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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Homemade Cracker

Sesame WonTon Cracker

A wonton is typically a type of dumpling commonly found in a number of Chinese dishes. In modern day, wonton wrappers have become such a versatile ingredient in the cooking world. They are now used to make ravioli, homemade chips, crunchy topping for salads and as I will show you here a gourmet cracker. I discovered this technique when I had left over wonton wrappers, because we all know that at least 1,000 come in a package. I am a huge cheese fan, smelly cheese included, and I wanted a homemade cracker that had a nice crunch with a light flavor. These crackers fit the bill! It also does not hurt that the recipe contains few ingredients, and is easily prepared for guests (or for your personal enjoyment) in under 30 minutes.

Sesame WonTon Cracker Recipe

Makes: 36 crackers
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes or less

18 Wonton Wrappers, cut at a diagonal into 36 triangles
Sesame Seeds
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a large cookie sheet.

Arrange as many wonton wrappers on the cookie sheet (do not overlap). Lightly drizzle olive oil over the tops of the wonton wrappers. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sesame seeds. Cook until lightly browned, roughly 5-8 minutes a batch. Be careful not to burn as they cook very quickly. I often rotate after a few minutes of cooking to make sure they cook evenly.

Remove each batch from cookie sheet onto a cooling rack. If not serving immediately, place in air tight container and save for another day. Serve with great cheeses and spreads.

*The size of your oven and cookie sheet will determine how many batches of crackers you will cook.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Perfect Fourth of July Treat

Rustic Blackberry Galette

Today the Greensboro Farmer's Market opened up to display the most beautiful blackberries of the season. I just could not pass them up. About an hour before I called it a day at work, I decided to take on the challenge of baking a blackberry galette. For those of you unfamiliar, a galette is a French term used to designate various types of flat, round or freeform crusty cakes. I would describe it as a free form, rustic version of a pie. Galette dough is a blank canvas for which to be creative, whether you choose sweet or savory combinations: tomato, eggplant & mozzarella, leek, bacon & goat cheese, roasted vegetable or maybe fresh peaches. Now I am not a baker at all, and to be honest I actually dislike baking for many reasons. But this galette was by far the easiest 'baked good' I have ever tackled, and I plan on making it again for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. So instead of making your typical strawberry, blueberry and whipped topping sheet cake for the Fourth...try galettes. I promise they will be a welcome change!

Rustic Blackberry Galette Recipe

Makes: 4-6 slices
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" slices
1/4 cup of ice water
1 egg white + 1 tablespoon water

2 cups Blackberries
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.

Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in half of the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Cut in the remaining butter until the largest pieces are the size of lima beans. Drizzle the water over the dough and stir until moistened. Gather up the dough and knead it 2 or 3 times on a floured surface. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the blackberries, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. Toss to combine. Set aside.

Preheat oven or gas grill (in the summer I prefer to use the grill as my oven) to 350 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll out to a large circle-not too thin on the parchment paper. Place blackberry filler in the center of the dough, leaving about a 2" border for folding. Begin folding the sides of the dough over each other. The best part is there is no right or wrong technique to folding galette dough. Once complete, lightly brush the egg white and water mixture over the dough. Cook for 50-60 minutes, or until dough is golden brown. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's For Dinner: A Simple Weeknight Dish

Chicken Curry

This is a very mild curry, with the chicken and onions braised in coconut milk which makes this dish even more delicious. Weeknight Chicken Curry can be prepared in under 30 minutes, and costs roughly $10.00 to serve 4 diners. Using my math team skills, this comes out to $2.50 a person. It is a perfectly delicious weeknight dinner and with the way the economy is right now, we can all use a break even on the cost and time of preparing a great meal. Even though inexpensive, this recipe still possesses the quality of ingredients I promised you from my first post. And I must say, this dish is once again gourmet food, simply done. Enjoy!

Chicken Curry Recipe

Serves: 3-4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

2 tablespoons Canola or Vegetable Oil
2 Fresh Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 Large Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons Curry Powder
2 1/2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1 teaspoon Ground Tumeric
1/2 teaspoon Ground Mustard
1 pound Boneless Chicken Breasts, Cut into 1"Bite Size Pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon Tomato Paste
1 cup Coconut Milk
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 cup Hot Water (optional)

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, cook for 6-8 minutes or until transparent. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes.

To the onions and garlic add the cumin, mustard, tumeric, 1 teaspoon curry powder, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon salt. Add tomato paste. Mix to combine.

In Ziploc bag or deep casserole dish, toss chicken pieces in remaining curry powder, season with salt and pepper. Add to wok, and cook for about 5-6 minutes until outside the chicken is golden brown.

Pour coconut milk into the wok-if coconut milk has separated from the fat, pour the liquid in and add a tablespoon or so of fat until you have the creamy consistency that you desire. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Add hot water only if there is not enough liquid, because it has cooked down. Serve on top of white rice. Add fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice if so desired. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fresh Face for a Traditional Summer Favorite

Chickpea Panzanella Salad

It has reached 100 degrees today in Greensboro, Alabama, which means that I am no longer using my stove. In this retched heat there are only two things I rely on: my grill and recipes that require no cooking at all. To celebrate my freedom from the stove, I deliver to you PANZANELLA! A central Italian salad traditionally consisting of bread and tomatoes, panzanella is extremely popular in the hot summer months. To put a modern twist on this old favorite I have chosen to incorporate chickpeas and fresh basil into the mix. Most Florentine traditionalists will curse me for this post, but for me the chickpeas and basil just bring the dish to life through their warm texture and flavor. Just step away from the oven, and enjoy this simple and delicious chickpea panzanella salad.

Chickpea Panzanella Salad Recipe

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: None

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, pressed
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper

2 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1" chunks
3/4 baguette, cut into 1/2" cubes (works best when the bread is a day old)
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely shopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 can of chickpeas, drained and dried
Fresh shaved Parmesan (garnish)

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, garlic clove, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl or serving dish, combine tomatoes, bread, basil, parsley, red onion and chickpeas. Toss to combine. Pour desired vinaigrette amount over salad, coat all ingredients well. Let sit for one hour for flavors to marry.

Serve salad with fresh shaved Parmesan. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why Buy It, When You Can Make It At Home...

Mascarpone Cheese 

Several months ago I began researching how to make cheese, I guess out of curiosity but also necessity. The small town of Greensboro has a population of 2,500 people. There are two grocery stores in town no bigger than your local gas station, and although one recently started carrying blue cheese (which trust me I am not complaining about), the remainder of the cheese selection is between blocked or shredded cheddar. And when cooking gourmet dishes good cheese is a must, it just is. The quality of cheese will make your dish either good or great! And we all know we want our dishes to be great. So, the first cheese I attempted was mascarpone (\ˌmas-kär-ˈpō-(ˌ)nā\). For those not familiar, mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese that is a delicious topper for grilled summer fruit, spread on bagels or English muffins, in risotto and of course is one of the primary ingredients in our favorite tiramisu dessert. The recipe calls for only two ingredients and a small child could implement the technique required.

Mascarpone Cheese Recipe

Makes: 1 cup
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes tops

2 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Line a strainer with a coffee filter or paper towels and place over medium bowl.

In a medium saucepan, heat whipping cream over medium-low heat until it reaches 190 degrees stirring often.

Once the cream reaches 190 degrees, bubbles should begin to form on the top. Add lemon juice and continue to stir. The cheese will remain a creamy consistency, but once it is thick enough to coat the spoon pour into strainer.

Let rest for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight until solid. Remove and enjoy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Infamous First Post

Ancho-Chili & Rosemary Spiced Pecans

 Through my day job as the Director of a YouthBuild program in Greensboro, Alabama I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with 52 at-risk students a year. Last year, I conducted a vertical marketing class with the students. I wanted them to develop a sellable product that utilized a local resource. One word they kept shouting 'pecans'! In Hale County there as many pecan trees as there are catfish in Alabama, so it was a perfect choice. The first thing we tried was Pecan Butter,that is right not Peanut Butter but Pecan Butter. It was a success and from there we never looked back creating a small business out of it in Pecans! ( I am developing a new gourmet line and have recently added Ancho-Chili & rosemary spiced pecans. They are a perfect snack and with a few quality ingredients and very little cooking time they are Gourmet Food, Simply Done.

Ancho Chili & Rosemary Spiced Pecans Recipe

Makes:  2 Cups
Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time:  15-20 minutes

2 cups pecan halves
1 egg whites
1 teaspoons water
1 1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons Ancho-Chili powder 
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 10x15 cookie sheet. 

Combine the water and egg whites in a small bowl, whip until frothy. Fold in pecans. 

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, Ancho-Chili, cumin, salt and pepper. Mix to combine. Toss in pecans and evenly coat with spices. 

Spread pecans evenly over the baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes and toss pecans in rosemary. Cook for the remaining 10 minutes, or until fragrant and slightly darkened in color. Let rest on a cooling rack.