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Monday, February 27, 2012

Homemade Cinnamon Apple-Pear Sauce (and How to Freeze It)

My kids absolutely love applesauce, but I rarely buy it because 1) I don't want any added sugar or preservatives when I serve my kids fruit, and 2) when you buy sugarless and preservative-free applesauce, it can get expensive.  When you throw organic into the mix (which we try to do whenever possible), you'd think you were paying for oil from the Middle East!  So a couple of weeks ago, I thought why not make it myself?  And then when I got to the grocery store, I found that pears were on sale, and grabbed some of those in addition to the apples.

It turns out that making your own applesauce is insanely easy.  And you can freeze it!  I made a big batch and froze half of it in a freezer Ball jar.  Next time, I'll have to make much more because both jars that I made disappeared in just a week!  Also, I think it would be much, much cheaper to make if you buy your apples and make it in the fall--better yet, take your kids out apple picking, and they'll do half the work for you!

Cinnamon Apple-Pear Sauce
Makes 4 cups
Cook's Notes: This can be scaled up or down to your preference.  I liked the ratio of two apples to one pear, but feel free to experiment!

6 large apples, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large pears, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place all of the ingredients in a pot.  Heat over medium heat until the juices release and start bubbling.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for about 20-30 minutes or until the pears and apples are soft.

Using a hand blender or a tabletop blender/food processor (in small batches), blend until smooth.  Let cool and either refrigerate or freeze, depending on when you'll use it.  It should last about a week in the refrigerator, but several months in the freezer.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Herbed Flatbread Pizza with Arugula, Sundried Tomato and Ricotta Salata

Earlier this week, I promised to tell you what I did with the flatbread I made for the Secret Recipe Club...and here it is!  It's based on a pizza that I absolutely loved to eat when I lived in Strasbourg, and I've
always wanted to recreate it.  When the bread came off of the grill, I realized that I had most of the ingredients in my kitchen to make it, so I did!  The one thing that was missing was actual truffles, but I did have some truffle oil that I sprinkled on top, and I think that did the trick without putting me into debt!  :-)

If you've never had salad on a pizza, you're missing out.  It's refreshing and filling at the same time...and only takes a few minutes to prepare.  This would really be a perfect light dinner or lunch during the hot summer months when making pizza in your oven sounds like a form of torture.

Herbed Flatbread Pizza with Arugula, Sundried Tomato and Ricotta Salata
Serves 1
Cook's Notes: If you don't have truffles or truffle oil, you can always substitute a little of the sundried tomato oil for the truffle oil to add a little more flavor.

1 portion of flatbread
1 cup arugula
1-2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1/8 cup ricotta salata, shredded
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Truffle oil, optional
Fresh parmesan cheese

If your flatbread is not fresh off the grill, place it under the broiler for a few minutes to warm up and crisp slightly.  Remove to a plate.

In a bowl, toss the arugula, sundried tomatoes, and ricotta salata.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil and toss to coat lightly. 

Place the salad on top of the flatbread and sprinkle a few drops of truffle oil and shred a little bit of parmesan cheese over the top.    Cut into manageable portions and enjoy!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Grilled Herbed Flatbread [Secret Recipe Club]

That's right, folks: Secret Recipe Club is back!  The SRC took a break last month, and I truly missed it!  If you recall, the organizers at SRC secretly assign each blogger another blog to cook from each month.  I love this way of discovering new blogs and recipes...and this month I was assigned Melissa's Cuisine.  Melissa is a newlywed in her early 20s who just decided to start cooking with more whole ingredients!  What better blogger to pair me with???  :-)  Although she has a ton of great recipes, I was immediately drawn to her relatively simple flatbread recipe.  I did make a couple of changes with flour and seasoning, but kept to the rest of her recipe.  It turned out great, and the whole family loved it.  She suggests serving it with dipping oil, which would be great, but I used it as a platform for recreating a pizza I used to eat in Strasbourg, which I'll post about later this week. And trust me...you don't want to miss that recipe!

Grilled Herbed Flatbread
Adapted from Melissa's Cuisine
Makes 4 large flatbreads
Cook's Notes: These can be made by hand as well as in your stand mixer.  I used my stand mixer, so the instructions are for that method.  For the hand-mixed method, see Melissa's recipe.

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 + 2 Tablespoons warm water
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons bouquet garni (or your favorite herb mix)

Sprinkle the yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Add the water and let stand for a few minutes until the yeast starts to bubble.  Stir in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt and flour and mix on low until the dough comes together.  Add the herbs.  Using your dough hook, knead the dough for about 5 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with a clean towel and set in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Deflate the dough by punching lightly with your fist.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  (At this point, you can put the dough in baggies and put it in the refrigerator to use on a different day.  If you do refrigerate the dough, take it out about 30 minutes before proceeding to the next step to let it come to room temperature.)

Place one of the balls on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until it becomes smooth and elastic again.  Let the dough rest for a few minutes.  Using your hands or a rolling pin, flatten the dough into disks about 1/8 or 1/4 inch in thickness.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle a little sea salt over the top.

Heat your grill over medium heat.  (I used a stovetop griddle.)  Place the flatbread, olive oil side down, on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes or until you can see golden grill marks.  Brush the other side with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Flip the bread and cook another few minutes until that side has golden grill marks as well. 

If using for dipping, cut into pieces and serve warm.  If saving for later use, let them cool on a cooling rack.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Valentine's Day Feast: Brown Butter, Sage and Pine Nut Squash Ravioli with Beef Tenderloin

If you've been following the blog on Facebook over the past few days, you'll have heard of my family's Valentine's Day tradition.  It all started 10 years ago on my second date with my husband, which conveniently landed on Valentine's Day.  He thought that a nice dinner out might be too much for a second date, so he invited me to his house for dinner, where he made me Fettucine Alfredo alla Romana and bruschetta.  Ten years later, we still celebrate Valentine's Day by making a special dinner at home.  A couple of years ago, we started including my daughter in the preparations, and last night my 22-month-old son stirred the pot for the first time.

We love this tradition, and will continue it in the future (although we may give up celebrating on Valentine's Day on the actual day when it falls on a weekday...it was tough making a special dinner with two little ones after work!).  Last night we were inspired by a package of squash-filled ravioli we found at a local store.  This entire dinner came together in under 45 minutes, but the flavor seemed like it took much, much longer!  I served the ravioli with slices of beef tenderloin with a red wine butter sauce (from my cookbook I received from my husband yesterday morning (!), Avec Eric).  The ravioli was really the star of the show, though.  (Sorry, Chef Ripert!)  ;-)  The sauce is buttery (duh!) and savory, while the pasta is soft and pillowy, and the pine nuts add a much needed semi-crunchy texture to the whole dish.

Because I was out of town over the weekend, and because it was a weeknight, I completely forgot dessert, but luckily, one of my favorite sweet shops in town, Karamel Kreations, was open at 4:55pm when I realized we didn't have any dessert...and I snagged the last box of chocolate-covered strawberries!  Yum!

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Brown Butter, Sage and Pine Nut Squash Ravioli
Serve 4-6

Cook's Notes: This dish can be used as a side, but also is great as a vegetarian main dish.  If you cannot find squash-filled ravioli, try a cheese-filled version.

4 tablespoons pine nuts
1 package squash- or pumpkin-filled ravioli, fresh or dried
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dried sage, or a few fresh sage leaves, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons beef stock
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Set a large pot of water to boil.  While the water is coming to a boil, toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat until golden, stirring often so the nuts don't burn.  Place in a small bowl and set aside.

If using dried ravioli, start the brown butter sauce once you've put the ravioli in to cook.  If using fresh pasta, start the sauce about 10 minutes before putting the pasta in to cook.  In a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  When the butter starts to brown on the edges, add the shallots.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the butter is a deep golden brown.  Add the sage and stir to combine.  Add the white wine and stir to combine.  Add the beef stock and stir to combine.  Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.  If the sauce is too savory, add a little more lemon juice to your taste.

When the pasta is done cooking according to the package directions, add the drained pasta to the sauce.  Pour the pine nuts over and toss gently to coat.  Serve immediately with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. 

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Eating in Vienna, Austria: Part One

Secession Building, Vienna

As you all know, I was able to spend 18 days in Central Europe in January.  My husband was teaching a college course there, and I went along to help.  We spent half of our time in Vienna, a city that I am lucky to visit often.  My husband lived there for a year during grad school, so knows the ins and outs of the city, including where to get delicious food off the beaten path.  Even after several trips there, though, I'm still discovering new places

One of our favorite restaurants is Horvath.  Unfortunately my pictures from our anniversary dinner there didn't turn out, but I highly recommend their food: it's always been delicious and seasonal and won't break the bank.  It's located very near the Naschmarkt (large open-air market) and is easy to get to.

Before sharing some of my other favorite spots, though, I'd love to share a few non-food-related pictures (taken during the summer of 2011 and January 2012):

Riesenrad, Vienna
Inside of St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna
Haus des Meeres, Vienna (built in a WWII anti-aircraft tower)
Karlskirche, Vienna
Ever since my first visit to Vienna, my husband had talked about Buffet Trzešniewski, a small cafe that serves one thing: open-faced egg salad sandwiches.  It wasn't until last summer on my third or fourth trip to the city, though, that I actually tried them...it just sounded a little weird to me.  But I'm so glad I did!  These aren't just any ol' egg salad sandwiches, but flavored with items that Americans might find strange.  Pickles, salmon, spicy peppers, mushrooms, herring...the list goes on and on.  And the flavors, although strange to an American palate, actually work.

The eatery is conveniently located about a block from St. Stephan's Cathedral, but is very, very tiny.  There are a couple of sit-down tables inside, but most people stand at the handful of tall tables scattered inside and out.  If you're thinking of going and don't know much German, it would be helpful to take a look at the menu online and write down what you want--or you could be adventurous and just choose randomly!  :-)  It's helpful to know what you want, though, because you order at a counter, and most people are in a hurry.

Once you've ordered your sandwiches, you order your drink and pay.  You'll receive a token for your drink, which you take over to the bar.  The most common drinks ordered are fresh-pressed orange juice and beer.  Besides being so unique, the best thing about this place is that it's cheap!  I think I got three sandwiches and orange juice for about five Euros...not a common feat in Vienna.

Another great option for a quick, but filling lunch in Vienna is a sausage stand.  I've been to many, but thanks to December 2011's Bon Appetit Magazine, I found a snazzy new one with fantastic sausages: Bitzinger. It's located near the Opera...very easy to get to for tourists.

I always order the Käsekrainer sausage, a pork sausage with cheese inside...the oozy cheese gets me every time!  Bitzinger servers their sausages with a healthy dollop of spicy mustard and a slice of fresh brown bread.  Beer is available on tap as well as soft drinks, wine, and champagne!  It's not as cheap as other sausage stands in Vienna, but the quality is a step up.

Typically, you eat on the go or standing up around the stands...here is a picture of my husband finishing his lunch:

We discovered another new restaurant during our last trip, a self-described Jewish/Asian/International restaurant called Bahur Tov.  It's a little out of the way, but I think I may have had the best hummus I've ever eaten there--creamy and flavorful with a spicy pepper salsa laid on top.  I'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but there was not a drop left of the cold eggplant salad they served.  The prices were reasonable, and the staff friendly.

After a long day of sightseeing, you may be exhausted and need a break.  That's where the Palmenhaus comes in handy.  It's a large cafe that serves anything from coffee and cakes to a full menu located in part of the Hofburg palace's garden greenhouse from the early 1900s.  It's very near the palace (obviously), but also to some of the main museums.  The space is light and airy and just plain relaxing.

Although we go there mostly for coffee, tea and desserts, they usually have an affordable lunch menu (daily special) that is decent.  The cakes are delicious, though, and worth a taste!

Because Vienna is such an international city, it's chock-full of interesting eateries.  Have you been there?  Where's your favorite place for a bite?

Hamburgerstraße 2
Vienna, Austria
Monday-Friday, 8:00am-12:00am
Saturday, 10:00am-12:00am
Sunday, 10:30am-3:00pm

Buffet Trzešniewski
Dorotheergasse 1
Vienna, Austria
Monday-Friday, 8:30am-7:30pm
Saturday, 9:00am-5:00pm

Augustinerstraße 1
Vienna, Austria
Daily 8:00am-4:00pm

Bahur Tov
Taborstraße 19
1020 Vienna
Monday-Thursday, 11:00am-10:30pm
Sunday, 11:30am-10:30pm

Location: Next to the Burggarten on the Burgring/Opernring
Hours vary depending on season

**Click here for Part II of my series about eating in Vienna!

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