Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Recycling Your Leftovers

Ugh, another weekend of wedding planning. I was hoping to keep things simple and elegant. The Chef's list keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.  I'm thinking of great locations for a simple outdoor ceremony with only family while he is talking with friends about renting out entire restaurants and bands and cash vars and all of that business. Sheesh!! I think we have the first ever Groomzilla going on! If you have ever had to plan a wedding, you know what a nightmare it can be. For example, I have decided that instead of a multi-tiered cake that costs hundreds of dollars and will be hanging out in my kitchen for weeks after, we're going to order gourmet cupcakes. Yes, I know, I'm a baker, I can easily make my own but what bride wants to make her own cake? I've played that game once before, when my oldest daughter was planning her wedding and we decided to do the majority of the food ourselves. No big deal at all, just required some planning and delegating, but then we got the brilliant idea that Mom the Baker, the same person as Mother of the Bride would bake the cake too. Bad bad bad idea. We ended up ordering the cake.

After a day of planning and researching and pricing and calling around, The Chef and I were ready for dinner. I made one of my favorite Sunday dinners, heck any day dinner for that matter- roast chicken. Some lovely fingerling potatoes were also roasted in the chicken drippings and a fresh green salad went alongside and I was left with most of a chicken to pick and use for another dish, and as I sat there picking chicken off the bones, ignoring the pleading stares and chops-licking of two cats and a dog, I got to thinking about leftovers. Leftovers often get a bad rap. Many people don't want to eat a repeat of the same exact meal so all too often those dishes of perfectly good food are ignored, shoved in the back of the fridge, only to be reborn as a penicillin farm in a bowl. 

What are you supposed to do with your leftovers if you don't want to eat the same thing the next day? Recycle them of course! It just takes a little imagination and a well stocked pantry of basics to pull of some serious leftover revision. For me it starts with a good selection of grains and pastas. If I have a good solid grain or two I can stretch the last of a roast pork, chicken or beef into a great second day dinner or, even better, a lovely lunch for a couple days.

So my story leads us back to Trader Joe's. I swear, it's purely coincidence! I just find so many delicious things there and have to share my ideas with you so..... bear with me here. This recipes used the Harvest Grains Blend. This stuff caught my eye every single time I went in the store and I resisted buying it for the longest time. I seriously have enough grains in the pantry to survive a year. I just couldn't help myself on this last shopping trip. The mixture is gorgeous. Big pieces of Israeli couscous combined with veggie orzo in different colors, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa combine to make a colorful, texture-filled dish. It's easy to prepare- just add to boiling water and simmer ten minutes. No draining. No fuss. You can use it in all kinds of dishes and it was so pretty I thought it would make a lovely salad. I just happened to have roasted a chicken for dinner and had the leftover chicken to pick and use so....... it was recycled into a tasty salad for lunch during the week. What else got recycled? The last cup or so of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables that was hanging out in the freezer and a half a red onion that was leftover from a salad. The simple dressing combined oil and vinegar with a spicy sweet honey mustard I was given by a friend and voila! Here is how I made it-

Leftover Chicken Couscous Salad

2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 package Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend*
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2/3 cup oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup prepared honey mustard
salt and pepper

*I used this specific brand. If you can't find it, you can sub orzo, farro, rice or your favorite grains. You want 4-6 cups cooked product.

In a large saucepan heat water and butter to boiling per the directions on the package. When water has reached a full boil, add the bag of Harvest Grains Blend and stir. Return to boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff. Allow to cool slightly.

In a jar or large mixing cup combine the oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Shake or whisk to blend.

In a large bowl toss together the grain mix, the chicken, vegetables. Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Cover and chill.

This salad makes a great lunch salad for taking to work or for picnics. I used the remaining chicken leftover from a roast chicken but you can purchase cooked chicken or cook up a couple chicken breasts or thighs to cube. Grilled chicken would bring a great flavor twist and so would barbequed chicken, with bits and spots of charred sweet barbeque sauce- oh yum! I think I better get another package of this grain mix and make it again !!

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, August 5, 2017

A Twist on Small Plates- Summer Stone Fruit Crostini

What a week. Des Moines has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave the last several days with highs reaching into the hundreds for the first time in several years. Add the humidity and occasional thunderstorm to make the air even heavier and it's just been miserable. It's been a good week to stay inside and kind of a poor week for cooking and baking. I'll admit it, I've been lazy, going so far as to call a plate of microwaved frozen pizza rolls my dinner. After a long and stressful work week my friend Katie and I decided we need a Mini Girls Night. She planned to make up a salad recipe of mine for her family and I had a recipe I needed to prepare soon as well as a bottle of wine chilling so why not do it together? 

I packed my shopping bag of necessities, my ingredients, my utensils, a mini baking sheet, and that chilled bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling and set off the Katie's house for an evening of work gossip, antics of her two yer old, and kick back time. It was so worth it. We chopped, sliced, cubed, roasted and prepped food for her bulgur salad and my crostini. It wasn't long before we broke out the wine. Katie is what I would call a developing wine enthusiast. She has her definite favorites and while they tend to be on the sweeter side, she is not opposed to trying new styles and new drier wines. When I was a wine tasting guide several year ago I often recommended Riesling as a good next step for the new wine drinker looking to step away from the moscato for a while. Most Rieslings are the perfect next step. I always choose German, French, Washington State or Finger Lakes NY Rieslings for this step. They are sweeter than South American and New Zealand varieties which tend to be a little more acidic and minerally.

Katie definitely enjoyed the Kung Fu Girl. It was still sweet enough while not being as sweet as the many moscatos out there. It's got a great acid balance and went great with the recipe I was preparing at the same time, Roasted Stone Fruit Crostini with Ricotta and Hazelnuts. The Riesling is produced in Washington State, which is one of my favorite regions in the world for Riesling. There is just something wonderful about the climate and the soil and the way the grapes grow into something wonderful. The wine toned down the richness of the cheese, and the acidity tamed the sweetness of the honey. The crostini were toasted brushed with light olive oil and sprinkled with just a touch of salt. The crunchy sprinkle of toasted hazelnut and the crisp bread- oh so good.

This recipe has a very Italian flair, with the creamy ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and topped with roasted summer stone fruits. It is a perfect appetizer on the patio with a glass of Kung Fu Girl or any other fruity and crisp Riesling or Pinot Grigio and can easily be a delicious light lunch or even a dessert on a warm summer night. When buying fruit, choose ripe fruits that are not overly soft, as they will soften during roasting. Allow one or two whole peaches or plums per person, or a handful of cherries. I've chosen ricotta cheese but goat cheese would also make a delicious, and slightly French, version as well.

Roasted Stone Fruit Crostini with Ricotta and Hazelnuts

8 ounce container ricotta cheese
1 orange, zested and juiced
peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries in any combination
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons honey, divided, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 baguette
olive oil
chopped toasted hazelnuts

Stir the ricotta cheese in a small bowl with 1 heaping teaspoon orange zest and 1 tablespoon of the honey. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.

Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Place on sheet pans and toast in a 425 degree oven until golden brown. You can also toast under the broiler or grill the bread. Set aside to cool.

Use a GOOD quality 100% pure honey.Read the labels and
know your brands. Not all store bought honey is real.
Melt the butter and pour into a large rimmed baking sheet, spread around to coat the pan. 

The fruit will get all caramelized in the oven- so delicious.
For peaches, plums, nectarines- cut the fruit in half and remove the stone. Cut each half into 8 thin wedges. Place in large bowl. Pit and halve the cherries. Add to bowl. Sprinkle the fruit with the cinnamon, salt, 2 tablespoons honey, the remaining orange zest and 2 tablespoons of the juice of the orange (reserve the remaining juice for another use). Spread the fruit out in the buttered pan. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes until tender but not mushy. Remove fruit and cool.

To serve, spread a slice of toasted baguette with ricotta. Top with the roasted fruit. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Serve immediately.

I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to find hazelnuts this time of year! We have some large supermarkets here that carry every food from just about every nation (ok I might be stretching the trutjust a wee bit) yet no one carries just hazelnuts? I was afraid I'd have to get them around the holiday season, when EVERY grocery store has them in the shell, and freeze them until peaches come around again! Ugh! I finally did find them- raw hazelnuts- at the Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames, Iowa, in their bulk section. I later thought I might have found them in other stores had I just asked or checked their bulk foods. Oh well. So anyway, I now have some raw hazelnuts. Raw nuts are not what we want for our recipe so we are going to have to roast them. How do you roast them? Easy. Heat your oven to 425 degrees and spread the nuts out on a baking sheet. Roast 10-15 minutes until the skins are blistered and nuts are golden and toasty. Dump them onto a clean kitchen towel, twist it up and let them steam for a couple minutes, then unwrap. You can rub the skins off with the towel if you like, but you don't have to. Let them cool, then use as you like.

I gave mine a quick buzz in the Braun processor and I got the perfect mix of crushed/pulverized nuts and bigger chunks. I had purchased about 1/2 cup, maybe a little less, of the hazelnuts and I had more than half leftover for using in other recipes. I used the crushed hazelnuts the next day- mixed into prepared waffle batter-wow! What crunch and flavor they brought! Delicious!

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."

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Let's Go Shopping- Trader Joe's

"Wanna go foodie shopping?" Ohhhh friends, those are words I love to hear, and my close friends all know it. Some girls go to the mall, this girl loves going foodie shopping. Not grocery shopping, mind you, in the big supermarket. That is something I dread. I love foodie shopping- unique stores, gourmet grocery stores, like Dean and Deluca or Des Moines' own Gateway Market, specialty shops and so on. My recent favorites have been Fresh Thyme, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

It wasn't all that long ago that I had to travel to another city to hit Trader Joe's. Many Saturdays I'd get up early and hit the road with my bestie Ronda- heading for Minneapolis to hit Ikea and Trader's and then come back to Des Moines. A few years ago I was so thrilled to hear we were finally getting a Trader Joe's of our very own right here in Des Moines. I wasn't the only person who was delighted. It's a very popular store for great food and outstanding prices. The produce is beautiful, the meat and cheese selections are great, and the store is packed with organic, fair trade, healthy food products. Our location boasts some of the friendliest employees I have ever seen in a retail shop ever. It's just FUN to shop here.

And of course, the food is awesome.

So let's talk about some of my favorite Joe's products. While we aren't big buyers of pre-made or processed foods, we do make an exception at Trader Joe's. I can get a delicious Chinese dinner on the table in a matter of minutes and at a tiny fraction of the cost of takeout. what are my favorites? First and foremost, the pork gyoza. Years ago my daughter and I took a class and learned to make them from scratch but why bother with all that work when I can grab a bag at Joe's and they are every bit as delicious. Super easy to make, all you need is a skillet with a lid. The frozen gyoza get browned on the bottom in a little hot oil in your pan (go non-stick for these guys, trust me on this) until deep golden brown, then you add a couple tablespoons of water, pop the lid on and steam for a few minutes to finish cooking- perfect results every time.

Veggie fried rice, chicken shu mai and gyoza
When the gyoza are done, I remove them to a plate and keep warm while I whip out some fried rice or Kung Pao chicken in the same skillet I just used. The vegetable fried rice is one of my favorites- there is nothing to add, nothing to make to serve alongside, just add it to the skillet and cook until heated. It goes great with the gyoza. I'm also a huge fan of the shu mai dumplings. We have tried the chicken shu mai and the pork shu mai and both are fantastic. You can prepare those like the gyoza, or steam them right in the microwave, which is what I normally do while the gyoza are cooking. 

Kung Pao chicken with pork shu mai and gyoza
The Kung Pao chicken is also a favorite of ours. I always cut the chicken into smaller pieces- it's better distributed throughout the dish that way, and goes great over some instant rice, which we always have on hand, leftover pasta, whatever you like. 

On the other side of the culinary globe we have delicious pillowy cloud of delight- gnocchi. Tonight for dinner I was lazy. Hey it's a million degrees outside and I hate that. Drains me. So I was looking for something delicious and easy and again Trader Joe's had exactly what I was looking for.  Also from the freezer section, sweet potato gnocchi with butter and sage. Holy schmoly it is delicious. Lovely little nuggets of sweet potato and Grana Padano cheese bathed in a rich and buttery sauce accented with chopped sage. Dinner was on the table in almost no time. I just pan-grilled some boneless pork chops in a little Sinful Food wild sage olive oil and grilled a little red onion in there as well. While the chops were resting, I tossed the bag of gnocchi in the same skillet, added a little water per the directions and six minutes later I had a dinner I will be making over and over and over. It was the perfect autumn dinner- tender juicy Iowa pork chops with the hint of sage from that incredible olive oil, hit with a little Signature Seasoning, and snuggled up next to the chops, those delightful little nuggets of love. They are creamy and just the slightest bit sweet, with the creamy buttery sauce and bits of sage adding the perfect balance of flavor. Sage can be overpowering if overused but this combo was perfect. 

I was so impressed with these products, I can't wait to try even more of the frozen ethnic foods Trader Joe's offers. There are several more varieties of dumplings, stir fries, Indian and Mexican dishes just waiting for me to try.

Want to try the wild sage olive oil? Visit Sinful Food to check out all their amazing products. Click HERE to get yours!

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."