Monday, November 25, 2013

Friendships and Beets

I have to say I am extremely fortunate to be friends with a group of girls who I met in Kindergarten.  And when I say friends I don't just mean Facebook friends I mean real friends who I know I can always count on and trust.  Sure, I would say in the last almost 30 years we haven't always agreed but we have all seen each other through the tough times and triumphs of college, marriage, children, career changes, chasing dreams and simply life.  Of those five rare girlfriends that I have, I am proud of them and all of our accomplishments.  We have grown from six cute little girls who will always call Hershey, PA our home into a lawyer, a corporate queen, a writer, a children's photographer, a fashion guru and a dancer with a passion for food.  While I am living 3,000 miles away from them I think of them often and I am thankful for Facebook and other social media keeping us even better connected and updated on their cute kids, pictures of renovated kitchens, starting a new business and juggling it all at one time.  I am even more grateful for their continual support, creativity and inspiration.   

I was feeling a little out of ideas for this holiday season, especially after perusing through my Pinterest and seeing yet again another butternut squash recipe.  That was until my dear friend who I call the fashion guru, Erica (be on the look out for our new holiday joint post), sent me a lovely message through Instagram with this wonderful picture.  


I have a real love for beets and thought why can't it be a holiday side dish.  With winter squashes stealing the holiday show (yes, I'm also a lover of squash too) I thought it may be nice to see these red beauties paired with some fresh green beans and topped with a creamy creme fraiche dressing.  Besides, this side dish can be made a day or two in advance and doesn't take up oven space the day of!  This dish is perfect for me and all of my amazingly wonderful (and busy) girlfriends.

Roasted Beets and Fresh Green Bean Salad with  Creamy Creme Fraiche Dressing

16 ounces green beans, washed and trimmed 
3-4 medium red beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash salt and pepper
1/4 cup pistachio nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

First, prep the beets for roasting by placing the washed and dried beets onto a large piece of foil.  Drizzle the beets with the olive oil.  Wrap the beets in the foil and roast in the oven for 50 - 60 minutes until tender enough to poke through with a fork.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.  Once cool enough to handle peel the skin off the beets and slice into quaters.

In a small bowl combine the creme fraiche, whole grain mustard, yellow mustard, honey, and lemon juice.  Season with a dash of salt and pepper.  Set aside.

On a medium size platter place the fresh green beans and arrange the roasted beets on top.  Generously drizzle with the creme fraiche dressing.

Note: This dish can be served at room temperature or chilled.  The creme fraiche dressing can be made 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated.  Pistachios are also a great addition to this dish...I found this out in a later tasting, post photos.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not Your Grandma's Mashed Potatoes

Yes, I am reinventing my Grandmother's tried and true mashed potato recipe.  Much like her, it has no flares.  It is simple, beautiful and always a crowd pleaser.  However, I thought why not try to embellish and "modernize" our family favorite (next to pumpkin pie) Thanksgiving side.

The smell of mashed potatoes during the holidays always takes me back to the many memories in my Grandmother's kitchen.  So much so that when Bath & Body Works released a candle that was buttered mashed potato scented my sister and I stood there in the store and inhaled the aroma for at least five minutes (or more).  We reminisced about our lovely "Gram" and how her house always smelled of the creamy buttery goodness.  To this day we still make her version(ish) every holiday season.

This year as I put a new twist on her mashed potato recipe I'm praying she's not rolling over in her grave and that she actually thinks is a great idea.  As I have admitted before I have an insane love for butter and I'm positive I get it from my her.  While I don't use it as a dip for my pretzels (yes she did this AND still had birdie legs) I do love to cook with it and I'm not afraid to use a whole stick, or more, in a recipe.

Will this be our new version of her recipe?  Who knows.  What I do know is that I am forever thankful for my Grandma.  For her love, kindness, and giving me a never ending passion for butter.

Roasted Garlic Browned Butter Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes

6-8 medium yellow potatoes, pealed and cut into large cubes
3-4 large parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 bulb roasted garlic
1/4 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes and parsnips into a large pot.  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the potatoes and parsnips.  Boil on high heat until tender.  Strain the water and return the potatoes and parsnips back into the pot.  

While the potatoes and parsnips are boiling, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over low heat.  Stir continually.  The butter will first melt, then foam and finally brown.  Make sure to pay close attention as it is easy for the butter to go from brown to burnt quickly.  The process takes about 7-10 minutes.  Once the butter has browned remove the pan from the heat.  Add the 1 tablespoon of thyme and the roasted garlic.  Give it a quick stir just to combine the flavors.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cooked potatoes and parsnips.  Add the browned butter mixture and beat well to combine.  Add the milk and beat until desired smoothness is reached.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the mashed potatoes and parsnips into a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme.  Serve immediately.  

 Makes 8-10 our family, it only makes about 4 servings.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup

When I think of fall I often think of cold crisp nights, leaves falling from the trees and yummy bowls of delicious soup for dinner to keep warm.  Then I remember that I moved 10 years ago to Southern California.  While we do have some leaves falling from the trees, have decorated the house with pumpkins, and even bought a few Bath & Body Works Autumn candles to keep us in the spirit, it's still 84 degrees today.  This however will not keep me from enjoying a warm bowl of soup full of fall flavors, even if I am wearing shorts and a tank top.

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  Although I miss the changing of the leaves I still can create my own Autumn ambiance at home with the smells of fall spices and foods creeping out from our kitchen and into the house to make us feel like putting on our sweaters.  

This roasted cauliflower and leek soup is a great alternative to your typical pumpkin or butternut squash soup for the fall and the holidays.  Not only will it warm your bellies and delight your senses, it's bound to be a wonderful starter to your Thanksgiving meal.  Oh, and don't forget the warm crusty bread for dipping!  I am always thankful for a good piece of warm crusty bread to dip.

Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large leek, sliced and chopped, reserve 1/4 cup for garnish
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 -1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped 
1/4 cup half and half (optional)
1/2 cup mild white cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of smoked paprika for garnish
Warm baguette (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the olive oil coated cauliflower and garlic onto a large foil lined rimmed baking sheet.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a dutch oven or large sauce pan heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks and celery.  Saute for about 5-7 minutes until the celery and leeks are tender.  Add the roasted cauliflower and garlic and stir to combine.  Add the vegetable broth, thyme and sage and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and  simmer for 20-25 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.  You can also do this in batches in a food processor or blender.  Add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted.  Pour in the half and half and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place the reserved 1/4 cup of leeks on a small foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the leeks.  Roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes until slightly chard.  

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Garnish with the roasted leaks and a dash of smoked paprika.  Serve warm with a piece of baguette.  Makes 2-4 servings.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pumpkin Spiced Whoopie Pies

With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner I thought now would be the perfect time to share these lovely little desserts.   Thanks to my sister, Melissa, for creating this recipe, our family had the chance to really enjoy these delicious seasonal whoopie pies.  Making their debut on the dessert table at our beautiful cousin's wedding earlier this fall, without a doubt they will be returning to many more events and family gatherings this winter.  Pumpkin everything is a family favorite!

I don't know if I have ever expressed how lucky I find myself having a sister who shares in my passion for food and to top it off she's a baker!  I often feel that I fall a little short in the baking department, but with my sister's creativity, expertise, encouragement and support I feel pretty confident recreating her recipes.  This pumpkin whoopie pie is not only easy to make but will wow your holiday guests with the burst of pumpkin flavor and warm seasonal spices.  So in the spirit of a month full of giving thanks, I am thankful for my sister who continues to keep our holidays sweet!

Pumpkin Spiced Whoppie Pies

Whoopie Pie Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
Dash of nutmeg
2 cups light brown sugar 
1 cup vegetable oil
2-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups confectionery sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium to large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl mix the brown sugar and vegetable oil using an electric hand mixer.  Add the pumpkin puree, eggs and vanilla.  Beat well to combine.  Slowly add the flour mixture beating well to combine and scraping the sides.  

Using a tablespoon or a small cookie scoop, place the batter on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on your oven.  Test the pies with a toothpick.  When the toothpick comes out clean remove from oven and allow to completely cool on cooling racks.

Making the filling - In a medium mixing bowl, mix the butter and cream cheese until well combined.  Add the cinnamon and vanilla extract.  Mix well.  Slowly add the confectionery sugar until well combined and is firm but still spreadable.  

Filling the pies - Pour all of the cinnamon cream cheese filling into a bakers piping bag.  Using a either a size 4b or 804 tip, pipe about about a heaping teaspoon onto the flat side of one pie.  Place another pie on top and sandwich together.  Repeat until all pies are used.  Note: You can also use a large plastic baggie and cut a small tip off one of the bottom corners to create a pipping bag.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Food Blogger Travels Part 1: France

View from the top of Notre Dame
Greg and I recently went on our honeymoon/first anniversary trip to France and Italy. We wanted to share with our readers our experience, our new love for Europe and most importantly the food we ate and where we ate at.   We begin with the first city we stayed in, Paris.

When Audrey Hepburn said "Paris is always a good idea" she was right.  I couldn't have fell more in love with a city than Paris.  The charm, the beautiful balconies, the shops, the markets, the boulangeries, the brasseries...oh, I could go on and on about the amazing things that this city has to offer.  While we visited the Musee du Louvre, Musee D' Orsay, Musee Rodin, took a boat cruise on the Seine River, we really indulged ourselves in the French culture the best way we know how, through food.

Jardin du Luxembourg

To start off, I can say that we both really enjoyed our relaxing time in the gardens, Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Tuileries.  The perfect bottle of Bordeaux, some cheese and a baguette made many of our afternoons.  Also, the delicious sandwiches filled with cheese, meats, tomatoes and lettuce sold at most markets and cafes were also a good pairing to our french wine in the park.  And yes, we drank from small plastic cups like everyone else.

Black olive baguette

Let's talk about the bread in France.  I don't think I've had bread that fresh where it is perfectly crusty on the outside and light, airy and soft on the inside.  We had bread everyday.  OK, I admit, at every meal.  We just couldn't get enough.  The formage (the cheese) was not only amazing but also intimidating to buy.  There were so many to choose from.  Greg and I popped into a shop one morning so we could take some with us on our train ride to Nice.  The cheese was beautifully displayed and smelled, well, stinky but delicious.  The woman helped us the best that she could since her English wasn't the best and my french was a little lacking in the cheese description department.   So we each just picked out a cheese that was reasonably priced (some were 45 euro!) and looked good.  We ended up with a "stinky" goat cheese, which Greg picked, and a creamy like brie with a salty finish which I picked.  Both were wonderful!
Delicious espresso.

Our morning coffee usually consisted of a shot of espresso.  This took a little getting used to since we Americans are so used to a full cup of coffee.  However, we were happy to convert to a new morning ritual.  We enjoyed stopping at any cafe in the middle of our day for a pick me up.

Enjoying our Croque Madame and Monsieur.

One of our favorite breakfast meals we had was in the Latin Quarter where we enjoyed a Croque Madame and Croque Monsieur with our espresso, followed by some mulled wine to warm us up from the chill in the air that morning.  Every cafe had such charm and warmth to it that we wanted to stop, eat and enjoy a glass of wine at all of them.  
Mulled wine

Having an aperitif is very popular in France and Greg and I did not skimp on this part of the culture at all.  We really enjoyed this time of the day, taking our time to sip on a great glass of red or refreshing rose along with some snacks before dinner.  As for dinner we indulged in these wonderful restaurants.

The man who shucked my oysters.
L'Atlas (11 Rue de Buci, 75006 Pairs, France):  We were fortunate to be in Paris during oyster season.  I had the freshest oysters from Normandy at L'Atlas and had the opportunity to watch them be shucked right in front of me!  Along with my oysters I also had an amazing french onion soup, the best Greg and I have ever tasted.  Greg enjoyed a steak and pomme frites (fries).  The service was slow at first but proved to be an amazing place with great people watching.

Les Crocs L'Ogre (81 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  This steakhouse was amazing!  I know I use that word a lot but it's the only word to describe this restaurant.  The food was so indescribably delicious that we actually forget to take pictures.  The service was wonderful!  Our server explained the menu to us in detail.  He also recommended a wonderful bottle of wine.  We began with our first steak tartare here which was so fresh and full of flavor.  There is also a butcher there inside the restaurant.  You have the option to choose your own meat for your entree and have it cut by the butcher.  However, feeling a little overwhelmed by that Greg chose the chef's special which was a fillet perfectly cooked.  Our dinner ended with a wonderful chocolate mousse and a complimentary liqueur, La Vieille Prune.  The server said the liqueur was to help with digestion.  It was strong and wonderful.  As far as digestion, we think it worked.

7eme Vin (68 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  On our last night in Paris we ate at this wonderfully quaint restaurant.  Without a reservation we had to wait for about 30 minutes, but with a glass of wine in our hand as we stood outside, we didn't mind.  We enjoyed the most exquisite buttery escargot and fresh oysters for a starter.  For our entree Greg had a beautiful beouf bourguignon while I had a very tender duck dressed in a sweet honey ginger sauce.  Both were beyond delicious.  We finished with a dessert and continued our evening with a bottle of wine under the Eiffel Tower.
Boeuf Bourguignon

Duck with sweet honey ginger sauce

The Gatsby (64 Rue Bosquet, 75007 Paris, France):  This swanky Parisian bar was great for a late night creative cocktail.  Greg and I both enjoyed the spicy bourbon cocktail the bartender made for us.  We were wowed with the lovely ginger, lemongrass, coriander (cilantro), gin cocktail that I would love to recreate.  This place is a must if you are looking for a local place to go for a non-wine drink.

French macarons.
After all of our adventures in Paris we traveled by train to Nice.  The train ride was wonderful as we saw the breath taking country side while sipping wine and eating our baguette and cheese we purchased in Paris.  While we unfortunately didn't get to experience some of the restaurants we had hoped to in Nice, due to the fact that they are closed Sunday and Monday, we had a wonderful time.  We climbed the Chateau for a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Nice.  Along the way we met an American woman Debi, who was checking out the city before her art students arrived for classes...yes I'm jealous she got to stay!  Check out her blog here.  We ate at the beach side cafes, indulged in macaroons and sipped on champagne as we watched the sunrise on our last day there.

Toast at sunrise in Nice.

France exceeded all of our expectations and has both of us wanting more.  More french bread, espresso, fresh seafood, exploring of the city, and leisurely days in the gardens.  Next time we go Greg and I want to stay in the country side and can't wait to experience the culture there.
Sunrise in Nice.