Watercress with Goat Cheese Medallion "Snowflakes"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Now that you saw the pics from the Winter One-derland party, let's dish on the food! I tried to keep the white and winter theme for food and drink as well. First up, I knew I wanted to use goat cheese in some capacity. Perfectly white with irresistible tang, goat cheese was a perfect choice. I took the cheese and lightly molded it into medallion shapes, then took pine nuts I toasted in a shallow pan and pressed them in a snowflake pattern right on top. They sat atop a bed of tender and peppery watercress, dressed simply with good quality extra virgin olive oil and some good course sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can make the medallions the night before, cover and refrigerate then put the rest of the salad together in literally less than 5 minutes. Not only a great dish for a winter party, but for any wintry meal in general. Enjoy!

Watercress with Goat Cheese Medallion "Snowflakes"
16 ounces fresh goat cheese -- recommend Montrachet
about 1/4 cup pine nuts
3 bunches fresh watercress, cut from roots
course sea salt -- recommend fleur de sel
freshly ground black pepper
good quality extra virgin olive oil

Take the cheese and leave out at room temperature. This will make it easier to mold. While the cheese comes to temperature, toast the pine nuts. Take a shallow pan and place on low heat. Add the pine nuts directly into the pan (no need for oil or butter; as they warm they will release their own natural essential oils to help themselves brown) and cook on low heat, turning often until lightly toasted. Use a spatula to help you. Once toasted, promptly remove from the pan so they won't continue to cook and burn.

Form the goat cheese into medallions -- I did about 1" diameter medallions but you can make them as big or small as you'd like. Take the pine nuts and press them into a snowflake pattern. Remember, all snowflakes are different! So don't worry about being super precise or uniform!

Take a sheet pan or plate and layer a bit of plastic wrap. Gently transfer your medallions to the plastic wrap (or parchment paper is fine too), cover and refrigerate. Even if you plan to serve the salad soon, it's best to serve the goat cheese chilled.

When you're ready to serve the salad, layer out the watercress into a nice platter. Season with salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil. Gently add the goat cheese medallions right on top straight from the fridge, and serve!

Serving Suggestion: I like using tongs or a simple fork and spoon to make it easy to grab a bit of watercress and medallion together all at once. Just a spoon may be a bit clumsy!

Winter One-derland Party! Happy 1st Birthday Baby Girl!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I had an absolute BLAST planning and executing this party. I was so unbelievably inspired by the season, the color scheme, the myriad textures and possibilities to carry out a first birthday party with a winter theme. From snowflakes to crystals, multiple shades of creamy whites to sparkling silvers, natural textures like branches to fluffy fake snow, this was by far my most favorite party I've created and thrown to date. 

Baby Girl was born last January on the first day of an epic snow storm here in Seattle. As the first snowflakes began to fall outside, she came into this world equally as peacefully as the delicate flakes fell outside my hospital window. Given how difficult her pregnancy was, and how at one point I was worried we'd even make it to a delivery date, one of the "happy thoughts" that would keep me going during the last five months of my pregnancy with her was planning and celebrating her first birthday. Right after she was born, as I marveled at her perfectness and her full head of black hair, I knew the theme to honor such a momentous day for our little family: a winter wonderland party. Except, it would be a winter ONE-derland, to celebrate such a wonderful day!  

I started crafting and collecting decorations like a mad person. 

Bright white, sparkly white, off white, cream white, white the color of clouds and white the color of snow were starting to fill my new home. Accents of strong silver -- sparkly and bright, strong yet still classic and feminine played foil to the dreamy shades of white. Fluffy fake snow with flakes of sparkle paired against rugged brown branches created instant atmosphere. And of course, an abundance of snowflakes throughout the house. 

As you opened the door you were greeted by my silver tree (Z Gallerie). Adorned with various glittered snowflakes and glass icicles, the tree served both as an instant eye-catching welcomer as well as a favor server -- each child got to pick off their favorite snowflake to take home as a party favor. 

I wanted to include a simple but elegant welcome banner befitting of our theme. I used glittered silver letters (you can find them at Michael's craft stores in the scrapbook section) and stuck them onto white glitter paper I cut out by hand to look like snowballs. I hung the letters that spelled "Welcome to One-derland" with a simple sweet white satin ribbon, and hung them from willow branches above our formal room as you walk in. 

Baby Girl was fascinated by the welcome sign, and would stare and smile at it (even now!) for the days leading up to her party. She loves it so much, it's hanging in her room now above her crib much to her delight. 

Snowflakes were a wonderful addition to the overall theme. I used them as stickers, hanging ornaments, party favors, decorations, even on the cake and for the kids activity!

 A big focal point in the main room of the party was the dessert table. I made the banner myself using craft paper and glitter letters and hung it up directly onto the wall with white satin ribbon and hung beautiful crystal snowflake ornaments left over from Christmas. Puffy white pom poms hanging over added a wonderful airiness to the scene and "lifted" the heaviness of the candy buffet. The centerpiece of the buffet was the cake of course -- a 3 level, multi-flavored confection topped with edible glittered snowflakes and a crystal sugar "1" right on top. It paired perfectly with the banner behind it -- both Baby Girl's name as well as the momentous year celebrated standing out clearly yet elegantly. Flanking the beautiful cake was a selection of candies, homemade marshmallow balls, and cookies for guests to help themselves to throughout the party. Provided also were treat bags adorned with snowflakes to take some treats home.

A blanket of fake snow and sparkly white leaf garland added the perfect touch. I found both on sale post Christmas! 

I love using apothecary jars to house candy. Mix and match them -- they're supposed to be all different! Add in a cake stand to two, simple glass jars, anything that you have or that would work! You can add a simple touch by adding personalized stickers -- I made mine using a scallop puncher with white glitter paper and personalized "S" and "1". 

I like using a mix of store-bought candy and homemade confections when possible. My aunt was kind enough to send some sweets our way, so I included some homemade Romanian cookies called cornulete as well as the apricot crisp cookies -- both doused in powdered sugar that fit perfectly in the snow theme. I also made vanilla marshmallows from scratch (super easy) and instead of cutting them into squares, made them into snowballs that I then rolled in powdered sugar! 

The perfect marshmallow snowball. 
Both my kids and the rest of the kids could not stop eating these fluffy snowballs! 

The cake was a masterpiece. Made special order for me from The People's Cake in Seattle, it featured two tiers of vanilla cake with grapefruit filling, then the bottom tier being the most heavenly coconut cake with hibiscus butter cream and passion fruit. The entire cake was hugged in rolled white fondant, then sprinkled with crunchy sugar crystals to create that "just snowed" look. 

Sitting elegantly and proudly atop the incredible cake was a simple and formidable sugar glass "1" flanked with delicate snowflakes. The snowflakes were all created by hand, each lovingly painted with edible glitter.  

The amount of technique and craftsmanship that went into this cake was astounding. Guests didn't realize it was an actual edible cake! They thought it was part of the decorations, which of course it was. Edible decorations -- my favorite kind! A HUGE thank you to Beth and her team at The People's Cake for creating the perfect climax for our party. I thoroughly look forward to working with you in the future on more parties!

A simple but beautiful banner with gorgeous glass snowflake ornaments help set the mood. All the decorations worked with each other, always complimenting and never competing to create such a richness and at the same time, remaining light and effortless to be true to the theme.

A pain in the ass to make, but always worth it in the end -- the paper pom poms.

Beth was so sweet to include a smash cake for the birthday girl. So modern and elegant, even the smash cake served as a modern counterpoint to the rest of the decorations. And was delicious as well. Thanks Beth! She loved it!

As for the rest of the decorations, I used my dining table in the dinging room for the main food table. The weather was terrible -- cold, on/off rain, and mud so the party needed to be inside. Thankfully my dark, rich brown dining table served as the perfect base for my white and silver concoctions atop it.

Because the colors were so ruled (white and silver ONLY), I went nuts with varied foliage and textures for the table. Branches, flowers (real and silk), beads, crystals, ribbons, rocks, snow, pine cones...everything had a place and a statement without competing too much with each other. It all worked. 

Instead of ribbon this time, I added these great snowed and iced branches to the table for subtle texture. I kept the platters within the color scheme as well, using white, silver, and crystal.

  Multiple textures and heights, colors and sparklers all within the theme added great richness to the table. 

 I took silver painted pine cones and simply added them to a clean clear jar.


Silver silk flowers for $0.50 post Christmas sale! 

I used my white and silver platters and cake stands for the party. It was also fun to whip out my fine crystal candlesticks and platters as well! They added the perfect sparkle and glow when the candles were lit all around. Both the taper candles and votives below added just the right amount of ambiance and soft glow befitting of winter.

Finally, no party can be complete without some sort of activity to preoccupy the kids. I took the winter theme outdoors and created Mr. Winter Owl who held paintbrushes. I picked up some hanging bird houses and fairy wands for the kids to create their own winter items. I simply provided some paint (white, shades of blue, etc.) glitter glue, sparkles, snowflakes, ribbons, etc. and let them have at it! 

They had a blast making their items and got to take them home! Together with a snowflake to hang in their room as a momento, some candy, and their craft project -- each kid went home satisfied and accomplished. 

Now of course...THE FOOD. I keep the season and white theme going even with the food and drink. Stay tuned for the recipes! 

Pinkalicious Cupcakes: The Perfect Pink Cupcake For Your Next Pink Soiree!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baby Girl turned 1 yesterday!!! Happy Birthday sweet pumpkin muffin! And to help celebrate, Little Girl and Little Boy and I made a pot of spaghetti (her favorite) and pink cupcakes! Based on a book called Pinkalicious that Little Girl brought home from the library that's currently the house favorite, we made cupcakes that were all pink, all the time. From head to toe pink, just like the book.

I started thinking and realized these cupcakes were even more amazing. Not only do they taste good and look pretty, they are perfect to celebrate a variety of things. From princess parties to valentine's day treats, to breast cancer awareness events, these sweet treats make an impact. I dedicate this recipe not only to my sweet baby girl, and the joys that have come with you in our little family, but also to a friend who's battling breast cancer right now. From the joys of princess parties to the courage of battling breast cancer, you make these cupcakes to brighten up someone's day.

Now, onto the food...

Instead of a traditional butter cream frosting, I elected to do a glaze frosting. I thought they looked so pretty and tasted great with the sweet acid of meyer lemons. The cupcake itself is vanilla buttermilk -- simple and so moist and delicious, the consistency is light and airy without being crumbly. The texture is perfect for a cupcake and the color of course from using pink color food gels in the batter.

These were easy and as fun to make as reading the cute story. And you can coordinate any theme with sprinkles on top (for example, do some valentine's day theme with valentine's sprinkles).

Make them ahead and refrigerate -- the glaze will also keep them nice and moist. And use a really, really good quality vanilla extract for these. I like bourbon vanilla extract (can find at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods). Enjoy!!

Pinkalicious Cupcakes with Hot Pink Glaze Frosting
for the cupcakes:
1 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk (at room temperature)
3 eggs
1 Tbsp good quality vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pink food coloring (recommend: Wilton food coloring gels)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine salt (like kosher)

for the glaze:
2 cups confectioners sugar (aka powdered sugar)
juice of 1 meyer lemon
about 1/4 cup half n half
1/8 tsp pink food gel or coloring (more or less to color preference)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper linings. I used pink with white polka dots paper.

Whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and food coloring in a small bowl or very large measuring cup. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn mixer on low speed and gently pour in the buttermilk mixture. Once you've poured it all in, turn the mixer on medium speed and mix until combined well, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Fill each cup about 1/2 way up and bake in oven for about 15 minutes (depending on oven's strength) or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove and let stand to cool completely before icing.

To make the glaze, simply whisk together all ingredients. Add enough food gel to get desired shade of pink; for glaze pictured I used about 1/4 tsp Wilton food gel in color "pink."

To finish cupcakes, take one completely cooled cupcake and spoon a good teaspoon's worth of the glaze right on top. Use the back of the spoon to help you smooth it out on one even layer on the top, and use the paper linings along the sides to help catch the glaze. Set down in a flat surface to set, and repeat with remaining cupcakes and glaze. If using sprinkles, go ahead and sprinkle right after glazing. Note: the glaze will begin to set almost immediately once applied to the cupcake, so if you're using sprinkles that need to adhere you may want to ice and sprinkle each cupcake individually rather than all at once.

Serve or refrigerate until ready to serve.


Paper liners I found at my local party store, made by Wilton.

Hot pink sugar crystal sprinkles purchased from etsy.

Edible silver star confetti by Wilton, purchased at Michae's craft stores.

Caprese Skewers: Salad On A Stick

I love me a caprese salad. I also love Food On A Stick. Although this is not a new notion, I've had many really shitty caprese sticks so I've finally decided to make my own. What makes them shitty? The following:
  • wrong tomatoes
  • unseasoned cheese
  • basil is old
  • forget to season all of the components
Of course I aim to fix these issues and produce a super simple, extremely flavorful and easy party snack you and your guests will love. My version wins. Hands. Down.

First, I use only sweet tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes are perfect for two reasons: first, they have a natural sweetness to them no matter what season it is so they will balance out the other flavors perfectly and second, they are the perfect size and shape to slide on the sticks. I may even prefer grape tomatoes over the cherry ones ever so slightly simply based on their size, which is the perfect bite and the same exact size as the cheese. In summer, when heirloom cherry tomatoes are in season, I love making this appetizer with different colors. It's always the most favorite dish at a party and always the first to be eaten.

Next, I season my cheese forcefully but thoughtfully. Garlic, fresh herbs, and a good quality olive oil are what  perfectly season the mozzarella. I've seen some people use vinegar or some sort of acid. I'm not a huge fan personally because the tomatoes already have acid naturally, and especially if you use cherry or grape tomatoes they are quite sweet on their own; using vinegar especially something like balsamic would be redundant and even mask the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. So I omit it here. However, I do splurge on a really, really good quality olive oil. I love using one using koroneiki olives -- it has a really nice fruity taste without being too overpowering. Whole Foods 365 brand actually puts a version out that's quite tasty and affordable for around $8 a bottle.

Thirdly, I use only the freshest and crispiest basil leaves. I like using large ones that I fold in half and then skewer. Some versions of this dish or basic salad I find doesn't use enough basil; the basil for this salad/dish is an equal component and should be represented as equally in terms of quantity. So make sure you look at the package, open it up, and see you've got beautiful green basil leaves to work with. If they have a little brown around the edges it's old; get another package. 

Finally, although the cheese has the bulk of the flavor, I wait to season the whole thing until right before serving. Why? Because salt draws out the moisture of things; if I season the tomatoes or cheese too early they will become more dry and not taste as plump or juicy. Especially when the tomatoes are my only acid here, I need them as juicy as possible. So I'll go ahead and skewer the ingredients all together, lay them all out in one even layer, then drizzle them all with some more olive oil and season with course sea salt and coursely ground black pepper. Again, using course gives another layer of texture. And really try to use a great salt for this. I love using a simple french sea salt like fleur de sel or a good gray salt like celtic sea salt. Not only are these salts good for you with natural minerals, they have that crunch that's irresistible.

To serve simply lay out on a platter and let guests help themselves! These are great for any party and can go from morning to night, accompanying a variety of different foods and cuisines. Just remember, since you don't have a lot going on here it's imperative to use only the best: the best tomatoes, the best cheese, the freshest basil of perfect color, splurge on that good olive oil if you need to, invest in a good finishing salt, etc. It will make all the difference.

Caprese Skewers
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 container fresh mozzarella balls 
1/2 cup fresh, crisp LARGE basil leaves
wooden skewers
course sea salt -- I like a french fleur de sel or even a celtic or ca gray salt 
coursely ground fresh black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary -- leaves picked off of stem and very finely chopped
very good, extra virgin olive oil  (I like using olive oil with koroneiki olives for this, or french olive oil) 

Take the mozzarella cheese balls and drain from their water. Take a few paper towels and pat and squeeze very dry. The more moisture the more soggy the skewers will be, so it's important that you pat them quite dry. Toss the cheese with the garlic, rosemary, some salt and pepper to taste, and some olive oil -- enough to coat the ingredients well. Let stand for flavors to marinade at least an hour (preferably overnight).

When you're ready to skewer, look over the basil and pick off the best, brightest green leaves. Begin sliding the tomatoes, cheese, and basil onto the sticks in a pattern then lay out skewers onto a baking sheet. When ready to serve, drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving platter and serve. 

Homemade Biscuits!!! Part 2: Buttermilk Biscuits and The Tang

Part two in The Great Biscuit Discussion of 2013: The Buttermilk Biscuit.

What distinguishes the buttermilk biscuit from its cream counterpart is one huge thing: the buttermilk. Not only does it change the texture of the biscuit from flaky to a more spongy one (but in a good way), it also adds a nice subtle tang to the flavor.  These are fluffier and can soak up more liquids, so they're perfect for gravy or to serve with soups.

The mechanisms to make them are the same, except this time you're adding the buttermilk basically. I use butter again here for the flavor, but you can also use lard or shortening too. Just keep in mind they won't taste as buttery (and if using lard or shortening, reduce the amount to around 1/3 cup so they don't come out greasy!). You'll also notice here I make the biscuits by hand, without using a mixer of any kind. Why? I think they come out better with the texture -- I can control the mixing better by hand to make sure the dough is not over mixed, which would result in a gummy texture. This is a little bit more work but worth it in my opinion. Enjoy!

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
1 cup cold buttermilk

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and using a fork or pastry cutter, begin cutting the butter into the flour until you have little balls of butter the size of small peas coated in the flour. The mixture will look very grainy, like clumpy sand. Next, gradually add the buttermilk and mix it in to combine. You may want to switch up to a very sturdy spatula at this point or even wooden spoon to help you. Just gently mix the buttermilk in with the flour mixture until it all comes together into a dough and can hold shape.

Gather the dough up together into a heap and turn out on to a floured working surface. Sprinkle both sides of the dough with flour as well as your rolling pin, and begin rolling the dough out into a large rectangle, about 3/4" thick. Take your biscuit cutters and cut out your biscuits; transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can gather and roll out the remaining dough for a few more biscuits, then discard the rest.

Take a kitchen towel and lightly cover the biscuits on the baking sheet. Let them stand at least 15 minutes, up to a half an hour. While they're standing, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. The biscuits will puff up a little while standing and in baking. Place in oven and bake until tops begin to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes (start checking them around 13 minutes). Remove and serve!

Breakfast Burrito Casserole: It's Go Time

Playoff football is in the air. Sadly our beloved Seattle Seahawks lost this past weekend, but I won with this recipe. For a morning game I decided to serve up some breakfast/brunch fare. On the menu: Top Pot Doughnuts including requisite Seahawk Sprinkles, Caprese Kabobs (recipe coming soon), and this breakfast casserole. Why a casserole? When you know I'm not a huge fan? Because I needed something I could prepare in advance, something flavorful and low maintenance, and something that could serve a crowd easily.

After researching some recipes that frankly scared the shit out of me, I stared at the chorizo I'd bought the day before to make empanadas with and got smacked in the face with inspiration: breakfast burritos, but in casserole form. Brilliant. Being a SoCal native, The Breakfast Burrito was as much a part of my culinary culture as guacamole. Many places, both large and small would put out their version of the simple breakfast fusion, some with greater success than others. Hell even McDonald's jumped on the breakfast burrito bandwagon with their pathetic version. So suffice it to say, I've had my fair share of the food. One of the better burritos I've ever had actually was at a doughnut shop in Orange County -- Aliso Viejo Doughnuts. Stop by if you're in the area and get yourself one (and a doughnut while you're at it) -- super, super good and one of the best you'll have.

So what makes it good? Tender cubed potatoes are tossed in a spicy salsa and stuffed in the burrito with freshly scrambled eggs, your choice of bacon, sausage or chorizo, sharp cheddar cheese, and more spicy salsa to spoon on top of each bite. All bound in a fresh, warm flour tortilla. It's hearty and heaven and this is my adaptation in casserole form. I take yukon gold potatoes and cube them small, then boil them in salted water until fork-tender. Drained very, very well, they're tossed in some salsa and layered at the bottom of a buttered casserole dish. Next level: spicy super flavored chorizo sausage cooked with onions and garlic to give a spicy earthiness, and depth of flavor only chorizo is known for. On top and to bring it all together, lightly beaten eggs with cream -- gives a nice silky texture as well as serving as binder to the whole dish. On top, shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Served piping hot with a cold sour cream and sliced fresh avocado and more spicy salsa on the side for a super delicious, super flavorful, incredibly satistfying without feeling heavy brunch food you will make again and again and again. Want it in burrito form? Just add a side of warmed tortillas and have at it.

Love this recipe and it was very, very well received. Dish licked clean. Make it for your next morning game, church function, brunch party, or just because you love chorizo. Enjoy it!

This recipe makes enough to serve 6-8 people with good portions, up to 10-12 smaller portions for a perfect brunch buffet. 

Breakfast Burrito Casserole
2-3 large yukon gold potatoes (you want about 3 cups worth of cubed potatoes), peeled and cut into cubes
2 Tbsp olive oil (preferably spanish olive oil)
2 Tbsp butter or nonstick spray
2 lbs chorizo sausage (without casings or removed from casings)
1 small white onion, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup beef broth (or water)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
your favorite fresh salsa, spicy level to your taste (use the fresh salsa in the refrigerated section, NOT the bottled kind)
18 extra large eggs
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
avocado for garnish
sour cream for serving
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
more spicy salsa or your favorite hot sauce for serving (optional)

Take a large pot and place cubed potatoes in. Add cold water right on top and a good pinch of salt to the water. Bring to a boil and cook potatoes until fork-tender (meaning, you can pierce a piece of potato easily with a fork). Drain very, very well and place potatoes in a mixing bowl. While still warm, add about 3-4 heaping tablespoons of the salsa and mix to combine. You want the potatoes coated but not soaking in the salsa, so depending on how chunky or saucy your salsa is, make sure the potatoes are still more potato than salsa ratio. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste and set aside (potatoes will soak up the flavors of the salsa as it sits).

Now prepare the chorizo. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the chorizo sausage meat (again, you want the free meat so if it's in a casing then squeeze the meat out of the casing; conversely you can buy the meat without the casings at more markets now) and break up the meat using a sturdy wooden spoon. Cook on medium-high heat until well browned on all sides, then remove the meat from the pan and set aside. In the same pan with the juices and oil rendered from the sausage, cook the onions. If you need more oil go ahead and add a bit more olive oil. Using your wooden spoon, make sure to pick up the brown bits formed on the bottom of the pan. The broth will also help you in this. Cook onions on medium-low heat until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute, then add the cooked chorizo back with the onions and garlic and mix to combine. Now add the broth and use its moisture to help loosen those brown bits on the bottom and sides of the pan (that's flavor!). Cook on medium heat until all of the broth is absorbed, then taste and adjust with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

All of this can be done up to a day in advance.

Butter a casserole dish (or spray with nonstick spray) and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the salsa potatoes in the bottom of your casserole dish in one even layer. Add the chorizo right on top in one even layer (sort of like you're layering lasagna).

Next, crack all of the eggs in a large mixing bowl and pour in the cream. Add some salt and pepper to taste (I do a good pinch of each) and using a whisk, begin to beat the mixture together. You want light and fluffy here for good egg texture! Beat about 40 seconds, then pour the egg mixture all over the sausage. Now top with the cheese right on top again in one even layer, and place in oven. Cook until eggs are set and cheese is melted, about 15-25 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. Remember, the potatoes and meat are already fully cooked, so you're just waiting for the eggs to get cooked through. Careful not to overcook!

Remove and let stand about 5 minutes before cutting so juices can redistribute.

Serve with some fresh cilantro sprinkled on top if desired, sour cream and fresh avocado sliced thinly and more salsa or your favorite hot sauce on the side.

Winter Side Dish: Chorizo Stuffing

Monday, January 7, 2013

Who says stuffing is only for Thanksgiving?! Stuffing is a great winter side dish to go with your roast meats. And while we're at it, turkey's so delicious I think we should be roasting it year round, not just one Thursday in November! At any rate, the next time you're planning a roast chicken (or turkey!) and if you're getting sick of potatoes in one form or another, give this recipe a try! Spicy chorizo sausage gives great flavor and color to this French bread based dressing. Spanish sofrito -- onions, green bell pepper, and garlic add a classic earthy base while oregano adds an aromatic punch. Ancho chile powder and Spanish paprika give a warm background in flavor as well as gorgeous color to the whole dish that comes together easily. Bake it off right away for a crispy topping or make it ahead of time and let is sit for a more bread pudding type consistency. The warmth and spiciness of this dressing is sure to spice up and excite even the most boring roast or grilled chickens this winter. Add a side of steamed green beans for a meal. Enjoy!

Chorizo Stuffing
1 lb chorizo sausage (not smoked)
1 white onion, chopped small
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped small
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cubed French bread (recommend: Whole Foods french bread stuffing bread)
3 cups chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Spanish paprika
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large saute pan to medium-high. Squeeze the meat out of the chorizo sausage casings directly into the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the sausage is nicely browned. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside; add some olive oil if needed (or just use any rendered fat left in the pan) and add the onions and green bell pepper to the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook on medium heat until softened, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the sausage and any drippings back to the vegetables and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Place the bread in a large mixing bowl. Add the sausage vegetable mixture directly on top of the bread, along with the oregano, chile powder and paprika. Add 2 cups of the stock and mix to combine. Then depending on how soft or crispy you'd like your stuffing, continue adding the rest of the cup of stock until a desired consistency is reached. Less stock = drier stuffing.

Let mixture stand at least 30 minutes for bread to soak up moisture and flavors, preferably an hour.

When ready to bake, transfer stuffing mixture into an oven-safe baking dish (grease it if necessary; ceramic dishes don't need to be greased) and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes or until top is golden and crispy. Serve piping hot.

Homemade Biscuits!!! Part 1: The Cream Biscuit

Biscuits are one of the simple but perfect foods. Warm, buttery, flaky, they are comforting and nostalgic at the same time. Even if you didn't grow up with fresh biscuits, even if you grew up with canned biscuits or with a cuisine not involving biscuits in any form, you will still love The Biscuit. I know I do. 

For one, it's versatile. It can be served piping hot or room temperature. Savory or sweet, by itself or as part of a dish, on top of this or to the side of that or filled with this, there are many, many things one can do with The Biscuit. However, as is truth with many "simple" foods, it's also easy to serve really, really crappy biscuits. 

There are two main kinds of biscuits in my opinion: cream biscuits and buttermilk biscuits. Both have the same shape, but different textures and a subtle difference in flavor. Using butter and cream creates a more flaky, buttery texture while buttermilk gives a slightly spongier texture and subtle tanginess. Both are outstanding and can be used with wide variety for various dishes both sweet and savory. Sadly, despite this perfect food, as a society we've become accustomed to the ease of canned biscuits. Guilty -- I've been using them for years, fearful of falling short on the baking spectrum. A couple of months ago around Thanksgiving I finally got the balls to make my own biscuits and you know what? It wasn't entirely that difficult at all. So easy and cheap to make, in fact, I knock these suckers out now like an assembly line. And you can to! Just follow my tips and directions for a perfect golden biscuit! 

First up, is the Cream Biscuit. Light and flaky, the distinguishing factor of the cream biscuit is it's buttery flavor and flaky texture. Many recipes will actually call for lard. That's not my favorite because (a) it's greasy and (b) it simply doesn't have that special butter flavor that makes a biscuit so special in my opinion. Use a good butter for this -- unsalted -- and keep it nice and cold! It's important here to knead properly to create those layers, and using cold butter (not frozen, not room temperature, but cold) to get that perfect texture. By keep the butter in larger pea-sized pieces, once introduced to the hot oven those pieces of butter will melt into the rest of the biscuit as it cooks, providing that flaky texture you want. If you make the butter too small, it'll taste fine but won't get that flaky texture you're looking for. So pay attention when cutting that butter into the flour!

This dough can be made well in advance, well wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the fridge until you are ready to roll and bake. These are perfect as a side dish for hearty stews, tender braises of meats, BBQ, or just plain out of the oven with a good slather of your favorite berry preserve! They are super easy to make, and I promise once you make them once you'll never go back to canned again! This recipe makes 8-10 medium sized biscuits. 

Cream Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour (recommend: King Arthur brand)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp granulated white sugar
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
1 cup cold cream

Take the flour and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add the baking powder, salt, and sugar and pulse a couple of times to mix in. Add the cold butter and pulse a few times to "cut the butter" into the flour. This means incorporating the butter into the dry ingredients, and creating small balls of butter the size of large peas covered in the flour mixture. It's very important not to overly process at this point, or else you'll make the butter too small and the biscuit won't retain that flaky texture talked about above. You want the little balls of butter to be the size of larger peas. Now, with the machine running, add the cream through the feed tube and process until the dough just comes together. Similarly, don't overly process the dough or else it'll become too gummy; you want to mix everything until all the ingredients just come together into a mass, and you can take it all out and form it into a ball easily and it'll stick together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (a plastic cutting board with flour works great, or wooden board or marble board is ideal) and begin to kneed the dough.

Flour a rolling pin and sprinkle some flour on top of the dough. Roll out the dough into a flat rectangular shape. Then kneed it: take the corner at 2:00 pull it up and over on top of the rest of the dough. Turn the dough disk 1/4 to the right, take the next section at 2:00 and repeat. Keep doing this over and over again, pull and turning, pulling turning about 20 times. You can use the rolling pin to help you roll it back out into a large enough piece to work with every 5 or 6 times if needed. This process of kneading is creating the flaky layers you want in this biscuit. So it's an important step -- don't skip it!

Once you've kneaded the dough, roll the entire thing out into one large rectangular piece about 1 inch thick. Then take your biscuit cutter (I use a medium-sized cutter for the biscuits pictures, but you can go ahead and use whatever shape or size you'd like) and cut the biscuits out of the dough. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Take the rest of the dough, quickly reform it, kneed it a couple of times to get it into shape, roll it out to 1 inch again and use the biscuit cutter again for more biscuits.

Let biscuits stand at room temperature while the oven preheats.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush tops of biscuits with a little bit of cream (this will help them get a nice golden color on top) and bake in oven until edges begin to get golden, about 13-15 minutes. Remove and serve.

Make Ahead Tip:
If you're planning to make these ahead of time, go ahead and make your dough then form it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until ready to form your biscuits. You can make this dough even 2 days in advance.

Easy Winter Appetizer: Bleu Cheese Spread with Drunken Fig Jam

My good friend Lisa makes her own preserves. She has an amazing farm and grows lots and lots of wonderful things, including various fruit trees like figs! She makes this amazing drunken fig jam (recipe here) and sent me some this past Christmas for treats! I was, as always, super excited and dove right in. 

I wanted to make something fabulous but still super easy. We were in the midst of holiday hell and moving to a new house, so I wasn't at liberty to make something too elaborate. And the jam was so amazing, I didn't want to go overboard with it anyway so we could taste the jam above all else. Enter: bleu cheese spread. 

Bleu cheese goes together with figs just perfectly -- the piquant flavor of the bleu brings out the delicate sweetness of the figs just wonderfully. The cheese gives a lovely color contrast to the rich deep purple of the figs, making the dish itself a work of art and irresistible to eat. I literally whipped up this dish in a matter of seconds in my food processor. Don't have one? Use a handheld blender. Don't have one of those either? Use a sturdy fork, then go buy a handheld blender or food processor. This quick and delicious appetizer is just perfect to munch on on a lazy wintry Sunday afternoon or perfect for a party snack! Enjoy it! And thanks Lisa!!

Bleu Cheese Spread with Drunken Fig Jam
1/2 cup good quality cream cheese
1/3-1/2 cup good quality creamy bleu cheese -- recommend: Roquefort, Point Reyes, Gorgonzola
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
small drizzle of honey (about 1/2 tsp if planning to serve with jam; do 1 Tbsp if serving spread on its own) 
drunken fig jam for serving 
crackers, bread slices, apple slices, etc. for serving

Place the cream cheese and bleu cheese in the bowl of the food processor. Put the bleu cheese to taste -- I like more of a bleu cheese flavor, so I go with the 1/2 cup's worth; if you like a more muted flavor then go with 1/3 cup or to taste. Add the black pepper and honey and mix until well combined. Turn out into a serving bowl. To serve, simply spread some of the bleu cheese spread onto a cracker, top with the jam and eat!