Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Four of the best (and whimsical) hors d'oeuvres for a new year...

So I've been thinking about this blog a lot... though you probably wouldn't realize it since I haven't really been posting as much as I should (bad, bad Mae!).  I promise I haven't forgotten about you all, quite the contrary - with a fresh year/decade coming up, I've been busy thinking about how to make a *New and Improved!* version of the site.  I'm happy to say I think I've come up with some nifty-ish ideas (I think, kinda, maybe), and you'll just have to stick around to see what I mean by that (muahaha!).

Until then, I thought maybe I'd end this year on a classy note... and what's classier than olive penguins and cheese snowmen, I ask you?  Here's my evidence to back this up:

a) Penguins wear tuxes, all day, every day.  That's more than even James Bond can say.
b) Snowmen wear TOP HATS.  Just like British people.  'Nuff said.

As for the other hors d'oeuvres on this menu, I'd say they're pretty and elegant, too.  But the most important part of all of these for me is the whimsical part.  If there's something more whimsical than miniature versions of food, I've yet to find it.  I worried these might cross the line from "whimsy" into "precious", which is the difference between, say...

Whimsical                                                    Precious (icky/cutesy)

... I'm not even going to go into why this little fella on the right appears to be drinking a beer larger than his torso - as if hauling those freak-huge parsnips he's got wouldn't be hard enough sober for a six-year-old.

In any case, as Jason gave these the thumbs up on my hors d'oeuvres (boys generally being the best alarmists for anything too "cutesy"), I think I'm in the clear by most standards as far as the "precious" quotient goes.  Rock on.

For the next four weeks I'll be featuring one recipe a week for these whimsical hors d'oeuvres in honor of the first month of the new decade!  Why not all at once?  Well, I have to have something to persuade you to come back and visit me over and over again, don't I?  And if you're thinking "That's lame, I'm have a NYE party tomorrow that I could use recipes for!"  Yes, this might be true, so I'll give you the gist (spoiler alerts?) for the other 3 hors d'oeuvres so you can make them if you're dying to do so tomorrow... plus you could always email me at the "Contact" tab for it.  I love getting emails.  Really, I do.

So, here is 1 of the 4 recipes for classy/whimsical-but-not-precious (and did I mention vegetarian, inexpensive and easy?) hors d'oeuvres...

Recipe numero uno: The Winter Penguins and Snowmen (make delicious armies to command at will!)

The penguin recipe can be found all over the web - I haven't been able to figure out where it's orginated from.  If you're the mastermind of this recipe (and can prove it) and reading this getting pissed that I'm reproducing it... well, I'm guessing you're pretty busy being pissed at a lot of people cause this thing is as popular as the snickerdoodle.  Feel free to send me a note, though, and I'll happily credit you for this awesome invention.  I HAVE changed it up from the versions I've found, I'd like to note, in that I used canned pickled spicy carrots instead of chopping up fresh ones.  Why?

a) They're uniform and pre-cut for my ease and comfort (yay!)
b) They're spicy, and I like spicy - I think they make these *pop* a little more then plain raw carrots - especially since California black olives and cream cheese aren't very "pop-y" on their own, though delish.

For the Penguins you'll need...

A can of medium California black olives
A can of large California black olives
An 8 oz pkg of cream cheese (feel free to flavor w/herbs, garlic, whatever)
A can (11 oz works) of spicy carrot coins
Toothpicks (for stabbing)

Simply slice one side of the large olive lengthwise and fill with cream cheese (you'll probably want to clean up the cheese smears with a damn paper towel).  Cut a little triangle pie shape out of a carrot coin and insert into hole of medium olive for the beak.  Then layer as shown and skewer that little puppy with a toothpick.  The horror!

<-- Still classy, even without a head)

Penguin face-off!

Now, for the snowmen, this is an idea I had myself, but it does seem like a couple other people like me (raised only children, too much time left alone with food) have had similar ideas to mine on this, though I've yet to see an exact replica when I Google'd my creation.  What can I say?  Great minds... or something to that effect.

For the snowmen you'll need...

Small fresh mozzarella "pearls" (available in tubs in many places)
Substitute cream or goat cheese rolled into balls (again, feel free to flavor at will)
Sliced seedless (English) cucumbers - not too thin as these will serve as a base for your snowmen
Whole roasted red peppers - sliced into long, thin strips
A can of medium California black olives
A can of large California black olives

Just cut as pictured below (for the top hat, you're just cutting off the very ends of the olives to make a cylinder shape) and assemble.  Don't forget the toothpicks!

Coming up next week: Tomato bisque shots with mini grilled cheese

Followed by: Quails eggs and olive oil blinis (aka Mini Pancakes and Eggs)

To be concluded with: Thai sweet potato cups

If you've enjoyed my recipes, please vote for my Vietnamese-style Moo Shu at Foodista!  :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ruby pasta - cooked with beets and wine!

I recently thought I'd see what it took to make some truly bright-red pasta out of your standard box of semolina shells.  Having some fresh beets on hand, I thought I'd boil them (scrubbed very well) and save the juice to cook my pasta in.  Since I'd recently seen Rachael Ray make spaghettini cooked in red wine on Iron Chef, I thought I'd supplement the beet juice with a cup of Cabernet.

Underwhelming pasta boiled in beet juice and red wine

I wasn't really expecting the results to be exactly what I was looking for... which is good because what came out into the bowl was a mass of slightly anemic purple pasta.  The wine had given a little flavor to the shells, which is nice, but the color was still off the mark. 

 Now THAT'S more like it!

The solution?  Cut up the freshly boiled beets and toss them with the still-hot pasta.  Viola!  Bright red pasta!  I tossed it with some olive oil to enhance the color with a rich sheen - then added roasted asparagus tips, garlic, salt/pepper and a squeeze of lemon!  So pretty, surprisingly easy... and oh so YUM! 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried cooking pasta in wine or beets (or both!)... or just any unconventional pasta-cooking wisdom!

PS - Yes, I took these pictures on the snow-covered picnic table in the backyard of my building... SO COLD, and yes, I looked insane to my neighbors.  Yay!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preserving a Dish with a Rare Bird

I think maybe the title for this post sounds like a sentence out of a Gertrude Stein manuscript, but I promise it all makes sense.  The idea for this post came from my recently renewed fascination with homemade jams - which I'm sure is part of a larger infatuation with all things "throwback" or "vintage".   For me, the leading preservationist in the jam craft are celebrities nearly as much as Brad Pitt might be to the average person: June Taylor, Eugenia Bone, and, of course, Christine Ferber of Mes Confitures fame - they're the people I'd like to see on Conan.  While I don't exactly hang their posters around my kitchen or anything, I'm pretty sure I'd ask for their autographs and to take a picture with them if I were to bump into them on the street, and that's more than I'd do for any of the cast of Gossip Girl.

Lately here in Chicago there has been a new name on the scene that has been continually peaking my interest: Elizabeth Madden of Rare Bird Preserves.  Madden's jars of unique fruit combinations were available this past Summer at my local farmer's market in the Andersonville neighborhood.  I'd find myself overwhelmed with curiosity and pass by the crowded booth once, twice, and then a third time: it seemed whenever I happened by there was never a lull in the groups sampling for me to be able to make my move and start asking my gazillion questions.  I limited myself to mutely sampling from jars with rapturous parings like strawberries and chocolate.

Thankfully later in the season the Chicago Reader featured an article about Rare Bird and it's mastermind that answered most of the questions for me, and only served to validate my interest.  To boil it down (get it?), here are the things that I love about Rare Bird:

  • Preserves are made in small batches, out of in-season fruits.  If the ingredients aren't up to par, that particular recipe is on hold until they are.
  • Madden uses natural pectin sources, like lemon and apple peelings.  No powder in sight.
  • The varieties are the definition of whimsical: from Chocolate Orange to Meyer Lemon Rosemary.

At this point I should probably go on record to say that as of the writing of this, the people at Rare Bird, including Ms. Madden have no idea who I am, and have likely never bumped into Peas Love Carrots during a web search.  I decided to whip up a recipe based on one of her preserves just because it seemed like a nifty thing to do - and a good excuse to buy a jar and steal spoonfuls during cooking.  

So here you go - if you're not fortunate enough to be able to get your hands on this awesome preserve, I've included substitutes you can use, and even just any preserves as close to this one could work, I'd suppose... it just won't be as much fun to snack on the leftovers...

Five Spice Pork Loin with Apple-Hibiscus-Plum Glaze

What to get...

1 whole boneless pork loin - fat on (approx 2 lbs)

For the wet rub...

2 tablespoons of 5 spice powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cracked Szechuan peppercorns (or regular)
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
Salt to taste

For the glaze...

1/2 cup Rare Bird Apple-Hibiscus-Plum preserves

- OR -

1/2 green apple peeled and julienne
3 tablespoons apple jam
1 plum, skinned and chopped
1/4 cup hibiscus tea, brewed
(Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and simmer for 20 mins or until thick)

What to do with it all...

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine rub ingredients and coat pork loin with them
Heat a large oven-proof skillet on high and sear your loin on all sides until brown
Spoon over preserves or substitute glaze
Place skillet in the oven and roast until internal temperature is 145 degrees (about 1 hour) for a slightly pinkish center
Broil on high for 1 - 2 minutes on top rack to get a little extra caramelization on the glaze
Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and allow to rest for 15 - 20 minutes
Serve with braised red cabbage

Please vote for my Vietnamese Moo Shu Pancakes on Foodista!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Accidental Celeriac - How Soup Became Salad

The other day I set out to make a celeriac puree soup.  Nothing mind-blowing or inventive, just the standard accompaniments of potatoes and leeks, some cream and good stock.  Jason and I had found some nice celeriac at the only real year-round farmers market in Chicago, Green City, and having never worked with this nobbly root before, I thought I'd play it safe for once.  It was not to be, however...

Lots of the coolest inventions have come from mistakes: The microwave, penicillin... even the cornflake came about when Dr. Kellogg let a pot of boiled wheat for hospital patients overcook.  Now, I'm not trying to say I invented something to approach any of these inventions, and I am even pretty sure plenty of other people have discovered this, but for me, it's a novel and new idea... so I'm really just asking that everyone humor me for a little while.

What happened was,  I decided to pan saute the root pieces a little before adding to the stock and let one batch go a little too long, and with a little too much olive oil.  This left me with pan fried celeriac.  Hmmm... no good for soup, I shrugged and slid the rejects to a "Mathea Eats Mistakes" pile.   As I reached over to sample my pile, I realized the golden little pieces looked an awful lot yummy potato wedges.  A sprinkling of sea salt and a nibble confirmed these were not rejects at all: they were crisp on the outside, with a tender, almost artichoke heart quality on the inside with that same twinge of sweetness.  Then there was the bright green of the celery to remind you that this was no potato, oh no... There would be no soup tonight.

Plated with some greens, small heirloom or grape tomatoes (they don't have to be fancy-pants), bacon and a Dijon vinaigrette these were super.  I was happy about my little discovery - enough that I didn't even care that I didn't get to eat my Mistakes pile all by myself...

Recipe: Accidental Sauteed Celeriac Salad

For the vinaigrette...

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot 
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1/2 tablespoon dried)

For salad...

1 large celeriac bulb (celery root)
3 cups mesclun lettuce mix
3 strips bacon - diced and cooked
1 cup whole small tomatoes (such as grape)
2 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt & cracked pepper to taste

What to do with it all...

Start with your vinaigrette by adding shallots to vinegar and lemon juice, allowing them to "pickle" for at least 5 minutes - 15 being ideal
In small bowl, slowly stir olive oil into mustard in a small bowl with a wooden spoon
Add dill and shallot/vinegar/lemon juice mixture to olive oil/mustard and stir - set aside
Prepare celery root like you would cut a pineapple - cutting off top and bottom, cutting away outer skin and inner, spongy core
Slice remaining pieces into thin wedges
Coat a medium saute pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat on medium
Add your wedges in a single layer, fry on one side, then other until golden
Remove and transfer to paper towel to drain excess oil - salt and pepper wedges to taste
Repeat until all wedges are cooked
For one large salad: toss your greens and tomatoes with vinaigrette, adding salt and pepper to taste
Top with celeriac wedges and bacon
For individual salads: toss your greens and tomatoes with vinaigrette and salt and pepper, reserving a tablespoon for plating
Divide greens and tomatoes to plates, top with celeriac and bacon
Spoon reserved vinaigrette over celeriac

Thursday, December 3, 2009

When Caramel and Tomatoes Get Together, Beautiful Savory Tarts Are Born

In edible chemistry news this week, the Tomato Federation sent a delegate to the people of Caramel on Tuesday.  The aim of this mission was to help these two cultures better understand one other thru an exchange of good will - therefore ending a centuries-long feud between their nations.  The good citizens of Onion and Rosemary were kind enough to mediate this meeting, and reported this momentous occasion a great success. 

As a symbol of their newly forged peace, the nations created a tart... a tart so delectable that one might wonder if tomato and caramel have stayed apart this long in order to preserve us humans from the catastrophic possibility of tearing apart our own society - battling each other for just another slice of this heavenly invention.  What the future holds for these two races is hard to say, but one thing is clear... it's a little brighter now.

So, OK, a while back I read an article in the New York Times about a caramelized tomato tart Tatin.  I'm not normally the sort of person that likes major collides between sweet and savory (I mean, the bread and butter pickle is gross, come on), but I was intrigued by this recipe.  Maybe it was just the high praise Melissa Clark had for this dish, and her mouthwatering descriptive powers, but I couldn't get this notion out of my mind.  Tomato and caramel... caramel and tomatoes...

So here's my own version of this lovely dish.  I've made a few key changes for the sake of something different - this is not a Tatin, as there is no puff pastry dough, but instead a pâte brisée dough - the sort used for traditional savory, flaky tart crusts.  The recipe for the crust can be found at very talented Erika the Pastry Chef at Home's website.  I laced in some fresh rosemary during the incorporation of the butter step, but if you're using a store bought crust, you can leave it out or add it to the bottom of the shell when you're filling it.  I like both versions of this tart, but the pâte brisée version has a nice flakiness to play off the juicy tomatoes that I love.  I also take out the step of the separate caramel sauce prep and create the sauce with the onions in the pan (since my version isn't inverted for baking).

Please don't let the idea of the caramelizing throw you off on this one, it's not a cloying-ly sweet dish whatsoever - if it were, I would not like it.  Instead, the caramel lends a pleasant, binding gooey-ness to a lovely toothsome filling.  I hope you enjoy it - just not too much, we don't want to start any civil wars over a tart...

Recipe: Caramelized Tomato Onion Tart with Rosemary Crust

What to get (adapted from this recipe)

1 premade pie crust, or use the recipe found here to make your own and add 1 TB fresh chopped rosemary

1 pound of cherry or grape tomatoes (I used the mini heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe's)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 red onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup of white sugar
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional add ins:

1 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup pitted, chopped Kalamata olives

What to do with it all...

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees
Shape your pie crust to a 9 inch tart pan and refrigerate, covered, until ready to fill
In a medium skillet, heat your butter and add onions and salt and pepper to taste - cook on low for 15 - 20 minutes, or until translucent
Stir in sugar and vinegar and thyme and allow to dissolve, stirring
Cook on low until bubbling
Remove your tart crust from refrigerator and add your whole tomatoes - also olives/cheese if you choose to use these

Top with onion/caramel mixture and bake in oven for 25 mins, or until crust is browned and tomatoes are softened and caramelized by the sugars

Thanks for reading and please vote for my Vietnamese Moo Shu Recipe over at Foodista!


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