Now that the holiday season is officially here, it is quite helpful to have a few quick appetizers in the repertoire for dinner parties and last minute post shopping get togethers. I came upon this one in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago, and experimented at an ATM get together. Half the plate was gone before I even put it down on the table. One of T's neighbors ran home to get her appetizer, but when she got back, there was only one grape left. Lucky for us, she was toting a giant hot triangle of brie dripping with warm honey and walnuts. And this was just the beginning of the night.
The original recipe calls for raw almonds and then walks you through oiling, flavoring and roasting them...which was my original plan. But M and I were short on time on our way over, and as we ran into the grocery store, I spied a can of hickory smoked almonds. This would cut out a whole slew of minutes AND they were already flavored. It was a win win. There are so many differently flavored nuts out there, so your options really are endless. I think crushed cashews would add a nice rich flavor to this recipe. Also, if you or yours doesn't care for goat cheese, you could easily swap in cream cheese. OR if you are looking for more of a dessert, swap in homemade whipped cream. The options are as endless as the bulbs in that pile of Christmas lights on your floor. So really let your holiday hair down and spice up the kitchen table.
Almond Goat Cheese Grapes
Adapted from The Seattle Times
This may sound a little bit of a strange blend of ingredients, but rest assured they will disappear within minutes. The original recipe calls for grapes, but we had a whole bowl of strawberries on the table, so I dressed those up too, and actually ended up liking them better. So try any variety of fruit wrapped in goat cheese and almonds.
1/2 cup almonds, roasted and salted
1 large bunch of grapes
1 log of goat cheese
Begin by chopping the almonds into small pieces with a knife or hitting with a rolling pin. Sprinkle them onto a plate. Next, using your clean fingers, gently take a small scoop of the goat cheese and coat the grapes (or strawberries). This is pretty messy and you will feel as though you are wrapping a balloon for paper mache with all the white clumps that form on your fingers. But simply push through as if this is to be expected and perfectly normal. Once coated, generously roll the goat cheese coated grape in the almonds. Put on a plate and continue until all the fruit is used.
Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes so the cheese can harden a little. It gets pretty warm from your hands. Remove from refrigerator. Eat one immediately because once the plate is on the table, your guests will be swarming the plate.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 12:28 PM
I just recently learned of a campaign called Respect The Bird through my friends at Allrecipes.com. It is a blog dedicated to the appreciation of Thanksgiving day and staying mindful of and fully celebrating it without getting distracted by all the craziness of Holiday shopping that seems to have snuck into the stores while everyone was out trick or treating. It is a blog completely putting the turkey on a pedestal for us to remember Thanksgiving and all the wonderful parts of our lives we are thankful for. So I am dedicating this posting to the Respect The Bird campaign by making a list of what I am thankful for....and also giving you a nice light soup recipe you can make this week before Tday.
Top 10 things I am thankful for:
1. Coming from a loving and supportive family and for all the love my family has given me. My appreciation and thankfulness is beyond words. You have given me the world.
2. My close friends near and far away. I have learned so much from each and every one of you and appreciate you all so very much.
3. A very lovely apartment and roof over my head and a building full of friendly neighbors who all love our building so much...and for our house dinner parties.
4. The internet. The ability to look at a friend's pictures from a yoga retreat in the Phillipines, while instant messaging with a friend in D.C. and a friend in New York simultaneously, while paying a bill all the while listening to a personalized radio station is pretty dang amazing. I would still be writing in a recipe journal sitting on my bookshelf for only my eyes if the blogisphere didn't exist.
5. Coffee and wine. Enough said.
6. The luxury of having a great education starting with preschool all the way through graduate school and the ability to use all of the knowledge and opportunities to help myself and hopefully others.
7. My health and the ability to walk everywhere around town for exercise, go to yoga, and workout at the gym.
8. A good job where I get to learn so many different components of research, work with a nice group of people and use a full kitchen to cook my lunch everyday.
9. Airplanes and the ability to be across the country or world in a matter of hours.
10. The genius who gave us the idea of leggings and boots.
Now it is your turn to sit down and write your list...and show it off on your refrigerator at home. You can even put a sticker on it to reward yourself. In the meantime, try cooking this soup recipe I made up last week. It is super simple and is a great lunch soup and freezes nicely too.
Gingered Carrot and Apple Soup
Yields 7-8 servings
In the spirit of eating cleanly last week and this week, I stocked the fridge and freezer with several containers of soup. What a better way to eat your carrots and apples but in a pureed soup spiced heavily with ginger and curry powder?
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 medium apples, roughly sliced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 lb. bag carrots
2 tsp curry powder
1 lemon, juiced and zested
4 cups vegetable broth (homemade or store bought)
Salt and pepper
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and allow to heat for a few minutes. Drop in the onion and saute for about 5 minutes. In goes the apple next. Sprinkle some salt and pepper in at this point. Stir and saute for another 5 minutes or so. Your kitchen will begin to have a sweet onion-y aroma. Add in the ginger and carrots next and saute for another 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, coating all the onions, apples and carrots. Add the lemon zest, juice and vegetable broth and cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Once it is all pureed, add back into the pot and turn on the heat for a few minutes if it has gotten cold. Serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and alongside a nice fresh arugula salad.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 11:54 AM
I was one of the lucky food bloggers to participate in the Will Bake For Food event at the University Height building last weekend. The concept is brilliant. We all made a dessert and set up booths displaying our goods. Then people exchanged non-perishable items for tickets to spend on the goodies. Then all the food was donated to the Emergency Feeding Program. It kind of felt like we were all participating in a live board game or carnival with money in the form of little red tickets. And because it was an event full of food bloggers, every single item looked and tasted of professional grade.
This event was also in the midst of a food centric weekend for me. Friday night was karaoke paved with curried fries, Japanese Karaang Chicken, tequila and birthday cake. Saturday was Will Bake for Food, followed by Mexican fiesta of tamales, beef tacos, margaritas, chips, mango and papaya salad and slivers off a Chihuahua-sized burrito. That night, another birthday party at a Mexican restaurant...with roasted beet tacos, guacamole and black bean tostado, AND...no, not a tequila inspired beverage...but white wine. Then the next day, homemade apple and oatmeal pancakes and French press coffee. For lunch, sesame chicken with kale (you can see that post on the site I have been contributing to on FaveDiets by clicking on it), followed by happy hour snacks and wine. Yes I have entered some sort of edible vortex. So starting yesterday, I am eating all clean, color-rich vibrant food, such as my Curried Carrot Apple soup...in preparation for Thankgiving.
But let's focus on the matter at hand...spicy caramel brownies. This was a new spin on the salted caramel concept. Spicy chocolate smoothed out with homemade caramel. You really can't go wrong with all these ingredients whipped together in a 9x9. And you can even package them in little bags tied with hemp twine and arrive at your next lunch date with a treat.
Spicy Caramel Brownies
Yields 12 good sized brownies
from Cooking Light November 2011
It was a very uncharacteristic way for me to approach this recipe, but I followed it exactly how it said (except that I used 1/2 whole wheat flour). And I certainly was pleased with the result. As someone who has more of a savory tooth, it was shocking for me to find that they were a tad on the less sweet side. So if you like super sweet brownies, bump up the sugar to 3/4 cup. I also think some cinnamon would really round out the flavors. But all in all, fabulous dessert. The spicy red pepper adds a subtle heat.
1 can (14 oz) fat free sweetened condensed milk
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, in big chunks
1/2 cup sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (or ground red pepper flakes)
1/8 tsp salt
Parchment paper or cooking spray
Pull out your double boiler, or do a makeshift one like I did by getting out your largest saute pan. Fill it with water and place a large metal mixing bowl into the water. This will serve you just as well. The whole reason for this is so the sweetened condensed milk warms and cooks but doesn't burn. So bring the water to a soft boil. From here, pour the sweetened condensed milk into the bowl of the double boiler. Keep the water at a constant simmer. Simmer the sweetened condensed milk for 1 1/2 hours, stirring fairly regularly. Cook until it turns to a nice light brown caramel color. After this happens turn off heat and allow to cool off a little bit.
While this is cooking, you can prep the other ingredients and start to assemble them when there are about 30 minutes left for the caramel. At this point, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium microwave safe bowl, microwave the bittersweet chocolate pieces for about 30 seconds. Remove and stir until it is a velvety liquid. Add in the sugar and butter and beat on low speed until all the ingredients are fully blended. Add in the vanilla and egg whites and beat again until smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, red pepper and salt. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in half of the sweetened condensed milk (now caramel). Spoon the batter into a parchment lined 9x9 or sprayed with cooking spray. Drop in small spoonfuls of the remaining sweetened condensed milk and swirl around with a knife to make a creative design. Bake for 19-25 minutes, depending on your oven, until the center is fully cooked. Cool (if you can wait) on a wire rack. Goes really well with a hot cup of coffee.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 3:10 PM
Speaking of feeling extremely fortunate...I have two topics to discuss. First off, I was very lucky to receive an invitation to the Taste of Tulalip Tweet Up last month, cataloging the menu for the upcoming Taste of Tulalip happening this weekend. I have always heard praises about the food at Tulalip Casino, but haven't had the opportunity to indulge. So it was a real treat to have a menu sampling all the goods. It was so lovely to sit down at the table to be immediately hydrated with a glass of Cristal. The next course was my favorite...I was confused because it looked as though they were serving us espresso, which seemed strange at the beginning of the night. But to my pleasant surprise it was Italian Wedding soup. I have never seen it served in such a creative way...each of the meatballs were skewered on a decorative toothpick. And you could either spoon or drink the rest of the soup. The next day I asked Allan for the recipe. I had to make this for my next dinner party. We finished the night off with coffee and pistachio nitrogen ice cream served in mini waffle cones, with a side of homemade malted milk balls. I mean, can it get any better than that? So if you have the opportunity to go to Taste of Tulalip next weekend...go!
The other order of business is to express how fortunate I am for having such good girlfriends in my life. M, K, M and C came over to my house last Saturday night for a bon voyage party for M. She is going on an extended vacation, so we needed to see her off in style...which naturally meant an extravagant dinner, free-flowing wine, lots of laughter and ending the night watching/dancing to YouTube videos. The picture above was the dinner table right before the festivities began. You will have to use your imagination to envision the table four hours later. It was a perfect occasion to make the Italian Wedding Soup which was accompanied by Arugula Steak Salad and a homemade olive and Parmesan appetizer. The next course was salmon (for the fish eaters) and baked butternut squash with shallots and a parsley dressing. Yes. It was an amazing meal. Cheers to M, K, M and C...you know who you are. Thank you for a lovely Saturday night.
Italian Wedding Soup
Yields 8-12 servings
Adapted from Taste of Tulalip's Tweet Up Menu
The original recipe calls for chicken stock and shredded chicken in the stock. But there was a request from one of the guests to not include chicken in any of the recipes. So I eliminated it and made my own vegetable stock. And we completely didn't miss the chicken either, especially with the meatballs and the egg whites. That brings me to another point. Approach the egg white action at the end of the soup recipe with confidence and ease. I thought it sounded a little strange, but alas, it is quite a nice addition to the recipe.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp onions, very finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/4# lean ground beef (good quality grass fed)
1/4# ground pork (good quality local)
3 Tbsp Italian bread crumbs
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
Olive oil for sauteing the meatballs
Pull the meats out of the refrigerator as you begin to prepare all the other ingredients. Allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a medium saute pan on medium heat. Pour in 1 Tbsp olive oil and allow to warm up. Add in the garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes. Sprinkle in the oregano, basil and thyme and saute for another minute. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the beef and pork with the remaining ingredients. Add in the sauteed herbed onions and garlic. Mixing with your hands is the most efficient (and fun) way to integrate all the ingredients. Keep in mind to not over mix because it will make the meatballs tough.
Now for the rolling process. First get yourself a little bowl of water with a splash of olive oil in it. Dip your hands into it so that when you are working with the meat, you hands have a nice oiled surface. Take a little bit of the meat and roll it into a gumball sized ball. You can vary the size depending on how you will be presenting the soup. But little meatballs are fun. Make sure that there are no cracks in the meatball after you roll it so it doesn't fall apart when you cook it.
Heat a large saute pan on medium heat. Add in a thick layer of olive oil and heat to a medium heat. Carefully place the meatballs into the pan and saute until they are fully cooked. Be sure to flip them over so all the surfaces get cooked. Also keep the heat on medium because you don't want super hot oil burning the meatballs. Cut one in half to make sure it is fully cooked. Line a plate with paper towels and place the cooked meatballs in it to drain a little. Set aside.
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
8 cups good quality or homemade vegetable (or chicken) broth
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup fresh kale, roughly chopped
1 cup dry pasta (any variety you like...I used orecchiette)
Meatballs (from above recipe)
4 egg whites
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp Parmesan Reggiano
In a Dutch Oven or large heavy bottomed pot, turn the heat up to medium and pour in the olive oil. Saute the onions, garlic, celery, carrots and basil for about 5 minutes. Add in the broth and simmer covered for 30 minutes. During this time, follow the instructions on the label for your pasta of choice and cook al dente. Strain and set aside.
Add the red pepper flakes, kale, cooked pasta and meatballs to the soup. Carefully pour in the egg whites and let them simmer without stirring until you begin to see them cook...this takes 5-10 minutes. After they have begun to cook, whisk to break them apart and fully integrate into the soup. Adjust seasonings, add salt and pepper and Parmesan Reggiano.
Serve in little coffee cups with a few meatballs skewered for an appetizer size or in larger cups or bowls for a hearty meal alongside a salad.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 7:51 AM
I have always treated birthdays as a time to reflect on the past year and to make plans for the upcoming year. And lucky for me, I just celebrated my actual birthday too. So I have been doing a lot of thinking in the past few weeks. The girls at work had a lovely party for my on my birthday. R introduced me to the idea of chocolate zucchini cake. I mean...brilliant concept...shredded zucchini, whole wheat flour and chocolate chips. It is basically unhealthy not to eat it. So it was synchronicity when our recipe swap's theme was birthday cake and maple influenced. So I thought, why not combine R's chocolate cake and sweeten it with maple syrup. It was one of those times in life where everything fell into place and made perfect sense.
Joining the recipe swap group has been a gigantic life enhancement. First and foremost, meeting dozens of fellow food bloggers in person and online has added a comforting dimension to my life. It is so nice to have a forum of creative people to bounce off ideas, compare notes and look up to. It is especially great that we are sprinkled all over the world adding so many different perspectives to the group. It is so interesting to see how we all spin off of the original recipe. Many life lessons have been added to my repertoire. We all get the same original recipe, and we each interpret it completely differently. 'Variety is the spice of life' has a whole new meaning now. And everyone's story to go along with the interpretation is so meaningful and special. It really has made me appreciate our diverse lives.
The other major aspect of the recipe swap group that has changed my life is that it has forced me to step outside of my boundaries to try new things. The rabbit recipe really helped my stretch out of my norm. I would have probably never gone to a butcher and asked for '1 chopped rabbit please' if it hadn't been for the recipe swap group. I was so nervous...but ended up feeling so unexpectedly empowered afterwards. So I thank you, Christianna. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you and our whole group for the support, encouragement and creative spirit you have all added to my life. Cheers to our Recipe Swap group...to many many more years of sharing. Check out the links below for everyone else's interpretation of the Maple Cake:
Chocolate Maple Zucchini Cake
Yields 9-12 servings (depending on how you cut the cake)
Adapted from R's recipe
This is one of those secretly healthy cakes with the addition of zucchini, apples and whole wheat pastry flour. I have a plethora of apples in my fruit basket, so thought it would be a nice addition to the cake. But if you prefer to just use only zucchini, swap out the apple and replace it with 1/2 cup of more zucchini. The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups sugar, which I replaced with only 1/2 cup maple syrup. This cake is definitely on the less sweet side, so add more maple syrup if you are so inclined. You can also experiment with different flours. Oat flour would have added a nice dimension. So go wild with your flours...it is a celebration after all.
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup safflower (or canola) oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded apple
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Sift the flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, cream the butter, oil and maple syrup until fluffy and well combined. The butter will be a little chunky at this point, probably because it is maple syrup and not sugar. This is fine, it will still cook the same. One by one add in the eggs and whisk. Drizzle in the vanilla and whisk until combined.
Pour about 1/3rd of the dry mixture and a few spoonfuls of the yogurt into the liquid mixture. Stir well. Continue with this method until all the dry ingredients and yogurt are all used. Add in the zucchini and apple. Mix until everything is fully integrated.
Pour the batter into a parchment lined (or greased) 9 x 9 pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Carefully pull out the pan, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Place on top of a baking sheet in case a random chip jumps off. Place back in the oven for 25 more minutes or until fully cooked. Remove from oven and let cool. Slice a nice square piece and enjoy with a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 6:00 PM
I have recently discovered adding nutritional yeast to sauteed vegetables. It was a sort of an accidental finding. One night I was cooking spinach with soy sauce and I wanted to add a different dimension. Nothing was really connecting until I opened my pantry to find a little bag of nutritional yeast. That may be interesting, I said...so I sprinkled a little. Then a little more. It immediately transformed into a rich cheesy dish. It's one of those secret ingredients that converts a dish into a meal.
I have made dozens of versions of this meal. It has now reached status of 'Usual Suspect'. If I have any sort of green such as kale or beet greens, then I have a meal because my cabinets and freezer are always stocked with nutritional yeast, soy sauce and some sort of nut...in the most recent case, cashews and pecans. And it is chock full of nutrients like B vitamins, fiber and a fair amount of protein, for not a lot of calories. Sometimes I toss a fried egg on top, and then it really is a full meal. You can find it in the bulk section at the grocery or Bob's Red Mill makes it too and is usually in the baking aisle.
Tonight I had a lot of errands to run right after work...lots of returns, grocery shopping, picking up free things from coupons and buying a few unplanned items, like jeans. I have a rule of thumb to never specifically go out shopping for jeans. But when I happen upon a pair, I always try them on. Jeans are one of those items that seem to magically appear when you least expect it. So when the opportunity arises...embrace it. And tonight was one of those nights. Same rules apply with nutrional yeast...if it is there, give it a whirl.
Sauteed Cashew Kale
Yields 1-2 servings
You may be thinking that adding a yeast product to vegetables is quite strange. And I do agree that it does sound scary. But variety is the spice of life. I do have to admit, it does take a few times to develop a taste for it...but once you do, you will begin to crave it in the middle of a meeting on a random Thursday. You will find reasons to add it to food, such as popcorn. But for those of you still a little apprehensive, this recipe is still good without it. Baby steps.
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 onion, thinly minced
3 mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
6 cups kale, roughly chopped
Splash of water
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but just do it)
1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp cashews
Heat a medium saute pan on medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and let it heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle in the onions. Saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Toss in the mushrooms and a dusting of salt and pepper. Saute until the mushrooms are almost fully cooked and browned, 3-5 minutes.
Drop the kale into the pan. Pour a splash of water (about 1 ounce). Cover. This will really quicken the cooking process. You know the kale is almost done when it turns a darker shade of green...it only takes about 1 minute. Remove cover and stir in the nutritional yeast and soy sauce. Tongs work well to help integrate the nutritional yeast and soy sauce. Cover and cook for 1 minute. The nutritional yeast will start to melt immediately. Turn off heat and let sit for 1-2 minutes.
Uncover and mix in the cashews. Serve immediately as a main course or alongside an egg or baked chicken. A nice glass of Syrah complements the rich salty hints.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 11:29 AM