formats

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.

 
formats

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

 
formats

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!

 
formats

. . .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!

 
formats

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!

 
formats

Today is the day — it’s the first day, of the first event, for Virtual Potluck.

Don’t know what a Virtual Potluck is?

It’s good times, good friends and plenty of good food (or at least recipes), shared — potluck stylie (to borrow from Jamie Oliver‘s lexicon. Luv Jamie!)

The quick and dirty on us and our events is this — 100 became 20 then narrowed to 13 and finally settled at a dozen — how appropos!

A dozen passionate food bloggers linking up a network of posts, tastes and Tweets just for YOU! (Want the long version — check out the link up top for the complete Virtual Potluck story.)

Today’s event features a variety of recipes, recommendations and chit chat about Abrams Books cookbooks. To get in on all the fun visit the host page  (Donna Currie of Cookistry for today’s VP event. It will link you to each and every participating blog and give you sneak peak at what they’ll sharing with you today.

Join us at the Virtual Potluck!

But wait! That’s not all. Like every good party — it’s not just about the food, it’s about the mingling. So join us on Twitter hashtag #virtualpotluck throughout the day to whet your appetite, get your recipe card filled and your drink refreshed!

Head on over and meet my friends ~ I’ll be happy to make the introductions.

See you at the potluck!

 
formats

Growing up, I was never much into squash of any kind. My mom seemed to favor zucchini and occasionally, yellow crookneck squash. She was passionate about fried zucchini (as was my middle sister) but I hated it! I didn’t mind the breading but when I got to the center and was met with the taste of squishy, squashy bitterness — ugh, I just had to pass. I remember, many a time, just eating the breading and then tucking the squash into a napkin, smooshing it smaller with each new piece added, in order to hide enough, that my mom would let me leave the dinner table. (I did something similar with the eggplant in another of my mother’s favorite dishes — eggplant parmigiana. Ick.)

The Picky Eater

Flash forward to today. I am a mom now, of a picky and precocious 3 year old. He is a child who loved his veggies before this last year — though, he was never too much into the green lettucy stuff. He used to love eating such a variety of good-for-him foods like broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, avocados, beans and sweet potatoes.

In fact, for a while we thought he was going to be a natural vegetarian because he wouldn’t eat meat (except for nitrate-free hot dogs.) But, alas those days are over and my pediatrician says it’s fairly normal for toddlers to give up the “bitterness” of veggies at this age, opting for the sweetness of fruits instead. (More TRIVIA: It has to do with our cave man survival instinct and the fact that, were we in the wild, our little ones might pluck something poisonous from a bush or vine and pop it into their mouths. Which means, at this stage in life, they are naturally averse to bitter flavors for their own protection.)

To top it all off, as much as I want him to eat his veggies, when he finally agrees to eat some (through sheer bribery or threats) I can’t stand seeing that look on his face when he’s chewing something he really hates. I know it all too well, the feeling like you might just throw up a little in your mouth. It’s at this point, I usually whisk the plate away and thank him for at least trying whatever it was.

UGH! Motherhood.

As I wait this stage out, I can’t seem to sit idly by and give up on him getting good nutrition. I fret about it and I find ways to sneak vegetables (and even some fruits) into the handful of foods he seems hell bent on eating each and every day. Noodles, it turns out, are the king of foods (along with pizza, burritos, and tuna sandwiches)  and I strike a balance by giving him whole grain brown rice noodles and Barilla’s Plus line of noodles that are full of a variety of whole grains and legumes, as well as Omega 3’s (and no they are not sponsoring my blog or paying me in any way to tout them — I just like ‘em!)

So imagine my glee, when one of my favorite food bloggers (and one of my Virtual Potluck cohorts) FarmgirlGourmet posted her recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash & Brie Mac & Cheese with Smoky Bacon. It was as if the heavens had opened up and shined their golden butternutty light down upon my pasta. Yes! A new way to sneak a super healthful veg (TRIVIA: though considered veg in cooking, in actuality it’s a fruit) into my little one’s diet — and it comes on the holy grail of food for him — the noodle!

Creamy butternut mac and cheese

The dish is sweet, creamy and cheesy and was a big hit at our house.  I highly recommend you head on over to her blog for that recipe and the other bountiful ways in which she has been using up the butternut squash from her garden. We ate it for dinner and lunch the next day and it only used up half of a roasted butternut squash and half of the brie and cream cheese I’d purchased, so I decided to use those ingredients again for lunch the following day for soup, baguette with brie, and a wilted kale salad.

A little bistro flair at home

This bright idea was great for mom and dad (felt like upscale bistro fare for a weekday lunch) but the kiddo was not buying into the soup (he only likes — you guessed it — noodle soup!)  — which is why, I boiled up some more noodles and ladeled on some of the soup, topping it with cheddar cheese for a quick and dirty version of FarmGirl’s mac.) We paired this with some fresh strawberries for a well-rounded meal that any toddler will adore.

Soup Prep

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 an oven roasted butternut squash (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pds)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth (depending on consistency you like)
  • 1 small onion diced carmelized in a saute pan with 1Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (to taste and heat you desire)

Saute the onion in butter, caramelizing it lightly. Pour into blender or food processor. Scoop the roasted butternut squash out of it’s skin and into the blender, adding enough liquid to allow it to begin blending (you may need to do this in batches depending on blender or processor size.) Add the cream cheese and continue to blend, adding the additional broth as needed until the soup is smooth, creamy and the desired thickness you prefer. Then pour into a deep saucepan heating it on low, as you season to taste with cayenne and  salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 heaping bowls of soup. Serve with toasty baguette (we like Trader Joe’s parbaked whole grain baguette) and the wilted kale salad below for a warming taste of fall this holiday season.

Accoutrements, or in plainspeak -- sides

Super Simple Wilted Kale Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano

  • 1 bunch regular, lacinto or red kale
  • 1/2  to 3/4 tsp sea salt (depending on your tastes)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can change the vinegar to match your meal — apple works well with the squash here)
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano + extra for topping

Clean and destem your kale, patting it dry (with paper towels.) Cut or rip the cleaned kale into bite sized pieces or  ribbons. Add olive oil and salt. Next take your freshly washed and dried hands and work the salt into the kale by grabbing handfuls and kneading the kale tightly in your fist. Continuing throughout the entire bowl of kale. After it’s all mixed and the kale has significantly reduced in size (a few minutes) add apple cider vinegar to the mix and toss. Then, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes as you prep other items for your meal, this allows the kale to wilt, softening the leaves for easy eating and toning  down the bitterness. Add freshly grated parmesan reggiano and pepper to taste, tossing to mix. Serve topped with more freshly grated parmesan reggiano.

We love this with any kind of soup or as a side dish with chicken or beef. You can also use this recipe and add it to roasted yukon gold or new potatoes tossed with a little tahini and lemon for an out of this world hearty, warm salad.

Happy Eating!

 
formats

Chocolate

Chocolate! Oh, what can I say about chocolate that hasn’t been written before and better. Probably nothing. But still, I am possessed by the spirit goddess of the cacao bean and as devoted to spreading the beauty of her rich message as any disciple in history.

I enjoy chocolate in pies, cakes and cookies, in sauces and savories, and scenting massage oils, sugar scrubs,  bubble baths and candles. I watch the movie Chocolat at least once each year and require a nearly religious stillness in my house to do so.  (See the GrooVyMovies entry.)

My husband has on his hard drive, a spreadsheet dedicated to the brands of chocolate that I prefer and which flavor combinations are my favorites (Moonstruck’s  Ocumarian truffle, Alma’s Salted Lavender Caramel, Godiva’s raspberry filled milk chocolate twirl and white chocolate star)  so that he will never get it wrong — but how could he? The Goddess is never wrong and even in the cheapest derivations I can find some solace.

I prefer dark chocolate’s intense whisperings because they linger there on the tongue, revealing hints of orange peel or scents of fresh pipe tobacco or lush berries and I adore pairing fine dark chocolates with fruity red wines. But I have been known to curl my toes and roll my eyes towards the heavens over the creamy silken riches a good Swiss or Belgium milk chocolate can provide. I even have a healthy affection for the smooth butteriness of white chocolate, though technically not chocolate, this white siren transforms herself from the cocoa bean.

Buttermilk Bownies from A Well-Seasoned Life’s Blog

Since childhood,  one of my most favored ways to indulge my chocolate lust has been with brownies. Cake-like, chewy, crunchy topped and fault ridden, buttermilk, homemade or boxed, frosted or topped with powdered sugar, dark or milk, with chips or nuts or cream cheese or just plain — I have always enjoyed brownies.

Warm brownie batter – YUM!

But my favorite preparation of brownies these days, is a recipe I’ve been playing with for the past couple of years, willing it just right. It is the most densely dark, moist, chewy and truffle-like brownie I have ever tasted and because of this, I felt it needed just a little something to juxtapose it’s darkness, to lighten its depth — caramel, came to mind but then I needed to balance its sweetness — I decided upon sea salt. The result is true cocoa’d perfection. Not one person who has ever eaten them has not dissolved into the sort of pleasure sounds and face-making that usually accompany another libidinous past-time. (And like that past-time chocolate is good for you these days too, don’t ya know?)

And the bonus — they are SO easy to make.  (See my recipe for caramel sauce to top these dark ladies.)

Before heading into the oven ~ I never get the “after shot” because we eat them too fast

Densely Dark Brownies with Salted Caramel topping

*GLUTEN-FREE ADAPTATION BELOW*

Dense because they only use half a cup of flour, dark with cocoa and topped with homemade caramel sauce and sea salt — Scrumptious!

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large cold eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 cup homemade caramel sauce
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Heat over to 350 and line the bottom and sides of 8 inch baking pan with baking paper or foil — be sure to leave a little overhang on the sides, this will help you lift a gooey brownie from the pan for easy cooling and cutting.

Heat and mix butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a double boiler or if you don’t have a double boiler, use  one the metal bowl or small pot, inside a pot of boiling water set-up to make your own. Stir periodically, until the butter is melted and everything is mixed smooth. Remove from heat of boil and set aside until it cools to warm — not hot.

Stir in vanilla and add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously until completely mixed. When the batter looks blended and shiny, add  flour and stirring vigorously until well-mixed.  Spread evenly into lined pan, drizzle the top with cooled caramel sauce and sprinkle the caramel trails with sea salt — course is best but fine will work too.

Bake until toothpick inserted  into the center to test, is only slightly moist with batter, around 20 minutes. Allow to cool and caramel to set, then lift brownies out of the pan by their paper or foil for cutting and serving.

Makes one pan or 9 to 16 brownies depending on size of  squares cut.

Gluten Free Adaptation

Remove flour and increase cocoa to 1 cup and baking soda to 1/4 tsp.

 
formats

Caramel sauce — you may not think it, but it’s a great recipe staple to have around. You can top eclairs, drizzle on cakes, ice cream and brownies, add it to pancake batter and even use it for dipping apple slices this fall holiday season.

Before I hit my mid-30’s I was never much of a caramel fan. I found out then, that it wasn’t that I didn’t actually like caramel, it’s just that I don’t like cheap and overly hard and chewy caramel. But I love creamy, milky smooth caramel, the kind that either drips coyly down your bottom lip from your first bite of a dark chocolate caramel or the kind that has a luxuriously languid pull.  Most of all, I like caramel paired with chocolate and salt or deeply vanilla pudding and pastry.

Since I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and any and all manner of artifice in my cooking I make my own caramel sauce — though Trader Joes has a great caramel sauce and fudge sauce (both without the corn syrup) if you’re pressed for time. Making caramel sauce at home is one of the easiest things to do in the kitchen BUT you must be focused on your sugar (soon to be caramel) the entire time.

From melted sugar to froth to golden, gleaming caramel sauce

My favorite recipe for caramel is this one from Simply Recipes which I have experimented (with great results) using reduced amounts of milk instead of cream (if you just don’t have any cream in the fridge but want to make this sauce anyway) and with soymilk (for those who are lactose intolerant.) Alas, there is no suitable replacement for butter but many lactose intolerant folks can tolerate butter better than other dairy products.

I use this caramel sauce in recipes posted throughout the site, I hope you’ll try it and let me know what you think.

Happy Cooking!

 
formats

These go well with. . .

And now it’s time to say goodbye to Emeril — but first, (drumroll) announcing the winner of the Sizzling Skillets and One-Pot Wonders Giveaway, GroovyFoody blog reader, Ms. Shahleena Weller of Seattle, Washington!

Shahleena is an avid cook, “who loves trying out new recipes.”  She became interested in cooking out of a desire to eat good food, yet not break the budget. She says she was tired of eating the same “not-so-great stuff” and started using recipe sites for inspiration. Five years later, she says she is, “a decent cook who enjoys a good adventure in the kitchen!” She also claims never to have won anything before — well, now she has! ;)

Congratulations Shahleena and thanks for reading the GroovyFoody!

Did you miss the winner of our Emeril 7pc Zak! set of serving bowls? Read the Update.

Emeril's Chuck Wagon Chili