Sunday, May 27, 2012

Salted Caramel Roast Nut Tart

Being home this past week in Oregon has been absolutely lovely. Between spending lots of time with my newly retired parents, catching up on my own wedding planning, and taking part in fun wedding activities with my beautiful friend Jade (she got married yesterday!), I didn't even mind the wet, rainy weather that's been pouring down around me. In fact, I've kind of enjoyed it, because it made all those activities feel slightly more cozy; snuggled inside protected against the cold pitter-patter of the open air. This past weekend my friends and I threw Jade a bridal shower and I agonized for a brief period of time about what to make. Jade is a gluten-free lady, so I knew I wanted to make a dessert with nuts and incorporate nuts into the crust of the dish. It was only a few hours later (what can I say, I'm a bit slow) that the heavens parted and I realized that caramel was gluten-free. Huzzah! And the salted caramel roasted nut tart was born. It was my first expedition into gluten-free baking, and while the crust was a bit fluffier than the gluten-rich tart crusts I'd made before, it tasted just as wonderful as any of the others. Everyone loved the tart and took home pieces to eat again later. We also had second helpings while we were there, because we were having such a good time that the bridal shower ended up lasting about eight hours (yep, we ladies like to chat). I've listed options in the ingredients for making a gluten-free and gluten-rich version, (basically, you can use 3/4 cup rice flour or regular flour), so that everyone can partake no matter what their gluten preference may be. You will also have a bit extra salted caramel sauce left over, (about 1/3 cup) which I recommend saving and drizzling over ice cream or any of your other favorite treats. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

McCormick Dinner Party Chain: Cuban Shrimp Bruschetta, Coq au Vin, Blackberry Cardamom Pavlova, and a McCormick Giveaway!

Last weekend I hosted a dinner party for some friends at my new abode as a part of McCormick's Dinner Party Chain. McCormick, the wonderful company most of my spice cabinet comes from, is giving away the chance to host your dream dinner party and the chance to attend the Food Network awards in New York city!!! Simply click on the link here or above and follow the instructions on McCormick Gourmet's Facebook page, (which are basically to describe the theme and the food at your dream dinner party, nice and easy, right?) You're welcome to share your thoughts, comments, and any dinner party photos of your own on the McCormick Gourmet Facebook page as well! When you do, make sure to use the #GoGourmet hashtag to help others find your dinner party.

For the party, I decided to make a Cuban-style Shrimp Bruschetta as an appetizer since the weather has been so admirable, and citrus-laced seafood always pairs well with the heat. I chopped up some avocados and fresh cilantro and tossed them with lime juice, then settled them on the toasted baguette slices along with the Cuban-seasoned & lime-marinated shrimp. It was a cinch to make, and had the most pleasant summery taste about it. The Cuban seasoning paired perfectly with the lime, avocado, and fresh cilantro, and the toasted baguette slices made it easy to eat and share (aka no forks necessary, which is great for me because our new place doesn't have a dishwasher so I'm washing everything by hand). I am excited to start grilling in the backyard so I can use the Cuban seasoning on other novel creations, like steak, corn on the cob, or mahi-mahi...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Date, Fig, & Almond Cake with Sea Salt {Gluten-Free}

I'm hosting a big dinner party this weekend as a part of the McCormick Dinner Party Chain, and have been prepping my apartment non-stop all week. I know it seems kind of ridiculous that I am still unpacking after a month and a half, but I also have a ridiculous amount of stuff. And I might have had the crazy idea to build my own entertainment center, coffee table, dining table, and bookshelf...all while still unpacking. Yep, I'm clearly clinically insane. That or a sadist. But luckily, I'm also a workaholic, so I was able to put the finishing touches on a lot of these tasks while Jeremy was away for work this past week (with my tall blonde distraction gone I had to pass my after-work time somehow, and for some reason woodworking seemed like the perfect fit. My brain works in strange ways.) Also, my plants are exploding. Not literally, but they're getting too big for the yogurt containers I started them in so there's been a lot of transplanting going on. So that's been my week: cleaning, sanding, staining, gardening and organizing. I'm going be posting about the dinner party next weekend, so between the million tasks I created for myself, I needed to fit in the time to make something for this weekend's post. Something simple, easy, and tasty. And that's where this cake came into play. I'd seen slices of dried fig and almond cake for sale at Whole Foods wrapped up and on display by the fancy cheeses, and looking through the ingredients I realized it was pretty much almonds, pureed dried figs, and vanilla. I'm in love with dates (they're nature's caramels, don't you know?) and thought their soft and gooey texture would go great in the dried fig cake, too. And because dates and figs are incredibly sweet, I sprinkled in some some Greek sea salt to create a nice, contrasting salty crunchy crunch in every bite. All I did was puree the figs and flavorings, mix it all up with the dates, salt, and almonds, press it into the cake pan, let it dry overnight, press on some sliced almonds, and it looked pretty good. Not as beautiful as a frosted cake, but elegant in a bare-bones kind of way. Plus, it tasted wonderrrrrrful, which more than makes up for it's simple appearance. Seriously delicious, and a great accompaniment for fancy cheeses.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Greek Macaroni & Cheese with Roast Garlic, Caramelized Leeks, & a Side of Greek Coffee, Plus a Giveaway!

I am going home in about two weeks to visit my family and friends for the first time since Christmas, and just thinking about it made me start craving my parents' home cooked Greek food again. I've already put in a  Pastichio request to my mom (thanks mom!) but my stomach has been shouting that two weeks is not soon enough. My mind tried to stay strong, telling me that all the baklava and fresh hummus would be worth the wait...but alas, I have little to no will-power when it comes to food, and so I buckled under the pressure and came up with this cheesey and gooey melange of my favorite Greek food components. Feta, spinach, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized leeks, oregano, onions, and my little cheat ingredient, Asiago Cheese. It's not Greek, but it's Italian, and in Italy they have a saying about the Greeks "una faccia una razza" which translates to "one face one race", and basically means that Greeks and Italians are one and the same, so now that I think about it, I am going to let my Asiago addition slide right on into Greeksville. To go with this rich and hearty dish, I decided to whip up a nice little cup of Greek coffee. Also known as Turkish or Arabic coffee, Greek coffee is very thick and is made by simply boiling very finely ground coffee (think powdered sugar in texture) with water and a bit of granulated sugar until it begins to boil. When it is served you sip it slowly, and don't drink all of it, because as time passes the grinds settle to the bottom of the cup and leave a about a quarter-inch thick layer of coffee grinds. It's a fun little tradition in Greece to turn your cup upside down onto the saucer (after you've drank all of the liquid), wait 5 or 10 minutes, pick up your cup, and try to read your fortune in the way the grinds have shifted.