Aside

Actually, it is easy being green

I love spring. It means that summer is on its way. In Denver, spring often brings giant, messy, wet snowstorms in March and part of April, but here we are at the end of March and it feels like early summer already.

I’ve seen crabapple and cherry trees blooming; and can smell the flowers from twenty feet away. The days are noticeably longer and much warmer. Spring puts me in the mood for bright, fresh flavors. This time of year, when I begin to spend more time outdoors and less time keeping a watchful eye on the oven, I look for meals that are flavorful, filling, and fast.

Salads are an easy spring/summer dinner and the combinations are truly endless. Growing up, we ate a lot of iceberg lettuces salads, with halved cherry tomatoes, squares of green bell pepper, and cool, crunchy discs of cucumber. Preparing dinner for a family of seven, we made big salads and always had a few options for salad dressings within reach.

I have never been a fan of ranch dressing. I know this may alienate some of you, but I do not get the appeal. For a long time, I would just eat salads dry. I couldn’t find a dressing I really liked. I’ve made ranch dressing a few times, from scratch, not a Hidden Valley Ranch envelope, and haven’t been convinced.

These days, the salads served at my parents’ house are pared down and grown up. Mixed greens, homemade dressings, and varied vegetables make it into the bowl.

In Bon Appetit magazine’s April 2012 issue, Meryl Rothstein penned a story about parsley, with an easy recipe for White Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio, page 49. The dressing for the salad is parsley vinaigrette. I was intrigued. I like parsley, but I’ve never used it in a salad dressing. The ingredients nearly sang out to me: flat leaf parsley, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, champagne vinegar, garlic, and salt and pepper. Bright, vibrant, and simple ingredients turned into a gorgeous salad dressing – perfect with the tuna and radicchio, it tastes like spring.

I made the salad, dressing included in less than 15 minutes. I made a few changes to the salad. I omitted the celery because I don’t like celery. If you do like it, I encourage you to put it in your salad, mine definitely lacked crunch. I used a spring mix containing red and green Romaine, Mizuna, red and green chard, baby spinach, frisee, arugula and radicchio.

I still have the jar of dressing left, and I think I’ll make the salad tomorrow for lunch. Maybe for dinner I’ll roast some halibut and spoon the dressing over it. If you get a chance, head over to Bon Appetit and check out their other dressing recipes, or on page 88 of the magazine. You may never buy bottled again.

Happy Spring!

Photos, top to bottom: the finished salad, my leftover dressing, and the ingredients in my mini chopper. You should use whole parsley stems.

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(Twitter Takes The) Olive Oil Cake

I learned about olive oil cake a couple of years ago, and have always been intrigued by various descriptions. I’ve never been someone who craved dessert. I’m happy with a piece of fruit or nothing at all after dinner. Olive oil cake isn’t overly sweet, and the sweetness you do experience is bright and laced with citrus.

I looked for awhile until I came up with a recipe I was willing to put any effort into. I was especially drawn to recipes calling for citrus zest and almonds. I tried a few out, and liked The Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe the most.

While I was baking the first two tries (different recipes) I was also tweeting about my experience and frustration with the cakes. (Tweeting and baking go hand in hand…all this spare time on my hands waiting for my cakes to bake…what else was I going to do?)

Neither an avid nor particularly good baker, I knew I had to be doing something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly. I retraced my steps. Did I forget anything? Did I add something I wasn’t supposed to?

In my flurry of frustrated tweets came a possible answer, in the form of “unsolicited advice”. It was truly a godsend. The owner of Hi*Rise, a locally owned bakery near the ballpark was offering me advice. You better believe I took it. They bake hundreds of bagels a day. Their biscuits are to die for. (I like the one with spicy chorizo.)

He suggested I halve the baking powder. That’s it. I have to admit I was skeptical. There is no way that could make such a difference. I am here to tell you there is a way, and it is the right way. I’ve made this cake about six times in the past month, and it is perfect every time.

Remember, I am not a “dessert person”. So I just have a slice of this for breakfast with coffee.

If you have a chance, go say hi to the nice people at Hi*Rise.

And one more thing, halve the baking powder! (You just need one teaspoon, trust me.)

The photos top to bottom are the cake cooling; the cake right before serving dusted with powdered sugar; and the batter (I’d recommend following the recipe and actually chopping the almonds, I spaced out and it was too late!).

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Game Day Turkey Chili

Comfort food makes winter nights bearable. Sunshine is at a premium, the cold and dark take over and often makes us homebound – and hungry.

One of my favorite go-to dinners on cold nights is chili. It’s an easy dinner to make and – bonus! – make enough, and you have leftovers for dinner and lunch throughout the week.

Today was one of those Sundays. You know when it strikes you that your week is os full of work, social engagements, and more work. The obvious solution is to cut back on the social engagements, but this week I have a fun happy hour, a class at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and one of my best friend’s birthdays! Keeping all of that in mind, I hit the grocery store, stocked up on veggies and healthy-ish snacks for the week and settled into the kitchen for a night of chili making.

This particular Sunday was also the now-famous Broncos-Steelers game. I had friends at the game and watching the game; I had decided to avoid watching – I always get sucked in, and I think most Steelers fans are annoying. Making a pot of chili was the perfect way to spend my evening.

When I was growing up my mom made really good chili. She used beef, red kidney beans, chili powder, onions – the usual. It is always delicious. I will never forget the time she used really spicy chilies – to this day she can’t recall if they were chipotles or jalapenos – and our unseasoned palates just couldn’t take it. We tried everything; ice, more diced tomatoes, sour cream, milk, extra cheese, more ground beef. Eventually, we persevered and finished the chili.

It should be noted that all the Moran kids (now adults!) grew up to be enthusiastic eaters. Thirty years passed before deciding I liked asparagus. Now, I can’t wait until spring. I’m convinced if my younger sister, Jenn, tries it in different ways, she will also love it.

The following is my turkey chili recipe. It’s adapted from Whole Foods Market recipe, which I used mainly for measurements and flavor profile. I like to use turkey because it’s leaner and has a lighter flavor than beef. If you’re a chili purist (or jerk), feel free to use beef.

Game Day Turkey Chili

(Yes, Denverites, you may call it Tebow Chili)

Serves 4-6

1 T canola oil

1 pound lean ground turkey breast

1 medium red (or yellow, if that’s what you have) onion, chopped

1 medium jalapeno, stemmed, (not cored – the seeds have the heat!), and chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium yellow, orange, or red pepper (Use green if that’s what’s available and affordable, I just like the color presentation.), diced

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 C tomato sauce (I used leftover marinara I had in the fridge.)

2 t chili powder

1-2 t sea salt, or to taste

1/8 t cayenne pepper

1/8 t paprika (smoked is a nice touch, if you have it on hand)

1 15-ounce can white kidney beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

Garnishes (optional):

Grated cheddar cheese

Chopped green onion

Sour cream

Preparation:

Heat oil in over medium heat a large pot or Dutch oven (4 quart works well). Add onions, peppers, and garlic to pan and heat through until onions are translucent and peppers are soft, about five minutes.

Add ground turkey, breaking up with a wooden spoon or sturdy, heat-proof spatula. Brown until meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add whole can of tomatoes, and tomato sauce, if using. (The tomato sauce is optional. You could add water or broth, if you don’t have tomato sauce or pasta sauce around.)

Add chili powder, salt, cayenne, and paprika. Bring to a simmer. (Taste your chili at this point. If you need more salt, add a little at a time.)

Cover and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally Stir in the beans and cook another five minutes to cook through.

Optional: Serve chili with grated cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and/or sour cream. I like mine plain.

This chili is great the day you make it, and even better the next day.

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#pieformikey

Chocolate cookie crust, melted chocolate, and chopped peanuts.

I’ve never met Jennie Perillo. I follow her on Twitter and have shared a few back and forth messages over the past six months. The beauty of social media – and there is something beautiful about it, I promise – is having the opportunity to connect with people you may never meet in person. For instance, Jennie resides in Brooklyn, and I am inDenver. We are not exactly neighbors.

Earlier in the week, Jennie posted that “he was gone” and her heart was shattered into a million pieces. I knew she meant her beloved husband, Mikey. I didn’t know if that meant he left…? Did they have a fight? Jennie’s a strong, smart woman, I figured she and her husband would be able to work things out.

A day later, she posted this http://www.injennieskitchen.com/2011/08/one-last-dance.html, a sweet and short video of a father dancing with his barefoot daughter in the kitchen. And that’s when I knew what happened.

Mikey had died of a massive heart attack. He was young, a father of two young girls and the husband of a woman who adores him. I was at a loss. I’d never met this woman. I couldn’t bake lasagna and take it over to her house. I felt truly helpless. I left her a message on her blog, offering my condolences along with hundreds of her readers and fellow food bloggers.

This morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I kept seeing the hashtag #apieformikey. And then I found her touching post – a humble request. For all of us wanting to help Jennie, she asked us to make her husband’s favorite dessert, Creamy Peanut Butter Pie, the one she promised him she’d make soon and kept putting it off. They have two young daughters and worked full time jobs. Mikey’s pie wasn’t a priority. Spending time together was. Go read Jennie’s post today, recalling her last date with her husband.

Jennie’s recipe: http://www.injennieskitchen.com/2011/08/for-mikey.html

And if you have time, make the pie. Share it with those you love. Raise a slice to Mikey.

A note: I don’t have a springform pan, so I used a regular pie plate. I also have a weird “thing” about stuff on top of a cream pie. I just like to have the crust and the filling. Read through Jennie’s recipe, if you want to add the melted chocolate to the top of the pie, by all means, please do so. Enjoy.

Finished Pie

Start Your Day Right — Iced Coffee

Summer is here! We had the rainiest month of May ever, and the green grass and gorgeous blooms were a great reward many soggy days.

My perfect summer morning is spent outside, reading the newspaper or a book and drinking iced coffee. Sometimes I even plan world domination.

The best thing about iced coffee is that you don’t even have to use your coffee machine. And if you don’t have a coffee machine, this is even better news for you!

 

What You Need:

1 cup ground coffee (I use a medium grind)

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 cups cold water

1 qt jar or pitcher with a lid

Long handled spoon

Sieve

Make It Happen:

Pour the coffee, sugar and cinnamon into the jar. (If you don’t normally sweeten your coffee, as I don’t, I urge you to try this recipe anyway. The sugar and cinnamon are not overwhelming – but gives the coffee some great depth.) Add the cold water. Stir until well blended. Place the lid securely on the jar or pitcher and either leave on the counter or in the fridge overnight. I’d say about 8-12 hours is the max.

When it’s ready, take off the lid and give it another stir. Pour the coffee through the sieve into another container – a 4-cup measuring cup works well if you have it. If you don’t, just use a mixing bowl. I like to pour the coffee through a sieve twice, just to make sure I’ve gotten as many of the grounds as possible out of the coffee.

To serve, fill a glass with ice and pour the coffee over. Add milk if you like. Don’t be surprised if you drink the whole jar in one day.

Mother’s Day Marmalade

I am not a particularly sentimental person. Until I start thinking about food – and then the emotion I attach to everything I eat, or could eat, becomes very obvious and sentimental, indeed.

I’ve always enjoyed feeding people. I don’t know exactly where this comes from, though my best guess is that it comes from a long lineage of people who like to eat. In my family, we gather in the kitchen. It’s where we’re most comfortable, safe and within an arm’s reach of the wine fridge.

My mom reigns over her kitchen, as she should. I always feel welcome there, except on my birthday when I get kicked out every year for offering to help with dinner. A couple times a year, I get to shoo my mom from the kitchen and cook for the family. It’s a fun, time-consuming process, and I am most happy when I am alone in the kitchen with my thoughts and a sharp knife.

For Mother’s Day this year, I didn’t finish planning the menu until a few hours before we ate, but it was a great success. We had a cedar planked salmon, basil pesto and pasta, haricot verts and for dessert I made vanilla bean panna cotta with lemon marmalade. I have never made panna cotta before in my life. I am not sure what caused my sudden obsession with gelatin, but lemon and vanilla are two of my favorite flavors, and for a spring dessert I knew they would be perfect. Bon Appétit magazine’s May issue boasted a spread of Italian desserts, including the panna cotta.

You can find the recipe for both here:

A couple of things to keep in mind and someone who has “been there”: Making the marmalade a couple of days in advance gives you not only something to do on a Friday night, but the time you need to focus just on the panna cotta the day you plan to serve it. When I make the panna cotta again – and I will – I will decrease the amount of gelatin used by ½. I prefer a softer dessert and the one I presented to my appreciative mother on Sunday was a bit too firm.

Every time I make this marmalade, I’ll think back to the first time I made it, on a Friday night, drinking beer and listening to Mumford & Sons at a very high volume. I’ll remember the way the scent of lemons filled the entire kitchen and that my hands smelled like fresh lemons for a good day and a half afterwards.

I’ll remember the expression on my mom’s face on Sunday, when after looking at the recipe, she turned to me and said, “You know, if you don’t want to make the marmalade, we can just use strawberries with dessert,” and I presented her with the already made marmalade. I know she was happy I had made the effort.

And really, isn’t that what Mother’s Day is all about?

Finished marmalade, cooling.

Hog Wild….Cochon 555 comes to Denver

Save the pigs…eat them! I’m headed to Cochon 555 Denver at the Ritz-Carlton this Sunday, April 3, for Kitchen Raised – eating, drinking and writing my way through a pig lover’s paradise.

Five Colorado chefs: Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant, Denver; Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail; Frank Bonanno of Osteria Marco, Denver;  Lachlan Mackinnon of Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder; and Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja/Euclid Hall, Denver will take part in a friendly competition preparing a five 175-pound heritage breed hog from head to toe.

Head to toe cooking is not a new concept. It is however, becoming more well-known as butchers, chefs and consumers are looking for ways to waste less and bring new tastes to the table. By consuming heritage breed hogs, the demand for these animals will go up, helping farmers continue the animal’s bloodlines and continue providing for the consumer.

The breeds we’ll taste on Sunday are Swabian Hall, Hereford, Berkshire, Mulefoot and Red Wattle. I have never tasted heritage pork before, so the information I am presenting to you is based on what Cochon 555 provides on their website.

Later this week, I will be talking to Shannon Duffy of Tender Belly, the company providing all the pigs for this Sunday’s event. Shannon and his brother, Erik, are Berkshire pork purveyors and make some amazing bacon! I can’t wait to share with you what Shannon has to say about this event.

Swabian Hall is a breed from Germany and has a good reputation among foodies for its dark meat and a strong distinct flavor.

The Hereford breed is rare, but also well-known. These hogs resemble Hereford cows, with a reddish brown coat and white face. Herefords are known for their calm dispositions and their ability to thrive in pastures. It is a slower growing breed, and yields a rich colored marbled meat.

Berkshires come to us by way of Britain, and are the most popular of the heritage breeds. It is a black pig with white legs and is known as “Kurobuta” in Japan, and is a favorite breed among chefs because of its intramuscular marbling. The meat is brighter than most others and features a thick, delicious fat cap. (Um, is anyone hungry yet?) The meat is sweet and creamy with hints of nuttiness.

The critically rare Mulefoot breed is a black hog named for its solid hoof, like a mule. The Mulefoot recently won a blind taste test against eight different heritage breeds. The Mulefoot’s disposition is docile, and its weight gain is between 400 and 600 pounds before age 2. This breed is known for its premium hams and superior tasting meat, which is red with freckled marbling.

Last but not least is the Red Wattle, named for its red color and the fleshy skin that hangs under its jowl. This extremely rare breed adapts to climates well and is an excellent forager. Prized for its tender meat and hams, the Red Wattle is lean and juicy with its meat’s texture and taste similar to beef.

Attendees will get to sample pork dishes from the chefs as well as wines from five wineries. They’ll also get to help choose the “King or Queen of Porc”, watch a whole pig breakdown demonstration, and taste a whole roasted heritage breed pig and dessert.

Brady Lowe, event founder said, “…Pork-avores from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco get a chance to discover incredible breeds of pigs and family-run wineries.” Lowe created the event in response to a lack of consumer education around heritage breeds. He believes that by educating the consumer about heritage breed pigs, they’ll in turn make more-informed decisions around food purchasing and their overall health.

If you love pig – and all of you bacon freaks know I’m talking to you, then this is your event. Tickets to this Sunday’s event are $125. If you’re interested, purchase tickets here.