Monday, August 29, 2011

Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Biscuits | Secret Recipe Club

This is the second time that I have participated in The Secret Recipe Club. I had such a brilliant experience with the initial time and was introduced to other wonderful bloggers; I knew I needed to continue with the club. Amanda of Amanda’s Cooking is the founder of this fun cooking club. Each month you are assigned to a new blogger and can explore their site for new recipes and ideas.

This month I had the pleasure of being introduced to Tara from Feels Like Home. Tara’s blog is chalk full of numerous topics beyond just cooking. She shares ideas on making home management easier, family tips, crafts, good health and even home schooling thoughts. I only have a four legged child, so some of her wonderful tips are not applicable to me but I can imagine that her wisdom has helped many.

Tara is a young wife and mother. Her motto is – “I live the life I love, and I love the life I live”. I can sense that Tara is a very positive person and I am sure a great mother, wife and friend to many. She balances her teaching science at a high school, blogging and taking care of her family. The name of her blog came from moving quite a bit as a kid, to finally having a home and family, so now it “feels like home”. It was nice to meet Tara virtually and I give her much kudos for everything she has accomplished.

Choosing the recipe for this round of the Secret Recipe Club was challenging, since Tara has so many wonderful ones to choose from. However, one just stood out immediately – perhaps it was because bacon was one of the ingredients. Who doesn’t love applewood smoked bacon?

The Bacon Cheddar Breakfast Biscuits caught my eye and made my mouth water. The recipe called for bisquick, which I typically do not have in the house. I loved all of the ingredients, so I made my standby buttermilk biscuits and then added the bacon and cheddar to the mix. Thought another natural match for these delightful biscuits would be a touch of chopped chives to enhance the flavor profile. I thought the brushing of the garlic butter on the finished biscuits was brilliant and again another layer of flavor.

The smell of bacon combined with buttery biscuits lofting through the house, was the pure smell of home. I can see why Tara loved to make these. Right when I pulled them out of the oven, I had to have a bite. All I can say is these are pure heaven for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Thank you Tara for a wonderful inspiration and recipe!

Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

2 1/8 C. Flour
4 t. Baking powder
2 1/2 t. Sugar
¼ t. Cream of Tarter
½ t. Salt
1 Chilled stick butter or shortening (1/2 cup) cut into small pieces
⅔ C. Buttermilk
4 to 6 Pieces of Applewood Smoked Bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 C. Grated Cheddar Cheese
¼ C. Chives, finely chopped
2 T. Melted butter
½ t. Garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 400º

In a large bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add in the cold butter and toss the butter in the flour. Using your finger tips quickly cut and rub the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles pea-size pieces. I recommend using your hands for best results but do not overwork. Add the bacon, cheddar and chives and mix together.

Pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, mix everything until it just comes together. Lightly dust a bread board with flour. Turn the dough out, lightly dust the top with flour, and gently knead the mass until it comes together.

Using your hands, flatten the dough out into a rectangle one-inch thick. Cut into twelve pieces.

Transfer each biscuit to a non-stick baking sheet. Mix the garlic powder into the melted butter. Lightly brush on to each biscuit. The closer you have them together, the softer they will be. Bake for 10-15 minutes until they are lightly golden brown around the edges. Best eaten right out of the oven for peak deliciousness!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

{ Food and Wine Matching 101 }

I completed one of my bucket list items last weekend – attending a class at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Two fellow foodies joined me in this adventure – Patty from Patty’s Food and Monica from Wine Appreciation 101. It was an absolute perfect day whether wise with the sun shining and the temperature around 83 degrees. We enjoyed the afternoon in the Rudd Center, which is where students achieving their sommelier education learn.

John Ash taught the class titled A Journey into Sensory Awareness: Food and Wine Pairing. John is a renowned chef, author, and food and wine educator. He is often referred to as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”. John is a pioneer for opening up the first restaurant in Northern California wine country to focus on local & seasonal ingredients to create dishes that pair with local regional wines. His namesake restaurant is John Ash & Company in Santa Rosa opened in 1980.

Our first item on the agenda was to have an “Aroma Challenge”. We broke into four teams and had eight glasses of wine in front of us – half white and half red. Our challenge was to only smell the wines to determine the prominent flavor in each wine. We had the aroma wheel to use as a guide. John enhanced the wines, so the aroma would be a bit more enhanced. Our team had much discussion around what was the hidden aroma. In the end, we did pretty well with identifying. A few were obvious and others were much more challenging. I highly encourage you to purchase an aroma wheel to learn more about the aroma profiles of the wines you buy. Who knows, one day you might just be a master sommelier.

Matching food and wine has long been something that quite frankly causes much anxiety for many people. Often we over complicate it. John believes that matching food and wine is very subjective, meaning we all have our own personal likes and dislikes in what we eat and drink. With that, there are no absolute rules in matching food and wine. Throw out the thought that “red wine with red meats and white wine with fish, poultry and white meats”.

To simplify wine matching, think similarity and contrast. The first is similarity. You will want to look for the same or similar flavor notes in the food and wine. This strategy will elevate your entire tasting experience. A classic pairing that highlights the concept of similarity is goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc. The like tones are fresh, crisp, acidic, and lemony and have an herbaceous quality.

The age old saying, opposites attract displays the second concept of contrast. When the two combine, a whole new food and wine experience is created. Sometimes it creates that unexpected “wow factor”. A classic match is port wine with an English Stilton cheese. The rich, salty, creamy, mold infused cheese is matched perfectly with the sweet, syrupy alcoholic wine. The two together complete one another and create a balance that is remarkable.

There are essentially six basic flavors according to John: Acidity, Sweetness, Saltiness, Bitterness, Pepper and Umami. These are the components of how we taste foods and are the key to how we match wine with foods using the similarity and contrast concepts.

Acidity: Natural acids impart tartness or sourness in both food and wine which can be important to balance other tastes. Citrus or tomatoes are high in acid and are usually matched well with Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings and Sparkling wines. If a food is strongly acidic or sour, it will also disturb the balance in a wine and make it taste sweet in comparison.

Sweetness: It is found in many foods and wines. Often vegetables and fruits can add a degree of sweetness to a dish and this must be taken into consideration when choosing a wine. Foods with a degree of sweetness are best matched with wines of a similar sweetness. When food is sweet is will suppress the sweetness of the wine, giving it a dry or astringent quality. A combination that includes acidic food will raise the sweetness of the wine.

Saltiness: As foods become more salty, their own flavors have a tendency to increase and neutralize the acid, or sour tastes of the wine which creates an notion of less bitterness in the wine. A great example is to put a bit of salt on a tart apple – it will soften the sourness, making the apple taste milder and enhance the fruit flavors.

Bitterness: The bitter taste is found in such vegetables as radicchio, Arugula or endive. Young cabernets will often have more pronounced tannins which cause a bitter note. If you enjoy the bitter flavor, leave it alone. However, it you want to tone it down, add some sort of fat to your food - perhaps cream or butter. The fat will assist with bringing out the fruit in the wine and toning down the bitterness.

Pepper: John added this taste sensation to the normal five. I found it quite interesting and it made sense. As he says, foods with a high level of chili or pepper heat will benefit by having a wine that has a bit more sweetness. The wine will cool the pepper and create harmony.

Umami: Savory or umami in Japanese has gained acceptance by food scientists as the fifth taste. It is more prevalent in Asian cuisines and tends to bring out bitter and often metallic tastes in wine, although the effect can be annulled by saltiness.

It was now time to bring all of the concepts in concert and match the food and wine together. Five wonderful wines were sitting in front of us along with seventeen food elements ranging from soy sauce, salt, and avocado to smoke salmon. The wines were carefully selected for the matching of foods.

We began with a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Kim Crawford from the Marlborough Region in New Zealand. This is actually one of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc wines. It is crisp yet powerful with aromas of grapefruit, citrus, passion fruit and herbaceous. We tried it with the classic pairing of goat cheese – a marriage made in heaven. Next was the avocado plain – good but sort of boring. Adding additional flavors with salt and a bit of lemon juice, the pairing was off the chart delicious. The layering of flavors changed the profile of the wine by toning down the acidity.

The second wine was a beautiful Chardonnay down the street from the Culinary Institute, from Stonestreet Winery. It is a 2007 single vineyard Chardonnay from Alexander Valley with a bright yellow straw color. Flavor notes of lime, tropical fruits, apple, pear, peach and snap pea. It was a rich mouthful wine with plenty of oak and vibrancy. To demonstrate the similarity, we paired with lightly toasted almonds and for the contrast were roasted red bell peppers. The bell peppers brought out the fruit in the wine. If you combined the two foods to create a brilliant romesco sauce over pasta and enjoyed the wine, you would have a terrific match.

The third wine was a Pinot Noir from Domaine Drouhin in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The flavor profile on this wine exploded for me with many aromatics including: rose petals, violets, spices, leather and wild blackberries. This wine is a new world wine with very earthy and forest floor qualities – that is a good thing. We first tasted the similar food, roasted Portobello mushrooms and were a natural match. I could just imagine a wild mushroom tart with this wine – can you say “epiphany pairing”. The contrast match was aged parmesan cheese. With the salty quality and rich flavors, the wine was perfect.

Our fourth wine was a classic Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis Martini. This 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is created using traditional Bordeaux-style techniques, and aged in French and American oak for over two years. This wine has aromas of cherry, blackberry and currant with some hints of sandalwood and an herbaceous note. It is luscious, silky and full of concentrated fruit. We tried it with large black olives for a similarity in pairing along with roasted eggplant. Both complimented the wine beautifully. Our contract match was cambozola cheese which softened the fruit and enhanced the wood tones. For me, this was a stunning pairing.

Our final wine was a 2008 Riesling from the Red Tail Ridge Winery from the Fingerlakes Region in New York. Yes, I said New York! It was very aromatic with fresh flowers and apricots flavors. We tried it with dried apricots first to demonstrate the similarity concept. Next was a contrast of sushi ginger where the wine cools the heat of the ginger. Finally, a Point Reyes blue cheese was paired and it brought out the terroir of the cheese and gave smoothness to the entire tasting experience.

Our nose is the connector to many memories. It is fascinating how smelling a bowl of popcorn will bring me right back to my childhood and going to the drive in movies with my family. I am sure that you can think of a scent that catapults you right back to a great memory. Julia Child always said to be joyful for food and wine – I could not agree with her more. John gave us some really wonderful advice for enhancing our senses with food. By incorporating at least three of the six basic flavors in every dish you make, the flavors will jump off the plate.

John shared a story that collaborates his minimum three basic flavor rule. He inherited the cooking gene from his Grandmother. She would make the best apple pie according to John. He secret was using at least three of the basic flavors. She would use sweet apples, unsweetened pie dough that had apple cider vinegar, use 3 to 4 grinds of pepper on the bottom of the crust and top with cheddar cheese when finished baking. His grandmother had sweet (apples), acid (apple cider vinegar), pepper (fresh ground pepper) and umame (cheddar cheese).

Like all good things, this wonderfully fun and informative class had to come to an end. But with all good things, they can often be repeated. I know that I will be back to take additional classes at the Culinary Institute of America. Give some of these wines and/or food matches a try and see if you have a food epiphany.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fig Jam Straws

I truly believe that puff pastry is one of those quintessential foods. I have yet to conquer making it myself; definitely a bucket list item. However for now the store bought form is ideal. Simply let it defrost, a quick once over with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface and you are ready to let the magic begin.

Sunday morning we watched our traditional weekend edition of Good Morning America with our coffee in hand. What goes better with a cup of hot, rich flavored coffee than a pastry? I had pinned a post to my “Delish Desserts” board for these jam straws. It has been on my mind for sometime to make. Today was the day. By the way, if you have not gotten involved with pinterest, check it out.  You can follow me here.

My adoration with fig jam continues. About a month ago, I made 48 jars of the balsamic fig jam to have for holiday gift giving and our own enjoyment. I actually need to do another batch of 48 or more, since the fig season is short in duration. These jam straws were perfect with the fig jam and a hint of confectioners sugar sprinkled on top. It was hard to eat just one.

Next I am going to do a savory version with pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Perfect with a nice chilled glass of Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc. Let me know what flavor you would enjoy??

Fig Jam Straws

1 package puff pastry (2 sheets)
1/3 C. Balsamic Fig Jam
Flour for dusting
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.

Allow puff pastry to thaw as directed on the package. Dust work surface with flour and lightly dust rolling pin with flour. Roll out puff pastry until about 2" larger on each side. Cut crosswise into two rectangles.

With a pastry brush, coat one piece of puff pastry with half the jam. Cover jam-coated piece with the remaining plain piece of puff pastry and gently roll together with rolling pin - not too hard, or your jam will squish out.

Slice into long or short strips and twist, then place on parchment lined pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before removing from the pan. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

Repeat process with second sheet of puff pastry.

Fig and Balsamic Jam

1 Lb. Figs, Black Mission, stems removed and coarsely chopped
¾ C. Sugar
¼ C. Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh Lemon Juice

Combine the figs, sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium to high heat. Then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook. Break up the large pieces and stir periodically until the jam thickens. Remove from the heat and squeeze about a tablespoon of lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more lemon juice if desired. If too chunky, you can use an emulsion blender to quickly pulse a bit smoother. You can either store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month or process them through your favorite canning method.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Pasta

Simple things – quite often these are the best things in life. A homegrown tomato picked right off the vine, rinsed and eaten. Reading a page turner novel. Watching a romantic movie with the one you love. Walking along the beach just listening to the waves and smelling the salty air. These are all simple things but great things.

Creating dishes that are simple are often enjoyed the most over the complicated dishes that have a million ingredients and take hours to prepare. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes those are just as wonderful as the simple things. With our busy lives, simple is good. Simple is rewarding. Simple makes us happy.

Earlier in the week, I had a long day at work and wanted something satisfying for dinner but simple. I had a package of the baby heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s and some shaved parmesan reggiano cheese that sat front and center in my refrigerator. The inspiration was born for this simple yet incredibly tasty pasta dish.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Pasta

1 lb. Dried Spaghetti
2 C. Baby Heirloom Tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 t. dried red pepper flakes (adjust for your heat tolerance)
½ c. Olive oil  (add more if you like)
Parmesan Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350

Cut the tomatoes in half. Lay cut side up onto a baking sheet with a one inch side. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven when done.

Cook the dried spaghetti until al dente. In a skillet, add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes. About one to minutes before adding the cooked spaghetti, heat on medium heat and be careful not to burn the garlic. Drain and then add to the hot olive oil mixture. Turn off the heat and toss the pasta with the seasoned. Toss in the roasted tomatoes and serve in a large bowl or individually. Add parmesan cheese and enjoy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chocolate S'mores Cupcakes + Special Dedication

I recently came across this quote – “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” By Diane Ackerman.  My personal motto - Live each day to the fullest and be grateful for this day.

A curve ball was thrown to me along with numerous other people this last week. My wonderful friend Carole from work lost her battle. It came as a shock to many, especially since knowing Carole, she was strong, courageous and believed she would beat the ugly beast, called cancer.

To know Carole is to love her. Over the last week, many conversations centered on all of the wonderful memories we have of Carole and how she touched each of us. Carole was kind, funny, smart and always grateful. She was my friend and confidant. I will miss her terribly.

Yesterday was the celebration of Carole’s life. The owners of our company were gracious enough to host the event at their wonderful home for both family members and co-workers to honor this very special lady. Carole loved all things food and especially loved baking. When I sent my RSVP for the celebration, I inquired if I could help by bringing something. A response quickly followed with a dessert would be wonderful. I knew exactly what I would bring and it was my way of honoring my dear friend Carole.

An all employee email went out on Monday morning informing everyone about Carole’s passing. Included in the email was a beautiful quote about Carole that I wanted to share, since it so eloquently tells you about who this special human being was.

“Carole epitomized the tenets on which our company is based. A true and genuine empathy for every person with whom she interacted, uncompromising excellence in the level of service she provided day in and day out, unquestionable integrity in thought and action. Carole’s work ethic, in combination with her pure heart, gentle persistence, effortless grace and unparalleled kindness made an impact on everyone she touched. An impact that translated to unbridled success of the business, and a posse of hearts which surrounded her, thriving in the light of her humanness.

Carole never, for a single moment, lost sight of the most important principles of what has made us successful: care, compassion and service carefully combined with savvy business smarts and hard work. Through her leadership by example, many came to know and understand the company way. Her legacy, built upon the endless moments where her light added joy to our days, is without end.

And not to go unsaid, Carole was not one who had to be noticed, who had to get the credit. She was a presence the result of which, people around her did the right thing because they wanted to, because they felt it right, because they felt good about themselves.” - Anna N.

Carole my dear friend, I will miss you terribly, but I am so blessed that I have known you over the last almost 13 years. I am dedicating this post to you. Love you.

Chocolate S'mores Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

(makes 24-27 standard sized cupcakes)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup boiling water


Line muffin tin with paper liners. Heat oven to 350*F.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for one minute.

Stir in boiling water (the batter will be thin, don't worry, this is right).

Fill liners 2/3 full with batter.
Bake cupcakes for approximately 19 to 22 minutes.

Cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Marshmallow Frosting

2 (large) egg whites
1 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a large heatproof bowl (the metal bowl of your electric mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, water, corn syrup, cream of tartar and salt.

Set the bowl over (but not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat mixture, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch (about 160*F), about 3 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed, about 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, microwave 1 cup mini marshmallows 30 seconds to 1 minute, until puffed, and starting to melt.

Add marshmallows to mixture in electric mixer, reduce speed to low and add vanilla. Continue beating (on low) until the marshmallows are melted and frosting is completely smooth (about 3-4 minutes). Use frosting right away.


Frost cooled Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow frosting. I used a large french tip. If desired, use a kitchen torch to brown the frosting. Top frosted cupcakes with a piece of Hersheys chocolate, and a piece of graham cracker.

Note: The graham cracker gets a bit soft from the frosting. If it's important to you that it be nice and crisp, bake the graham crackers (in a single layer on a baking sheet) about 5 minutes in a 325*F oven to dry them out a bit.

*Recipe from Glorious Treats