Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boozy Fruit! Brandied Peach Parfaits

When life gives you peaches, make brandied peach parfaits.  This is a great summer dessert recipe.   

Original Recipe

Brandied Peach Parfaits Gourmet | August 2005 

photo by: Romulo Yanes
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Active Time: 20 min

Total Time: 1 1/2 hr
1 lb firm-ripe peaches
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1 pt vanilla ice cream, softened

Special equipment: 4 (4-oz) parfait or other tall narrow glasses, with long spoons

Cut a shallow X in bottom of each peach with a sharp paring knife and blanch in a 3-quart saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds. Transfer peaches with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water and let stand until cool enough to handle. Peel peaches, then halve lengthwise and pit. Cut peaches into 1-inch pieces, then toss with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons brandy in a bowl.

Cook sugar in a dry 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork (to help sugar melt evenly), until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel, without stirring, swirling skillet, until deep golden. Carefully add peach mixture (caramel will harden and steam vigorously) and cook, stirring frequently, until caramel is dissolved and peaches are tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then stir in remaining tablespoon brandy.

Spoon 2 tablespoons peach mixture into each glass, then top with a small scoop of ice cream. Repeat with another layer of peaches and ice cream and spoon remaining peaches on top. Serve immediately.

Cooks' note:  Brandied peaches keep one week, covered and chilled.

My Parfait - raspberries on the bottom, then peaches. The parfait would've been prettier in a taller glass but I didn't have long enough spoons.

My Recipe Version/Tweaks
  • I used white peaches, which were delicious.  
  • I also took a shortcut and did not blanch the peaches.  I just cut them up (skin on) and cooked them up in the brandy mixture on medium-low for about 15-20 minutes.
  • I used Agave Nectar instead of sugar and mixed it with the brandy and lemon juice.  
  • I also made a raspberry version too.  I simmered raspberries, Chambord (raspberry liquor), lemon juice (and zest), and agave nectar.  It was great having a layer a peaches and a layer of raspberries.
Boozy Fruit! 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Food Thoughts......

I was just reading through my current issue of Bon Appétit (June 2012) and Anthony Bourdain had written an article remembering his father.   Two quotes stood out to me as something we should all remember:  

“He taught me early that the value of a dish is the pleasure it brings you; where you are sitting when you eat it ― and who you are eating it with ― are what really matter.” 

“To experience joy, my father taught me, one has to leave oneself open to it.”

I truly feel that good food can be great when you consider all other factors, including: atmosphere, your mood, the setting, who are you eating it with, etc......   It is all about the whole experience and "the pleasure it brings YOU" that really matters.

Cheers to that!  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dehn’s Herb Garden Tour

Last week, I took a lovely tour of Dehn’s Garden, located in Andover, MN.  Bonnie, who owns the farm along with her husband Bob, was a delightful woman.  She is very passionate about what she does and it shows in their quality.  “After starting out with 20 acres in 1979, the small family farm has grown to 100 acres with 20 greenhouses.  Bonnie comes from a family of vegetable growers dating back to her great-great-grandfather.  Dehn's Garden Fresh Herbs and Vegetables is a result of Bonnie's passion for cooking and Bob's tireless dedication for the perfect crop.”

There were four of us on the tour, all food bloggers.  To start off she went through some history and offered us some snacks, if you want to call them that.   They were stunning to look at and tasted amazing (Bonnie shared two of the recipes which are below).   

First up was lemonade with mint.  It was so refreshing and beautiful (I forgot to take a photo).   What a good idea to add a few bunches of fresh mint to a pitcher of lemonade to give it an even fresher taste.  Of course, I found myself thinking how great it would taste with a splash or two of vodka. 

Minted Lemonade
1 ½ cups          Fresh mint leaves
1 gallon           Prepared Lemonade
1 tray               Ice Cubes

Add ice cubes and mint to pitcher and stir to bruise mint.  
Serve in glasses over ice and garnish with mint and/or lemon slices.   

Best Ever Chocolate Mint Brownies
1                                Family Size Brownie Mix (your favorite brand)
1/3 cup              Fresh Mint (finely chopped) – * Preferably Chocolate Mint
Prepare the brownie mix as directed.  Add the finely chopped mint to the batter.   Spread the batter into a greased 9x13 inch cake pan.  Bake as directed.   Dust with powder sugar and garnish with edible flowers before serving.   

Crab Stuffed Flowers
I don’t have the recipe for this but it was edible flowers stuffed with a crab mixture (I’m guessing it was a combo of crab, cream cheese, chives, etc…. but I'm pretty sure you could stuff them with anything).   Not only were they beautiful, they were delicious.   These particular flowers, Nasturtium, had a little spicy undercurrent that added a nice, bonus of flavor.    I don’t know about you, but I never think about using edible flowers. From now on I will definitely be seeking them out.  They are so pretty; I can’t wait to start adding them to salads and such.

Watermelon with Basil & Feta
I love watermelon with this combination.   I’ve made a salad using these same ingredients but I like the idea of it being slices, making it finger food.  Ingredients: Watermelon, feta cheese, basil, and drizzled balsamic vinegar (and a pinch of salt and pepper.)   

As I think of it, I just bought a really great Balsamic Glaze at Traders Joe’s this week that would be great for this application.   They were sampling it on cantaloupe and it was really good.   This especially makes me happy because it saves me the time of reducing my own balsamic.    
More info: Crafting an authentic balsamic vinegar reduction is a delicate process that demands time and attention… Or, you could just squeeze. It’s not as silly as it sounds. Trader Giotto’s Balsamic Glaze is made for us in Modena, Italy, home of some of the world’s best balsamic vinegar. Crafted using traditional methods, it boasts deep flavor and pungent aroma. Combining concentrated grape must and balsamic vinegar that undergoes a special filtration process, it’s slow cooked, resulting in a smooth, thick reduction with an ideal balance of sweet and bitter – beautiful! Packaged in a handy squeeze bottle, it’s ready to use. Enjoy this effortless gourmet glaze on salads, as a drizzle over grilled meat and fish, or as a dessert topping for fresh, summertime berries.

If I could bottle the aroma and scents of this farm, I would.  It just smelled so fresh.  

During the tour, we were exposed to (and able to try) a wide variety of herbs, many of which I didn’t know existed (did you know there is a pineapple sage?).  I discovered two new herbs that really should be mainstream: 1) Lemon Thyme – I thought it would be great in pastas and cocktails, and 2) Pepper Grass – it was spicy with a unique peppery flavor that I thought would go well in any dish or salad.   If you ever come across these two, try them and buy them.   

Here are some helpful herb tips that Bonnie shared:
  • Always wash your produce and fresh herbs just before you use them.
  • Refrigerate by wrapping a damp paper towel around the "cut" end of the stem and place into a plastic bag or container.
  • When using fresh herbs in place of dried herbs use three times as much.
  • DO NOT REFRIGERATE BASIL. Basil is very cool sensitive and will turn black in the fridge overnight.  Place in a vase with fresh water and leave on the counter. The best temperature to store basil is between 45° and 55°F.
BEFORE (babies) baby lettuce using hydroponic growing methods
AFTER (all grown up)

Check out Dehn's website for more information and an informative herb guide: www.dehnsgarden.com

Better yet, visit them at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market Friday – Sunday, where they’ve been selling their high-quality produce at the Farmer’s Market for 32 years.  “Throughout the season, we have more than 20 varieties of herbs, 15 types of hot and sweet peppers, 10 varieties of field greens, and eight other varieties of vegetables. Our legendary carrots are the best on the market and so sweet, you'll skip the veggie dip.” 

This visit really reminded me how important it is to use the freshest, high-quality ingredients.   Cheers to a “fresh” summer!

What is your favorite herb?  Please share.

UPDATE:  A week after posting this, my dear friend Michelle surprised me with some Lemon Thyme!   Apparently, as a farmer's market regular, she knows Bonnie & Bob and was able to put in a request.    I cannot wait to experiment with it.   Thank you Michelle!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Repeat after me: "What the heck, its summer!"

Last Friday, I had plans to meet a girlfriend for happy hour.   It is usually safe to assume that happy hour falls between the hours between 4-7 p.m. - usually.   Well, she called and said she got invited to a BBQ and wanted me to meet her at 2:30.   I actually contemplated it thinking to myself “geez, can I take off the whole Friday afternoon?”  

After my fun self slapped my responsible self, I thought “ah, what the heck – its summer!”   FYI – My original version had two L’s in place of the “ck” so feel free to use either version.   But whatever you do, use this phrase regularly this summer.  It is very liberating, and can lead to tons of fun.  Trust me.

As part of her pitch my friend said, “This is the dude who built the Texas pit smoker in his backyard, and this food is otherworldly. Seriously. Sooooo worth trying to make it.”    How could I resist that?   Especially on a hot (90+), sunny, Friday afternoon.  

So this guy, Mark Andrews, built his own pit-style smoker in his driveway, Texas style.    He puts a rub on the meat and then smokes it patiently.   The ones we ate had been put on at 6:30 a.m. so they had been smoking for a good 6 ½ hours before we dug into them.  Pure PERFECTION.   Pink, juicy, flavorful, meaty, finger-lickin’ yummy-ness.    Even before I tasted them, my fun self was breaking out in a happy dance while my responsible self was quickly changing her attitude as missing out on these ribs would’ve been a cryin’ shame. 

Seriously delicious ribs!

To find out how to build your own smoker, click here: http://metromag.com/article/restaurants/food-finds/how-build-your-own-smoker.  My friend interviewed Mark for the article (which she wrote) which is how I ended up with this awesome invitation on hot, Friday summer afternoon.

I’m so glad I went.   I met some fun, new people and had the best ribs of my life (and I’ve had a lot of ribs.)    My friend and I were actually chatting about how many ribs we thought we could eat.   We decided that we could eat at least six each, but taking a less piggy route we decided that three would be adequate (and increase our chances of being invited back).

PS – If you do build your own smoker, let me know.  I’ll bring the wine and the watermelon.   Honestly, for ribs that taste this good, I’d probably be willing to bring a lot more.  

Cheers to good friends and sharing amazing food experiences.    And cheers to a summer of fun!  You never know where a random afternoon can lead as long as you are open to it.   What the hell, its summer.  Right?

Just for kicks, how many ribs do you think you can eat?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Herbivoracious Book Signing and Cooking Demo

Last night I attended the cooking demo and book signing of Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin at Kitchen in the Market.

I was torn at first because I’m obviously not a vegetarian.   But I assured myself that I do love vegetables and need some new side dish ideas.   I am also craving vegetables like crazy after returning from 12 days in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest eating lots of sausage, meat (too much meat), and gravy!   I also figured that I could always add chicken or something to any dish if I felt the need for some meat, but having some meatless meals once in a while could be a good thing for my body.   

I was really glad I went.   I got a copy of the cookbook and Michael signed it! 

I love cookbooks, but I love personally signed cookbooks even more.    The book is gorgeous; the photos are beautiful and I seriously can’t wait to try a lot of the recipes.   

Michael demonstrated a couple recipes from his book and they were all delicious.  I would definitely make these two appetizers.   Click on name of the dish for the recipe.  

Some tips that Michael shared during his demonstration that I thought were really valuable include:

  • Use your microplane to mince/grate ginger.  Brilliant idea!  I tend to use my microplane to zest citrus or grate cheese, so I love this idea.  I always try to dice ginger with a knife but never get it as small as I want it; this is the perfect solution.
  • Use canola or olive oil spray to ‘grease’ a pan.   I had forgotten that those oils come in a spray.  Goodbye PAM!   
  • When tasting your dish before serving consider acid.  I always taste to see if my dish or sauce needs salt or pepper but have never really considered adding acid, such as wine or lemon juice, to “wake up” the flavor.   Rest assured I will be doing that going forward, maybe you should too.
  • Maldon Sea Salt.   Michael said this is his favorite salt.   While, I have about 15 different salts in my cupboard (no joke) I have never heard of this salt.   Needless to say, I had to look it up.  This is what I found: There is no substitute for Maldon Sea Salt and it is now one of the best recognized brands in the market. Its soft white flaky crystals are free from artificial additives, giving Maldon Sea Salt a distinctive texture and salty flavor, which means less is required. Free from the bitter after-taste often associated with other salts, its characteristic clean fresh taste enhances the flavor of all natural and fine foods.”   Find out more here: http://www.maldonsalt.co.uk.

There you have it.  Definitely check out Michael’s blog and the cookbook: http://herbivoracious.com   

Cheers to a summer of good food and good fun!  

TECHMunch Food Bloggers Conference

Last weekend I attended a food bloggers conference in Minneapolis.   I only heard about it a few days before and was super excited to have this event come to our city and that I was free and able to attend.  TECHMunch is the brainchild of Babette Papaj, founder of BakeSpace.com
I'm ready to take notes!
* I’m going to go ahead and apologize in advance for my photos.   I was trying to play with my new iPhone and Instagram and didn’t have the best luck. 

When I first think back to the event, I think of the food; we were very well fed.  Talk about smart planning on part of the planning committee to feed the food bloggers well as they know food and are sure to talk about it.    We started the morning with fresh pastries, juice, and berries.  
Delicious Berries from Driscoll's
Lunch was potato salad, grilled chicken, and corn on the cob (the corn had me hesitate a little bit as I had visions of meeting new people with corn kernels sticking out of my teeth, but I ignored that when I heard the words “chipotle butter.”)  Lunch was followed by JOIA (a yummy local soda) and brownies with a caramel center that were fabulous.   

We had about 90 minutes to get hungry again as out came the afternoon sangria and Mediterranean snack.   

The event wrapped up with an after party at Fulton Beer.  There was beer for sale and food trucks outside.   I bought a “Lonely Blonde” beer and was excited to see the Anchor Fish & Chips truck as I’ve been wanting to check out the restaurant.    It was so good!   I will definitely be seeking them out next time I am craving Fish & Chips.  

The only problem was I didn’t know that my tour ticket for the 7 p.m. Fulton Beer brewery tour basically involved a lot more more food and beer in the area with the tanks.   Let’s just say I did not leave hungry.     
One of the "snacks" on the tour.   Amazing prosciutto that had been aged three years, courtesy of Mike Phillips of Three Sons Meat Co.  It was so good!  (Mike said they are looking for retail space and I will definitely keep you posted).
In addition to the food, I loved the space!  The event was held at 514 Studios in the Minneapolis warehouse district.    I was extra happy because they had a garage door that opened, which made being inside on a beautiful summer day much more bearable.   

As for the speakers…..  There were seven different sections/speakers.   The event kicked off with Andrew Zimmern (who is now following me on Twitter I might add – very exciting).   He actually lives in the Twin Cities (when he’s not traveling around eating bizarre food) and it was great to hear his story.   

Another presentation that I got a kick out of was the Geek Girls; they were like stand up comedians.  

And actually this reminds me that one of them started a site on summer dresses that I must check out and post a photo on.   So should you actually (if you do, in fact, wear dresses).  http://www.summerofdresses.com – what a fun idea!

Overall, I had a great time; it was a good use of an entire Sat. (12 hours in fact).  The event definitely met my expectations in that I was certainly inspired and I met a lot of great people.   It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people that are as passionate about food as I am.   I will definitely attend the next one.   And, did I mention I was inspired?   Watch for that inspiration to unfold here over the next couple months…..