Tuesday, October 13, 2015

French Onion Soup

Nothing says fall like soup.  The obvious signs up here in The Last Frontier are certainly the long shadows finally turning into darkness at night after months of twilight (at best), the birch trees turning the hillsides to a gold piece of art from the Pointillism era, the termination dust creeping down the mountaintops, and a fire finally being lit in our fireplace after months dormant.  The deal is sealed when I finally start making fall soups again.

The more comforting the better.  That's how I feel about fall soups.  With that in mind, French onion soup tops the chart.  Rich, melty, crunchy, earthy, hearty...the adjectives are endless.  I can't decide whether I love the rich and flavorful soup part more or the overly cheesy, melty, crunchy bread and cheese part.  This soup is better than lying on the couch on a rainy Sunday with a fire, a fuzzy blanket, and a really good book.  (That's my version of heaven.)

Embrace the change of seasons.  Enjoy this heart-warming and soul-comforting soup.  You'll be thankful.

French Onion Soup:
Adapted from this recipe.
  • 6 healthy cups of thinly sliced sweet yellow onions
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (maybe even a little more)
  • 1ish teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
  • 4ish tablespoons of flour
  • 2 quarts or so of beef stock
  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth
  • 4 tablespoons of brandy
  • ground black pepper
  • a french baguette, cut into 1-inch-ish slices 
  • unsalted butter, softened
  • grated gruyere or parmesan, or a combination of both
  1. Melt the butter in the bottom of a large soup pan or Dutch oven over medium/low heat.
  2. Add the onions and toss them to coat.  Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low.  Let the onions steep for 15 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, uncover the pot and raise the heat just a touch.  Stir in the salt and sugar.  Cook the onions for 30 to 40 minutes (maybe even more!) until they have turned a dark golden brown.  In my opinion, the slower and more caramelized, the better.  Just make sure the heat is low enough that the onions have absolutely no chance of burning.
  4. Once the onions are deliciously caramelized, sprinkle them with the flour and stir.  Ensure the flour does not clump.  (Add a touch of olive oil if needed.)
  5. Add the vermouth, then the stock, a bit at a time.  Stir and mix and love.
  6. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pot.  Simmer for 30 minutes or so.  Taste along the way.  When almost done, add the brandy.
  7. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Butter you baguette slices and place on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Bake in the oven just long enough for them to become a light golden brown.  Be careful not to burn.  Remove from the oven and set aside until you are ready for the final assembly.
  8. Remove the toast pieces.  Arrange the number of bowls you will need for serving on the foil-lined baking sheet.  Fill the bowls with soup, leaving enough room to add a layer of toasts on top.  Cover (and I mean cover) with the grated cheese.
  9. Bake soups until the cheese is nice and melty.  Then crank the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.  Remove from oven and serve.
  10. Resist the temptation to dive right in--you will lose the skin on the roof of your mouth.  Let's just say I told you so!  :)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Chocolate Mousse

Velvety.  Chocolatey.  Port.  Hints of espresso.  Creamy.  Smooth.  Light.  Rich.  Decadent.  Mind-blowing.  Life-altering.  Delicious.  

These are just a few descriptors of this chocolate mousse--it changed my life.  I am not one to toot my own horn, but this mousse is award-winning restaurant worthy.  Truly.  

It is both light and rich, creamy and chocolatey.  There's just a subtle hint of port and espresso to deepen the flavors.  And the best part--its velvety texture.  You could take a bath in it.

I never would have thought to make chocolate mousse, but a close friend of ours just recently summited Denali and he requested it for his celebratory dinner.  I am so glad that he did because this is my new "blow everyone's socks off" dessert.  Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it is so cute to serve in little taster glasses that we've collected from all over the country.

Don't let separating eggs, folding in soft peaked egg whites, or tempering egg yolks deter you.  This mousse really is very easy (and quick!) to make.  

I really cannot adequately express just how incredibly delicious it is.  You'll just have to make it and see for yourself.

Chocolate Mousse:
Mostly adapted from this recipe.

For the mousse...
  • 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (60% cocoa), broken into small chunks
  • 5 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon of port
  • 1 scant teaspoon of instant espresso powder (I use Starbucks Via)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar + 1 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
  1. Combine the chocolate bits, water, cocoa powder, port and espresso in a medium bowl.
  2. Place the bowl over a small saucepan filled with an inch or so of water.
  3. Heat over medium-low, stirring the chocolate mixture frequently until it is smooth and silky.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the first 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, and the salt until it is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.
  6. While stirring, carefully pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture.  Whisk/stir to combine.  
  7. Using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until foamy, about 1 minute.  Add the second 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar and increase the speed to high.  Continue to whip until soft peaks form, about 1 more minute.  
  8. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just a few white streaks remain.
  9. Wipe out the bowl you used to whip the egg whites.  Add the heavy cream to the bowl.  Using your hand mixer again, whip the cream on high until it begins to thicken.  Whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Be careful not to either over- or under-whip.  
  10. Using your spatula again, fold the whipped cream into the mousse until no white streaks remain.
  11. Scoop/spatula the mousse into a gallon-sized ziploc bag.  Cut off a corner to make a hole about an inch in diameter.  Pipe the mousse into individual serving vessels--we used taster glasses.
  12. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight.
For the whipped cream topping...
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  1. Make the whipped cream just before you are ready to serve the mousse.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and the sugar.
  3. Using a hand mixer, whip the cream on high until it begins to thicken.  Continue whipping until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Again, be careful not to either over- or under-whip.
  4. Scoop/spatula the whipped cream into a gallon-sized ziploc bag.  Cut off a corner to make a hole about an inch in diameter.  Pipe the whipped cream onto the mousse.
  5. Garnish with fruit pieces, berries, a dash of cocoa or espresso, or just serve plain.
  6. ENJOY!!
**Notes:  The recipe does contain raw eggs.  If you are worried about that, make sure to get pasteurized eggs.  Also, you can omit the port if you want and substitute with vanilla (but that's just not as fun).  Also, I always use a hand mixer when foaming egg whites or making whipped cream.  I find it much easier to control and monitor than my stand mixer.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Gnocchi with Lemon Chicken, Ricotta, and Fresh Herbs

Finally, it's summer time up here in The Last Frontier, which means (almost) endless daylight.  With 20+ hours a day of sunshine, things get really busy, particularly because we have to pack it all in during our three months of sunshine before the imminent darkness takes over again.  

Additionally, this is the easiest time for our family to travel because of my work schedule.  Sooooo, this year we took a quick vacation to do a grand brewery tour through Portland, Bend, and Central Oregon.  We flew into Portland and stayed in the absolute cutest AirBnB downtown.  We spent two and a half days there exploring, visiting breweries, attending the Portland International Beerfest, and playing with friends.  We then traveled to Bend where we continued our brewery tour, visited some wine tasting rooms, stand-up paddle boarded on the Deschutes River, walked approximately 30 miles, and overall had a grand old time.  

The Portland International Beerfest was absolutely amazing.  Up here, beer events are so packed it's like being in the mosh pit, the beers are all local (which are great...but not new), and there isn't much variety.  The PIB took place in a gorgeous park, which allowed plenty of space for everyone!  There were 230+ individual beers to try, and my oh my was there variety.  For a wine girl, I don't like beers that taste like beer.  I like sours, lambics, strange things, and pretty much anything that doesn't taste like college or isn't an IPA.  The PIB had plenty to choose from!!!  Hands down, it was the best tasting event I've ever been too.  

Once we were headed to Bend, we were tipped off by a friend of mine to download the "Bend Ale Trail" app.  If you check into ten breweries, you get this incredible sili-pint!  How fun!

Here are all of the breweries/wineries that we went to during our stay in Oregon.  I must say, it's an impressive list for being there for less than a week.

To make a very long story short, after our tour (and then a weekend in Seward for Mt. Marathon...a different story) I needed healthy food that wouldn't further disrupt my already sensitive GI tract.

That's how we landed here with this incredibly simple, but equally tasty gnocchi with lemon chicken, ricotta, and fresh herbs.  This is absolutely going to be a new go-to favorite for both quick weeknight meals, but also for food to feed friends.  It's both hearty and light, tart and creamy.  The gnocchi is perfectly paired with the chicken, while the lemon juice/zest and fresh herbs bring the flavor to a new level.  The asparagus bring a nice crunchy element, and also a bunch of green.  I really loved how light but creamy the ricotta was.  It wasn't heavy at all, nor did I feel guilty (or super bloated!) after eating it like I always do after a heavy cream sauce.  So good.  So easy.

I can't wait to make it again!  I certainly won't wait until after another whirlwind jam-packed vacation.

Gnocchi with Lemon Chicken, Ricotta, and Fresh Herbs:
  • 2 heaping teaspoons of minced garlic in olive oil (or if you use fresh, 4-5 cloves)
  • 1 bunch of asparagus spears, ends trimmed, then chopped into 2 inch long pieces
  • olive oil
  • 3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • the zest of one lemon
  • the juice from that lemon
  • 15 ounces of ricotta cheese (I used lowfat instead of part skim.  In my experience, when cooking with part skim, the sauce tends to get grainy because there isn't any fat to hold it all together.  Also, if you want to use less than the full 15 ounces, that is completely up to you; you just won't have as creamy of a sauce.)
  • 16 ounces of gnocchi
  • 2ish tablespoons each of fresh thyme and fresh rosemary, chopped into smithereens 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crushed red pepper to taste
  1. Over medium-high heat, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the minced garlic and stir consistently for 20 seconds or so.  Add the chopped asparagus.  Continue stirring, ensuring that neither the garlic nor the asparagus burn.  Cook until the asparagus is crisp, but not crunchy all the way through--about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add the chicken cubes.  Cook until done.  Strain the juices.
  3. While the chicken is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  4. After draining the juices from the chicken, add the ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest and heat over a low heat.  Stir to combine.
  5. Add the spices, stir, then taste.  Adjust if needed.
  6. Just as you are ready to add the gnocchi to the water, add the asparagus to the chicken and sauce, then stir to combine.  **Be careful!  You don't want your asparagus to start cooking again and turn into much.  You just want it to get hot again.  
  7. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water.  When the gnocchi starts floating, it is done--about 3 minutes.  Strain.
  8. Add the gnocchi to the skillet with everything else.  Stir.  Taste.  Adjust spices if needed and make sure everything is hot.
  9. Garnish and serve with more fresh spices and/or crushed red pepper.
  10. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pizza Bread

You heard it right.  Pizza Bread.  Pizza in bread form.  Well, I guess pizza is really a bread in the first place, but instead of being covered with toppings, the toppings are incorporated.  Brainless but genius, you say??!  You're right!

This bread is like a pizza party in your mouth.  Every bite is like the "best" bite of a big ole slice, regardless of whether you are a crust person, the first bite pointy tip kind of person, or the every bit of topping in one bite kind of person.  It's perfectly doughy, cheesy, and crusty.  I love that the topping/filling options are endless.  Mushrooms one day, peppers another.  Pepperoni bits, tomatoes, and basil.  Onions and lots of meats...the options are endless.  Also, you can pick what you'd like as a dipping option.  We had a pesto alfredo and a traditional marinara, but something spicy or meaty would be great too.  

It is perfect to make ahead and take to a party, or I imagine it would be incredible as a side to pasta or even as the serving vessel to meats or veggies from the grill.  You really can't go wrong!

Pizza Bread:
Adapted from this recipe.
  • 1 packet of quick rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups of quite warm (but not hot) water
  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour (a little more for sticky fingers/dough management)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
  • Your toppings of choice.  We used sundried tomatoes, pesto, and Italian seasoning.
    • If you use more liquidy toppings (i.e., crushed tomatoes, artichoke hearts, etc.) my guess is that you will have to add more flour and it might not rise as well, however, I haven't tried it so have at it.
  • 2 plus 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese, dividided (I like it cheesy, so I used a lot)
  • 1/2 plus 1/2 cups of parmesan cheese, divided
  • sauces for dipping
  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over your quite warm water.  Let proof for 5 minutes; do no stir.
  2. Add in the flour, salt, and sugar.  Mix by hand or with a mixing spoon until it all just comes together.
  3. Add your other toppings, 1/2 cup parmesan. 
  4. The dough will be tacky.  If needed, add a little bit more flour.
  5. Let rise for one hour on the counter.  Then, move to the fridge and let rise for another hour or so.
  6. When all done rising, flour your countertop, then roll the dough out into a rectangle about 11 x 17" in size.  
  7. Sprinkle two cups of mozzarella all over the top.  Then fold both long sides over, like a really long burrito, then seal all the sides well. 
  8. Preheat your oven to 450° F while your big pizza burrito rests.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Bake your loaf on the lined baking sheet for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.  Halfway through, sprinkle the loaf with any remaining cheese.  If near the end of baking, you worry that it is getting too dark, make a tinfoil tent.
  10. Slice, and serve with dipping sauces!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Spiced Nuts

Since it is nearly half-Christmas, I figured it is time to blog about the spiced nuts I made for the holidays.  Although I originally made them as little holiday nibblers, I have since used them regularly as a salad topping.

These nuts are amazing.  (Have at it with the nut jokes.)  They are perfectly light and airy, sweet and spicy.  The little hint of cayenne really is the highlight for me.  They bring subtle flavor explosions to your mouth, however, they aren't overpowering or palate-killers.  They are delicious on their own, but they really shine when paired with feta cheese, dried figs, mixed greens, and a light oil and balsamic dressing.  I've topped salads in all seasons with these little gems.

What I also love is that these nuts take absolutely no time and effort to make.  I stock-pile so that I have an ample supply to rely on for months, literally.  Also, because they are coated with egg whites and baked, they aren't gooey, globby, and sticky!  I have a thing about sticky foods, particularly when at a party or get together because of the obvious mess they make.  I won't eat Cheetos, wings, or other notoriously messy things, not because they are unhealthy, but because they essentially require a shower afterwards.  The only finger-messin' food I will never turn down is Alaskan king crab.  That would just be a sin.  OK, enough from that tangent...

Make these nuts.  Your friends will be incredibly impressed with how hard you slaved away to make them perfectly nutty, spicy, sweet, light, and tasty.  (Hahaha, joke's on them.)  I plan on making a batch this afternoon to add to trail mix for our weekend camping adventure.

Spiced Nuts:
Closely adapted from this recipe.
  • 1/3 cup of light-brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup of white sugar (the normal stuff)
  • 1 barely heaping teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (more or less depending on your taste preference)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound of pecan halves
  • 1 egg white at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  1. Preheat your oven to 300° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all of the sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon together, making sure there are no clumps.
  3. In a larger-sized mixing bowl, beat the egg white and water until frothy and bubbly.  
  4. Add the pecans and stir to completely coat.
  5. While stirring, add in the sugar and spice mixture.  Toss/stir until evenly coated.
  6. Spread the nuts onto the lined baking sheet in a single layer.  
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until you can smell the nuts, they have begun to brown, and the egg mixture is cooked.  Stir occasionally.
  8. Stir them again when you pull them out of the oven.  
  9. Once completely cooled, break apart again if needed, then store in an air-tight container.
  10. Serve on their own, on top of salads, in trail mix, as a granola topper, and more!