Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back on Track...the Elvis Smoothie

So haven't been around the blogosphere much recently. A new job and travel schedule have gotten in the way. I've felt guilty though, knowing there are two or three of you who check this silly thing out pretty regularly. Motivated by a conversation with a reader and good friend yesterday, I'm going to try and do better.

And blogging more regularly is not the only thing I'm trying to do better. The above-mentioned job and travel have also gotten in the way of eating more healthily and losing a few pounds. But I'm back on track with that also. Six small meals/snacks during the day. Lots of fruits and vegetables. No alcohol. (At least for a week...we'll see.)

So when I wanted something sweet the other night before bed, I couldn't reach for a piece of pecan toffee. Made a smoothie inspired by a decadent favorite of Elvis Presley's. Threw a banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, a scoop of chocolate protein powder and some ice into the blender and voila...a yummy smoothie that was a perfect substitute for a more guilt-inducing dessert. Try it and see what you think...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Baked Ricotta with Herbs

I've probably mentioned before that the cocktail hour is an important time at our house. Not so much because it involves alcohol (although that can be nice), but because it's a time to relax and come down from the stresses of the day. I always like to have a nibble and a glass of something. Helps fortify one for dinner preparation, an evening at the computer, or worse...a night of doing laundry.

Most of the time, the food is nothing more than some olives or nuts or maybe some cheese. Here's a recipe that kicks things up a notch. Pop open some bubbly or a fruity red wine and you might never even get to dinner...

Baked Ricotta with Herbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to coat ramekin
1 pound fresh soft ricotta cheese
alt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, whatever you like)
Grilled or toasted bread or crackers

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a 4-cup ceramic crock or souffle dish.

In a medium bowl, stir the cheese with a fork and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the herbs. Pack the cheese into the crock and drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until warm and slightly quivery, about 15 minutes. Serve with bread or crackers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fennel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

It's not quite time to retire the grill for the summer. Why not try this simple, wine-friendly recipe for pork tenderloin? With a little wild rice and a green salad on the side, you've got a meal fit for a king...a grill king.

Fennel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 3-4

1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed (I use a mortar and pestle.)

Heat grill to medium-high. Coat the pork tenderloin with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder and crushed fennel seeds. Make sure tenderloin is coated all over.

Cook on the hottest part of the grill, turning to brown all sides. Move to coolest part of grill (or reduce heat) and continue cooking until meat thermometer inserted in tenderloin registers 145 degrees. Remove from gill and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. (You can also brown tenderloin in a skillet and then finish by baking in a 400 degree oven.)

Wine Pairing: This cries out for a earthy "dirty" wine. Try a South African Syrah or a Italian Sangiovese and see what you think...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More Environmental Tips

I've missed a couple of Wednesdays, but wanted to give you some more easy ideas on ways you could help the environment.

  • Use the microwave. Next time you bake a potato, nuke it. It takes less time and takes less energy than if you're using an electric stove at 400 degrees for an hour or so.

  • Wash with cold water if you can. Not all clothes need to be washed in hot water. As a matter of fact, it can be bad for them-wears them out sooner. So use the coolest settings you can on your washing machine. And never wash less than a full'll conserve water that way.

  • Let your computer sleep. Or better yet, turn it off. I know you leave it on so you can check this blog on an hourly basis, but, if you turn your computer off overnight or while you're out during the day, you'll save an enormous amount of electricity.

  • Fill your freezer. Your deep freeze works best full. So hit the warehouse store and stock up on things you can freeze. But make sure you leave space between items in the fridge. It lets air circulate more efficiently.

Those are easy, huh? Adopt one or two and you'll be doing your part. Stay tuned for more next week...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad

Autumn is fast-approaching. (Or at least we can pretend it is as we endure a few more days in the 90's.) So how about a salad that incorporates roasted fruit? And the dressing uses verjus, a tart grape juice made from unripe wine grapes. It's more wine-friendly than dressings made with vinegar. That makes this recipe the perfect pairing with a Pinot Noir. Try it and see if I'm not right....

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme Verjus Dressing
Makes 8 servings.
From Bon Appetit magazine

1/3 cup verjus or 3 tablespoons white grape juice and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Pears and salad
3 bunches fresh thyme sprigs
4 ripe, but firm Bartlett pears (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved, cored
1/4 cup honey
1 head of butter lettuce, coarsely torn
4 ounces baby arugula
6 ounces blue cheese, sliced or coarsely crumbled
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

To make dressing, whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare pears and salad, preheat oven to 400°F. Scatter thyme sprigs on rimmed baking sheet. Place pear halves, cut side down, on work surface. Starting 1/2 inch from stem and leaving pear half intact, cut each lengthwise into scant 1/3- to 1/2-inch-wide slices. Press pear gently to fan slices; place atop thyme sprigs. Drizzle pears with honey; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until pears are tender, about 15 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Combine lettuce and arugula in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide salad among plates. Place pear alongside greens. Garnish salads with cheese; sprinkle with nuts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not Your Mom's Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is not easy to make. It takes a good cook with great instinct to keep the oil at just the right temperature. A mistake can lead to a burned crust, undercooked chicken, or both. Over the years, I've learned how to do it, but sometimes I want fried chicken without all the effort. Here's a recipe that accomplishes just that. It's so good I served it at the wine dinner I hosted in August. I used breast tenderloins and cut into bite-sized pieces. Just reduced the cooking time some. It was a wonderful nibble to enjoy with a glass of sparkling wine.

Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken
Makes 6 servings.

1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large onion, sliced
12 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and drumsticks) with skin and bones

1 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Whisk buttermilk, oil, hot pepper sauce, mustard, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend well. Add onion, then chicken and turn to coat. Cover; chill at least 3 hours or up to 1 day, turning chicken occasionally.

Place racks on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Whisk breadcrumbs, cheese, flour, thyme, paprika, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt in large baking dish to blend. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing excess to drip off. Add chicken to breadcrumb mixture and turn to coat completely.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, on racks on baking sheets. Let stand 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle butter over chicken. Bake until crisp, golden and cooked through, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.