Friday, October 31, 2014

Pear and camembert bites

Pear & Camembert Bites drizzled with Balsamic Reduction.. Sounds fancy? Most definitely. It tastes even more gourmet than it sounds - its delicate, but still complex and sophisticated flavors will win you over!

Blog's Category: Hors D'oeuvre, Vegetarian





Intro

The classy combination of pear and cheese is the base for this bite-type appetizer. Don't be intimidated by fancy "balsamic reduction" words. Most likely you can find balsamic reduction in a large grocery store. But I highly recommend to make it by yourself - it's very easy: cup or two of balsamic vinegar simmers for about 1 hour until reduces in half and transforms into thick, sweet and flavorful, sauce - balsamic reduction. 

The remaining is a pure fun - slicing, building, drizzling, serving... That's why I like making hors d'oeuvres, crostini, mini-sandwiches and such. It's more like a game than actual cooking... Just find that perfect combination of ingredients! In our case this perfect combination is here - pear, camembert, caramelized pecan and balsamic reduction. I love it. When I served it to my friends - they loved it. Try it and, I hope, you will love it as well!


What is it?

Stock of pear slice, camembert and caramelized pecan artistically drizzled with balsamic reduction. That's all!


Taste Description

Fruity flavors are always win-win pairing for such cheeses as camembert or brie. Intense pear taste with a sweet and tangy balsamic reduction lays perfectly over creamy camembert. Pecan makes this combo shine even better. Complex textures, from crunchy pecan through dense pear all the way to the creaminess of a cheese, make each bite a real pleasure.


How to Serve/Store

Serve on a white ceramic shallow dish. Bold streaks of balsamic reduction will look festive on a white plate.


Pear, Camembert and Caramelized Pecan with Balsamic Reduction 


  • 2 pears, peeled and sliced into 1/2" slices (see pictures below)
  • 1 cup of pecan halves
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small 4" wheel of camembert, sliced  into 1/3" (see pictures below)
- Prepare balsamic reduction - in a small pot, bring balsamic vinegar to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer to reduce it in half. It make take from 30 min to 1 hour. Reduced, it will look like as a syrup. Cooled down, it will become thicker. Set aside to cool down completely.

- Prepare caramelized pecan: in a skillet or shallow pan, spread brown sugar in an even layer. Place pecans over it. Heat on a medium-low heat until sugar melts. Using chopsticks or fork, turn pecan halves over to submerge other side into caramel. Control heat turning it down to avoid caramel to be burnt. After done with flipping, start to transfer pecans, flat side down, onto silicon mat to cool down. If you don't have silicon mat, use non-stick parchment paper.

- Fun part - assembling! On a serving plate, build stocks: pear, then camembert, then pecan.

- With a teaspoon, drizzle balsamic reduction over.

- Enjoy!



Notes

- If you are in a hurry - don't peel a pear! 

- Other day, I tried to serve this appetizer on a top of flat pretzel crisps. They were good but somehow they lost their charm. So, do exactly as described above and success is yours :)



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IN PICTURES




It's pure magic to see how just being simmered balsamic vinegar transforms into sweet and tangy syrup. Acidity disappears and vinegar thickens beautifully.

In a fridge, balsamic reduction can be stored practically indefinitely. You can use it later drizzling over cooked meat, poultry, salads, etc.












Friday, October 24, 2014

Sesame Crusted Tofu

It's for you, fellow vegetarians! Sesame Crusted Tofu is just another way to prepare tofu "steak" - full of nutrients, fun and flavor!

Blog's Category: My Own Fast and Easy,  Vegetarian





Intro

Are out there those who doesn't like sesame seeds? None? Then, let's continue. These tofu steaks are loaded with sesame seeds! At the time, the idea to coat tofu with sesame seeds come to me when I was craving something sesame-ed especially badly. So, why not to dip my tofu in a pile of sesame seeds? Results was very pleasing and satisfying. Here it is.


What is it?

Thick sesame coat covers generously seasoned tofu blocks. Then tofu steaks are skillet fried until  golden-brown. Don't be scarce on spices to make bland tofu and subtly flavored sesame seeds to shine bright!


Taste Description

All your flavors will come from spices - you will get a lot of it from cumin, coriander, dry onion powder and garlic powder. Also there is some spicy kick coming from chili powder and black pepper. All these middle eastern notes are delivered to you through a beautiful crunch and tender flavor of abundance of sesame seeds as well as wonderful texture of fried tofu. 


How to Serve/Store

Serve right away when sesame crust is at its best! 


Sesame Crusted Tofu 


  • 2 blocks of firm tofu, each sliced across into 6 steaks
  • 1.5 cup of raw sesame seeds (I buy them raw, unroasted, at chinese store)
  • 1 tbs korean chili powder (or 1/2 tsp of regular chili flakes) - for medium spicy
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 tbs coriander powder
  • 1 tbs cumin powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • light olive oil for frying
- Cover sliced tofu with a couple of layers of paper towels to absorb the extra moisture. I put some weight on it such as heavy wooden cutting board.

- Mix all spices and salt together. Generously cover tofu pieces with spice mix.

- In a bowl, beat eggs just until they stop to be stringy, or are "liquefied".

- Poor sesame seeds onto large shallow plate.

- One by one, dip tofu pieces in egg, then tap into sesame seeds and fry on both sides in a skillet with a pre-heated olive oil until golden-brown. Watch your heat level to avoid sesame seeds to be burnt - it should be about medium low.

- Remove to a plate with a paper towel to absorb extra oil.

- Enjoy when it still warm and crusty!



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IN PICTURES




As Jacques Pepin tought, for coating, beat the egg just until the string, coming from the fork, is thin and steady. It's better to do with a fork, with movements side-to-side, not circular folding ones. This technique is different from whipping the egg, which also is done not with a fork but rather with a whisk. 





Use roasted sesame seeds if you couldn't get raw. This time I used sesame seeds I roasted previously and kept around.

It's a little bit messy job, and it's not easy to calculate exact amount of seeds it will take but don't be discouraged by this. Reward will come! Worst case scenario - your tofu steaks won't be evenly coated - not a big deal IMHO :)


I served it with a simple carrot and red pepper stir-fried rice..


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Roasted Almond Stuffed Plums

Here comes dessert for those who counts calories! Absolutely delicious, these oven roasted plums are bedazzled with almond stuffing and are really easy to make. It's  a perfect light dessert course for your next party, isn't it?

Blog's Category: Hors D'oeuvre, My Own Fast and Easy, Dessert



Intro

Lately, variations of any fruits, baked with a simple stuffing, have become my favorite choice for dessert, especially when I host a party or family dinner. It's so easy to make and results are so rewarding. Usually, I use either apples, plums or peaches: I stick dried jujube (red chinese date) into apple half, or top plum or peach half with a chopped nuts and sugar. Presented today are plums stuffed with sweetened almond crumbs.


What is it?

Almonds processed with a little bit of butter and brown sugar - it's your stuffing mixture. Then, plum halves are topped with this almond mix and roasted in an oven until cooked through and caramelized on top.


Taste Description

Pretty bold taste and concentrated flavors of this dessert make up for its relatively small size. In fact, size, look and taste are in a perfect harmony with each other - one or two of those stuffed plums are enough to satisfy your dessert craving. 
Almond topping is sweet, with a rich roasted almond flavor with a soft undertones of butter (comparable to that homey aroma of real butter cookies). The sweetness of topping compliments and works as delightful contrast to natural fruity acidity of baked plums. Dark red, syrupy plum juice, oozing from the edges of plums creates gorgeous base for a meaty texture of plum flesh and crunchy caramelized almond on top.


How to Serve/Store

Serve warm or cooled down to room temperature. Can be prepared few hours in advance and set aside to cool down. Do not pop it in a fridge though - topping will lose it's crunchiness. It can be left, uncovered, at room temperature, for a few hours. 
If you've got leftovers, then keep them in a container, in a fridge. Although they will lose crunch element, you will still enjoy them next day as a lovely snack.


Roasted, Almond Stuffed Plums


  • 15 plums slightly under-ripe, any type (I used large fresh prunes)
  • 1/2 cup raw whole almonds
  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 4 + 2 tbs brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 375F.

- Using pairing knife split plums in half, remove pit. Place plum halves on a baking sheet. To avoid greasing baking sheet, use silicon mats as I do, it simplifies baking a lot! 

- In a food processor, process almonds, butter and 4 tablespoons of brown sugar up to medium-course.

- Distribute almond mix among plum halves shaping mounds of almond mix with a teaspoon. Sprinkle 2 remaining tablespoons of sugar on top.

- Bake plums in an oven until sugar on top caramelizes and plums are soft.

- Enjoy!


Notes

- If you are really serious about calories, then omit butter and reduce sugar amount. Although you won't get then that great taste complexity and subtle but delightful flavor of butter.



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IN PICTURES



This time I didn't have brown sugar and used jaggery (natural cane sugar from my Indian store) instead. It got a little burnt on top (but still yummy!).

This thick plum juice syrup in a bottom of baking pan is a real treasure. You can poor it on a bottom of a serving dish - it will look awesome as well! Or spatter on a top of plums if you are ready to give up a little crunch to it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Happy Vegetable Casserole

Yes, this casserole is happy because it's bright, pretty and tasty in a first place. And finally, it's happy because it makes you happy as it's so-o-o-o easy and fun to make!

Blog's Category: Vegetarian, My Own Fast and Easy



Intro

First time I saw this type of casserole, when vegetables are fanned out nicely in a casserole dish, in one of my favorite TV serial of Jacques Pepin. When recently I come across of such an orderly arrangement for casserole again, I just had to try it myself. I've made my own choice of vegetables as well as dressing and ended up with a wonderful results. Here it is - festive looking "happy" casserole which is pleasure to make and looks awesome on a table. 


What is it?

It's 3 or 4 types of vegetables which usually take the same amount of time to cook in an oven (approximately the same!). Those vegetables are sliced and arranged in a pretty order on oven-proof dish. Then salted, peppered, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in oven. After they are cooked, you just drizzle them with aromatic dressing, sprinkle with fresh herbs and, voila, magic has happened!


Taste Description

This casserole showcases the natural flavor of vegetables. Piece of zucchini tastes as zucchini. Same happens with tomato, eggplant and yellow squash. Actually, they taste as themselves but much better just because simple garlic vinaigrette, you drizzle them after all the cooking, makes them bloom and random tasty sparks of fresh herb in between will create a real "vegetarian heaven" for you :)


How to Serve/Store

It's great warm or cold. Also it makes healthy, low-calorie side to your grilled meat of fish.


Happy Vegetable Casserole


  • 2 yellow squash
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 small eggplants (japanese work well or any other type)
  • 4 small tomato
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 fresh red chili peppers (optional), seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 tbs vinegar (regular or balsamic)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 tbs olive oil 
  • 3 stems fresh dill (or other fresh herb of your choice)
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400F.

- Slice vegetables across 1/3" thick. If tomatoes or eggplants are too thick in diameter, slice them into half-circles.

- In a large oven-proof shallow dish, starting from outer edges of a  dish, arrange vegetable slices with each slice overlapping the previous almost completely (see pictures).

- Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and roast for 10 more minutes or until edges of your vegetables become slightly charred. Remove from an oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.

- Meanwhile prepare vinaigrette: mix together garlic, vinegar, sugar and chili pepper. Add some salt and black pepper to this mix if you think you didn't add enough to the vegetables before roasting.

- Drizzle vegetables with vinaigrette and sprinkle with a roughly chopped dill. Enjoy!


Note

- If you have raw vegetables left over - mix them together, except tomato. Add salt and pepper. Place in a small baking dish. Arrange tomato slices on a top, drizzle with olive oil and bake along with a main dish but don't cover with a foil. Remove from the oven when tomatoes on a top will look dry and slightly charred. Don't forget to drizzle with a finishing vinaigrette!

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IN PICTURES


It's very convenient to use that small oil bottles with a spout to drizzle olive oil over. 

Right from the oven...My tomatoes are sticking out in a nice weird way because they were cut in a half-circles. Some eggplant slices are circle, some - half-circles. Zucchini and squash are the easiest to slice :)


Please don't touch your eyes after slicing this chili... or use gloves!


There will be a lot of yummy juices in a bottom (remember - we didn't add a drop of water, so it's all juices).


This "side" casserole with vegetable leftovers looks (and tastes!) nice too!