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....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Bites

Perfect Pairing:  Rotisserie chicken

While buffalo chicken wings have always been popular, I think there has been a big boost in the amount of buffalo flavored recipes in the last few years.  One of the most popular recipes is buffalo chicken dip.  I personally have made that dip at least a dozen times for get-togethers, and it is always a crowd favorite.  I am sure I will post about it the next time I make it, it is tough to beat.   
While the dip is great, I wanted to create a bite-sized, all-in-one, variation.  I came up with these buffalo chicken bites, and was pretty pleased with the result.  They have all of the essence of buffalo chicken wings, wrapped up in a tidy store-bought pizza dough package.  I served these at the weenie roast (mentioned here) and they were a huge hit.  I think they were the first thing disappear off of the buffet!  They may not be beautiful, but they are pretty tasty.
The Perfect Pairing for these bites is rotisserie chicken.  You could definitely cook your own chicken, but why do that when it is so easy to buy the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store?  Rotisserie chicken has tons of flavor, and is incredibly juicy.  It is perfect in this recipe.  I used a combination of light and dark meat.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Flognarde

Perfect Pairing:  Brulee Dishes from World Market

While name of this dish is a little strange, don’t let that deter you, it is really simple to make.  A flognarde is a French dessert, which is basically a clafoutis that is made with a fruit other than cherries.  The texture is a cross between flan and custard.  The lemon and blueberries add a bright flavor and pair nicely with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  You can make this recipe in a 9 inch pie plate or you can split it into 5 or 6 ramekins.  It is great warm or chilled.  I would recommend putting a cookie sheet underneath the baking dishes because there may be some spillover… as you can see in my photo.  Oops.  I think it adds character!
The Perfect Pairing for this dessert are brulee dishes that are available at World Market.  I had always wanted a set of these dishes but it seemed like an unnecessary expense.  One day while strolling around World Market I noticed that they were under $3 each.  Now, that is a steal.  They are oven safe and dishwasher friendly.  I don’t have any plans to make crème brulee in them because that would mean I need a kitchen torch… probably another unnecessary expense, but I don’t think I will have any trouble putting these cute dishes to good use!
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