Toast the New Year with Taste-y Cocktails and Hors de ouveres

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.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4uxRmZvzcw&w=640&h=360]

(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!

A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Two Ways

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!

Emeril Giveaway Winner Announced!

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

Top Food Books and Movies: Recommendations for the Hungry

There are so many great books and movies that tell stories of relationships through food. So many, in fact, that it is truly hard to know where to begin. This is why I have decided to just begin by making a listing of all those that I have read or seen and then I will slowly work my way down the list, one at a time, to describe them in snapshot. If they are on these lists, I assure you, I have seen or read and enjoyed them.

Cover of "Fatso"

Cover of Fatso

Of course there are some movies and books that others may feel belong on these lists, but to me, food does not just have to make appearance it must be used as a character, a plot device or central theme. Therefore, for example a movie like Fatso, starring Dom Deluise, which is funny and charming and sweet and does have food in it, would still not appear on my lists. The food is a minor element (it’s not even yummy to look at nor is it intended to evoke anything other than disgust at its heaviness and in the overall gluttony of it all) it is instead a story about acceptance, which I love but it does not qualify as foodie territory for me.

Then there are movies at which others cringe like, The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover for being on my list. I can understand the trepidation some others may have at inclusion of this movie because the  unappetizing, yet well-deserved finale, leaves some stomachs turning. But this for me is one of the finest movies there is, not only for it’s beautiful presentations of food as well as the phenomenal lighting and artistic direction that make this film truly a visual feast but because food is integral to the story —  not just as setting but as device and quite literally, in the end as character. This one knocks it out of the park, especially for someone like me, who both enjoys reading and cooking. The idea of falling in love through one’s love for food (and books ) is utterly sumptuous. Plus, it stars the incomparable (and sumptuous in her own right), Helen Mirren. This one is a MUST SEE on my foodie list.

FOOD PORN

A good food story makes you hungry, inspires you to make new dishes or even order in a certain type of food. It is, in effect, food porn. It ignites your fire for the epicurean delights that await you in this wide world, with it’s presentation, focus, writing or dialogue about the food. Really good foodie movies and books do this through the eyes of one or more culinarily impassioned characters and imbue you with the fever of their love, inspiring you to greater heights.

When I did my cleanse a few weeks back and certain glorious foods were off limits to me, movies and books like these helped me to feel a bit less deprived, satiating my desires through the sights, sounds and tastes described therein.

So, if you’re looking for some foodie approved recommendations for your reading and viewing pleasure, check out my newly posted list of books and movies in the Groo-V Books and Groo-V Movies sections of the site.

Feel free to post your own favorites for me to explore and add to the list.

Like good food this site is meant to be shared.

Thanksgiving’s Unconventional Turkey: au Francais

Anyone for leftovers? . . .Not me.

This year, unlike those in the past, I will not be cooking for a roomful of people. Nor will I be bringing a large amount of oyster and chestnut dressing or pumpkin custard pies, as a guest, to someone else’s shindig.  No, this year’s Thanksgiving will be quiet and intimate with just my hubby and our 2-year-old son.

Which made me think, why do we need a big bird hanging around in our fridge after the festivities? We are not huge on leftovers in my household. There are, of course exceptions.  I’ll always take leftover salmon kedgeree (for breakfast with some  sliced, freshly boiled eggs), homemade soups or stews and enchiladas. Other than that, no one much cares for leftovers in my household.




The thought of coming up with a host of new and stupefying ways to use leftover turkey meat (whose flavors degrade rapidly after it’s initially served) seems  a bit like torture to me.  If you love it, I’ll leave you and the thousands of other Foodpress bloggers out there, as they are sure to tickle your fancy with their astounding homages to this thankful beast.

I, however, will not be taking part because I have come up with a stunning plan for those of us who A) are hosting a smaller and more intimate gathering B) are more adventurous in our cravings and do not need to adhere to strict codes of tradition in our fare and C) who are loathe for the leftover adventure.

The menu at my house this year will consist of turkey breast only (it’s what we fight for in my household anyway.) But when you make the decision to work only with turkey breast, you have to ensure that the breast meat will remain juicy and flavorful, not drying out. This is why I have decided to look to the French in their infinite culinary wisdom and am making Turkey Roulade (rolled up, stuffed meat) using caulfat to seal in the juices and add extra flavor. My recipe is inspired by the Chicken Roulade made by Vitaly Paley at the extraordinary Paley’s Place restaurant, here in Portland.

Paley's Place restaurant in Portland

Caulfat (sometimes called lace fat), for the uninitiated, is the fatty abdominal membrane that encases the internal organs of animals like cows, sheep and pigs. The French use this on ballotines, crepinettes and pates and when wrapped around lean meats, it melts away as it bakes, infusing the meat with moisture and flavor. The caulfat from pigs is prized for its flavor and the fineness of its webbing and it’s what I will be using in my Turkey Roulade. If you doubt the power of caulfat, I have but one word for you — bacon. Just as bacon kicks everything up a notch with a pizzazz that only pork can bring, so too, does caulfat.

The wonderfully savory, lacy filigree that is caulfat

Now that you know what it is, where do you get your hands on it? Caulfat can usually be found at ethnic grocers and full service butcher shops, though some may need to special order it for you, so be sure and allow a few days lead time when checking with your local butcher.

I will be filling mine with a savory mixed mushroom and meat stuffing along with that boneless turkey breast and topping it all with pear cider gravy. But you can take the basics here and come up with your own unique spin on the Roulade. Vitaly Paley’s delectable Chicken Roulade recipe can be found here in his Paley’s Place Cookbook.

Cover of "The Paley's Place Cookbook: Rec...

Cover via Amazon

Turkey Roulade

1 whole, skin on, bone in turkey breast

1  large sheet of caulfat

2 shallots, finely chopped

1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped

2 bunches fresh thyme (one left whole, the other de-leaved and chopped)

1 bunch of fresh sage (a handful of which you should de-leave and chop)

4 cloves of garlic

8 ounces of fresh crimini mushrooms, brushed and chopped

1/2 pound of ground turkey, dark meat

Olive Oil

sea salt

fresh ground pepper

Soak the caulfat in cold water for an hour or so to remove any blood from the membrane (this will allow it to have the lovely white color instead of a pink pallor.) If the water becomes discolored, change it to continue leaching the excess blood from the membrane.

De-bone your turkey breast and carefully pull back the skin from the breast, removing it in one whole sheet. Lay the skin down on a clean cutting board, so that the inside of the skin is facing you. Carefully remove any excess fat and discard, leaving a fairly clean-looking, thin layer of turkey skin. Refrigerate it along with the breast meat.

Saute the shallots and mushrooms in 2 tbsp of olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, until the shallots begin caramelizing along the edges and the mushrooms are browned. This gives the mixture a sweeter taste, perfect with the pear gravy. Set them aside to cool. (HEALTH AND SAFETY NOTE: do not stuff poultry with hot or warm food as this could promote foodborne illness.)

In a bowl, fold together your chopped onion, garlic, and the handfuls of chopped sage and thyme with the ground turkey meat, along with 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Squeeze your caulfat dry, spreading it out on a clean cutting board, and cut it in half. Set it aside.

Remove your turkey breast and skin from the fridge, spreading the skin out flat (again with the inside facing you) and cut it in half, vertically, as well. Generously season the skin. Take a portion of your ground turkey mixture and place it flattened and even upon the chicken skin (about the same width and length of your turkey breast.)  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper on both sides and place it on top of the flattened mixture, pulling the excess skin around the edges of the breast.

On the bottom half of one of your flat, stretched caulfat pieces place more of the ground turkey mixture, (again, approximately the length and width of the breast) and then place the turkey breast with it’s mixture and skin carefully in tact (skin side up) on top of the ground turkey mixture on the caulfat, patting it down to flatten it. (If you have any of the ground meat mixture left you could use this in a side dressing or for breakfast the next day.)

Carefully pull up the edge closest to you of the caulfat and pull it up as far as it will go up the side of the chicken breast. Then carefully begin to roll the chicken and it’s mixture up in the caulfat, tucking the ends in and creating a tidy package. Remember not to wrap it too loosely (your filling will fall out) or too tightly as it will crack the caulfat as it cooks. Repeat on the second breast.

Then in a large skillet, with 2 tbsp of olive oil,  saute your roulades (one at a time if your skillet is smaller) over medium heating, bringing them to a golden brown on all sides. Move them to a roasting pan lined with your remaining thyme and sage and let them cook in a 400 degree oven  until done, about 40 minutes. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.

Once done, remove from oven and let sit for five minutes covered, to seal in the juices before slicing. Serve with your favorites.

We’ll be having ours with roasted chestnut soup, savory bread pudding, baked yams with cinnamon butter, Gruyère popovers, kale with almonds in orange muscat champagne vinegar and cranberry and clementine relish. For dessert there’s always room for mini-caramel eclairs and a tunnel of fudge cake.

Caramel eclairs -- What a mouthful!