Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Take Your Chefwife to Work Day- Duck Breast

It's not very often The Chef and I get duck breasts to play with so you can imagine how excited I was when he decided he would be preparing duck breast for his Friday special. As you know, The Chef cooks at The Wine Experience, a locally owned restaurant and wine bar that is a small bistro-style restaurant tucked into a high end shopping mecca. Each Friday he prepares an off-menu special with seasonal, locally produced (when possible) ingredients that usually are purchased that same day. It's been a lot of fun for to watch him work on his meal plans, grocery lists and prep sheets. Sometimes we collaborate on an idea and bounce things around until he has exactly what he is looking for but he is the creative mind behind the weekly Friday special. Over the months he has worked there he has created some amazing and delicious dishes, every week it's a sell out. His past specials have included cioppino, Italian pasta dishes, and shrimp picatta. It's not uncommon for him to receive requests for his recipes, and he is usually happy to oblige.

Duck breast is something he is not normally excited to work with. Let's face it, there are a lot of steps involved when making duck breast. Scoring the skin is critical to rendering out all that crazy delicious duck fat. Salting the breasts and storing uncovered for 24 hours seasons the meat. Rendering the fat is a bit time consuming but it's absolutely essential. Not only does it make the duck breast completely delicious without being overly fatty, you get all that rendered golden goodness to save and use for cooking other dishes. You haven't lived until you have experienced duck frites! So, with that in mind, what's on the menu for Friday?

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Blueberry Champagne Sauce

Trio of Roasted Baby Potatoes

Green Beans Amandine

So to get everything ready for service, The Chef has to arrive at the restaurant several hours before service begins to start working on the duck. Like I said, he scored and seasoned the duck the night before and has had this in the cooler overnight. 

Scoring the skin is crucial. The melting fat escapes and
the skin doesn't curl up.
To properly render out the fat, place the duck breasts skin side down in a COLD skillet. Place the pan over medium heat and slowly allow the fat to melt and render out. Keep a bowl or jar handy to scoop that delicious fat into. You definitely want to save the fat. 

You can see the pattern of the scoring as the skin crisps
and just look at all that amazing and delicious duck fat!
When the skin is crispy and the fat is rendered out, remove the breasts from the pan and place on a sheet pan to cool.

Never crowd the breasts in the skillet or they will steam and never brown. You're looking for a light golden brown at this stage. Remember- this is restaurant cooking, not how you would prepare them at home. Once you've rendered the fat successfully, remove the breasts to a clean baking sheet. skin side down, and store in the cooler until time for service.

The sauce is also made ahead, using the skillets used to render the fat. Spoon out as much of the fat as you can, and deglaze the pan with an entire bottle of champagne. Bring to boil, scraping up the delicious fond from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce the champagne to about half. Add a little chicken broth, some chopped fresh thyme and fresh blueberries. Cook until the berries have burst and cooked through and the sauce is further reduced. Add a little orange zest if you like and thicken with a cornstarch slurry. Add more fresh blueberries at this stage so you will have plump whole berries in the sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Keep the sauce warm.

When it's time for service you will want to start with a cold pan again. Place the duck breasts skin side down and cook until deep golden brown. Flip over and sear the underside for a couple minutes, then place on a sheet pan and pop in 375-400 degree oven until the internal temperature is 135 degrees for medium rare. Remove and let rest while you plate up the vegetables. Slice the breast diagonally into thick slices, arrange on the plate and spoon sauce over.

Beautiful! Beautiful and delicious. Duck breasts are a wonderful choice for entertaining. Now you might scoff at the idea of a medium rare to rare piece of "bird" meat, since we would never eat chicken or turkey this way. Duck is a whole different kind of meat. It more closely resembles beef that any poultry and has the best flavor and texture when treated like beef. Roast duck, however, is still roasted like chicken or turkey except you MUST prick the skin all over to release the fat as it roasts. It's all about the preparation. If you are not comfortable eating medium rare duck, stick with roasting. Duck is a rich meat with a lot of flavor, and makes all kinds of dishes interesting and delicious- duck tacos is a favorite of mine. Ducks harvested from the wild do have a slightly different taste and texture than commercially farmed ducks but both are very delicious and highly recommended.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Small Town Iowa and the Kitchen Outlet Store

Springtime is springing all around Iowa so Katie, who I would describe as my little sister, suggested we go on a Saturday road trip to somewhere fun. Nothing we have to pack for, or overnight, just a short drive, some interesting sights to see, lunch in a new spot, and maybe a little shopping if we find anything cool. Our original plan called for a very early, up-with-the-chickens day, on the road by 6:30 and headed to Owatonna, Minnesota for some shopping at Cabela's, the outlet mall in Faribault, lunch at Nick's Pizza and then a leisurely drive home. Mother Nature did not agree and her plans for the day included severe thunderstorm watches and warnings, and not wanting to be hundreds of miles from home driving in tornado strength wind, we opted for something a little closer. 

We made our plans Friday night. We'll sleep in a little later and drive about 30 miles away to Ames and then Boone. Lots of things for both of us to discover in Ames, and Boone is home to a very well known bakery. Surely we would find antique shops and cute gift type stores and things like that along the way. We are both chefs' wives so we wanted to track down something good to eat for lunch along the way. Both Ames and Boone have lots of great foodie spots, like The Cafe and Hickory Park.

Our trip started out with a quick stop at a toy store so Katie could pick up her little boy's Easter gift. It just so happens that the toy store was pretty close to a new coffee and bagel shop we've both been wanting to try, 5 Borough Bagels, was right up the street. Every day we have seen them advertising very tempting coffee flavors and since we're both coffeeholics, that had to be the kickoff for our day. Katie got the Birthday Cake latte and I got the Scotcheroo. They were......ok. The coffee flavor was good, but the Birthday Cake latte was awfully sweet even though it's flavor did remind me of birthday cake.The Scotcheroo latte didn't really have that peanut butter/butterscotch flavor at all. It just tasted like a regular latte. Not overly sweet it was good, but not great, and came with a big pile of whipped cream on top, which is something I would rather leave off. Another drawback- the coffee only comes in a 16 oz size. No small, medium, large. No tall, grande or venti. Just one size. It was worth trying but since it's out of the way for most of my running around town, I don't know if I'll go back or not.

We hit the highway after the toy store and while chatting decided to it up and head east instead of north and check out the outlet mall in Williamsburg. Talk about happy happy happy- they have a kitchen outlet!! Foodie heaven! It's a good hour drive and by the time we got there we figured it would be best to feed our young traveling companion before hitting the shops so we headed into the town of Williamsburg, just south of Interstate 80. It's a cute little Iowa town, postcard perfect with a coffee and antique shop in an old Victorian house. Businesses such as banks, shops and restaurants circle to town square which is a grassy park. I'm so glad we visited when we did. The recent spring rains have changed the grass into a lush green carpet and spring flowers are blooming everywhere.

Just off the square is the Sundown Bar and Grill. After googling options in the area we decided to check out the place. Now, I have been to many many mom and pop small town eateries over the years and some are barely mediocre with a menu packed full of deep fried everything but that was not the case here. There were a number of fried things, like onions rings, breaded mushrooms and cheesesticks and fried pickles, but they also offered a nice selection of hand pattied burgers, breaded or grilled pork tenderloins, steaks, broasted chicken and even a wood fired pizza menu. Since we were there at lunch they had not yet fired up the wood oven, so Katie chose a generously sized and juicy cheeseburger with fried mushrooms and I went with the Iowa classic- the tenderloin. The tenderloin was fantastic- one of the best I have ever had and it came with crinkle fries- the absolute BEST crinkle fries I have had in forever. If our simple sandwiches were any indication of the care and quality of the rest of the food, this town has a goldmine right on the main street. 

After lunch we headed up to the outlet mall. Kitchen Collection was our destination and I wasn't five feet in the door before I found something I have been wanting- a mandolin. A few feet later was a wall of cast iron. Knives, utensils, linens, gadgets, seasonings, small appliances, cookware, dishware, coffeemakers and tea pots- everything a foodie could possibly want and at incredible prices. A few items mysteriously fell into my cart of course.  After the kitchen store we hit a couple clothing stores, jewelry, chocolate and sporting goods shops, and an Amana store where you can get Amana products like pickles, jams cheeses and so on. 

The sky was darkening and storm clouds threatened so we headed back towards the city, thankfully missing the crummy weather. We didn't make it to the winery because we had Pupcake with us so we made plans to head that way again soon, and you know we'll tell you all about it.

So what did I buy at the kitchen outlet? Just a couple things. A handy small blender for making smoothies and shakes- so I probably will share some recipes and suggestions with that in the future and I also purchased a mandolin. Now, just to get you up to speed about ten years ago I bought a mandolin. LOVED that thing, I was so excited to use it and its many exchangeable blades for different types of cutting. The very first time I used it, I was slicing onions and cucumbers for salad. Silly me, holding that onion, I didn't think I needed that safety guard- I'm a seasoned pro, right? WRONG! I ended up cutting my thumb in a very horrible way which ruined the salad and absolutely ruined my day, and many to follow as the pain was one step away from unbearable. I threw the mandolin away swearing them off for life. Seeing chefs on cooking shows using them with their unprotected hand gave me the creeps- seriously, like it made me queasy. They always WHIZ through slicing things and I fear for every finger on their hands.

Fast forward ten years and here I am again. Wiser. Much wiser, and also very willing to accept the fact that the safety guard is provided for a reason, and I will be using it. I have a couple veggies to play with so let's play with the new mandolin. Since I am such a sucker for a good potato, that was my first vegetable to play with. I had a sweet potato and russets, so I went with the russets. I carefully unpacked the mandolin from its packaging, where it was all safe and snug in a relatively small box. I knew right away this was NOT going back in the same box- no way, no how. Anyway, the unit comes with the v-shaped cutting blade in place. There is a safety cover on and to be honest, I damn near cut mu hand off trying to get the safety cover off. Whoever designed this- let's just say I don't like you much. I did NOT touch the blade but eyeballed it from a safe distance. The attachments include a julienne slicing blade (I left that securely wrapped up) and two more slicing adjuster things- basically you swap them out on the unit for thick, normal and super thin slices. The unit is set up for super this straight out of the box. Those attachments are easy to remove, there is a push button and they pop right off. The base and "runway" are sturdy and don't slip around on the counter.

The food safety guide thing- I wouldn't even think of not sing it this time around. Following the instructions that came in the box I cut the potatoes in half first then stuck them on the pins in the food guide. There are a bunch of pins in there and they held the potatoes firmly in place. I gathered my guts and started slicing and guess what? I got potato slices with NO FINGER MEAT!! So excited! Since I had left the thinnest slice attachment in I had slices you could easily have made homemade potato chips with. Instead, since I don't like deep frying at home, I made a dish similar to Potatoes Anna but I call it Potatoes Erika because my mom always made this.

I used a medium skillet and added a good swirl or rosemary Sinful Food olive oil and heated until the oil was screeching hot and very fragrant, then I placed the slices in the pan overlapping and covering the bottom and built up until I had used all the potatoes and seasoned well with salt and pepper. I turned the heat down to mediumish and covered the pan to make sure the potatoes cooked through. I left them untouched for about 10 minutes and then checked them- the bottom was nicely browned and crisp. Grab a big spatula and flip them over (after drizzling a touch more oil over) and cook uncovered until the bottom is also browned and crisp. Slide out of the pan and slice into wedges to serve.

Get your Sinful Food oils by clicking HERE.

I ate the whole thing. Ha!! It was only two potatoes to begin with so it wasn't piles of food, and you know what? I wasn't that scared! I actually like how this mandolin performed and cleanup was super easy- I used running water and a brush on a LONG handle- piece of cake! As I predicted, it did not go back into the box so I'll have to figure out a good way to store this but I guarantee I'll use this again and again, in fact........ I have something in mind for a post in the very near future! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Things I've Learned From Food Network

The Chef and I often sit and watch Food Network for hours and hours. Like some people yell at the television during sports, he and I will yell at the chefs and competitors on cooking shows- Noooo!!! Don't use that knife!!! Hurry and get it on the plate! You can't fry THAT!! OMG you overcooked the tuna!!! We'll yell, stress out, get excited, experience disappointment just like during football season, no thanks to you, Minnesota Vikings. We especially like watching Chopped. The mystery baskets always contain crazy ingredients and quite often, something we have never heard of. One of us will google it and find out whatever the strange ingredient might be- caul fat, hiutlacoche, unusual vegetables and ethnic foods. We have learned tons just from watching. 

Molto Mario was another show we loved. Mario Batali is a human encyclopedia of food knowledge. Every episode he talked about not only the food he was preparing, but wines that pair well and the region of Italy from where the dish originates. While I have visited Italy and experienced authentic Italian foods, not just the Americanized versions, the Chef has not, and he really picked up a lot of ideas and inspirations from Mario. Other notable chefs from Food Network that I have followed over the years include Sarah Moulton, Ming Tsai, Michael Chiarrello, and Ina Garten.

Food trucks feature prominently in several programs on Food Network. The food truck phenomenon is just beginning in our city, as the city council was a little reluctant to grant permits, but after a couple years we are finally on trend. Seeing these shows made us consider that as a business opportunity, and who knows- maybe we will. It's fascinating to see all the unique food these trucks serve and how talented their cooks are to be able to manage a small mobile kitchen. Pretty incredible really.

Myself, I have become familiar with ingredients and foods I had never heard of. Things like sea beans, durian and jackfruit were unheard of in the middle of Iowa, but thanks to Food Network I now am always on the hunt for these things. I've been able to try dragonfruits, carambola, rambutans, purple sweet potatoes, I've made own kimchi, and learned that jackfruit is not just a fruit, when cooked properly it has a texture much like pulled chicken or pork and can be substituted for those meats in different dishes. Crazy! I have been able to fine tune my baking skills in a big way with all the shows that focus on baking and desserts. This has been a huge benefit for me especially in breadmaking. 

This recipe was featured on the Food Network show The Kitchen. Prepared by Jeff Mauro, it's a super easy recipe to pull together. Jeff prepared the shrimp and half the amount of sauce I used but served the shrimp in lettuce leaves with no added vegetables or rice. I made the recipe more like an entree by adding baby corn, bell pepper and water chestnuts, doubled the sauce and served over rice. You can add your favorite veggies, like broccoli, snow peas, carrots, whatever you like. The heat in the sauce is pretty substantial so if you like things less spicy cut back on the sriracha or leave it out entirely. It will still be delicious. 

Bang Bang Shrimp with Vegetables
*Inspired by Jeff Mauro's recipe 

2 packages frozen popcorn shrimp (total 4-6 servings)
1 can baby corn
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 large bell pepper
1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons sriracha
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)

Heat the oven according to package directions.

Spread the shrimp out on a large baking sheet.  Cut the bell pepper into 1 inch chunks. Add to baking sheet. Add the drained sliced water chestnuts. Drain the baby corn; cut each cob into four pieces. Add to baking sheet.

Place in hot oven and bake as long as instructed on the box, usually about 15 minutes.

Stir remaining ingredients together in a small bowl.

When the shrimp and vegetables are done, place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the sauce over, tossing to coat evenly. Serve immediately with rice, if desired.

I don't normally use commercially prepared foods in recipes but after seeing this on Food Network I just had to. I used instant rice as well and had dinner on the table in under 20 minutes, and that was a great bonus, not just for me on a lazy Thursday but for millions of busy families that barely have time to breathe between work, kids and real life. So, I have to admit I've also learned that it's ok to use prepared food products once in a while and even chefs do it from time to time. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, April 14, 2017

McGuyver Dinners- Unstuffed Peppers

Some of the funniest moments in my life took place in a townhouse in Johnston, where my best friend Ronda and I were starting new chapters in our lives. She was starting over in a new city, and I was starting over as newly single. Our friendship is a fun mix of eclectic things- some we have in common, some we couldn't be more opposite if we tried. I'd be lying if I said we didn't have a few cocktails over the time we lived there. We had a fully stocked bar!  Some of our crazy antics included driveway bowling, numerous Jager bombs, and driving through snowdrifts in my SUV. Let's just say this last antic was not so successful.

Anyway, lots of times two adult women looked at the contents of our pantry and bemoaned the selection. Not wanting to go to the store or order delivery, I was usually assigned the task of coming up with a dinner. Ronda would always say that I could take black pepper and an ice cube and come up with a three course meal so, like McGuyer and his crazy paper clip and rubber band saves he day storylines, we just started calling it McGuyver Dinner. I've made many many McGuyver Dinners over the years. It's really not that hard, since I've always got some basic ingredients on hand like some kind of pasta or grain. Making a sauce or gravy isn't too difficult if you keep canned soups, broth or soup bases, or even tomato products on hand. Throw a few things together and you've got a, hopefully, tasty dinner.

Today The Chef was going through our cabinets and came upon my grain stockpile. At any given time I have an assortment of eight or nine grains on hand- everything from rice to quinoa to millet to amaranth. I love trying the ancient grains and using them in recipes. The textures are so varied, the flavors so unique. Some grains, like farro and kamut, look similar to rice. Farro is a larger grain and takes longer to cook than rice. Kamut has a chewy texture and remains firmer than rice. After piling every bag and package of grain from my stash on the counter, I decided to go with the kamut. Kamut is a great source of fiber and protein too, and who doesn't want that? 

I had some bell peppers and mushrooms to use up, so I thought I'd got for an inside out stuffed pepper type dish using Sinful Food products. The Signature Seasoning is great for replacing the salt and pepper. I had just a little bit of garlic olive oil left so I used that and also used he jalapeno oil. It was perfect- the jalapeno added just the slightest bit of heat and another layer of fresh pepper flavor.  Here is my recipe- 

McGuyver Unstuffed Pepper Soup

3 bell peppers
1 large onion
8 oz package mushrooms
handful fresh garlic cloves
1 lb ground beef
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 cups uncooked kamut
6 cups beef broth
Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
Sinful Food garlic and jalapeno olive oils

Chop the bell peppers, onions and garlic. Heat a couple tablespoons of garlic olive oil and jalapeno olive oil in a LARGE stockpot. Add the chopped vegetables and season. Cook over medium high heat until softened. Remove from the pot.

Add the ground beef to the pot and break up. Cook until browned and cooked through. Drain any accumulated fat. Return the vegetables to the pot and add all remaining ingredients. 

Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, about an hour until the kamut is tender.

The kamut will not be as soft as rice. It retains it's chewy texture, which I loved. I originally intended this to be more of a casserole-type dish but instead we ended up with a pot of a delicious and hearty soup. I was happy with the result. Kitchen disaster averted!! 

To get your own Sinful Food olive oils and seasonings, click HERE.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Three Meals with Blue Apron- Part 3

Sadly it's the third installment and final meal in our Blue Apron box. I have been so impressed by the quality of the food in these pre-planned meal boxes, and the step by step directions are so precise and easy to follow literally anyone can turn out a chef-quality meal at home. Not one of these meals took more than 30 minutes to prepare. I didn't spend a single minute grocery shopping or planning. They did it all for me! With these meal packages, there is absolutely no reason to visit a drive thru ever again.

Today's recipe is very French-inspired and features two things I truly love- chicken and lentils. This recipe is unique in that is features two salads- the lentils are tossed with vinaigrette and served as a warm salad, along with a fresh salad of arugula and radish. So French! Lentils are so good for you, protein packed and with the chicken breast you've got a healthy and filling meal. The box came with three fresh radishes for the salad, but I still had a couple watermelon radishes in the fridge that needed to be used soon, so I used one of those in place of two of the radishes in the box and snacked on the extras while cooking.  Let's get started.

The ingredients are:

2 boneless skin-on chicken breasts
1/2 cup French green lentils
3 cloves garlic
1 scallion
3 radishes
2 oz arugula
1 lemon
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons verjus blanc*
1 teaspoon lentil spice blend**

*Verjus blanc is a unique form of grape juice used for cooking. It's similar to an alcohol-free wine. Blanc is a white grape juice.

**Lentil spice blend contains ground thyme, ground bay leaf, mustard powder, ground white pepper

Cook the lentils- Heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Using your fingers, inspect the lentils for any pebbles; discard the pebbles. Rinse the lentils and drain thoroughly. Once boiling, add the lentils to the pot of water and cook, uncovered, 24 to 26 minutes, until tender. Drain thoroughly and return to pot. Set aside in a warm place.

Prepare the ingredients- While the lentils cook, wash and dry the fresh produce. Cut off and discard the root end of the scallion; thinly slice, separating the white bottom and green top. Quarter and deseed the lemon. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, cut off and discard the ends of the radishes; thinly slice into rounds.

Make the vinaigrette- While the lentils continue to cook, in a bowl combine the mustard, half the white bottom of the scallion and the juice of all four lemon wedges. Slowly whisk in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until well combined; season with salt and pepper.

Cook the aromatics- While the lentils continue to cook, in a medium nonstick pan heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium high heat until hot. Add the garlic, spice blend and remaining white bottom of the scallion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, 30 seonds to 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the verjus blanc and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds to one minute or until the verjus has cooked off. Transfer to a bowl, wipe out the pan.

Cook the chicken- while the lentils continue to cook, pat the chicken dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper. In the skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium high heat until hot. Add the seasoned chicken, skin sides down, and cook 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until browned and cooked through. Remove from heat.

Finish and plate your dish- To the pot of cooked lentils, add the cooked aromatics and half the vinaigrette; stir to combine thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the salad, in a large bowl combine the radishes, arugula and cheese; season with salt and pepper. Add enough of the remaining vinaigrette (you may have extra vinaigrette) to coat the salad. Gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the finished lentils and salad between two dishes. Top the lentils with the cooked chicken. Garnish the chicken with the green top of the scallion.

Doesn't that look fantastic? The watermelon radish slices added pretty color and I served the chicken sliced rather than a whole uncut piece of meat. I made this one evening that The Chef was working so the second plate I combined everything and tossed to make a protein packed salad for lunch the next day. It was perfect at room temperature. 

If you hate shopping but LOOOOVE eating healthy and beautiful food, I highly recommend you check out Blue Apron. It's exceptional quality and huge time savings make it a great option for busy people. I hope you check it out.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free with no expectation that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Three Meals with Blue Apron- Part 2

Today we are making recipe number two from our Blue Apron meal box that was gifted to us by the girls at The Spoon and Pint. You might remember our first recipe, Kale and White Cheddar Quesadillas. Today we are making burgers- Shiitake Mushroom Burgers with Miso Mayonnaise and Roasted Sweet Potato to be exact. The Chef and I love a good burger and I'm super excited to try this Asian-influenced burger with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and hoisin sauce. I'm a little anxious about the miso mayo however. My prior experience with miso is limited to soup and I thought it tasted awful, but I'm approaching this with an open mind and willingness to try something new, so here we go......

The ingredients are-

10 ounces ground beef
2 potato buns
2 cloves garlic
1 scallion
1 sweet potato (1/2 lb)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sweet white miso paste
1/4 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms

Prepare the ingredients and make the miso mayonnaise- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the fresh produce. In a bowl combine the mushrooms and 1 cup of HOT water; let stand for at least ten minutes. Halve the buns. Halve the sweet potato lengthwise, then slice thinly crosswise. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut off and discard the root end of the scallion; thinly slice, separating the white bottom and green top. In a bowl, combine the miso paste and mayonnaise; season with salt and pepper.

Roast the sweet potato- Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. Place the sweet potato on the prepared sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to thoroughly coat. Arrange in a single, even layer. Roast 16-18 minutes, or until browned and tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven, leaving the oven on, and transfer to a plate. Set aside in a warm place. Discard the foil.

Form the patties- While the sweet potato roasts, thoroughly drain the mushrooms (discarding the water) and transfer to a cutting board. Finely chop. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the ground beef, garlic, hoisin sauce and white part of the scallion, season with salt and pepper. Mix gently to combine. Using your hands, form the mixture into two 1/2 inch thick patties, transfer to a plate.

Cook the patties- While sweet potato continues to roast, in a medium skillet heat 2 teaspoons olive oil on medium high heat until hot. Add the patties and cook 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare, or until browned and cooked to your desired doneness, transfer to a plate and set aside in a warm place.

Toast the buns- Place the buns, cut side up, on the sheet pan and toast in the oven for  3 to 4 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and crispy. Remove from oven and transfer to clean, dry work surface. 

Assemble burgers and plate your dish- Spread a layer of the miso mayonnaise onto the cut side of the toasted buns. Top the bun bottoms with the cooked patties. Complete the burgers with the bun tops. Divide the burgers and roasted sweet potatoes between two dishes. Garnish the sweet potato with the green top of the scallion.

So how was it? Delicious! The burger was so juicy from the added mushrooms. They really added a ton of moisture and flavor to the meat. The garlic, hoisin sauce and minced scallions (I minced the white part so they would mix into the burger more evenly) gave the juicy meat an Asian flavor. Remember how afraid I was of the miso? It was delicious!! It added a different level of flavor to boring mayo- lightly sweet, definitely savory. I think this might encourage me to try more miso recipes.

The only drawback was the one burger per person in the recipe. That's fine for me but The Chef is a growing boy- he usually eats a couple burgers. To make up for it we supplemented the sweet potato with an extra sweet potato and increased the olive oil accordingly. Also, after I took my picture I picked all the green scallion tops off the potatoes and put them on the burger as well- I highly recommend doing the same.

This meal was absolutely my favorite of the three and something I will make again, thanks to the enclosed recipe card!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free with no expectation that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Who wants a Golden Ticket??

Who loves a good competition? Are you a home cook who loves the thrill of a good contest? Ever heard of the World Food Championship? Looking to grab a Golden Ticket for yourself? Oh friends, ohhhh friends.....have I got great news for you! Sinful Food is holding their first recipe contest and it's YOUR chance to score a Golden Ticket!! 

Ok first of all, let's talk about the World Food Championship. This annual cooking event welcomes cooks from all over the world to compete on the world's largest cooking stage. Known as the Ultimate Food Fight Experience, the WFC is an international competition in which everyone from top chefs to home cooks have a chance to fight their peers for huge prizes, up to $100,000! More than 30 food tv stars have had their careers launched by these competitions. Unlike many recipe contests, you have to win your way in to the WFC, by winning local and regional contests and eventually, a Golden Ticket. Believe me when I say this is big- it's BIG. The WFC is also filmed by A&E Network and is broadcast on FYI Network so people like me get to watch friends fight it out. I call the WFC the Olympics of Food, and it really is!!

For the 2017 competition, which will take place on November 8 through 14, in Orange Beach, Alabama and Sinful Food is giving one very lucky winner a passport to foodie heaven- a Golden Ticket.

So, back to the contest. Let's get the legal stuff out of the way-


Celebrity Chef Jim Gray
The Sinful Food Recipe Contest is open to all AMATEUR home cooks. Celebrity Chef Jim Gray will be the judge of the contest. Recipes will be accepted from May 15, 2017 through June 15, 2017. Winners will be announced June 30, 2017. Contestants are limited to 2 recipes per person. Recipes must contain no more than 8 ingredients, not including Sinful Food olive oil. Recipes must be a main dish or main dish salad and must contain a minimum of 2 tablespoons of any flavor Sinful Foods olive oil. A color photo must be included with submission (Sinful Foods product NOT REQUIRED to be in the photo). Submissions should be emailed to tangerine0thyme@yahoo.com. Maximum TWO recipes per entrant.

First round recipes will be judged on 1- perceived taste, 2- creativity, 3- ease of preparation, 4- photo submission. 

The top ten recipes (chosen by contest sponsor, Sinful Food) will be forwarded to Celebrity Judge Chef Jim Gray. Chef Gray will then choose the top two recipes. Recipes will be judged for 1- Taste, 2- Creativity, 3- Ease of preparation, 4- Use of Sinful Food olive oil.

There will be ONE Grand Prize Winner and ONE Runner Up. The Grand Prize Winner will receive a 6 bottle collection of Sinful Food olive oil (Italian blend, jalapeno, rosemary, garlic, basil and wild sage), 1 Signature Seasoning Blend and a Golden Ticket spot representing Sinful Food at the World Food Championship- Chicken category along with the $300 entry fee paid by Sinful Food (all other WFC expenses are the responsibility of the competitor).

Runner up will receive 3 Sinful Food olive oils- your choice of flavors, and a Signature Seasoning blend.

Prizes will be shipped within 6 weeks after announcement of winners. In the event the Grand Prize Winner chooses not to compete at WFC 2017, the Golden Ticket will be awarded to the Runner Up and the Grand Prize Winner will receive the 6 oil pack and Signature Seasoning.

All entries submitted will be owned by Sinful Food and may be used on social media sites. Sinful Food will retain the right to change or modify any recipe at their sole discretion. Sponsor is not responsible for lost and/or late entries. All decisions final. By entering this contest you are agreeing to the above rules. No purchase required to enter contest.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Three Meals with Blue Apron- Part 1

We see the commercials on television all the time, those upscale membership clubs that deliver everything you need for a home cooked and somewhat bistro influenced meals. Very clever idea and a great way to get people cooking fresh and healthy food themselves, almost like cooking school in a box. The lovely ladies at The Spoon and Pint surprised The Chef and I with a three-meal package from Blue Apron so I didn't waste any time getting on the website and choosing our three menus. The choices were like dishes I'd order in a  restaurant but the recipes make it easy to prepare at home.

What did I choose? The first meal package I chose was the Shiitake Burgers with Miso Mayonnaise and Roasted Sweet Potato. Meal number two is Seared Chicken and French Lentils with Arugula and Feta Salad. The third and final meal is Kale and White Cheddar Quesadillas with Radishes and Fried Eggs. 

Opening the box was an experience as well. The box is packed with insulated lining and huge ice packs. All the ingredients are individually packaged and clearly marked. Produce is packed in plastic bags so you can clearly see what is in each bag. Eggs tucked safely in a cardboard carton. Meats are wrapped and packed separately from the fresh produce and knick knacks- the knick knacks are the small bits and bobs, like packets of spices, miso paste, mayo, cheeses and things like that.

Each recipe includes a recipe card with a picture and description of the finished dish, a list of ingredients with photos, and step by step directions on the back. It's almost impossible to make a mistake with these kits. The ingredients are packed in pre-measured amounts, all you have to do is assemble the ingredients and follow the directions, which also includes a picture of the steps. The very first step is to prepare your mise en place, and the rest just flows.

The first recipe we are going to share is the Kale and White Cheddar Quesadillas with Radishes and Fried Eggs. This recipe is a unique take on what many people consider a kid menu item, the quesadilla. Using corn tortillas instead of flour is the first difference- corn tortillas add a lot more flavor and texture, in my opinion. Next replacing the huge glob of cheese with healthy sauteed kale and a small amount of white cheddar makes this a lighter and much more nutritious dish. It comes with a seasoning packet that you can use to spice it up as much or as little as you want. The radishes, served thinly sliced, add an authentic touch to the dish and the fried egg on top is a modern and on-trend way to boost the protein in a dish that usually is served dripping with gloppy cheese and messy salsa. 

Let's take a look at the ingredient list-

2 eggs
4 corn tortillas
3 radishes
1 clove garlic
1 lime
1 bunch kale
2 tb creme fraiche
3 oz white cheddar cheese
1 tsp quesadilla spice blend*

*Ancho chile powder, Chipotle chile powder and cumin

Simple, clean and easy, right? Let's make quesadillas.

Prepare the ingredients- Wash and dry the fresh produce. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Remove and discard kale stems, roughly chop the leaves. Quarter the lime. Grate the cheese. Cut off and discard the stems and root of radishes, halve lengthwise then thinly slice crosswise.

The kale is so fresh and crisp- it's hard to believe this came
through the mail and wasn't picked from my garden.
Cook the kale- In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and kale, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, one or two minutes until the kale is wilted. Add 1/4 cup of water and up to 3/4 of the spice blend, depending on how spicy you'd like the dish to be. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently 3 to 5 minutes, or until the kale is wilted and the water had cooked off. Turn off the heat, stir in the juice of two lime wedges, season with salt and pepper.

Make the lime creme fraiche- While the kale cooks, in a small bowl combine the creme fraiche and the juice of the remaining lime wedges. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble and cook the quesadillas- Place the tortillas on a clean, dry work surface. Divide half the cheese between two of the tortillas; top with the cooked kale and remaining cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Complete the quesadillas with the remaining tortillas.

Wipe out the pan used to cook the kale. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat over medium high heat until hot. Add the quesadillas and cook 2-3 minutes per side until the tortillas are browned and the cheese has melted. Place on two plates; set aside in a warm place.

Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium heat until hot. Crack the eggs into the pan, keeping them separate. Season with salt and as much of he remaining spice blend as you'd like. Cook 4 to 5 minutes until the whites are set and the yolks re done to your desired doneness. 

Season the radishes and plate your dish- Place the radishes in a bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss to coat thoroughly. Top the cooked quesadillas with the radishes and fried eggs. Serve with the creme fraiche on the side. 

That was SUPER easy to prepare. So how did they taste? AMAZING. I'll be honest, I expected this one to be my least favorite of all the meals. I only chose it because the other three options were things I knew The Chef would not like or were salmon, and we all know how I feel about salmon. The kale was such an unexpected ingredient in a quesadilla but it was so delicious. The white cheddar cheese was just the right amount of cheesiness. I'm one of those rare people who thinks Americans use waaaaay too much cheese in cooking, it's cheese on everything, but these were just perfect. The seasoning packet added a nice heat without being too hot, the lime creme fresh added a nice creamy touch. It's quite common to find radishes in Latin dishes and they added the perfect crunch here. The egg took some coaxing on my part. I'm definitely not a runny yolk lover, but I was a big girl and ate most of my egg without complaining. It was good, but I would probably leave it off next time. All in all, this was a tasty and filling dish.

The packaged dinner clubs/memberships are a pretty cool idea really. I didn't have to grocery shop for anything at all and had a freshly prepared dinner in about 20 minutes. I like what Blue Apron stands for too. The company focuses on organic produce and meats, cage free eggs and sustainability. Our box contained a booklet with the story of Bill Niman, the well known California rancher who raises livestock, and shares his story and opinion on grass fed vs grain finished cattle. It was a great read and very informational. We also got an ingredient card focusing on olive oil, it's different types and a recipe for classic vinaigrette. Blue Apron is a great company with a great product and I'm sure we will be cooking with them many times in the future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free with no expectation that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."