Thursday, June 18, 2009


As a traveling consultant, I had a pretty sweet life. Life, and meals, on an expense account was pretty rad. Yes, rad. I got to have really great steak in Dallas, fantastically fresh produce and local cuisine in Corvallis (Oregon), great wine in Sacramento (close to Napa), and really badass flatbread in Orlando. Orlando, which is mostly known for being one giant tourist trap with tourist trap food, had some food gems if you scratched the surface and dug a little deeper.

A couple of my favorite restaurants in my entire traveling consultant career were in Orlando. There was Press 101 that had 8 or 9 daily soups, creative sandwiches, and a wide selection of salads. I loved this place. In addition to their soups, they had several flatbreads with creative toppings like shredded duck and caramelized onion, vegetable and cheese, and so many others that I unfortunately cannot remember. Another Orlando hotspot was Seasons 52. Their flatbread was actually better than Press's (though Press 101's soups and casual atmosphere brought me back to their establishment more often). Season 52's focus was on fresh and seasonably available produce that drove the items on their menu. One of the things they were well known for were their flatbreads. They had solid toppings such as vine-ripened tomatoes with basil and parmiggiano reggiano or roasted shrimp and herbs on a cracker thin flatbread. Oh man I miss those days.

Since it is technically summer and about this time a couple of years ago, I was enjoying a glass of wine on the outdoor patio of either Press 101 or Season's 52 with a slice of flatbread, I made some flatbread of my own at home. It's raining today so there will be no sitting on a sunny and hot patio with a glass of wine but I can try and replicate the food at the very least.

I made 2 flatbreads tonight for dinner: caramelized onion and goat cheese and a yellow zucchini with parmesan. The dough I used was thicker than the crisp crackers we had Florida. It was a refrigerated pizza dough. Do you gasp at me? Well, I'm kind of afraid of making bread and I really hate kneading and letting the dough rise so for a Thursday night, I went with the refrigerated dough from the store. Sue me. You can make your own pizza dough or you can roll out your favorite dough purchased from the store or a local pizzeria. Or you can buy the one that is already made AND rolled if it's a weekday night. The toppings are the true star anyway.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbread
2 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
3 tbs goat cheese
pizza dough - if you decide to roll your own pizza dough, roll the pizza dough into a 10 inch by 12 inch rectangle and it should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F, 200 degrees C. Line a tray cookie sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil. Set aside.

In a saute pan, melt the butter and olive oil together at medium heat. Add the onion slices and saute, stirring occasionally. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme and stir until the onions start to sizzle. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the onions cook down and caramelize, stirring frequently. The process is a bit slow but after about 15 to 20 minutes the onions will be soft and deep brown. When it reaches that point, add the sugar, saute for another 5 minutes then turn the heat off and let the onions cool.

To assemble the flatbread, lay the prepared and rolled pizza dough (however you see fit to do so) on the greased and foil lined cookie sheet. Take a fork and lightly poke holes throughout the dough. Spread the caramelized onions over the dough leaving a one inch border. Break up the goat cheese into little chunks (sounds pretty, eh?) and spread it evenly around the caramelized onions. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, cut with a pizza cutter or knife and serve!

Zucchini and Herb Flatbread
1/2 zucchini, golden or green, cut into very thin rounds. I tried to get them about 1/16th of an inch if possible but it's not rocket science. Just make sure they're even and thin.
1/2 tsp dried oregano - if you can find fresh use fresh, you can use about 1 tsp.
2 tbs grated parmesan, divided
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
pizza dough - if you decide to roll your own pizza dough, roll the pizza dough into a 10 inch by 12 inch rectangle and it should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F, 200 degrees C. Line a tray cookie sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil. Set aside.

To assemble the flatbrad, lay the pizza dough on the prepared cookie sheet and poke holes into it with a fork. To the dough, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and spread it around the dough with a pastry brush. Layer the zucchini slices onto the dough, overlapping half of the zucchini slice with another. Drizzle another teaspoon of olive oil over the zucchini slices and distribute it evenly with a pastry brush. Sprinkle the oregano over the zucchini, season the slices with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan over the vegetables.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. When it is done, remove the flatbread from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan, slice and serve.

Crikey, that was a long post! The end.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life Is Just a Chair of Bowlies

Does anyone remember that Mary Engelbreit book? This dessert reminds me of that book - light, simple, and cheerful. For the last couple of weeks I've seen and heard so much about these French clafoutis that I decided to give it a try. Cherries are in season (and imported from the US if that isn't irony kicking me in the pants) and available at most of the markets and in little fruit stands around the city. The rest of the recipe calls for pantry basics so I was able to put it together with great ease.

What is a clafoutis? To be honest, before I made the dessert I had no idea. I knew it had cherries usually but that's it. It turns out that a clafoutis is a mix between a custard and a souffle. The texture is dense and slightly mushy so it may not be popular with everyone. The top gets a little caramelized and is my favorite part as the cherries float to the top. Usually, the clafoutis is topped with some créme fraîche or whipped cream. I made a lightly whipped cream to go on ours. The recipe was great but I made a few adjustments. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 and it was still plenty sweet. I also reduced the amount of almond extract as I didn't want it to be overpowering. Traditionally, the cherry pits are left in the clafoutis. From what I hear, the pits when cooked with the cherries let out an intense almond flavor that really enhances the depth of the dish. However, Boyfriend tends to eat very fast and the last thing we need is yet another trip to the dentist to replace a broken tooth. So, I pitted mine but I am very curious to try it with the pits in.

Before I get on with the recipe, I have to say that pitting cherries without a pitter is a major pain in my behind. Also, it's not very productive. I have no control when it comes to cherries so for every couple of cherries I pitted, I treated myself to one. The process was slow and I ran the risk of eating all the cherries fresh. But if you have a pitter, you have some element of self control, and you like desserts of a different texture the cherry clafoutis is for you.

Cherry Clafoutis
Recipe adapted from Garrett McCord

2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
3 eggs
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of whole milk
2 teaspoons of Amaretto -or- 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 175 degrees C. Lightly butter and flour a 9X9 or 10X7 baking dish. Toss in the cherries and slivered almonds and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, sugars, and salt until smooth. Add the milk, almond and vanilla extracts and whisk again until smooth. Pour the batter over the cherries and the almonds and bake in the oven for about 40 - 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Mine took a little longer to reach that point - around 55 minutes. The clafoutis will be slightly jiggly and that's normal. The clafoutis will deflate as it cools.

Let the clafoutis cool until lukewarm and serve with some créme fraîche or whipped cream. I whipped 1/4 cup of whipping cream with 1 tbs of powdered sugar and 1/4 tsp of almond extract until very soft peaks formed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summertime Means Salad Time

Well for most places in the world. In the Soviet Oslo, the selection of produce doesn't change too much. Just because I can't fully enjoy the summer bounty like the rest of the civilized world doesn't mean that I'm not going to try. I've made several salads this spring and all have come out really tasty. I like to mix a lot of colors, textures, and flavors in a bowl and dress it simply with a homemade vinaigrette.

A couple of nights ago, I made a salad with strawberries, caramlized prosciutto and almonds in a balsamic vinaigrette. I had intended to make the roasted fennel and caramelized prosciutto salad I made a few weeks ago but all of the fennel I found in the three different stores I tried were mummified beyond recognition. At the last store, I realized we had a few strawberries in the fridge that were going to be past their prime in a few days so what better way to use them up? The result was a sweet, tangy, and salty salad that had a lot of texture. Since it's summertime for the rest of you in the world, go out there and make your own crazy salad combinations. Do it for me.

Strawberry and Caramelized Prosciutto Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 2

1 bag of your favorite prewashed salad mix OR 6 cups of washed, trimmed salad greens
5 slices of prosciutto
6 strawberries, sliced
2 tbs sliced almonds or toasted pine nuts
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Lay the slices of prosciutto flat onto the prepared baking sheet taking care not to let them overlap. Evenly distribute the brown sugar over the prosciutto slices. I like to just use my hands and sprinkle the sugar over the meat slices. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the brown sugar is melted and bubling and the prosciutto looks crisp and slightly shrunken. Take care not to let it burn as the sugar burns very easily.

While the prosciutto is baking, add the salad greens, strawberry slices, nuts, and red onion slices to a salad bowl.

Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar, salt, pepper and honey in a bowl. Whisk until well combined and the salt is dissolved. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking the dressing. Whisk the dressing until it is emulsified and thickened. Set aside.

When the prosciutto is done, take the tray out of the oven and let the prosciutto cool. It is ready when the sugar has hardenened and the prosciutto is cool enough to handle. Crumble the prosciutto slices into the salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our New Baby

Boyfriend and I would like to announce the newest addition to our kitchen. We recently purchased a Nespresso coffee machine. This little machine uses individual “bullets” of coffee to make your perfect cup every time. Ours is the simple version so we only have the option of espresso or the “lungho” which has more water. The Europeans might even go as far as to suggest it’s the American version that is big and weak. I know the French would. I’ve seen fancier machines that have a small container for milk so that you can steam milk and add it to the espresso to create your own cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos. Some other machines have a spout for tea. These people do not mess around with their caffeine intake!
The coffee itself comes in small, bullet shaped, sealed containers and is very finely ground. The coffee bullets come in a multitude of colors, each one indicating a different kind of bean and a different kind of coffee. Some are made specifically for espresso while others are meant for lunghi. Our favorites, being the weak-coffee preferring Americans that we are, are the golden yellow lungho bullets. The coffee is full flavored but not very acidic or bitter. It’s a middle-of-the-road coffee that goes great with breakfast.

The machine punctures the bullet, and runs hot water through the coffee for your perfect cup of joe. The machine is also smart enough to save your desired amount of water so that the next time you make the coffee, there is no need to hold down the button for more water if you so choose. It knows your setting. The only drawback is that it takes a couple of minutes to heat up the water and if you’re in a rush or going through caffeine withdrawal, those couple of minutes can feel like an eternity. However, if you weigh that against the time it takes to wash the pot, fill it with water, make the coffee and clean the pot again, you come out way ahead.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Beware - Healthy Post

Boyfriend and I have been less than healthy lately. We're working on it, though. We go for walks, we play the Wii, I plan to start running again (sometime) and I intend to buy some light weights for something to do while watching tv. In order to not let all our "hard work" go to waste, I have been trying to make more healthy, portion controlled dinners...and what's more healthy than salmon?
We had some Norwegian salmon in the refrigerator and I wanted to prepare it in a way that used little oil and was still flavorful and moist. I found a recipe for steaming the salmon in foil packets that looked very simple and used some pantry staples. It's super simple - you season the fish with salt and pepper, lay some capers and lemon slices on the fish and add some lemon juice and white wine to the foil packet. The fish steams inside the foil for about 10 minutes and comes out moist, flavorful, and super healthy. We had ours with some roasted potatoes and sautéed asparagus. You know how sometimes you eat a massive piece of cake, or half a giant sized bag of potato chips, or 2 ramen noodle packages at once (sometimes I crave salt! What of it?)...and it feels so good? Conversely, when you eat a meal that you know is very healthy and full of all the vitamins, nutrients, and essential oils that you know are good for you it feels so satisfying. That's what this meal felt like. More than how it tasted, what I remember is just feeling so good after eating it. I didn't feel snacky, wasn't craving a dessert, nor was I sluggish or sleepy. I just felt good. The next time you're in the mood to feel good, try this fast, easy and very satisfying meal.

Salmon Packets
Serves 4
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis

4 6 oz. salmon filets
8 lemon slices
4 tsp lemon juice
8 tbs white wine
4 tsp capers, drained
olive oil
salt and pepper

Lightly drizzle each salmon filet with a little bit of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place each filet onto a piece of foil big enough to fold over and seal. To the packet, add 1 tsp of lemon juice, 2 tbs white wine, 1 tsp of capers, and top the salmon with 2 slices of lemon. Fold the foil over and tightly wrap the package. Repeat for the remaining salmon filets.

Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill to medium heat. Pleace each packet on the grill pan. Cook the fish atop the pan for 10 minutes for each inch of fish. Our fish was slightly thicker than 1 inch so I cooked it for almost 20 minutes and it was slightly overdone. If your fish is thicker than 1 inch, cook it for about 12 to 15 minutes.
You can serve the fish right out of the foil packet but I put it atop the sautéed asparagus and drizzled a little bit of the juice from the foil packet on top.

Monday, June 1, 2009

2 Ways to Dress Up a Tarty Strawberry

I really do not like strawberries. I know, right? I'm as perplexed as you are. I want to like them, I really do. They are small, beautifully red, juicy and they smell so damned good. They are SO enticing sitting in their little cartons in the market and they tempt me with their fresh scent. Each time, I get roped into buying a carton and then I get so disappointed when I find they are tart and did not live up to the potential of their vibrant red color. They are such a tease! I do like strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream, strawberry sorbet, and macerated strawberries. I like strawberries as long as there's something else there to cut their natural tartness.

My cousin Lora and her friend Heather put on GREAT brunch buffets. They do such an awesome job they have been asked to cater many events. They always make elegant little finger foods and my favorite is their bowl of fresh strawberries. Wait - there's more. Next to the large bowl of beautiful, whole, tart strawberries is a bowl of sour cream and next to that a bowl of brown sugar. You dip each strawberry in the sour cream and then into the brown sugar. The sugar and the creaminess of the sour cream cut the tartiness of the strawberries and makes for the most perfect, fat and sugar laden bite. And it's really pretty, to boot.

I bought a carton of strawberries for some strawberry-lovin' guests who are visiting but they did not get eaten in time. I took inspiration from Lora and Heather and made a dip for the strawberries. While it didn't have the crunch from the brown sugar, the flavor was all there and we ate up the majority of the strawberries. With the remaining strawberries, I made a filled French toast this morning for breakfast. The French toast was mildly sweet, had just the tiniest hint of sour from the strawberries and lovely texture from the bread. Both these recipes were a good use of tart strawberries in case you end up buying a box of duds or if you're like me and you just don't like strawberries in that way. And by "that way," I mean naked.

Strawberries and Brown Sugar Dip
Serves 2

1 pint of fresh strawberries, cleaned
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbs brown sugar
Mix the sour cream and the brown sugar. Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Take the mixture out and stir to mix in the dissolved sugar. Serve with the bowl of strawberries for dipping.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Stuffed French Toast
Serves 2

4 slices of bread
2 tbs white chocolate chips
4 strawberries, cut into thin slices
2 strawberries for garnish
1 egg
1/3 cup skim milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Place half of the strawberry slices on one slice of bread. Spread 1 tablespoon of white chocolate chips over the strawberries and cover with a second slice of bread to make a sandwich. Repeat for the remaining slices of bread. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Heat 1 tsp of cooking oil or butter in a skillet to medium heat. Dip each sandwich, on both sides, into the egg and milk mixture. Transfer the sandwich to the hot skillet. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the side is golden brown. Flip and do the same for the other side.
Cut the garnish strawberries into thin slices, taking care not to cut all the way to the top. Fan out each strawberry over the French toast.

This dish is very mildly sweet. For us, it was just sweet enough but if you have a sweet tooth, you can dust it with powdered sugar or drizzle some maple syrup or honey ver the top.