Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in Review

I can’t believe we are almost to 2012!  How did that happen?  I had a great year in 2011 and I hope all of you did as well.  I am so blessed to have such wonderful family and friends, a great job, cozy home, a fantastic boyfriend, and fun opportunities.  I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring!
A big highlight of my year was starting Perfecting the Pairing.  It had been on my mind for years and I finally made it happen in late August.  I have had so much fun cooking, tasting, writing, photographing, and discussing the blog.  I have also had some frustrating moments cooking, tasting, writing and photographing…. but that is all part of it!  Thank you to everyone who has read my ramblings, commented, and especially tried the recipes!  I can’t tell you how much it means to me.  I get excited every time I receive a new comment or hear about someone new reading the blog.
I also need to thank my friends, family, and boyfriend for being such willing taste-testers.  I apologize for making you wait while I photograph a plate at 60 different angles or for making you hold a lamp over your head so the lighting is “just right”.  I also think Mariano’s (my favorite grocery store) should thank me for being such a good customer.
I have a long list of post ideas, recipes, and pairings that I can’t wait to share with you in 2012 but I thought it might be fun to do a review of some of the highlights of Perfecting the Pairing since it started in August.

Most viewed recipes according to the Blogger statisticians, in descending order:
Outrageous Brownies (which is kind of crazy since I just posted this…. People love chocolate!)

Personal Favorites (please note, I would not put something on Perfecting the Pairing unless I thought it was great but these are my absolute favorites):
Tomato Pie (this is good anytime)

Spicy Tomato and Avocado Shrimp Dip (Be sure to check out the organized grocery list!!)

Main and Sides:


Is there anything you would like me to try in 2012??  I am always open to suggestions and I would love to hear from you!
Have a safe, happy, and fun new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sweet Potato Strudel with Brown Butter

Perfect Pairing:  Dino:  The Essential Dean Martin Album

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  I definitely did!  My family had so much fun together opening gifts, enjoying good food and just being together.  I am sad the festivities are almost over.  We still have a couple of days together and I plan on making the most of it!

Are you browning your butter?  If not, you should start.  It was only recently that I realized how awesome brown butter tastes.  I had heard chefs refer to it on cooking shows, but had never really done anything with it myself.  Side note…. I have a weird addiction to any competitive cooking show.  They should start some sort of fantasy competitive cooking league.  I would be a killer.  Anyway, brown butter seemed very fancy to me, but honestly, there is nothing fancy about it.  It does not require any special equipment or ingredients.  By browning the butter the flavor completely changes and it goes from being plain old butter to this complex, nutty, savory delight. 
This strudel takes full advantage of the toasty butter but is also slightly sweet because of the dried cranberries, raisins, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  Everything is rolled up in layers of phyllo dough.  I know some people are a little intimidated by phyllo dough because it is fragile and comes with care instructions.  While it is important to keep it covered with a damp towel it is surprisingly easy to work with.  Don’t get flustered if it bunches up in one area or breaks, no one will know.  That is the beauty of layers, everything just melds together! 
I wish I had a better picture of the finished product.  This was served at the weenie roast and it was full-on darkness by the time I was ready to photograph it.  You’ll just have to trust me on how attractive and delicious it is.  The flaky crust melts in your mouth and the creamy filling has just the right amount of sweet and savory.  It was also surprisingly good leftover. 
The Perfect Pairing for this strudel is Dino: The Essential Dean Martin album.  When I think of strudel, phyllo dough, and brown butter I think of something very fancy.  This recipe is actually just good food.  That is kind of like Dino.  He has this air of sophistication around him but his music is relatable and fun.  I love this album.  It has so many great songs and is the perfect thing to play during a dinner party.  That voice is something else.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chili Spiced Soup with Stoplight Peppers and Avocado Relish

Perfect Pairing:  Sharp chef’s knife

One of the best fall meals is a great bowl of soup.  It is so comforting and filling.  This soup is my new favorite.  It is full of flavor and incredibly healthy.  It makes a big batch but it just gets better each day.  This recipe tells you to make your own seasoning blend, which has a kick.  If you are not a fan of spice you may want to cut back on the chili powder.  When you are mixing it up it may seem like a lot of spice but it does not overwhelm, just adds great flavor. 
Don’t skip the relish that goes on top of the soup.  It really makes it special.  If you can’t find queso fresco you could use feta cheese.
The Perfect Pairing for this soup is a really great chef’s knife.  There is a lot of chopping involved in this soup, but it can be quite enjoyable if you have the right knife.  Good knives can be pricey, but think of it as an investment.  If I was told I could only take one thing out of my kitchen it would be my Shun knife set.  That may be cheating seeing as it is a set of knives… but I think of it as clever game-playing.  There are lots of great brands out there but I am a huge fan of Shun.  My brother and sister-in-law got them as wedding presents and as soon as I tried them out I knew I needed these knives.   While I was looking for the link to Shun I realized they are having a pretty good promotion right now on their knives, click here to see it.  They would make a great holiday gift for the cook in your family!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Outrageous Brownies

Perfect Pairing:  A crowd of chocolate lovers

I apologize in advance for sharing this recipe.  These brownies will not be tagged with “healthy”.  I did not come up with the name Outrageous Brownies, but it is fitting.  My cousin, Julie, made these over the summer and everyone loved them.  I recently made them for a family get together, and received lots of compliments.  These are not your everyday, cake-like brownies.  There is only 1 ¼ cups of flour in the entire batch.  That tells you something.  There is also a LOT of chocolate involved! 

This is a Barefoot Contessa recipe.  Ina (Barefoot Contessa) often includes instant coffee in chocolate desserts because she says it balances out the chocolate without adding a coffee flavor.  I could detect a slight coffee flavor in these brownies so if you are not a fan I am sure it could be reduced.  I opted to make them without walnuts. 
I lined the pans with foil before baking the brownies so they were easy to lift out and slice. I would recommend refrigerating them overnight before slicing.  It will make your life a lot easier.  I cut off the edge so that they all have straight lines.  What you do with those “scraps” is up to you!
The Perfect Pairing for these brownies is a crowd of chocolate lovers.  Ina’s original recipe called for a 12x18x1 inch pan.  I do not have one of these, so I had to improvise.  I used 2, 9x13 pans and it worked perfectly.  That is a LOT of brownies so you will want a crowd to help you out or you could reduce the recipe. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Goat Cheese with Cranberries and Pistachios AND Party Appetizer Roundup

Perfect Pairing:  Holiday Party
I absolutely love entertaining this time of year.  I decorate my house immediately following Thanksgiving and start planning Christmas get-togethers.  My place is pretty small so it does not take long to hang the stockings by the chimney with care, so to speak.  My favorite part about Christmas decorating is hanging the ornaments on the tree.  Every ornament on my tree means something to me.  I love pulling them out of the box and thinking about who gave it to me, where I was when I bought it, or the memories it invokes. 
Years ago I started buying ornaments as my souvenir whenever I was traveling.  I used to travel a lot with my job and I went to some fun places.  In fact, I was lucky enough to travel to six continents.  Buying an ornament in each place was the perfect thing to do because they were affordable, small, and easy to bring home.  When I got home I would write when and where I got it on the bottom of the ornament. 
Here are some of my favorites.
A tangoing couple from a trip to Buenos Aires
The first ornament I remember on my personal Christmas tree in my bedroom as a little girl.
Every year my mom gives me the Hallmark Noelville light up Gingerbread House ornament.  I love these because you just pop in the tree light and do not have to pull out the bulb.
Mom has also given me the Swarovski snowflake ornament for the last 12 years.  I love the sparkle they add to my tree.
There were times that I was not able to find an actual ornament so I settled with a keychain.  Hey, if it hangs on the tree, I say it counts. 
This particular keychain was from a trip to South Africa.  I absolutely had to get it because of this guy that I met on the road while I was there.  Hey buddy!
I guess sometimes the ornaments don’t have a meaning; I just think they are cute. 
I also seem to have a lot of ornaments that fall into the tropical/sparkly/pink category.

When I have Christmas get-togethers at my house I usually serve a variety of appetizers rather than a full meal.  The key is to have a few appetizers that are easy to throw together or that could be made ahead of time.  This year I plan on including roasted vegetable dip, manchego cheese with brown butter honey sauce, rosemary cocktail nuts, Scottish oatcakes, and prosciutto wrapped breadsticks in the menu because they are all so easy and delicious. 
I will also be making goat cheese with cranberries and pistachios.  It does not get any easier than this…. You just cover a 4 oz log of goat cheese with chopped dried cranberries and chopped pistachios and serve it with crackers.  It takes minutes to make and looks so festive!  It is easy to keep the ingredients on hand in case you have some unexpected visitors stop by.  That is why goat cheese with cranberries and pistachios is the Perfect Pairing for holiday parties!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Flatbreads with Thyme, Honey and Sea Salt

Perfect Pairing:  Maldon Sea Salt

I have been on a thyme kick lately.  There is something about this herb that has been calling out to me for the last couple of months.  I have been adding it to soups, salads, and whatever else I happen to be making.  I think the recipe I posted for oven roasted mushroom tapas is what got me hooked on fresh thyme.  When I saw a recipe that added fresh thyme to homemade flatbreads along with honey, salt, and cheese…. Well, it was something I needed to try immediately.
These flatbreads could almost be called a cracker because they are so thin and crispy.  The combination of honey, cheese and salt is crazy good.   These would be the perfect thing to serve at a cocktail party or alongside your favorite soup recipe.  If you left off the thyme I bet these flatbreads would also be pretty amazing with a little spread of Nutella.  Let's be honest.... what is not improved by Nutella?
When you are rolling out the flatbreads they will seem a little oily but after they bake they are crispy and light.  I used BellaVitano Gold Reserve Cheese, which was lovely, but you could use Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese.
The Perfect Pairing for these flatbreads is Maldon Sea Salt.  I have the Maldon Sea Salt Flakes and I am a huge fan.  I always use it as a finishing salt rather than cooking with it.  The flakes are much larger than usual kosher salt but they are not overwhelming because they have a delicate flavor. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Slow Cooker Beef Short Ribs

Perfect Pairing:  Celery Root and Apple Puree

I am a little intimidated by certain kinds of meat.  I am not likely to take on a big rack of ribs because I know there are experts out there that would say I am doing it all wrong.  Ribs are religion to some people.  I will leave them to the professionals, at least for now.  I think short ribs are much more approachable.  It seems like they are becoming extremely popular these days along with pork belly.  Has anyone else noticed that? 
I had never done anything with short ribs before but decided to give them a try in my slow cooker.  Ohmygoodness.  They were so extremely good and easy!  Since they are so fattening I will not be making them on a regular basis, but they are great for a special dinner.  The slow cooker does all the work for you so that when you are ready to serve them the meat has fallen off the bone.  You can barely get them out in one piece because they are so tender. 
There are quite a few ingredients in this recipe because I was using what I had on hand.  It is definitely not a science, and I think you could leave out a couple of items if you don’t have them on hand, or don’t want to buy them.  I don’t think it would compromise the flavor.
The Perfect Pairing for this short rib dish is the celery root and apple puree I featured here.  You are definitely going to want something to soak up the sauce on these ribs.  You could also serve them with mashed potatoes but I really liked the flavor of the celery root puree because it was lighter than your standard mashed potatoes.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Herbed Tomatoes

Perfect Pairing:  Leftover herbs in your crisper drawer

You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet lately on Perfecting the Pairing.  I had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with my friends and family, which kept me pretty busy.  Even though I was quiet on the blog I was definitely still cooking and photographing.  There are lots of fun things coming up! 

I got home last night from an absolutely amazing vacation in Grand Cayman.  We had delicious food, great service, perfect weather, and lots of great memories.  I have been a little heartsick all day thinking about that blue sky and sea.  I can tell you that, without a doubt, a Perfect Pairing is a pina colada on the beach.
Now that I am home I am thinking about healthy, while still flavorful, dishes.  These herbed tomatoes fit the bill. They are such an easy and flavorful side dish.  I am a big fan of grape tomatoes.  They are the first thing I go for on a veggie tray.  It seems they are always in season, which is nice since the regular tomato season is so fleeting.  The grape tomatoes in this dish burst in your mouth with the flavors of garlic and herbs.  They are so good.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is the leftover herbs in your crisper drawer.  If you are like me you have half-used packages of basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc. roaming around your refrigerator on a regular basis.  Any combination of herbs works in this recipe but I really like basil, thyme and parsley. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Not Your Standard Potato Salad

Perfect Pairing: Potato scrubbing gloves

There are so many versions of potato salad, and they can range from really fantastic (my mom’s version with homemade mayonnaise) to pretty awful (grocery store version).  I am calling this recipe “Not Your Standard Potato Salad” because it is exactly that.  This version has no mayonnaise, includes bacon and cheese, and has a spicy kick.  The potatoes are boiled with a bag of Zatarain’s crab boil.  It gives great flavor to the potatoes even before anything else is added. 
I can’t label this as healthy but I definitely lightened it up from Guy Fieri’s original version. He recommended using all of the bacon grease AND a stick of butter.  WHAT??  That is complete craziness.  I also used half the amount of bacon, reduced the amount of cheese, and used light sour cream.   
The Perfect Pairing for this salad is potato scrubbing gloves.  Potato gloves are made out of a rough-textured nylon material that easily scrubs off dirt and grime from potato skins.  They are not a kitchen necessity but are kind of fun to have.  My mom put them in my stocking at Christmas, and they are great when you have a large amount of potatoes to clean.  The last time I made this recipe I tripled it for a big group.  That meant a lot of potato cleaning and these came in really handy.  Actually… I think my mom scrubbed all of the potatoes, but she really appeared to be enjoying the gloves.  Thanks mom!

* I have not figured out how to take a pretty picture of potato salad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Spinach

Perfect Pairing:  Leftover bacon from the freezer

Full disclosure… this dish is not very photogenic, but it is tasty!  This sautéed spinach is not your typical steak house version that is full of garlic and oil.  This recipe has a savory and sweet profile because of the red onions, bacon, and pineapple.  One thing I have learned is that you should buy more fresh spinach than you think you will need.  The recipe below calls for 10 oz of fresh spinach, which seems like a lot, but cooks down so much that it only equals about three servings.
The Perfect Pairing for this dish is leftover bacon you have in your freezer.  When I buy bacon for a recipe, I rarely need the entire package so I toss the leftover in the freezer.   I can’t stand defrosting meat in the microwave.  I always cook it too long and it gets rubbery around the edges. Blech.  I hate that!  I saw a great tip on the Food Network about using bacon directly from the freezer when you need bacon pieces.  Pull out the frozen bacon and put it directly on a chopping board.  Don’t worry about trying to pull the pieces apart.  Using a sharp knife, cut small pieces off of the end of the bacon strips until you have enough for your recipe.  You can put the frozen bacon pieces directly in the pan and break them up once they start to defrost. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Celery Root and Apple Puree

Perfect Pairing:  Good Peeler

Recently I was looking for a side dish recipe that would soak up a yummy sauce.  I wanted to do something different, something other than mashed potatoes, rice, or quinoa.  I remembered being very intrigued when I saw the Barefoot Contessa make a celery root puree on a Thanksgiving episode.  I did a quick search and found the recipe in one of my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.  After reading through it I decided to give it a try, even though I had never purchased celery root in my life.
Let’s just talk about celery root (or celeriac) for a moment.  It is ugly.  It is all knobby and funny looking.  I was a little intimidated when I brought it home.  Once I went at it with a peeler it started to resemble something I would want to eat.  The texture is a bit softer than a potato and it has a slight celery flavor, but it pretty much takes on the flavor of other ingredients.  Where celeriac really shines is in the nutritional department.  It has less than half the calories of a potato and a third of the carbohydrates, but the same amount of fiber, which makes it a great substitute for potatoes. 
This recipe combines celery root with fennel, apples, apple cider and potatoes.  The flavor is slightly sweet and really satisfying. 
The Perfect Pairing for this puree is a good peeler.  Peeling the celery root takes some time and you also have to peel the potatoes and apples.  You are going to want a high quality peeler for this recipe or your hand will be suffering.  I really like the OXO hand peeler.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Patatas Bravas

Perfect Pairing – Spicy Dipping Sauce

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I had a great time with my family and friends.  Now I am in full swing Christmas mode!  I finished my decorating yesterday so things feel pretty festive around my house.  I love to entertain during the holidays so I will be sharing some of my favorite party dishes over the next couple of weeks.  This particular dish is always a hit.

A lot of people ask me what type of things I like to cook or what is my favorite dish to make.  I have such a hard time with this question because I really like to make a wide variety of items.  I cannot pinpoint a genre of food or flavors that I like most.  One thing that I know for sure is that I love having dinner parties where the “meal” is a variety of appetizers.  There are always lots of flavors and things to dip.  I like to dip. 
Patatas Bravas is a great appetizer or side dish for lovers of dipping.  They are one of the most popular dishes served in tapas restaurants.  Patatas Bravas actually means “fierce potatoes” since they are usually served with a spicy dipping sauce.  I wanted to make this dish for a recent tapas dinner party but I did not want to fry the potatoes, which is the standard method.  I chose to roast them in a hot oven and it worked out really well!  They were crispy on the outside and the inside was soft.
The Perfect Pairing for my version of roasted patatas bravas is a spicy dipping sauce.  I have served these with a spicy tomato based sauce as well as a spicy roasted garlic aioli.  Both of the sauces are a cinch to make so you could put out both dips and let your guests decide which one they prefer! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Manchego Cheese with Brown Butter Honey Sauce

Perfect Pairing:  Prosciutto and Arugula
I can hardly believe it is Thanksgiving this week!  Not only is it the best culinary holiday of the year it officially kicks off the holiday season festivities. 

Last year for Thanksgiving we were in San Francisco visiting my brother and sister-in-law (Jon and Kelly) for their famous Thanksgiving party.  We were all having a great time cooking dishes, munching on appetizers, and taking group photos.  One of those group photos will go down in history.... All the ladies were together in the backyard and my brother was taking the picture.  He said, "On the count of three, say Kelly's pregnant!"  Chaos ensued.   The picture below really captures the moment. I am clearly the first person to catch on while others are still posing for the photo.  I love the shocked look on my face and Kelly's mischievous grin.

That is officially my favorite Thanksgiving memory.  A year later we have Lilla in our lives and she is the most precious little baby in the world. 

I am going to miss Jon, Kelly, and Lilla this year but I have no doubt that I will have a wonderful holiday here in the Midwest.  I get to spend it with my wonderful parents and extended family, handsome boyfriend, and my other brother's family.  His kids (who happen to be the most adorable children in the world) are going to have a great time at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

We are pretty traditional when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu.  The dinner does not vary much. Why mess with a good thing??  I can be a little more adventurous when it comes to the appetizers.  The key is to keep them light and easy.  You don't want to ruin the main event!  This manchego cheese appetizer is the perfect thing to put out because it only takes a few minutes of prep and everyone will love it.

Previously I wrote about my affinity for cheese plates, and how to create the best combination of cheeses, condiments and crackers.  I think cheese plates are one of the best things to set out before a dinner party.  Sometimes you don’t want to buy 3 or 4 different types of cheese, especially if you are having a more intimate group.  Serving Manchego Cheese with Brown Butter Honey Sauce makes the most of one type of cheese; you won’t miss having a variety laid out. 
Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain.  It is a hard, crumbly cheese that is a little tangy and nutty.    It is perfectly complimented by this Brown Butter Honey Sauce.  The sauce is a cinch to make and is so incredibly delicious.  I would recommend pouring the sauce on the cheese while it is still hot.  After it cools it hardens just a bit, which makes it the perfect texture.  Top it off with a sprinkle of sea salt and you have an amazing appetizer.
The Perfect Pairing for Manchego Cheese with Brown Butter Honey Sauce is thinly sliced prosciutto and arugula.  All of the flavors taste great together on crackers or crostini.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oven Roasted Mushroom Tapas with Goat Cheese

Perfect Pairing:  Spanish Rioja Wine

I love tapas.  When I go to dinner I enjoy trying a few different things rather than settling on one entrée.  Tapas are perfect!  Everyone gets to sample multiple dishes.  This roasted mushroom dish is really simple but full of good things like exotic mushrooms, garlic, shallots, chile oil, thyme and goat cheese.  The flavorful mushrooms are best served up on crusty bread. 
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is a Spanish Rioja red wine.  Riojas are probably the most popular Spanish wines.  They are primarily made with Tempranillo grapes.  It has a bright, fresh flavor that goes really well with this savory mushroom dish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bacon, Pineapple and Boursin Puff Pastry Bites

Perfect Pairing: Madeleine Peyroux music

When I was in college I studied for a semester in Nice, France.  I lived right on the Promenade Des Anglais and thought I was a pretty big deal.  Never mind the fact that I lived in a one bedroom (sometimes roach infested) apartment with three other girls.  It was the high life.  We thought we were so cool.  We would use our minimal French skills to ask the nice man at the grocery store which wine would be best with our baguette, and then buy the stuff in the plastic bottle anyway.  
One of my favorite fancy French food items to buy at the local store was this amazing garlic and herb cheese.  It was great on everything!  I sure was going to miss that when I went back to the Midwest.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the very same cheese at the grocery store in my hometown of about 7,000 people.  So… maybe Boursin cheese was not as special as I thought.   Even though Boursin lost its exotic appeal, I still love it.  I especially love the fact that they have a light version that tastes just as good as the stuff I enjoyed on the rocky beach in Nice.  Garlic and herb Boursin cheese gives great flavor to this appetizer along with bacon, pineapple,curry, and Monterey Jack Cheese.  Nestle all of that yumminess in puff pastry and you have one tasty appetizer. 
The Perfect Pairing for this appetizer is the beautiful music of Madeleine Peyroux.  She is one of my favorite artists to play at a dinner party.  She has an old-fashioned voice that reminds me of Billie Holiday.  Like my beloved Boursin, she is of French descent and sings a few songs in French.  I would highly recommend her albums Half the Perfect World and Careless Love. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prosciutto Wrapped Breadsticks

Perfect Pairing:  Wheat Thin Crunch Stix, Honey Wheat Flavor

Prosciutto wrapped breadsticks are the perfect thing to serve alongside a cocktail as your guests arrive for a dinner party.   The breadsticks are coated in a cream cheese mixture that has lemon, chives, garlic, and parmesan.  Then the sticks are wrapped in paper thin slices of salty prosciutto and peppery arugula. They are crunchy and creamy, savory yet slightly sweet, and full of flavor.
The Perfect Pairing for this appetizer is the new product, Wheat Thin Crunch Stix in Honey Wheat.  When I went to the store to buy the ingredients I was planning on getting the long skinny breadsticks that are often referred to as Grissini.  They were nowhere to be found at my store, so I decided to try out the new Wheat Thin Stix.  While I wish they were a little bit longer, I loved the flavor.  They had the characteristic sweet flavor of traditional Wheat Thins which was perfect for this recipe.  I call it a happy accident!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

Perfect Pairing: Cookie Scoop

I really wonder how someone first came up with carrot cake.  What would possess that person to put carrots in a dessert?  Whatever the reason, I am glad they figured it out.  I think most people will agree that carrot cake is one of the best desserts out there.  I don’t think carrots are actually the reason it is so delicious, more likely it is the spices….. or perhaps the cream cheese frosting. 
These sandwich cookies taste just like a carrot cake, but they are handheld!  Forget actually baking and frosting cakes, these little guys have all of the flavor but none of the fuss.    
The Perfect Pairing for this fun dessert is a cookie scoop.  If you bake cookies, you need one of these scoops.  Using a cookie scoop is fast, easy, and all of your cookies will be uniform.   Uniformity is key in this recipe since you are sandwiching the cookies together.  Forget trying to manage two tablespoons to scoop out the dough, that’s for the birds.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apple Potato Mash

Perfect Pairing: Cold and rainy day

Mashed potatoes are just awesome.  My grandma Marian is pretty much the only person I know that does not like mashed potatoes… but she also does not like chocolate.  Crazy!  There are a million different recipes out there for mashed potatoes; some of them are calorically terrifying.  A few examples…..
-Michael Chiarello – He recommends 3 sticks of butter, 2/3 cups olive oil AND 1 ½ cups of heavy cream!  That is about 550 grams of fat just in those three ingredients.  He is one of my all-time favorite chefs, but that is downright scary. 
-Pioneer Woman -   Oh how I love the Pioneer Woman!  I am sure her mashed potatoes are fantastic, and why wouldn’t they be with almost 2 sticks of butter?
-Paula Deen – No surprise here, she is known for her love of all things fattening but 1 ½ pounds of bacon, a stick of butter and an entire block of cheddar cheese is pushing the limits, in my opinion.
I am sure all of the recipes above taste fabulous, but are not exactly sensible for a balanced diet. 
I used light cream cheese and fat free half and half in this recipe for Apple Potato Mash and they were delicious.  It may seem strange to add apples to your mashed potatoes but they add a nice, subtle flavor, and they add bulk without adding extra fat and calories. 
The Perfect Pairing for this Apple Potato Mash is a cold and rainy day.  If you live in the Chicago area.... that would be a day like today!  This yummy comfort food will warm you right up and make you happy because it is guilt free!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Taco Dip

Perfect Pairing: Tortilla chips and pepper strips

A lot of people don’t think about using pumpkin in savory dishes but it is great in this pumpkin taco dip.  The pumpkin adds balance to the dip and great color.  It is hard to pick out the pumpkin flavor.  In fact, most people can’t tell there is pumpkin in the dip when they taste it.  This dip would be the perfect thing to set out at any fall party!
The Perfect Pairing for pumpkin taco dip is tortilla chips and pepper strips.  The recipe calls for half of a green and red pepper so you can just slice up the leftovers to serve with the dip.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Apricot Rosemary Bars

Perfect Pairing – Stainless Measuring Scoops

Apricot and rosemary are probably not the first ingredients that come to your mind when you think about desserts.  Think again!  They are delightful together in these Apricot Rosemary Bars.  The rosemary lends just a hint of herby freshness to the shortbread crust and the apricot filling is sweet and tart.  Everything is topped off with an oatmeal streusel.  I think these bars actually taste better after a couple of days, so they are great a dessert to make in advance. 
The Perfect Pairing for Apricot Rosemary Bars are stainless steel measuring scoops.  You might think that any old measuring device does the trick, but I beg to differ.  I love my measuring scoops.  That might make me strange, or it might mean I need a new hobby, or perhaps it just means that I have a slight obsession with collecting cool kitchen gadgets.  I’ll own it.  Anyway, if I have to measure out dry ingredients I always reach for my scoop measuring tools rather than the plastic measuring cups.  The scoop shape makes it easier to measure and level out flour and sugar from a canister and, frankly, they make me happy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Recipe Page!

I just added a ‘Recipes’ page to Perfecting the Pairing.  The link is located under the cherry banner.  

Cooking Class Adventure at The Chopping Block

Perfect Pairing – Julia Child Recipes
For our one year anniversary my boyfriend gave me a cooking class at The Chopping Block at the Merchandise Mart.  The Chopping Block is a well known cooking school in Chicago that offers interactive cooking classes.  I was so excited when I found out that we were going to do this together.  I had been to a class a few years ago at their other location in Lincoln Square, and had always wanted to try the location at the Mart.  He signed us up for the “Celebrating Julia Child” session.  It was so much fun to make some of Julia’s classic recipes, and let someone else clean up the mess.  The menu included Petits Choux au Fromage (Cheese Puffs), Lobster Thermidor with Terragon Béchamel Sauce, Beef Bourguignon, and Apple Tarte Tatin. 
When we arrived the teacher/chef had already made the Petits Choux au Fromage since it was such an aggressive menu to complete in the 3 hours.  I included the recipe below for the cheese puffs but since I did not make them I cannot provide much commentary.  I can tell you that they were very tasty with our wine! 
First up was the Beef Bourguignon.  We started by seasoning the meat, dredging it in flour and browning in a pot.  As soon as the mean was browned on all sides we transferred it to the lid and started cooking the bacon, as seen below. 
Please note… all of the pictures were taken on my phone so the quality is not great, but you get the idea!

Once the bacon was done we added the pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, and tomato paste.
Next into the pot goes the cognac, stock, and red wine.  We also added a bouquet garni, which is a bundle of celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves.  Everything is tied up with kitchen string and submersed in the pot to add flavor. 
Now you just let it cook for a couple of hours.  The chef told us that at this point you could transfer everything to a crock pot and put it on low for about 6 hours, which would make the meat really tender.  I am totally going to try that sometime.
A couple of hours later…..

Time for Lobster Thermidor!  I was really excited about this dish because I am not likely to make anything with live lobsters at home.  Start by boiling a big pot of water with lemons, onion, peppercorns and another bouquet garni.
While the water was heating up we made the Tarragon Béchamel Sauce.  Chopped shallots are cooked in butter….
Then you make a roux with flour, and add wine and whole milk.  Simmer until it is a la nappe.  I learned that is a fancy term for the ideal sauce consistency.  It should coat the surface and stay put if you drag a line through it.
We used live lobsters!
Into the pot they go until they are bright red and the protein starts to push out (the white stuff).
Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process.
Then we received a lobster chopping lesson. Pull off the claws, cut down the back, remove the tomalley (AKA, yucky stuff), and pull the meat out of the tails.
The tail meat is coarsely chopped and folded into the béchamel, with some parmesan. 
The mixture is spooned back into the tails and garnished with the claw meat and more parmesan. Then they go into the oven for about 10 minutes.  YUM.

The dessert for the evening was an Apple Tarte Tatin made with granny smith apples and puff pastry.  The apples are sliced and combined with lemon juice and sugar for one hour.  You drain off the sugary liquid into a skillet and make a caramel sauce.

Once the caramel has browned you arrange the apples in the skillet in a lovely pattern.
When you get tired of doing that, you just toss them in.
Cover everything with puff pastry.

Into the oven it goes for 30 minutes, flip onto a plate and enjoy!
The Chopping Block happened to have some leftover tiramisu base from a party the night before… it didn’t suck on top of the tatin.
We had SUCH a fun time at the Chopping Block and I hope to go back very soon.  Best gift ever!

Keep reading for the recipes....
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