Monday, August 30, 2010

Caprese Salad - the next level

Everyone (I think) has had a Caprese salad at least once in their life.  You know, the slices of fresh mozzarella cheese layered with red tomatoes, garnished with fresh basil and some vinaigrette?  It's a summer staple in my house.

I catered a political event a couple days ago, my first time - ever, and it was a blast! but that's another blog entry :) and was trying to think of a way to upscale the basic Caprese salad.  The goal was to showcase how simple it is to cook really GOOD, fresh food.  I found a recipe by Ms. Paula Deen that sounded yummy, except she *shudder* added mayonnaise to mozzarella cheese immediately making this Jersey girl's stomach scream "TRAVESTY!!!!" sort of like the Texans penchant for putting ranch dressing on PIZZA....Besides, adding a big ole' glob of mayo is not in your best nutritional interests.  In Paula's defense, I guess if you buy bagged mozz, it's a little dry, she just wanted to moisten it up a bit.  I use fresh.  Fresh, fresh, fresh...It's SO good, why use that dried up bag stuff anymore?  Especially since I buy mine from local farmers.  YUM! 

I omitted the mayo, used fresh mozz instead of bagged, and omg was it good!  It's easy to prepare, people will rave about it, and think you know WAY MORE about cooking that you do.  Plus, it looks pretty, and it's the perfect thing to serve when you have guests coming over.  You can make them ahead of time, and refrigerate them until you want to pop them in the oven.  Easy~!

Tomato Caprese Canapes (printable recipe is HERE)

2 boxes of mini phyllo shells - you find these in the freezer section next to the phyllo dough and puff pastry.  They will sort of look like this:
3/4 cup of tomatoes, fine dice - Cut 'em small - remember you are sticking them in these teeny phyllo cups.
2 tsp minced onion
1 heaping tsp. finely chopped fresh sweet basil pleasepleaseplease don't use dried - the flavor just doesn't compare.

4-6 pieces of bacon, cooked and crumbled Remember I told you the easy peasy way to cook bacon in the oven? 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes to desired crispness.
1 cup grated fresh mozzarella
pepper and garlic powder

Combine the tomatoes, onion, basil.  Let sit in a colander for a few minutes to drain excess liquid.  Add pepper and garlic powder to taste - about 1/8 tsp of each.

Put about a teaspoon of the tomato mixture in a shell you have placed on a cookie sheet. If you have a melon baller, use the large end - perfect portion size and it fits neatly into the cup.

Now, take a pinch of fresh mozzarella and plop it on top.  Next, take a bit of crumbled bacon and garnish.

Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the mozzarella is melted.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you like, sprinkle a bit of smoked finishing salt on the top before serving.  The bacon I use is from a local farm - it's super lean, and not as salty as the store brands, so I don't feel guilty induging in a pinch of Halen Mon Smoked Sea Salt :).  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salsa made easy part 1

The bad thing about summer is it is HOT.  Especially this year in Maryland where the humid fairy must be in ecstasy, because it's been more humid than normal, even though we haven't had a lot of rain.  The good thing about summer are garden tomatoes.  The flavor is just superior to whatever you can get in the store.

If you are a gardener, or even if you are not, there is a great place to buy a few plants if you have a smaller garden, or don't want the challenge of starting from seed.  I love ordering the plants online, because then I don't have to weed out the weaker ones if I start them in peat pots.  Call me weird, but I feel bad tossing the little guys, so I let The Tasteful Garden do it for me.  They send me plants ready to put into the ground grown on their organic farm in Alabama y'all.

Each year I plant 2 eating tomatoes, a small cherry/berry type tomato, and a paste/cooking tomato.  This year I had a blonde moment and ordered TWO small tomatoes - not from Tasteful Garden - although that was a mistake - I wanted to "try something different...You know the saying "tried and true?" well...SOMEONE came up with that for a reason!   one is a berry tomato that I think is tasteless, the other is a cherry tomato that is.."ok" but not up to Tasteful Garden calibre.   However, they are quite prolific, thanks to hubby's fascination with manure.  Right now I feel like Captain Kirk in that episode where the ship was invaded with Tribbles that just kept multiplying.

 That's how I feel about those damn little tomatoes.  I can't give them away fast enough.  I'm always chucking one of the bigger ones that seem to go soft at the drop of a hat, and nothing irritates me more than reaching into the basket and having my finger go through one of them like mush.  Yuk.

The sauce tomato is doing well, I harvested a boatload off it the other day, and made my obligitory Roasted Tomato Salsa for hubby's work.  If I didn't make it, they would probably come camp on my doorstep chanting "SAL-SA! SAL-SA!, SAL-SA!" until I obliged.

If you've never made homemade salsa, then maybe you better not start.  Because once you do, you'll be spoiled for life, even if you buy Newman's own Salsa on a regular basis (which is the next best thing to homemade)

I will tell you SUCH an easy way to make salsa, it's not funny.  If you're careful, you don't even need to clean the pan.  How easy is that?  Plus, you don't even have to peel the garlic, even though I taught you a cool way to peel them painlessly.

What you need is: (and Printable Recipe is HERE)

12 roma tomatoes The oblong ones..."why?" you ask? well, they're meatier, have less seeds and less juice than your eating tomato.  These bad boys are MADE for cooking.  You probably COULD use regular tomatoes, but if you do, try to find some meaty ones.
1 red onion, cut into quarters
4 cloves of garlic skin on
1 decent size jalapeno, cut in half and seeds removed
a few chipotle peppers packed in adobo sauce If you don't know where to pick those up, go to the Spanish food aisle at your supermarket - where all the GOYA products are - you will see a small can there with Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  buy it :)  There are different brands, but it will look something like this:

Salt, pepper
1/4 cup of fresh chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime

1.  First, line a cookie sheet with tin foil.

2.  Cut the tomatoes in half (I cut in quarters to make it easier to process later) and lay them skin side up in the pan.  Quarter the onion, put it in the pan, along with the jalapeno pepper you've deseeded and halved, and then throw the cloves of garlic in the pan.  You don't need to give them any breathing room - just make it work! :)

3.  Drizzle with Olive Oil.

4.  Broil about 10 minutes, or until the skin on the tomatoes begins to brown (note the key word here is begins to brown)  The time may vary, depending on your broiler, so start watching it closely after FIVE minutes.  When done, remove from oven and let cool.  Go watch your favorite show, put your feet up - everyone will think you slaved all day over this salsa, so pour yourself a glass of wine, and fool them all.

5.  Once the stuff is cool:  The garlic will pop right out of its skin.  Put the contents in a food processor and process to desired consistency.  (you may have to do it in batches)  Add about 2 chipotle peppers from the can, more if you want more heat.  You can also throw an extra jalapeno on the cookie sheet.

6.  Place the salsa in a bowl, mix well, and add the 1/2 lime juice to the salsa.  Add the cilantro and adjust seasonings.  If you need more heat, process a couple more chipotle peppers, or if you don't want the smoky flavor, add some hot sauce. 

I think one jalapeno is enough for 12 tomatoes with a chipotle pepper or two.  If you love chipotles (like I do) omit the jalapeno.  However, my hubby doesn't like smoky tasting stuff, so I throw a jalapeno in there to put him off track, and trick him into thinking there is no smoky chipotles in there.  After 20 years of marriage, you learn to work around the quirks.

I love this salsa.  You could skip the broiling step, and make salsa cruda, but honestly, I prefer mine this way.  If you get too heavy handed with the peppers, just broil up a few more tomatoes, onions, and garlic and make more salsa.  It will go quickly, I promise you :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Nuvo Riche - Forays into culinary weirdness partie cinq (5)

Continuing on the hunt for the weird, I found a new liqueur called Nuvo which comes in a pretty pink bottle shaped like a lipstick tube. Ooops, pardonnez-mois - it's supposed to look like a bottle of perfume, not lipstick.  My bad.  It's from France, the same people that collaborated with the Dutch to bring you ChocoVine.  It's basically a passion-fruit/peach/raspberry infused vodka with a spritz of sparkling wine to make it the first carbonated liqueur I really hope the French don't lynch me because I called their sparkling wine "carbonated". 

I picked up a bottle - $19.99 for 200 ml.  ouch.  For the uninformed, that's exactly 3/4 of a cup plus 1 TBS  and 1 tsp.  But hey, it's a liqueur, you don't drink a lot of you? 

Now...I am wondering why they called it "Nuvo".  Are the French aware that there is a female contraceptive in this country called "Nuva(ring)"?  Quelqu'un n'a pas fait leur travail! because you see, if you HAD done your homework, you would have realized this, and perhaps called it something else.  I know that you think Americans are too stupid to realize the play on words - "Nouveau" (French for 'new') phonetically spelled = "Nuvo",  but better to have someone mispronounce "nouveau" than mistakenly thinking you are selling birth control whilst in an alcoholic haze at some bar :-P

Drunk girl to bartender in stage whisper: "Heyyyy...gimme one of them NUVO drinkie-poos.  Thish cute guy nex' t'me wantsh to *giggle* YOU KNOWWHAT, and I forgot my diaphragm"

There is also a Magazine by the name of NUVO - sort of along the lines of Vogue or Elle...what does that do with copyright infringement I wonder? Ah well, It's a Canadian magazine, so I guess it doesn't matter - we'll let them worry about it, eh?

Nuvo is 15% alcohol by volume - at the low end of what liqueurs usually have.  It comes in a pretty pink bottle that any normal guy would eschew.  Of course, go to their website, and they have male celebrities galore who aren't afraid to embrace their "feminine" side posing with NUVO bottles.  They also have Jamie Foxx's "Blame it on the A-a-aaa- al-KA-hol" song blaring in the background because he gives a shout out to "NUVO"  Have you heard the lyrics to that song?  Maybe it's "trendy", and I suppose you could say Jamie's song is really a public service message about the dangers of overimbibing, but honestly...that's a stretch - he just wants to get in the chick's pants, and decides to feed her copious shots to make her more receptive to the idea.  Especially because he decided to pitch a tent in his pants - hey...HE said it, I didn't :-P  But he also gives a shout out to Patron, Grey Goose, Hennessy, and blue curacao.  Oh, and he mentions the "n" word, but I guess it's ok if he says it, cos' he's a big star.  I'm gonna stop now before I go off on another tangent.  One thing about Jamie, he doesn't discriminate.

The good thing about Nuvo is their press is pretty short, sweet, and to the point, even though it's camouflaged in a boatload of video clips.  The only stipulation they make is that you can't drink it if you're not trendy.  Because Nuvo is "for the trendy individual".  Do they send Cool-o-meters to every liquor store just to make sure that no dorks buy their product?

I paid my $20, and put the bottle in the fridge to chill.  Meg and I popped it open one night and did a taste test.  It looks pretty.  It's bright pink, bubbly, and...pretty.

It's such a girly drink.  Charlotte from SATC would love it.  In fact, ALL the SATC girls would love it.  They'd make their cosmos with it when they wanted to feel giddy.  I cannot imagine ANY guy drinking this.  Sorry.  And if you do drink it...Sorry. (I did read a blog entry this one guy wrote - he drank THREE bottles in one night and lived to tell the tale.  He was writing a review on it - although after three bottles of anything alcoholic, most people would be in love with it).

It's sweet - obviously because it's a liqueur.  It's bubbly, and it's actually pretty good.  However, there is a danger of downing this stuff like soda pop because it sort of tastes like a fruity soda, and the alcohol is not very distinct.  The potential for getting-snockered-before-you-know-it is high. Which is probably why that guy downed three bottles before he realized he couldn't walk. Two weeks later it's still in my fridge, we never revisited it.  I think mixed with white wine to make a spritzer would be nice - or cut it with some champagne or prosecco.  I may even try it in a cosmo instead of the cointreau.  Their version of a cosmo calls for grand marnier and lime juice shaken with ice, strained, then topped off with Nuvo.  I am going to try it with cranberry juice, vodka, splash of OJ shaken then topped off with Nuvo.  I'll let you know how it tastes - if it's good, then I'll call it  a Nouveau Chrismo because *I* know how to spell "nouveau"  :-p

*update* tried the "Nouveau Chrismo" and it's yummy.  The addition of more vodka and the cranberry juice with a splash of OJ somehow bring the passion fruit in the NUVO to the forefront so it's not that sweet.  It looks like my regular take on a Cosmo - but here's a pic anyway.

Would I switch out NUVO for my Limoncello? No.  Why? because I can buy a larger bottle of decent Limoncello (or make it myself) cheaper than I can buy less than a cup of carbonated liqueur in a novelty bottle that is supposed to look like a perfume bottle, but looks like a tube of lipstick.  Qu'elle dommage.

In between writing this blog and posting it, I also popped open a bottle of Prosecco, so I decided to mix Nuvo and Prosecco in equal parts and came up with this:

It was good, but I prefer my Prosecco unadulterated.  I enjoy the flavor, it doesn't need anything else.

I haven't found a recipe for it on the 'net yet, so since it's Italian Sparkling wine and French Sparkling liqueuer let's just call it "C'est Amore" or we can get all trendy like the gossip mags and combine the two names - you know like "Brangelina" for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?  We could call it "Chasecco", or oh oh oh...I like this one even better - and the irony does not escape me "Propagne" Pronounced "Propane" like what we use in a gas grill- because drink too many of them, and you too, will be gassed as the old saying goes - Then again, if I was the manufacturer of Nuvo , I would probably just spell it "propane" because I wouldn't know it was something that you buy for your grill, and I wouldn't want all the Americans pronouncing it "Pro PAG nee" (like my hubby would) :-P

Conclusion: It's cute, it's pink, it's bubbly, it's good.  Is it worth paying $20 for 200 ml? Maybe once.  Unless you're young, hip, trendy, and single - then you may want to keep a bottle of this around for girls night in.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Forays into culinary weirdness, Part 4

OK...I was at my local liquor store - North Ridge Liquors the other day picking up some wine.  I love this place, because they have wine that NO one else has.  I found a bottle of Arroyo de la Vega Tempranillo that the waiter at Aida Bistro swore I would have a very hard time finding...hah! PSYCH!  He obviously didn't go to the Boarman bros. :).

I was at the checkout and this Dutch wine caught my eye.  It's called Chocovine.  Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?  especially if you're a woman - Chocolate + wine?  all they need to do is add a guy with a six pack and I don't mean Beer and almost any woman would be in heaven.  My brain was screaming ESCHEW!!!!!, but the guy at the counter (I think it was the Boarman bros dad - I saw a resemblance) was telling me how everybody loved it Mistake #1 - latching onto the phrase "everyone LOVED it".  I told him I prefer my wine unadulterated, as well as my chocolate - that I'm more of a purist.  He persisted "I never had anyone return a bottle yet" until you met me.  He told me red wine and chocolate were MEANT to go together, like peas and carrots, bread and butter. Ummm...really? then why didn't someone think of this earlier? I think a bunch of Dutch chocolatiers and French vintners were sitting around passing the pipe that was filled with a grassy illegal substance here, and were trying to figure out how to make a profit off a bad batch of red wine...

"Yah sure...vy don't ve put chocolahte in der vine yah?"  
"ohhh c'est une bonne idee!!  MAGNIFIQUE!!!!"
"yah, call it..."CHOCOVINE!"
"Oui! and we sell it to zee Americains who weell buy anysing if zey are told eet's tres bien pour vous et chic, non?"

Here is the copy of the "pitch" for their product:

Chocolate and wine can be paired in a way that features the best and the most interesting aspect of each flavor profile.  But they are also both incredibly complex and pairing them has always been a daunting process, often leading to dreadful results you can say that again.  The right chocolate paired with the perfect wine can create a near-orgasmic taste experience. Did anyone else chuckle when they read that sentence? But the wrong wine opposite a too-sweet chocolate creates nothing but horror.  I hear you laughing! They use a Cabernet (you could have fooled me). Many have taken the challenge...and have failed. Yes, and you have too, but you are a bit delusional.

After years of research, however "research"...yeah,  right - just another excuse to drink alcohol before noon :-P , the perfect union of wine and chocolate is not only a reality but the outcome is a true match made in heaven!  LOL come on...who wrote this?? With ChocoVine, the two concepts are blended to perfection to create pure bliss. "concept" - something conceived in the mind.  Gee... and here I thought chocolate and wine were a reality.  My bad. I guess that means I can stuff my face with Salazon Chocolate until I am in a state of orgasmic bliss, and my hips will never know the difference, since chocolate is a concept Yay!  Additionally, not only is wine and chocolate a tantalizing blend for its sensational taste, but research shows that they are both rich in antioxidant, making it a healthy combination as well. THERE IT IS - the "good for you" pitch...that should have been a red flag right there - it's just another way a company tries to get you to buy their  product because it contains the fotm as far as "healthy for you" foods go :-P (please reference my "Chocolate tasting" and see "maca")
I know that the above description is a bit long, but it really is an amusing read, I had to share that with you.  Do Europeans really think that Americans are that stupid??

I wound up buying a bottle because I was in an adventurous mood.  Chilled it, popped it open and took a swig.  It's like Bailey's.  Except thicker.  You can't taste any wine (much less Cabernet), and it has that burning sensation you get when you drink brandy, whiskey, etc...I love the Norwegian word for whiskey - "Brennende vin" which literally translated means "burning wine" (I hope I spelled that correctly)  If you like sweet, creamy drinks like Bailey's, you may like this stuff.  I didn't.  My days of drinking cream liqueur are over it may have something to do with that time in Lake Placid with hubby and two Irishmen we befriended at the hotel bar...never buy an Irishman a drink.  EVER. you will so regret it in the morning.  We consumed mass quantities of various beverages - a veritable smorgasbrod of ETOH, and cream liqueurs featured predominately in some of the shots we downed, and it also was featured predominantly on the way back up, if you catch my drift..., and I certainly did not expect a thick creamy concoction from the description on the label.  Since when is cabernet "thick"? What makes this stuff thick??? ugh.  Hubby tried it, didn't like it.  Daughter tried it, didn't like it.  I didn't like it.  Batting .000 here.

I mentioned this madventure to Jason - he's the farmer I drive with on Wednesdays when I work at my local CSA, Breezy Willow Farm.  He told me his mom likes that sort of stuff, so I said I'd bring the bottle on Friday and we'd have a little tasting party.  They popped the bottle open - RJ hadn't tried it when I left, but Jason and Casey did, and both liked it.  They didn't swoon over it, but they liked it.  If I didn't have the Lake Placid bias, I might like it too, no lie.  I think the only way it would taste reaaaallly good, is to put it in a blender with some vanilla ice cream.  We used to make Brandy Alexanders that way, and they were scrumptious.  They both agreed it was a bit strong on its own, but diluted it was a definite maybe.  Since then, RJ has tried it, and has fallen in love with it.  Not to excess mind you, but she finds Chocovine very tasty over ice.

So, get it if you like stuff like White Russians, Bailey's, Godiva,  and any other cream liqueur.  Pass if you're a purist or drank with a couple Irishman after offering to buy them a round to show them good ol' American hospitality.

Continuing my forays into culinary weirdness - I just found a sparkling liqueur called Nuvo.  This may make it to my summer list of things to try...*heads off to Northridge Liquors in search of an elusive bottle*