Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Super and Nutty Sticky Bars

Cumin Spiced Quinoa with Roasted Pencil Asparagus and Purple Cauliflower, and Ginger Pomegranate Sauce
We had a beautiful weekend here in the bay. I feel so lucky to live in such an amazing part of the world. This past week we had a sudden heat wave, which is fun for a day, but I hate when it stays hot. It was hot, like, can't sleep unless every single window is open and the fan is on, kind of night. But today was a little cooler, thank you know who! And here on the island of Alameda, it couldn't have been nicer out.

The day started off with having brunch out with my sweetie, and then a leisurely walk around town. With a stop at one of the many local antique shops. It was fun to get a sense of the past, we got to read handwritten notes to a girl named Audrey from her classmates back in the 1930's. And play on a few old typewriters. I really wanted to take one home! But where would I put it?!

The rest of the afternoon was a pretty lazy one for me. But isn't that what Sunday afternoons are made for?? So when dinner time came around, I wasn't sure what I felt like doing. I took a mental check list from the comfort of the couch. I knew that I had some asparagus in the fridge, and some much-needing-to-be-used purple cauliflower in there as well. And I knew that I absolutely wanted to do something pretty with that gorgeous cauliflower. I mean, just look at it...
...sooo purty....

So I threw together this simple but tasty and healthy dish of quinoa, with purple cauliflower and asparagus. I wanted some sort of sauce, so I reduced some pomegranate vinegar, with some brown sugar, ginger, and lemon curd. Perfect! The veggies were simply roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic. The quinoa was spiced with cumin. I added some toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds to complete the dish. Perfect ending to a beautiful day.

And for a healthy snack, earlier this week I dished up these sweet, savory, and nutty, sticky bars. They are great to bring to work as a perfect little snack to get over the hunger hump....
You could put just about anything in these. I used a bunch of ingredients that I had in my kitchen, such as pine nuts, dried soy nuts, flax seed, hemp seed, sunflower seed, dried blueberries, dried apricot, and dried cherries. I did not want to add a bunch of unnecessary sugar and fat, so the binder I used is almond butter and a bit of water. Cook that down just a bit and add your dry ingredients, heat until desired consistency, then spread out into casserole type dish to set. I sprinkled mine with salt and cocoa nibs. Let cool and store in the fridge. Easy Peasy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Celebratory Vegetables Wellington

Vegetables Wellington with Cabernet Mushrooms
I went on a mad shopping spree today. And when I say shopping, I mean grocery shopping. Duh. After a perfect afternoon spent with my pup, hiking in the hills, with one of the most beautiful and inspiring views of the bay, I decided to stop off at the Berkeley Bowl. I wanted to stock up on some veggies and add some super foods to my diet. Because, I have a confession to make. I have been eating pretty terribly lately. Now don't worry, I haven't gone to the dark side of those salivating sloth-like meat eaters (click on link to see how freaking adorable baby sloths actually are!). But I have been living off of crackers, cheese, hummus, cereal, and english muffins. All store bought, i.e., pre-made, processed foods. Not too great. I blame it all on the wine bar that I recently started working at. Plating all these yummy cheese plates has had me craving cheese and sweet french bread! With a glass or two of vino, of course.

This past weekend was my graduation commencement ceremony from the CCA. Yes, I did technically graduate back in December of 2011. But we had to wait until April 14, 2012 for our ceremony, and "walk". I really didn't know what to expect, and honestly I wasn't expecting much. But, boy was I wrong. Just seeing all of the graduates, and my few former classmates, (most of them) in their clean and pressed chef coats, and our chef instructors (some of them), there for our support. I was immediately uplifted, and felt a sure sense of pride.

My class was small to begin with. I was in the night class which are always the smallest classes. But out of the original 7 or so classmates, only three of us showed up and/or graduated on graduation day...

California Culinary Academy 2011 Graduates
...and it was really, really wonderful to see them. Once the ceremonies began, with a speech from our executive chef, chef Michael Weller, and master chef Ed Leonard. It was emotional, it was inspiring, it was laugh-out-loud, it was heartfelt, it was meaningful. It made me feel grateful for what I have. It made me feel proud for what I have accomplished. It made me feel confident for what I can accomplish. It made me FEEL PROUD. To simply be a part of it all. I will forever be an alum of the amazing school, the California Culinary Academy, in San Francisco. I will miss these people, the students, the halls, the kitchens, the stupid greasy pans, the instructors. I cried, I laughed, I smiled, and I held my head high.

And then came time for our walk across the stage. I was proud to have achieved awards with high honors (gpa of 3.75 or higher, I held a 4.0 throughout), as well as exemplary attendance (never missed a single day of class). The hard work was well worth it. For these silly little red and yellow ribbons...

And so after all of the inspiring words from our well respected, experienced, and talented chefs, I decided it was time to start cooking again. It is time to start making the foods that I am so passionate about. It is time to make this my own. It is time to stop having store bought crackers and hummus, or cereal for dinner. It is time to make a beautiful dish. And it is time to start making vegetarian dishes that are dynamic, healthy, delicious, colorful, and fulfilling.

So to kick things off, I put together this dish of Vegetables Wellington. I did cheat just a wee-bit, by buying frozen puff pastry, but I don't feel at all bad about that! I know exactly what it takes to make puff pastry, and after a long hike in the hills, and only running on coffee and an english muffin all day, I wasn't about to go making my own puff pastry. This Vegetables Wellington was quick and easy to put together. Here is a quick overview of how and what...

For one serving

Shallot, fine brunoise
6 stems of Pencil Asparagus, chopped in half
4 Brussel Sprouts, chopped in half, chiffonade
4 Cherry Tomatoes, sliced in half
Half a carrot, finely shredded
4 Mushrooms, thinly sliced
small handful of pea sprouts
pine nuts
goat cheese
red wine
canola/olive oil blend
salt and pepper
dried thyme
one package of frozen puff pastry, partially thaw, cut off 1/4 of one strip

Heat oven to 400, line sheet pan with foil and coat lightly with oil

Once oven is at temp, place thawed puff pastry on oiled foil lined sheet pan and place in oven, cook at 400 for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. (Can coat with egg wash for better browning, but I chose not to use an entire egg for my single little piece of puff pastry)

Heat oil, add half the shallot, heat until almost cooked through, add the asparagus, cook 2-3 minutes, add the brussel sprouts, add the carrot, and pine nuts. Season with salt, pepper, cumin. Let cook for 2-3 minutes.

In a separate pan, heat small amount oil and two pats of butter, add rest of shallot and heat until almost cooked through. Add mushrooms, cook until lightly browned. Add more butter or oil if more fat is needed. Season with salt and pepper. Add red wine and cook at low-medium simmer until slightly thickened and the alcohol has evaporated. Taste and adjust as needed.

Plate vegetables, goat cheese, mushrooms. Drizzle with red wine reduction. Add puff pastry, and garnish with pea sprouts.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fresh to Death Basil Pesto

Handmade Ravioli with Basil Pesto and Pine Nuts
I've had these amazing little handmade ravioli's, stuffed with a mushroom and roasted garlic filling, hibernating in my freezer for a few weeks now. And with a bunch of fresh basil sitting on my counter, it was due time for the ravioli's to come out of their slumber, and the fresh basil to be whizzed up and made into a gorgeous pesto sauce.

And I tried something new with my basil recently. You see, I have always had trouble keeping basil fresh. I mean, basil is always cool, like....Can't stop, won't stop, Rockafella Records, Cause we get down baby, We get down baby, the girls the girls they love us, Cause we stay fresh to death, We the best, Nothing less!

Anyway, getting back to basil...I wanted to share with you that I found a great way to keep your basil, um, fresh. So that it doesn't turn brown overnight in your fridge. You basically want to do this....

....make it look like you are trying to suffocate your basil by putting a plastic bag over its head. No seriously, get a plastic bag, trim the ends off the stems of the basil, fill a glass or jar with water, put the basil in the jar, and cover the top with the bag. Make sure that the bottom of the bag is left open. This way the gases are allowed to be released from your basil, while keeping moisture in. This basil had been sitting on my counter here like this for about 2 weeks. Word.

And in case you aren't familiar, making your own pesto sauce is incredibly easy. You basically do this...
Take your basil leaves, about a handful or so, and maybe 2 cloves of garlic, plus or minus about 1/4 cup of parmesan (or parmesan-reggiano as I used here), give or take a small handful of pine nuts, a pinch or so of salt, and a dash of already know that I don't exactly measure things so just play along here....and then you throw it all in a food processor. If you don't have a food processor, I recommend you get one. Or forget about this and go out and buy some pesto.

Ok, then you turn ON the food processor, with the lid on of course, and start to slowly add oil. How much oil? Well, until your pesto is at desired consistency, of course. It's not science. It's food. Make it to your liking.

Oh, and it's generally best not to use only extra virgin olive oil. It is actually best to use part EVOO, and the other part a blend (such as canola/olive oil). Using only EVOO can make your food taste bitter. So never feel that you absolutely have to use strictly EVOO. It is not a magic ingredient, it can actually take away from your food.

Here is how I like my pesto, sitting pretty and shining in the afternoon sun...
And here is how I like my little rad handmade ravioli's, with the mushroom, spinach, and roasted garlic filling. All smothered in a fresh to death we the best nothing less basil pesto sauce. Cause we get down baby, we get down!