FAIRYTALE FEASTS

BECAUSE ONCE UPON A TIME, I HAD THE MOST AMAZING [INSERT FOOD HERE] …

April 30, 2010

Fairytale Cinco De Mayo Feast: Chicken Tortilla Soup


Cinco de Mayo, Spanish for the "Fifth of May" is this Wednesday! Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla because it marks the day when the Mexican army triumped over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It actually has limited significance in Mexico but is commonly celebrated in the United States and the throughout the world to honor Mexican culture. So what will you be cooking or drinking to celebrate?

One of my favorite Mexican dishes is simple: chicken tortilla soup. This soup tastes as good as it looks! Plus it's a very flavorful and healthful dish that is really easy to make. You start off by pureeing tomatoes, peppers, garlic and sauteed onions in a blender. (I don't have a food processer. My blender works just fine for this dish!) Then just cook the chicken in the broth. And when you are ready to serve, garnish with your favorite ingredients.

I used a chipotle chile pepper canned in adobo sauce to spice up my soup.  A chipotle chile pepper is actually a dried, smoked jalapeño. It has wrinkled dark brown skin and a smokey sweet and almost chocolate-like flavor. Chipotle chili peppers are commonly found dried, pickled and canned in Adobo sauce. Adobo sauce is a dark red sauce or paste made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar.  Most grocery stores carry canned chipotles.  I found mine in the specialty Mexican section of Wegmans.  (I also used this sauce in my Renaissance White Chicken Chili.)  If you cannot find chipotle peppers canned in adobe sauce, feel free to substitute a chopped and seeded jalepeno.  Jalepeno peppers, named after Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, is a smooth dark green pepper that ranges from hot to very hot. These peppers are scarlet red when ripe (hence, the red chili icon from Chili's!)

WARNING: For those of you who have never worked with hot peppers before, take heed: BE SURE TO THOROUGHLY WASH YOUR HANDS after touching any of these peppers, ESPECIALLY THE SEEDS OF THE JALEPENO!!! NEVER TOUCH YOUR EYES OR FACE WHEN WORKING WITH HOT PEPPERS! :-)

I also used some cotija cheese to add another layer of flavor to this dish. Cotija is a Mexican cheese named after Cotija de la Paz, a town in the state of Michoacan. (It is pronounced koh TEE ha.)  It is a salty cheese similar to the Greek feta cheese. It can be made from cow's or goat's milk and can be semisoft to very hard. This cheese is optional - I didn't use it when I was really trying to count my calories. But a little crumble of this cheese goes a long way! :-)
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Serves 4

1 cooking onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 14 oz can of tomatoes
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or 1 seeded jalapeño)
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
Frank's Hot Sauce
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Emeril's Southwestern Essence
1 bag of Guiltless Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
1 handful of fresh cilantro
1 avocado
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Cotija Cheese

Sauté the onion and garlic in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent, add them to a blender with the can of whole tomatoes and chipotle pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of Adobo sauce. Puree.


Return the mixture to the pot and add the chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Rub a little of the Emeril's Southwestern Essence onto the chicken. Add the chicken to the soup and let cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot when it is cooked and shred.  Add the chicken back into the pot.  Season the soup with salt and pepper and a dash of Frank's hot sauce. (Be careful with this step unless you want the soup to be really hot!)

Scoop broth and chicken into a bowl.  Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, diced avocado, and fresh cilantro.

Enjoy!

Fairytale Cinco de Mayo Feast: Chunky Guacamole


Guacamole, one of the most beloved Mexican specialties and a common dish in the United States, is probably the easiest treat you can whip up for yourself this Cinco de Mayo. It is easy to find a pre-packaged guacamole in your local grocery store but it's easily made from scratch by mixing avocado mixed with lemon or lime juice and other seasonings. It can be used as a dip, sauce, topping or a side dish.  Once you make fresh guacamole yourself, you will never go back to that processed guacamole laden with chemical preservatives - I PROMISE!

The star of guacamole is the avocado.  You want to make sure that you use ripe avocados when making guacamole so that they will mash easily.  You want them to be a dark green color and firm to the touch but not too firm or hard.  (To speed the ripening process, you can place them in a paper bag for a few days at room temperature.)  In case you have never worked with avocados before, note that when you cut them open they discolor quickly. To prevent this, we use citrus juice. Avocados are rarely cooked (even on Iron Chef America they were left at room temperature!) because cooking avocados longer than a few minutes causes them to lose their flavor and they turn bitter.

I used to use lime juice in my guacamole but switched over to lemon juice and I am really glad that I did! Eva Longoria, my favorite "desperate housewife," said the secret to the best guacamole is to use lemon juice. And not only is Eva Longoria a successful Mexican actress, but she also owns her own restaurant, Beso. She was right. The lemon juice REALLY makes a difference!

Here is my recipe for a chunky guacamole. I don't add tomatoes because I don't want other ingredients to outshine the flavor of the avocado or cilantro- my two fav Mexican ingredients!


Fairytale Chunky Guacamole
2 ripe avocados
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 jalepeno, seeded and chopped
1 handful of cilantro, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lemon
Salt + pepper to taste

Using a fork, mash the avocados into big chunks. Mix in onion, jalepeno, cilantro, and garlic.  Drizzle with the juice of one lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

April 27, 2010

Fairytale Encounter: Meeting the real Julie Powell


I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Julie Powell, author of the bestselling book Julie and Julia, which chronicles her experience as a blogger attempting to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Powell's book was famously made into the movie Julie and Julia, produced by famed women's writer Nora Ephron. It earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nod for best actress for her portrayal of Julia Child. Julie Powell was portrayed by Amy Adams. (See my posting for Julia Child's Beef Bourgninon.)

Julie Powell was very vivacious in person.  She spoke very poignantly about her experience as one of the first well known bloggers and detailed the trials and tribulations of turning her beloved blog into a book.  She was very down to earth, honest, and humble. She was also hilarious!

Powell appeared pretty pleased with the way in which Amy Adams portrayed her in the movie. She also praised Meryl Streep's accurate portrayal of the effervescient Julia Child. "Meryl Streep recognized Julia Child was a feminist in her own right," said Julie. "She was not a slave in the kitchen, she was in the kitchen because she wanted to be."  (After all, isn't that what the feminist movement was all about? Giving women the power to chose what they would like to do with their lives?) The pioneer side of Julia Child, a major theme in the movie, is one of the things that makes her so loveable and admirable. 

Powell also stated that the scene in which she is seen uncomfortably gnawing on a breadstick over brunch with her judgmental group of "friends"  never happened. "I have great friends," Powell said, pointing out that the scene was signature of Nora Ephron. "My friends are nice!"

What really did happen was Powell's letdown after learning that the most influential person in her career really didn't like her: Julia Child.  In the movie, a tearful Amy Adams learns that Julia Child does not like her because she felt that her language was distasteful and her blog turned French cooking into a joke.  Powell gracefully acknowledged this point in her lecture but cleverly and wisely shared the lesson she learned from the experience: the only person you have to answer to at the end of the day is yourself. The only critic that really matters is you. You have to live with the choices you make in life and the path you take.  Powell knew that her admiration for Julia Child was sincere, as were her intentions for blogging about cooking her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."  And while Julia Child may not have fully understood Powell's methods, Powell undoubtedly is responsible for introducing the legend that is Julia Child to a whole new generation of food lovers.

 
Powell spoke about her experience interning at a butcher shop in upstate New York, the premise and setting for her most recent book, Cleaving.  Much of the buzz about her new book, however, hasn't been focused on her meat cutting skills but rather on the book's candid account of Powell's romantic affair and the subsequent unraveling of her relationship with her husband.  She spoke about how her marriage was portrayed about as perfect in Julia and Julia and that everyone she met loved her perfect, supportive husband.  In reality, Powell said, no one is perfect but a real marriage is one that takes work and requires love and forgiveness.  (In the end, that hard work combined with true love, conquered all and Powell's marriage survived.)  Powell also pointed out the difficulty of writing about family and friends in her life, stating "As a writer, you have an obligation to be truthful while preserving the integrity of the people in your life." 

One of her most inspiring, and perhaps understated, message from Powell's lecture came as a response to a question from a young twenty-somthing student who wanted advice on how to figure out what to do with her life.   Powell explained that she really just followed her heart and did what she wanted to do, even other people criticized her or thought she was crazy.  Her drive and relentless spirit is another similarity that Powell has with Child. "You have to see what really works for you," said Powell. "Listen to your true voice." 

Thank you to the Lackawanna Public Library for bringing Julie Powell to Scranton!

April 23, 2010

Fairytale Feasts from Northeastern Pennsylvania

Highlights from An Evening of Fine Food and Wine at the Scranton Cultural Center - the Ultimate Fairytale Feast!


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a truly magical evening of fine food and wine at the Scranton Cultural Center. This event showcased a diverse array of food and wine from many of Northeastern Pennsylvania's best restaurants. Chefs performed a live cooking demonstration of their featured dish and sommeliers were on hand to explain the featured wine pairing.  This event was an absolute fairytale in itself and the food was a spectacular fairytale feast!

APPETIZERS
Upon arrival, each individual was placed into a group and given a label. I landed in the Chardonnay group, which was perfect because that is my favorite wine.  :-) Everyone then entered the grand ballroom of the Cultural Center to feast on appetizers from different restaurants until we had to separate into our groups.

My first bite set the tone and the bar for the night: a spinach and riccotta ravioli from Angelo Bistocchi's restaurant in Scranton served by executive Chef GianLuca Fremiotti. This homemade pasta plumply filled with spinach and creamy ricotta cheese and pressed together was delicious. When I asked what Bistocchi's specialized in, replied: fresh food that is homemade. That's more than enough reason for me to add Bistocchi's to my list of restaurants I need to try immediately!


Another notable appetizer was the crab bisque from Coopers Seafood House served with mini toasted croutons. This soup was really a crowd pleaser. The only way I could have loved it more is if I were having it on a beach somewhere with someone else who really enjoyed it too :-) Coopers generously provided the recipe, which appeared in Bon Appetit Soups and Salads, Copyright 1983 by Knapp Communications Corporation.

Cooper's Bisque of Crab Soup
As it Appeared in Bon Appetit


3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 medium onions, minced
1 medium carrot, finely minced
1/2 stick celery, finely minced
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsely
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 quart heated milk (4 cups)
3 tablespoons cream sherry
1/2 lb of lump crabmeat


Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add vegetables and saute' until soft. Reduce heat to medium and add flour, whisking constantly until smooth. Cook 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Stir in parsely and seasonings. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Add cream sherry, crabmeat and salt to taste and simmer 15-20 minutes. DO NOT BOIL! Serve hot.


If bisque is thicker than desired, stir in the whipping cream or milk to thin.

My next tasting was another soup but this one was very different. Chef Kate Gabriele of the Rustic Kitchen (one of my go-to restaurants in the area!) presented wonderfully light and flavorful gazpacho. Chef Kate hosts a live cooking show every Friday night at the Rustic Kitchen, "Cooking with Kate." The show is currently featuring a cooking lesson on how to prepare a "Not Your Everyday Chicken Dinner."  Chef Kate also offers an array of personal chef services including personal cooking classes and parties.  She can be reached at chefkate@hotmail.com.

Other appetizers included a jumbo sized meatball from Gilly's Steak and Seafood in South Scranton, a grilled shrimp and tortellini kebab from Constantino's.



The State Street Grill in Clarks Summit prepared a very flavorful mushroom risotto that I would love to get the recipe for so I can have it again!


DINNER

After feasting on the above appetizers, each group was called to begin their journey into the various rooms of the Cultural Center.  Our first stop was the newly renovated third floor of the Cultural Center, which the Masons used to use as a museum.  There we sampled food from the eloquent French Manor in South Sterling in the Poconos.  On the menu for the night was a tender seven pepper and coffee rubbed filet mignon medallion with horseradish potatoes and pickled twirled red beets with a muchroom cognac cream. A lavender and honey glazed baby carrot delicately accompanied the dish. Each bite was absolute perfection!!!
It was accompanied by an El Portille wine from Argentina, a spicy and peppery wine with notes of chilies and earthy vegetation.


Next we then made our way to Robert P. Casey Library on the second floor of the Cultural Center, which featured walnut walls, a stone and tile fireplace, and leaded glass windows to feast on food prepared by Patsels in A porcini mushroom encrusted Chilean Sea Bass topped with a lemon aioli.  Accompanying the sea bass was one of my all time favorite salads: shaved fennel and orange. I really loved this dish and can honestly say that it was the best piece of sea bass I ever had! Bravo Patsels!



Next we made our way to the Ladies' Parlor on the second floor of the cultural center for a tasting from Casey's Corner at the Scranton Hilton.  I enjoyed learning about the history of this room, which has undergone recent enhancements, and learned that there were secret passage ways leading to the room throughout the building so that the woman could enter without being seen.  I also learned that there was a kitchen on each floor of the cultural center because the Masons used to have social events there in the 1930s and 1940s. The lead chef from Casey's prepared an excellent meal of teriyaki salmon with sauteed spinach over a soba noodle cake. The salmon was cooked perfectly - it was warm with a bright pink center. It was so good I almost asked for another one!



Next we made our way down to the next station: Carmen's Ristorante, at the Radisson Hotel, also known as the Lackawanna Station. We feasted on kurobuto pork chops with port glazed peaches and red onions, topped over an herbed mashed potato croquette. The chef from Carmen's gave a really nice and detailed presentation. He told us that kurobuto was the Japanese name for black hooves. He explained that because pigs have no sweat glands, they cool themselves down by wallowing in mud, hence the phrase, "sweating like a pig." However, these kurobuto pigs get freshwater streams to cool themselves down in - I am guessing that is what makes them so good!


Carmen's Kurobuto Pork Chops with Port Glazed Peaches & Red Onion
Serves 2
Chef de Cuisine: Stefen Purta


Pork
2 10 ounce Kurobuto Pork Chops
Salt and Pepper to Taste


Season Pork Chops with Salt & Pepper. Place on grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and roast in a 350 degree oven for 7-10 minutes for medium to medium well.


Port Wine Bordelaise
1 Shallot (Minced)
1/2 cup Port Wine
1 cup Demi Glace
Salt & Pepper to Taste


Saute' Shallots in oil until they turn translucent. Deglaze with Port Wine and cook until flame disappears. Add Demi Glace and reduce sauce by 1/2.


Glazed Peaches & Red Onion
1 Shallot (Minced)
1 Clove Garlic (Minced)
1/2 Red Onion (Julienned)
1-2 Fresh Peaches (Pitted & Sliced)
1 cup Port Wine
1 tsp Sugar
Salt & Pepper to Taste


Saute shallots in garlic and oil until they turn translucent. Add onions and peaches and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add Port Wine and sugar and reduce until liquid is almost evaporated.

Last, but certainly not least, was a tasting from one of my favorite restaurants in Northeastern Pennsylvania (besides the Gramercy, of course!): Fire and Ice on Toby Creek. This place is truly a gem of our area and in my opinion, not given enough credit! Their food is anything but boring. They take risks and it pays off.  Executive Chef Gary Edwards was on hand to explain the dish he had prepared: Skate Wing Beurre Noisette Sauvignon Blanc Reduction with Bacon Crushed Potato and Braised Leek Arugula.


I had never tasted skate before but I don't know why I was worried. Anything prepared by Fire and Ice has been amazing and truly a Fairytale Feast. (Stay tuned for my complete review of my favorite dishes from Fire and Ice ... coming this week!)  Chef Edwards explained the origins of skate and even handed out a flyer which stated that skate is a mild white fish, often compared to the flavor of a scallop and sometimes to crab or lobster. The French have long appreciate skate ("raie") and it is also becoming more popular in the United States because of its flavor and quick and easy preparation.  It is often prepared in a beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce and finished with capers, lemon and vinegar, or poached in court bouillon (aromatic stock) and finished with fennel, celery root or lightly sauteed arugula or other like greens.


Skate Wing Beurre Noisette Sauvignon Blanc Reduction
6 oz. skate
3 tablespoons of flour
coarsely chopped curly parsley
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
juice and zest of one lemon
2 oz crisp Sauvignon Blanc
1 oz butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minched shallot
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed.


Pat skate wing dry. Season with salt and pepper, dust in flour and sear in hot saute pan with half of the butter and olive oil.  Cook for 2 minutes on each side until golden and remove to rest.  Add remaining butter and allow to brown slightly.  Add lemon, white wine, caper and parsley.  Reduce slightly. Sauté arugula and garlic in another hot pan until lightly wilted.  Serve fish over arugula and bacon crushed potatoes.

DESSERT


Finally, the guests convened back in the grand ballroom to feast on a gourmet dessert buffet. There was a chocolate fondue fountain.


I quickly made my way to the table of imported gourmet cheeses from igourmet.com, a perfect compliment to the wine I had been enjoying all night.


My favorite dessert was by far the strawberry and rasberry shortcake from Epicurean Delight. I only wish I had the recipe! The biscuits were so fresh and fluffy, the fruit was to die for, and the whip cream on top might have been the best I ever had. Simple, elegant, and tasteful: the perfect fairytale dessert.


Overall, the night was a magical experience! I loved learning about the history of the beautiful Scranton Cultural Center and being able to partake in a true fairytale feast! Can't wait to see what is on the menu for next year! :-) Enjoy!

April 21, 2010

Fairytale Cheesecake - Deep Fried!

Deep fried cheesecake bites? I thought they were a myth but they really exist!

While at lunch today I came across these little munchkins on the dessert buffet table at Carmens at the Radisson. (Great lunch btw, esp for special occassions! Very pretty/historic setting, food excellent and only 12.95 pp) Completely clueless about what these bites were, I decided to try one. I nearly died after my first bite. "OMG!!!! There's cheesecake inside of these!!!! Its deep fried cheesecake!!!!" My heart skipped a beat. My healthy conscience screamed at me to spit it out but I knew I had to finish it. And let me tell you, it was worth it! Creamy banana cheesecake on top a graham cracker crust - drenched in batter and deep fried. A sin of the highest level. The funny thing is, I didn't really even like cheesecake - until I had it deep fried :-( I loved the temporary pleasure and the instant gratification it brought. You have to try these bites just once! Even if it does mean 30 extra minutes at the gym for one bite ...
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

April 9, 2010

Fairytale Ham, Asparagus Quiche with Gruyere and Onions


There's something truely magical about a perfect piece of quiche. There's nothing like that first bite of creamy, fluffy, flaky, buttery goodness. 

Quiche is based on a custard composed of eggs, cream or milk, and a pastry crust. Quiche, though commonly associated with French cuisine, first originated in Germany in the kingdom of Lothringen. The word "quiche" derived from the German word "kuchen," meaning kitchen.  The French later on renamed the region Lorraine. The original "Quiche Lorraine" was an open pie made with eggs, cream, and bacon.  It is now commonly made with onions and Gruyère cheese.  


Quiche is very easy to make and is a versatile dish because you can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or an anytime snack. It is a great way to use leftover ham, bacon, etc. It is the perfect addition to any springtime brunch and would be perfect on your table for Mother's Day.


Below is my recipe for a crustless ham and asparagus quiche.  If you HAVE to have a crust, click here for a recipe from my favorite Food Network chef, Tyler Florence.  You can also use a 9 inch store bought crust.



Ham and Asparagus Quiche
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups of diced ham
1 cup of diced asparagus
2 sweet onions
4 eggs
1 cup half and half
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese
1 1/2 cups of Jarlsberg Light cheese (1 big wedge)
2 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  


Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute for about 10-15 minutes until they carmelize. Remove from pan and place in small bowl.  Add the ham to the skillet, lighting coating it with oil just to brown and get some color on it.  Remove from pan and add it to the onion bowl.  Next add the asparagus to the pan and lightly saute until tender (do not overdue as these will cook in the oven.) Remove from the heat and add to the bowl.


In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, half and half and cream. Beat lightly or blend with a fork. 


Arrange onions, ham and asparagus in a 9 or 10 inch pie baking dish.  Pour the egg mixture of the ingredients.  


Bake in oven for approximately 1 hour, or until quiche is cooked through. Insert a toothpick in center of quiche. If it comes out clean, it is done.  If you do not want an overdone top, cover the quiche with tin foil for 45 minutes and leave uncovered the last 15 minutes of baking.


Enjoy!