Monday, August 22, 2016

Pure Food: Panzanella Salad

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In this day and age, there are more and more issues coming to light concerning our diets. Every day, it seems, there are stories in the news about additives, pesticides, GMOs, and more that are causing detrimental affects on people's health. Food has become so processed, that the majority of people's diets consist of foods so far removed from their natural states.

On the flip side, more people are now becoming aware of these issues, and are making adjustments to the way they eat. They are stocking up on whole foods, and avoiding overly processed alternatives. While I do feel it can be very difficult to completely avoid processed foods, limiting them is at least a very good start in the right direction.


Kurt Beecher Dammeier, owner and founder of Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle and New York City, has recently released a cookbook entitled Pure Food. Its prime focus is on replacing processed foods with real, pure, natural foods made with non-chemical ingredients. Reading food labels can be truly shocking, so cooking "pure food" is a wonderful solution to creating a healthier lifestyle.


Kurt write extensively about his own journey toward a "pure food" diet. The introductory chapters in the book are truly enlightening. Did you know, "about 70 percent of the calories we eat today come from highly processed foods, foods that didn't even exist before the twentieth century"? That's pretty scary.


The book continues on to share over 80 recipes, which are presented in a series of recipe threads starting with a main meal component, and then providing additional recipes to use that first dish to create additional dishes. For example, the Braised Beef Chuck Roast can be served as is, and then leftovers can be utilized to make either Beef and Mushroom Lasagna or Three-Alarm Beef Chili.

Photo courtesy of BenBella Books

There are definitely pros and cons to this. On the one hand, I love that you can make one dish, and then extend it to make other dishes, making your leftovers way more interesting. Oh the other hand, that Beef and Mushroom Lasagna looks FANTASTIC, but there are essentially six other recipes you would need to make to put it together: Beecher's Flagship Cheese Sauce, Roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Onions, the Braised Beef Chuck Roast, and Spicy Oven-Dried Tomato Sauce (which starts with yet another recipe for Oven-Dried Tomatoes--see recipe below).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about making food from scratch, but this is just something to be aware of. These aren't necessarily quick and easy meals, but that's not expected when you are cooking "pure foods" from scratch. I still plan to make that lasagna one of these days, so it certainly won't stop me!

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

With that said, there are still lots of recipes in the book that are a bit more streamlined. To prove that I selected the Panzanella Salad to make. It's the perfect summer dish to utilize locally grown, in season, ripe and juicy tomatoes.

Photo courtesy of BenBella Books

I actually halved the entire recipe to yield 3 servings, but it was plenty as a side dish for 5 people! I also scaled down the Oven-Dried Tomatoes recipe below to yield what I needed for the Panzanella Salad (I actually used my toaster oven set to very low so I wouldn't have to heat my large oven for so many hours on a hot summer day!), and used Dijon mustard instead of grainy mustard because that's what I had. The only other change I made was omitting the cheese because my mom isn't a fan of cooked cheese (don't ask).

Before tossing with the dressing

This panzanella salad is delicious! It tastes like chopped up bruschetta, one of my favorite Italian appetizers. We actually enjoyed this salad served alongside grilled steak, just as the book suggests, and it really is a perfect compliment. The olive bread I purchased was a little weak on the olives, so I'd look to source a better quality olive bread next time (or make it myself if I plan ahead), but I really love the uniqueness of this panzanella. I've never seen it made with olive bread, and I've never seen it made using a dressing featuring homemade oven-dried tomatoes!


If you would like to learn more about improving your diet by cutting out processed foods and focusing more on "pure foods," then this is a great book to not only educate you on the reality in which we are now living, but to also provide great recipes to get you started in the right direction. I do have plans to make more dishes from the book, namely that utterly fabulous looking Beef and Mushroom Lasagna. I'm thinking it will taste especially perfect this fall when the weather starts to cool down. Comfort food galore!

Panzanella Salad
Serves 6
(From Pure Food)

This salad is great alongside grilled steak during tomato season. The dressing gets its complex tomato flavor from Oven-Dried Tomatoes, which have a heightened sweetness and depth of flavor compared to raw ones. I usually like to use heirloom tomatoes of various colors for this salad, but feel free to get creative with any variety at the peak of its season.

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 loaf olive bread, sliced into 1-inch cubes (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 ounces Beecher’s Smoked Flagship cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup) (cheddar would be an acceptable substitute)
3 ounces Oven-Dried Tomatoes (about 1/3 cup) (see recipe below)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
3 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups torn basil leaves (1 large bunch)
1/2 cup thinly shaved sweet onion (about 1/2 onion)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix 1/3 cup of the oil, Italian herbs, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and pepper. Add the bread and sprinkle the cheese over the bread. Toss the mixture until evenly coated. Spread the bread mixture evenly on a baking sheet and bake until dried on the outside but a little soft in the center, about 15 minutes.

To a medium bowl, add the remaining 1/3 cup oil, Oven-Dried Tomatoes, balsamic and rice vinegars, mustard, oregano, Tabasco, and the remaining salt. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, either blend or process the mixture until smooth.

In a large bowl, toss together the cubed tomatoes, basil, and onion with the bread cubes and dressing until well combined. Let rest for 10 minutes and then re-toss before serving.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Makes about 1 1/3 pounds
(From Pure Food)

Long, slow oven drying concentrates tomatoes into sweeter and more flavorful versions of themselves. Their texture is softer than that of a sun-dried tomato, but meatier than a raw or stewed tomato. This versatile ingredient can be served alongside eggs, on salads, or on sandwiches. Chop and add them to potato or pasta salad, or simply toss them into hot pasta with kalamata olives and fresh herbs. These tomatoes are also an integral component in my Spicy Oven-Dried Tomato Sauce and pair nicely with Farro Cakes with Bacon and Parsley. I prefer using Roma (aka plum) tomatoes, but practically any tomato will do. Cherry or grape varieties make for a tarter, lighter variation, but be sure to scale the cooking time down to account for their smaller size and faster drying time.

3 pounds (12 to 15) plum tomatoes, cut crosswise into 3 round pieces
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for storing (4 to 16 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Evenly distribute the tomatoes in one layer, cut side up, on the baking sheet. (You may need more than one baking sheet.) Drizzle 4 teaspoons of the olive oil and sprinkle salt over the cut surfaces of the tomatoes.

Roast in the oven until the tomatoes shrink by half, 4 to 6 hours. Remove from the oven and either serve immediately or set aside to cool.

To store, put the cooled tomatoes in an airtight container with enough olive oil to cover. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Return to room temperature before serving.

Pro Tip: Use the tomato-enriched storing oil as a finishing oil or base for salad dressing.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Camille's Macaroni and Cheese

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This is my friend Camille's famous macaroni and cheese recipe. It's the same recipe her mom makes, and I remember loving this macaroni and cheese when I was a young teenager. I still love it after all these years.


It's a very classic American macaroni and cheese, and even utilizes American cheese. Camille stresses that the best (and only) way to make this is with Land o'Lakes American cheese, and that it just isn't the same with any other cheese. I've actually never made this myself (I just ask Camille to make it for me, ha!), so all the measurements and notes below are from her.


She bakes her's covered, and then uncovers it toward the end to brown. I always bake my macaroni and cheese uncovered, but feel free to try it out either way.


Thanks Camille for allowing me to share your fabulous baked macaroni and cheese recipe!


Camille's Macaroni and Cheese
Makes about 10 servings

1 pound short pasta, such as cavatappi or elbows (Camille prefers Barilla cavatappi/cellantani)
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds Land o'Lakes American cheese, shredded (it has to be Land o'Lakes--we've tried it with other cheeses and it just isn't the same)

Topping:
1/2 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pot and add the onions. Saute until the onions are softened, and then add in the flour, stirring constantly.

When the flour mixture starts to bubble, slowly stir in the milk, salt, and pepper. Keep stirring over medium-high heat, and once the milk has warmed up a bit (it should be warm to the touch but not anywhere close to boiling) add in the shredded American cheese.

Stir until creamy. You shouldn't see any strings of cheese left in the mixture. Lower the heat and continue stirring constantly, or else it will stick to the bottom of the pan.

When the pasta water comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta, cooking until almost al dente. Do not overcook the pasta because it will get mushy once it bakes. Remove the cheese mixture from the heat, and then strain the pasta in a colander.

Add the strained pasta to the cheese mixture and combine until well mixed. Pour the pasta and cheese sauce into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Combine the crushed crackers and melted butter in a mixing bowl and then sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

Bake covered for about 30 minutes. Uncover, then bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the crumb topping is golden brown and the edges are bubbly (personally, I bake my macaroni and cheese uncovered the entire time, but feel free to do either method here).

Let the macaroni and cheese cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving to allow it to set.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese

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I have a tee-shirt that says "Bacon is Meat Candy." There's probably not other dish using bacon that really exemplifies that statement more than bacon-wrapped dates.


Imagine this: crispy salt bacon, wrapped around warm, sticky, sweet dates. Take that up a notch by adding a filling of tangy goat cheese. It's the perfect trifecta.


These bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese were hugely popular at my recent Olympic party. I've eaten similar dates at Spanish tapas recipes, so I figure it's fair game to represent Spain on the menu.


They are very easy to prepare, although it is nice to have a couple sets of hands use an assembly-line technique to make the process quicker. I've made these previously, simply baked in a baking pan (the higher sides help keep bacon splatter from making a mess in your oven).




This time, I set a small wire rack in my baking pan, to let the bacon drippings fall beneath, making for a less greasy final product.


I can't say enough about these tiny, sweet and savory morsels. They are perfect for any party. You can easily swap out the goat cheese for small slivers of Manchego, or try ricotta (I've done it with ricotta before and those were good as well, but definitely more mild in flavor).


I prepped and baked these bacon-wrapped dates slightly ahead of time, and then heated them back up (in the same pan) right before guests arrived. They were just as crispy and gooey as when they first emerged from the oven, making these a good choice for a make-ahead appetizer.


Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese
Makes about 30 to 35

1 pound Medjool dates (about 33)
3 1/2 to 4 ounces goat cheese
About 11 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thirds (or about 16 slices cut crosswise in half if you want more bacon wrapped around each date)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil (for easy cleanup) and place a small rack into the pan.

Using a paring knife, cut open the dates along one side and remove the pits. Fill each date with a small scoop of goat cheese, close it back up, and then wrap with a piece of bacon, using a tooth pick to skewer and secure the bacon around the date.

Arrange the bacon-wrapped dates on top of the rack within the baking pan. This will allow the bacon drippings to settle beneath, and allow the bacon to crisp up without being too greasy.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until browned and crisp. You may also flip the bacon-wrapped dates over partway during cooking if you'd like to allow them to brown more evenly. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Shrimp Toast

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One of the most popular items at my recent Olympic Opening Ceremonies party were these crispy shrimp toasts. I honestly don't know if these are even authentic Chinese, but they sure are delicious! They are also very easy to make, and cook quickly.


I was able to purchase some wild gulf shrimp on sale last week at Whole Foods. It's really preferable to use the best quality shrimp you can find. There is so much sketchy shrimp out there these days!


I also used good quality "Canadian White Bread" from Trader Joe's. It's firm enough to hold up against the shrimp paste, and won't get soggy as easily as some cheaper brands of white bread. It also gets beautiful crispy when fried up. Definite win!


We begin by making a simple shrimp paste in the food processor. Peeled and deveined shrimp is combined with aromatic ingredients such as sesame oil, ginger, and garlic, and bound with an egg white and some cornstarch.



Do not fret. It will look like a very small quantity of shrimp paste, but a little goes a long way. Spread the shrimp mixture evenly over one side of the bread triangles. I used a small cheese spreader.


You can dip the shrimp toasts (shrimp-side down) in sesame seeds if you would like. It's not necessary, but I like the look of having half the shrimp toasts covered in seeds, and the other half naked.


These shrimp toasts are shallow fried in a bit of oil, and they cook super fast! They are best enjoyed immediately, but I actually arranged them on a rack in a baking sheet (so the bottoms stay crisp) to warmed them back up in the oven right before the guests arrived, and they were still really good.


You can eat them plain, but a bit of sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy Thai sweet chili sauce is the perfect accompaniment.


Honestly, these shrimp toasts were so great, that I will definitely plan on making them for other upcoming gatherings. In the future I would even plan on doubling this recipe.


Shrimp Toast
Makes 12 triangles

8 ounces wild gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 egg white
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely minced/crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, split into 12 triangles
1/2 cup sesame seeds (optional)
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil, or as needed
Thai sweet chili sauce, for dipping

Combine shrimp, egg white, soy sauce, scallions, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If you don't have a food processor, you can mince the shrimp with a knife and mix everything else together by hand in a bowl.

Spread mixture evenly over one side of each piece of bread, spreading all the way to the edge. Dip shrimp side into sesame seeds to coat, if desired (or you can make half with sesame seeds and half without for a nice contrast).

Pour oil into a heavy-bottom skillet and place over medium-high heat.

In batches, carefully place triangles shrimp-side down and fry until the bottom and edges are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip triangles over and fry for an additional 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining toasts. Serve warm with Thai sweet chile sauce for dipping.




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