Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

... and my the odds be EVER in your favor!

As many of you know I totally slipped down the rabbit hole a while back and am pretty much 100% obsessed with the Hunger Games. I will unashamedly admit that I read the series through 3 independent times and happily loan my copies out to anyone willing to give in. I bought them for a friend for Christmas... who had previously expressed zero interest... I went to the mid night show of the movie, yesterday I went and bought 4 of the nail polish colors, and for Christmas? I asked for (and received) the Hunger Games inspired cookbook. Yup folks that's right Emily Ansara Baines took it upon herself to go through the novels gleaning the dishes that were talked about and creating recipes so you could make them at home. She also added some "inspired by" dishes as well so the book is quite well rounded. The recipes span all 3 novels in the series so there is lots of fun stuff from the districts to the capitol and you can make it all! In honor of the movie's release this last weekend I'm sharing two of the most prominent (in my mind) recipes relevant to the novel- Katniss' favorite Lamb Stew from the Capitol and the Apple & Goat Cheese Tarts from the Mellark bakery. For those of you that read my posts regularly you know that I generally test all of the recipes I share and I want to be upfront and let you know that I did not make the lamb stew. I just couldn't work it in with the other things I had going on this week (although they do have the option to make it in the slow cooker) (mostly... I just wasn't going to be home enough to eat it). I did however make the tarts this last weekend and will happily share the pictures of the process and my critiques!

Katniss' Favorite:

Lamb Stew with Dried Plumbs

First enjoyed during one of her pregames breakfast's Katniss quickly finds this dish to be a favorite at the capitol. It plays a pivotal plot point when she and Peeta wait out the rain (and begin to fall in love) in the cave during the games in the first book. And when she eats a cold can of it in the third book it brings back heartbreaking memories. If there is one dish of significance throughout the series- this is it!

Yields 8-10 Servings


5 Lbs Lamb Fillet, Shoulder, or Leg cut into 2" pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup AP flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves minced
1 large onion chopped
1/2 cup water
4 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons white sugar
3 teaspoons brown sugar
3 cups carrots diced
3 medium russet potatoes cubbed
5 cups dried plums
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cup ginger ale

(I have edited back the ingredient list to what are in my opinion the really necessary items to achieve a realistic representation you can find the full version in Emily's book)

1. Combine flour, salt, & pepper in a large mixing bowl, toss lamb in blend to coat

2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat (do not heat olive oil over 425 or it's "smoke point" it breaks down it's healthfulness as well as potentially messing up your pans) and brown the meat in batches making sure not to crowd the pan

3. Once browned place lamb on a side plate. Pour off all but a 1/4 cup of the fat that has collected. Add onion and garlic to the remaining fat in the pan and saute until the onion becomes golden. Slowly add 1/2 cup of water to the pan to help deglaze and get all the tasty bits up from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer while the liquid reduces slightly then remove from heat

4.Place lamb and the onion & garlic deglazing sauce in a large stockpot. Add beef stock and sugars and stir until sugars are dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer for an hour and a half

5. Add the remaining ingredients (carrots, potatoes, plumbs, herbs, & ginger ale) to your pot and simmer an additional 30 -45 minutes until the meat is fork tender

Enjoy this stew over wild rice blend like Katniss! If you are pressed for time you can also opt to cook the whole thing in the Crockpot. Put everything but the flour in the slow cooker on low for a minimum 10 hours. Once the meat is fork tender and about 30 minutes before you plan to eat stir in the flour and turn the setting to high.

Mellark Family Bakery:

Honey, Goat Cheese, & Apple Tart

 As the baker's son Peeta was always surrounded by good food growing up. However it isn't until their time in the cave enjoy the apples, goat cheese, and bread sent to them with the stew that Katniss learns that proximity didn't give Peeta the luxury to enjoy the hearty breads and pastries the family business produced. Only after something was no longer worth selling, dry and stale, could the family indulge. The goat cheese and apples in their basket cause Peeta to reminisce about this particular treat.

Yields 12 Tarts


2 Packs Frozen Puff Pastry Shells
1 egg, beaten
5 oz's soft goat cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1/2 cup Honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 medium apples (Pink Lady, Fuji, or Honey Crisp are best) thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons salted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2. Place one package of thawed puff pastry shells on each baking sheet and brush with beaten egg

3. Bake shells until they begin to puff and grow golden, 10 minutes
  (mine in the end were a little more doughy than I would have liked so if I use the pre made shells again I will probably cook them a little longer before and after the toppings are added)

4. While shells are baking mix goat cheese, lemon juice, sugar, salt, & 1 Tablespoon Honey in a bowl. Using a spatula transfer the mixture into a ziplock or piping bag or your choice.

5. After letting the pastry cool pipe a thick circle atop each pastry, you can use the line around the center as a guide.

6. Artfully place apple slices atop goat cheese. Mix melted butter and 1/2 cup honey in a small bowl and brush over apples and tart, sprinkle with allspice.

7. Put the tarts back in the oven, baking until the apples are tender and the pastry grows more golden about 15- 20 minutes. While the tarts are still warm transfer them to a plate and drizzle with any remaining honey.

And there you have it! Take advantage of this rainy spring weather we have been having to make this little feast for a loved one, or maybe just a special friend, and bond over the good food- and your love of the Hunger Games of course!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Best of SpringTraining: Don & Charlie's and Daily Dose

Baseball is almost here!!!! March brings my now yearly pilgrimage to Scottsdale, Arizona to get my first looks at the team as they are in Spring Training preparing for the upcoming season. It was great having Buster and Freddy back in action and I got a few good creeper pics of Timmy warming up in the outfield bull pen!

Nate! My Giants "Boyfren"

As with any vacation I always look forward to those special dining experiences that you don't have at home. A tradition for any Spring training attendee has to be dinner at Don & Charlie's. Maybe even more famous for the memorabilia collection than they are for their excellent classic Americana steak house fare this is always a good spot to catch a glimpse of the front office staffers schmoozing or players out for dinner with family and friends. My other favorite spot is a unique breakfast & lunch joint Daily Dose for their classy take on the classics!

Don & Charlie's

We put a lot of thought into the perfect night for this particular dining excursion. Our hope, as always while in Scottsdale, was that we might run into someone (anyone) from the Giant's organization. With their off day on Monday Sunday night seemed pretty promising! I called to make the reservation a month in advance to be certain we could get in. The weather was absolutely crazy on Sunday (rain, hail, & gale force winds!) so we ended up retreating to our hotel room much earlier in the day than anticipated leaving us with a little extra time to walk next door to the mall and enjoy a beverage at the Yardhouse there. Even with the extra time with 5 girls in one hotel room we were getting ready down to the last possible second. With the crazy weather still looming cabbing it to the restaurant (only about 4 blocks from our hotel) seemed like the best move. As our group arrived we were just in time to make our reservation. The hostess called for Jennifer Brock and we hurried through the crowd to the front, as a did a charming silver fox of a gentleman "claiming" he was with our party as well. Little did I know in the moment that he was actually the manager so when I teasingly asked him that if he was with us could he please point out which one was Jennifer? I shouldn't have been too surprised when he immediately replied "you of course!" Our interaction paid off as the waiter took our drink orders He stopped by to ask if we had been there before and I let him know that it had become part of my tradition to have dinner there and had brought my friends for the first time. He in turn rewarded us with a complimentary appetizer! All day we had been talking about spinach dip so as the waiter named our options it was easy to be unanimous when that was offered.
Warm creamy and delicious their dip is served with chips and has just the right amount of broiled cheese on the top. We were scrapping the ramekin to get every last bit. Our wedge salads arrived not long after and I couldn't help diving into that as well! Wedge to me is a special occasion salad since it basically has no nutritional value and the ice berg lettuce is basically just receptacle to carry the blue cheese dressing, bacon,& tomatoes to your mouth.
The older I get the more I appreciate a well made martini and Don & Charlie's does them top notch, so top notch in fact that I had 2.
Just how I like it, Bombay Sapphire Dirty
As our entrees arrived we couldn't help noticing Larry Baer, Giants recently promoted CEO making the rounds and shaking hands. Not long after that a table of older gentlemen (all sporting various World Series rings) were seated next too us. Though we weren't sure who they were it was obvious they had been in the game for sometime!

We had quite the variety of items at the table when it came to entrees. I love their coconut shrimp with marmalade dipping sauce, Alicia went light with their chopped salad, Fiona had the Prime Rib, and Tori & Angelina shared a filet. Tori learned last year that while delicious, the chicken dish is huge! Someday I need to try their famous ribs, I wasn't really dressed to cover my hands in BBQ sauce that night. Of course we couldn't say no to dessert and shared an ice cream sundae, banana creme pie, and creme brulee with chocolate chunks on the bottom.

While we all enjoyed the food one of the most unique parts of Don & Charlie's is the memorabilia. It's lining every surface, even the ceiling in some areas! From signed jersey's of various sports, the magazine covers and caricatures they have it all. I love the huge cases of signed baseballs from some of the greatest to ever play the game.
You could spend hours looking at it all so if there is a wait for a table don't fret you will be endlessly entertained. Forgetting we had intentions to hit the town that night we soon found ourselves back at the hotel in bed lulled to sleep by the wonderful meal we had just eaten.


Daily Dose

Another find from our 2011 Spring Training trip was Daily Dose, an inviting and modern diner type restaurant on the main drag in Scottsdale's old town. They serve up all the favorites for breakfast with lots of tempting options and really high quality. Right off the bat I'm always impressed with the slice of cucumber in each water glass and the huge mugs filled with rich flavorful coffee.
I enjoy this restaurant so much for breakfast that I actually came here twice on our trip which is almost unheard of for me! This is my one chance each year to get to spend time with my best friend from high school who lives in the Phoenix area. We decided that we would catch up over breakfast and I was eager to take her here. We both enjoyed variations on eggs Benedict "DD Style" Replacing the English muffin and hollendaise with a biscuit and gravy. I had to have some of their house specialty hash as well with it's roasted butternut squash and mushrooms. While it might not sound like a total breakfast food it compliments everything so well.
Since the other girls didn't come with us I was happy to enjoy their food again on Monday morning as we got ready to finish up our time in Scottsdale. This time I tried the "Blue & Ginger" french toast. Nice thick slices of texas toast battered and grilled topped with a blueberry compote and their house made ginger snap granola that gave it a really unique texture and crunch. Of course I had more of their delicious hash with this too!
Every plate they do is great!

Since it is such a popular spot it can be a little bit of a wait especially if you want to enjoy the patio, but don't fear there are lots of chairs for waiting outside and complimentary coffee!

All in all we had a great time at spring training this year and can't wait for the season to get underway! I'll be bringing you more food reviews from the ball park like I did last year, as well as suggestions of other restaurants near by to grab a beer or a bite before or after!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day Irish Car Bomb Cocktail Cupcakes!

This recipe seems to be a staple in the food blogging world for St. Patty's Day treats. I knew I had seen it a few times before but quickly realized as soon as I searched that it was everywhere! And it seems like everyone has taken their turn riffing on Smitten Kitchen's . I actually printed the recipe from Brown Eyed Baker but as mentioned, she borrowed it from SK. Soooo here goes my own attempt!
First I have to make a statement about our holiday consumer culture and the way stores make a hot mess out of it. Yesterday was Monday, St. Patricks day is not till SATURDAY.... almost every place has already done away with their St. Patty's decor and accoutrement and have fully switched to Easter junk. Seriously?!?! The holiday is still 5 days away! So word to the wise if you want to get your hands on some cupcake papers and sprinkles- go today 'cause other wise chances are you are out of luck (pun intended). After checking 3 other stores I found my liners and sprinkles at Party City (thanks for the suggestion Alicia!)

After yet another eventful gathering spree I was ready to bake! The girls were coming over for our weekly Bachelor Drinking Game night (cause really who can stand that ridiculous show without some self medication... plus the way they repeat words in those two hours just makes it too easy!) I knew they would be a prime test audience so I got down to work! The cakes were baked as they were arriving the rest took place between sips of Coors light and running to the kitchen on commercial breaks.

Recipe Adapted From Brown Eyed Baker...Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Verbiage for the instructions has been borrowed from the Brown Eyed Baker so all the credit should go to her, Her directions were concise and easy to follow so I won't mess with a good thing! The only thing I did mess with were the measurements on the Ganache Filling and The Frosting as I only needed half the amount called for.

1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Whiskey Ganache Filling: (I halved this from the original as I had a ton leftover)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Baileys Frosting: (I halved this as well.... except for the Bailey's ;) )
1 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (1/3 cup) Baileys Irish Cream

1. To Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners. Bake until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.

3. To Make the Whiskey Ganache Filling: Finely chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then, using a rubber spatula, stir it from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped

4. To Fill the Cupcakes: Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a large decorating tip), cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes, going about two-thirds of the way down. Transfer the ganache to a piping back with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.
5. To Make the Baileys Frosting: Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add the powdered sugar until all of it is incorporated. Add the Baileys, increase the speed to medium-high and whip for another 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.
6. Using your favorite decorating tip, or an offset spatula, frost the cupcakes and decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Store the cupcakes in an airtight container.

There you have it! All in all this took me probably about an hour. The cake alone is to die for so moist and rich in flavor. In my distraction with the Bachelor on TV I halved everything in the frosting recipe except the booze... but you know what? It's delicious! It has a tiny kick so you know its the real deal and I kinda love it! So even if you don't plan to pound back the Irish Car Bomb cocktail's this "Irish Christmas" you can still enjoy the flavors!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Recipe Test for food52: 5 Spice Millionaire's Shortbread with Earl Grey Caramel

An important part of food blogging is getting involved with the online food community at large. There are so many opportunities to get to know other "foodies" and learn from them. I can't remember exactly how I came upon the Food52 , I think it may have been via facebook, but I got extra excited when I realized that Amanda Hesser, former NYT Food Editor and the author of "Cooking for Mr. Latte" which I reviewed this fall, is at the helm. Created with her friend and fellow food journalist Merrill Stubbs Food 52 is first and foremost a community. It was initiated as tool to create a Cookbook full of what they refer to as "crowd sourced" recipes and has blossomed into an integrated online experience where members can read about recipes & trends or get involved and submit their own work to contests and other forums. Their most recent contest called for "Chocolate & Spice" recipes. First over 100 recipe entries were gathered, then out of all of the entries Community picks are voted on and subscribers like myself get a chance to choose one to test. After testing the subscriber submits a 100 word description of the recipe which if the recipe you tested is chosen will be published up at the top! I was super excited about the opportunity to actively participate and was the first to call dibs on the recipe I wanted to test choosing (mind you without actually looking at the recipe just the title) The Earl Grey & 5 Spice Millionaire's Shortbread (sounds killer right?). A layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, a layer of chocolate. Yum.
After feverishly putting in my bid I got down to the business of actually reading the recipe, here is the list of ingredients:

Five Spice Shortbread:
1/2 cup plus 2 tbp extra virgin coconut oil, room temp
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Earl Grey Caramel & Chocolate Layers:
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons loose leaf Earl Grey tea
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 pan 5 spice shortbread
5 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 bergamot (optional) (Thank god cause I have never seen it in stores)
2 cups sugar (optional, to make bergamot syrup

 ummm.... yea.... So being that I don't keep a gluten free kitchen some of the shortbread ingredients were a whole new world to me. Thank goodness for Whole Foods bulk bins! I was able to get just the amounts I needed of the brown rice & coconut flours. I had never even heard of coconut flour before! (although now that I have... watch out I will definitely be experimenting with that baby!) I actually had ground almond flour in my pantry from something else and the rest of the ingredients (with the exception of two) were easily found between Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (you could probably get them all at WF but I got a few things a little cheaper at TJ's). The two items that I could not find were the Tapioca Starch and the 5 Spice powder. I was actually pretty surprised that they didn't have either of these available particularly the spice. For a bit I considered buying all 5 elements to create my own but that would have inevitably racked up about $20 in spices for a recipe that called for 1 Tablespoon.... no thank you. Luckily a friend suggested I check out the Asian market down the street which was genius. Although I am often intimidated in ethnic markets I am also pleasantly surprised every time by how many cool (and cheap!) products they have. I easily found the spice and starch (both only 79 cents) plus a few other treats for my trouble (hellllooooo strawberry Yan Yans!)
 3 grocery stores later I was ready to bake, below is the recipe created by the Food52 user Anitalectric for a friend who was looking to recreate a delicacy her friend had enjoyed abroad on a trip.  My notes are interspresed throughout.
To make Earl Grey caramel: Bring the coconut milk to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in tea leaves. Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Whisk and then strain out leaves, being sure to press out all possible liquid (the last drops will have the most flavor). Reserve milk.
Over low heat, simmer 3/4 cup of the tea infused coconut milk with the sugar, agave and salt until it reaches 234°F (soft ball stage). Add the remaining milk and heat to 248°F (hard ball stage). Please note, this will take at least an hour. You do not have to monitor it constantly, but you do have to stir once in a while to prevent burning.

Use this time to make the shortbread (see recipe below).
Remove caramel from heat and pour over shortbread. Spread into an even layer. Chill to set.

If using bergamot, remove peel and cut into 1cm thick strips. Add, along with juice, to small pan with 1 cup sugar. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until peels are candied and syrup is thickened. Remove peels and place, submerged, in another cup of sugar. Reserve syrup in a heatproof bowl.

Place syrup over double boiler and melt chocolate and coconut oil into it. (If you are not using bergamot, omit syrup from this step). Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Pour chocolate mixture over caramel in pan and spread into even layer. While it is cooling, remove some bergamot peels from sugar and chop fine. Sprinkle over top of chocolate.

Chill completely and cut into 16 bars. Store them chilled in a tightly sealed container.

For the Shortbread:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 1/4 size sheet pan and parchment paper liner with shortening or oil.
 (as an FYI- a 1/4 sheet pan is 9in X 13in.... measure first, or you end up with very thin bars and the caramel & chocolate won't spread across the whole thing.... I went against my better instincts here and paid for it later)

Sift together the dry ingredients except for sugar.

Beat the coconut oil, sugar and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients until incorporated and mixture is crumbly.
Transfer to pan and press into an even layer. Chill in freezer for at least 5 minutes before baking.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until edges are golden but middle is still slightly soft. Remove to a rack to cool.

Although it suggests baking the shortbread while the caramel is working I would actually start it ahead of the caramel so it has plenty of time to cool. I had a little trouble getting the chocolate to set up I might use a little less coconut oil next time.

There were so many things I liked about this recipe and learned. #1 - the caramel technique could not have been easier, even though it required me to buy a candy thermometer (which now that I have it it will no doubt get lots of use), #2 I had no idea what a great replacement for butter coconut oil could be in baked goods. I haven't studied up yet on the health benefits of one over the other but in terms of vegan cooking, it was a knock out you sincerely couldn't tell the difference in my opinion. #3 as I mentioned, coconut flour exists how cool is that! In general I shy away from gluten free recipes but I think I need to start giving them more of a chance, these alternate flours have really unique characteristics that I'm excited to play with in the future. While I'm sad I couldn't find the bergamot (apparently it has a very short season along with the fact that after 3 grocery stores I was spent and did not want to search out another specialty shop) I don't think the recipe lost too much without it. Maybe next time I'll sub in another citrus fruit in its place to test it out. I hope you check out food52 sometime soon, if you come across this recipe you can see my write up! Or you can just read below :)

"This recipe is the perfect opportunity to add a decadent vegan & gluten free dessert to your repertoire . The shortbread is flavorful and buttery (without butter!), the caramel rich and chewy, and the chocolate silky on top. The 5 spice and Earl Grey are wonderful exotic compliments to one another. While some ingredients require an extra stop at your local Asian food market it is worth the adventure!"