Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Continuing Zen-kitchen Study: Onigiri

One of my objectives this year is to delve deeper into the art of Japanese cuisine. I know that such an objective will not be fully realized until I physically travel to Japan and poke my nose around their kitchens, but that is a dream to be accomplished in the future. I'm going to take advantage of my access to Japanese tradition (through reading, relationships with friends and teachers, etc) to propel me through, and try to do some justice in my own kitchen.

I have a strange approach to food traditions in that I turn my nose up at "fusion", but I try to make those experiments happen in my own kitchen with what I have available. I guess I prefer to make a culinary-type fusion based on the ingredients I have at hand instead of trying to pick a few different regions (ie: Mexican-Japanese) and combining their techniques to make something happen. To me, cooking has to inspire the cook from the ground up. Creating original dishes is simply being able to dive into your toolbox, built from experiences in every kitchen you can possibly access, and use any ingredient passed to you by season or budget to make something tasty. This is how it has worked for me at perhaps I will not be able to tell you exactly how to make perfect Onigiri, but I will try my best to recreate my experiences and what I think tastes awesome.

This recipe is inspired by my experience learning how to make onigiri, sushi, and gyoza with my college Japanese teacher, as well as some technique tips from Just Hungry.

I think maybe we'll make this a trilogy...we all love trilogies, don't we? Let's start with Part I: the Onigiri!

(Japanese rice balls with seaweed)
Sushi rice
Rice vinegar
Sea salt

Seaweed (nori works, so do those "sea veggies" things they sell now)
Sesame seeds
Plastic wrap
A small bowl
1/3 C measuring cup

Onigiri has simple ingredients, the trick is in the technique. First you should prepare your sushi rice. You can make as much or as little as you want, but 2 cups of rice should make you 6 Onigiri the size of your palm. 

To set up your station you should have a little bowl of water, a salt shaker, a sheet of plastic wrap, and a dry bowl to help with shaping.

To prepare the rice, you really have to do it by taste...that is honestly how I was taught, so I'm going to describe the correct flavor to you, and leave you to your good judgement. In the rice bowl, you add in a good shake of rice vinegar, a dash of salt, and a couple Tablespoons of sugar to start. Adjust flavors to balance the rice vinegar, and to achieve the stickiness you need to hold form. You don't have to add sugar if you don't want, but that is what Onigiri tastes like to me (sushi rice), so I still add it.

To assemble, take 1/3 C of the rice mix and plop it into a small rice bowl (could also be known as a finger bowl) that is lined with plastic wrap that has been sprinkled with water and a dash of salt. This method will keep you from chapping your hands with hot rice and salt. Bring the ends of the plastic wrap together and start twisting until you have a little rice pouch at the bottom, keep twisting! This technique helps to compact the sticky rice without sticking to your hands. You can choose at this point to form them into triangles or into balls. Remove the plastic when you achieve the desired shape. I formed triangles this time and rolled a piece of seaweed to add flavor, aesthetic, and even a convenient holder against the stick factor. Alternatively, you can roll the onigiri in sesame seeds, or add fillings like beans or fish.

This is a fantastic snack to add to your lunch or something to have after work/school. I love just having them in the fridge or hanging out on the counter to pick up on the go. They remind me of the scene in Miyazaki's Spirited Away where Haku gives Chihiro an onigiri snack and she loves it so much she is brought to tears, crying out her sorrows (it was also enchanted, but that is a great way to curb someone's panic attack). It is definitely a good comfort food. I think I'm going to make some more now!

Enjoy! And stay tuned for part II, which will have my recipe for Panko Chicken ^.~

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chicken Stock for the Soul of your Kitchen...and Stomach!

So, the day after that magnificent chicken has been roasted and the carcass is waiting in the fridge, it is time to spend some time on your chicken stock. Really, the active time is about 5 minutes, and every once in a while you have to check on it to see if you need to skim any of the fat off the top. I feel like making stocks intimidates some people, but it is ridiculously easy and will increase your cooking abilities ten-fold. Imagine having homemade stocks waiting in your freezer with your own kitchen's flavors to awaken a soup, stew, or a new sauce you've been wanting to try out. It feels good and tastes better! Plus, without all of the preservatives and excess noise that mass-produced stocks coming from a can or carton give you, you really are getting a healthier product.

I should probably tell you what kind of stock I have made in order to give you a good starting point. Chicken stock should be very simple, the flavor deriving from the carcass of a roasted chicken, that already has spent it's life hanging out with herbs, spices, and other aromatics. The bones have so much hidden flavor that is absolutely necessary to extract. Additionally, using the entire bird will make you a more sustainable cook.

You will notice that the recipe has a very simple list of ingredients. This is because the stock is a base for an infinite variety of sauces, stews, braises, soups, risottos, rice dishes, and any myriad of applications. Because of it's versatility, the end product (the stock) needs to be rich, but without flavors that will take over everything else. Therefore, you will not see me throwing in handfulls of herbs and spices *gasp!* I know...

Some ideas for stock use:
  • Measure out amounts of chicken stock into containers that can be frozen. You can choose the measurements based on your favorite recipes, or recipes that you wish to make in the future. Anytime you need some stock, you'll have reinforcements awaiting your order in the freezer. 
  • You can also put stock into ice cube trays and pop one out whenever you need a bit of richness in a sauce. 
  • Also, if you want in on a secret, the carcass can be boiled a second time, to make what Ferran Adrià called the "second stock" and use that to make your next stock even richer. I feel like this tip would be especially useful for someone who finds themselves using stock quite often. Also, a good idea in preparation for the holiday season.
  • You can use this same recipe to make turkey stock after Thanksgiving! Mind-blowing, I know :)

Basic Chicken Stock
Inspired by The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià
Celery (could use celery seed)
Chicken Carcass

For the stock that I made, I used the carcass from the roasted chicken that I made the night before. I stored it covered in the fridge (along with some of the drippings). For the aromatics, you only need onion, celery, and carrot. I believe I threw in a few cloves of garlic because I just can't resist, and I used celery seed instead of celery, which is a great substitute if you absolutely don't have any celery in the house. 

A little ugly, but I couldn't resist.
It's so exciting to see what it turns into!
Chuck everything in a big pot, no need to chop anything! Then pour in 8 cups or so of water, enough to cover everything and bring to a boil. Skim the foam from the surface and simmer for 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Strain everything through a fine mesh sieve and you have fresh stock! Store in the freezer up to six months in small containers. You only want to defrost what you are going to use that day, and in that case take it out the day before and store in the fridge so that it thaws correctly!

May you have many more delicious dishes coming from this important preparation task!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Not a baker you say? Try Irish Soda Bread!

I love homemade breads, but they can really be a pain.
A hard truth I’ve had to swallow is that high-quality bread is very expensive in the United States. Of course, when I’m met with a challenge like that, I jump straight to the recipe vault and try to create my own version.
I like to know where the ingredients of my food come from and how they are being prepared. Thus, I put myself through making things like hot sauce, jam, breads, crackers, etc. and find that they are much easier than I initially thought.
This particular bread also has some significance in Louisville, where the Irish are a part of our city’s history. The neighborhood Irish Hill was named for its original inhabitants of Irish (and German) Catholics who built up the working-class neighborhood as immigrants to Louisville in the late 1800s.
Today we see most of that Irish background in names and places, such as the Irish Rover on Frankfort Ave or what I like to call the Celtic Quarter on Bardstown Road where Molly’s, O’Sheas, and Flannagans entertain the Highlands on the weekends. Don’t get me started on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade … man, this city is awesome.
I digress … the homemade bread we are making today does have roots in that emerald island across the Atlantic, but it is also a very sensible bread to make at home. The ingredients are simple, easy to find, very affordable, and easily manipulated. The dough is soft and pleasant without requiring much kneading or beating or slapping or resting like most breads do.
This bread provides a dense loaf that saves well through the week. Plus, if you happen to find it a little stale, all you have to do is add some butter to a pan, warm it up and toast it in the pan with butter until revived. I don’t know if you’ve ever made bread at home, but if you spent 12 hours making 4 loaves and you found three of them stale the next day, you would probably be a little discouraged (I'm talking to you Homemade French Bread). Our dear soda bread nips that problem in the bud.
It makes a fantastic accompaniment to eggs, a good snack with apple butter, and of course the perfect companion for afternoon tea. So, get that dutch oven or iron skillet out and let’s get baking!
  • White Soda Bread
4 C All purpose flour
1 t Baking soda
1 t Salt
14 oz. Buttermilk

That is really all you need to make delicious bread.
If you don’t happen to have buttermilk and don’t feel like weathering the storm to get to your local supermarket, you can actually curdle your own milk with either lemon juice or vinegar. A tablespoon and a half in 14oz. of milk should make the milk curdle; you will see it separate and thicken after about 5 minutes. Stir it up and you’re ready to go.
Of course, actual buttermilk is the best … and because we have access to it, that’s what I recommend.
I cooked this in my iron skillet because it is non-stick and provides an even cooking surface for the bread. A greased and floured cake pan would work. Traditionally, it is cooked with a cover on (such as in a dutch oven), but I cooked mine without a cover and it turned out beautifully.
Preheat your oven to 425º
Sift all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and combine. Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Mix to combine into a sticky dough and lightly knead with floured hands, adding a bit of flour to make the dough more manageable. Do not over-knead because you will lose the gasses necessary to make the bread rise.
Form the dough into a round flat shape and cut a cross into the top of the dough and put it in the oven. After 30-40 minutes you should have a golden loaf bursting forth from your happy iron skillet or baking vessel.
However, you can’t get too excited because the loaf needs to rest. Technically, you are supposed to wait until the loaf is completely cooled, but seriously, who can do that? I cool it on a wire rack until I can handle it without discomfort. If you cut it too soon, the inside won’t be so spongey when you steal yourself a slice. It’s okay though, even if you are impatient, slather some butter on that happy warm piece of heaven and you’ll be content, I promise.
Wrap it in a tea towel to keep it moist. I found that wrapping it in foil and a tea towel lengthens the life of the bread. Enjoy warm with a hot cup of tea or cocoa on these winter nights. It is great to have around the house for pop-in guests at this time of year. There’s nothing better than sitting down to share tea or coffee with fresh homemade bread.
I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Nod to Health and Flavor: Curried Garbanzos and Parsnips with Kale Chips

Gasping for breath from drowning in the sea of cookie exchange leftovers, unyielding towers of homemade candy, and jars full of homemade miscellaneous, it is important to envision leafy greens, protein-packed legumes, and tasty fresh winter vegetables dancing in our heads. I don’t know about you, but after making giant batches of cookies and gift baskets full of holiday goodies, I was brought back very quickly to my need for actual food. We find ourselves deep into the first month of 2013 and I still find myself tripping over unnecessary excess from the end of last year... I digress in my frustration (and clandestine joy).

This bring us to my love affair with kale, especially in kale-chip form. I’m not talking about those $6.00 tiny plastic containers of 5-6 leaves of kale that were dry-baked and sprinkled with some unknown “flavor” substance. I’m talking about ripping up the leafy stalk myself, distributing it on a baking sheet, drizzling it with olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and tossing until all of the leaves get their fair share, then crisping it in the oven until it reaches its most wonderous form: that light, airy, completely gratifying crisp of a kale chip. It’s what I have deemed the whole-mouth crisp.

In my nerd-spells researching avant garde food and molecular gastronomy, specifically the works of Ferran Adrià, mouthfeel is of the utmost importance when you are aiming for real surprise and awe. Kale chips did that for me. They don’t shard or splinter off of the stalk, rather their leaves shatter as if they were lace into infinitely smaller crisps, crunching until the last particle has sung its song…and the flavor packs a wonderful punch along with all of the vitamins that the holiday diet of white sugar and cream were absorbing.
Take that Tostitos!

Paired with an impromptu curry comprised of parsnips, yellow peppers, garbanzos (cooked in bulk and reserved in the freezer for future use), onions and garlic, this meal was completed with the oh, so lovely kale chip. So fire up the stove, gather your winter veggies, and let’s get on with some merry-making for your health!
Curried Garbanzos and Parsnips with Kale Chips
Serves 4
 1 C Garbanzos (aka chickpeas), cooked
1 Parsnip, peeled and chopped. Remove any woody parts
1 Bell pepper, chopped
1 Onion, chopped
5 Cloves of garlic, sliced
Olive oil
Curry powder
Chili powder (Chimayo chili is my preferred)
Prep all of your vegetables and heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions first, this helps to distribute the flavor in the oil. Then you can add the bell peppers and parsnips and cook for a few minutes until they start to soften. Next add the garlic and sauté everything together until fragrant. Add your spices to the sauté and adjust for taste.

The last ingredients are the garbanzos, and I just stirred them in, put a lid on the pan and reduced the heat to low so that the garbanzos would heat but not get mushy. If you need to add oil, don’t be afraid! The flavors will distribute themselves and this can wait on the stove until your kale chips are ready.

Kale chips are super easy. Just heat the oven to 375º and tear up some kale leaves, removing most of the tough stalk (reserve for vegetable stock later) and drizzle evenly with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Agitate the pan every 10 minutes or so until it reaches your desired crispness. I think mine usually takes 25 minutes for my ideal crisp.

Serve the curry topped with the kale chips and prepare yourself for a flavor explosion with a textural surprise. Your body will thank you!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dinner for Champions: Roasted Chicken, Roasted Potatoes and an Onion Magnolia

Dear food-loving friends,

I want to take this moment to thank dear Ferran Adrià for making the most inspiring cookbook I have ever owned. I am now the proud, very fortunate owner of The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià. If you are not familiar with this title, you really should get acquainted. It is the collection of recipes that the staff at El Bulli shared before every shift at that amazing restaurant. The book really showcases the mantra that in order to make great food you must eat well too. El Bulli set the bar, so of course they were no exception.

My first endeavor into this book was to start creating stocks and sauces. The wonderful thing about the construction of this book is the attention to kitchen waste, and how it should be minimal. That is really one of my goals as a financially and environmentally conscious cook. I want to make good food and get the most out of the ingredients that I am fortunate enough to buy. Thus, I was able to roast a chicken, make a sauce from the drippings, and use the leftover "nasty bits" (great book by Anthony Bourdain as well), to make a delicious chicken stock. I was so excited I was beaming with joy.

If you are entertaining, a roasted chicken is quite possibly the simplest and most gratifying meal you could prepare. It is beautiful, it makes the house smell like you're a professional chef, the leftovers are great, and you can make chicken stock with it later! YES! I chose to pair it with roasted onion and potatoes, but it would be just as lovely with a salad or a risotto on the side.

In my humble opinion, this is the first meal that any cook worth their salt should know how to make.

Roasted Chicken
(adapted from The Family Meal)
Roasted Potatoes and an Onion Magnolia

1 Whole chicken
Olive oil
1 Lemon
2 Cloves garlic, crushed skin-on
2 Bay leaves
Black Pepper
Chili powder

4 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1 Large red onion
Olive oil
Chili powder
Black pepper

This chicken recipe yielded the most succulent and moist chicken of my entire life. The leftovers also saved well and retained their full flavor, making for awesome chicken sandwiches and salad.

Start by washing and drying the chicken inside and out, remove any feathers and cut off the parson's nose. Preheat the oven to 425º and take out a roasting pan.

Season the bird inside and out with salt (not too heavy, just seasoned) and rub with olive oil. This will help the skin crisp up and really let out its flavor. Then zest the entire lemon and rub the zest all over the outside of the chicken. Cut up the lemon and push it inside the cavity with the garlic. 

With a mortar and pestle or a spice mill blend up a combination of rosemary, thyme, and black pepper, and salt if you are using the mortar because it aids in pulverizing the spices. You can also add the bay leaf, as suggested by Adrià, but I just put the bay leaf in the cavity and the result was perfect to me. Take the spices and rub them all over the outside of the bird, bottom and top. 

Place the chicken in the roasting pan breast facing down and roast for 25 minutes. After that time, flip the chicken breast facing up and roast for the remaining 35 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow to rest. You can make a sauce out of the drippings with white wine and water, scraping up the cooked on bits and reducing them. Alternatively, you can baste the potatoes and onions in the pan drippings.
Roasted Potatoes and an Onion Magnolia

Roasted potatoes are a piece of cake, but this onion magnolia really stole the show. It's funny because it was inspired by my former employment at a certain steakhouse that serves a fried onion flower, which packs a whole 2,500 calories if you eat the whole thing by yourself (not including the sauce). It is a beautiful presentation and lovely to share, but my approach is not actually going to kill you in the long run... and I think it's even prettier ;)

Simply cube the potatoes in uniform pieces. You can choose to keep the skin on or off, especially if you choose to use red potatoes, which are perfectly acceptable for this dish. Season with salt, pepper, and chili powder and toss in olive oil until everything looks like it's got its fair share.

As for the onion, cut off the bottom just enough for it to stand but not separate its petals. Then cut off the top so you have a flat plane to slice into. Take your knife and score a cross-hatch patter until you are about 1/2"-1" from the bottom of the onion. When the onion bakes in the oven, it will soften and the scoring will allow the "petals" to bloom. The center of the red onion is pretty sturdy, so it stood up, allowing the outside petals to fall away, allowing it to look more like a magnolia than a chrysanthemum to me...hence the name :)

Brush the same olive oil and spice mixture on the onion as the potatoes and get some of the oil inside the onion if you can manage--it will redistribute in the oven. I arranged the potatoes around the onion in the center of a shallow casserole dish. I baked the potatoes and onion on a rack below the roasting chicken. First I put the chicken in, and then after that I prepared the potatoes and onion and put it in the oven until the chicken was completely done. Probably 45 minutes in all.

I took the chicken out to rest and the potatoes we allowed to cook for another 10 minutes to crisp up. At that point I took some of the drippings from the chicken and poured it over the potatoes and onion. What a good idea!

One of the most naturally beautiful things I have ever eaten.
We ate this family style, so we just got our forks in there and went to town. I served a sauce with the potatoes and onion. It was my basic aïoli sauce mixed with a dash of chili sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper

Bon appétit!

Up next? How to make chicken stock for the rest of winter! Also...following up on my New Year's goal of making more Japanese food :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Comfort in a bowl: Tomato-poached eggs

I know the season of the almighty tomato has passed, but there are actually some pretty impressive hydroponic tomatoes showing up on those sad supermarket shelves (I'm sorry, but nothing beats a shining mountain of heirloom tomatoes at the market). What brightened my day even more was seing that glorious Cento can of San Marzano tomatoes--best sauce-making tomatoes in the world!!! **happy dance** I don't know about you, but I find myself craving rich tomato sauces in the winter. They are warming, comforting, and are really hard to screw up, so they typically make for a quick meal.

There has been a lot of talk in the food world about poaching eggs in tomato sauce (or just the combination of egg and tomato), and for good reason. I often saw this in Spain, but paired with potatoes. My best example would be patatas bravas served with an egg sunny side up (check out my previous recipe on Patatas Bravas). It's that miracle combination of a velvety, golden yolk with rich tomato. It can't get any better, I promise.

In short, I just made a savory tomato sauce, didn't drain the water retained by the tomatoes, and when the flavors were well established, I cracked some eggs into the tomato sauce to cook until just set. I think that the velvety egg yolk stirred into the tomato sauce makes a really fabulous soup...which gives me an idea... Another alternative could be to add some roasted red peppers to the tomato sauce to intensify the flavor. A few Spanish piquillo peppers, if you could get your hands on them, would also be ideal.

Allow me to present you with the recipe:

Tomato-poached Eggs
4 Ripe tomatoes (or a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes), puréed
4 Cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
Black pepper
Bay leaf
Pimentón (smoked paprika)
Chili powder (Chimayo chili)

As you can see, we only poached two eggs this time and it was really enough. The presentation is beautiful with a simple soup bowl and that beautiful egg nestled in its warm bed of tomato joy. If you have more of an appetite, you can of course increase the number of eggs, just make sure not to crowd the pan so that it is just one big egg white with some yellow dots. Either get a larger pan or take it easy on the eggs.
As for the tomato sauce, you can really prepare it however you feel like that day. Mine is more spiced, but an herbed tomato sauce (with thyme, sage, oregano, etc) would be just as lovely. My sauce ended up having a sultry savory flavor accented by the bay leaf and smoked paprika. It tasted like so many dishes I had in the tapas bars in Spain and in the homes of the families who took care of me. To me that is comfort food, and since that was the objective of this dish my spice combination really did the trick.
First you heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Throw in the onion and sauté for a few minutes, then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Stir in the pimentón, chili powder, and bay leaf and heat for a few seconds with the onion mixture until you start smelling those spices bloom. At this point you add a splash or two of sherry and scrape up any bits that may have stuck to the bottom. Pour in the fresh tomatoes and stir well to combine. If your sauce is too thick, you can splash in a little water or chicken stock, but I don't think it will be necessary. Simmer the sauce for a good 10-15 minutes and crack in the eggs around the 12 minutes mark. They should poach for about 3-4 minutes and should be ready to plate.

It was rather soupy, so I served it in a soup bowl. If yours turns out thicker you can serve it on a slice of hearty, rustic bread or over rice or potatoes. However you serve it, it will be sure to satisfy.

Keep warm, keep hungry, and qué aproveches!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Year's Necessity: Black Eyed Peas

***Note: Sorry for the late New Year's post! Just coming down from the holiday buzz and back to full time work, and just getting around to posting this. Enjoy and I wish you all the best in the New Year!!!***

As a good Southern city, we are full of fantastic traditions from our unmatchable hospitality to our history of good parties and bourbon cocktails, and of course a food culture to be reckoned with. I am overjoyed to live here because I discover new culinary jewels everyday from our fair city. Because we are at such a crossroads, a multitude of good cooks have passed through our city and because we love our guests so much, those recipes stay in our already active kitchens.

This year I will continue to explore Louisville's food offerings. I want to go into the kitchens of our hometown and figure out what inspires us to create an endless flow of wonderful dishes. This is our food culture and I hope the coming year brings me a little closer to understanding it as a whole. I can't think of a better place to find local farmers who are appreciated and cooks who respect food. Such a combination can only bring us to great let's see what this New Year will bring.

In order to ensure good luck and prosperity, it is an absolute requirement to carry out the black eyed pea tradition. There are many ways to get these black eyed beauties in your diet, and I'll outline a few for you. However, this year I am going share the traditional recipe for black eyed peas served up with bacon, onion, garlic and spices and served over rice.

Some alternative ideas for black eyed peas:

  • Use them in place of garbanzos in falafel
  • Puree cooked black eyed peas and make a dip for pita or flatbread, season with cumin, olive oil, sesame seeds, and chili powder--I bet a little tahini would go well too
  • Prepare yourself some Texas Caviar. This recipe from Homesick Texan is the best I've found.
  • Whip up a Hoppin' John
  • Serve chilled black eyed pea salad on fresh blinis
  • Slow cook the black eyed peas with salted pork or a ham hock until they turn into some serious New Years prosperity...
Or, you can follow this recipe!
Traditional New Year's Black Eyed Peas
1 lb. Black eyed peas
3 Onions, chopped
10 Cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 lb. Bacon 
(my preference is a nod to Butertown's past: Fisher's Hickory Smoked bacon)
Chili powder
3 Bay leaves
1 T Homemade Chili Sauce (or your favorite chili sauce)
Fresh cracked black pepper

Get yourself a nice big pot and soak those beans. You can choose quick soak or overnight--overnight is usually the recommended. They will cook thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients. When the beans are soaked, drain the water and rinse the beans. Reserve.

In the bottom of your large pot fry the bacon over medium low heat. This temperature will keep the smoke level low, while rendering the fat you need to flavor the beans. Right when the bacon gets crispy, add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. At this time add the garlic and sauté until you can smell its fragrance. Before you add the black eyed peas you need to add the thyme, chili powder, and chili sauce, then stir around to toast a little bit. Do not add salt yet...there is plenty of salt in the bacon and we'll adjust the seasonings at the end.

Finally, you add the beans and stir until combined. Add 8 Cups of water and bring to a rolling boil. After that you simply lower to a simmer and tilt a lid on it. From there on you can go take a nap, start a movie marathon, or do whatever you think will take 2.5 hours of your time. I like to check on my beans every once in a while just to see how the flavors and aromas are developing, and to see if there needs to be more water added.

After those two and a half hours you will have some phenomenal black eyed peas. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

This is best served over rice or with a healthy side of cornbread. I can feel the good luck sweeping over me already!

Enjoy and best of luck and prosperity for 2013! Let's make it a good one!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Quick and Warm Winter Breakfasts: Pan-fried apples and Oatmeal

I lived in Austria for a year while studying abroad. During that year, the winter was the longest I can ever remember. There was a time when the sun didn't shine for 40 days, and the majority of those days were swirled in snow storms. I actually do have those stories of walking miles to school in snow up to my shins. Still, wouldn't trade those memories for the world!

The best part of that winter though was waking up and knowing that a warm breakfast was in my near future. We had so much fun sharing our recipes among our six roommates and five hungry neighbors (who were just as much our roommates) from muffins to breads to omelets to crepes and finally to today's recipe: pan-fried apples and oatmeal. This quick and easy breakfast is warming to the soul and will keep you well-filled until lunch, or perhaps beyond!

Pan-Fried Apples and Oatmeal
1 Apple, cored and sliced thin
1/2 C Oatmeal
2 T Butter
Brown or raw sugar
Apple cider (or water)

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add about a tablespoon of sugar and your seasonings and melt into the butter. Add the apples and fry in the sweet seasoned butter until they begin to soften. After a few minutes you can add the oatmeal and fry it up with the apples. When the oatmeal begins to toast you can add in your liquid. We added apple cider and it was amazing! I normally add water, so that works too, but the cider really packed a punch of flavor.  Finally, put a lid on it and lower the heat. The oatmeal should soak up all of the liquid and you will be left with a glorious bowl of happy, warm breakfast.

Bon appétit!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Meal to Celebrate: Simple Salmon, Roasted Fennel and Potatoes, and Asparagus with Fennel-Orange Gremolata

The Handsome Spaniard and I were fortunate enough this year to be able to spend Christmas together. The trip was full of fun and frivolity all around Louisville, and there wasn't a bad day among the festivities. We were always with good friends, enjoyed some fantastic nibblies, and celebrated the holiday as we all should, with smiles and tons of laughter.

The best meal we had, in my opinion, was one that we prepared together. Dilled salmon baked in the oven, roasted fennel bulb and potatoes, and asparagus with fennel-orange gremolata. For dessert we still had a little Spanish turrón leftover...if you've never tried turrón, it comes in many forms, but the traditional one is a sweet made of almonds and honey and is so incredibly delicious.

Sounds like a lovely meal, right? It helped to be in the best company in the world, at a table set with flowers and Christmas decorations. It's the small details that make the most unforgettable moments :)

For the salmon, I followed Mark Bittman's recipe, because salmon really is something that you should keep as simple as possible, especially if it is delicious wild Alaskan salmon. I melted a few tablespoons of butter in the oven pan in a 425º oven. I threw some dill in there and let it melt with the butter for about two minutes before throwing the salmon skin-side up on the hot pan. I let that sit in the oven for about 5 minutes, at which time I removed the skin (it peeled off like a dream), flipped it over, and returned it to the oven for another couple of minutes. We like our salmon underdone, so if you like it more well then you should add a little more time.

The fennel became the star of the side show, bringing its delightful flavor and its many variations to the table. For the roasted potatoes and fennel bulbs we simply peeled and quartered red potatoes, and cut the fennel bulb, green stalks removed and fronds reserved, about the same size as the potatoes. Tossed it simply in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted that up for about 40 min in a 375º oven. This side stayed warm set on top of the stove while the salmon was cooking.

The asparagus received a quick sauté in olive oil over medium high heat, then I topped it for a few minutes to cook through just until tooth tender...not soggy! The gremolata I prepared was not a true gremolata because I was lacking fresh parsley, but what we did make was a perfect compliment to the asparagus. I took 1/4 cup of olive oil and mixed in the zest of 4 clementines, and the chopped fronds of the fennel...a little salt and we reached perfection. It was light, the citrus rocked out the asparagus, and it was even nice drizzled atop the roasted potatoes and fennel bulb. I used the extra gremolata on toasted bread for the next few days.

If everything is prepped and ready, this is a really easy meal to time and bring out fresh. The natural presentation is beautiful and full of color, a perfect addition to a festive table.

I hope that your holiday celebrations were as magical and wondrous as mine! As you prepare for the New Year, I hope that you have many more great reunions and meals to share.
Happy New Year!

See you in 2013!