the bucket and ladle the curds into the strainer. Let the curds drain for 10 minutes.

Return 1/3 of the reserved whey to the pot on the stove and reheat it to 102 degrees. Place the curds in a colander, set the colander over the pot of whey and cover. Maintaining the 102 degree temperature of the whey, wait 10 minutes and the curds in the colander will have melted into a slab. Flip the slab over and repeat this process every 15 minutes for one hour. After one hour, the slab of curds will look shiny and white.

Transfer the slab to a cutting board and cut into ½ in. by 2 in. strips. Place the strips in a bowl and cover completely with the brew of your choice. Soak for 45 minutes.

Drain and discard the brew. Sprinkle the salt over the strips and toss to combine.

Line an 8 in. mold with damp cheesecloth and pack the curds into it. (See: Building a cheese press and Using a cheese press). Fold over the cheesecloth and press the curds at 8 lbs. of pressure for one hour. Remove the cheese from the press, flip it over, redress in the cheesecloth and press at 10 lbs. of pressure for 12 hours.

Remove the cheese from the mold and unwrap the cheesecloth. Pat the cheese dry and set on a rack to air dry 1-2 days at room temperature or until the surface is dry to the touch.

Coat with wax (See this post for how to wax cheese), and then age at 50-55 degrees F and (ideally) 85% humidity for 4-6 weeks. Flip the wheel of cheese daily to encourage even ripening.

See you in six weeks (the cheese, not you my dear readers)!

This is a really great project for a rainy weekend when you just don’t feel like going outside and would rather huddle in the warmth of a cozy kitchen. Chart out the time you’ll need on paper and you’ll know exactly when certain steps will be ready. Breaking the process down that way really helps first-time cheese makers who might feel a little overwhelmed. As always, feel free to comment below with any questions you might have. I am more than happy to help others who want to take a stab at making their very own cheese.

Ciao for now,

Neen