Jul 21, 2011

Summertime Socializing

"Summertime and the..." cooking should be easy! Caitlin was visiting Southern California and that was the perfect opportunity to have a small get together on a warm Monday evening.  We enjoyed great conversation and some scrumptious summertime fare with our friends and family.  This post is going to be a little different, a little more relaxed, and isn't that what summer is all about!
Caitlin's 'Roasted Garlic Basil-Pesto Crostini'

2 cups fresh basil, tightly packed
4 garlic cloves, roasted
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1 fresh baguette (choose your favorite, we opted for French baguette)
For the Ricotta Spread (optional, but recommended):
Fresh Ricotta 
2 or 3 Tbs Cream Cheese 
Extra grated parmesan 
S & P 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roast garlic cloves in the oven. While garlic is roasting, slice baguette thinly and bake until toasted.  Let cool.

Toast pine nuts in a small pan.  Make sure to watch them closely so they don't burn! Combine basil, toasted pine nuts, and garlic in food processor and pulse until chopped.  Add 1/2 of the olive oil and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the remaining oil and pulse until smooth again. Mix in the cheese and get ready to top your baguette.

To make your crostini more delicious you can make a ricotta-cream cheese mixture to spread on some of your slices of bread.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons to your tub of ricotta.  Mix well.  Add some grated parmesan (to your liking ) and salt and pepper to season. Spread on top of sliced baguette and top with pesto.  You can also add some sliced tomatoes (grilled or fresh) if you choose.  Serve immediately and enjoy! **The pesto is also great on pasta, pizza, or with grilled veggies too!

Monica's 'Summer Quinoa Salad'
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well & cooked
1 diced red pepper
1/2 hothouse cucumber
10 kalamata olives, pitted & diced
1 cup garbanzo beans
1/2 large avocado, diced
handful of basil, chopped 
juice of 1 lemon
salt (the salt of your preference)
1 tbs dried oregano
Olive oil to drizzle
Fresh pepper (optional)

Rinse and prepare the quinoa as directed.  Let cool.  

While the quinoa is cooling, prepare all the veggies and herbs.  Once the veggies are prepped and the quinoa is cooled to room temperature add the red peppers, cucumber, olives, garbanzo beans.  Add the oregano and squeeze lemon juice.  Drizzle olive oil and season with salt.  You can add some fresh pepper. 

Once the salad is seasoned, gently add the avocado and combine in the salad but make sure you don't smash the avocado.  You can also choose to just slice the avocado and lay it on top of the salad.  Top with fresh basil. Serve immediately and devour!

Summer music should put you in good spirits, especially when you are around your nearest and dearest friends and family.  We chose to listen to some of our faves.
1)  "Oh Yoko!" - John Lennon
2)  "Love and Happiness" - Al Green
3)  "Me Gustas Tu" - Manu Chao
4)  "Summer Days" - Bob Dylan
5)  "A Day in the Life" - Easy Star All Stars
6)  "Keep it Goin' Louder" - Major Lazer

Drink of Choice
Overall this was a meal with fresh and bright flavors - therefore, we opted for a few lighter wine choices.  We recommended a Riesling, Viognier, or Rosé. You could also opt for something like a fizzy lemonade which would also be perfectly delicious!
Would we make these recipes again?
Definitely!  Not only were they quick and easy...they are also incredibly tasty! It was great to be able to cook and entertain together while Caitlin was visiting Southern California.

Jun 12, 2011

Things to Make with Rolled Oats

The title of this post is reminiscent of a Jeopardy answer: "What are things to make with rolled oats?"  Upon experimentation we developed recipes for a few tasty treats: homemade granola, granola bars and banana oatmeal cookies. This post is partly inspired by the idea of using ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.  So, if you are staring at that container of rolled oats and are sick and tired of making oatmeal, try one of these deliciously healthy treats!
Granola Bars
Caitlin's Granola Bars, straight out of the oven before being sliced
Caitlin: Decided to make granola bars for a couple reasons: first, they're super easy and fun for kids to make. Second, you can get really creative with the ingredients and alter any recipe to fit your liking. One of my favorite snacks at work is a parfait of sorts with granola, yogurt, diced apples, honey, almonds and dried cranberries. It's a healthy, filling and a really tasty treat that tides me over until lunch. So when we talked about the granola post, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. I altered a few things, but the bars are mostly inspired by my mid-morning treat - plus a little chocolate thrown in for good measure. I sprinkled a little sea salt on top for a nice sweet and salty combination, and the end result was quite tasty. I highly recommend you try it - you can add other dried fruit, nuts or even shredded coconut depending on what you like. It's a great little treat for your lunch. They even got two thumbs up from a picky little eater who is very particular about his food.

Granola Bar Ingredient List
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raw almonds, slightly crushed
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
sprinkle sea salt

Preheat oven to 350. Lay oats, almonds and cinnamon flat on a baking sheet and toast in oven for about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, put butter, honey, vanilla and brown sugar - cook until fully melted and mixed. 
Take oats out and mix with the butter mixture, stir in cranberries and chocolate. 
In a baking dish lined with parchment, pour the oat mixture and flatten it out with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula. Sprinkle sea salt on the top and bake in the oven on 300 for about 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. 

 Pumpkin Spice Granola 
Monica's Granola
Monica: Both of the recipes I am going to share with you were inspired by a variety of things. For example, in this particular recipe I wanted to make a granola with pumpkin spice.  How many of us have pumpkin spice in our pantry, yet only seem to use it during the Thanksgiving holiday?  So if you are possibly wondering what you can make with pumpkin spice (even though it is nearly summer) try a pumpkin spice granola!

Sunflower Sprout Salad w/ Artichokes, Olives, & Heirloom Tomatoes
Secondly, I decided to alter both of the recipes I am going to share with you to make them not only tasty, but rather healthy as well. I was further inspired to make both of these vegan friendly due to a lovely vegan meal I was treated to recently. I am including a  picture, to the right, of one of my favorite dishes from that meal. (Oh, and although this is a bit off topic, let me just say sunflower sprouts were quite a revelation...a really delicious base for a salad.) 

Therefore, I took that experience to make the granola vegan and the cookies nearly vegan-friendly (the exception is the chocolate chips I used, which can be easily substituted). Both of these recipes will definitely satisfy your craving for something sweet, yet they will not leave you feeling guilty about consuming empty calories. So onto the granola recipe...

Pumpkin Spice Granola Ingredient List 
5 cups rolled oats
1 tbs pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup raw organic sugar
1/2 cup organic canned pumpkin
1/4 cup organic applesauce
2 tbs good quality vanilla extract
1/2 cup raw pepitas 
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup raw agave nectar

Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine oats, spices, and salt.  
In a medium bowl whisk sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, agave nectar and vanilla. Pour over oat mixture - until oats are coated evenly, spread onto baking sheet.
Bake for 20 min, remove from oven, stir.  Bake for an additional 15 - 20 minutes until granola is golden and crisp. 
Remove from the oven and stir in pepitas and golden raisins.  

Let cool completely.  Then, enjoy!

(Nearly Vegan) Chocolate Banana Oatmeal Cookies
Monica's Oatmeal Cookies
Monica: Ok, now to make these 100% vegan you can used cacao nibs or omit the chocolate entirely. Instead of chocolate, you could substitute dried fruit like cranberries or raisins, or you could also add the fruit for an extra something special.  If you prefer, you can cut the sugar substantially because the smashed banana is usually sweet enough. To use the least amount of sugar possible, test the batter once you mix in the banana and then decide whether you wish to add sugar or not. These cookies are absolutely delicious.  Everyone I shared them with really enjoyed them (and I have some finicky friends and family).  My favorite part about baking these: absolutely NO BUTTER!!! I don't bake very often because I try to avoid butter at all costs. This recipe really struck my fancy and I hope it becomes one of your new favorites. 

Oatmeal Cookie Ingredient List
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbs good quality vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon (more to taste if you prefer)
2 1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs
1 large banana, smashed
*1/2 cup raw organic sugar (optional, depending on your sweet tooth)
dash of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Note about cinnamon, if you like cinnamon, sprinkle more in the batter to your liking.
On a cookie sheet (make sure it is non-stick) arrange the cookies by scooping them with an ice cream scoop. Make sure there is enough room between cookies (they will spread as they bake).
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, checking to make sure that the cookies don't brown too quickly. They tend to bake quite quickly, just watch as the edges begin to brown.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  

Should make about 2 dozen cookies.

Caitlin: I have a thing for motown and soul. I absolutely love it; especially when I'm baking. I was recently introduced to this great band, Fitz and the Tantrums. This is a catchy song that's reminiscent of one of the greatest eras of music. Check out the video here.
Monica: I think when you bake, you need to listen to music that you can sing and/or dance along to. 
1)  "Ready for the Floor" - Hot Chip
2)  "On the Floor" -  J.Lo/ Pitbull (Guilty!  I do like this song.)
3)  "El Baile y El Salon" - Cafe Tacuba
4)  "Deja" - Sidestepper
5)  "Burnin' Down the Spark" - Nancy Sinatra

Drink of Choice
Iced Green Tea with a squeeze of lemon.

A Recipe to Remember?
Definitely, there is so much you can do to alter each recipe and make it your own and you will feel good about making and eating these delicious treats.

May 22, 2011

Pot Pie: 2 Ways

Chicken Pot Pie is a classic example of comfort food. We took the idea of a basic chicken pot pie and added our own inspiration;  Caitlin added artichokes and parsnips to her pie while Monica deconstructed the dish, using buttermilk biscuits as her "crust."  The great thing about pot pie is the versatility: you can experiment with different veggies and herbs, as well as make it with various meats or go veggie. This is definitely a dish that you can add your own signature stamp to; it's always fun to make food your own!
Caitlin's Version with a traditional crust
Caitlin: Well summer is supposed to be coming soon, however you'd never guess up here in Eugene with this lovely rain interspersed between sunny days. Needless to say, chicken pot pie still makes a great comfort dish this time of year - rain or shine. As many of you know, we're avid watchers of Top Chef and Carla won the Jimmy Fallon episode with her rendition of chicken pot pie. From what the judges and everyone around the table said, what made her dish spectacular was the crust on the bottom of the bowl as well as the top. Couldn't agree more. It's a little disappointing when you break into the pie, take a bite of the gravy and veggies but soon realize that there's no crust to enjoy on the bottom - almost makes it not worth eating. Now, that being said, I made chicken pot pie for dinner one night with quite a few people and I couldn't bring myself to make anymore crust, so I let the bottom go bare - major faux pas on my part, but it was a last minute thing...
Anyway, one great thing about pot pies is that it allows you to use up all your leftover veggies in the fridge that are on their way to rot city if you don't use them soon. I had large amounts of carrots, parsnips and corn that needed to be used, so what better way then to throw it in a pot pie. I also added peas, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, squeeze of a lemon and tad of white wine for extra flavor. It all went great together with the buttery crust - even the kids will enjoy this one!

Monica's Deconstructed Version with Buttermilk Biscuits
Monica:  I love pot pie, especially when I am craving something that is warm on a cool night.  I am not a fan of pot pies that have too much cream or are full of a flour based gravy and not enough veggies.  I decided to try something different with my version.  I usually make a pot pie with a pie crust bottom and mashed potato topping, but this time I wanted to take the pot pie apart and use buttermilk biscuits as my pie element.  Since I am not very familiar with making food with a bit of a Southern flair, I followed the Neely's recipe for buttermilk biscuits virtually word for word, however I modified the cooking temperature (which I will note on the method portion) in order to make sure the biscuits were properly baked.  I also love peas and added peas, carrots and roasted corn to my veggie mix.  The roasted corn when mixed with the biscuit and gravy was such a great element to the otherwise traditional mix.  I hope you enjoy my version of a Southern inspired dish with a modern flair...Bon Appétit y'all!

Ingredient Lists & Method
Caitlin's Crust Recipe
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water


Place flour, salt, sugar in bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture and process about 10 seconds until mixture resembles course meal. Add ice water in a slow and steady stream until the dough holds together, but no more than 30 seconds. 
Alternatively, mix dry ingredients then cut the butter pieces in with a knife, or use your fingers to mix. Add water and mix until it holds together.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Divide into two pieces and place onto two separate sheets of plastic wrap. Flatten and form two discs. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

When you're ready to us it, roll it out on a floured surface until 1/2 inch thick. You can adjust the size of the discs depending on what size bowl you'll be using.

Monica's Biscuit Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons ice cold butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
(Since I am no biscuit expert, this is the Neely's recipe I found & used word for word, only variation, I lowered their recommended oven temperature to 425 for better baking results)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Slice butter and put on a plate in the freezer.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or a fork until it looks like coarse sand. Add the buttermilk and continue to cut the dough together. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently bring together. Gently press the dough into a rectangle until it is between 1/2 and 3/4-inch thick.

Use a round cutter that has been floured to cut the biscuits. Place in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.Remove biscuits from freezer and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet so they are touching each other. Bake for 20 minutes
Chicken Pot Pie Filling
(You can use any variation of this filling according to your preference of veggies..we both made similar fillings with different veggies)
Boneless Chicken Breast
Fresh Roasted Corn
Carrots, small dice
Parnips, diced
Artichoke Hearts
Chicken Broth
Fresh Lemon juice
White Wine

Preheat oven to 375. Saute whatever meat and veggies you plan on using in butter. Add flour and stir for about 1-2 minutes. Slowly add stock and stir to thicken. Season with s&p or fresh herbs, wine or lemon juice. You can also add cream, if you want a creamier stock, or even cheese. Let it cook for about 10-15 minutes until you get a nice, thick filling.
If you're making the traditional crust, line the bottom of a ramekin with crust, fill it about 3/4 of the way full. Place crust over the top and press down the sides. Brush the crust with eggwash and make 3 slits in the top. Bake on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the crust is browned, and the filling is bubbling out of the slits.
If making the deconstructed version, cook the filling about 40 minutes on the stove. Spoon into a bowl and crumble the biscuits over it.

We both decided to use different veggies. Caitlin incorporated parsnips and artichokes in her pie.  Monica opted for peas, roasted fresh corn, and carrots.  Have fun with what you like! If you want to make it with beef use beef.  If you want to make it veggie, omit the meat and make a veggie based gravy with veggie stock.  

Caitlin: I was feeling a bit folksy with this one; I had a nice mix of the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Dylan, Ellis (a great folk singer that I was recently introduced to), My Morning Jacket and so on.
Monica: Music for the evening meal...stuck to some old/new American classics to go along with this classic Southern inspired dish (as Southern as a girl from Southern California can be).
1) Bob Dylan:  Just Like A Woman
2) Johnny Cash: I Got Stripes
3) B.B. King: Let the Good Times Roll
4) Avett Brothers: I And Love and You
5) Willie Nelson:  Crazy

Drink of Choice
Pinot Grigio, light enough to go with this heartier meal.

A Recipe to Remember?
Yes!  It is a classic comfort food that is open to various interpretations.