Friday, July 31, 2009

Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies

We're headed to a family reunion this weekend and I was charged with making a dessert. I wanted something that didn't require utensils to eat (since we'll be at a picnic area), but that was still a notch above your basic brownie or cookie. Since I've been craving smores lately, I had a bunch of marshmallows on hand - so I figured, why not top brownies with marshmallows and chocolate chips?!

They are downright decadent - yum! I made them from scratch, but you could also just add the toppings to a box mix. Since I have a big family, my recipe is for a huge pan (17 x 12). You could make a regular 8x8 pan by using 1/3 of the ingredients (fortunately, the amounts all divide quite easily by 3; I don't know about you, but I hate trying to figure out what 2/3 of an egg is...).

Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies

Ingredients
1 1/2 c. white sugar
6 Tbsp. salted butter
6 Tbsp. water
3 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. cocoa
6 eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 c. marshmallows, cut into small pieces (or use minimarshmallows)
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Method
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 17 x 12 baking pan.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, butter and water. Stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips and cocoa until chocolate is fully melted.
Pour chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour and baking soda and beat until well mixed.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake 25 minutes at 325.
Once the 25 minutes are up, remove brownies from oven, sprinkle with marshmallow pieces and remaining chocolate chips. Bake another 5-7 minutes until marshmallows are melted and just starting to brown on the tops.
Cool completely before cutting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kale Chips: You can't eat just one!

I know what you're thinking - kale chips?!?!?! Yes, kale chips. A coworker mentioned she liked grilled kale and when checking out some recipes online, I found some references to baked kale chips, too. I wasn't sure I'd like them, since I'm not really a potato chip person. But I was cleaning out the crisper drawer today and found some kale from last week's CSA share that needed to be used up. I didn't feel like going outside in the rain to grill, so I figured I'd give the baked chips a try.

Oh My! These are addictive crisply little things! They have an instant crunch and then kind of dissolve in your mouth. If you're a true potato chip-lover, you'll probably be able to tell the difference. But to my potato chip-novice palate, these were a pretty good substitute. Best of all, I don't feel like I'm eating empty fatty calories (sorry potato chip fans!).

I just did "a little bit of this and a little bit of that," so you can barely call this a "recipe," but here goes:

Ingredients
4 large kale leaves
olive oil spray
sea salt in a grinder

Method
Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil.
Cut kale leaves off stems. Discard stems. Rip or cut remaining kale into potato chip-sized pieces.
Spread leaves out on the lined cookie sheets in a single layer.
Generously spray leaves with olive oil spray.
Grind 3-4 turns of sea salt evenly over each pan of leaves.
Bake 9-11 minutes until leaves are crispy and edges are just browned. (If they're still limp or soft, cook them a little longer, checking every minute or so. Don't let them go too long; they burn quickly.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chicken Saltimbocca

As soon as I found out our CSA's sage was ready to be picked, I knew I had to make chicken saltimbocca. I've seen recipes for it in several magazines this summer and it always looks so good! I finally got to it last night, after picking up some fresh sage leaves at the farm.

I went with a slightly adapted version of the Martha Stewart Everyday Food recipe. I forgot to get white wine and didn't feel like going out for it, so I used chicken broth mixed with a little lemon instead. I also tried to cut down on the fat a bit.

Here's my version:

Chicken Saltimbocca
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/4 c. flour
freshly ground pepper
2 chicken breast halves (about 5-6 ounces each)
2 full, fresh sage leaves
4 additional fresh sage leaves, minced
2 thin slices of Prosciutto de Parma (about 1 ounce)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 14 oz. can light chicken broth (lower sodium, lower fat)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. butter

Method:
Spread flour onto a dinner plate. Sprinkle with a few grinds of fresh pepper. Swirl into flour to mix, then set aside.
Trim fat from the first piece of chicken. Lay plastic food wrap over the top of the breast and pound meat with a mallet until breast is 1/4-1/2" thick. Repeat with remaining chicken breast. Remove the plastic wrap. (The plastic wrap will just help keep the juices from flying everywhere. If you don't have it or don't want to use it, that's fine.)
Place a full sage leaf in the center of each breast. Wrap each breast with a piece of prosciutto, pressing the prosciutto into the chicken.
One at a time, place each breast onto the plate with the seasoned flour, flipping to coat each side of the chicken.
In a saute pan, heat 2 tsp. olive oil over medium heat.
Carefully place chicken into the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side until cooked all the way through. (Chicken is ready to be flipped when it easily moves in the pan. If it sticks - let it go a bit longer.)
Remove chicken from pan and wrap in foil to keep warm.
Carefully pour chicken broth and lemon juice into the saute pan. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Boil for about 4-8 minutes or until broth is reduced by about 2/3.
Turn heat off and add butter and minced sage. Stir just until butter is melted.
Plate chicken and drizzle broth over top before serving.

I served this with summer squash and zucchini sauteed in a little kale pesto. Delish!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Venus & The Cellar Bar: Fabulous French cuisine in the heart of Easthampton

Mr. ValleyWriter had a birthday recently and we decided to go out to a new restaurant that just opened up on Main Street to celebrate. We watched all winter long as the facade of the building was housed in a Tyvec shell, making bets on what would be revealed. We figured maybe a new professional office or a small, quaint artisan goods shop... so we were very surprised when a high-end restaurant and wine bar were revealed. But it was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Venus is the restaurant upstairs and The Cellar Bar is, not surprisingly, the bar downstairs. While there are 2 separate entrances, the two are also connected inside - and you can eat off the full Venus menu at the bar - so it's really like one restaurant spread out amongst 2 floors. As you probably figured out from the title of this blog entry, the cuisine is French; and in the nouvelle French tradition, the menu is short, the ingredients simple and fresh.

We started by ordering some of the special summer drinks from the bar. I had a passion fruit mojito and Mr. ValleyWriter had a "Brazilian blast," which is a version of a caipirinha with oranges in addition to the usual limes. Both drinks were nice and sweet, but not cloyingly so. The sweetness was clearly coming from the fruits added, rather than artificial syrups. After our drinks came and we put in our order for our appetizers, the chef sent out some Yukon potato chips topped with a bleu cheese foam. Now, I've never been much of a potato chip person, but this could change my tune. It was literally the best potato chip I've ever had - and the light tangy foam on top combined with the deep crunch of chip made for a perfect amuse bouche.

For our appetizers, we went with the crevette grillees (roasted shrimp) and the cheese plate (normally reserved for dessert, I know, but cheese is good for any course in my book!). Since the shrimp was billed as a blackened shrimp, I was expecting a stronger, spiced flavor than what was delivered. The taste of the beautiful shrimp definitely came through, but I think a little more seasoning was needed.

The cheese plate, however, was just right. We had freshly baked bread, apples, peaches and strawberries to accompany the selection of brie, bleu and gruyere cheeses - plus what I *think* was an aged Chantal. The mix of semi-hard and soft, mild and tangy, fresh and earthy cheeses was wonderful. We both agreed the cheese plate was the better of the 2 appetizers by far.

In between our appetizer course and the main course, we were treated to a citrus tarragon intermezzo to clear our palates. I wasn't sure how the tarragon would come through in a drink, but it was actually very refreshing.

For our entrees, I had the roasted chicken and Mr. ValleyWriter had the lamb. My roasted chicken came on a bed of asparagus and oyster mushrooms, covered with an incredible au jus. Every bite was absolute heaven. It was perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked - the skin of the chicken nice and crispy, the meat wonderfully juicy. The asparagus was lightly roasted and made for a fresh contrast with the rich-tasting au jus. The oyster mushrooms were nice and firm and soaked up the au jus wonderfully. I ate every single one with delight, even though I can normally take or leave mushrooms.

Mr. ValleyWriter's lamb was cooked medium, which he requested, but which ended up being a little more done than he might have wanted. I don't eat lamb, so I relied solely on him for the evaluation, but essentially he said that he thought it would have been better rare. It came with an orzo salad and yogurt sauce, both of which Mr. ValleyWriter said were good summery complements to the lamb.

I was thoroughly impressed with Venus by this point, but the piece de resistance had to be the trio of chocolate that we had for dessert. First was a white chocolate foam on top of a carrot puree. Next was a trio of rich, handmade dark chocolate truffles. And to top it all off, there was an incredible chocolate soup infused with orange liqueur. Oh my. If you like chocolate - this dessert is absolutely for you. We were in chocolate lover's heaven.

After dinner, we headed down to The Cellar Bar for an after dinner drink. The bar downstairs was ample in size and fully stocked with wine, beer and spirits. We drank our cordials and enjoyed the homey atmosphere created by the brick walls, wood paneled ceiling and soft lighting.
All in all, we were very impressed with our Venus & The Cellar Bar experience. While not every dish was a home run in our book, all were clearly made with deliberate attention to freshness and quality. We will absolutely be back to dine here again. The fine eateries in Northampton should take note of this newcomer - Venus & The Cellar Bar is sure to experience great success.

And since they don't have a Web site (yet?), here are some of the vital statistics:

Venus & The Cellar Bar

95 Main St
Easthampton, MA 01027
(413) 203-1910 (reservations recommended, especially on the weekends)

Appetizer prices were in the $7-9 range
Entree prices were $18-30
Wines start around $30/bottle or $7/glass

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yeast-Free Pizza Dough

I decided to make a nice, healthy Margherita pizza today... only to discover that I had no yeast at home. After a long day at work, I had no desire to go back out to get yeast, so I decided to try a no-yeast version. I fiddled with my usual dough recipe to substitute baking soda instead of yeast. It doesn't rise as much as regular dough, but I didn't really expect it to. Overall, I thought it was a nice, thinner-crust alternative to my usual dough.

I'll definitely keep it in the recipe book. If you find yourself in a similar yeast-less pinch, save yourself a trip to the store and give it a try!

No-Yeast Pizza Dough

Ingredients:
1/2 c. water
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda

Method:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with your hands. Form in to a ball. Add more flour if dough is too sticky to handle.
Spread dough onto a pizza stone or lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake 5 minutes to set dough.
Add desired sauce and toppings and bake another 8-10 minutes until dough is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Ugh... feeling not-so-motivated...

So you may have noticed that the posts have been fewer and further between in recent weeks. In part that's because summer is a busy time, but in part it's because my RA hasn't been doing as well. This time, my doctor thinks it's less an issue of the joints and more an issue of the ligaments having been stretched out by all the swelling over recent months. My knees, ankles and feet have been bothering me to the point that I've had to start physical therapy, cut down on activity - and cut out running entirely.

And while I'm happy to report that I'm starting to feel a bit better, I'm not happy to report that the scale is reading a higher number these days. That's where my lack of motivation is coming. I know I should ramp up the activity a bit more... but in part, I don't feel motivated to do it and in part, I'm worried about hurting again. I also know that I should really start tracking what I'm eating more religiously again... but it just seems like such a pain sometimes to run to the computer to track every little thing.

But, I guess I just have to pull up my bootstraps and jump back on the wagon... one day at a time, right? If you've seen my motivation - can you tell it to come home now? :-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Don't forget the Dana Farber Bake Sale!

The bake sale is on now over at Lil' Runner's blog. Rumor has it the bake sale will be on through Tuesday 7/21 - lots of great goodies (donuts, cookies, breads... and even an exercise video to help you work it all off!).

All proceeds benefit cancer research at Dana Farber Institute. Check it out!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Blueberry Buttermilk Coffee Cake

I had buttermilk and blueberries in the fridge, but didn't want to make my usual weekend pancakes, so I decided to try a coffee cake. Most of the recipes I have for coffee cakes call for sour cream, but I saw a recipe the other day that used buttermilk, so I figured I'd just try swapping out the sour cream in my favorite recipe with buttermilk. Turns out, it works!

I added a little cream cheese icing on the top for a bit more decadence, but it's good without the icing, too. Here's the recipe for just the coffee cake itself:

Blueberry Buttermilk Coffee Cake

Ingredients
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/3 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. blueberries

1/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease Bundt pan.
Cream together butter, agave and sugar. Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.
In a separate small bowl, mix together remaining white sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Pour 1/2 of batter into Bundt pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cinnamon sugar mixture on top. Then sprinkle 1 c. of blueberries on top of that.
Pour remaining batter into the pan. Top with remaining cinnamon sugar and blueberries.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Let cool before removing from pan.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Online Bake Sale Coming up Monday 7/20 - All proceeds go to cancer research!!

Natalie over at Lil Runner is hosting an online bake sale on Monday, July 20, with all proceeds going to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute's research program. I'm pitching it by offering up 2 dozen of my Peanut Butter Surprise cookies to the highest bidder.
In addition to these wonderful peanut butter & chocolate cookies, there'll be cupcakes, granola, granola bars, some Amazing Grass products and more up for bid!

Please remember to stop by the bake sale on Monday to bid early and often! Remember, all proceeds go directly to cancer research.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My first blog award! (And a shout out to some awesome fellow foodies!)

A big shout out goes to Hummingbird Appetite who nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger award!

Hummingbird Appetite is blessed with a high metabolism - and is always coming up with wonderful creations to feed her hunger - from breakfast through dessert! She just started her blog in May, but she is on a serious roll!

So the rules of the Kreative Blogger award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who has given you the award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who has nominated you for the award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on which of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.


I think we've got #1-3 down (thanks again Hummingbird!), so onto 7 things about me:

1. I'm not a natural brunette. (Thank you Clairol!)
2. I can't cook with a sink full of dishes. I must wash at least some before starting.
3. Unloading the dishwasher (which is honestly the simplest task) is my least favorite household chore.
4. My favorite cookies are chocolate chip.
5. I can bend my thumb backwards to touch the top of my wrist.
6. I have a degree in biology and writing.
7. I read nutrition labels obsessively when grocery shopping.

And the awards go to....

1. Jenn from Bread + Butter who amazes me with her *daily* creations. I also love to hear little snippets about her work as a director/producer - makes me feel like I "know" someone in the biz ;-)

2. Kelly from Evil Shenanigans Baking & Cooking Blog, whose site I quickly realized was aptly named when she kept tempting me with amazing creations like Strawberry Jam Tarts and Chocolate Chip Overload Cookies. (Seriously - 3 bags of chocolate chips in one batch of cookies?!!? That's a lady after my own heart!)

3. Sara over Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice, whose blog subtitle - "where the good go to be bad" - had me hooked from the start. Don't let the title fool you, though - this blog isn't devoted solely to sweets. Sara's got other "goodies" like BBQ pork sandwiches and Pepper Jack Bison Burgers.

4. LK from Healthy Delicious whose "Meat-Free Fridays" weekly post I always look forward to. I think many of us health- and eco-conscious eaters are looking for ways to cut back on meat in our diet. LK delivers some great ideas!

5. Gail over at Entertaining Made Easy who dishes up great ideas for entertaining at home. I really enjoyed her recent FoodBuzz 24, 24, 24 Fondue Dinner -can't wait to have one myself now!

6. Prof. Kitty from The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty who combines recipes, restaurant reviews and a run down of her weekly radio show all in one spot. She's a dim sum connoisseur and has me itching to try it out soon.

7. Rebecca from Playful Noshings who, much like me, is learning to eat more locally and naturally. We both have CSA shares, so I love to see what she's getting out in Utah as compared to what I'm getting here in New England.

Thanks to all my fellow foodies for your great ideas and great comments over the last 10 months. Here's to many more!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When life gives you zucchini - make Zucchini Bread!

The great thing about zucchini (in my opinion) is that there's always a TON of it, come summertime. I love zucchini on the grill, baked in the oven, stir fried - and most of all, in zucchini bread!

It's moist and flavorful - a great breakfast or snack - and a great way to sneak in more veggies! My recipe uses less oil and less sugar than many traditional recipes - and you could actually swap out even more sugar for honey or agave, if you wanted. This is one of those recipes that's very forgiving - so go ahead and experiment. This freezes really well, so I always make 2 loaves at a time, but of course - you can just cut the recipe in 1/2 to make 1 loaf.


Zucchini Bread

(Makes 2 10" loaves)

Ingredients:
4 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cinnamon
5 eggs
3/4 c. oil
3/4 c. applesauce
1 3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. honey
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. shredded zucchini (2 medium zucchini)

Method:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Lightly grease 2 10" loaf pans.
Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, applesauce, sugar, honey and vanilla.
Add flour mixture and beat until well combined.
Stir in zucchini.
Pour 1/2 of batter into each loaf pan.
Bake 50-60 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.
Let stand at least 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

CSA Farm Share - Week 6

This week was another good haul of greens, squash, beets, peas, carrots and even some cucumbers from the CSA:


I'm most excited about the kale (can't wait for more kale pesto) and the cucumbers (which I'm going to try my hand at pickling). Just waiting for the tomatoes now... we're all crossing our fingers that they survive the massive amounts of rain we've had lately. It's rained something like the last 25 days out of 30 or something crazy like that. Oh well - at least we haven't needed to water the lawn yet!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Another wonderful summer weekend...

We had a wonderful long holiday weekend. On Friday, the sun came out for the first time in days and we took advantage of it by running off to the beach.


Then Saturday, we headed into Boston to see the fireworks display.

Yesterday we wrapped it up with a nice dinner with friends. The weather (amazingly) held out for 3 whole days, so we were able to do dinner - and dessert - on the grill. It was my first time making grilled peaches, but it was so easy, and so yummy, I'm sure it'll be something we'll be having often this summer.
This is a nice light dessert that was enjoyed by all except for the youngest of our guests. (She liked the ice cream, but wasn't keen on the peaches. I think they weren't quite sweet enough for a young palate.)

Grilled Peaches
(serves 6)

Ingredients:
3 peaches, cut in half with pits removed
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

Method:
Mix brown sugar and extracts in a bowl. Coat the cut side of each peach half in mixture and let sit 10-15 minutes.
In the meantime, spray your grill with oil. Then turn to medium heat.
Place peaches flesh (uncut) side down, cover grill and cook about 3 minutes.
Flip peaches over and grill another 3-4 minutes until you have nice dark grill marks on the cut flesh.
Cut each piece in half and serve with a scoop of ice cream in the middle.
(Garnish with mint, if desired. That was Mr. ValleyWriter's touch. Nice, huh?)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kale Pesto

In this week's CSA share, we got a bunch of kale and a bunch of Swiss chard. I hadn't cooked with either, so I went in search of recipes. I actually found a bunch for Swiss chard that I liked, but not too many for kale. However, according to The Cook's Thesaurus (one of my favorite sites), the 2 are interchangeable. So, when I saw that you could make pesto out of Swiss chard pesto - I instantly knew that I was going to try it with kale. (I kind of made up my own recipe as I went along, so it's a little different that the Swiss chard one; see mine below.)

I served it up with whole wheat rotini and turkey sausage topped with a little shredded Parmesan for an incredibly yummy meal last night:


It doesn't quite taste the same as pesto made with basil, but it was very good in its own right. It tasted a little more earthy and fresh. I'm really hoping they have more kale next week so I can make up another batch of this. It was that good!

Kale Pesto
Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
2 cups chopped kale (loosely packed)
1/3 c. freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Method:
In a food processor, pulse garlic and pine nuts until finely chopped. Add kale in small bunches, pulsing between each addition. Add cheese and pulse until mixture is finely chopped and well combined. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the mixture while mixing at low speed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can use this right away - or save it in the fridge for a couple of days. I put mine in a small glass jar with a little oil on top to help keep it from browning.