Friday, March 31, 2017

Drinkin' on the Deck- City Girl's Wine Journal

Another summer is fast approaching and I'm soooo looking forward to spring and summer evenings sitting on the deck in the backyard of our little city house, busy traffic sounds, birds chirping in the tree overhead, dogs barking in the neighborhood. Our deck is small but cozy, screened from the neighbors by a bamboo screen. Potted plants- herbs and flowers, add ambiance and the shady spot is cool and comfortable. We don't have room for a table with a great big brolly, but we have chairs and a table, the perfect place to relax and set your cocktail. The Chef and I don't imbibe very often but on occasion a bottle of wine will be popped open, glasses poured, and calmness descends upon us. The Chef cooks at a trendy wine and small plates restaurant so we often get the inside track on new wines, what's popular, what's highly rated, what to drink, so I thought it would be a good idea to share a few of my favorites.

Some people are strictly white wine drinkers and others are die hard red drinkers. I have favorites on both sides of the vineyard fence. As you might know, Riesling tops the list of white wines for me, with Pinot Grigio as the runner up but I don't limit myself to just those two. I have had several Sauvignon Blancs that are fabulous, and an unoaked Chardonnay is quite pleasant. In Iowa you see a lot of wines made with Brianna or Edelweisse grapes, both of which are quite similar to sweet Rieslings. 

Gaga was a white blend from California that was a true delight to drink. I found this wine at Gateway Market and grabbed a couple bottles. This wine was so fruity and crisp- I served it well chilled. Like many other whites, it would pair great with lighter dishes, salad, seafoods, appetizers. It's a fantastic sit on the patio and sip wine.

Normally you don't keep whites for long, generally speaking they are better drank while young. However, this Robertson Gewurztraminer somehow snuck by me and hid in the back of the cabinet for a while. That was not necessarily a bad thing. It was a 2007 vintage that was eventually opened in 2014 and it was still incredibly delicious, almost a creamy sensation. The years had turned this German style wine quite a lot sweeter than it probably was originally. If you're at all like me and love Riesling, you'll love Gewurztraminer too.

Iowa has about one hundred fantastic wineries these days, and that means a whole lot of places to visit and tour, wines to sample, and many of the wineries also have restaurants. Santa Maria Winery in Carroll is a stunningly beautiful Italian villa style building with a beautiful tasting room and restaurant that turns out some incredible food. My favorite Santa Maria wine is hands down Bella Collina. It's a red blend of Iowa-grown grapes that's quite a bit drier than what many of my wine drinking friends prefer. I, however, love a great dry red. They pair well with steaks and grilled foods and some also make great sipping wines. 

Back to the Rieslings- Blue Fin was a nice California Riesling that I picked up not too long ago. Just the right amount of sweet for me, this was one of those wines I'd buy again and again. Nice sweet and acid balance this one is great for enjoying all by itself or with any dish you like.

Joseph Handler Riesling is my most recent wine purchase. I picked this bottle up at Trader Joe's and drank it the same day. Chilled in the freezer until almost slushy, it was so bright and fruity. Hints of sweet, not too acidic, I enjoyed this bottle immensely. This was NOT an expensive wine at all, in fact it was below $10 and well worth twice the price. Many people shy away from these cheaper wines but the reality is, price doesn't normally determine the quality of the wine. Take a chance on a cheap bottle sometime and you might find a new favorite.

If you want me to enjoy a Chardonnay, it has to be an unoaked Chard. I have never liked the flavor that oak brings to wines, especially whites. Some reds hide it well but in my opinion Chardonnay tastes like an old wet board when it's been aged in oak. Sunfish is a California Chardonnay that I fell in love with about ten years ago. I've enjoyed many bottles from many vintages over the years. It's great for recipes that have "dry white wine" as an ingredient. Chardonnay does have that tanniny dryness that some people don't like. Even thought this is a dryer white, it's still perfect for sipping on its own. 

A couple other great wines I picked up at Gateway Market were Raimat Castell de Raimat and Delish. Raimat is a rose wine, not something I normally pick, but a while back my friend Jessica and I decided to try some rose wines, so I grabbed this to take it for a test drive. I am not a rose fan. Sorry. I tried. Not that this wine wasn't a good wine, it's just not my thing. Much like moscato, white I really do not like, I just couldn't get into roses. Too acidy and not enough fruit forward. Now, the Delish Sauvignon Blanc was a winner. I love the green and grassy notes in Sauvignon Blancs and this one was so refreshing. I'd buy a case of this to keep on hand.

Our furkid Peanut came to us over the summer as a stray.
She is now a comfy and cozy housecat and we love her.
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."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sheet Pan Dinners- No Recipe Cooking

The idea of the sheet pan dinner is taking social media by storm. Foodie bloggers are raving about them, Pinterest is positively bursting with pins featuring sheet pan creations, and a quick scroll on your Facebook feed, I'll bet anything you will see at least one or two posts about them. They are such a great idea- totally homemade fast food that isn't junky and fried. Besides saving time, they save on cleanup too- you use one sheet pan. Period. Maybe a bowl, a knife and a cutting board. No stacks of pots and pans to wash after dinner? Sign me up!

Today we're going to look at the sheet pan dinner phenomenon and get some great ideas together. A few weeks ago The Chef and I were coming home after a short trip to Colorado. We arrived home late in the evening, road weary and hungry. Now, every kind of fast food you can think of is within a three block radius of our house- hamburgers, tacos, fish, fried chicken, coneys. We could have taken the lazy way out and just hit the drive thru (believe me, we're not health nuts and we DO sometimes succumb to the temptation) but that's not what we were wanting. Even though we hadn't been home for several days we still had some food in the house, easily the makings for a quick and easy sheet pan dinner.

Grabbing my big stainless steel mixing bowl I grabbed a few ingredients- a kielbasa, a couple potatoes, an onion, a couple stalks of broccoli and a cauliflower that needed to be used up very soon. All I had to do was scrub the potatoes- I never peel unless I'm making mashed, chunk the onion and potatoes, cut up the broccoli and cauliflower- dump everything in the giant mixing bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over everything, added salt, pepper, some herbs and a couple big tablespoons of grainy mustard- tossed it all together to coat everything evenly and spread it out on a sheet pan. 

Into the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes and voila- dinner is served. So easy and minimal prep. This particular dish had a great kick from the mustard and the veggies had that lovely roasted thing going on that I love so much- the mix of texture, bits of char, still just enough crunch.

A few days later I was ready to do it again. Long days at work and nights I just didn't feel like dealing with cooking.....or dishes. This time I managed to scrounge up a pork tenderloin, a couple potatoes, a bunch of fresh asparagus, onion and a box of fresh mushrooms. I cut the pork into bite size cubes and tossed with olive oil and fresh herbs. It was delicious!!

Wanna know the best part? If you line that sheet pan with some heavy duty foil you don't even have to wash that! 

Need some ideas for your own super easy sheet pan dinner? For speed, always use a lean meat that you can cube into bite sized pieces. Chicken and pork work great. Sliced sausages are great too- stick with fully cooked sausage. There are some recipes around using bone-in chicken pieces but they don't cook in 30 minutes. Try one if you find one though! Any vegetable works great too. Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes- I love baby potatoes made this way. Carrots, beets, broccoli, just use your imagination.

A recent trip to Trader Joe's inspired yet another sheet pan dinner. They have such beautiful produce there I could not resist grabbing some haricots verts and rainbow baby carrots to make a fun and colorful weeknight dinner. 

Again, in the big mixing bowl I combined the beans, and the carrots, after cutting them in half lengthwise, about 4 cloves of chopped garlic, plenty of olive oil and seasonings, salt and pepper. 

In another small bowl I tossed the cubed pork tenderloin with olive oil, more chopped garlic and citrus barbeque meat rub. 

Spread the vegetables onto the sheet pan and add the meat to the top.

Again, into a 400 degree oven and about 30 minutes later- the carrots are perfectly tender, the beans still slightly crispy, the garlic sweetens and the pork was tender and juicy. So delicious.

I hope you give these ideas a try. You won't believe how easy it is to get a healthy and delicious dinner going with a minimum of fuss.

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."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Garlic Shrimp with Fusilli

Mother Nature, you are not my friend anymore! What in the actual heck is going on with you? We've had almost no snow all winter, days and weeks in the 60s and 70s and now you're snowing on me again. So depressing and frustrating. The sneak peaks of spring weather really make me want to get outside and plant things. Fresh herbs, big pots of tomato and pepper plants, a few flowers here and there, edible of course, for spicing up salads. The only good thing about these cold and snowy days is I am forced to bundle up in the house and cook something. Soul warming dishes like pastas usually end up on the table on days like this and today we're making a quick pasta dish that features lots of shrimp and garlic, herbs and sauced with olive oil and butter instead of heavy red sauce. It's quick enough for a weeknight even.

For my protein I chose shrimp. Hey, I love shrimp. Even as a little kid I was more than likely going to order "fimps" when out to dinner with my parents. Shrimp is a seafood that's readily available and not terribly pricey. Make sure you use uncooked shrimp and not the pre-cooked, which will result in pasta with rubber garlic nuggets. Not what you're looking for at all. For most dishes I buy the size 41-50 shrimp. If you're not sure what this means, just ask at the fish counter or check the package if frozen. The number refers to the number of shrimp make up a pound. I find this size to be the best in recipes- they are bite size but not teeny like salad shrimp. Be sure to peel off the shells and legs and remove the black vein completely. You do not want to eat that. Always pat them dry with paper towels so they cook without steaming.

This recipe features Sinful Food garlic olive oil and Signature Seasoning. I have really fallen in love with these products and can't imagine cooking without them. The Signature Seasoning never gets put on my spice shelf- it sits right on my work area because I use it that often. Seriously guys, there is nothing this stuff doesn't taste great on. Nothing. The olive oil is beyond amazing with all that fresh garlic flavor and aroma. It's delicious in the simplest croutons to the most complicated French recipe. 

I also had been saving the imported fusilli I picked up at Graziano's when Mary and Angi and I went shopping there a few weeks ago. You can read all about that adventure by clicking HERE

The quality of this brand of pasta is just incredible. The pasta shape stays fully intact after cooking, it doesn't become too mushy too quickly, and it has a very fresh texture- almost as if it was freshly made and not a dried pasta. Believe me, I had to pry this out of The Chef's hands a number of times just trying to keep it for the right recipe. This was definitely the right recipe. Quite a few of my foodie and chef friends also recommended this brand and shared stories about the high quality and how much they love using this. Graziano's is absolutely the right place to get great imported Italian foods in Des Moines. I really need to get back over there and restock my pasta hoard.

Pan Grilled Garlic Shrimp with Fusilli

12 ounces uncooked shrimp
8 cloves garlic
3-4 tablespoons Sinful Food garlic olive oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
1 lb fusilli pasta

Start a large pot of salted water to boil.

Remove shells (and tails, I prefer) from the shrimp and devein. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and place on plate. Season generously with the Signature Seasoning.

Place the garlic on a chopping board and very finely mince. Set aside. Chop the herbs and set aside.

When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.

Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over high heat until very hot. Add a couple tablespoons of garlic olive oil. Add the shrimp, in a single layer. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the shrimp are beginning to brown. Flip and cook on the other side another minute or two. Remove from skillet and keep warm. Add remaining olive oil to skillet, then add garlic. Reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the crushed red pepper and thyme. Cook for a minute or two until garlic is tender but not brown. Add the stick of butter and half a cup of the pasta water. 

Bring to boil and cook until butter is melted and sauce is emulsified. Add the shrimp and parsley back into the sauce. 

Add the pasta, tossing to coat, adding additional pasta water if needed. Serve immediately.

You can get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes with a fast recipe like this. The pasta takes the longest to cook. Just grab some crusty bread to serve with, and a fresh salad. 

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."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Easiest Cake Recipe Ever

You know how sometimes folks will come home after a really crummy day, kick off their shoes, shrug off their work clothes, and relax with a nice cold adult beverage? For me it's not about the adult beverage. When I have had THAT kind of a day, all I really want is.......cake. Yes. Cake. Funny thing about cake, you usually have to make an entire cake. In our household of two, a whole cake usually goes to waste, so we don't often bake cakes. In desperate times I have been known to snag a cake slice or a cupcake from the local grocery store bakery, but alas, it's bakery cake, not the same. It's often a little on the dry side from being already sliced and the frosting is either that weird whipped stuff or a buttercream so overloaded with sugar it's crunchy. Not very satisfying. Times like these I long for the days of my childhood where cake heaven was just a few minutes away after a quick run through the Easy Bake Oven.

 Fear not, my friends, cake heaven is again close at hand. This really doesn't even qualify as a "recipe" in the truest sense- it's more like a cake hack that is super simple and super delicious. Are you ready for this? Freshly baked cake for one from the microwave. You can have cake in just 45 teeny tiny seconds!!!  Yes!!!
So how do you do this? Easy- grab two cake mixes- one must be angel food, the other can be any flavor you like. For my current batch of "instant cake" I used a chocolate fudge cake mix. Dump both DRY mixes in a big bowl and use a whisk to fully incorporate them together. Break up any clumps in the mixes. Spoon the mixture into a big, airtight storage container. To make a cake, grab a custard cup and add 3 tablespoons of the dry mix. Stir in 2 tablespoons water and mix with a fork til smooth. Pop in the micro and bake for 45 seconds. Done!

The little cakes are springy and light. The angel food cake mix, which is mostly egg whites, lightens the texture of the cake and helps it rise. Now you can dress up your cake however you like. A drizzle of icing, a scoop of ice cream, pile on some fresh fruit.

Last night while experimenting I made mine into a peanut butter lava cake by mixing the batter as usual but before baking, I added a big rounded tablespoon of peanut butter right on top. When it bakes, the batter rises up and encloses the peanut butter, which becomes all melty and happy. Invert on a plate and hit with a little whipped cream or ice cream. Delicious!  You can also use caramel sauce, chocolate truffles, cherry pie filling, Ferrero Rocher candies, mints- use your imagination. Anything that melts makes an easy lava cake and any other candies make a candy bomb cake!
My experimenting with instant cake is going to continue for sure. Stick around and see what I come up with!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Loveland, Colorado

Springtime in Colorado is wonderful. You might have warm sunny days, chilly nights, dry conditions and wildfires, or snow up to your elbows. The Chef and I recently made the trek over the vast nothingness of Nebraska to Colorado to visit family and since we were there, why not make it a Foodie Field Trip at the same time? Sounds good to us! Since the reason for our trip truly was to be with family, we had to squeak a little time out for ourselves here and there, and while we didn't hit as many restaurants and food stores as we had hoped, we still found some great spots!

Our first night in Loveland we were BEAT!! Our hotel had an indoor heated pool AND a hot tub so guess where we rested our road-weary bones? You got it- hot tub time. By the time we were unwound and ready for a late dinner we just couldn't face another minute in the car, so we began to hunt down delivery options. Chain pizza places were an option but we decided to find something local. 

We hit the jackpot with Silver Mine Subs. The sandwich spot featured a large menu of cold and hot sandwiches and great sides. The Chef immediately spotted his sandwich choice- The Mother Lode, which is a monstrously huge sub heaped with roast beef, ham, turkey, salami, Provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, oregano and dressing. I chose the Homestake, a warm sub on a soft Italian loaf with thinly sliced Angus steak cooked perfectly, pepper jack cheese, grilled peppers and onions. So so so good. Potato salad and giant crunchy dill pickles completed our dinner.

The next day was spent entirely with family, but we were still able to experience some local flavor. After a long discussion earlier in the day about where the best pizza is in Loveland- we were leaning towards Beaujo's and heard lots about other local spots. The Chef and I almost headed out to check out Beaujo's but instead the family got together and had a pizza party with pizza from Arte. This local pizza spot is owned and operated by a Naples native and makes delicious thin and crispy pizzas with a huge assortment of toppings. Dough made fresh daily in house sets this pizza apart from all the chain places and the toppings are fresh and generously piled on the pies. I think we had one of everything!

Saturday morning we were up and at 'em early! We did some driving around town, scouted out a Starbucks, drove through the FABULOUS Promenade Shops at Centerra. Wow oh wow. I kept ooohing and ahhhing and thinking "oh man, my daughters would LOOOOVE this place." It was huge and wasn't an enclosed shopping mall. The open-air stores look like a village, with lots of store-front parking and great shops. Across the interstate we found a very nice outlet mall with even more fun things- the Chef perked up when he saw the Bose outlet and of course I was dying to go in the kitchen outlet. Rather than spend the beautiful day inside the stores, we decided to head for the mountains and check out Estes Park.

Estes Park is such an adorable town. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains there is something for everyone in this town. The main drag is lined with shops and businesses. Souvenirs, clothing, household items, jewelry, wine shops, gourmet food shops, candy stores- just literally anything you can think of. We grabbed a parking spot outside of Distinctively Colorado Food and Gifts and wandered in to make them take my money. Guys.....this is exactly the kind of shop I love and wish I owned. Local husband and wife, live in town, quaint shop filled with products made in Colorado- this is why it's so important to support local businesses. Mrs. was manning the store while we were there, Mr. off doing something else, and she was a great hostess. We browsed the many food products made locally- honey from different types of flowers, Gourmet pastas and gluten free gourmet pastas line an entire shelf, with several varieties to choose from.

Row after row of small hand-mixed spice blends and mixes made it hard for me to choose what I wanted to take home to try. Another large shelf was filled with hot sauces, salsa, pasta sauces, a variety of pickles and pickled vegetables. Almost as if they knew they'd snag my heart, the shop owners tuck a variety of kitchen linens and accessories in and around the food products. Hmmmmm, elk jerky or kitchen towel........ well you know which one I'd chose!

If you were interested in checking out local beers, craft sodas, or wines, the shop has got you covered there as well. Chilled and ready to take home, or off to the hotel, they had a pretty decent selection. Because I wasn't sure how many more stores we'd hit and didn't want a heavy bag to lug along, I limited my selections to two items, Yampa Valley Sauce Company's Purple Blaze hot sauce, and Bee Squared honey.

The hot sauce is literally purple- but not in a gross food coloring way, in a blueberry and habanero sort of way. Yes, blueberries and habanero peppers- the stuff of nightmares! We still are kind of pepperhead types and still seek out interesting hot sauces and peppers and spice mixes when we're out and about. But fruit and heat, you ask? Sure! Sweet and hot is a very popular combination of flavors, touching many different cuisines, even everyday American- in pepper jelly. So Purple Blaze claims, on the label, to be a "mind-blowing infusion of blueberry and habanero." This stuff is fantastic! Real blueberries, not flavors, bring their deep purple color and sweet flavor to this vinegar-based sauce that kicks your butt with habanero. Goooooood stuff. Reminds me of Caribbean foods. Good thing they have a website! I might have to order more!

There's no heat in my other goodie but still plenty of good stuff. Bee Squared is a small scale apiary that produces award winning local honeys, in a chemical-free environment. Bee-keeping, sustainability and preservation of bee populations is critical, not just to honey production but also to maintaining a food source for humans. The jars are packed so attractively they would make a fabulous addition to a gift basket, and each one has a hangtag with the basic story of honey- very unique and important! Many people don't know that honey never expires, and never spoils. The tag tells you all about it, and what to do when your honey hardens. Plus, if you ever wondered exactly what honey is....... they got you covered too- all on that cute little tag. Bee Squared also has a website with products, info and more.

Walking out in that mountain air made us hungry. There are some really awesome restaurants in Estes Park. Even though it really isn't tourist season, the restaurants around town were bustling. Since exploring the hot sauces, we decided on Mexican for lunch and stopped at Pepper's Mexican Grill. Pepper's is a quick-serve setup where you order at the counter, and your food is made fresh right in front of you. The Chef chose a giant burrito with shredded beef and all kinds of delicious fresh veggies and salsas in there. It was HUGE! I ordered the beef and cheese enchiladas and was blown away by the huge portion. It starts with three cheese enchiladas covered in a heaping pile of carne asada, and fresh lettuce, tomato, beans, rice. Enough for two people easily. I also tried the pineapple mango salsa and it was so bright and delicious and had a decent jalapeno kick.

After returning to Loveland we toodled around town a bit more, checking out all the sights, scenes and wishing we had more time to spend here. We did compile  a fairly lengthy list of things we want to do next time, places to eat, things to see, stores to visit. We can't wait to come back!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sampling the Sinful Food Oils

One of the simplest pleasures in life is good bread and good olive oil. Really good bread. Beautiful chewy crust, soft interior, lots of holes for collecting flavorful bits and bites of butters and oils. Have you ever experienced the joy of a really good hunk of bread and a really really good olive oil? Hang around with me, and we'll share the experience.

As you know, recently I became the lucky owner of the full line of gourmet infused olive oils from Sinful Food. Six fantastic varieties of super top quality olive oil. The flavors? Garlic, basil, Italian herb, wild sage, jalapeno and rosemary. These oils are unlike any other flavored oil I have ever tasted. They taste real. Clean. Real herb flavor and aroma, you'd swear you were munching on leaves or garlic cloves or bits of pepper. The flavors are so versatile you can use these oils in almost everything you make. Imagine massaging a couple tablespoons of rosemary olive oil over a pork tenderloin before seasoning and roasting. Drizzle some fresh steamed vegetables with garlic olive oil or brush on bread before toasting under the broiler. Italian herb oil with balsamic vinegar make a killer vinaigrette. Brush jumbo shrimp or chicken tenders with jalapeno oil before grilling and tossing with grilled vegetables for some deliciously different fajitas. Arrange sliced fresh mozzarella and sliced heirloom tomatoes on chilled plates and drizzle with basil olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a beautiful Caprese salad. See what I mean? So much versatility, you're only limited by your imagination.

The other day I made a stop in Gateway Market to acquire some hard to find radishes and of course, that means I was suckered in by the luscious aromas of the South Union Bakery which is part of the store. Amazing handmade breads are what you will find in this gem of a bakery, which is part of the George Formaro Empire of Deliciousness. Since I knew  had these oils to check out....and the bread just HAPPENED to be there....... well, you know the rest. A loaf or two just jumped into my cart as I innocently walked by the bakery counter. Since they were sacrificing themselves in the name of research, we might as well fulfill their destiny and try some, right?

So here we are with our six beautiful oils, six small bowls, and a lovely loaf of good bread. Let's taste these oils and share the joy.

Garlic. The first thing you get with this oil is the blast of garlic. Just like fresh crushed garlic, but not overpowering. The sweetness of the olive oil balances the pungent notes of the garlic. You definitely taste both the "green" notes of the oil and the heat of the garlic.

Italian herb. It's oregano. It's marjoram. It's basil. It's thyme. It's all of those delicious flavors and fragrances in one amazing oil. If you're an oil and bread dipping kind of person, this will take your bread to a whole new level. I cannot stop making salad dressing with this. The bright herbal flavors go perfectly with the flavor of the olive oil, it's so light and so fragrant. This oil would be a fantastic finishing oil for risotto. I'm going to try it, so I'll let you know!

Basil.  This one is a real mystery to me. I want to know how this oil retains the incredibly fresh basil flavor and fragrance. It's amazing and really, probably one of the most incredible things I've ever tasted. That aroma, I just can't stress it enough- smells like I'm sitting here rubbing fresh basil leaves between my fingers. Every nuance of fresh basil is present and the sweet olive oil base carries the herbaceousness so well. This one is my favorite hands down. 

Wild sage. This is Thanksgiving. Sage is the herb I use in stuffing every time I make it and this oil....... takes me right back to the Thanksgiving dinner table. Sage can be a very overpowering herb when used fresh. I've ruined recipes with even the slightest bit too much fresh sage. T
his oil has the perfect balance of flavor infused throughout. The sage flavor enhances not overwhelms. Dipping my sampling bread into this oil transformed it into my mom's homemade turkey dressing.

Jalapeno. You might expect searing heat. Not so. Instead, what this oil delivers is the ultimate in fresh pepper flavor with a bit of heat. I just couldn't get over how much this oil tasted like freshly sliced jalapenos. This oil is perfect for marinades- like steak, chicken or shrimp for fajitas. Toss some potato wedges with chili spices and drizzle with a little of this oil and roast for a spicy side dish for Tex Mex meals. Drizzle over guacamole or hummus too. Delicious!

Rosemary. Rosemary is one of my very favorite aromatics. When I popped the cork on this oil I instantly fell in love. Everything I love about rosemary- the perfumey fragrance, the woodsy notes, the scent of autumn and autumn foods- came out of the bottle to greet me. It's lovely. I'm going to be using this one alllll the time for searing beef chunks, roasts and steaks. Rosemary is such a big flavor component in beef stew and this oil brings it big time.

As you can tell, the variety of flavors in these oils is so vast you can use them in so many different dishes, and different cuisines. Of course, you dip bread like we did today, but I've been cooking with these oils as well and you need to do so as well. They make great oils for sauteing and outstanding bases for vinaigrettes and dressings. Accent the oils with their fresh counterpart for a flavor double whammy.

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."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Do WHAT to the bird??

Cornish game hens are on the agenda for this weekend, and so is a unique way to prepare a bird for cooking- spatchcocking. Spatch huh? You heard me, spatchcocking. While this is not a new way to prepare poultry for roasting, it's gaining in popularity thanks to cooking television and food bloggers and a greatly increased interest in preparing delicious food at home. The easy definition of spatchcocking is removing the backbone, and sometimes the sternum, and laying the bird out flat, similar to butterflying. So similar the terms are sometimes interchanged. The result is more even cooking and a greatly reduced cooking time. 

Cornish game hens have been one of my favorite birds pretty much my whole life. My dad would often roast Cornish hens with some fabulous glaze recipe he found in a magazine or cookbook, or later when he got a fancy grill with an electric spit- rotisserie hens. Funny how so many of my food stories start with Dad. He really is someone who inspired my love of cooking and learning about food.

Cornish game hens been around since the mid 1950s and they really are kind of a funny thing. They aren't game birds at all, in fact they are just very young chickens, around thirty days of age, your typical broiler-fryer chicken. They aren't necessarily "hens" either- they can be either male or female birds. Different breeds of bird result in different sizes of hens, different size of the breast meat. They are perfect for a one or two person serving and make a lovely presentation when roasted, like a teeny tiny roast turkey.

Let's get this show on the road and spatchcock these little guys. First of all, I rinse the hens thoroughly under cold running water. Just a gentle stream, not a gushing waterfall. Despite the "experts" saying you might spread chicken bacteria around if you wash the bird, I've seen how some processing companies are. I'm washing my bird. Your choice if you do or don't. 

Then I dry the skin with paper towels. I'm going to be cutting into the raw bird so I want the skin dry and not slippery. Turn the bird so the back is facing up. I place the bird on a sheet pan with a rim to contain any liquid that might be inside. 

Starting at the thigh end, use a heavy duty kitchen shears to cut alongside the backbone, up one side, then turn and down the other side. Discard the backbone, unless you save scraps for stock. 

Flip the bird over on the pan and press down firmly on the middle of the breast to flatten. If you have difficulty getting your hen to flatten, you can flip it over and use the shears to cut out the sternum. I have not had to do this with small hens, only larger birds like turkeys.

That's all there is to it! Your hen is now ready to cook, and with a lot more skin exposed for crisping up and becoming beautifully browned and tasty. Before we get to that part though, we are going to brine our hens in a salt water bath flavored with a handful of herbs. The brine produces a succulent and juicy bird- you're going to want to do this to every bird from now on.

To make the brine, in a large stockpot place one gallon warm water. Add 2/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and a handful of whatever herbs strike your fancy. Bouquet garni is nice, as are fines herbes. Place the hens in the brine, covering completely, and refrigerate overnight. Before cooking, drain off and discard the brine and rinse the birds. Pat the skin dry and you're ready to cook.

Pan Roasted Cornish Hens with Chimichurri

2 Cornish game hens
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 bunch Italian parsley (about 1 cup leaves)
1 bunch cilantro (about 1 cup leaves)
2 garlic cloves
1 heaping teaspoon finely minced preserved lemon*
1/2 cup olive oil**
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

*I am using my homemade preserved lemons. To use, I will scrape off and discard the soft flesh and thoroughly rinse the remaining peel. 

** I used Sinful Food Italian Herb olive oil for half the oil in this recipe. Get yours by clicking HERE.

Spatchcock the Cornish hens. Rub the skin with olive oil and season well on both sides with salt and pepper. 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and heat a heavy large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and place one of the hens, skin side down. 

Top with a plate and a heavy pot and cook, weighted down, until the skin is golden brown. Flip the bird and brown the other side. 

Place the bird on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the second bird. Place the hens in the hot oven and roast til the internal temp measures 165 degrees. Remove from oven and tent with foil, rest for ten minutes.

While birds are cooking, combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until a mostly smooth sauce is formed. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

To serve, drizzle the birds with a small amount of the chimichurri. Pass additional sauce at the table.

This bird is delectable served with whole wheat couscous and roasted asparagus. You can get the asparagus going in the oven while browning the hens. The hens won't need much time to finish in the oven and the asparagus roasts pretty quickly too. Easy and delicious!

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