Friday, March 7, 2014

Fried Pickles

I love pickles in general, and I have recently discovered a new favorite way to serve them: Battered and deep fried with a side of  ranch dressing. This should be my downfall, but fortunately I know how to make it dairy free. Here's what you need:

1 cup flour (use gluten free if you like)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup water
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
oil for frying
1 jar of pickles, drained, dried and cut into spears or rounds

Start by draining the juice from the pickle. If they're whole, cut them into spears or rounds and then spread them on paper towels to dry. The dryer the pickles before battering, the better it will hold. It's a good idea to fry 1 pickle before battering the rest. If they end up goopy, you can dry tossing the pickles with a bit of flour before dipping them in the batter.

While the pickles are drying, sift the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a bowl. Mix in the water and vegetable oil, and whisk until smooth.

Heat the frying oil in a deep fryer or a medium pot. You want it about 365 degrees. And here comes the common sense warning: Hot oil is hot. You do not want to touch it because it is hot. If you do touch the hot oil, it will make your skin hot. This will make you sad. Do not test the oil temperature with your finger. This, too, will make you sad. A good way to check the oil temperature if you do not have a thermometer is to GENTLY pop a cube of white bread into the pot. If it browns up in about a minute, you're good to go. Remember, hot oil is HOT!

Dip the pickles into the batter and gently shake off any excess. Fry them in small batches until the batter is golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain any excess oil. Another bit of common sense: The pickles coming right out of the oil will be hot. Do not bite them right away as this will make your tongue burn and you will be sad.

These pickles taste great dipped in ranch dressing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mayonnaise: To go vegan or not?

Let's face it people. We're Americans, we eat mayonnaise. There are so many recipes out there that call for mayonnaise, that it's hard to find a household out there without a jar in the fridge. Of course, that also begs the debate of which is better: Hellman's or Miracle Whip? Before you get too caught up in defending your brand to the death, let me ask this: How do you feel about vegan mayonnaise?

I have to admit, I've hated most of the ones that I've tried. They tend to be bland, oily and a little slimy. Not what you want in a food. While there are good brands out there, they aren't always easy to find, and I don't necessarily want to invest the money it would take to try a little of each kind just to find one I like.

My solution is to just make my own. It's easier than you'd think. You can be all hard core and whisk everything together by hand if you want, but I use a blender. My blender is my friend. Here's what you'll need:

3/4 cup soy milk (or almond, cashew, oat... Use what you love)
1.5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp prepared mustard or ground mustard seed
3/4 cup olive oil (you can use any neutrally flavored oil. Again, use what you love)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the soy milk, lemon juice and mustard in a blender and turn the blender on at the lowest constant speed. Let it run for a few seconds to blend and then slowly drizzle the oil in. The mixture will thicken as it emulsifies. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can keep this for a week covered in the refrigerator.

Give this a try and then come back and let me know what changes you make to the recipe (try it with cayenne or a little dill!) and what else you use it for (ranch dressing anyone?)


Monday, February 17, 2014

It's My Party...Kinda

I'm a medical assistant in a single-doctor dermatology clinic. There are 6 of us (the doctor, the office manager, a receptionist, and 3 medical assistants.) We like jump at the opportunity to celebrate things, and tomorrow is the last day we'll all be in the office before my birthday.

Instead of the usual cookies or cake that get ordered for other birthdays- you know, those delicious bakery items chock full of butter and love- I decided to take matters into my own hands and make something that I love, I can eat, and is easy enough that I didn't punk out half way through the recipe because today was a crazy busy and long day at the office. I made coconut meringues and macerated mixed berries for Pavlovas.

What is a Pavlova? I'm so glad you asked! This is where I get my nerd on!! This dessert originates in New Zealand, and was created to honor the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. It's pretty simple: a meringue base and fruit topping. You can make it with or without whipped cream. Obviously, I go without :)

You'll need:
6 egg whites
1.5 cups sugar
1.5 Tbsp corn starch
2 Tbsp coconut infused white balsamic vinegar*

2 pints fresh or frozen berries**
2 Tbsp dark chocolate infused balsamic vinegar**
2 Tbsp sugar**

Start by preheating your oven to 275 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Trust me, use the parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then slowly add the sugar, incorporating well with each addition. Mix the corn starch and white balsamic vinegar together and pour slowly into the eggs. Your finished egg mixture should be fluffy, stiff and glossy. It reminds me a lot of marshmallow fluff.

Spoon the egg mixture onto the parchment lined baking sheet. You should get 8-10 large meringues out of this recipe.

Place the baking sheet in the oven, set a timer for 55 minutes and reduce the heat to 250 degrees.

*If you don't have coconut infused balsamic vinegar, do not fear! Any white vinegar will do. You can even use plain white vinegar and a splash of vanilla. That's the traditional way to do things.

Now make your berry topping. This is where all those **s come in. I chose to use mixed berries and toss them with the chocolate balsamic and sugar. At the last minute I'm going to spoon those onto my meringues and then serve them to the office.

You can use any kind of fruit you want. For a friend's wedding shower I made one giant meringue and topped it with whipped cream, pomegranate seeds and dark chocolate shavings. I've had it with kiwi, pineapple, mango and cherries. Pick what you like, just make sure you have around 2 pints all together.

When the meringues come out they should be crisp and slightly golden on the outside and soft and spongy inside. Place them on a wire rack to cool completely before serving. They're not big, it shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes for them to cool.

Top them with your fruit right before serving and watch everyone ooh and aah over your fancy dessert!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Curried Lentil Soup

It's gray and cold outside, so I wanted to make something for lunch that was both hearty and inspired without taking too much effort. I saw the jar of red lentils on the counter and knew I'd be making this soup. Forgive me, but this is one of those infuriatingly imprecise recipes that less than enthusiastic cooks hate. All I can say is you make it your own by adding what you have and what you want. It's so simple to begin with, that I'm confident anyone can make this good. 

Start by slicing some bacon strips into small pieces. I generally use 1 slice per serving.  Start that rendering and dice 1 medium onion. That can get tossed in as soon as you're ready. Now cube some potatoes, again I generally use 1 small red skin potato per serving. Toss them in and give everything a good stir. Let them brown and add your lentils. I use red for this dish, but yellow would work, too. About 1/4 cup per serving. Stir them in along with about 1.5 cups veggie stock per serving. Add a good dash of sweet yellow curry and pop the lid on. Let everything simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the pot and give everything a good stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and finish with a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Ladle some onto a sunny, happy bowl and enjoy hot or cold. 

1 strip bacon per serving
1 medium onion
1 small potato per serving
1/4 cup lentils per serving, red or yellow
1.5 cups vegetable stock/broth per serving
Sweet yellow curry powder
Fresh cilantro
A fresh lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Monday, January 27, 2014

Call Me Julia...

Well ok, you probably shouldn't. But I did teach a friend how to roast a chicken yesterday. It's an easy meal, in terms of ingredients to gather, but it was fun to make and share.

We started by preheating the oven to 400 and washing some red skin potatoes. Those were tossed with a good splash of olive oil, some sea salt, and a few sprigs of fresh savory.

I think cleaning the chicken was the hardest part for my friend. I showed her how to trim the fat and remove the giblets. Unfortunately the organs weren't in a bag, so I may or may not have dropped the liver and made a squish noise...

We rubbed the chicken with olive oil and salt, and stuffed it with onions and fresh savory, thyme and sage. Then both chicken and potatoes went into the oven for 90 minutes.

We served dinner with green beans lightly sauteed in olive oil and lemon infused white balsamic. There was a salad with a homemade dressing of olive oil, lemon infused white balsamic and fresh herbs. All in all it was a great dinner. The chicken was juicy, the potatoes soft on the inside with crispy skins, and the beans were just tart enough to add an extra bit of depth to the meal. Paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc, it was a great first effort.

I think this dinner together and cooking lesson will become a weekly thing. Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chicken Spring Roll Appetizers

I was invited to a New Year's Eve party with some good friends. When I asked if I could bring anything, their response was, "Something you can eat." I have a new bottle of coconut white balsamic vinegar from Prima Oliva, which is a great little shop just down the street from the wine shop where I work. I wanted to try it out, so I decided to make some chicken spring roll-inspired appetizers. Here's what I used:

For the dressing:

2 T brown sugar
1 clove garlic,  minced
1 cup chicken broth
3 T coconut balsamic vinegar
2 T sesame oil
1 T chili oil
a dash or two of soy sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid reduces by about half. Allow to cool.

For the filling:

2 cups diced, cooked chicken (or tofu, pork, shrimp, mushrooms, etc)
2 cups prepared coleslaw. You can make your own, but I used a bag from the store. It seemed like the right thing to do.
3 T toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste.

Toss everything well. When the dressing is cool, toss dressing and filling together until you've got a well coated and damp, but not soggy mixture. Set this someplace cool until you're ready to fill your holders.

For the holders:

Here you have 2 options. You can either make wonton cups (spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Press in wonton wrappers and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove cups and place upside down on a cookie sheet. Bake an additional 5 minutes to toast the bottoms.) Or you can go the easy route and use premade fillo cups from the freezer section of the grocery store. Again, this seemed like the right thing to do. It had been a long day and I was exhausted.

Either way, fill the holders with as much mixture as you can stuff in there. Sprinkle them with some more sesame seeds if the spirit moves you (or cilantro, coconut flakes, red cabbage, crushed pineapple, crushed peanuts, etc.)

Serve these cool-room temperature. I'm taking along a bottle of Segura Viudas Prosecco to serve with these little munchkins. This recipe makes enough filling for 60 little fillo cups, or about 50 slightly larger wonton cups. I have no idea what happened to my finished picture, so unfortunately I can't show you what they look like done. They sure taste good, though!!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year! May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white. Love, Cait