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July 2010

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Outstanding In The Field

July 30, 2010

Back in February, when it was cold and bleak, I received an e-mail from my mom with this link attached. It was the website of a company called Outstanding in the Field, a group of chefs and organizers who spend the months of May through October traveling around the country in a bus, setting up large farm-to-table dinners in fields, on beaches, and barns. Immediately, I was drawn in by the pictures of beautiful, simple tables and the idea of sitting down to a dinner of locally sourced food with a group of strangers. Really, what could be better?

Upon our arrival, my mom and I were greeted with a glass of wine and encouraged to explore the gardens before dinner began. We were fortunate enough to have been blessed with beautiful weather for the night, which was a happy surprise after the extreme heat, humidity, and rain we’ve been experiencing in Iowa as of late.

After an hour of wandering the gardens, drinking wine, and eating passed appetizers we were welcomed to have a seat at the table. Each ‘table’ of eight people was considered a family for the night, sharing group-style platters of food. Oh yeah, the food. You probably want to know what we had, huh? Here it goes…

Dinner started off with a salad of tomatoes, melon, basil, and a honey-citrus vinaigrette. In keeping with the local nature of the event, the tomatoes and basil were grown right on the farm. It was a wonderful reminder of the value of eating fresh produce and I was so jealous of the rows and rows of fresh basil plants.

Up next was a bowl full of delicious roast vegetables, including fennel, red and orange tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant, all grown on the farm. And on top, plenty of locally-raised smoked lamb with spices and fresh cilantro. I can’t speak for the lamb, but the veggies were delicious. Ooo that fennel. I might consider eating fennel at every meal from now on.

A meal in Iowa during the summertime wouldn’t really be complete without sweet corn, which is where this veal dish with roasted corn, red onions, and potatoes came into play quite nicely. Although I love fresh veggies, I was still pretty hungry after the first two courses and welcomed the potatoes and corn for a bit more substance.

And to top it all off, one of my favorite ways to end dinner. Freshly-picked berries from the farm, with chantilly cream and a cake that tasted more like a large croissant than a cake. I didn’t eat my whole piece for fear of how much butter I would be consuming, but boy was it hard to stop. Reminder to self: figure out how to make this cake.

Thank you, Outstanding in the Field! It was a delicious dinner and a memory to last a lifetime!

Have a wonderful weekend.

Madison

Peanut Butter Brown Sugar Oatmeal

July 28, 2010

Oatmeal. I know, it’s really not the most exciting thing to blog, let alone photograph. But seeing as that  this blog is birthed in my kitchen and is inspired by my favorite recipes, it only made sense. When J. and I started dating, I secretly hoped there would be something I made for him that he loved, asked for me to make time and time again, something that I made better than anyone else. Little did I know it would be something as simple as oatmeal with a twist.

If you’re looking for a delicious, decadent breakfast then go for the original recipe I’ve listed below. A little butter, brown sugar, milk or cream, and plenty of peanut butter. On the other hand, if you’re the type that eats oatmeal for breakfast because of its health properties and nutritional content, there’s a ‘healthy changes’ section underneath the original recipe, showing the swaps and changes I make for everyday consumption.

Personally, I prefer to start my morning off with a healthy breakfast on the lighter side, meaning the healthy changes are almost always implemented into my version of Peanut Butter Brown Sugar Oatmeal. J. on the other hand? I think I’ll stick to making him the original version for now.

Peanut Butter Brown Sugar Oatmeal
(Printable Recipe)
Ingredients

Original Recipe:
*3/4 cup water
*1/8 tsp. salt
*1/2 cup old fashioned oats
*1/8 tsp. butter
*1 Tbsp. milk, cream, or half and half
*1 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
*1 Tbsp. brown sugar
*1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Healthy Changes: 
*Omit the butter and milk
*Substitute 2 tsp. Stevia or Splenda for the brown sugar

Instructions

*In a saucepan, bring 3/4 cup water to boiling. Add the salt and oats. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
*Remove from heat and stir in the butter, milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Return to heat for 30 seconds more.
*Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with additional brown sugar, if desired.

Happy Cooking!

Madison

Almond Macarons with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

July 25, 2010

Throughout my years as a student I spent a good deal of time studying Spanish, going on to minor in the language during my time at Iowa State. Anyone who studies a foreign language for any length of time will find that foreign language instructors love to watch movies, and in my case, study poetry as well. And while initially I griped and moaned about having to study the arts in another language, eventually I grew to appreciate and love the way other languages talk about love, happiness, joy, pain, and sorrow.

In many ways, it seemed as if Spanish was much better equipped with words and phrases to relay the depth of human emotion, that somehow they just got it more than English speakers ever could. I tell you all this because one of the most captivating movies I watched during my studies was a movie, based on a book, called “Como Aqua Para Chocolate,” which quite literally translates into”Like Water for Chocolate.”

But the real reason I even bother to mention this Spanish movie while sharing a recipe for macarons, a very French cookie, is because in the movie the heroine, Tita, has a very special gift for cooking. You see, whatever emotion she feels while cooking translates into her food. Not in the figurative sense, but in a very literal way. So happy or sad, crying or laughing, her food holds within it a certain kind of magic.

While I don’t think I’ve quite mastered that kind of cooking, I would like to think if you came to my apartment and ate one of these macarons you would be able to feel the happiness and peace that I felt while making them. They’re a magic cookie, like I believe everything originating in Paris to be, and I think it’s almost impossible to not smile while eating one.

They’re also a very labor-intensive and fussy treat, not to be rushed or kept on the baker’s own personal time line. For over a year I’ve been thinking about making macarons, ever since my trip to Paris last June, but was afraid. Now that I’ve taken the first steps towards macaron mastery, I’m addicted and bound to someday make macarons with the ease and grace of one of the blogging world’s macaron greats, Helen. Until then, these will do just fine.

Almond Macarons with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Recipe Courtesy of Gourmet, May 2007
Ingredients

For Macarons:
*3/4 cup whole almonds with skin, toasted and cooled completely
*1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
*3 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
*1/4 tsp. salt
*1/3 cup granulated sugar
*1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
*1/4 tsp. almond extract

For Buttercream:
*2 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
*1/2 cup sugar
*1/8 tsp. salt
*2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
*1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
*1/4 tsp. almond extract

Instructions

Make Macarons: 
*Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 300°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
*Finely grind almonds with confectioners sugar in a food processor.
*Beat egg whites with salt in mixer at medium high speed until they just hold soft peaks.
*Reduce speed to medium, then add granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks. Fold almond mixture in two batches into whites until just combined, then fold in vanilla and almond extracts. Transfer meringue to pastry bag and pipe 16 (1 1/2-inch wide) mounds 1 inch apart on each lined baking sheet (32 total). Smooth tops of mounds with a wet fingertip.
*Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until macarons are puffed and tops appear dry, 15 to 17 minutes. Slide parchment with macarons onto racks and cool 10 minutes. Then, peel macarons from parchment, transferring to a rack to cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Make Buttercream:
*Vigorously whisk together whites, sugar, and salt in cleaned mixer bowl set over a large saucepan of barely simmering water until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm. Put bowl in mixer and beat with cleaned whisk attachment at medium-high speed until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Continue to bea, scraping down side of bowl with a rubber spatula, until meringue is completely cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.
*With mixer at medium speed, gradually add butter 1 piece at a time, beating well after each additional until incorporated. Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat 1 minute more.

Assemble Cookies:
*Transfer buttercream to a clean pastry bag and pipe about 1 Tbsp. onto flat sides of 16 macarons, then top with remaining 16 macarons.

Happy Baking!

Madison

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

July 23, 2010
I’ve been a real-life, full-time working girl for three whole days now and boy is it tiring! Tiring in the best sort of way, in the my-brain-is-exploding-with-new-information sort of way. Yet despite thinking about food all day at work, I still somehow find myself baking and cooking at the end of the day to decompress and relax. 
This morning I woke up to a sky full of rain, I have a new Netflix movie coming my way this afternoon, a half a dozen Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies in my kitchen, and my first weekend home in over two months! Needless to say, I’m just a little bit excited. If you have a free weekend, or even just an hour during the week, I strongly recommend these cookies. 
I’m going to keep it short because, really, I think these cookies say everyting they need to on their own. Nutella. Chocolate. Hazelnuts. Cookie. Chocolate drizzle. And if that wasn’t enough, the texture is somthing special, too. Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy in the center. Pretty much everything you could want in a cookie. If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.
Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies 
(Printable Recipe)
Ingredients
*1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
*3/4 cup sugar
*1 egg
*1/2 cup Nutella
*1/2 tsp. baking soda
*1/2 tsp. baking powder
*1/4 tsp. salt
*1 tsp. vanilla extract 
*1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
*1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
*1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)
*Additional melted semi-sweet chocolate (optional) 
Instructions
*Preheat oven to 375°F. 
*With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add in the sugar and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add in the egg and beat until combined. Beat in the Nutella, baing soda, baking powder, salt, and vanilla until well combined. 
*Beat in the flour until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts by hand. Scoop dough by large tabelspoons and form into balls. Place, about 2 inches apart, on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until edges are crispy and center is still slightly soft. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes on baking sheet. Finishing cooling on wire rack.
Happy Baking!
Madison

Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Shiitake Mushroom Pasta

July 20, 2010

I love weekends. I eat them up, every second of them. And though I can’t say this is anything new, being in a long distance relationship has most certainly caused my weekend love to grow. Last weekend I ventured out to Illinois on a mission to spruce up J.’s apartment and make it feel a little bit more like home before he started life as a working man.

For someone who loves to take photos of food, I do a very bad job about taking my camera along anywhere besides the kitchen, meaning I have no fun before and after photos to share. The only photo I have is this one, taken before I left for Illinois, wearing these nerdy fake glasses that I’m convinced J. will grow to love if I wear them enough. Okay, so I have some serious doubts, but a girl can try, right?

Besides playing interior decorator for the weekend and wearing glasses that make me look like I need a pocket-protector and a calculator, we also cooked and worked on a few basics, like cooking broccoli, picking a healthy yogurt, navigating the frozen food section, and how to make my favorite peanut butter-brown sugar oatmeal for the mornings.

And while cooking for one on J.’s end might look a little different than dinner at my place on a Monday night, there is something nice about knowing we are both eating dinner at the same time, even when separated by miles and hours. Monday night dinner at my place looked like this and it was delicious. The ingredient list is short, and the toughest part of the whole process is being patient while the onions caramelize. It’s pretty magical when you combine a little olive oil and some sweet onions in a pan and let them do their thing. After that, it’s pretty much a toss-and-eat affair. Some spinach, shiitake mushrooms, and another drizzle of olive oil over a bed of whole wheat angel hair is my kind of supper.

Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Shiitake Mushroom Pasta 
(Printable Recipe)
Ingredients

*4 oz. whole wheat angel hair pasta or regular angel hair (equal to two servings of pasta) 
*3 Tbsp. olive oil
*1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
*1/2 tsp. salt 
*1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, chopped
*1 cup spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional olive oil

Instructions

*Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and keep warm until ready to use.
*In a large skillet heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 to 12 minutes, until onions begin to caramelize and turn deep golden brown.
*Turn off heat. Add the mushrooms, spinach, and the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes, until spinach begins to wilt and mushrooms are heated through.
*Divide the pasta between two bowls. Top with the onion mixture. Drizzle with additional olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Happy Cooking!

Madison

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