Friday, December 21, 2007

#61: Green Bean Salad with Toasted Pecans

Even though the Toasted Pecans are highlighted in the title of this recipe, it's the prosciutto that really makes the dish. Blogger Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini created this recipe for Green Bean Salad with Toasted Pecans and published it in her cookbook released this year. Food & Wine magazine was impressed and listed it as #61 on their 100 Tastes to Try list.

I used fresh green beans so it took a while to get them all trimmed. But after that this recipe went together very quickly.

This recipe got thumbs up from everyone I served it to. We really like how fresh the green beans still were and how well the prosciutto complimented them. The flavors and textures go very well together.

Green Bean Salad with Pecans and Dry-Cured Ham
(serves 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a starter)

1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed (substitute frozen - no need to them them - but not canned)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup (loosely packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

3 ounces dry-cured ham, thinly sliced and shredded in 1-inch strips (use jambon d'Ardeche, prosciutto, Parma or Serrano ham)

1/3 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped

Steam the beans for 10 minutes (12 if they are frozen), until cooked through but still crisp (if your steamer is small, work in two batches to ensure even cooking). Dump the beans in a large bowl of ice-cold water, to stop the cooking and preserve the beans' color. Drain thoroughly.

In a medium salad bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Season with a little salt - no too much, as dry-cured ham is quite salty - and a generous grind of pepper. Add the beans and parsley, and toss gently to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Arrange the ham and pecans over the beans. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to a day. Remove from the fridge half an hour before eating. (You can also plate the salad individually: divide the beans among plates, and top with ham and pecans.)

Variations: Use sugar snap peas instead of green beans, or walnuts instead of pecans.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

#24: Grosset's 2006 Polish Hill Riesling

I had a very hard time find Grosset's 2006 Polish Hill Riesling which was the suggested Boutique Aussie Wine listed at #24 on Food & Wine's 100 Tastes to Try. I spent the first half of the year calling distributors and wine warehouses in Tampa trying to get someone to order some for me. It wasn't until I moved back to Chicago that I asked about it at my favorite wine store, Sam's Wine and Spirits, that I got my hands on it. They looked it up in their computer and told me they had some in stock. A "wine guy" took me over and it was the last bottle on the shelf! They had other years but this was the last 2006. I was SO HAPPY! Truth be told, these little quests are part of the fun of doing this list. But I was quite discouraged that I was never going to find this wine.

Since I did get a hold of it, I saved it for my sister. She is a BIG Riesling fan. So I made a big deal about this special wine and don't you know it - she didn't like it. It got a big thumbs down from her. I think this is because she likes sweet Riesling and Polish Hill is dry. It reminded me more of a Pinot Grigio than a Riesling but it was good to me. In fact, I think it was amazing! I am really happy I found it and got to try it this year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cubano Chicken

I enjoyed making this recipe for Cubano Chicken Legs with Peppers, Tomatoes and Citrus from Daniel Boulud's Braise for several reasons. First of all, the recipe includes the chicken recipe as well as the accompanying Cucumber, Jicama and Avocado Salad - so you get an entire meal all put together. Second, you do most of the work for the chicken part the night before. And finally, I was excited to try something from Daniel Boulud.

A few of the ingredients in this recipe are a bit exotic. Cuban oregano, which is purple, was impossible for me to find. But I just substituted with regular fresh oregano. The piquillo peppers were really hard for me to find. They ended up being available at the olive bar at my local Whole Foods Market. They are really small and I don't see how the four little ones really added any flavor so I suggest giving this recipe a try even if you can't find the piquillo peppers - just leave them out.

I fed this to my mother and her boyfriend and they both raved about it. My mother rarely eats chicken because she had so much of it while she was raising her children. She was wrinkling her nose when I told her I was preparing chicken for dinner. To my pleasure she was so surprised and how tender and flavorful the chicken turned out. I was pretty confident we would all like it because of the combination of marinading over-night and cooking them slowly. Also, I absolutely love chicken legs/thighs. But it was the vegetable combination was what was really fantastic. I know this one will be asked for again and again.

As for the braising, I am excited to have an entire cookbook dedicated to the technique. Braise has recipes for so many different types of meat that I know I will not get sick of it. Even the seafood section looks promising!

Cubano Chicken Legs with Peppers, Tomatoes, and Citrus
(makes 4 servings)

4 chicken legs, thigh attached (about 2 pounds)

Coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced paper-thin (use a mandoline, if you have one)

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 large oranges

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, preferably Cuban

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas, drained

4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise

4 piquillo peppers, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Cucumber, Jicama, and Avocado Salad (see additional recipe below)

The night before you plan to serve this dish, season the chicken with salt and pepper and place in a nonreactive pan (Pyrex is perfect for this). In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, the orange and lime juice and zest, and the oregano and pour the mixture over the chicken legs to coat them evenly. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Heat the oil in a medium cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken legs from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Pat the legs dry and sear until well browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. When the chicken is golden brown, transfer to a platter. Add the bell peppers and onion to the pot and cook, stirring until the vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pot, along with the reserved marinade and the chickpeas, plum tomatoes, and piquillo peppers. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven to braise until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with the Cucumber, Jicama, and Avocado Salad.

Cucumber, Jicama and Avocado Salad

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small unpeeled English cucumber
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 small head iceberg lettuce, cored and chopped
1/2 pound jicama, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks
1/4 cup celery leaves, taken from the heart of the celery

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lime juice. Season to taste with sale and pepper and set aside until needed.

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the cucumber into paper-thin slices and place in a medium bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the avocado into thin strips and add to the bowl, tossing with a bit of the vinaigrette to keep the avocado from darkening. Add the lettuce, jicama matchsticks, and celery leaves and toss to combine.

To serve, whisk the vinaigrette and pour over the salad, tossing until the vinaigrette coats the salad evenly.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tres Leches: Three Milk Cake

My mother discovered Tres Leches Cake at a restaurant in Park Ridge, IL called Piano Piano. They did not custom make it, they bought it from a bakery. My aunt later tracked down the bakery and bought the cake for a party. The bakery told her it was very easy to make so she went online and found a recipe that starts with a box mix. What is better than that.

Tres Leches Cake is made with three different types of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. There are poured over the cake after it is completely cooked. This adds a unique moisture to the cake. Surprisingly, the cake lasts for several days - if you can hold off from eating it all!

Tres Leches: Three Milk Cake

1 yellow cake mix (with pudding) baked as directed in 13 by 9-inch pan

For topping mixture:
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup rum (or to taste)

To finish:
Whipped cream, to cover cake
5 ounces sweetened coconut

Poke holes in the cake with a fork all over. Pour topping mixture over cake. Let mixture absorb completely in refrigerator.

Cover with whipped cream or cool whip and sprinkle sweetened coconut over top of cake.

OPTIONAL: Add macadamia nuts, cherries and/or pineapple.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

#10: Argentine Malbec

It's funny. I have been scared to try Malbec. I bought some early in 2007 because Argentine Malbec is listed as #10 on Food & Wine's 100 tastes to try for the year. While I shopped for wine throughout the year I saw some write ups for other Malbecs and I ended up owning three different bottles.

The first one I dared try was the La Posta which received a Wine Spectator rating of 90.

A heady, ambitious style, with thickly layered black currant paste, fig, cocoa and mocha notes carried by the muscular, well-rounded structure. The finish is long and opulent. Best from 2008 through 2010. 5,000 cases made.

I brought it over to my friend's as a "housewarming" bottle which just meant that we would open it up right away. We drank most of the bottle while noshing on cheese and crackers before we went to dinner at May Street Market. We both enjoyed it a lot and I thought it tasted very similar to a good Pinot Noir. It's not as heavy as a Cabernet. I will say that the La Posta spoiled it a bit for me -- the other two Malbecs that I had since then didn't taste nearly as good. However it was fun to try it because know I know that I will order a malbec while out for dinner.

Monday, December 10, 2007

#23: Maple Flakes

Maple Flakes are listed as #23 on Food and Wine's 100 Tastes to Try this year. They were hard for me to get a hold of. When I first started searching in the beginning of the year, they were only available in Canada! I did have a trip planned to Vancouver and was going to try and figure out how to order them and have them delivered to my hotel. But thankfully I didn't have to go to that extreme to get a hold of these. started selling them around the middle of the year.

So what are maple flakes anyways? They are similar to sugar. Except they are made from maple syrup. You can get regular or cranberry flavored. I got both. Food & Wine suggested that you spread them on cereal or over ice cream. I went to the company website and found some recipes there. When I saw the recipe for Red Tuna Tartare I was intrigued. Tuna and sugar? But the cranberry maple flakes just added some crunch. I suppose you could add some more if you really want to taste the sweetness.

Red Tuna Tartare
1/2 lb. sushi-grade ahi tuna
drizzle of olive oil
few drops of lemon juice
2 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
Fleur del Sel (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1 Tbsp Cranberry Organic Maple Flakes

All the ingredients can be prepared in advance, but do not mix until right before serving so the flakes stay nice and crunchy.

Cut the tuna into small cubes, then season with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, finely chopped chives, fleur de sel, a little freshly ground pepper, and maple flakes. Blend quickly and serve. The texture of the fresh tuna cubes with a sprinkling of maple flakes is sensational.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

#83: Feta Cheesecake

This Feta Cheesecake always seemed to be one of the most interesting items on Food and Wine's 100 tastes to try in 2007. Coming in at #83, for deserts using pungent cheese, I went so far as to order French feta online while I lived in Florida. Something happened - maybe that was when my back went out - that caused me to not be able to make the cake.

It all worked out for the best though because I got to make it for a family dinner. It really did take about 5 hours from start to finish as I spent most of the day on it. This time I was lucky to find FRESH French Feta at my local Whole Foods Market. It is such a fabulous cheese I will buy it in the future just to munch on.

As you can see by the online recipe, it is not a traditional cheesecake. Instead, you stack a 3-inch square of cheese cake in between two layers of baked phyllo dough. It adds a wonderful flavor and crunch. Top it off with your desired amount of wine-poached date sauce and you are in for a fabulous dessert.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sweet Breakfast Tabouli

Couscous made with apple juice? Mint for breakfast? These two things sent me straight to the store last night so that I could make Sweet Breakfast Tabouli with Dried Plums this morning.

Unfortunately, the whole thing turned out a bit TOO sweet for me! It was interesting to make, but I think my use of really high quality, fresh, organic ingredients maybe added too much flavor . . . The plums are sweet enough. Tasting the mix of the couscous, mint and diced plums it was pretty good. But the african honey I used is really intense and I think it over-killed the flavors. I will try to make this again but this time I will really only drizzle a little bit of the sauce on top . . . I poured the entire thing on there this morning!

Sweet Breakfast Tabouli with Dried Plums

1/2 cup dried plums or other dried fruit
2 Tbsp dried mint flakes or 1/2 cup fresh mint
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup bulgur or whole wheat couscous
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. flax oil or rice bran oil

Chop the dried plums (or other fruit and the fresh mint, if using). In a storage tub or small casserole with a tight-fitting lid, mix the chopped plums and dried mint.

In a small saucepan, bring the apple juice to boil and add the bulgur. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover tightly. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the juice is absorbed and the bulgur is tender. (If using couscous, pour the couscous into the boiling juice, stir, and take off the heat.) Let stand to steam for 10 minutes. Scrape the bulgur into the tub with the plums and mint. Stir, and cover to steam the fruit. Chill for later use, or serve warm.

To serve, in a small cup, stir together the lemon juice, honey, and oil. Drizzle over the bulgur and fluff to mix.

Friday, December 7, 2007

#68: 2006 Savignon Blancs from New Zealand

Food and Wine Magazine highlighted the 2006 Savignon Blancs from New Zealand as some great wine to try this year and was #68 on the list. The article specifially suggested that Brancott's 2006 Savignon Blanc is the best deal of the year. I was thrilled when I found it! And we all loved it so much that I am going to buy another half a case, or maybe even a whole one. I got the wine for $9.99 a bottle. This wine is crisp, fresh, fruity . . .

Streamlined, with very good concentration to lime juice, grass and guava flavors highlighted by wet stone character. Drink now. 60,000 cases imported.

- Wine Spectator

I usually like chardonnay or pinot grigio and I was a bit cautious when trying this Sauvignon Blanc because I thought it would be very dry. It is not - it is super flavorful! We drank the bottle with tuna tartare . . . YUM!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

#62: Pea and Mint Risotto

Market Fresh Recipes is really #62 on Food and Wine's 100 Tastes to Try for 2007 but they specifically mention Pea and Mint Risotto (recipe is online). The recipe is from Vegetable Harvest, the new book from Patricia Wells. I bought the book but this is the only think I have made from it so far.

I actually waited until the end of the year to make this because I didn't think I would like it. It sounded kind of boring to me . . . pea and mint? Didn't seem to special. How wrong I was!

While this recipe is probably best in the Spring, I used frozen peas and they were just as fresh and were perfect with this recipe. The fresh peas and mint combined with rich and creamy risotto is unbelievably good. I ate this as a main course but I think it would go fabulous with lamb chops! And the leftover were just as good as the original. I kept eating it for two days after I first made it. I usually don't eat leftover more than once but I this batch a total of 5 times!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

#54: Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue

I love blue cheese so I was excited to see Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue listed one of the suggestions for #54 American Raw-milk Cheeses on Food & Wine's 100 Tastes to Try in 2007. I don't know much about cheese tasting. I either like them or I don't. I have read that this Jasper Hill cheese is supposed to be one of the best blue cheeses. I liked it well enough. It's got a strong taste and isn't as creamy as the blue cheese I am used to. But I ate it quite often with slices of tomatoes. It made a great snack.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

#73: Wild Artichokes

These wild artichokes listed as #73 on Food & Wine's 100 Tastes to Try in 2007 was the hardest thing for me to get a hold of. They can be purchases at Zingerman's but they were sold out for most of the year. But I FINALLY got them!

A small jar costs $20. As soon as I got them I cracked opened the jar and took a bite. Um, not what I expected. I LOVE artichokes but these tasted very EARTHY. You can tell that these are no machine processed artichokes. Some of the small fibrous pieces were still attached. It looks like they were hand trimmed. And with the strong organic taste, I was not impressed.

Today my opinion changed. I read something that suggested pairing these artichokes with liver. I didn't have any liver (nor do I like it) but I did have some liverwurst! I sliced the artichokes and then pan fried them. What a difference! I'd put these sauteed artichokes on anything - they are so good. I had them with some fresh tomatoes, slices of liverwurst and lots of salt. It was a REALLY yummy lunch.