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Archive for December, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Like I mentioned in Figgy Goodies Part I, the Holidays can be a super-hectic time, with all the gift-shopping, tree-decorating, and dare I say…potluck parties! Picture this Holiday Scenario X:

Brian: Honey, what are you making for the potluck party?
Me: What potluck party? We just went to 4 this past month!
Brian: You know, the one my
Boss is throwing? I told him you’re an awesome chef and you’ll be making something that’s going to charm their pants off.
Me: Er…when is it?
Brian: In 2 hours.
Me: Shit…

It’s during times like this when I turn to panic saving tricks. Things like ready-made crust/dough/sauce will save tons of time when you find yourself in this Holiday bind! I suddenly remembered that a few weeks ago, the kind folks at MyBlogSparkoffered me vouchers for the Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations. We’re all familiar with the cute-sy crescent rolls that magically appear in the oven, but these flaky, buttery wonders can also be used for dishes like this Baked Brie with Figs, Dark Chocolate, and Almonds. It’s a simple, elegant dish that will impress your guests but only takes half an hour to whip up.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or Crescent Recipe Creation (seamless dough sheets)
  • 1 wheel of Brie (*note: I used a wedge, because the truth is, Brian’s Boss lives in Italy and we didn’t really have to go to his potluck party that night so I didn’t think it would be good for our digestive systems to consume a whole WHEEL of Brie. Yes, the scenario above was for dramatization purposes!)
  • 1 handful of Figs, cut into tiny little chunks
  • 1 handful of Almonds, crushed.
  • 1 handful of Chocolate shavings (I used Valrhona dark)
  • 1 egg, beaten

And Bring us Some Figgy Baked Brie:

  • Mix together the figs, almonds, and chocolate

  • Cut the Brie in half. Then cut horizontally into the cheese and stuff the fig/chocolate/almond goodies inside
  • Take the package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (If you have a pkg created for the rolls, there will be perforations. Make sure you seal them). Wrap over the Brie like you would with any pastry dough.
  • Brush the top with the egg mixture, stick it in the oven and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
  • Bring to your holiday party and delight everyone’s’ tastebuds with the juicy figs & nutty almonds mingled in the gooey goodness of melted chocolate & brie!

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With the Holiday Festivities and preparations fast approaching, it’s critical to be able to turn to simple, no-stress meals that you can whip up in an instant. After all, we all need to refuel our energy while running around shopping, decorating, and making the excited yet headache-inducing travel plans. So before Christmas, I will share this 2-part Pre-Holiday Recipes on simple yet sophisticated dishes featuring the sweet, succulent, and versatile Fig.

Growing up, the only figs I knew were Fig Newtons, which I really was not a fan of. It wasn’t until I had the chance to eat at Fig & Olive a few years ago that I realized that the sweet juicy flavor of figs could be used to complement savory dishes. So a few days ago, after finishing up my last day at work before my extended Holiday vacation (yay), I threw together a Fig Pizza, with Carmelized Fennel, Goat Cheese and Arugula. The whole process took less than 30 minutes and the result was so good that Sous Chef Brian asks for a repeat performance every day!

The Goodies:

  • 4-6 Figs, quartered (*a note – I really wanted to use black mission figs, but my grocery store didn’t have any fresh figs – I know, atrocity – so I was limited to dried kalamata figs, which surprisingly worked just as well!)
  • 1/2 bulb of Fennel, sliced very thin
  • 1 handful of Arugula leaves
  • 1 handful of crumbled Goat Cheese
  • Olive Oil, to brush pizza with
  • 2 pieces of Pita Bread (yes, this is where the shortcut comes in!)
  • 2 Tbsp Xagave Nectar
  • 2 Tbsp Cooking Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A few strips of Proscuitto (optional – I did it for the Sous Chef)

And Bring us Some Figgy Pizza:

  1. Cook the Fennel  in a pan with the Cooking Oil. Sprinkle with Salt & Pepper to bring out flavor, and drizzle with Xagave Nectar to carmelize until brown.
  2. Brush Pita Bread with Olive oil. Decorate with Figs, Fennel, Arugula, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto. Sprinkle with Salt & Pepper
  3. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Easy as Pizza, isn’t it?   

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Every year approximately 2 months before Christmas, I start getting giddy with excitement. So powerful is this Holiday for me that I am unshaken by the spooky merrry-making of Halloween, and I glaze past Thanksgiving with a grateful heart, but all the while looking ahead to Christmas Festivities.

This year however, I promised myself I would pay proper homage to the aforementioned two fabulous holidays and celebrate them whole-heartedly. So in all the frenzy of brainstorming creative costumes for Halloween, and planning a hearty Thanksgiving Feast, I forgot to get excited about Christmas! (*Gasp!*)

It took me until now – a mere 2 weeks before my favorite holiday of the year – to dawn with the realization that It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

THE Tree @ Rockefeller - This is on my way to work everyday 🙂

Camels in Rockefeller Center? I'm still trying to figure this one out...something about the 3 wise men? Someone please enlighten me!

Even my office building is participating in the Christmas Spirit by bringing out these gorgeous bright red ornaments!

Christmas everywhere you go. This picture was sent to me by Brian, on business in the UK. 100s of Santas gathering underneath the Edinburgh Castle!

So now that the Christmas Spirit has fully consumed me, I feel compelled to create dishes evoking memories of Christmas past. Chestnuts have always been one of my favorite winter munchies. The sweet succulent delights conjure images of the family enjoying these roasted delicacies while gathering ’round to watch movies in our pajamas.  We found so many ways to enjoy them – drizzled with honey, sprinkled with salt, dipped in soy sauce.  But in all these years of savoring them, I’ve never actually created a dish with them. So last night, I decided to work it into a simple weeknight pasta dish – letting the sweet smoky flavor of the chestnuts mingle with the savory taste of the mushrooms, and tying it all up with the peppery zest of the arugula and buttery nuttiness of parmesan cheese!

Gathering the Goodies:

  • 3/4 cup of roasted chestnuts (recipe to follow), chopped
  • 4-6 oz of pappardelle, tagliatelle or similar egg pasta
  • 1-2 cups of arugula, washed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 6 chinese black mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes until soft, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup shaved/grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Oil, to cook
  • a pinch of dried tarragon
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1-2 tsp soy sauce

Getting Into the Spirit:

  1. Prepare the Chestnuts: Cut the shell with an “X” where the shell bulges outward. Place the chestnuts in a dish and completely cover with water and soak for 20 minutes. Place in a baking dish and roast at 400  for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, peel, and chop!
  2. Bring water to a boil, season with salt, and boil the egg pasta for 6-8 min, until cooked.Drain and toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
  3. Saute the sliced mushrooms in oil and a little bit of soy sauce until the aroma fills the air
  4. Pour in the egg mixture and scramble everything up.
  5. Add the chopped chestnuts and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the pasta and the remaining olive oil and mix until everything is well coated.
  6. Add in half of the parmesan cheese, and sprinkle in tarragon and more salt & pepper to season.
  7. Turn the heat on low, add in the arugula and toss some more, making sure the arugula does not actually cook and stays crisp.
  8. Scoop onto a plate, decorate with more parmesan flakes, and fill your tummy with Christmas!

 

Variations:

  • If you don’t have or don’t like black mushrooms, Portabello, oyster, or white mushrooms would be just as tasty
  • If you can’t eat mushrooms, try other meaty veggies like eggplant.  Other proteins like tofu or soy protein veggie “meat” products would blend well too.
  • Try substituting spinach or even cabbage for arugula (although the cabbage would be better when well cooked)
  • Indulge yourself and make a buttery cream sauce with herbs like tarragon, basil, thyme, or sage
  • No one should be a scrooge, but if you can’t stand chestnuts (say it aint so), you can also use hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds

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Once upon a time, there was a little Eggplant who lived in the produce section of the Japanese Market. Eggplant’s dream was to be part of a Sushi Roll. Alas, whenever Sushi Making took place, Eggplant was never selected as a candidate. He looked on forlornly as his friends Avocado and Cucumber were repeated picked, and puffed resentfully when he was passed over for the smelly fishy Tuna.

One day, an Experimental Chef came wandering into the Japanese Market looking for inspiration. She wanted a weeknight dinner dish that was quick, easy to make, yet delectable. As she passed by the Eggplant, he called out to her, “Oh pick me, pick me! Take me home and make me into a sushi roll!”

The Experimental Chef was skeptical. “But sushi ingredients are usually fresh and raw. You would have to be cooked. And how would I flavor you to complement the rice and nori?” Eggplant replied, “But aren’t you an EXPERIMENTAL Chef? Isn’t it your business to figure these things out?” At a loss for a good comeback, the Chef shrugged, put the Eggplant into her basket, and headed home to figure out how to tackle this challenge.

After some pondering, the Experimental Chef went to work, mixing up sauce potions, cooking the Eggplant and it’s friend the Beech Mushroom, and rolling the sushi. As she took a bite into the roll, a smile spread across her face. She thanked the Eggplant for reaching out to her, and vowed to share this wonderful recipe with the world.

That night, the Eggplant sat in Shelly’s Belly, content that he had fulfilled his lifelong wish. He hoped that his brothers and sisters would also make an appearance in a sushi roll sometime soon.

The Eggplant

Beech Mushrooms (selected companion for the Eggplant)

Eggplant & Friends:

  • 3 Japanese Eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 handful of Beech Mushrooms
  • 2 cups Long Grain Rice
  • 4 large pieces of Toasted Nori Seaweed
  • 1/3 cup Rice Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Mild Miso
  • 3 Tbsp Ponzu Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Mirin
  • 3 Tbsp Agave Nectar
  • Toasted Sesame Seed, to dress
  • Peanut Sauce or Mayonnaise, to garnish

Roll With It!

  1. Make the Sushi Rice. Proportion – 2 cups Long Grain Rice + 2 cups water + 1/3 cup Rice Vinegar + 1 Tsp Mirin + 1 Tbsp Agave Nectar. You can make this in a rice cooker or on a stove top. I prefer to stick it in the rice cooker – fluffy perfection every time!
  2. Create a Saute Sauce Potion with: 1 Tbsp Miso + 3 Tbsp Ponzu + 1 Tbsp Mirin + 2 Tbsp Agave Nectar
  3. Heat up a frying pan with some canola oil. Saute the Eggplant with half of the sauce until fully cooked. Take eggplant out and set aside in a small bowl
  4. Saute the Beech Mushrooms with the same sauce until cooked. Set aside in another bowl
  5. Set a Nori Sheet on a flat surface. Take about 1/2 cup of the cooked rice and spread on half of the sushi.  Place the eggplant and mushroom on top. Sprinkle with Sesame Seeds and roll the sushi, using small amount of smashed rice to glue it together at the end.
  6. Drizzle with Peanut Sauce or Mayo (optional). Cut into desirable pieces, and enjoy with pleasure!

Variations:

  • I really think this could have used some greens – something like spinach or watercress would have been great!
  • Other cool veggies I’d like to try: Bamboo shoots, shitake mushrooms, celery, zucchini, roasted bell peppers, yams.
  • Instead of rice, I think it’d be interesting to use mashed potatoes or hummus.
  • Try some other sauces – what about a citrusy vinaigrette, or maybe a mildly curry flavored mix?

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