Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast

So, what to do with all that pumpkin butter?

Last night we had friends over for dinner and I made this Pumpkin Butter Cake from bakedbree.com.


The cake looked beautiful, and the flavor was delicious, but when I cut into it I discovered the center was still raw.  Ugh.  Our guests were good sports about it, and ate around the edges where the cake was done, but I hate flopping.

Our oven can be tricky, and it sometimes takes some trial and error to get the timing right when baking a new recipe.  And I think the toothpick test failed me here (it came out clean when I tested it) because the cake is so dense.  But there will be a Round 2 with this cake, because the flavor really was fantastic.

So this morning I tried again with the pumpkin butter, this time with much better results.

Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast
A friend of ours bought us a Cuisinart Griddler for a wedding gift, and we've been using it several times each week.  I love it and now wonder how I went so long without one.

For this french toast, I wanted to use enough bread that a nice pocket of pumpkin butter would be in the middle, but I wanted the final product to be more like a single piece of bread.  The griddler worked perfectly, flattening the bread while cooking it.

Cut four slices from a small round loaf of rustic Italian bread, about 3/4" wide.  Carefully remove some of the bread from the inside of each slice to create an indentation, leaving about 1/2" border.  Gather up the bread scraps and feed them to the cute Rottweiler who hangs out with you in the kitchen.

Fill each indentation with about 3/4 Tablespoon of pumpkin butter.

Place one slice on top of another, with the pumpkin butter on the inside.

In a shallow dish,  combine two eggs with two Tablespoons half and half.

Whisk the egg mixture and place the stuffed bread in the dish.  Allow the bread to sit for a minute or so, to soak up some of the egg mixture, but don't let it become too soggy or it may fall apart.  Carefully turn to coat the other side.


Place both slices in the Griddler and grill until golden.


Apply a fair amount of pressure to the lid for a minute or two at the beginning if you want to flatten the bread a bit.  (Alternatively, you can cook these in a nonstick pan on the stove top.)

Serve with warm maple syrup and sprinkle with walnuts or pecans, if desired.


Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Butter S'mores

True confession time:  I love s'mores.

And Brad and I eat them all the time.  We have a fire pit in our back yard, and s'mores are just about the easiest desert on a warm summer night.  We have tried all kinds of variations, but always come back to the traditional Hershey's chocolate, vanilla marshmallow and golden graham crackers.

Brad and I even set up a s'mores bar on our back patio for our rehearsal dinner, with homemade marshmallows (thanks, Martha!) and these super long grilling sticks Brad's parents brought us from Medora, ND.



Sometimes a classis is a classic because it's simply the best.

But the other night I suggested to Brad we try adding some pumpkin butter to our s'mores, as I'd seen on oh joy!  Since we still don't have Trader Joe's here in Colorado (!),

Pumpkin Butter
I scanned the web for a homemade pumpkin butter recipe and found a really easy one at bakedbree.com.

Following bakedbree's lead, I gathered all the ingredients:

2 (15 oz) cans of pumpkin puree (not pie filling mix)
1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 cup apple juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (approximately one lemon)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt


Combined everything in a slow cooker


and then let it cook on low for 6 hours.  If you make this, be sure and leave the lid OFF the slow cooker; I failed to do this until Brad suggested that maybe -- just maybe :) -- that's why it was taking so long to thicken up.  Yes, he's pretty much always right.

I wish a photograph could convey how amazing this made our house smell on Sunday.  It was the perfect fall day outside, with the perfect fall scent inside.

This recipe will yield about 3 cups of pumpkin butter, which would be delicious on toast or bagels, stirred into oatmeal, or on s'mores.

Oh, yes, the s'mores.  That's what we're all here for, right?



We spread a layer of this yummy pumkin butter on a graham cracker, toasted up that big, fat marshmallow and dove in.  



And it was good.  It was very good.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pork Chops and Fried Soup

Yes, you read that right:  Fried Soup.

I love soup and believe almost anything is better fried, but I never would've dreamed up this delicious combination on my own.  Thanks to Maria Helm Sinskey I didn't have to.

Fried soup came into our lives courtesy of the latest installment of the RSV wine club, along with their fabulous 2008 Los Carneros Merlot.  And the folks at RSV thoughtfully included a package of organic dried cranberry beans to get us started.

The first step to fried soup is making Ribollita, a bean and kale soup delicious in itself.  Brad made the Ribollita on Saturday night and, while I enjoyed it very much, all I could think about was frying it up the next day.  The starchiness of the beans, the crunch of the kale, the crispiness of the pan fried crust.  Yum.

It was a gorgeous fall day yesterday, so we were able to grill pork chops to serve alongside the fried soup.



Fried Soup
First you need to prepare the Ribollita; we used the RSV recipe pretty much as written.  We soaked the cranberry beans overnight and found they still required about twice the amount of cooking time as noted on the package.  This was likely the result of cooking at altitude, but you may want to plan accordingly.

Once the soup cools, stir in the reserved bread cubes and refrigerate until you're ready to fry it up.

In addition to the leftover soup, you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat.  Scoop the soup/bread mixture into the pan and flatten with the back of a spoon.

Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, and heated through.



Sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Wine
We drank the Merlot with the Ribollita Saturday night, and we'd already laid down the second bottle from our shipment is in our off site wine locker.  So with the pork chops and fried soup we enjoyed a 2007 Malbec from hope & grace, another great Napa winery.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lobster Rolls with Duck Fat Fries

If you've been around these blog parts for a while, you know how much I've been looking forward to making lobster rolls.  After a little fake-out with the preserved lemons, the August RSV wine club came through with a recipe for lobster rolls to accompany their 2010 Pinot Gris Los Carneros.

We found split-top (New England style) buns at Marczyk Fine Foods and ordered two live lobsters from Cherry Crest Seafood.  Once we got down to cooking, this meal came together rather quickly.

We prepared the RSV lobster roll recipe, and also made plain lobster rolls dressed only with melted butter.  Both were delicious served alongside duck fat fries.



Lobster Rolls
We prepared the RSV lobster roll recipe pretty much as written to serve two people, but reduced the quantities for the dressed rolls by a fourth since we also made warm butter lobster rolls.

Two live lobsters, approximately 1 1/4 pounds each
1/2 large celery rib
2 Tablespoons good quality, full fat mayonnaise (light mayo is a little too sweet for this kind of dish)
Fresh lemon (reserve two wedges for serving)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 split-top rolls
Unsalted butter, melted
2 butter lettuce leaves

Place a few inches of salted water in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil.  Put the lobsters into the pot head first and replace the lid.

Steam the lobsters for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from the pot.


Remove the meat from the shell and cut into large chunks.


Place half of the lobster meat in a medium bowl.  Add the celery, mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon, and toss lightly.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare the buns, heat a medium nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame.  Brush the sides of the buns with melted butter and toast.


After toasting the buns, add melted butter to the same pan.  Toss the rest of the lobster meat in the melted butter.  Divide the buttered lobster between two of the buns.  Place a butter lettuce leaf in each of the other two buns and fill with the mayonnaise dressed lobster.  Serve with duck fat fries.

Duck Fat Fries
These are based on another RSV recipe, from last year's shipment of 2006 Marcien.  These fries would be almost as tasty using all canola oil, if you can't find or prefer not to use duck fat.  Or you can make them in the oven, but then I don't think you can call them "fries" at all.  Fat is flavor, and in moderation should be a part of every deliciously healthy diet.  We sprinkled them with rosemary sea salt, but you can use plain sea or kosher salt.

2 medium russet potatoes, well scrubbed
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 cups duck fat
4 cups (approximately) canola oil
Rosemary sea salt

Cut the potatoes into 1/2" square sticks.  Rinse them with cold water and then soak for several hours (or overnight) in a bowl of water with vinegar; this will remove the starch from the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes and pat dry with a paper towel.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a rack over it.


Place the duck fat and oil in a large pot.  To avoid the oil boiling over when the potatoes are added, it should come no further than halfway up the sides of the pot.

Insert a thermometer and bring the oil to 325 degrees.


Add the potatoes and immediately increase the heat to try and maintain the oil at 325 degrees.  Fry the potatoes for about 5 minutes.  This first step cooks the potatoes, but they may not turn golden at this point.  Do not overcook at this point or your fries may be dry inside when you finish the second fry.


Drain the fries on the prepared rack, and allow them to cool.  Meanwhile, raise the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees.  Fry the potatoes a second time until golden and puffed, about 8 minutes.  Drain and sprinkle with sea salt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Winner, Winner, Tuna Dinner

Bradleen recently became an officially-sanctioned union, and Brad and I embarked upon our wedded bliss by honemooning in Kona, Hawaii.  We stayed at an amazing condo with a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean, where the sunsets were remarkable.


We chose to stay in a condo rather than a hotel after hearing from fellow travelers that the restaurants in Kona were unremarkable, and we found this indeed to be the case on our few nights dining out.  An exception was Merriman's up in Waimea, which was very good.

Our Kolea condo, however, served delicious food.  There were fresh waffles with coconut syrup and fruit for breakfast.


And a variety of tuna dishes, made with our fresh catch. 

Growing up in South Florida, I spent quite a bit of time fishing with my grandfather.  I don't remember what we typically caught, but I do recall it was your basic take a boat out, drop a line and wait-syle fishing.  I've also done some fly fishing here in Colorado, with my days spent mostly untangling my line.

What I experienced in Kona brought fishing to a whole new level for me.

The adrenaline rush when a large game fish is hooked is incredible; the scream of the reel as the fish dives toward the ocean depths sounds an alarm that caused me to cry out with delight.  Brad had a Blue Marlin on the line for about five minutes, long enough for us to see it leap from the water, before we lost it.  It happened so fast that I was unable to take a good photo, but the image of that beautiful fish flying out the water with its bill waving back and forth will be in my memory forever.

Brad and I both caught some tuna.  His were bigger, but mine was an unusually strong fighter.  At least that's what they all told me when I was barely able to land it, the captain cheering me on as I was fatiguing in the final hundred yards.  I'm definitely going to do some push-ups before our next trip.


Brad's second, larger, tuna became our dinner.  And our lunch.  Then dinner again, and lunch again. 


And even this little guy got some of our tuna.  But don't tell the people at our condo complex, as I doubt they'd be pleased we were feeding the stray cats.


Our fish was cleaned on the boat while we were still fishing


and then Brad prepared the fillets when we got back to the condo.


We had a sashimi appetizer


and then some tuna barely seared on the grill, which we served with a salad of greens, avocado, mango and macadamia nuts.


With tuna this fresh, few other ingredients are needed; just a little salt and pepper before searing.

We packed several bottles of our favorite wines because we'd also heard the wine selection in Kona was limited and pricey.  We found the local gourmet market actually had quite a good selection and prices were not that much higher than we find here in Colorado.

The next day, Brad made poke for lunch, which we served with the traditional macaroni salad found everywhere on the Island.


Dinner the following night was more tuna steak, with grilled zucchini and salad.  And this fabulous brioche we found at a local farmer's market.


Lunch the next day was tuna sandwiches, made with that yummy brioche and leftover grilled tuna.  It was delicious, but apparently we found it not picture-worthy.

After eating only tuna for a few days, we were more than ready for the Taste of the Hawaiian Range, an annual festival celebrating sustainable farming and ranching on the Big Island that just happened to be held during our trip.  How lucky are we?