Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fried Olive Salad Toppers

Like I said, olives are delicious and make me happy. I couldn't choose just one January Kitchen PLAY recipe featuring Lindsay Olives, so I tried a second one for kicks. Because what's not to love about CHEESE-STUFFED FRIED OLIVES?! Dear god, they're wonderful.

I followed Fake Ginger's recipe, subbing in feta for roquefort and adding a small oregano leaf with the cheese. I ate a few of these straight out of the fryer and of course loved them, but they needed something. I grabbed some arugula from the fridge and tossed it lightly with a little lemon vinaigrette (basically just 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil), then perched a few olives on top. What a perfect match! The bitter greens stood up to the saltiness of the olives, the tender leaves contrasted with the crispiness of the fried bits, and the unctuous of the olive oil and the olives tied everything together. So while these make a very tasty amuse bouche as Fake Ginger intended, I loved them far more as delicious little croutons on my salad.

Cheese-Stuffed Olives
1 can Lindsay black olives, drained and patted dry
2 ounces feta
handful small oregano leaves
1 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
about 2 cups canola or vegetable oil, for frying

Stuff each olive with a piece of feta and an oregano leaf. (If the cheese is very crumbly, just stuff in as much as you can.)

Heat oil in a tall-sided pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, work a few olives at a time: roll in flour, dip in egg, then coat with panko before adding to the hot oil. Cook until golden on one side, then flip and cook until golden. Cool on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the olives. Salt lightly before serving.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Olive and Goat Cheese Pasta Salad

I know what you're thinking - that's not a photo of pasta salad. You're right, because when I started cooking, I wasn't aiming for pasta salad. If you can't have some flexibility in the kitchen, you're in trouble.

While going through January's recipes over at Kitchen PLAY sponsored by Lindsay Olives, I wanted to cook just about all of them. I'm a big olive fan, so they all looked good to me. And since I'm also a fan of anything wrapped in puff pastry, I opted to try the olive and goat cheese turnovers from Chez Us. Don't her photos of the turnovers look amazing?!

And yes, I did make the turnovers. I loved them - pillowy bites of salty olives and tangy goat cheese. I subbed in some red onion for the shallots, because that's what I had. I loved these and the sophistication they would bring to any dinner party. In fact, I might have to bring them to the next family gathering, as I know my family loves cheese wrapped in dough as much as I do.

But I had some filling leftover (I only used one box of puff pastry instead of two), and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. I was going to just spread it on crackers, but I didn't have any. But there was pasta! I boiled up a little bit of whole wheat pasta and tossed it with the cheese mixture and a little bit of the pasta water.

Oh my, what a wonderful pasta sauce this makes! I ate some warm and enjoyed it, but when I ate some cooled, I enjoyed it even more. This would be a perfect picnic dish (I mean, our weather has been so bizarrely warm that us New Englanders could even have a picnic right now), or even great for lunch at work.

Olive and Goat Cheese Pasta Salad inspired by Chez Us

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, minced
1 can Lindsay green olives, drained and minced
1 can Lindsay black olives, drained and minced
zest of 1 lemon
handful of fresh oregano, minced
black pepper
10 ounces goat cheese
1 box small pasta (like rotini)

In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add olives and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add lemon zest, oregano, and black pepper to taste. Let cool slightly, then stir in goat cheese until well combined.

Cook pasta according to box. Mix the pasta and the cheese mixture until well combined. Add a little of the pasta water if the cheese is too clumpy. Refrigerate before serving.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vampire Slayer Dip

I hate yogurt. Like, really hate it. I know that this, along with my dislike of pilaf and paklava, makes me a bad Armenian, but I can't help it. It's just gross.

But sometimes (like after taking antibiotics), yogurt is a must. I can stand the stuff as long as it doesn't taste like yogurt, and usually a strong dose of garlic (like in tzatziki) will do it. I had already made one batch of tzatziki, though, so I needed another way to incorporate garlic and yogurt. How about two heads of garlic and two onions? If that couldn't stop the yogurt flavor, nothing could.

Of course, all that garlic can also stop vampires. So this dip will not only help your stomach feel better, it will also save you from an untimely death due to vampire bites. You can thank me later.

Vampire Slayer Dip
1 large (or 2 small) head of garlic
1 sweet onion
1 yellow onion
olive oil
2 cups Greek yogurt
handful of parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400°. Remove loose papery layers from garlic head and cut off the top 1/4 inch. Place garlic in the middle of a sheet of tin foil. Top with a little bit of olive oil, wrap tightly in foil, and bake for 30-45 minutes (until cloves are soft). Let cool, then squeeze garlic cloves out of their papery shells.

Slice onions very thin. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are a deep amber color. Onions may need a little more olive oil as they cook. Cool before using.

Add cooled garlic and onions to a medium bowl, reserving about 1/4 of the onions for later. Add yogurt, then blend (either in a blender or with an immersion blender) until smooth. Add remaining onions and a handful of parsley leaves and blend lightly so there are still pieces visible. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Make sure everyone eats at least a little bit so you don't knock anyone out with your breath.

Monday, January 9, 2012

From Austin to Boston and Back Again

I love getting gifts in the mail. I mean, who doesn't? So when the Boston Food Bloggers and the Austin Food Blogger Alliance teamed up before the holidays for a little cross-city swapping, you know I was in for the ride.

I went to Austin a few years ago for a conference, and while I didn't get to see an awful lot of the city, I loved what I did see. I ate more barbecue than I thought possible at The Salt Lick, spent a fair amount of time browsing in Austin Books & Comics, somehow managed to go to both Cornucopia (for awesome popcorn) and Walton's Fancy and Bakery (for baked goods) about once a day, and bought some crazy things at the City-Wide Garage Sale that now adorn my rooms. I couldn't help but wonder what magical items I would get from Texas.

But first, I had to package up my goodies! I shopped around for some of my absolute favorite local items, like Sweet Sloops from Harbor Sweets, a few different varieties of Q's Nuts, and Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn (the herbs are dill and nutritional yeast). I also added some local honey (which I bought on tap from Follow the Honey), some olive oil from Central Bottle, some chocolate-covered cranberries, and some homemade chocolate peppermint cookies that I had made for the Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Of course, like just about everyone else in the ATXBOS swap, I included a copy of Edible Boston, and I also threw in a farmers' market shopping list pad. I tried to get the package out the door as early as possible because I knew the Christmas season would be so hectic.

 Not long after, I received a box in the mail from my swap partner, Kristina of Girl Gone Grits. It was a good sign, I think, that she had used a tequila box to send everything to me :) Inside, I found a wealth of Austin goodies: two kinds of meat rubs (Fiesta Brand and Gordon's), Texas Texas Salsa (the first kind Kristina tried after moving to Austin), Pie Society Crimps (tasty little bites of pie with nutella), RoundRock Honey, Texas Pasta in spinach and basil (which I'm saving for a really cold night), pickled blueberreis by Confituras (who knew you could pickle blueberries?!), Fig Honey Habanero jam from A Texas Twist, Pumpkin Ginger jam (made by Kristina herself!), a few copies of Edible Austin and a few other Austin periodicals, and (shhhh, don't tell!) a little nip of Republic tequila and homemade (!) limoncello. So many good things in one place! I'm looking forward to having little tastes of Austin to keep me warm throughout the winter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Caramel Nut Bars

Have you ever looked at a recipe and known - just KNOWN - that you'd love it? I like to think that I feel that way often, but in reality, after executing the recipe (maybe not to the T, but pretty damn close), I'm disappointed. I was prepared for that to be the way with the Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel (they really couldn't have come up with a shorter name?) in the December 2011 Bon Appetit. I added them to my list of holiday baking, making sure I had plenty of cookies that were guaranteed to be tasty, and I set to baking.

And holy CRAP, these things are good! They're a nice mix of sweet and salty (but not too salty), crunchy and chewy, love and more love. I changed the recipe a little bit (by adding almonds), and I would change it further to include more pretzels (I have done so in the recipe below). 2011 apparently was the year I became confident making caramel, and this was the perfect way to end the year on that account.

As far as serving goes, I ended cutting these up into tiny pieces because it's so rich. I originally cut 36 or 40 bars from the 13x9 pan, and I doubt I could have eaten one in a go. Cutting them up even further made them last throughout the holiday, as well.

Caramel Nut Bars (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Blondie bar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang so you can pull the bars out easily later. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Heat butter in a medium pan over medium heat, stirring until browned bits form at the bottom of the pan, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer). Add brown sugar and beat until combined and the mixture looks like wet sand. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan - it will puff as it bakes, so don't worry if you think you're spreading it too thin.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and edges pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely before moving on to the topping.

Caramel Nut Topping
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups roasted peanuts (or a mix of peanuts and almonds)
2 cups salted pretzels, coarsely crushed

In a large saucepan, stir together sugar and water over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring (seriously, hands off!) until caramel is a deep amber (or caramel, if you will). This always takes longer than I think it should, but I'd rather it take a long time than burn the caramel right off the bat. Add honey and return to a boil, stirring, for about a minute. Add butter and stir until melted. Add cream and whisk until smooth (maybe wear a pot holder because this will steam and bubble A LOT). Add nuts and pretzels and mix until everything is covered in caramel. Pour over cookie and press down evenly. Chill until cool, then remove from pan and cut into bite-size pieces. Store in the fridge but bring to room temperature before serving.