Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bubbling Over with Holiday Cheer

You say "Champagne" but you might be buying "Sparkling Wine." So, what's the difference? Chef Erin gives a quick overview of sparkling wine, how to open and serve it, and a recipe for a champagne cocktail.

You've heard the old saying, "location, location, location" when it comes to real estate or business matters but how about wine? Well, it's the same for a number of wines including champagne. The French state that you can't call your sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the champagne region of France. Although we use the term interchangeably, true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Other countries produce champagne-style wines but in deference to France call them by different names: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Spumante or Prosecco, Germany has Sekt and America makes sparkling wine/but I've also seen some labels that call themselves "California champagne."

The cheaper the champagne the larger the bubbles. There are a number of different methods to get the bubbles into sparking wine. With cheaper sparklers, carbonation is shot into the bottle with a pump. Quality sparking wines are made in the traditional French method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle-- a time-consuming process that allows the bubbles to form through natural fermentation.

Like any other wine, champagne varies in body from light to full. It also varies in sweetness from dry to sweet. The driest champagnes are called extra brut, followed by brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. Each of these terms refers to the residual sugar in the wine. Extra Brut wines have 0 to 0.6% sugar while a Doux style will have more than 5% sugar. Everything else falls in between.

Champagne should be served chilled between 40 and 50 degrees F. Cold subdues the flavors in the wine so cheap sparklers should be quite chilled while better vintages can be served at 50 degrees F. A good champagne should be refrigerated for about 2 hours prior to serving. That should ensure just the right temperature.

Although it's fun to "pop" a bottle of champagne the proper method of opening sparkling wine is to twist the bottle gently to release the cork. There is a demonstration in the video.

To open a bottle of sparkling wine:

  • Pull the zipper (the serrated foil around the neck of the bottle) and remove the foil.
  • Twist the tab and remove the metal cage from the cork.
  • Hold the cork and twist the bottle (not vice versa). You'll hear a quiet hissing sound as the cork release. Frenchman say that opening a bottle of champagne should sound like the contented sigh of a woman. Those Frenchman...gotta love 'em.
  • To pour, hold the bottom of the bottle. Your thumb should rest in the punt (the dent in the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour each glass half way full. Once the bubbles have settled, fill the glass the rest of the way.
  • Using flutes (tall, slender wine glasses) keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. Old-fashioned wide-mouthed champagne glasses let the bubbles get away twice as fast.
  • Be sure that your glasses are free from dust and soap scum. Both destroy the bubbles in the wine.
  • You might want to invest in a metal champagne stopper. It will keep the bubbles in place for another day.

Some notes serving:
I can't always afford an expensive sparkling wine, so I like to make a Traditional Champagne Cocktail.

All you need is a bottle of sparkling wine (I usually use brut or extra dry, myself), a few sugar cubes and a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute, add two dashes of bitters and top with sparkling wine. Delicious!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Appetizer: Crab Stuffed Shrimp

It's a festive time of year, so here's an elegant dish for your next party. If you decide to offer them as part of a buffet or at a cocktail party, you can serve the sauce in a small bowl on the side so guest can serve themselves.

Crab Stuffed Shrimp with Sherry Cream Sauce
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as an entree

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely minced onions
2 tablespoons finely minced celery
1/4 cup finely minced red bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound lump crab, picked over for shells, etc.
1 egg
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
24 large or jumbo shrimp, peeled except for the tails and butterflied
Sherry Cream Sauce, recipe below
thinly sliced green onions, optional

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with canola oil spray.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, celery, bell peppers, garlic powder, Old Bay Seasoning, salt and black pepper.  Sweat until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add crab meat and stir gently to combine.

Whisk egg in a large bowl.  Stir in crab mixture, arrowroot and mayonnaise.

Shape mixture into 20 balls - using about 1 to 2 tablespoons for each ball. (A small 1"-wide ice cream scooper/or cookie dish-out works well for this.) Press one ball into each shrimp (as pictured above) and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until shrimp is pink and stuffing is slightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Drizzle with Sherry Cream Sauce and sprinkle with sliced green onions, if desired.  Serve immediately.

Sherry Cream Sauce
Makes approximately 3/4 cup

1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 cup heavy cream
salt to taste

Place minced shallots and dry sherry in a small sauce pan over high heat.  Simmer until sherry is almost completely gone.  Add heavy cream and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer until the cream thickens and reduces by about 1/3.  Be careful not to let it boil over.  Add salt to taste and serve over Crab Stuffed Shrimp.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homemade Holiday Gift: Jam Filled Spitzbuben Cookies

I've been teaching a German Cookie and Sweets class at PCC this month.  Although there are many wonderful cookie recipes, the Spitzbuben, a jam filled sandwich cookie has been the hands-down favorite. They originated in Switzerland and migrated north to Germany. I thought I'd share the recipe here with you too.

Makes about 30 cookies
Prep time: 60 minutes including chill time
Baking time: 10 to 12 minutes

1½ cups unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I like a Nielsen Massey Vanilla)
1 egg
3½ cups flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Powdered sugar for dusting
¾ cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 325º F.

Beat butter and sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat. Mix in flour and salt.

Transfer dough to a floured surface and form it into a disk. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2-inch fluted round cookie cutter, cut out cookies and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Chill for 30 minutes.

Using a 1¼ -inch plain round cookie cutter, cut out the centers of half the cookies; discard the centers.

Bake cookies until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.

Dust cookie rings with powdered sugar. Place 1 teaspoon of jam in the center of each whole cookie. Spread the jam to within ⅛ inch of the edge. Top each with a cookie ring.

Homemade Holiday Gift: Chocolate Dipped Caramels with Sea Salt

Looking for a great homemade holiday gift? These dark chocolate covered caramels are divine! The sea salt is key. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor and texture. Enjoy!

Chocolate Dipped Caramels with Sea Salt
Makes approximately 150 pieces

4 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
1 quart whipping cream
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature,
   cut into pieces
1 teaspoon grey sea salt, plus extra
1 pound tempered bittersweet chocolate or
   dark chocolate candy melts

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Smooth out wrinkles and generously butter bottom and sides.

In deep, heavy-bottomed 8-quart pot, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. (Be sure to choose a very deep pot so the sugar mixture doesn’t boil over.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Swirl the pot once or twice to combine ingredients, but do not stir. Boil until mixture turns a medium amber color. Be sure to watch the boiling sugar closely because the color can deepen quickly.

As the caramel continues to boil, it will turn a very dark mahogany brown, the bubbles will turn tan in color. This is your cue to remove it from the heat and add the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of salt. The mixture will bubble up; just let it sit a moment to subside. Place back over medium-high to high heat and swirl pot around a few times to combine ingredients. Clip on a candy thermometer and boil until mixture reaches 250 degrees, swirling mixture several times during boiling to make sure the temperature is consistent throughout. Immediately pour mixture into prepared pan but do not scrape the bottom of pot.

Allow to sit overnight or until firm enough to cut. Cut into squares (1/2” each).

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over lightly steaming water. Remember, chocolate doesn’t need a lot of heat to melt, if you over heat it, it will seize up and be unusable.

When the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, skewer a caramel with a bamboo skewer or candy making fork and dip it in the chocolate. Remove the caramel from the chocolate and allow the excess chocolate to drip away – it makes for a neater finished candy vs. a pool of chocolate around each caramel. I even gently tap the skewer on the side of the pan to get the last few drops off.

Using another skewer, coax the chocolate dipped caramel onto a sheet of wax paper. Use the tip of the skewer to swirl the chocolate slightly to cover up the puncture mark. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt and allow the chocolate to set. Once the chocolate has set, place each one in a paper candy cup.

Note: Caramel recipe adapted from Fleur de Sel Caramels, "Unforgettable Desserts: More than 140 Memorable Dessert Recipes for All Year Round" by Dede Wilson

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Old Fashioned Christmas!

I was meeting my friend, Cathy, for a drink at Duo's a couple weeks ago. She was running a little late so I was perusing the cocktail list. I read the description of their Old Fashioned which included orange bitters. I recently purchased some for a rum drink, so that caught my eye in the description.

I have to tell you that I am not, generally, a bourbon drinker. When I read descriptions of whiskey drinks, I often think that they sound good, but am never really thrilled if I order one. But on impulse, I decided to order an Old Fashioned and I loved it! I liked it so much I was craving one while we decorated our Christmas tree.

I'd been making candied orange peel for my German Christmas Cookie Class at PCC so I had some orange simple syrup by default.  Since I'd thought the orange bitters were delightful, I thought adding orange simple syrup would be great too. It was! So, without further adieu, here's my recipe for an Orange Infused Old Fashioned. Ho, ho, hope you like it.

Orange Infused Old Fashioned
Makes 1 cocktail

2 teaspoons orange simple syrup (recipe below)
2 dashes Orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 orange slice
crushed ice
2 ounces bourbon
1 good quality jarred cherry (I use Bada Bing Cherries by Tillen Farms)

Add orange simple syrup, orange bitters, Angostura Bitters and the orange slice to a Old Fashioned/rocks glass. Muddle the orange to release the juice and orange oil.

Fill the glass with crushed ice. Pour bourbon over the ice and stir to combine. 

Garnish with a cherry. Guaranteed to make the holidays merrier!

Orange Simple Syrup
Makes 1 cups2 navel or seville oranges
1 cups water
1 cups sugar

Wash the oranges to remove any waxy residue and pesticides. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel of the oranges in strips. Try to remove only the orange peel. The white pith beneath is really bitter and will impact the flavor of your syrup. Set aside.

In the meantime, combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar dissolves.

Add the peel to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the syrup has thickened slightly.

Remove the orange peels, cool syrup to room temperature, and enjoy.

You can store the syrup in a covered bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fun Food for Your Holiday Party: Mashed Potato Martini Bar

The holidays are usually a mix of family and friends. If you find yourself needing a crowd-pleasing party food, I've got just the ticket. A Mashed Potato "Martini" Bar! (Don't worry, I am not referring to potato vodka. This idea is kid-friendly.) I am talking about build-it-yourself party food.

Mashed Potato Martini Bars are a fun and festive plus, they're an inexpensive option but one you can make look elegant. And everybody loves mashed potatoes!

So what is a Mashed Potato Martini Bar? It's mashed potatoes served in martini glasses with a salad-bar-style collection of toppings. The combinations are only limited to you and your guests' imaginations.

Here's what you need:

Martini Glasses - make it fun and festive. It's not just a mashed potato bar, it's a mashed potato martini bar. If you don't own a set, pick up some mismatched ones at a thrift store.

Mashed Potatoes - your favorite recipe. You'll need about 1/2 to 1 cup per person, depending on what else you are serving. You can keep the potatoes warm in a chafing dish or slow cooker.

Now you just need to put out a bunch of your favorite potato toppings. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • Freshly Grated Cheeses (Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Parmesan - Whatever You Like)
  • Sour Cream or Your Favorite Potato Chip Dip
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Whipped Butter or Flavored-Butter
  • Minced Chives or Green Onions
  • Pesto Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Cheese Sauce
  • Cloves of Roasted Garlic
  • Chili
  • Beef Stew
  • Caviar
  • Diced Roasted Chicken or Turkey
  • Minced Ham
  • Crumbled Bacon
  • Garlicky Sautéed Shrimp
  • Corned Beef Hash
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • Sour Kraut
  • Sliced Kielbasa or Polish Sausage
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Roasted Red Pepper Strips
  • Sautéed Mushrooms
  • Caramelized Onions or Shallots
  • French Fried Onions 

Topping ideas are limitless. Try to offer at least 5 or 6 different choices so you're guest can get creative. I've seen people top their mashed potatoes with cheese, and that's it -- and others go through like it's a sundae bar, putting everything on it.

When your guests arrive, give them a brief overview of how to make their mashtini or better yet, be the first to go through the line. It'll show your guests what to do, plus nobody likes to be the first to do something at a party.

Plan for people to have seconds. You may even want to enforce a two martini maximum!

Happy Holidays! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Foolproof Gravy

Gravy seems to be one of those kitchen mysteries for many people. Really it’s just a simple pan sauce and with a few helpful hints you’ll be making gravy like a pro.

Standard Turkey Gravy 
Makes 4 cups.

1/4 cup fat (reduced pan drippings)
1/4 cup flour (or 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrow root powder)
4 cups chicken or turkey broth, homemade is preferable
salt and pepper to taste
good-quality wine vinegar, optional

When you have finished roasting your turkey, remove it from the pan along with any onions or other vegetables you may have cooked it on. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked vegetables so that you leave as much jus (drippings) in the pan as possible.

Place the roasting pan over a couple burners on your stove top. Reduce (simmer) the drippings over medium-high heat until you have about 1/4 cup left in the pan. 

Lower heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup of flour and whisk until the flour becomes a smooth paste. Don't panic if there are lumps, just keep whisking!

Very slowly, add chicken broth to the flour paste while whisking constantly. Don’t be afraid to stop adding broth for a moment until you can whisk the mixture smooth. The key to smooth gravy is constant whisking.* Continue to whisk until you have added all four cups of broth. If you like other flavors in your gravy, such as pureed giblets, fresh herbs or wine, feel free to add them at this time. Reduce heat and simmer until the gravy reaches the desired thickness. 

Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Now, if your gravy is good but not great, here's a little chef trick to try: add a splash of good quality wine vinegar. Try as little as 1/4 teaspoon at first. Sometimes rich sauces benefit from a little bit of acidity to brighten the flavor!

*If you do end up with some lumps in your gravy, simply pour the gravy through a sieve before serving. No one will know the difference!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Talking Turkey about Thanksgiving Wines

Need a little advice before you head to the wine shop this holiday? Here are a few notes to help you sort out the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving celebration.

There are several wines that are "gimme’s" when it comes to Thanksgiving. That doesn't diminish their appeal or great taste. It just means that you might have already thought of them. So, let’s talk about the easy pairings first.

Chardonnay is always a good bet especially if it comes from California or Australia. The oaky, buttery flavors really marry well with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It’s a wine that everyone is familiar with and will enjoy. I would suggest trying a lightly oaked version so that the wine doesn't compete with the food.

Pinot Noir and red Burgandy arguably top the list of all-time greatest wines. You might find it interesting to know, it’s a compliment to suggest that a Pinot Noir or Burgandy has a "barnyard" aroma. That doesn't mean a foul smell, rather a lightly funky smell - like damp straw in a stable, a well-worn saddle - it’s pleasant and reminiscent of a barn. A good Pinot Noir or Burgandy will have a velvety texture, soft tannins and perhaps a cherry fruit flavor. Their slight gamey aroma and light body make them a great match with roast turkey, particularly the dark meat and root vegetables.

Zinfandel is a great choice if you are thinking about pairing with your side dishes vs. the turkey. If you make a delicious sausage stuffing or are famous for your cranberry sauce, Zinfandel could be the wine for you. Look for a fruity, medium bodied, moderate alcohol wine (under 13%) that won’t overpower the meal.

If you are looking for something a little different, I have some less common wine pairing suggestions.

Viognier is a delicate, low acid wine that typically has light floral notes in the nose -- think peach blossoms or honeysuckle. It is a good wine for foods that are spiced with aromatic spices like clove and nutmeg. It pairs well with poultry, especially when combined with sweet and savory flavors so imagine it with roast turkey, herbed stuffing, sweet potatoes and a wedge of pumpkin pie.

Beaujolais often has a soft plummy flavor that is very drinkable. I’d recommend trying a Beaujolais-Village because they are typically light bodied and don’t over powered food with too much fullness or a long finish. These straightforward wines pair well with rustic, flavorful foods like roasted pork and poultry with pan gravy.

Are you smoking your turkey this year? Or perhaps you’re deep-frying your bird? Okay you crazy culinarians, I haven’t forgotten about you! Here are some wine pairing suggestions just for you.

Sparkling Wines always add a festive note to the meal. But, if you are planning to deep-fry your turkey this year, this is definitely the choice for you! A crisp dry sparkling wine (brut or rosé) acts as a refreshing palate cleanser alongside the salt and crispy skin of the bird.

For those of you making a smoked turkey, a Dry Rosé is the ticket. I’m not talkin’ white zin here, rather a European-style rosé. They typically offer a nice balance of acidity and fruitiness to compliment the smokey flavor of the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!  Cheers, Chef Erin

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Roasted Squash with Apples and Dill

Roasted vegetables are one of the biggest food trends of the past several years. I’ve developed a simple roasted vegetable recipe that will be perfect side dish for your holiday meal. I think you’ll enjoy the subtle sweetness of the roasted squash and apples. It’s much less cloying that some traditional squash or sweet potato dishes. The dill is an unusual addition to the recipe and really brings out an herbaceous quality in the apples. 

Roasted Squash with Apples & Dill
Serves 8

8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 cups Butternut squash, medium dice*
2 cups sweet onion (e.g. Walla Walla; Maui; Vidalia, etc.), medium dice*
3 cups apples, medium dice*
1 tbsp fresh dill, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside.

Combine squash, onions and 6 tbsp melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Toss gently to coat. 

Spread squash mixture onto a buttered baking sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the squash is just tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from the oven. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Uncover the squash. Toss apples with the remaining 2 tbsp of melted butter. Add buttered apples to the roasted squash on the baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake uncovered until the apples and squash begin to brown in spots, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the dish with fresh dill and salt and pepper to taste. The dish can be served immediately or at room temperature.

Note: If you roast this dish in the morning before putting your turkey in the oven, you can let it sit at room temperature until serving or refrigerate and reheat it while you are making your gravy.  

*medium dice = 1/2 inch cubes

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving Turkey Advice!

It’s an age-old holiday struggle. How do you keep the white meat of your turkey moist while waiting for the dark meat to finish cooking? Well, I have a suggestion for you that will not only decrease your cooking time but also make the dark meat the most popular option. This holiday season why don’t you try removing the turkey legs and stuffing them. It’s easy. I will lead you through each step with photos to demonstrate what to do.

First, using a sharp knife, slice through the skin of the bird between the body and the thigh to expose the flesh.

Next bend the leg toward the backbone of the bird enough to pop the thigh joint out. Cut along the body of the bird, around the joint, to remove the leg. Repeat the process on the other leg.

When you have removed both legs, lay them cut-side up on the cutting board. You should see a line of yellowish fat running down the inner thigh of the leg. Use the tip of your knife to cut along that line down to the thigh bone. Continue to cut a straight line from that point on down the leg. When you reach the ankle joint, slice around the leg to free the skin from the bone.

Use the blade of the knife to scrape the meat away from the leg bones. At the knee joint, carefully use the tip of your knife to free the meat from the joint. Try not to puncture the skin.

You are almost done! The last step is to remove the hard tendons from the leg portion. The tendons look and feel like white “sticks” in the leg meat. I hold the exposed end of the “stick” while running the tip of my knife along the length of the tendon. A little tug should free the tendon after you run your knife the length of it. If you are having trouble pulling the tendons out, try using a pair of kitchen tweezers or pliers.

If you are removing the leg bones the night before, simply cover and refrigerate them until you are ready to put the bird in the oven. For food safety reasons, you should not stuff the legs until you are ready to roast them.

When you are ready to cook the whole bird, lay the boned leg sections out flat on a cutting board. Each leg section should form the shape of a rectangle. Spoon a line of your favorite stuffing down the center on the long side, then roll the stuffed leg into a cylinder.

Using kitchen twine, truss the stuffed leg to hold it together. You start by tying the twine around one end of the leg, then make a loop, twist it and slide it around the leg. Space each loop about 1 to 2 inches apart. Repeat until the whole leg is secure.

Stuff the breast cavity as you normally would. Nestle a little aluminum foil around any exposed stuffing to keep it from drying out. Place the stuffed breast into your roasting pan and lay the stuffed legs on either side. Roast, basting occasionally, until the breast meat has reached 170ºF. By the time the white meat of the breast is fully cooked, the legs will be as well. Slice the breast and stuffed legs and arrange on a platter.

I promise the dark meat will be a hit!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pan Seared Salmon with Chanterelle Mushrooms

Fall is such a great time for mushrooms. I can't get over the price of chanterelles at my local market. My friend, Venus, presented me with an enormous bag full of them just a few weeks ago. Vince and I had mushrooms with scrambled, Timpano di Patate (a pie made from mashed potatoes, roasted mushrooms and smoked mozzarella), a big, thick rib-eye steak with sauteed mushrooms and I still had some leftover.

I've always liked the earthy flavor of mushrooms with the rich flavor of salmon, so I splurged on a piece of King Salmon and went to town. This recipe is quick and satisfying. It feels nice enough to serve to company, but fast enough of a weeknight dinner.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Chanterelle Mushrooms

8 ounces chanterelle mushroom, cleaned
and thickly sliced (see note)
2 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
2 6-ounce salmon filets
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup slivered shallots
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp minced garlic

Preheat oven to 425F. Season salmon filets liberally with salt and pepper

Heat a large, heavy, oven-safe saute pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot, add the ghee and swirl to coat.  Place the seasoned salmon skin-side up in the pan and sear for 2 minutes or until the salmon loosens easily from the pan. (Don't pry it. If you've got enough oil in the pan, the salmon will release when it's completely seared.)

Turn the salmon over so the skin-side is down. Toss in the sliced mushrooms, slivered shallot and thyme.  Place the pan in the oven and roast until the salmon is medium-rare (the outer flesh will flake with a fork but will still be glossy orange at the thickest part of the filet) for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the salmon to a warm plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil.

Return the saute pan to the burner over medium-high heat. Add the sherry and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until most of the sherry has evaporated.  Add the chicken stock and garlic and simmer for another 3 minutes or so.  Taste the mushrooms for additional salt and pepper.

Divide the mushroom mixture between two serving plate, top each with a salmon filet and serve.

Chefs note: If your mushrooms are very clean, you simply need to brush them before cooking. However, if they are dirty, you'll have to wash them. Forget the crazy idea that you can't wash mushrooms! Remember, they probably got some rain while they were growing and that didn’t wash away their flavor.Wash the chanterelles hours, or ideally a day before you need them. Turn on the tap to a low flow, hold the mushroom under the water and brush lightly to clean with a new paintbrush. Put the cleaned mushrooms into a colander to drip until all are cleaned.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Harvest Bisque

I've only ever written one fan letter to a cookbook author. It was to Susan Branch, circa 1990. If you've never heard of Susan Branch, she's cookbook author, artist and all-around cottage industry. My introduction to her came via The Heart of The Home, a delightful cookbook filled with family memories, favorite quotes and yummy recipes. It was so engaging. I felt as though I were actually getting a glimpse into this woman's life.

Even back then, I wanted to write cookbooks. I think that fan letter was probably something to that effect. How could I do what she was doing? I don't really remember. What I do remember is that she wrote back! She was kind and encouraging, and she made a fan for life. I think I have every cookbook she's ever penned and a year hardly goes by that my sister-in-law doesn't gift me one of her calendars.

With all the gloomy rain we've been having I decided to make an old comfort-food favorite from The Heart of the Home - Butternut Bisque. It is a simple, quick and satisfying soup.  I've made it dozens of times over the years.  The only thing that is difficult is peeling the butternut squash.  The skin of the squash is so thick and tough that paring it away can be time consuming. I just wasn't in the mood to fuss with it on Sunday so I decided to buy some frozen squash instead.

My big box grocery carried a very generic, frozen squash - probably made from a combination of winter squashes. That's probably where things got iffy. Butternut squash has a natural sweetness, far sweeter than Acorn or Hubbard Squash. Anyway, I followed the rest of the recipe as specified and, frankly, it fell flat.

Not one to give up, I did a little tinkering I ended up with a fabulous new concoction that I'm calling Harvest Bisque. I added a few additional spices including little coriander and orange for sweetness. Frankly, no insult to Susan, but I think mine is a little better.  Try it yourself and see!

Harvest Bisque

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled  and sliced thinly
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 14-ounce packages of frozen squash, thawed
4 cups chicken stock, homemade if possible
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
a pinch of nutmeg
sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon good quality white wine vinegar, optional
sour cream for garnish, optional
freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onion, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until they are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, stock, curry powder, ginger, coriander, white pepper and bay leaf.  Stir to combine. 

Increase the heat to medium high, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately , cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the soup from the stove top and allow to cool slightly.  Use an immersion or stick blender to puree the soup to a smooth and creamy consistency.  If you don't have an immersion blender, pour the cooled soup into a blender and puree under smooth.

Add the orange zest, orange juice and a pinch of nutmeg to the pureed soup.  Taste for salt and add as needed.  If the soup needs a little brightness, you can add a little white wine vinegar.  Sometimes adding an acid like wine vinegar and liven a dish.

Served the soup immediately. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Chef's Note: You may substitute fresh squash for the frozen squash.  If you do so, use a 2 1/2 lb Butternut or Hubbard squash. Peel, seed and cube the squash. Increase the chicken stock to 5 cups and increase the cooking time to 40 minutes.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pear Chips - A Grain-Free Alternative to Crackers

I've been mostly grain-free for several years now. Unlike many people, I don't typically look for ways to recreate the things I can't eat anymore. There aren't a lot of grain-free alternatives for the basics like crackers, breads and pizza. Most of the time I don't really care. There are a plethora of wonderful things to eat without turning to starchy staples.

One of my favorite things to eat is cheese. (Thank God I don't have a sensitivity to dairy too. For a while there Vince was having some issues with dairy and I thought, "holy crap, aren't we the fun couple to invite to dinner." Thankfully that passed.) Anyway, most of the time I just eat cheese on its own or with some antipasti but that's not so easy do with soft cheeses like Brie, Cambazola and goat cheese. You, more or less, need a delivery system of sorts with them. That's the time when I miss being able to grab a cracker or piece of bread.

Recently I saw a new product called Simple and Crisp. It's a line of dehydrated fruit crisps that can be used for anything for crackers to drink garnishes. They feature pear, apple, orange and blood orange crisps. I like them very much but they are a little pricey - about $8 a box for around 20 crisps. Vince has been off work for over a year now so I don't feel like I can be all willy-nilly with my food budget these days. So, I thought I'd just make my own. It's not difficult and really not all that time consuming because you just put them in a low oven and forget about them for a few hours.

Here's what you need:
3 to 4 firm, ripe pears
6 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 cups of water

First wash the pears and gently wipe them dry. In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the lemon juice and water, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 250F. Incidentally, I prefer to use an oven over a dehydrator because the oven creates crispier chips as opposed to fruit leather-like chips.

Now it's time to slice. I highly recommend using a mandoline for slicing the pears. It's pretty hard to maintain the steady hand and eagle eye it take to make consistent slices. I set my mandoline on the second thinnest slice setting, which gives me roughly 1/8-inch thick slices. That's perfect for a crispy chip with enough stability to hold a slathering of creamy cheese.

Submerge the slices of pear in the lemon water. You only need to leave them in the water a minute or two. If you leave them in too long they will absorb too much water and it will be harder to crisp them up.

Then, drain the slices and pat them dry on clean kitchen towel or sheets of paper towel.

Next, line baking sheets with pieces of parchment. This will make clean up super easy. Arrange the pear slices on the parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.

Place the baking sheets in the oven. Set a timer for 2 hours.  At the end of the 2 hours, check the slices.  They should be dry and slightly crispy.  If not, put them back in the oven for another 15 to 30 minutes. Don't over brown them.

Finally, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the pear chips to cool for 15 to 30 minutes.  They will crisp completely during this time.

It's up to you what you do next. Vince and I love pear chips with a smear of Camembert or creamy Gorgonzola. Try topping them with a sprinkling of toasted, chopped hazelnuts or walnuts.  They are also great with a little mascarpone drizzled with chocolate sauce.

After pear season, try the same trick with apples!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Plum Crazy for Slivovitz

My neighbor across the alley has a prolific Italian Prune Plum tree. Last year, I used her plums to create my recipe for Plum Butter with Chinese Five Spice in The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook. Even though I made multiple batches of plum butter, I still had pound of plums leftover. It was about that time that I stumbled on a recipe for Slivovitz in the Washington Post. Slivovitz is an Eastern European plum brandy common to Croatia, Serbia, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary.

I am of Hungarian decent, and I wish I could share charmingly, clouded memories of sipping Slivovitz with my grandmother and great aunt, but unfortunately my grandmother passed away when I was in my early teens so no such memories exist. I was still intrigued by the idea and the recipe though. I teach a Hungarian and Eastern European cooking class (Grandma Rose's recipes) and Slivovitz dove-tailed right into that. With the abundance of Marie's plums to use up, it seemed like the perfect recipe to try. 

Last spring,  the Toth Family asked me to teach a Hungarian cooking class in honor of their 93-year old mother's birthday. I brought along some of the Slivovitz for a special treat. We popped it open during the last of the cooking, playfully referring to it as Hungarian Hooch and toasted Ann. The perfect end to a lovely afternoon of cooking and family. 

So, here we are at peak plum season once again. I figured I should start another batch, just in case I'm asked to toast Ann at her 94th birthday!

Recipe adapted from Cathy Barrow, Washington Post, Sept 12, 2012
Makes 2 quarts

2 1/2 pounds small ripe Italian prune plums*
1 1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
2 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 1-inch pieces lemon peel
4 cups vodka

Gently rinse the plums under cool running water. Remove the stems and use a sharp paring knife to pierce each plum through to the pit 3 or 4 times. Be sure to exam each one to make sure it's perfect. (Bruised fruit ferments too quickly.)

You can either use a jar beverage dispenser or 2 quart-size mason jars. Add the plums, sugar, cinnamon sticks and lemon peel. Stir gently and cover. If you use the mason jars, divide the fruit between evenly between the two jars. Add the sugar (3/4 cup per jar), cinnamon sticks, and lemon peel. Pour in vodka, and cap the jars securely.

If you used a large beverage dispenser, like I did, stir the plums gently with a wooden spoon once a day, every day for 2 weeks. If you used two mason, invert the jars once a day, every day for 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks, the sugar will have dissolved.

Place the jar in a closet or other dark space for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days you'll have a delicious amber-magenta liquor. You can strain the Slivovitz through a coffee filter and bottle it in something pretty if you wish but I kind of like the homey look of the plums in the mason jar. It makes a fun gift for the holidays.

Slivovitz is usually sipped chilled, as a digestif, but I love to mix it into a Champagne Cocktail. It's delicious and a little bit dangerous!

Plum Champagne Cocktail

champagne flutes
grenadine syrup
natural cane turbinado sugar
brut champagne or sparkling wine

Moisten the rim of the champagne flutes with grenadine and coat with turbinado sugar for a sugared rim. Allow to dry slightly. 

Fill 1/3 of each champagne flute with Slivovitz and top each off with champagne. You can use slices of the spirit-infused plums as a garnish, if you'd like. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

KIXI Guests: Holly Brown & Chef Erin Coopey on Chat With Women

I had a great time with Holly Brown of The Brown Lounge
and Kevin Brown, of Siren Song Wines. 
Holly and I talked the delicious Mediterranean menu that I helped her create. 
Check it out! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

End of Summer Salad with Corn, Tomatoes & Black Beans

As summer comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to create a simple salad with some of the ripest ingredients still available in the market. We're just at the tail end of sweet corn season so if your market doesn't have any fresh sweet corn you can substitute frozen corn kernels. However, tomatoes are still at their peak! Grab a pint of sweet cherry tomatoes, snack on half, and save the other half for this zesty, colorful salad.

Until next year, dear Summer, we'll miss you! 

End of Summer Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, & Black Beans

2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cumin seed
1/4 garlic powder
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
6 ears sweet corn, husked and cleaned,
     or 1 16-oz bag of frozen corn niblets
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 14-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, vinegar, sugar, cumin, garlic and olive oil. Whisk together the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

If using fresh corn, place the corn in a large pot with enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes, until kernels are tender but crisp. Drain, cool slightly, and use a knife to scrape kernels from the cobs. If using frozen corn, allow to thaw for 1 hour in a colander.

In a large bowl, mix the corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, black beans, red bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and the jalapeno, if you are using it. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Chill 15 minutes before serving.

Did you try any new salads this summer? What was your favorite?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to Make Homemade Ketchup

I demonstrated how to make homemade ketchup on a recent episode of New Day Northwest. If you'd like to watch the demonstration, just click on the image below. 

Below you'll find the complete Ketchup recipe.

You'll think you're eating a national brand - minus the high fructose corn syrup!
Makes about 2 cups

2 1/4 lb plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp onion powder or 1 tbsp grated onion
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the tomatoes and blanch until the skin breaks and the flesh becomes soft, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Drain the tomatoes and press through a fine-mesh food mill or sieve to remove the skin and seeds.

Pour sieved tomatoes into a medium-sized sauce pan. Add the vinegar and salt. Stir to combine. Bring tomato mixture to a boil and whisk in the sugar and spices. Return to a low boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to 1/4 the original amount and thickened, approximately 1 hour. Some tomatoes are more watery than others so additional cooking might be necessary to reduce moisture. Your ketchup should be the consistency of tomato puree, slightly thinner than bottled ketchup. It will thicken slightly when it cools.

Pour into a sterile jar or container. Cover and refrigerate. Store, covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 

Excerpted from The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook by Erin Coopey (Quarry Books, 2013). Copies available on Barnes & and, as well as many independent bookstores - ask your local bookstore to order it for you!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It All Makes Senf To Me (That's German for Mustard)

When Vince and I visited Germany several years ago, I fell in love - with the people, the mountains, and the mustard.  When I was creating recipes for The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook, I knew I had to include a Bavarian-Style Yellow Mustard. This is my homage to the delightful, lightly sweet, slightly spicy mustard I had so often on that trip. 


This sweet-hot mustard is the perfect companion to wieners, bratwurst, and knockwurst. It also makes a nice dip for pretzels. I’ve suggested two different preparation methods—slow and quick—in this recipe. If you are interested in the natural mellowing of mustard and have the time, try the slow method. If you’d like to eat the mustard right away, the quick method is the one for you.

Yield: Makes 1 cup (175 g)

1/2 cup (72 g) yellow mustard powder/dry mustard (see Note)
1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
2 tablespoons (26 g) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons (28 ml) cider vinegar


Slow Method—Combine the mustard powder, warm water, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir until a smooth paste is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight or up to 24 hours.

Stir in the cider vinegar. Transfer the mustard to an airtight container. Cover. The mustard will continue to mellow if left at room temperature. You can allow the mustard to rest on your counter for up to 8 weeks before refrigerating. Test the flavor occasionally to determine whether it has mellowed to the level you desire. When you are satisfied with the flavor, transfer the jar to the refrigerator.

Quick Method—Increase the water to 1/2 cup (120 ml). Combine the mustard powder, warm water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Maintain a low heat. Do not simmer or boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cider vinegar. Cool to room temperature and transfer to an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate. The mustard can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 12 months.

Note: For spicier mustard, try using Penzeys Regular Canadian Mustard Powder, a blend of brown and yellow mustard.

Heat and Mustard
I’ve seen many mustard recipes over the years that suggest mixing up the mustard, letting it rest overnight, and diving right in. I’m not suggesting those recipes are wrong, but—a word of warning—if you’ve mainly eaten commercially prepared mustards, you might be in for quite an assault on your taste buds, not to mention a clearing of your sinuses, and perhaps a flush of your tear ducts. Homemade mustard can take weeks to mellow.

So, why is the yellow mustard we buy from the grocery store less intense? Well, when mustard seeds are cracked or ground and mixed with cool liquid, a chemical reaction occurs that releases fiery chemical compounds, myrosin and sinigrin. Adding warm liquid instead diminishes some of the burst of heat. In addition, acids, like vinegar, can slow the decline of the heat. If you like a milder mustard, use warm water or warm the mustard over medium-low heat and add the vinegar after the mustard has set for a time.

Incidentally, mustard does not need to be refrigerated, but refrigeration does help maintain the potency.

Excerpted from The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook by Erin Coopey (Quarry Books, 2013)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Burger Nirvana - Smells Like Summer Spirit!

Okay, so my title might have been influenced by the fact that I live in Seattle. (That's a nod to all you reformed grunge listeners.) Or! It could be because I have ascended to a transcendental state of burger bliss. (Let's go with that one!)

Burgers are classic American BBQ fare. I'm sure that there have been many heated discussions about what constitutes the best burger. Ultimately, I think most will agree that the burger has got to be juicy and flavorful.

So, you're looking for the secret? What constitutes the Best Burger Ever? I've got a few tips that will change the way you eat burgers forever. You know you want it...juicy, flavorful, burger nirvana! Get out some extra napkins because this tiny pat of heaven is gonna rock your burger world.

The Best Burger Ever!

1 1/2 to 2 pounds 85% lean/15% fat grass-feed beef
Burger Nirvana Butter, recipe below
Chef Erin's Steak Shaker, recipe below (I can't believe I'm giving out my secret recipe!)
4 hamburger buns, your favorite
Burger condiments, your choice

Fire up the grill or preheat your grill pan. Medium heat is best. You don't want to char the outside before the inside is properly cooked. 

Divide the ground beef into four equal portions. Slice four pats of Burger Nirvana Butter, about 1/8 to 1/4 thick each. Make an indentation in the center of each burger portion, and stuff a pat of Burger Nirvana Butter into the indentation and shape meat into a patty. (Be sure that the butter isn't sticking out anywhere.) Season each patty generously with Chef Erin's Steak Shaker.

Grill burgers to the desired doneness - about 7 minutes per side for medium, or 10 minute per side for medium well.* Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes. In the meantime, spread a little of the Burger Nirvana Butter on the inside of the hamburger buns and toast lightly on the grill or grill pan. Top with the burger and your favorite condiments, serve and wait for the "oohhs" and "aahhs!"

*Note: I wouldn't recommend cooking a burger less than medium temperature.  Grinding beef takes all the bacteria from the outside and mixes it into the meat.  If you cook your ground beef to less than 160F (medium), you won't kill all the potential bacteria that causes food borne illness. Don't worry though, the Burger Nirvana Butter will ensure that the burger stays juicy even when the meat is medium well or well done.

Makes 4 6 to 8-ounce burgers.

Burger Nirvana Butter

2 sticks butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced shallots
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

Chop the butter into chunks. Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the butter at medium speed until it softens and lightens in color, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, shallots, parsley, and mustard to the whipped butter and beat for another 1 to 2 minutes until blended. Scrape the butter from the mixing bowl onto wax paper or plastic wrap. Use the edge of a baking sheet to form the butter into a tight log. Chill for 2 hours before serving or freeze for up to a month.

Chef Erin's Steak Shaker
(By the way, this makes everything taste better...really.)

1/2 c kosher salt
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder

Combine all ingredients and place in a shaker with a lid. If left uncovered the garlic powder will decrease in pungency over time.