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Published on 13 January, 2012, by

I have an affinity for the layered, exotic flavors intrinsic in Indian food — heady mixes of Garam Masala or curry, the darkly- scented lushness of cardamom, coriander and caraway and the vibrant colors of turmeric, saffron and red chilis — these warm me, belly and soul. But it wasn’t always so.

I grew up tasting Italian, Chinese, Mexican, German, French and American style dishes, home-cooked, lovingly by my mother. While this is much more variety than some (like  my husband) grew up with, it still excluded many kinds of food that my son is  growing up with the tastes and smells of, such as Indian, Korean, Middle Eastern, Greek,  Japanese, Soul Food, Vietnamese,  Ethiopian, Thai and just about anything else we can get our hands on.

No South Asian spice for this girl - GrooVy Foody pictured here in Bamberg, Germany age 3

The point is, I never tasted Indian food as a child, so the spices used regularly in these dishes, tasted, fittingly, foreign to my tastebuds. They had a depth that my palate was not yet able to decipher. So at 24, when a dear friend of mine, who was also a vegetarian began telling me how great Indian food was, I was interested — but reluctant. The smells were strong, oniony and sweaty, I was unsure of the tofu curry dish he had whipped up but I gave it try. It was, in a word — icky.

Spices in the open air market in Arles, France

No disrespect to my friend, but he wasn’t a culinary wizard and that dish contained improperly drained tofu (bitter) and way too much curry, as well as carrots and peas that were still — crisp. I didn’t try Indian food again until I was 31 and backpacking throughout Western Europe. Sick of bangers and mash, roast and veg, jacket potatoes and the Ploughman’s served up at every pub throughout England and Scotland, I decided to give Indian food another go. No better place (except India, of course) to dive into the sensual flavors of Indian food, than the UK.

Unwittingly(and thankfully), I just happened to pick a restaurant  that is considered one of the Top Ten Indian food restaurants in Scotland for my second taste — Pataka.
Pataka Indian and Bengali Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland is unlike any other Indian restaurant you may have been too, mostly because of its odd choice of decor, which is completely resplendent in  Glasgow native, Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s artwork, with beautifully carved wooden booths and high back chairs. But it was the food served there that made me a believer. If you’re ever in Scotland, I highly recommend stopping by Pataka.

The dish I’m making here is based upon Kheer (also known as Payasam or Payesh depending on the region it’s being served in) which is a loose pudding, traditionally made with rice and sometimes vermicelli (I like to use shredded coconut in place of vermicelli.) It’s often served during or at the end of celebratory meals and accompanied by raisins, saffron (for color), cashews, pistachios or almonds. To me, the milky richness and sweet, dusky flavor of this dish makes it great for ending a spicy meal, as it both calms and revives the mouth and tongue after doing battle with the heated flavors of well-seasoned Indian food.

The beauty of making Kheer at home is that you can also eat it for breakfast the next morning, a meal time that I always feel speaks of comfort to begin with.  For additional health benefits (and 5g fiber 6g protein), I decided to put a spin on this soul-satisfying dessert.

Since the Grande Whole Grains from Bob’s Red Mill are whole grains ranging from wheat, rice and barley to oats, buckwheat and sesame seeds you will have some additional thickening, due to the continued absorption of liquid, making for a slightly thicker pudding (this is why the arrowroot powder/cornstarch is less than a TBsp for a pudding.) This also means that the grains need to be pre-cooked before entering your pudding batter.

The balanced flavor of California Olive Ranch’s Miller’s Blend, with its fruit and spice, pairs perfectly in this toothsome treat.

Whole Grain Kheer (India Rice Pudding)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Grande Whole Grains (cooked)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp butter (or ghee)
  • 1tbsp California Olive Ranch Miller’s Blend Olive Oil
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 shredded coconut
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Powder (or cornstarch) to desired thickness
Optional: 1/4 cup raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, almonds, cashews or pistachios.

Directions:

Follow the basic cooking instructions on the package for BRB’s Grande Whole Grains.

Once done cooking remove from the burner and leave the lid on as you begin to assemble the other ingredients — this will ensure the grains continue to soften, as they absorb any leftover liquid.

Combine 1.5 cups of the milks, brown sugar,  salt and COR Miller’s Blend into a pot and bring to a boil.

Add the BRB Grande Whole Grains and return just to a boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in coconut (and/or raisins, dried cherries or dried apricots cut into small pieces, if desired), allowing it to cook uncovered for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. The grains will still retain some of their chewiness but should be cooked through and quite a bit softer now.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/2 cup of combined milks and 1-2 tsp of arrowroot powder.

Remove 1/4 cup of the hot grain mixture, whisking it, little by little  into the egg/milk mixture.

Once incorporated, pour the egg mixture into the rest of the hot grains, whisking to mix it quickly and keep the egg from scrambling.

Cook, stirring constantly, for one to two minutes or until to desired thick and creamy consistency.

Remove from heat, stirring in butter, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon.

Breath in that luscious scent and lick the back of your stirring spoon — you deserve this taste.

You can serve this dish warm, room temp or cold ~ it’s delicious no matter what but my favorite is when it’s set but still warm. Happy Eating!

Makes 6 servings.

A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge Giveaway

WINNER Announced!

Each week, the VP bloggers will challenge you to find (and use) the secret code word of the week, posted in the contest tab labeled “Virtual Potluck” on the California Olive Ranch Facebook page.

Each blogger will pick a single winner per week to receive a pack of the featured products from Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch.

That’s right- four weeks, 12 winners each week! That’s like 48 chances to win! The more blogs you visit the more chances you have to win~ so what are you waiting for?! Let’s get cooking (and eating!) A Tasty and Healthy New Year!

For more information on how you can win– visit the host page for links to the other sites!

 
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Published on 10 January, 2012, by

Raising a toddler and juggling the full-time feast-or-famine-always-gotta-hustle solopreneur lifestyle of a freelance writer can be taxing enough, but with all that’s going on around here on The GrooVy Foody — creating new recipes, partnerships, promotions and giveaways and plans for more, I need good energy more than ever before.

Being a food blogger, of course, hasn’t helped matters — I cook, I take photos, I eat, I sit and write. Know what all of this translates into — besides awesome site stats? Pounds on my ass.

This is where my renewed commitment to healthful eating and a healthier lifestyle (exercise anyone?) comes into play. Apparently, others have these thoughts of renewal at the start of a new year and call them (wait for it!). . .resolutions?! ;)

My friends in the Virtual Potluck are no exception, which is why we’ve all decided to help each other in our journeys for balance and a healthier us in 2012! So, in addition to the awesome promo going on all month here (and on the 11 other VP Bloggers sites) for A Tasty and Healthy New Year, we’re launching Build a Better Me, a year long challenge to eat more healthfully, blog about it, get a bit of exercise and try and maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

Well, you’ll still get the occasional decadent dessert post  (watch out this Valentine’s Day for chocolate and cocktails!) It’s just that you’ll also be getting plenty of healthful and delicious (if it’s not delicious — we don’t eat it!) food recipes to help you stay on track with your resolutions too!

For all of the members of VP and foodies everywhere — eating healthfully means finding a balance between nourishing and nurturing — between being painfully stuffed or pleasantly satiated and as always it means local and organic (when available) whole foods ingredients. It also means stepping away from the computer for a 15 minute power walk a couple of times a day, stretching and drinking lots of water.

For me,it will also mean that I’m cutting gluten from my diet for a bit — so for readers who are looking at reducing gluten in their diets or for those that have Celiac disease, I’ll be exploring the world of gluten-free goodies and recipes for a while here on the site.

(I promise it won’t be every post!)

Happy Eating!

 
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Published on 4 January, 2012, by

California Olive Ranch

By now you’ve seen my “Host Page,” for the Virtual Potluck Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch. I love doing these promotions, and not just because we get to try out some truly fabulous products (gratis) but because, as a foodie I absolutely adore seeing what everyone else comes up with using the same ingredients.

Same Ingredients, Same Recipes? No Way!

Inevitably, yes, there will be some similar recipes but they are NEVER exactly the same. Cooking, for those who truly love it, is like creating art, or loving someone, or leaving your fingerprint behind — there’s always an inimitable piece of you in there. And knowing that always makes me smile.

Bob's (Actual) Red Mill

So when charged with 12 of us making 4 dishes (one each week for the month of January) and given the same ingredient pairings each week — we didn’t skip a beat and decided to jump in with both feet. (You should all know that we do not discuss what we’re doing prior to posting — so the fact that are recipes differ to such great degree is a testament to the creative cooks I’m working with here and I hope you will go to the host page and visit them all — because if you don’t you’ll be missing out on a KILLER GIVEAWAY!!

That’s right, Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch are giving away an ingredient prize package each week — on each blog! That’s 48 recipes and 48 chances to win — pretty great chances. (See details below)

So what did I make for the first week? (I’m glad you asked.)

Good Health and Good Fortune for the New Year

Since we’re kicking this promo off in the New Year I tried to think of a dish that had New Year’s connotations but that just made me think of Chinese New Year, which made me think of dim sum and once we get into dim sum, then it’s all over.

But seriously, the idea for these rolls came from my love of dim sum. Oh, how I adore those lovely little chewy sesame balls filled with red bean or lotus paste and topped with crunchy, nutty sesame seeds. No dim sum visit is complete without satiating my yearning for shrimp (loads of it) and for great Hum Bao — both steamed and baked. Not only are the doughy (Hum Bao) or chewy sesame balls delicious and both savory and a little sweet but they are also filled with the most wonderful surprises — it’s like a gift and a dish. What’s not to love?!

But I needed my own twist, because sesame rolls are made with rice flour and I would be using BRM’s Hard White Whole Wheat Flour and COR’s Arbosana extra virgin olive oil. This week’s oil, as assigned, was to be Arbequina (and that’s what you’ll win if you get the prize this week) but I chose to go with the Arbosana because of it’s peppery notes and greater complexity.

The recipe for these rolls is rather basic (some might say bland) which is why I wanted a more flavorful oil to take center stage, without overwhelming it, the way sesame oil would, when coupled with sesame seeds, upon the canvas of hard white whole wheat flour (which you’ll find is surprisingly light and supple when used in baking, as compared to your average whole wheat flour.)

In any case, because of the flour and oil flavors, I decided to fill my light and fluffy, Asian-inspired Sesame Rolls with cheese — yes, I said it — cheese. I know this may not seem a typically Asian choice for these buns but trust me — it works!

As for the cheese, I used shredded Gruyere (I had it on hand) and it was lovely, but I could easily see Mozzerella or cheddar working equally well.

Cheesy Asian-Inspired Sesame Rolls Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1.5 tsp Bob’s Red Mill dry active yeast (their yeast is the best by far!)
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  • 1 cup warm water (110°F)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup soy milk (or regular milk whatever you drink)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup California Olive Ranch Arbosana Olive Oil

Filling:

  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere, Mozzerella or Cheddar cheese

Exterior:

  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Prepare the dough:
Combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve. Set it aside 5 minutes or so, until the mixture gets bubbles.

Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl with dough hook. Add milk,  egg and olive oil, mixing on low. Slowly add the yeast mixture, on medium speed dough is mixed, increasing your speed at the end until a ball forms and pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl about 2 to 3 minutes.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil, and set the dough to rest in the bowl, rolling it around to coat it in the olive oil. Cover and set to rise in warm place, until it has risen and doubled in size — 1 hour.

Form and bake the rolls:
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Fill a small bowl with the exterior olive oil and pour your sesame seeds on a lipped plate. Coat your hands and a round spring-form pan (like the kind used for cheesecake) with olive oil.

Punch the dough down and pull off a piece about the size of a golf ball. Flatten the dough enough to make a hollow for your cheese to reside. Place a tablespoon of shredded cheese in the center and gather the edges around it, twisting and pinching the dough together like you would to seal off the end of a balloon. Holding the tapered end closed, dip the smooth side down, into the olive oil, then roll into the seed mixture, never letting go of the sealed end. Place the roll, sealed side down, in your pan, working from the outer edges in. Repeat with the remaining dough, filling your pan and nestling the dough balls tightly together (this will keep them from unraveling.

Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing the outer springform ring. The rolls will be pillowy soft, with melted cheese nestled in the center (NOTE: Some cheese may escape from a roll or two but no matter as it won’t go far– a neighboring rolls may be wearing it!)

A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge Giveaway

WINNER Announced!

Each week, the VP bloggers will challenge you to find (and use) the secret code word of the week, posted in the contest tab labeled “Virtual Potluck” on the California Olive Ranch Facebook page.

Each blogger will pick a single winner per week to receive a pack of the featured products from Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch.

That’s right- four weeks, 12 winners each week! That’s like 48 chances to win! The more blogs you visit the more chances you have to win~ so what are you waiting for?! Let’s get cooking (and eating!) A Tasty and Healthy New Year!

For more information on how you can win– visit the host page for links to the other sites!

 

 
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Published on 4 January, 2012, by

It’s a new year and that means people all over the world are gearing up to be the very best they can be. Instead of just focusing on weight loss in 2012, some of us are focusing on better overall health. That’s why the Virtual Potluck Bloggers have teamed up with Bob’s Red Mill (BRM) and California Olive Ranch(COR) (like this GrooVy Foody did back in December for their “Bake a Better Holiday”) to bring you “A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge.”

Each week the VP participants will cook up their fabulous BRM/COR Healthy New Year offerings and GIVE YOU A CHANCE TO WIN A BOB’S RED MILL/CALIFORNIA OLIVE RANCH PRIZE PACKAGE! (See details below.)

Virtual Potluck’s January 2012 mission

Duration: 4 weeks during January 2012

Challenge: To develop, inspire, create – 1 recipe per week for a 4-course meal, over course of month’s time

Ingredients: 1 new California Olive Ranch Olive Oil paired with 1 fresh Bob’s Red Mill product every week  (see schedule below)

Participants:  Virtual Potluck Members at 12 blogging outposts around the country

Week 1: Appetizer – Hard White Whole Wheat Flour – Arbequina extra virgin olive oil
Week 2: Side Dish – Grande Whole Grains Blend – Miller’s Blend extra virgin olive oil
Week 3: The Main Event– Quinoa Grain – Arbosana extra virgin olive oil
Week 4: Dessert – Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – Everyday Fresh California extra virgin olive oil

(Some may branch off from this schedule, so don’t be surprised to find different pairings or different types of dishes.)

The Virtual Potluck Bloggers


A little extra focus on health is always in fashion over at Diabetic Foodie where Shelby whips up culinary creations that won’t spike your blood sugar but still taste divine.

Warm Herbed Goat Cheese with Homemade Whole Wheat Pita Breadusing the Arbequina and Hard White Whole Wheat Flour. I made the pita bread dough in a bread machine, then rolled it out in individual rounds and baked it. It was so much fun to see it puff up in the oven. Once it puffed, it stayed puffed – even after it cooled – so when you sliced it in half, there was already a built-in pocket (no trying to peel the two layers apart and then tearing the bread as with store-bought).For our second week, Shelby has set out to dazzle you with her sumptuous Onions Stuffed with Grande Grains, Currants and Pine Nuts and week 3 brings a hearty Quinoa and Lentil Chili.

Proving that healthy doesn’t have to mean deprivation, Heather over at Farmgirl Gourmet decided to make an orange infused baked (not fried!) donut using the Hard White Whole Wheat Flour and Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The donuts came out light and moist and needed only a quick dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Coming up for Weeks 2-4 will be a “Homemade Spicy Sausage & Grande Whole Grains Stuffing”, a Pear and Bacon Quinoa Pizza and lastly a “Peach Upside-Down Whole Wheat Olive Oil Cake”.

Over at Not Rachel Ray‘s, our resident Rachel has whipped up quite an assortment of recipes for her Healthy New Year including:
Dessert: Yogurt Tart in a Whole Wheat Crust

Donna at Cookistry bakes her way to health with mini-flatbreads served with hummus and warm olive salad and says,” Just a few bites, but packed with flavor. Even better, you can make this in advance, and assemble just before your guests arrive. Or, let the guests assemble their own.”

As an accomplished baker, Donna put a new twist on the second week’s grande grains by baking them into her Grande Grain Miller’s Blend Muffins. Check out Week 3′s Rice-i-Noa– a healthier alternative to a familiar box.

The “Miss” of Miss in the Kitchen used Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour to make blinis topped with homemade ricotta, fresh rosemary, pine nuts and a good drizzle of California Olive Ranch Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it sounds fancy doesn’t it?  Well, it’s super easy and will be the appetizer that is totally impressive to your guests!
For week two, using the Grande Grains and Millers Blend Olive Oil, Miss made a healthful and tasty Sesame-Stir Fry Vegetable Grande Grains Pilaf that she says is, “perfect along side a grilled chicken breast, fish or even steak.” Quinoa takes center stage in Miss’s Week 3  Smoked Salmon Quinoa Patties and lemon tartar sauce.

Looks like Nelly (our newlywed) over at Cooking With Books, has some scrummy treats in store for us this month:

Appetizer: Lemon Thyme Cookies with Roasted Pepper Spread
Side: Cape Cod Cranberry Grande Grain Salad
Main Dish: Quinoa and Sausage Casserole
Dessert: Olive Oil and Marzipan Spiced Brownies
Our resident Celebrity Chef, Jay DuCote of Bite n’ Booze (He was on MasterChef, did you catch him?) put together Elk Sausage and Black Bean Soup.  Jay made a roux for the soup with BRM whole wheat flour and COR Arbosana olive oil.
For week three Jay has whipped up Toasted Pecan and Parmesan Quinoa plus a Giveaway!
If you know Theresa over at Food Hunter’s Guide to Cuisine you know she hunts down and serves up with the best of ‘em. For this challenge, Theresa baked up fresh whole wheat bread from scratch for her Caprese Bruschetta.
“I made whole wheat bread with the flour and an amazing pesto with the oil.  I also, drizzled the oil on the bread before constructing.  This was one of the best wheat breads I’ve ever made and the oil was also very flavorful.”
Theresa’s second week entry over at Food Hunter is a Mediterranean Whole Grain Salad and for the third week a fresh Quinoa Primavera to set your heart aflutter.

Any meal with family or friends deserves an appetizer that really kicks things off. This Olive Oil Flatbread from Matt at Thyme in Our Kitchen is easy to make and can be adapted to fit any health goal. The flatbread is made with Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour and the fruity Arbequina olive oil from California Olive Ranch. Toppings on this heart healthy version include caramelized shallots, roasted egg plant and fresh spinach. It’s drizzled with a cilantro chutney and of course a bit more olive oil. Week 2 saw Matt whipping up Curried Whole Grain Pilaf with Bacon, Mushroom and Cabbage and in Week 3 he wowed with Quinoa Cakes with Walnut and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.

Susan at 30AEats  brings us a Sundried Tomato, Kalamata Olive and Basil Pesto Focaccia. Since Susan’s whole family works in healthcare (so they know health!)  she solicited input from her husband and daughter to come up with this recipe, “My daughter is a huge fan of pesto, and we all adore kalamata olives, we came up with our Sun-dried Tomato, Kalamata Olive and Basil Pesto Focaccia. . . I paired it with a beautiful salad of local greens from my Seaside Farmer’s Market. I  also used the Arbequina drizzled on top as a dressing.”

For Week 2 Susan made Whole Grain Quinoa Tabouleh With Peppers  and for Week 3 Grande’ Grains Jambalaya.

Tara over at Foodie just took on a new promotion at work that’s keeping her busy — but not too busy to take part this challenge! Watch as she wows you with Prime Rib and Shrimp Whole Wheat Fried Ravioli. Look for Tara’s second week entry of Grande Whole Grains with Spinach and Serrano Ham and the Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa with Ribeye and Roasted Brussels Sprouts she just cooked up for week 3 .

Week 1 Cheesy Asian-Inspired Sesame Rolls right here on The GrooVy Foody.
Week 4

A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge Giveaway

Each week, the VP bloggers will challenge you to find (and use) the secret code word of the week, posted in the contest tab labeled “Virtual Potluck” on the California Olive Ranch Facebook page.

Each blogger will pick a single winner per week to receive a pack of the featured products from Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch.

That’s right- four weeks, 12 winners each week! That’s like 48 chances to win! The more blogs you visit the more chances you have to win~ so what are you waiting for?! Let’s get cooking (and eating!) A Tasty and Healthy New Year!

For more information on how you can win– visit the sites listed above!

 
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Published on 31 December, 2011, by

There’s something about having lil noshes on New Year’s Eve, even if you’re just staying home with the fam, that makes it all feel extra festive. In fact, most years of my life that’s what I’ve done on New Years — stayed home, noshed on little bites and watched the ball drop, kissing my sweetie at midnight.  As a woman who settled down early and took up cocktails late (I was 30! Gasp!) New Year’s Eve never meant much more than Dick Clark and banging pans. There were a few other years where I attended someone’s party or went out for dinner but it was always mostly low-key.

That is until New Year’s Eve 2006. It was the first NYE I ever spent with the love of my life, my hubby,Todd.  We were just dating at the time, but since I had settled down so young the first time around and never experienced what the nightlife and true party atmosphere of NYE could be, he decided to take me out on the town.

Pom Honey Bear (Pomegrante juice, lemon and Barenjager honey liqueur)

We went from venue to venue that night, making our rounds to all the hot spots — drinks and appetizers, dinner, dancing, dancing and more dancing. Dressed in new jeans, boots and a black blouse with sparkly trim, I felt like the hot girl, for once, no small feat for a lifelong chubby gal and bookworm. (The men must have agreed because I got picked up on all night long — even with a date!) It was as if, suddenly, I was transformed into one of those people in the movies who have something to do on NYE — and it was actually something fun! Not the party of a friend of a friend that’s supposed to be, “so awesome,” but turns out instead, to be a total dud.

Brazi Bites -- review coming soon!

The last club we went to, we stayed at for several hours. It was big, 15,000 sq ft, with a HUGE dance floor and two stories. By the time we rang in 2007, it was packed. Filled with people dancing, laughing and having a great time — just like those ultra hip club scenes in the movies set somewhere cool like Miami, NYC or LA (don’t get me wrong, I’d been dancing before, lots of places, but none were as cool and big and packed, as this place was NYE 2006-07.)

To cap it all off, when the crowd finished counting down, they released tons of confetti from the ceiling, followed by bubbles — setting the scene for the most perfect New Year’s kiss in the history of my life. We all returned to our drinks and dancing and by 2am, as the club began to thin out, I was floating on air.

A NYE staple - even the most ardent food snobs swoon in their presence

Since that night, my hubby and I have talked about doing it again, but I have to admit, the night was so perfect, that I fear trying to recapture it could tarnish the wonderful memory. For once in my life, I was the princess (in blue jeans) in my own stroke of midnight fairy tale and I loved every moment of it.

This year, my son is 3 and it will be the first year he’ll attempt to stay awake, banging on pots and squealing, “Happy New Year,” at our hopefully (fingers-crossed) wide-awake neighbors. It will be another first in my life– no less magical than that NYE I spent behaving like the hot ingenue in your favorite party movie — just different.

(Two shots of Apple Schnapps! Love that Otis!)

We’ll mix a few drinks (like the cinnamon sparkler above, whipped up by Otis over at Taste and some plain sparkling cider for the tot.) I’ll put together a few bites for us to nibble on throughout the night — some frozen and some homemade — but all delicious. We may even put on some colored wigs and dance around the living room. Tomorrow, we’ll begin again trying to be our very best selves for as long as we can, until it all unravels sometime before, this time next year.

It's a colored wig dance party!

This is the beauty of a new year– a fresh start. The chance to be your very best self — even if, for just one bright and shining moment, before the clock strikes 12.

Wishing you and yours a happy and safe 2012!

 
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Published on 28 December, 2011, by

The Virtual Potluck gang is at it again and this time we’re serving up the best of Bärenjäger’s honey liqueur for a cocktail party that sure to be sweet! Check out all the posts from the VP gang and really explore what you can do with this key ingredient.

GrooVy Foody Goes for the Gold

Since ancient times, honey’s golden-throated siren song has been beckoning man. This glistening syrup has served as both food and medicine — and also, libation. Bärenjäger’s amber-hued Honey Liqueur, for the uninitiated, is as sweetly scented and sensually flavored as pure honey in the raw, though, it’s not for your average bee. Packing a wallop at 35% alcohol (70 proof) it’s perfect for adding a bit of smooth honeyed flavor to any cocktail or for sweetening your favorite dish.

Long regarded as sacred (it’s been used in religious ceremonies, as well as to embalm the deceased) honey’s use in cooking was once reserved only for the rich — thankfully, today, both honey and Bärenjäger are widely available.

We’ve been abuzz (and buzzed) all month over Bärenjäger’s many uses over at The GrooVy Foody household, trying it in drinks, in a Honey Bundt Liqueur Cake and adding it’s nectar to a dark toffee sauce for use in Banoffee Pudding.

But just what is Bärenjäger? In a nutshell, it’s a mead-like liquor but really it’s so much more. Not just in its rich history with roots in the 15th century but also in its flavor. It tastes great in a straight shot or with seltzer water and lemon but I really loved it mixed with hot tea and lemon for a winter warmer that’s sure to soothe your throat and open up your chest.

Ooooh Honey!

Honey Bundt

I love a good rum cake during the holiday season but most recipes call for a boxed cake mix and Bacardi rum. The second I tasted Bärenjäger I knew it needed to be used in a dessert. That’s when lightning struck and I thought, “Oh, I need to make a honey liqueur cake!” But I didn’t want a crummy boxed cake mix screwing up my delusions of grandeur — so I sought out the best vanilla cake recipe I could find, one that was moist and had a great crumb but that could still hold up to being soaked with a butter liqueur syrup.

After trying quite a few cake recipes, I settled on Andie’s Perfect Yellow Cupcake Recipe, from Can You Stay For Dinner? (one of my fav food bloggers.) Hers is an adaptation of Cook’s Illustrated’s yellow cake recipe but I think much easier and to great effect for this recipe. It’s truly decadent and the sweetly hued honey flavor is out of this world and of course, the alcohol gives it just the right holiday kick! Perfect for any New Year’s celebration you may be planning and SO simple. (Recipe below.)

Yum!

Honey-Toffee Banoffee Pudding

The last minute entry came by way of whipping up something tasty for my mom as a little holiday gift. My mother is a HUGE fan of bananas. The whole of my life, I have watched my mother’s passion for bananas – go well, bananas! She loves a perfectly ripe banana on its own but, most especially, she enjoys banana cream pie and Southern Banana Pudding. My mom likes bananas so much, that her grandkids call her “Nana Banana” instead of Grandma — nuff said.

Anyway, when I was in the UK several years ago, I came across a dessert called Banoffee pie, which is very much like a banana cream pie but with the addition of toffee (great idea!) and since my mother is also a fan of caramels, butter brittles and toffees — I thought — perfect match!

So, I set about to make something for mom that would incorporate the Banoffee, the cream pie and her most treasured Southern Banana Pudding and then inspiration truly struck — “I’ll add some honey liqueur to the toffee.” I made the crust from Nilla wafers, homemade banana pudding (you can use vanilla, if you don’t wish to go bananas), ripe bananas, fresh whipped cream and honeyed toffee.  The effect was dazzling and I’m happy to report mom was over the moon about it.

Hot Honey’d Lemon Tea

  • 80z brewed green or black tea (even decaf works!)
  • 2 shot glasses of Bärenjäger’s Honey Liqueur
  • Juice of 1/2 a Meyer lemon

Add lemon juice and honey liqueur to hot tea, stir and serve in a mug with a slice of lemon on the rim. Breathe deep and enjoy!

Bärenjäger Honey Bundt Liqueur Cake

Perfect Yellow Cake (adapted from Can You Stay for Dinner?)

1 ½ cups flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sour cream

2 large eggs , room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butter Liqueur Syrup

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil or non-stick spray a bundt pan (no need to flour.)

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Bring eggs and sour cream to room temperature and mix together or whisk them together in a bowl set inside another bowl of warm water to bring them to temp. Add butter to flour mixture and mix until all the butter is incorporated. Then add the sour cream and eggs, followed by vanilla. Beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix by hand until smooth and no clumps of flour are visible.

Pour into bundt pan and bake for 20 to 22 minutes.

While cake is baking, melt butter in pan and add sugar and water — bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes then, remove from heat to stir in liqueur, then return to the heat and bring just to boil again before removing and setting aside to cool a bit.

When cake springs back to touch or checks with toothpick inserted into center, remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Then pour over a third of warm butter, liqueur mixture. Let the cake sit in pan until the liquid is absorbed and cake pulls away from sides of the pan. Then invert onto a serving plate and poke the cake with a fork all over. Then spoon over the remaining syrup, a bit at a time, so as not to flood the cake and plate. Let sit until syrup is absorbed (about 10 minutes) before sliding onto your serving platter. Reserve any sauce that did not absorb to spoon over cake slices.

Honey-Toffee Banoffee Pudding

Crust

  • 1 box of Nilla wafers (run through the food processor)
  • 1 stick of butter (softened)

Mix butter and Nilla wafers in processor line the bottom and sides of a deep casserole pan with this crust and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pudding

  • 4 cups milk (or 2 cups milk 2 cups cream)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 roasted, mashed banana (roast skin-on in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes)
  • 2 fresh ripe bananas, sliced for layering
  • Whipped cream for topping

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat milk/cream until bubbles form at edges. Meanwhile combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a bowl and set aside. When milk has reached proper temp, whisk the dry ingredients into hot milk, a little at a time, until dissolved. Continue to cook and stir (with a wooden spoon) until mixture thickens. Do not boil. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, mashed banana and butter. Pour warm pudding into casserole dish, which at this point has been lined with Nilla crust, then a layer of sliced fresh banana and toffee. Add fresh banana slices on top of pudding and cool down in the fridge before adding whipped cream. Once the pudding is cool. Whip fresh cream and spread over the top of the pudding obscuring it from view. Drizzle cooled toffee sauce in designs on top and chill to set completely (at least 3 hours) before serving.

Honey-Toffee Sauce

  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp (85 g) butter
  • 1/2 cup and 1 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur

This recipe is adapted from the one I regularly use for caramel sauce. Brown sugar gives this sauce its toffee quality without using sweetened condensed milk. Follow the caramel recipe and then remove the sauce from the heat when complete and add the liqueur and return to the heat, stirring to incorporate the liqueur, bringing just to a bubble and then removing it to cool.

Disclosure: Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur is 35% alcohol by volume (or 70 proof ), please drink responsibly.

All Virtual Potluck members were provided with the Bärenjäger for review, but all opinions are our own.

 
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Published on 24 December, 2011, by

Pumpkin cut-out cookies with buttercream frosting and sprinkles~ Thanks to Sarah's Stands for this beautiful cake stand!

Holidays are undoubtedly a busy time of year. Even my friends who abstain from holidays find themselves drawn into the fray — invited to holiday parties, being handed gifts and cards and of course, the radio, television and Madison Avenue never let you forget that you’re smack dab in the middle of biggest revenue generator of all — Christmas.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Thumbprint cookies -- BEST cookie EVER!!

Here at the Anthony household, we’re not particularly religious (we do have our spiritual side but that has a lot more to do with nature than with ancient books and rituals.) My husband and I were both raised in households that identified as Christian (his family actually went to church — mine,  only went one time during my entire childhood and it was a drive-in church but that is most definitely another story.) In any case, we both grew up with the tradition of Christmas in our homes and all the trappings that go with it. The gifts he received as a child and the sheer number of them, were much more lavish than any my father’s modest earnings could match. But the holidays were no less magical in our house, as we were growing up.

Rocky Road -- so simple: Choco-chips, marshmallows and your choice of nuts

I credit this to my mother, for whom, most holidays were an all-out affair but for whom Christmas was the pinnacle. We may not have had a lot of money but my mom always made our holidays amazing. Volunteering at the schools gave mom access to the large pieces of colored butcher paper used for classroom bulletin boards and each year, as became a family tradition, my mother would talk someone in the office into letting her have one great big piece of it — enough to create our own bulletin board-sized mural on the living room wall. She’d bring it home and work on making little snowy villages out of construction paper, cotton and glitter. Then she’d people it with Christmas-colored elves and peppermint poles.

First time seeing the Nutcracker -- for FREE! Yay mommy!

She’d also invite us to join in her in the crafting of the holiday mural. We’d sit chattering to one another about what we were making, maybe noshing on a few goodies she’d made in advance or sipping cocoa and when our pieces were complete, we’d assemble our mural — together. Placing houses and villagers just right — sometimes with Santa flying over head or slipping down a chimney or receiving foot rub, post-deliveries from a couple of his trusty elves.

Christmas Jams

Not only was the end product fun and festive, but the time spent doing that or one of her other crafty holiday projects (like hand-painting and gluing holiday scenes onto blown-out eggs to create the unique ornaments my mother loved) was worth more than any fancy, “hot for this season” toy we could have received. And mom cooked. She baked cookies, and pies, whipped up puddings and candy — there’s nothing my mother couldn’t make — an all of it, delicious!

Making cookies ~ and memories

When I look back on my childhood, I don’t lament all the “things,” I didn’t have or receive each year. In fact, I can’t really remember a one. What I do remember is the year mom saved her pennies to get us each a ceramic to paint and the acrylic paints  to go with it. (I got a rainbow mirror — I still have it!) She also picked a ceramic bank for each of us, that she painted (I got an ice cream cone, lovingly painted to perfection and replete with tiny multi-colored sprinkles that must have taken her forever to finish — I still have this, as well.)

The Junior Baker

It was during the era of Reaganomics, the year dad got laid-off from his job as a machinist and the Christmas that the Sheriff”s department came knocking on our door to serve us an eviction notice. I remember how apologetic that man was, how hard it was for him to look my father in the eye and how he told my dad that he’d asked to wait to serve it until after the holidays but that his request had been denied. I also remember my father assuaging the man’s guilt and wishing him Merry Christmas before he left.

GrooVy Foody as Frosty in the School Christmas pageant (4th grade)

My point is that, like now, times were hard — we ate a lot of beans — but they were also some of the happiest and most memorable days of my childhood and I remember those gifts because of what they said about my family — that we were in this together, that we may have been short on cash but we were long on love and that, to quote Dr. Seuss’ from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! . . .Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

I’m not rich in coin this holiday season either, but like my parents’, our household is rich in love, creativity and homemade goodies and I hope my son is learning the lessons I learned back then, of resourcefulness, togetherness and most importantly love. This is what the holidays, no matter your denomination or lack-thereof should be about — spending time with those you love, letting them know you care, no matter how far away and wishing them the best  for the coming year.

The perfect tree, anointed by the golden light from above ;)

From our home to yours, Happy Holly Days and Merry Winter ~ May your New Year be bright and always, filled with love!

The fabled and elusive "Christmas tree Monster."

GrooVy and HubBy

 
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Published on 20 December, 2011, by

Each year, as I get a little older, I find my must-have list waning. When people ask me what I want, I usually tell them something homemade — a card, a story, a scrumptious treat, a song written just for me (thanks hon!) I’m pretty easy to please. But I was thinking, that if someone really wanted to spend money on me (like my mother-in-law likes to — Thanks Gigi!) most times, the things I come up with are the essentials (a new bra or a new blade for my Cuisinart) which can be boring for the purchaser. (Hmph.)

Shadow family in Maryland Christmas snow

When my hubby gives me gifts, he knows I’m a sucker for the hand-drawn cards he gives and the sentimental photo items he makes me (our “bear family” and “shadow family” series, a video slideshow of my son’s birth, a special photo album of our trip to California, when my son met my grandmother.)  He also knows that he can never lose with music and  books.

Years ago, when I left my ex, I took only my clothes, photos, books and CDs. In fact, books and CDs were, really, the only things I was willing to fight for and as a result, he got everything else (the house, the car, the furniture, the dog and cat, my favorite poster of Paris, that I hand-carried back from the La Ville-Lumière — the city of lights — I mean EVERYTHING else!)

Well, everything else — but my pans! (Now, I sound like Steve Martin‘s Jerk, don’t I?– “That’s all I need the ashtray, the paddle game and this remote control.”)

But, YES! I kept my stainless steel, Cuisinart pans and most of the other big cooking equipment (it was clearly mine, as he didn’t really cook.) It’s a decision, I’m glad I made, each and every time I use them. Which got me to thinking, as a cook, what’s your most treasured cooking utensil or kitchen tool?

LOVE these pans -- especially, the deep skillet for Bolognese

My food processor is a must-have. I realized this recently, when my “S” blade broke and I was forced to start using my $10 cheapo blender for sauces and soups and I’ve had to resort to hand-chopping for everything else.  (Which, for a busy working mom who likes to serve her family whole, healthful foods — is a total pain!) I haven’t, yet, been able to afford to replace it ($40 for the replacement blade! Yikes!) But — Hey! — ‘Tis the season, right? Maybe . . .

Dreaming of Cuisinart Claus. . .

Dear Cuisinart Claus — if you’re listening, I’d love to review any of the new food processors you’d like to send my way, here on the blog (–and maybe one to give one away to a loyal reader?!) I’ve had my eye on the New Elite Collection 14-cup with three nesting bowls  (Yowza!)

Anyway, the point is, that there are things you love, no matter how simply you live or how anti-materialism you are — that aid you in the guilty pleasures of cooking. This is why I have compiled a quick list of some of the coolest cooking-related goodies this holiday season. Things, I think, are just fabulous for the cook in your life.

It’s important to note that, as with everything I talk about on this blog, I have NOT be paid for endorsing any of these products, these are my true opinions. If any products were given to me for review, it is noted.

AWESOME COOKBOOKS

Simply heaven ~ Simply Truffles

Simply Truffles:

Recipes and Stories That Capture the Essence of the Black Diamond By Patricia Wells

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book (courtesy of Morrow) and it is truly delightful. If looking at blogs like mine is considered food porn, then Wells’ book is the more high-brow but no less exciting counterpart of food erotica. This is a book that upon opening it, I quickly closed it again, knowing that I could NOT just flip through it like my normal cookbook perusal.

No, this required something special:  a warm bath filled with lavender Epsom salts, a lemon verbena and lavender scented candle, a glass of Sangiovese and chunk of dark chocolate later, I was soaking my cares away while dreaming of the French countryside and nibbling (in my fantasy) on truffle soaked eggs while drinking in the rich history of truffles, which Wells’ makes highly palatable. This book feels truly decadent — even if you never make a single recipe from it. (Though I intend to.) Loads of tips and tricks for black truffle use, including how to get the most out of it and even substitutions for the truffle impaired. I confess, I am in love with this book!

Off the Menu is Off the Hook!

Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants by Marissa Guggiana

This was also an advance copy, that I received for a book review column called Great Reads in Portland Woman Magazine. Usually, I’m reviewing novels for them but getting to review this gem was areal treat. Because I have a review coming out in the next edition (coming soon) I’ll be brief. Off the Menu takes you behind the scenes to the meals that the staff at some of the country’s finest restaurants eat. HINT: You’ll be surprised at what’s cooking at some of these places. BONUS: PORTLAND READERS: 3 of our best restaurants are featured here including Paley’s Place. . .which brings me to. . .

The Paleys have a Place both in my kitchen and my heart.

The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley with Robert Reynolds

I’ve mentioned this cookbook here on the blog before and with good reason — it is fantastic. Simple ingredients, masterful preparations with step-by-step easy to execute instructions, great for any level. Paley’s builds on the beauty of fresh, seasonal ingredients (don’t let the section on where to order elk daunt you) by adding subtle but flavorful flourishes throughout (like keeping Persillade on hand) and techniques that once learned, can be carried with you to the book’s end and beyond. My goal is to one day cook everything in this book and I’m well on my way — that is, if I could just stop making the bacon crusted razor clams with basil aioli.

Kitchen Gadgetry & Fun

Sometimes it’s not the tools you need but the tools that make cooking even more fun that float your boat — this is how I feel about Fred (Hint, hint Fred — I could use some swag over here!) They have some totally unnecessary stuff (French Toast Paris toast stamp and the Cakewich pan) that cracks me up and some completely necessary and useful cooking and kitchen clean-up tools that are way too cute to boot!

Like:

NinjaBread Men

Thanks to Shelby over at Diabetic Foodie for showing me these!

 

 

M-Cups

Russian nesting doll measuring cups — available in red for a limited time! I adore Russian nesting dolls and would LOVE to get a set of these — maybe your foodie would too!

Happy Holidays!

 
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Published on 30 November, 2011, by

. . .California Olive Ranch in my kitchen.

When Bob’s Red Mill met. . .

Not long ago, as things with the Emeril promotion were winding down but before Virtual Potluck really solidified into the amazing network of food bloggers it is today, I approached Bob’s Red Mill (BRM) asking them to partner with my blog and to let me explore their many flours, grains and legumes. Being the “real people,” kind of company that they are, they got right back to me (the SAME day!) and agreed to let me sample their wares.

(Look for a post on this later in the week AND a brilliant Giveaway, courtesy of Bob’s Red Mill!)

Cooking up a plan

As I chatted back and forth via email with Cassidy from BRM, she mentioned that my blog might be perfect for a holiday baking promotion they were running with California Olive Ranch Olive Oil (COR) — since I LOVE olive oil, for everything from sauteing to baking to conditioning my hair — I said an immediate, YES!

Something for your little monster. . .and the big ones too!

NOTE: After pitching my Virtual Potluck brethren to both Cassidy at BRM and Kirsten at COR they decided to tailor a little cross promotional fun for our group in January (Look for VP’s Healthy New Year in January — there will be freebies!)

Bake a Better Holiday

Needless to say I was pretty stoked about the partnership and looking forward to exploring the food items. Then I received the first batch of Bob’s Red Mill ingredients (full disclosure I already LOVE this company, anyway!) and my first bottle of California Olive Ranch’s oil (I’d never tried it before) and Wowy-Zowy! I was over the moon.

The reasons:

  • I love to feed my family whole, unfettered foods (no added crap!) and BRM and COR are just that!
  • The quality is amazing in both companies lines.
  • The flavors found in just that one bottle of olive oil were enough to make me a believer — NOT all olive oils are alike!

The capper on this “Bake a Better Holiday” promo — I got to create my OWN unique recipe using one grain of my choice from BRM and one olive oil of my choice from COR.  I was SO in!

Endagered Species chocolate (fair trade and eco-minded) + COR's Arbosana

Recipe Development

Though there are many amazing ways to use olive oil in baking, both savory and sweet, I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to use California Olive Ranch’s Arbosana Extra Virgin Olive Oil in my recipe this holiday season.

Since Arbosana is a Spanish variety, what better match than chocolate (no surprise to my readers!), whose history runs deep with the Spaniards and cayenne, which seems to provide just the right amount of subtle, flavorful heat to many latin (as well as French and Creole) based dishes and always pairs well with the dark mistress.

LUV this almond flour for cookies, cakes and breading chicken!

While you might be thinking, “Olive oil in sweets?!” I would like to quickly point out that the Italians use olive oil in everything — including sweets. Besides the extra added health benefits of using olive oil, it lends itself quite nicely to both savory and sweet cooking and baking.

In fact, if you look at a line like COR’s, which cultivates and bottles different varietals, that in turn, produce different flavor profiles (like wine) and when paired correctly, can help take your dish to that next level, you’ll see exactly why olive oil like this is made for baking sweets. Through my travels in Italy, I came across the beautifully dense Italian olive oil cakes, made with almond meal, because of this, I chose Bob’s Red Mill’s Almond Flour Meal for its added moistness and complimentary flavor pairing.

This cake came out amazing!

The Arbosana really is a lovely, complex oil that I enjoyed working with it on this and in many other dishes.The cayenne in the recipe gives this cake a little kick, while the combination of whipped egg whites, olive oil and almond meal flour give this dense, flourless cake an unparallelled moistness and delicate crumb. Though many like to glaze or frost cakes like these and it would be undoubtedly delicious with a scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a trickle of dessert wine, I urge you to use premium chocolate and eat it naked (the cake, not you — or both, if you like!) If you need something more, just lightly dust it with powdered sugar and a sprinkling of cayenne powder!

Now, they’re passing  on the fun to YOU

Visit California Olive Ranch or Bob’s Red Mills’ Facebook Pages to enter their Contest for a chance to win a $50 BRM gift card and some COR olive oil. From COR’s Facebook page:

“We’ve teamed with our friends at Bob’s Red Mill to launch a Facebook Contest here starting this Thursday, Dec 1. It runs thru Dec 8.  Share a favorite pairing of our olive oil with a BRM product  -  3 winners with the most ‘likes’ will win fabulous prizes.

You can win a $50 BRM gift card and olive oil to boot!  Winners will be announced Friday, Dec 9.

We’re looking for pairings that showcase our two products – perhaps muffins using our oil and one of Bob’s flours. We don’t need a detailed recipe – just an idea and two ingredients, like Gingerbread using California Olive Ranch’s Arbequina and Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour.

Wanna stay in the loop on all the baking and cooking fun?!

Xocolātl (Chocolate) Almond Olive Oil Cake

  • 6 ounces premium bittersweet (72% or higher) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped (or 1tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • ¼ cup California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Arbosana Olive Oil
  • ¾ cup sugar (divided into ½ and ¼ cup measurements)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup Bob’s Red Mill almond flour

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a double boiler (or a bowl within a pan set-up) melt chocolate over simmering water, stirring smooth. Once melted, stir in the olive oil and cayenne. In your mixer or a mixing bowl by hand, beat egg yolks with ½ cup sugar and vanilla pod seeds or extract until combined and pale in color. Stir melted chocolate mixture into eggs, a bit at a time, incorporating it swiftly to keep the eggs from cooking too quickly. Then add the almond meal flour.

Set this mixture aside and beat the egg whites with your mixer until foamy and white. Slowly beat in the ¼ cup of remaining sugar and the cream of tartar. Continue beating until the egg whites are stiff but not quite meringue. Fold ¼ of your egg white mixture into the chocolate batter, then the rest, a ¼ at a time until completely mixed. The batter will be sort of firm like a loose cookie dough consistency and may be a bit tough to work with, take extra care when folding in the portion of egg whites. As you add more, the batter will become looser and smoother, making it easier to handle. Pour the batter into an 8-inch or 9-inch cake pan (I think a springform pan works best!) that has been lined with foil or baking parchment paper.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely and then pop open the spring and slide onto your serving dish, carefully removing any baking paper or foil. Serve as is or garnish with raspberries, chocolate shavings, almonds, glaze or dust with powdered sugar and cayenne.

Happy Cooking — And Eating!

*BONUS-- I got to use some of my leftover Marx Foods Madagascar Vanilla bean, too!

 
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Published on 21 November, 2011, by

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto w/spinach and brie stuffed chicken breasts

As a food blogger (and 1/12 of  The Virtual Potluck (VP)) I get to try out new foods, cookbooks and appliances from time to time for free — for a foodie like me, this is some kind of perk! Sometimes those perks are a little better than others and sometimes those perks go a little berserk.

Recently, the VP was approached by Marx Foods who, though based in our soggy sister city to the north –Seattle, I had never run across before. We agreed to let Marx put together a selection of random ingredients for us to try out in our own signature recipes this Thanksgiving. After perusing their site, I was excited to see what they would send us.

Wanna see what the other 11 foodies came up with? Visit our Host Page for this event and follow all the action on Twitter #virtualpotluck!

What I found, when I received the tiny brown box, was a menagerie of seemingly unrelated items, packaged in small quantities. Upon opening the box, I was hit full force by the sweet sensual aroma of dried Madagascar (bourbon) vanilla beans (they sent two small bags — Yay! extra vanilla!)  I confess, I couldn’t stop sniffing the bags– it was addictive!

Besides the glorious vanilla beans, which made their way into banana smoothies, raspberry thumbprint tea cookies, whipped cream filling in my decadent Mt. Hood cupcakes, and a bevy of other dishes and drinks (watch for them later in the week!) was that my box contained 2 deeply cherry-toned, dried Guajillo chilis, 9 dried fiery Habaneros, a palm full of dried porcini mushrooms, a slightly larger handful of dried Maitake mushrooms, and 1 cup of Italian Vialone Nano Rice — only THE best rice for making a saucy risotto!

While I was excited by the amazing quality of the ingredients (this stuff is top-notch — their quality control must be super sticklers — there was  not a bad, crumpled or spotted item in the bunch), I was sort of sad to see that I had so little,  in terms of quantity, to work with. We were all creating brand new recipes from scratch here and having so little of each ingredient, meant the ultimate test of cook’s skill, I was working without a net — I had to get this recipe right in one-shot! Could I do it? What ingredients should I choose? What wouldn’t be a lame cop-out — surely just whipping up some homemade vanilla bean cupcakes was too easy. What to do? What to do? And then it happened ~ all that thinking ~ all that pressure made me pop a spring!

So what did I do?I take that perfectly wonderful perk — and go berserk!

For those of you that do not know the proper definition of the word berserk let me present it to you now, courtesy of Merriam Webster:

1:  an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable

2:  one whose actions are recklessly defiant
Though this would be a frenzied battle (and one in which I would, indeed, prove to be invulnerable) I am NOT ancient (no matter what my 3-year-old thinks) nor am I — Scandinavian. I was however, in light of the short supply, recklessly defiant in my own kitchen. (Somebody call the authorities — I might just run with scissors next!)
I decided to use all of my supplied ingredients (each and every one but not all quantities provided) in one dish.  So I said it — out loud, for the first time, as a joke — “I should make spicy vanilla mushroom risotto.”  As the words escaped my lips, I laughed but inside a little voice said, quietly, “Why not?”
The next time I said it, was in a Facebook chat with my VP cookmates and as I typed the words, the little voice said, “You should do it ~ it would be a great challenge.” A few moments later, I found myself typing in “I’m not kidding. I’m gonna do it.”
And so — Can I get a drumroll, please? I present to you, my GrooVy Readership:  Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto
A few things you should know before you’re too impressed with me:
  1. I am NOT a risotto rookie. Do not try this at home unless you have mastered the art of risotto, first. I learned how great risotto should taste in Italy but I actually learned to make my first risotto well before that, from Nigella Lawson (or I should say from her fabulous cookbook, Nigella Bites, it just makes you feel as if Nigella is standing right next to you, chatting away as you cook together. So, NO. . .I do not actually know Nigella but I Love her just the same!)
  2. I remembered once seeing a recipe floating around the interwebs for Ostrich Steaks with Mushroom Vanilla Sauce, though I’ve never tasted, attempted, or known anyone who has tasted or attempted this dish — just knowing that it existed gave me the courage to dive off this recipe’s cliff.
  3. I am a wuss when it comes to heat (heartburn issues), so I was extremely happy that one of the peppers I was sent were the beautifully mild and sweet Guajillo (often used for tamales and mole’ dishes) and the small but fiery, Habanero (whose scale is only about 1 rung above cayenne’s in terms of heat units on the Scoville — it’s hot, but not Ghost pepper hot!)
  4. We all did NOT get the same ingredients. True — we all got vanilla and the same rice and we all received mushrooms and peppers but the combination of those peppers and mushrooms varied. The ingredients I received really lent themselves well to this dish.

The result was a distinctly flavored and pleasantly complex risotto — one unlike either I or my hubby has ever experienced. The flavor combination itself, was surprisingly, autumnal and very nearly addictive. (We devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day and he has already asked me to make it again.)

Moral of the story: It pays to take risks in the kitchen — all the best chefs do — you should, too! So the next time you have some seemingly random ingredients lying around your kitchen, I hope you think to yourself,  “Maybe I should go berserk and take a risk!”

Happy Cooking!

Spicy Vanilla Mushroom Risotto

  • 2 small or 1 large shallot(s)
  • 2 ribs celery (cleaned and de-stringed)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of dried Porcini mushrooms (rehydrated, reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1/4 cup of dried Maitake mushrooms (rehydrated,reserve mushroom liquor)
  • 1  cup Italian Vialone Nano Rice (you can sub Arborio)
  • 1 quart chicken stock (a little more or less depending on your heat and stirring action)
  • 1 med dried Guajillo pepper (rehydrated and de-seeded, ribs removed)
  • 2 small dried orange Habanero chilis (rehydrated and de-seeded)
  • 1 vanilla bean (scraped completely)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, plus more, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Good grating of fresh ground black pepper
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

Dice (or process) the shallots, onion and celery. Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan, adding the shallot, onion and celery mixture. Cook until softened and transparent (about 5 minutes), making sure it doesn’t stick. Drain the mushrooms (you can soak them together in hot water for 30 minutes) and reserve the resulting liquor. Chop the mushrooms and add them to your saute pan. Add the liquor to an already simmering saucepan of chicken broth, that is just waiting to be added to the rice, one ladleful at a time.

With gloves or well- oiled hands and proper eye protection, remove the peppers from their water (where they have been rehydrating for the last 30 minutes as well) and slice off their stems, cutting them open to de-seed and remove the ribs  (this reduces the heat — if you like more heat, leave them in.) Once the peppers are cleaned, dice these as well and add them to the sauteing mixture. Once it’s all been incorporated, mix in your rice, stirring to give it a good coating of flavor and oil.

Begin adding your ladleful of simmering stock to the rice, continually stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful continuing to stir. Continue to do this until your rice is al dente and saucy but not too thick and sticky. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to augment with additional hot water, if your stock runs out before completion.

Mix the scraped vanilla bean, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl or mug along with the grated parm and pepper. When the risotto done – the rice is no longer chalky but is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed but is not starchy – remove  it from the heat and add your vanilla, egg, cream mixture, folding it into the risotto along with the butter and salt, to taste. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with Parmesan.

Serves 2 to 4 by itself or as a side dish can work for 4 to 8.

I served mine with a simple spinach and brie stuffed chicken breast, seasoned only with sea salt and olive oil, because I wanted the risotto’s flavors to be the focus, with the chicken complementing its deep, rich flavors but ideally, you’ll serve yours with turkey this Thanksgiving!

Want to win some booty from Marx Foods?

Some of the Virtual Potluck members are giving away ingredient samples. Visit the host page and don’t forget to visit ALL of the blogs. There will be some things given away (different items on different sites),  some discounts  (how about 10% off your Marx Foods purchase, any time between November 21 and 27. Just enter the word POTLUCK into the Coupon Code field at checkout for 10 % off everything.) There’s also plenty of great recipes and fun to be had on Twitter–so make sure you check it all out!