Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Juicy, delicious homemade SANGRIA!!

On your way to a refreshing day!

Gather your fruit!
Get yourself a nice deep pitcher! I like a clear one so that you can see all the fruit.

Sangria is definitely a place for experimenting, go traditional with cinnamon sticks and brandy or put your own twist on it and add watermelon schnapps and fresh mango!
Making a delicious and refreshing pitcher of Sangria is easy as pie! Actually, it's much MUCH easier!
I've been experimenting with sangria recipes for years now and have discovered that you really can't go wrong. (Are you starting to sense a theme here?) I love dishes and drinks that are fun to play with and hard to screw up! Playing around with the easy stuff will help build your kitchen confidence so when it comes time to make things like Beef Bourguignon you'll have no problem channelling your inner Julia Child!

The following is a very loose recipe. I just add ingredients until it tastes the way I like it to, some people like a sweeter sangria, some like more of an effervescent sangria, it's totally up to you! I like this one!
6 Cups bottle of Red Wine 
2  Cups or more Peach Schnapps
1 Cup Fruit Juice
1/2 Cup Soda Water (only if serving immediatley)
1 or 3 Oranges, apples, pears, peaches (whatever you'd like)
a handful or 2 of fresh berries
Garnish with fresh mint sprigs and drink it!!
Cut thick slices of oranges, lemons, limes and large chunks of apples, peaches, pears for a more stimulating presentation!
Some people like to cut their fruit into very small cubes, I don't like this method for two reasons...first, the large beautiful slices are more visually stimulating when seen thru the glass pitcher (presentation is always huge no matter what you're making!) and secondly, it's a lot easier to suck that juice down if you don't have to sift it thru all the tiny pieces!
Now choose your fruit.  Again, you really can't go wrong here. I like to include a variety of oranges, lemons, limes, peaches, pears or apples. And always feel free to throw in mango, pineapples, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, or even watermelon!

Now for the booze!! Start off with a decent red wine. No need to spend top dollar here because it'll just get lost with all of the other wonderful flavors. But don't go too cheap either. I like to stay around $10 for one of the big 1.5L bottles, like a Rex Goliath or Little Penguin Cab will do just fine. Some people stick strictly with chianti but I think this is another area where personal taste comes into play, experiment and see what you like best.

Many recipes call for triple sec but I think Peach Schnapps is much better and gives it a nice rich flavor.  Next add some type of juice, I like a little orange juice or a can of pineapple, peach, pear or mango jumex. Again, just try it and see what you like, I've used limeade too and it was delicious! The beauty of sangria is that you can add whatever fruit or juice you have around the house and it's gonna taste great!

If adding berries always wait until the end, that way they don't get destroyed when you're stirring it up and tweaking your flavor!
If serving immediately, add a little sparkling water or ginger ale to give it a lil spunk! If I'm just going to keep it in the fridge for a week, I leave it out.

Garnish with a fresh sprig o mint and suck it down!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Neicy's Homemade Mac n Cheese!

Alright, you asked for it! My deliciously hearty, stick-to-the-ribs, homemade mac n cheese! This recipe is inspired by the mac my grandmother, Flo used to make. It was soooo good and every time I tried to get the recipe from her, she say, "Oh gee, ya know, I don't quite remember. A lil o this...and a lil o that..." which would send her digging thru her cookbooks to find the "recipe". Which totally tells you where I got it from. I've never really been one for recipes either. I just kinda wing it and make it yummy! But in this case, I needed to know the "secret" to making it so awesome. I tried dumping mixtures of cheese and butter, or cheese and cream into some hot freshly cooked noodles and it was never quite right. The result...stringy, chewy, cheesy noodles. Eww.
So what's the secret? A good ROUX! Which is a very simple mix of 2 ingredients that serves as a sturdy and flavorful base and thickener for many different sauces...and is a MUST for good homemade mac n cheese!
It's a combination of equal parts flour and fat, usually butter. In some cases, you'd use bacon grease for the fat, as the base of sauces like Gumbo...yum! Anyway, back to mac.

This is really all you need...easy as cheesy pie!

Start with large elbow macaroni noodles. NOTHING else will do! These noodles, to me, scream homemade mac. Cook em til there done, drain em and set em aside.

Next, pour 1 Quart of Milk (I use low fat, but you can definitely ramp it up with whole) and slowly heat it up, without boiling, in a small saucepan.

Preheat your oven to 375, then make your roux.
Don't be intimidated by the fancy word, it's a piece o cake and you'll find yourself using it all the time. 

Melt 6 Tablespoons of salted butter in a large non-stick 2 Qt. pan (large enough to pour the noodles in afterwards). 

As soon as it melts, slowly whisk in your flour.
Keep whisking for 2 minutes or so and it will turn a lovely light, golden brown.

While whisking, stir in the hot milk and cook for a few more minutes until thick and smooth. (Sorry for the blur, it's hard to be the chef and the photographer.)

Remove from heat and stir in your shredded cheeses. (This is where you can really experiment til you find the blend you like.) 
I find that a nice somewhat pungent cheese like gruyere with sharp cheddar and a lil parmesan is perfect. But you really can't go wrong, it is cheese, after all!

Now add your spices to the cheesy goodness. Salt, White and Black Pepper, a little Dry Mustard and heaps of freshly grated Nutmeg!

I talk about this all the time. Fresh nutmeg is essential in cheesy sauces, it's totally unexpected, but try it, it rules!
I usually use a almost whole nutmeg nugget in a batch o mac.

Time for the noodles!

Stir your cooked macaroni into the pan and mix together really well. 

This time, I added some cubed proscuitto (for the hubs) and stirred it all up.

Taste for goodness and adjust any seasonings...

then pour it into a large baking dish and top with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

You can cover it with bread crumbs or more shredded cheese if you like and then pop it into the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes until sauce it bubbling and your cheese is nice n melty.

After removing from oven, let it sit for 5-10 so it can thicken, then serve!
Peas are also an amazing addition to this mac!

 Neicy's Homemade Mac n Cheese!

Serves 8-10 ppl

1 pound Large Elbow Macaroni
1 Quart Milk
6 TB Salted Butter
1/2 Cup Flour
12 oz Shredded Gruyere
12 oz Shredded Sharp Cheddar (save a little for the top)
1/2 Cup Proscuitto or Pancetta (optional)
1 Nugget Whole Nutmeg
1 tsp-ish Dry Mustard powder
1 tsp-ish Ground White Pepper

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pomegranate, Kale and Black Rice Salad with Chopped Pecans, Feta and a Poached Egg!

Pomegranate, Kale and Black Rice Salad with Chopped Pecans, Feta and a Poached Egg! What?!?

OK, I saw this dish on Pinterest and just had to make it, modified of course. I used Black Rice instead of Wild, Pecans instead of Walnuts and added a Poached Egg and Feta Cheese. And it was... awesome! I'm definitely throwing this into the weekly rotation. You could do so many different things with it. I tossed a few slices of last night's pork tenderloin on top and it was delicious!
"Lean, Green and Protein!" my new motto.

 I also made a yummy dressing for the Kale with some Pomegranate Habanero Jam that I had in the fridge, which added a sweet bite to the slightly bitter kale that was just perfect.

Add a little Olive Oil to a Tablespoon or 2 of the jam, whisk it up with some Honey, Red Wine Vinegar, and a few drops of water just for consistency.
Apple or Cranberry Juice is a nice touch too, rather than water.

And now...the easiest way to bust those juicy lil morsels out of those pesky lil pomegranates! I've struggled with this for years and remember trying to eat them as a kid just like you would a grapefruit and ending up with a red stained face, fingers and shirt, sitting in a pool of juice. But boy, was it good! I've actually avoided them in the past just because I didn't want to deal with the mess. but since I've discovered this method, I'm all over it!

Start by "scalping" the Pomegranate. Just take your knife and barely score the skin of the fruit all the way around, and then peel off the top and any portion of the thin white membrane that remains.

What you'll find inside are a few separate chambers containing all the seeds.

Score the edges of the fruit down the sides of each segment and then pull them apart like an orange.

Knock the seeds out of each section and discard the membrane portions that fall into the bowl.

And now you're left with a big bowl of luscious pods!
Chop up some fresh raw Kale and add it to one side of the bowl.

Add your cooked Black Rice to a section of the bowl. I sprinkled in some Feta while it was still hot which meant that every now and then you'd bite into a yummy lil melty pocket of cheese...yum.

Sprinkle some Feta and chopped Pecans on top and add your pomegranate seeds to the last section, then drizzle your dressing lightly over the top of the Kale. You don't want to add to much as this salad already has tons of flavor, the dressing just adds a little sweetness that brings it all together.

I added a few slices of cold Pork Tenderloin leftover from last night's dinner, but this dish easily stands alone as a tasty vegetarian option.

Last but not least...a soft poached egg, which I really can't say enough about. When the yolk breaks and runs down into the nooks and crannies of the Kale, it's just amazing! LOVE an egg!

Pomegranate, Kale and Black Rice Salad with Chopped Pecans, Feta and a Poached Egg                                    Serves 2

1 Pomegranate
2 Cups Black Rice, cooked
4 Cups Kale, raw and chopped
2 Soft Poached Eggs
A handful of Chopped Pecans
Some Crumbled Feta

For the dressing:
2 Tbs Pomegranate Habanero Jam (but you could really use almost any flavor)
1 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 tsp Honey
A tiny bit of water

I can't wait to experiment with this bowl of goodness and see all the varieties I can come up with...Stay tuned!!  :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Amazing Overnight Oats!!

Seeing as it's "National Oatmeal Day" today, I thought it'd be totally fitting to share my new obsession with you... overnight oats!!
You just mix everything together the night before and they're all ready to go in the morning in a perfect little travel container.
They're absolutely amazing, quick, simple, versatile AND completely good for you! Win win!

Start out with a trip to your local bulk aisle. Stock up on some rolled oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, crushed nuts, dried coconut, carob powder, dried fruits...pretty much anything you like or think might make a good combo, is totally worth a try.

Wide-mouthed mason jars work perfectly but any kind of jar or resealable container would do. I just like watching the ingredients as they pile up inside the jar.

Add the dry ingredients first, starting with your oats, filling up the jar just below the halfway mark, you can always add more if you'd like. Then add a heaping teaspoon of both chia and flax seeds. Chia seeds expand and become gelatinous when liquid is added, so they'll really thicken up your blend AND fill you up!

Add a pinch of salt to balance whatever sweetener you choose. From this point, the sky's the limit. If you're not usually very adventurous, start simple. Add some brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe some ginger, and screw on the lid.

Shake it up REALLY well because the chia seeds will clump together when they get wet.

 Then add your liquids. I like almond milk but the possibilities are endless. If you prefer honey to brown sugar, this would be the time to add it. Now shake it up real good and give it a taste. Once it's to your liking, pop it in the fridge for at least an hour but overnight will really let it thicken up. Take it out in the morning and add nuts or coconut if you want a little crunch then enjoy it cold or microwave it for a yummy, healthy, unique breakfast!

And you can do a different one every day. My favorite blend right now is a delicious pumpkin spice concoction that will definitely get you in the mood for fall. Just add a dollop of organic pumpkin puree to your wet ingredients and some pumpkin pie spice and your good to go! These oats really fill you up and give you tons of energy throughout the day so give em a try!

Here's a few different varieties I've come up with, don't be afraid to mix it up!

"Chocolate Chip Cookie" Add chocolate chips to the dry, and vanilla extract to the wet...yum!

"White Chip Mac Nut" Add white chips and chopped macadamia nuts to the dry and vanilla to the wet.

"Oatmeal Pancake" Just add a little maple syrup to the wet.

"Blueberry Banana" Add bananas and blueberry to the wet and omit the sugar, a ripe banana is plenty sweet.

"Coconut Carob" Add coconut and carob powder to the dry ingredients, even throw in a chic chip or two if u like!

"Carrot Cake" Add shredded carrots to the dry and grated ginger to the wet with chopped pecans on top...ridiculous!

"Apple Pie" Add dried apples to the dry or fresh chopped apples to the wet, adding plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg.

"Honey Yogurt" Add greek yogurt and a little milk for your wet ingredients and blend with honey or agave syrup.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Roasted Baby Pumpkins stuffed with Maple Roasted Apple, Carrot and Beet Quinoa with Fried Sage Leaves

Just a few examples of things you can use to stuff your pumpkin.
Lil tip: Smaller pie pumpkins are sweeter than the larger ones and one is plenty for two people.

Cut your pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Put them cut side down in a glass dish filled with a little canola oil.

Roast at 350 for about 40 mins, until soft but not squishy.
Pull the seeds away from the pulp and place in a colander. Spray with warm water to rinse off the remainder of the pulp.
Spread them out on a cookie sheet, spray with olive oil and S&P. Sometimes I mix it up with garlic salt, paprika, cumin...whatever. I love em n put em on everything.
Lil tip:

I put my olive oil in a little dollar store squirt bottle that way I can control how much I'm using.
Roast at 350 for about 10 mins.

 Put few tablespoons of butter into a glass dish and melt in the oven.

 Dice up your apples, carrots and beets. (In this case I had some leftover roasted beets, so I just see those and threw them in at the end)

 Toss them with the melted butter. Then add some maple syrup, nutmeg, cardamom and a little sea salt.

Roast at 350 for 20-30 mins.
Next, make the quinoa. I start by dry roasting 1 cup of quinoa in a DRY pan while constantly stirring until you get a nice nutty aroma, about 2 minutes. Then add 2 cups of water, stir and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. When it's done, fluff with fork.

Melt some real butter and add your sage leaves to the pan. Let em fry til crispy then dry on a paper towel.

Add some cannelini beans to the quinoa.

When your apples, etc are done, toss them in with the quinoa.
Sprinkle some S&P onto your pumpkin halves and then fill with the Quinoa mixture.

Top with pumpkin seeds and sage leaves and serve.

I also cooked up some chicken apple sausage with cumin seeds and put it on top. You could add anything, really.