Monday, December 5, 2011

Fireside Picnic - Salad with Roasted Chicken, Beets and Gorgonzola

After a long weekend of a Christmas yacht parade on the bay, two dinner parties and late bedtimes for everyone, there's nothing better than putting kids to bed early and watching a great holiday movie by the fire.

Except maybe a fireside picnic and wine.

Since it was a beautiful wind-free Northern CA day, we had decided to walk to our favorite burger joint and eat lunch.  (Somehow, I justified, the calories were cancelled out with the walking.)  But I knew that my moderation lifestyle dictated that having a lighter dinner involving non-fried veggies was in order. 

Having been known as the Salad Queen when I was in Texas, salads are one of my favorite ways to use leftovers.  Red Wine Braised Chicken from the night before was hanging out in the fridge and beets galore were in my veggie drawer.  So I decided our light dinner.  My kids enjoyed theirs with Little Gem lettuce (look like mini Romaine heads), cubes of Comte cheese, chicken, a little bacon, eggs and my super easy and anchovy-free Caesar dressing.

The adult version that became our picnic incorporated everything the boys had but also included the beets along with the beet and turnip tops and baby chard that came in my veggie box.  Gorgonzola was our cheese of choice.  The final harvest of my heirloom Black Cherry tomatoes had finally turned red so those were tucked alongside as well.  It all came together to create what makes a great salad--crunchy, sweet, savory, creamy, tangy.  

So go raid your fridge and make a salad.  Use those greens that are normally thrown in the compost.  Radish, turnip, and beet greens are all perfectly fine to use. Look for Little Gem lettuce, too.  It's great to just split lengthwise and drizzle with vinaigrette. 

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, November 28, 2011

Risi E Bisi with Homemade Butter - Ultimate Cook What You've Got

Risotto is on my Rock Star list.  If you know how to make it, you can have an inexpensive but impressive meal in 30 minutes using whatever produce you have and it will always be comforting.

There are some key techniques to risotto, the most well-known is all the stirring that is involved to coax the creamy starch out of the rice.  Another is the fact that it should have a consistency that allows you to spoon it into a pile on the plate then shake the plate until it's a puddle.  If it stays in a pile, it's too thick and totally unacceptable.  The final point is that a good amount of butter is briskly stirred in at the end to further enhance the creaminess and create that acceptable consistency.

Last night, for our Sunday night dinner, I was looking for something comforting to make since we were all less than enthusiastic about our Thanksgiving break being over and busy school/work pace starting up the next day.  A quick peek in the pantry and freezer turned up some frozen peas and arborio rice. I remembered the Venetian Classic Risi e Bisi and went about prepping.  Comprised of simple ingredients--onions, garlic, rice, wine, broth, peas, butter and cheese--it's Italian comfort food at its finest.


After I had prepped everything and was stirring in the wine, I realized with all the Thanksgiving baking, we had used the entire 4 pounds (YIKES!) I had bought at Costco.

Putting on my CWYG thinking cap, I realized I had cream which we all know is the basis for butter.  Going back to school days, I poured about 1/3 cup in a small canning jar and put my family to work making butter.

Though it looked a little weird,
after I drained the whey off, it worked beautifully and we had the creamy risotto I had hoped for.

CWYG Stats

The List Items - olive oil, onions, garlic, rice, wine, broth, peas, butter, parmesan cheese

Risi e Bisi 
1 branch fresh thyme

6 cups chicken broth or more as needed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup wine
2 cups frozen peas
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup parmesan plus more for sprinkling

Strip leaves from thyme and combine with broth in a large saucepan.  Bring this to a simmer and keep nearby for risotto.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in  a large deep-sided skillet.  Stir in the rice and toast slightly in the oil.  Add the wine and cook until it is completely absorbed.  Add 2 cups of stock and stir constantly until it's almost absorbed.  Add the stock 1 cup at a time until the rice is creamy and when you try a piece it only has a slight bite in the center.  If you need to add more stock to the pan, do so since you will need a little reserved to stir in right when you serve.  Add the peas, butter and parmesan and stir until the peas are just cooked through and the butter and cheese are well incorporated. 

Just before serving, stir in another ladle of broth then serve immediately topped with extra cheese and good sprinkle of pepper.
Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Crispy Sage Pastry Topped Pot Pie with Fennel Apple Slaw

Aaahh...Thanksgiving leftovers.  Most people love them.  I don't.  I'm a leftover person for sure, but it has to be something like Chinese, Mexican, stew or Pizza.  Something with a lot of flavor initially that gets better with time. For some reason, the leftovers at Thanksgiving are never very appealing.

This year, we had really not much beyond turkey and gravy left, which was completely fine with me.

A partial box of phyllo pastry in the freezer beckoned to me when I was gazing in there for a Saturday night dinner idea.  I had the requisite celery, onions and carrots in the fridge along with a really nice piece of turkey.  So with a little prep work, the leftover gravy fortified with a bit of white wine and a simmer I had the filling done in about 20 minutes.

The phyllo came together as an on-the-fly recipe.  A tiny bunch of sage I had found at the bottom of my veggie box the day after Thanksgiving was sitting in a juice glass-turned-mini-vase and looking so inviting and perfect to go with the sage-flavored turkey in the filling.  Going through the motions of pulling off the leaves and chopping gave me time think about how much I like brown butter, sage and parmesan on my popcorn, so I brought out the parm to add to the mix. (I'm the mouse in "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" when it comes to cooking.)  After the butter brushing and layering with sage, black pepper and parm , the final baked result was this beautifully flaky pastry that would have been a great snack by itself. 
But perched on top of the filling it became a much quicker, crispier and delicate pot pie over the traditional heavy two-crust recipe.  If you don't have phyllo (which I normally don't, but had leftover from a catering gig.) You can make a single pie-crust (great gluten-free version) and mix in sage, black pepper and parmesan.  Dock the crust (prick it well with a fork) then bake it flat on a cookie sheet. Serve on top just like this.

With a shaved bulb of fennel and a Granny Smith apple left from pie-baking, we had a lemony fresh side side salad in minutes.  This does work equally great with leftover chicken or pork.

CWYG Stats
Seasonal produce:  celery, carrots, onions (or leeks),  fennel, apple, sage

The List items:   garlic, parmesan, butter, white wine, lemons, pie crust ingredients (flour--GF or regular, salt, butter), leftover turkey, chicken or pork

Crispy Sage Pastry Topped Pot Pie with Fennel Apple Slaw
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup each chopped carrots and celery

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup white wine
4 cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken
3 cups leftover gravy*

Crispy Sage Pastry (Or sub as mentioned above with pie crust)
10 sheets of phyllo
4 tbsps butter, melted
3 tbsps chopped sage
3 tbsps grated parmesan
black pepper to taste

Fennel Apple Slaw
1 bulb fennel, shaved
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced or matchsticks
juice of 1/2 lemon
drizzle of honey
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the olive oil until softened.  Add the white wine and cook until it has mostly reduced.  Add the turkey and gravy.  Simmer on medium low while you make the pastry.  (If the gravy breaks down and is too thin, make a cornstarch slurry and blend it in by teaspoonsful until it is the consistency of a thick stew.)

To make the pastry (unless you have made pie crust, then follow directions in body of post.), brush each layer of phyllo with buter and sprinkle with sage, parm and pepper.  Brush the top layer with butter and lightly sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt and pepper.  Cut into 4" rectangles or triangles or you can cut to the size of the top of the bowl. 

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until well browned and flaky.

While pastry is baking, stir together all the slaw ingredients and let stand until ready to serve.

When pastry is ready, serve on top of the filling and serve the fennel apple slaw alongside.

*If you didn't have leftover gray, you can make a quick version with freshly chopped herbs, 3 cups of chicken broth and 3 tbsps of cornstarch.  Whisk it all together and use in place of gravy.  It will thicken as it comes to a boil.
Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quick Fish Tacos - Great Use for Tuna

So I've been hooked on the idea of a toasted corn tortilla with avocado since I first read about it on Shutterbean.  And apparently it's avocado season since they are extremely affordable (2/$1) everywhere.

While the simple tortilla and avocado was a great snack (so good in fact, I ate three in a row), I was needing some protein today for a more substantial lunch.  An empty cheese drawer led me to look at the half a can of tuna sitting on the counter after my tuna-loving son had made a sandwich.  Drained well, folded it into the charred tortilla and topped it with the avocado salsa I had quickly chopped together, it was so completely great, that it will become a regular lunch. mayo or dairy means only good-for-you fats, no gluten since it was a corn tortilla, high-quality protein from the tuna.  I'm feelin' pretty good right now!   Thanks Tracy for the great idea!!

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, November 21, 2011

Breakfast Rice Pudding - Vegan!

So it's holiday week and 3 of the 4 of us are sniffling and coughing.  The boys requested rice for breakfast and since dairy is completely unappealing to me under these circumstances, I stayed away from the cheese they put on theirs.

All I had was arborio rice so I cooked it like the rice in this recipe.  All I could think about was how good rice pudding sounded so I made a quick version.  A little coconut milk, salted almonds and whole organic cranberries.  It is so good and so soothing to a scratchy throat.  I just got a message from a friend who listed a multitude of food allergies and though I'm thankful I don't have to deal with that, I couldn't help wondering if she could have this.  She can!  (If you're reading this MP, try this today!)

Enjoy even if you're not sniffling and coughing (and I hope you're not!) And remember to consider what you are thankful about this week.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Best Gluten Free Pizza Ever - World Wide Pizza Party

When I discovered the Five Minutes a Day method for bread baking, I was ecstatic. I was a bread making wonder.  I made Artisanal style bread right out of my own plain-jane oven.  Everyday! I was successful.  I felt great!

Four months later (and probably a hundred loaves later), the bomb dropped.

No more gluten for me.

I discovered all the substitute gluten-free things, but pizza was really irreplacable with a GF sub.

I literally cried the first time my family ordered pizza.  Pizza is communal and I couldn't commune.  I tried several gluten-free variations from different sources.  Everytime, we all's not like Real pizza. And eventually I gave up.  (I have since found out there is a Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book with gluten free recipes which I have not read but will be buying soon.)

Since then my condition has improved and I can have gluten in moderation.   So I immediately went back to making bread like crazy from the original Artisanal Bread in Five Minutes a Day boule recipe.  I even made grilled pizza using that recipe.  It was awesome.  When I realized I was beyond moderation on the gluten, I decided to pull back.

At about the same time, I attended the Foodbuzz blogger Festival a couple of weeks ago.  Geeking out completely upon seeing Jeff Hertzberg, the co-creator with Zoe Francois of the Five Minutes a Day method, he asked if I would be interested in participating in the World Wide Pizza Party on November 15. Taking a millisecond to agree, he handed me their latest book, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day.

I read it cover to cover the next day and was overjoyed to see a Gluten Free Pizza Crust recipe and lots of ideas for using it beyond the basic pizza.

You see, the the Five Minutes a Day method makes it possible for even the busiest mom to make bread on the fly and with this recipe I was able to do the same with pizza. Gluten Free, even.  Upon tasting the "Barbecued Chicken Pizza" (pg. 124-125), it received the best review a gluten-free recipe can receive, my kids both agreed "This does not EVEN taste Gluten Free." That was Sunday night, but since lighting was bad, I decided to do the unthinkable.

I made HOMEMADE pizza for school lunches yesterday morning.  I made 3, count 'em, THREE, pizzas yesterday morning before my kids left for school at 7:30.

It was easy-peasy with the dough already hanging out in my fridge, ready to roll, literally.

Parchment paper on top and bottom with a sprinkle of rice flour tames the sticky nature of gluten free doughs.

Once it's rolled, you can top it right away, but I decided to parbake it first to keep the cheese from browning too much.

I do recommend having a pizza peel to roll it on and slide it into the extremely hot oven (550 degrees!!).

You can make your own sauce with this recipe or look for our favorite new pre-made BBQ sauce (J. Lee Roy's--ask for it.  NO HFCS!) Then we had cilantro and bell peppers from our CSA veggie box, along with a few shallots since we didn't have the red onions called for in the book.

I had a rotisserie chicken from the weekend so we shredded that up and then used a combination of smoke mozzarella and sharp cheddar.

My youngest son (who also practically drinks the sauce) had it for breakfast and lunch.

Next to use up some more of my veggie box, I made a sauteed kale, Kalamata olive and smoked mozzarella flatbread.  This wasn't in the book, but there were several flatbread recipes and white pizzas calling for spinach and other greens that inspired it.

The result was a slightly burnt edged kale with gooey cheese and sharp olives.  The combination of toppings was good, but the best part is the crust.  It is so great, it would stand alone as a very basic flatbread with nothing more than sea salt. It really was fantastic and the cornmeal in the crust gave it a nice chew.  See the finished flatbread at the top of the page.

Pizza's a great way to Cook What You've Got.  Use up those bits of cheese, veggies you're not sure what to do with even leftovers. (From the book...Chicken Pot Pie Pizza & Curried Sweet Potato, Lentil and Arugula Pizza.)

There are so many other recipes, that I expect to post many times out of this book.  Now pizza night on Friday is doable.  Get out there and get the book!!  Now.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Orecchiette with Corn, Bacon and Green Beans

Since they were toddlers, I've taken my kids to farms.  We regularly talk about food as a family whether it's about what's on the menu next or the how sad the food industry is in the US, especially in terms of school food. They begged me to watch every episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, in fact.

They are well aware of food labels and what's not good.  My youngest at the age of 3 was asking me as I read a label in the grocery store "Mom, does it have hydrogenated oils."  He's 8 now and completely understands HFCS, hydrogenated oils, that the color in Gogurt comes from bugs and that if you can't say it, in general, you shouldn't eat it.  (Ethnic foods excepted, of course.)

So, I shouldn't have been surprised when Harry came in and asked if he could cook dinner.  Maybe the surprise factor was that it was 5 o'clock and he didn't have a plan.  Never wanting to squelch creativity, I said "Yes," told him he had to "Cook What We Got" (sorry about the improper English but working on branding) and hoped for the best.

After I saw several appliances coming out of the cabinet and half the fridge emptied onto the countertop, I decided to see if he had a plan.  Fresh corn and a box of orecchiette were his inspiration and apparently he had seen someone blend corn and milk together on TV and make a sauce so that's the path down which he headed.  However, he also planned to throw red peppers, shallots and green beans right into the sauce.  So, after a minor meltdown and a small battle - complete with the "I quit" statement thrown in - we came to terms together that about the foundations of cooking and the importance of having at least some idea of technique  So he regrouped and realized that it would be best to use the corn cream as a sauce and saute everything else.  I watched him and have recorded it as he did it.

After blending the corn and milk, and he decided that straining out the corn and just getting the starchy milk would be better so that was his first step.

Then came the sauteing steps. He sauteed shallots, garlic and green beans in fat left behind from frying bacon.  Then he added the corn cream to the mixture. 

It was a beautiful thick sauce with no flour, cornstarch or other thickeners.

Then he added the pasta, pasta water, and cheese.  Topped off with bacon, it was super delicious.

It was brilliant!!!  (As is he!!)

Some tips:
If you haven't tried orecchiette, do!  It means "little ears" in Italian for good reason.  They are only made by the better pasta companies (we used De Cecco) so the quality is excellent.  They are slightly chewy rather than just a doughy bite.  Plus they are like tiny bowls to hold the sauce with each bite. If you don't have it in your stash, though any short pasta will definitely work.

Also, if you don't have fresh corn, (we're still getting it from very local farms in CA) bookmark this recipe and save it for next year.  I haven't tried it with frozen corn but my gut tells me that it would be too watery and would give the same creamy consistency.

This is a classic Italian pasta method in which the pasta water is crucial to the sauce.  Save at least two cups before draining the pasta, or simply use a "spider" to lift out the pasta into the skillet and you'll have access to as much of the pasta water as you will need.  If you have leftovers, definitely add some pasta water, broth or milk before reheating.  This turns into a gloppy mess otherwise.

Finally, let your kids cook with your loving guidance.  Let me know what they create.  Or let yourself become a kid again and go nuts in the kitchen then let me know what you create!!

CWYG Stats
Seasonal Veggies - corn, green beans, onions, red pepper

CWYG Items  - bacon, whole milk, shallots, garlic, oregano, parmesan cheese, pasta

Orecchiette with Corn, Bacon and Green Beans
4 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1 lb orecchiette or other short pasta
3 oz bacon, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb green beans, stems removed
1/2 cup parmesan cheese plus more for serving

Blend or process the corn, milk and oregano til fairly smooth.  Using a fine-meshed strainer and spatula, strain out the fibrous bits and discard.  You will be left with a velvety sauce.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil, adding 2 tbsp salt just as it starts to bubble.  Add in the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes or until just barely opaque in the center if you bite it in half.  Remove at least two cups of pasta water before draining or if the saute is ready when the pasta is, toss it right in and save the water in the pan.

Meanwhile, saute the bacon in the olive oil until somewhat crispy but not black.  Remove and drain on paper towels reserving the fat in the pan.  Add the shallot and saute for a minute until softened.  Add the garlic and green beans. Saute until the beans are bright green and tender.  Add all of the corn cream and allow to cook and thicken slightly.  Add the pasta, the toss to coat well. Add 1 cup of pasta water.   Add the parmesan then stir again until the parmesan is well incorporated.  If it seems too thick, add pasta water until it looks like a creamy sauce surrounding the pasta.

Serve with a crumble of bacon on top and pass the parmesan for sprinkling at the table.  A good grinding of fresh black pepper is great, too, although Harry disagrees.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Friday, October 21, 2011

Indian Inspired Stew with Cilantro Chutney and Brown Basmati

It's havest time and with a crossover of seasons, there are so many veggies to choose from.  To capitalize on this, I decided to create a flavorful stew for my clients and it was so good, I made the same for my own family that night.  The rice and chutney were last minute additions to empty my veggie drawer and make room for my next round of veggies that was coming in the next couple of days.

With carrots, celery, onions, sweet winter squash, potatoes, green beans and chard along with sliced chicken, this stew is packed with vitamins.  The cilantro chutney adds a healthy dose of vitamin C with cilantro and jalapenos.  The spices are warming and healing all at the same time, so no matter if your having an extended Indian summer as we are here in Cali or you have had your first snow, this stew will be fabulous. 

Feel free to add or leave out anything on the list.  This stew will lend itself to turnips, sweet potatoes, celery root, kohlrabi or any other roots.  All greens will work in place of chard and cauliflower would be a perfect sub for green beans.  Sub any peelable winter squash for the Kabocha (butternut is the easiest to peel with a vegi peeler, but you can knife-peel an Acorn or Delicata) Add few chickpeas for additional protein or a lot in place of chicken for a vegetarian version.

Seasonal Veggies - Kabocha squash, chard, organic red potatoes, green beans, organic celery, organic carrots, cilantro, jalapenos

CWYG List Items - canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, coconut milk, chicken broth, olive oil, agave nectar, lemons

Indian Inspired Stew with Cilantro Chutney and Brown Basmati
For a perfectly cooked brown rice, check out this blog. Feel free to substitute 1 tbsp curry powder for all the spices if you don't have the individual spices.

Olive oil

2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp each cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, paprika and dried ginger

12 oz chicken, sliced thin

1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch of chard, leaves and stems separated and both sliced thinly
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 red potatoes, cut into 1/8ths
2 cups peeled and chopped winter squash
1 cup green beans, ends broken off and cut into 2" lengths
2 cups chicken broth

14 oz whole tomatoes
1 cup chickpeas (or 2 cups if not using chicken)
1 cup coconut milk
To serve:   
Cilantro Chutney, recipe follows
Cooked Brown Basmati rice
Plain yogurt

Mix all the sea salt and spices.  Toss the chicken with half the spice mixture.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Saute the chicken until it is no longer pink.  Remove and set aside.  Add onion to the skillet and cook until lightly browned and softened.  Add the garlic and remaining vegetables except sliced chard leaves. 

When vegetables are slightly softened, add the remaining spice blend. Saute until spices are fragrant then add chicken broth.  Bring to a rolling boil then reduce heat to medium high and let cook until the chicken broth has reduced and thickened. 

While the chicken broth is reducing, drain the juice from the tomatoes (reserve to use in another soup, you can freeze it) and then chop the whole tomatoes into small pieces.  Add to the stew along with the reserved chicken and the chickpeas. 

When you can see the broth has thickened, add the coconut milk.  Let cook for another minute or two then taste for seasoning.  Add salt if necessary.

Serve over the rice and serve at the table with small dishes of Cilantro Chutney and plain yogurt.

Cilantro Chutney
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1 small bunch mint, leaves only
1 clove garlic
1-2 jalapenos
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp agave nectar
1 tbsp olive oil

Blend everything together and set aside to meld.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Grass-Fed Greek Burgers with Watermelon Radish Tzaziki

It's art on the plate.  A radish.  Not just any radish.Fuschia radiating to light pink framed by chartreuse. It's a Watermelon Radish. It's discoveries like this in the heirloom produce world that cause me to continue to refine my own art (or craft, however you perceive cooking.) 

Usually a colorful surprise in my winter veggie boxes, we received 4 of them along with black radishes a couple of weeks ago.  Being a hearty root, they get a longer than usual stay in my veggie drawer.  The lack of cucumber for tzaziki brought it out of the drawer out last.  

Cut into matchsticks you have a pop of purplish pink.  But shaved on a grater and added to Greek yogurt, you have a pink-hued, flavorful tzaziki that was the perfect topping to cinnamon and oregano spiced, feta- and chard-filled, grass-fed burgers.

A self-proclaimed burger expert, my youngest son says that only burgers cooked in a seasoned cast-iron pan are real burgers.  Grilled burgers don't cut it for him, so with no propane in the grill, I did it his way and I have to say...I agree.  They were juicier and had an awesome flavor from charring on the hot iron surface.  You decide what works, but if you grill, be forewarned that the feta in the burgers can cause a lot of sticking to the grates if they are not well seasoned. 

To complete the burger meal, green beans were our french fries since they were in our veggie box but since this is potato season for most of the rest of the country, you can make quick oven fries by slicing potaoes into sticks then tossing with olive oil, oregano and salt.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crispy.  (Set the fries on a metal cooling rack over a cookie sheet for the crispiest version.)

You can also serve the burgers on top of spinach or lettuce and make it a low-carb meal.  The juices from the burger actually meld with the tzaziki to make a fabulous dressing.

Let me know how you cooked yours and how they turned out.  If it's your first time to use grass-fed beef, tell me your opinion.  It will be a bit different from conventional corn-fed beef that's widely available.  I'll also be happy to answer any other questions you may have.  Comment below and I'll get back with you or email me.

Seasonal Veggies -  green beans, watermelon radish, garlic, chard, onions, lettuce, Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, potatoes (in lieu of green beans)

CWYG Items - Grass-fed ground beef, olive oil, feta, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, egg

Grass-Fed Greek Burgers with Watermelon Radish Tzaziki

Try to find 100% grass-fed (and finished) beef or buffalo.  It's as lean as chicken and has the same Omega-3/6 ratio as wild salmon (in can eat wild salmon at $10-15/lb or you can eat grass-fed hamburgers at $5-6 a pound and get the same effect on your brain and heart.) plus you get the iron from beef.  If you have pepperoncinis or olives, feel free to add these to burgers or as a topping.

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 head chard, leaves only, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef or buffalo
3 oz feta, crumbled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp sea salt
To Serve:Watermelon Radish Tzaziki, recipe follows
Romaine lettuce or spinach
Whole Wheat Buns or Pitas, optional
Quick Oven Fries or Green Beans steamed and tossed with olive oil, salt and cherry tomatoes, optional

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Saute onion until softened, then add the garlic and chard.  Saute until the chard has totally softened and shrunk.  Squeeze out as much extra liquid as possible.  Transfer the chard to a large bowl and crumble in the ground beef, feta, egg, spices and salt.  Mix well, preferably with your hands.  Form into four patties and set on a plate into the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare the tzaziki and shred lettuce if using.  Make your side dish now while you're at it and toast your bread, too.

Heat a large skillet or your grill.  Cook the burgers until they register 160 degrees internally.  Place the burgers on top of the buns or lettuce then top with tzaziki.

Watermelon Radish Tzaziki
Since watermelon radishes aren't readily available everywhere, use whatever radishes you can get in your area, or leave it out and make the yogurt topping with herbs and add extra lettuce to your burgers.

If you don't have Greek yogurt, but you do have plain, you can quickly make thickened yogurt that will work just the same.  Simply spread the yogurt into a thin layer on a couple of layers of paper towels on a cookie sheet.  Let stand for 5-10 minutes then scrape off with a spatula.  You will hopefully have very thick yogurt and the paper towel will be soaked with the whey from the yogurt.  Plan to start with twice as much yogurt as you will need.

1/2 cup grated radishes (any variety will work)
3/4 cup Greek-style yogurt (6 oz)
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic, minced
juice of one lemon

Mix everything together and let stand for 15-20 minutes.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saying GoodBye to the Farm with Fresh Corn Chowder

Saying goodbye is never easy.  I live half a country from my family and no matter how long our stay is when I go home, it's all I can do to hold it together at the airport and not cry.  This weekend my son experienced the same thing.  He's held this bunny at Gibson Canyon Farm since the bunny arrived at only a few weeks old.  He named him Bill and we made at least a weekly trip there to give him a bunny fix.  Every week he asked for the bunny and every week I've had to play bad Mommy and say no.

At the end of last week, in preparation for his half-birthday celebration (What!? Half Birthday!? Cue rolling of eyes, right?  Really it's no big deal, it's just a good reason to buy sugar cereal once a year and enjoy it while watching Saturday morning cartoons as a family. That's it, no party, no cake, no presents, just simple acknowledgement.) he asked if we could go "work" (AKA Mom & Dad work while I hold Bill the Bunny) at the farm. Upon arriving after our sugar rush breakfast, we learned that it was the last week for the farmstand to be open. It didn't hit me until we were about to leave and I saw my youngest holding "his" bunny.  Begging incessantly when he found out the bunny was being given away, I managed to stick to my guns and not leave with the bunny.

But he was truly mourning the thought of having to leave Bill there.

I feel the same when the end of harvest comes and especially when I've become friends with the Sue the "farmer".  (Quotation mark explantation: She's an extremely elegant, beautiful real estate agent that happened to love gardening and animals enough to go for her dream of having a farm!  Not exactly the farmer stereotype.)

In order to hold on to the moment as long as possible, I do a little shopping before leaving.  I round up beautiful, fat, late-harvest white corn, red organic pears and lots of heirloom pumpkins. A complimentary rainbow colored bag of sweet peppers that were past their prime for selling but perfect for roasting joins them.  Then with tomatoes still choosing life, we stretched out our time a bit more by picking as many sugar-sweet Sungolds and Sweet 100's as we could fit in a paper bag.

Finally after almost three hours at the farm, it was officially time to say goodbye.

My own personal sadness was augmented when my son made the mature choice to put the bunny back in the cage. I truly almost lost it.  I knew it had been a tough choice for him to go from defiantly saying "I'm not going to leave without the bunny" a few minutes before to willingly letting him go.  Letting go is something we all have to learn, but always hard just the same.  So hard it was, leaving the farm, Sue, Bill the Bunny and the almost barren fields reminding me that the dark days of winter are just around the corner.

Honoring my friend Sue, and what she has labored to produce, I decide, is the perfect way to weave my sadness into something delicious. Fresh. Corn. Chowder.

Though I've made another version of corn chowder before, this version makes great use of a variety of end-of-season produce while the other is good for winter since it's pantry ingredients.

Go to Local Harvest and find out where farms are near you.  Find out the names of the people growing the produce.  Get to know them.  Buy lots of stuff.  Find out when they open next year and frequent them through all the seasons.  Learn how to use the unusal things that they might grow.  Ask if they have a CSA so you can personally have a stake in the farm.  These farms are our only source of truly safe food.

Find a farm then tell me...What did you make with your harvest?  Email me, comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter and send pictures, recipes and feedback.

CWYG Stats
Seasonal Ingredients:  Corn, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes
CWYG LIST Ingredients:  Bacon, onions, garlic, masa harina, half & half, cream, chicken stock

Fresh Corn Chowder
4 fat ears of corn, shucked and kernels cut off, cobs reserved for stock
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/4" thick strips
2 small or 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted, peeled and seeded peppers (I used a mix of sweet reds and jalapenos)
1/2 lb yellow potatoes, chopped into 1/4" pieces
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 qts corn stock or chicken stock if no time to make stock
1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour used for tamales)
1/4 cup half & half
3/4 cup cream (or if no half & half use all cream)

To serve:
plain yogurt
chopped tomatoes, or halves tiny tomatoes like I used
chopped cilantro

For Corn Stock:
Place cobs in at least 3 quarts of water along with 1/2 an onion, 2 cloves of garlic and a sprig of thyme.  Bring to a boil, remove any scum and let reduce down to 2 quarts.

For Chowder:
Render fat out of bacon.  When it's crispy, remove to a paper towel. Add onion, peppers and potatoes.  Stir to coat with bacon fat.  Add the garlic and stir again before add the stock all at once.  Bring to a hard boil.  Skim off any scum then let it continue to boil on high until the potatoes are soft. 

Stir the masa harina into the half & half then whisk into the soup.  Reduce heat, add cream then continue to simmer on medium high until thickened.

Serve with a scoop of yogurt and sprinkle with tomatoes and cilantro.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Les Oefs - Eggs Elevated

I have an unadulterated love for France.  When most Americans tend to lean to the "the French are rude" side, I find myself on the defensive.  Every country, just like every individual has faults, but I think the Franco-American relations would do well to live and let live on many accounts.  Now, admittedly, I'm pretty much only concerning myself with dining and cultural elements.

On our trips there, we have been amazed at how many Americans expected the French to accomodate their typical dining habits, rather than simply complying with the French culture.  Hands are always above the table not below.  Coffee is not served with dessert, it's a post-dessert beverage and then only in thimble-sized bracing shots of thick espresso. (YUM!)  You are not entitled to bread before dinner (nor a plate to go with it) in a restaurant.  You simply don't turn up your nose at the sometimes overwhelming "aroma" of the liquidy cheeses oozing at the cheese shops, no matter how stinky they are.  And you don't get eggs for breakfast!

Omelets, quiche, and other egg dishes are served on casual bistro menus as lunch or dinner.  For us, they were the saving grace of traveling with a toddler in this marvelous country.   Harry was perfectly happy tucking into his Gruyere-oozing omelet on our many lunches out while we tried the regional specialties whatever they may have been.  Upon returning, we decided to adopt this at home as well. 

Finally, being outed as a perfect protein and not the cholesterol increasing villain they once were, eggs are my friend with Cook What You've Got.  When I've reached the end of my proteins in my fridge and freezer and shopping is not part of my day, eggs are always there.  No matter what you have in your fridge, eggs will play nice.  Vegetables, bits of meat, any number of cheeses.

But my favorite, and the simplest, way to make them is with brown butter and herbs.  Simply beat 6-8 eggs.  No milk, cream, seasonings.  Nothing but eggs.

In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter in a tablespoon of olive oil - this increases the smoking point of the butter - and throw in hearty herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme.   No need to remove the rosemary from the stem.  It will get crispy so you can crumble it over the eggs.  When the herbs are crispy and the butter is turning amber, remove the herbs to a paper towel.  Let the butter brown a few more seconds, then add the eggs. Immediately start stirring to create medium sized "curds". When the eggs are barely cooked through, remove from heat to stop the cooking process but keep stirring.  Before serving, crumble the herbs over the top, then sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper.  At this point in the year, tomatoes are great with this, though we had them, we also had lovely pannetone so we simply toasted it and enjoyed it alongside the eggs.  A light, fruity red wine or buttery Chardonnay would complete your French bistro egg experience.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chocolate to the Third! - A progressive chocolate tasting

a) NO!
b) Maybe?
c) Okay, twist my arm.
d) None of the above

My answer:  d) None of the above.

I was able to barely contain my YES when the good people at Foodbuzz asked me, as part of the Tastemaker program, if they could send me three Ghirardelli Intense Dark chocolate varieties in exchange for me doing a tasting with various foods and beverages.

The Intense Dark chocolates were new to me, though Ghirardelli has been my mass-produced chocolate of choice for years.  When they first arrived though, I didn't have the greatest expectations.

Chocolate bars from the majority of my experiences are waxy.  Arriving with a completely melted and almost-hot "cold" pack, I had even worse expectations for the Ghirardelli bars.  Wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, I laid them out carefully on my granite counter waiting for them to be rejuvenated and firmed up by the cool surface. When I could wait no longer, I tried each one solo.  No waxy mouth-feel, melting perfectly on my tongue, I was pleasantly surprised.  The individually wrapped squares that were included in the shipment weren't so lucky.  Fraught with "bloom," no doubt having to do with their encounter with the heat, the squares served their purpose as treats for my kids.   The bars, however proceeded to go on a culinary journey with me.

As usual, I applied the Cook What You've Got philosophy and looked around to see what I had to start the journey.  Tiny, sugar-bomb strawberries still available at local stands here in Northern CA, were sitting sweetly in the fridge.  They and the Twilight Delight (72%) variety chocolate bar were amazing as solo acts, but they paired up to become fabulous when served over leftover crepes from our weekend breakfast.  Transformed into a simple sauce, the intense coffee-like flavor in the Twilight Delight (which I loved) was tempered when melted with equal parts heavy cream. 

Our Midnight Reverie (86%) tasting began with a recommended pairing with gourmet marshmallows.  Short of selling out on my own concept and going to a local boutique and buying gourmet marshmallows, I looked in my pantry and found two store-brand, stale marshmallows.  While I wouldn't recommend that pairing, the chocolate certainly elevated the shoddy mallows.  The chocolate all alone with nothing but a glass of Scott Harvey Syrah was a festival of dark chocolate covered cherry goodness. The final few ounces were chopped and folded into the brownies we made on the fly for our Improv Food & Wine Pairing. Adding just the right note of "darkness," they kept the brownies from being overly sweet.

Sea Salt Soiree was hands down the family favorite.  We got a full bar as well as the aforementioned less fortunate squares.  The boys were just shy of a fist-fight over who would get the last wrapped square. Though we could have joined in, we decided to keep our tasting a little more refined. I vamped on a recommended pairing of candied orange peel or dried cherries by using the only interesting dried fruit I had on hand - candied ginger.  We had a bottle of Cline Family cellars Nancy's Cuvee sparkling wine chilled so we decided to see how all these elements would play together.  The delicious balance of salt, sweet and warm, roasted nuttiness of this chocolate variety was more harmonious with the spice of the sweet ginger than the drier, less sweet sparkling wine.  But always seeking peace in the world, we decided to try them all together.  The salty-sweet chocolate coated ginger bite was amped up by the effervescence of the wine to create a perfect, not-too-sweet ending to the evening.

So thank you Ghirardelli for helping me boost my creativity by using your products and to Foodbuzz for giving me the opportunity to try something new.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Cook What You've Got - Improv Food & Wine Pairing Party

Special ingredients, a week's worth of salary for groceries, untested recipes to impress guests and weeks of planning.  It's a Dinner Party, right? 


Let me simplify it for you:

Cook What You've Got!

It's how I manage to spend less on a month's worth of groceries for four - two hungry, growing boys included - than most singles or couples do (without "couponing"! Extreme or otherwise.).

With no income for three months in 2009, it was how I was able to feed my family fresh, delicious and balanced meals that did not include the processed foods which make up the majority of meals for low-income families.(Which ultimately led to the development of this concept.)

What does it mean?

"Use local, seasonal produce and what's already in your kitchen to create fabulous meals on a budget."

When Foodbuzz put out the challenge to create a budget-friendly dinner party using only what's on hand for the monthly virtual feast they call 24 x 24*, I knew it was time to put my philosophy to the ultimate test.  It's easy to throw something together for your family; but to WOW guests, it's tempting to go all out and break your budget and then be too stressed to enjoy your guests.

I wanted to prove to my regular readers and the entire Foodbuzz community that it's possible to do an awesome dinner party using the Cook What You've Got philosophy so I begged them to let me have one of the coveted spots.(I had just been featured in the "Over the Top Dinner Party" 24 x 24 in August so I wasn't sure it would happen.) 

We took the challenge further and asked each guest to bring a bottle of wine so we could use the characteristics of the various wines as well as our ingredients on hand to create our impromptu menu.  Needless to say, the generous people at Foodbuzz chose my proposal.  Thanks, guys!

My planning process for dinner parties:
  1. Look on counter and in fridge - what fruits and veggies do I have?  These are the stars of my menu and will allow me to cook without recipes since they are super fresh and require little to make them shine.  
  2. Look in my freezer for meat, poultry, fish or pre-cooked beans, pesto, tapenades
  3. Look in pantry for fillers:  grains, potatoes, pasta, canned tuna or tomatoes, onions, garlic, etc.
  4. Match everything up to make a complete meal.

Here's how it played out with for our dinner at about 5 o'clock when the first guests arrived last night:

Heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, chard, melons, onions, zucchini and green beans from my Riverdog Farm veggie box.  Tiny heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers my son picked from his school's garden as well as Tokyo turnips and eggplant that were still in the fridge from my veggie box a week before. A couple of our guests shared veggies they had picked including cherry peppers, serranoes, more baby tomatoes and lemon cucumbers.  Then in my own "garden" (wine barrels) there was sage, rosemary, lavender, basil and mint.

Armed with a variety of beautiful veggies, I looked in my pantry and fridge to see what I could come up with:  two kinds of olives, preserved lemons, caponata (an Sicilian eggplant based relish I had made two days before), smoked tomato butter (also made ahead), balsamic vinegar, feta and parmesan cheeses, butter, chicken breasts (only 3 for 10 people), bacon (1/2 of a 12 oz pkg), super dark and semi-sweet chocolate, two kinds of nuts, cream, half & half, cold espresso from a stovetop brew that nobody drank, and bread dough I keep in a large bowl in my fridge almost all the time. 

Fortified with munchies to get the creative juices flowing -  Lavender Almonds and Olive Oil Popcorn with Brown Butter, Sage & Parmesan - we went on to create the rest of the meal.

Our wines with which we were pairing the meal were a French rosé; two tempranillos, one from Spain and one from Winters, CA a lesser known area near Napa; a Pinot Noir and Cabernet from Napa.  The red-heavy wine selections steered us away from my original thought of a Morrocan feast utilizing the preserved lemons and olives to a more spice and smoke driven menu all tied together with grilled bread.

Here's what we finally developed (wine pairing notes in bold):
NOTE:  I am including recipes for the more complicated items, but if it's just a few ingredients, I've broken it down in the list.
  • Meze platter:
    • Herb Marinated Olives (olives, olive oil, dried herb blend in spice drawer) French rosé with the Mediterranean flavors was a natural.
    • Balsamic Syrup (inexpensive store-brand reduced to 1/4 the amount) & Rosemary Infused Olive Oil (olive oil with a branch of rosemary brought up to simmer and turned off to sit for 30 minutes) The intensity of the syrup begged more for the reds than the French rosé which was surprising to me.  California rosés love vinegary preparations, but not the French.
    • Smoked Tomato Butter (use another flavored butter unless you have a stove-top smoker then peel, seed and slice a tomato before smoking for 30 minutes over any type of wood chips) Put it on anything, a shoe even, and it would go with the red wines.
    • Caponata (recipe below) - The sweet and sour nature of this dish didn't work by itself but along with the chicken it was perfect with the Tempranillos.
  • Quick Pickled Cherry Peppers and Tokyo Turnips (1/2 cup apple cider vinegar with 2 bay leaves, 2 tbsp brown sugar, large pinch of salt and about a lb of mixed whole baby vegetables.  Cover with water and boil until just barely tender. ) The cherry peppers killed the wine, but the turnips were sweet and almost worked with the rosé, again, it would have very much worked with a California style.
  • Heirloom tomatoes with olive oil, sea salt, fresh basil and lots of freshly cracked black pepper (just what it says) The French rosé was a classic pairing with the simplicity of this dish.
  • Lemon cucumber salad with feta, yogurt, dill and fresh mint (again, just what it says)  Pinot Noir was a surprising perfect pairing with the briny and herbal notes. 
  • Spiced rubbed and bacon-wrapped chicken Pinot Noir again (the workhorse wine of the evening) and the Cabernet were especially good with the spices and smoke.
  • Grilled Flatbread (basic Artisan Bread in 5 minutes A Day boule recipe.  See my Pesto Piadini post for the how-to's) - Bread and wine, what else can I say.
  • Double Chocolate Gluten-Free Brownies with Quick Vanilla Ice Cream and Espresso Syrup  The most unexpected pairing of the night...dessert with Tempranillo.
Everyone set about creating the menu and an hour later we sat down to a feast which finally ended around 11:30.  It never ceases to amaze me how food and wine cause people to forget about time and just enjoy life!

(Okay, I'm admitting up front, this is poor photography, please don't judge. ;) I wanted to capture the spirit of the night without flash and with a simple camera, so this is what you get.)

Here are the recipes, but I encourage you to simply use this as inspiration.  The whole idea of CWYG is to make cooking as enjoyable and flexible as it should be.

As a special gift for my readers, subscribe for RSS feed or as a follower and email me with "Send Me The List" in the subject line and I'll send you a code to download my list for FREE.  Keep it on your fridge and slowly gather the ingredients on the list. Once you do, you will be able to easily make hundreds of meals without worrying about anything but fresh items.


Olive Oil Popcorn with Brown Butter, Sage and Parmesan
Leave out the sage if you don't have it.  Substitute other hearty herbs like rosemary or thyme or just use lots of black pepper.

1 stick butter
20 or so sage leaves
olive oil
black pepper

In a small skillet over medium high heat, melt one stick of butter along with several fresh sage leaves.  Once the sage has become a little lighter in color and slightly brown around the edges, remove the leaves to a paper towel and let them drain.  Reduce heat and let the butter continue cooking over medium low heat until it is brown and has a very nutty fragrance.  Watch carefully because it will go from the perfect point to black and burnt in a few seconds.

Once the butter is ready, eyeball enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large pot followed by enough popcorn to cover the oil.  Cover the top with a lid offset or if you have a steamer insert for your pot, turn it upside down over the top so the popcorn won't come out, but the holes will allow steam to escape.  Cook over medium high heat, shaking once the popping starts, until all the kernels have popped and the popping really slows down. Dump the popped corn into a large bowl and toss with the brown butter.  Add a generous handful of grated parmesan, lots of freshly ground black pepper and the sage leaves.  Toss again and serve.

Lavender (or Rosemary) Almonds
Toast 2 cups of raw almonds in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until fragrant.  Meanwhile, measure 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium glass or metal bowl.  In a ramekin, stir together 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tsps salt, and 2 tsp lavender buds or rosemary leaves, slightly crushed or chopped.  When almonds are fragrant remove them and toss with the oil until the nuts have almost completely absorbed it.  Sprinkle on the sugar mixture and toss well.  Let cool then serve.

1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic, minced
large pinch red pepper flakes
1 lb tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped (or substitute a 14 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp capers
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, optional (very expensive ingredient, so feel free to leave out.)

Cut ends off of eggplant.  Cut into large 1/2" thick planks lengthwise then cut into 1/2" wide sticks.  Cut across to make 1/2" cubes. Sprinkle heavily with salt and place in a strainer over the sink to drain.  Using a paper towel, pat the eggplant pieces to remove excess water.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet.  Transfer the eggplant into the oil and cook until brown on all sides.  Remove and add the remaining olive oil and immediately saute the onion, celery and carrots until softened.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add the eggplant back in along with the remaining ingredients.  Cook together until all the vegetables are soft and the tomatoes, brown sugar and vinegar have almost been absorbed.  It will be a very thick relish-like mixture.  Can be served cold, hot or room temperature. Very good with grilled, meaty fish such as tuna, salmon or swordfish.

Spice Rubbed and Bacon Wrapped Chicken
I only had 3 chicken breasts to serve 10 people so we cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make thin filets.  We then cut the filets into three pieces each to make about 20 small pieces.  Using half strips of bacon worked perfectly.  They were perfect appetizer portions but you can simply use chicken breasts and wrap them with whole bacon slices.  This was awesome with the Tempranillos.

1 tsp each fennel seeds, ancho chile powder, and paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
large pinch of kosher salt
1 lb chicken breasts (about 3 chicken breasts)
1/2 lb bacon

In a clean spice grinder, blend up all the spices and salt.  Coat the chicken in the seasonings and wrap in bacon.  Place on a baking sheet and broil on the middle rack of oven on both sides until cooked through and the bacon is crisp.

Double Chocolate Gluten Free Brownies
Adapted from Great Gluten-Free Baking by Louise Blair

4 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

11 tbsps butter
1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
3/4 cup ground almonds
3 tbsps rice flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 oz chopped very dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 86% dark chocolate because that's what I had)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray or grease with butter.

In a large bowl, microwave the semi-sweet chocolate and butter on high for 1 minute.  Stir well until chocolate is totally melted into butter.  Add remaining ingredients except walnuts and dark chocolate.  Fold in walnuts and chopped chocolate.  Spread into pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is shiny.  Cool completely and cut into squares.

Quick Vanilla Ice Cream
Requires a countertop or other ice cream maker.  Just serve the brownies with whipped cream if you don't have an ice cream maker.

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups half & half (light cream)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk the ingredients together until sugar dissolves.  Pour into ice cream maker and process until the ice cream is like soft-serve.  Freeze in coldest part of freezer until ready to serve.

Espresso Syrup
1 cup brewed espresso or double strength coffee
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
Cook the espresso and sugar together over medium high until it is reduced by 2/3 and syrupy.  Stir in the cream and let cool completely.

*Fascinating and fun to read, 24 x 24 is twenty four bloggers from all over the world hosting dinner parties then blogging about them on the same day.

Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

Monday, September 19, 2011

Farm Fresh Oven-Baked Ratatouille over Herbed Polenta

Beautiful produce from Gibson Canyon Farm

I have this dream of planting and harvesting the food for all my cooking endeavors. The closest I get most days is picking herbs from my wine barrels and buying produce from local farmers.

Besides creating wine dinners for clients, teaching occasional cooking classes, blogging, writing recipes and taking care of my family (my real full time job) I also cook for anywhere from 3 to 15 families every week.  The broad range generally reflects what's on the menu. Surprising to me, the vegetarian entrees are usually the big draw.  So I guess I shouldn't have been shocked when Ratatouille over Polenta was the most popular choice on my menu this week, but somehow I was. 

Beyond passionate about supporting local small farms for my ingredients, I love crediting the farms for the ingredients I use in my menus.  Knowing Gibson Canyon had a plethora of the typical late summer produce, I highlighted the farm's offerings on not just one, but two of the three choices of entrees on my menu.  Big mistake!

But turned out okay.

My first clue that things weren't going as planned was as I turned off the road winding into the hills, there was a "WEEKENDS ONLY" sign plastered over the normal sign.  Though I had made an appointment to arrive early to pick up my produce, there was no vehicles and no movement on the property.  Having waited a bit, I was so happy to see the old Chevy truck drive around the corner of the barn and my friend Sue (the farmer) get out. (I was dreading having to bow to my contingency plan of supermarket shopping to fulfill my clients' meal orders.)

We chatted about what was happening with the farm and found out that a lack of traffic forced her to pare down to just three days a week.  As we're talking, my wheels were turning and I was realizing my published menu was falling apart as we spoke.  Not one to give up easily, I asked if there was anything in the field.  My words, "I wore my picking clothes" prompted Sue to fetch me scissors and gloves then walk me up to the location in her field of all my beloved ingredients.

Suddenly, it's not about simply food or cooking.  I'm thrust into a different world where I am enthralled with creation.  Yellow-centered, lavender toned blossoms of Japanese eggplant as well as the deep purple fruit caught my attention immediately.  I had never seen eggplant blossoms before and had no idea how lovely they were. Had I not forgotten my phone in my car, you would be looking at them right now.  The brilliantly pigmented and shiny fruit against the green vines was truly beautiful, I was at once entranced and just walked around the eggplant patch for a few minutes admiringly.

Finally pulling myself out of the eggplant "trance"  I noticed butterflies everywhere. Giant sunflowers were watching the sun. Discovering brilliant red perfect tomatoes among tangled, stubborn vines became an enjoyable and addictive treasure hunt that resulted in way more fruit than I needed.  While I went about the work of harvesting sweet red and grassy flavored green bell peppers, super sweet carmine peppers and tomatoes, Sue had found enough squash, while working on irrigation pipes, to complete my basket.

After all the searching, watching for stickery weeds, lunging to avoid stepping on rows, 45 minutes had passed and I had harvested 15 pounds of produce out of what appeared from the road and my non-farmers' eye, to be a weed patch.  I realized once again how organically raised produce is so different from the pristine, pesticide/ herbicide laden gardens that are lovely  to observe.

So while I could have gotten my shopping done in 10 minutes at a supermarket, without sweating or itching, in the end, not only did this ugly duckling farm feed me and my clients well this week; it fed my soul and spirit in the moment.

CWYG Stats

Seasonal Items - eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, rosemary, sage, thyme

CWYG Items - olive oil, garlic, onions, polenta, milk, parmesan cheese, butter

Oven-Baked Ratatouille over Herbed Polenta
Enjoy this with a cold rosé or lighter red wine.

1 lb each eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large sprig rosemary
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
red pepper flakes, optional
1 cup polenta
1 tsp sea salt
2 cups milk
1 tbsp mixed chopped herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme is what I used, but basil and oregano would work, too.)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut all vegetables into uniform pieces.  (I cut mine into about 1" chunks.)

In a large roasting pan, toss the vegetables with sliced onions, minced garlic, a teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Bury rosemary sprig in the middle and cover tightly with foil.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the vegetables have cooked down and are very tender.  Remove foil and cook for another 30-45 minutes or until the juices have reduced to create a thick sauce around the vegetables.  Taste for salt and add to taste.  This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.  With the polenta, I tend to serve it hot or room temperature.

To prepare polenta, whisk the polenta with 2 cups water in a heavy-bottomed 3-4 quart saucepan.  Add the milk, herbs and salt.  Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, whisking often.  Keep whisking until the polenta thickens significantly.  Reduce heat to low, whisk until the bubbling stops then cover.  Cook over low until the polenta has lost the gritty texture and is smooth.  Check it every few minutes to make sure it's not sticking and isn't developing into lumps.  When it is smooth and very thick, add the butter and cheese.  Whisk well.  Serve it warm and soft or let it harden at room temperature.  It can be pan-sauteed in olive oil or butter to serve as the foundation for a multitude of toppings.
Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cheese, Please!

So one of the fun things about being associated with FoodBuzz is that we get to try products out.  Through the Tastemaker program, we were given the opportunity to try out several varieties of Sargento cheeses.

Being from the Northwest now, I typically buy Tillamook or on a really good day and I'm at farmer's market or local shop, I buy cheeses made right around here so I haven't really given Sargento a second glance.

But for this challenge, we were asked to try Sargento cheese up against processed cheeses. After going on a cheese shopping spree courtesy of Sargento, I went about my Cook What You've Got thing and began trying them in different ways.

The first was simply using the shredded Mexican blends - Artisan Authentic Mexican and "Classic" 4-Cheese Mexican (they only make shredded and sliced varieties). The Artisan Mexican blend definitely had a more complex flavor with a bit more tang and subtle bite on the finish (By the way, doing a taste test on shredded cheese is a bit tricky.  The dog got what didn't make it!)  The Classic would be more comparable to mild cheddar/monterey jack blend which was perfect for quesadillas in the boys' lunches the next day.  In the end, for my enchiladas I was preparing that night, I used a mixture of both.

After trying some of the slices in sandwiches and such, we finally got to the fun part. Our "official" taste test of the processed cheeses against the Sargento slices.  Since my whole family are cheeseaholics, it was a great picnic.  Besides the cheeses, we packed a few fresh off the vine tomatoes, cocktail bread slices (my youngest's favorite), whole grain herb and garlic crackers and some cucumbers from the veggie box.

I gave the processed versions the benefit of the doubt and didn't even bother with the individually wrapped orange cheese slices or worse, the loaf of orange cheese (which my kids deemed "gross" when I made my one-time-a-year queso for the Super Bowl).  We instead went to the deli counter and found a horseradish flavored processed "cheddar" and some soft spreadable cheese featuring a humorous bovine.  As it turned out, what I thought I remembered about processed cheeses was still true.

As a child, I had a pretty complex palate.  When other kids were pleased with Ritz and squeezy cheese or saltines and American cheese, I knew that the two didn't taste right.  Too much sweet and nothing else really.  I always would go more flavorful crackers that had onion or garlic or really grainy varieties like Triscuits or Rye melba toast.  It balanced out the sweet flavor.  My favorite sandwich as a child was a Reuben.  I loved how there was so many different flavors.  I didn't know what exactly I was missing then, I just knew what I wanted and I searched until I found things that tasted right.

The two processed varieties brought me back to my childhood.  The cocktail bread was just too sweet to go with them.  They needed the whole grains and herb/garlic flavors in the crackers.  And the spreadable cheese was palatable with the cucumbers. In the end, the processed varieties were simply filler for two growing, indiscriminate (except for orange cheese loaves) cheeseaholic boys. 

The Sargento slices, however, were great as little cheese sandwiches on the cocktail bread.  Though we had Swiss and Mozzarella, my favorite was by far was the Pepper Jack.  Replete with the typical Monterey Jack tang, it also had two peppers - jalapenos and habaneros - which offered a better-than-average kick.

There's one Sargento shredded blend I haven't tried, but will as our weather is cooling off a bit.  While I don't expect it to taste like my favorite cave aged Gruyere, I have high hopes the Artisan Swiss, a blend of Gruyere and Swiss, will taste great on a Gratin Daphinois.  I'll keep you posted...

Final word?  Faced with artisanal cheeses from local fromageries versus Sargento, which would I choose?  Well, I think that's obvious if you know me (or have read more than this post) at all.  But they certainly did confirm my belief that there is no reason processed cheese should ever be in our grocery basket again.

Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Grilled Pesto Piadini

The first time we grilled pizza, it was one of those hand-hitting-head "Duh" moments.  What's not to love about lightly charred chewy bread?  Top it with a good drizzle of olive oil, a few off-the-vine tomatoes, torn fresh cheese and you've got a timeless dinner enjoyed around the Mediterranean for millenium.

So when I noticed my basil was growing at lightning speed, I knew pesto was coming.  Once it was made, the only question was pasta or pizza.  When I asked my husband which he wanted, there was no question.


Noticing my growing pile of tomatoes on my counter and the baby lettuces that were heading downhill in my fridge, I bumped that idea into Piadini.  If you aren't familiar with this concept, it is simply warm pizza with a cold salad on top.  Usually it's a individual sized pizza and you fold it like a taco.  I simply made one large and topped the whole thing with salad and we served right off the pizza peel.

The juices from the salad mingle with the pizza crust offering an instantaneous version of Panzanella. If you grew up in the US outside of an Italian family or neighborhood like me, the gourmande version of dipping your pizza crust in ranch or bottled "Creamy Italian" dressing.  (It was the only way to make a tasteless crust more palatable and even as a small toddler, I knew there had to be more flavor to almost everything I ate. Condiment "shopping" in the fridge was part of every meal.)

So, here's how it works.  Heat 1/2 of grill to high.  The other half to low or off.

Make or buy pizza dough. (Here's my basic dough recipe and you can keep it in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.) Spread the dough into a large circle (or individual size circles will work fine too.) on a pizza peel or the back of a cookie sheet sprinkled with flour or cornmeal.  Gently lift onto the part of the grill on high.  Watch the beautiful blisters form and the sides looking slight charred then turn over with tongs and grill spatula.  Grill for a minute or until the dough is not sticky.  Using tongs remove to pizza peel or cookie sheet with the less grilled side up. Top it however you want to, but, SPARINGLY.  Remember this crust is good with nothing more than salt and olive oil.  Don't cover it up.  A spiral of marinara sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, a schmear of pesto.  A few torn pieces of mozzarella, sprinkle of feta, chunks of chevre.  A bit of proscuitto for carnivores. Pre-cooked veggies only - carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, roasted peppers.  (There won't be time to cook them if they are raw.)

Back on the low side of the grill until toppings are heated and cheese is melted.

Toss your favorite salad greens with a basic dressing (we used reduced balsamic and rosemary olive oil) and have any other salad ingredients fully prepped.
As soon as the pizza comes off the grill, slice it and pile the salad in the middle.  Serve.  If there are more than four eating (or you're feeding teenage boys), Repeat.

Feel free to use whatever greens or lettuce you have on hand for the salad or simply use a mixture or chopped big tomatoes or halved baby tomatoes.  The point is to have something cool and refreshing to pair with the warm pizza.

This is wine pizza.  Beer is reserved for the pizza out of the box.  We like tempranillo, Barbera or another full-bodied fruity wine if we have Balsamic in the dressing.  Otherwise, chianti or any other red wine works fine.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box Items- Tomatoes (some from box, some from garden), basil (garden)

CWYG List Items - walnuts, flour, olive oil, salt, parmesan, garlic, lettuce mix, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar (reduced from 1 cup to 1/4 cup over low heat)

Grilled Pesto Piadini
1 lb bread or pizza dough
flour or cornmeal for sprinkling
Prepared Pesto
8 oz fresh mozzarella
4 cups mixed lettuces (or tear up a variety of whatever you have on hand)
1 pint cherry tomatoes or 1 lb large heirloom tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp reduced balsamic vinegar 
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat grill.  (Remember, half to high and the other half to low)

Sprinkle a pizza peel or very large cutting board with flour or cornmeal.  Carefully press the dough out until it's only 1/4" - 1/2" thick.  It should be fairly large, 14"-16" in diameter.  (As an alternative, use 1 1/2 lbs of dough, make 4 pieces and press into 8" very thin circles.)

Carefully slide onto the hot side of the grill.  When blisters form and the sides look slightly charred, flip and grill for 1-2 minutes or until you can move it easily. Flip it over and off the grill spread some of the pesto and tear the mozzarella over the top.

Place the pizza on the low side of the grill and cover to bake for 3-5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

While the pizza is grilling, toss the lettuce and tomatoes with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Remove the pizza from the grill and slice.  Top with the salad and serve.  (If making individuals, no need to slice.)

Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thai Turkey Burgers with Peanut Slaw

I've always contended that September is hotter than August.  No one really believes me, but it's true every year.  Today it's supposed to be almost 100 degrees and in early August we had a beautiful week of 80 degree days.  Grilling is still the go-to cooking method at least for a few more weeks.  Little cleanup afterward and the heat dissipating into the air instead of into my kitchen - Yes, I'll take that!

Thai is my favorite Asian cuisine with it's balance of sweet-sour-salty-spicy as I've mentioned before. It also uses lots of fresh herbs (basil and mint especially) which are prevalent in my wine barrel garden. Combined with the fact that it pairs well with refreshing rosés (not white zinfandel, real rosé) and crisp white wines that are so much more appealing than heavy reds during the heat, I naturally think this direction when considering the ground turkey in my freezer.  Thai flavored ground turkey sort of stir-fry doesn't sound appealing at all, but a Thai burger with peanut slaw! Now that I can do.  My favorite locally produced rosé (Ledgewood Creek Vineyard, check it out) is chilling in the fridge so it's officially a "GO".

Feel free to sub ground chicken or pork for the turkey.  Beef will be heavy, but you can always try it.  The Peanut Slaw also makes a refreshing salad when tossed with cooked buckwheat, whole wheat or rice noodles and is a perfectly acceptable vegetarian meal.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box Items - Purple carrots, cabbage, Armenian cucumbers (yum!  Look for them) basil & mint from garden
CWYG Items - ground turkey, Thai red curry paste, ginger, garlic, green onions, peanut butter, tamari (can use soy) sauce, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, chile garlic paste

Thai Turkey Burgers with Peanut Slaw
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey (organic or look for hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free)
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 whole wheat buns

Peanut Slaw
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy, chunky, it just doesn't matter.)
1/4 cup very hot water
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp tamari sauce (or 1 tbsp soy)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots ( I used purple)
1 cup shredded cucumber (if using grocery store waxed cucumbers, peel, then remove seeds before cutting into matchsticks)
1 cup shredded fresh herbs such as mint and basil (can use cilantro, too if you have it.)

Preheat the grill to medium high.  Or have a grill pan or large skillet ready for cooking on the stove.

Mix together all the turkey burger ingredients (NO, not the buns).  Form into 4-6 burgers using the buns as a decision maker for final size.  Put into the fridge for at least 30 minutes to make handling a little easier.

Meanwhile, prepare the slaw.  Mix the peanut butter, water, brown sugar, tamari and rice wine vinegar in a large bowl until smooth. Add chile garlic sauce to taste if you like it spicy.  Toss in the cabbage, carrots, cucumber and herbs.  Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Grill (or pan saute) for 7-8 minutes on the first side, turning a quarter turn half way through to get good grill marks.  Turn and grill for another 4-5 minutes or until the internal temp is 165 degrees.  Remove and keep warm under a foil tent.  Toast buns on grill or stovetop. 

Place a burger on each bun and top with slaw.  Drizzle with Chile Garlic sauce if desired.
Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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