Why we started this idea????

A passion for food, wine, friends and entertaining is a big part of our life. This is a way for us to document our experiences, passion for food & life and also share it with others.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

GCC #22 Pear, Mascarpone, & Hazelnut Tart

Oh how could you not want to make this recipe, our dessert recipe this week for Gutsy Cooks Club; Pear, Mascarpone & Hazelnut Tart, even if you are a non-baker like myself. A former teaching colleague of G's had invited us to their home in Edmonds for dinner. They are always so generous inviting us to watch the fireworks or boat parade from their Tacoma waterfront condo that I wanted to bring this beautiful tart to them. Of course this was being optimistic that it would turn out like the Illustrated Kitchen Bible Cookbook's photo.

First we made a trip to Trader Joes to pick up a few needed ingredients: Mascarpone cheese, apricot preserves and pears. Although the recipe calls for canned pears I was determined to use fresh but finding a few ripe pears today was a challenge so I bought both in hopes to do a combo of some sort. We had hazelnuts from last week's crepes condiments.

We stopped by a local wine shop, The Wine Bank, in University Place to pick up some wine to take to dinner. The friend hosting us loves Chardonnay so we picked up my favorite Chardonnay by Mercer to bring with us.

I came home & got started with the pastry dough. Not as intimidated as the last time I was happy to see the recipe utilized the food processor and I was even happier when the dough came out just great.

 I chilled the dough first before rolling it out and placing it in in the tart pan.

I blind baked the tart shell first, G had to run up to the store and buy some beans for me though as obviously not being a baker just having some beans in the pantry for this purpose wasn't the case for us.

After finishing the tart shell off I mixed the amazing custard made of mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla. G stuck one finger in this goodness and couldn't stop. He actually ended up licking the bowl clean I think.
Having some fun with my non-photographer like camera

I'm not sure why but this has always been my favorite picture in our kitchen

I then poured the custard in the shell, sliced the pears, both the canned and not quite ripe fresh versions and placed them on top of the custard. And sprinkled the hazelnuts on top before baking.

It came out of the oven looking pretty good, I was expecting more golden brown crust and custard but after spreading on the apricot preserves and another sprinkling of hazelnuts I thought it  looked better than most of my final desserts do at least.

 We made the long trek up to Edmonds and were happy to greet our friends with this nice little treat from our kitchen when we arrived. We enjoyed a great evening. Buffy started us off with some wonderful steamed clams and then a fantastic meal of steak, roasted potatoes and green beans.

When we finally dug into the dessert we were all quite pleased at how lovely it tasted, light, creamy custard was wonderful. Next time I would just stick with canned pears only and skip the under ripe ones. The sweetness of the canned pears really was the right flavor. G said he liked having the crispness for contrast. But that may have been a sweet husband comment more than the truth.

Gutsy Cooks Club #22: Biryani Chicken

This week for Gutsy Cooks Club one of our recipes was the Indian inspired dish Chicken Biryani. This was immediately right up our alley. We LOVE Indian flavors & aromas.And even while writing this I can still smell those amazing aromas waifing around in our house. If only smell-o-vision existed you'd see what we mean about these flavors.

Snow finally came to Western Washington which meant coming home after school before the ice and dark hit the streets was important and this allowed us to have a leisurely evening to do some cooking so we thought we'd go with one of our GCC recipes for the week.

Oh will the tulips survive????

Now my initial plan was to come home workout and then start cooking. But G had a different idea and immediately opened up the Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris. So of course the working out idea got lost in the mix. Barnard Griffin is a very popular Columbia Valley winery that we've been wine club members of for many years now. We actually served their Fume Blanc at our wedding, a great everyday summer on the patio wine. This pinot gris is great with spicy food. G thought he would of liked to try a Riesling to really balance the heat but this dish really wasn't that spicy.

I love any version of chicken & rice, it's somewhat ironic that even all of these years after teaching 1st graders how to read when I make or eat any version of the dish I still think of Maurice Sendak's book Chicken & Rice and smile as it was one I read every year to kick off a new month.

Every culture has it's own version of the dish. A few we've made ourselves include; red beans & rice, arroz con pollo, chicken fried rice, Puerta rican chicken & rice and the list goes on. But throw in cinnamon, cardamom and my favorite curry I'm salivating just reading this indian version of a recipe.

We decided to make it a full meal experience given the luxury of several extra hours on this particular evening. I experimented with making some paneer stuffed dates and roasted curry cauliflower.

We gathered our ingredients together. Sadly due to the snow issue heading over to east side of town to an ethnic grocery wasn't possible so curry leaves weren't accessible tonight so curry powder would have to suffice (although we have bought the leaves them at the Asian grocery before.) We chose to use chicken thighs as opposed to breasts because they tend to be both less dry & more commonly used in authentic indian dishes.

We've been experimenting with many yummy versions of stuffed dates over the past year. So I thought why not try to stuff some dates with the indian paneer cheese from one of favorite dishes Saag Paneer?

Jason & Jodi introduced us to one of our favorite treats of roasted cauliflower with just simple evoo with salt & pepper. I thought how yummy that might be tossed with some hot curry powder, garham Marsala & curry powder added. So we went for it. Can you smell the aromas yet? They were intensely wonderful.

Cauliflower ready for roasting
G cubed the paneer and stuffed the majool dates before sprinkling them with some curry powder & baking. I cut up the cauliflower tossed with some olive oil, curry powder, cumin & garham Marsala and the roasted in the oven.

I sliced some white onion and smashed a few garlic cloves. I then put the mixture of ghee(clarified butter)& olive oil in the pan and added the onion & garlic, spices and eventually chicken thighs, rice, raisins and broth. The aromas were beyond describable words. We toasted some sliced almonds as the topper too.

Sadly my experiment with the dates wasn't great. First I burnt them a bit. But second assuming traditional Indian technique wouldn't add bacon which is the technique that adds the flavor to dates, we didn't wrap them in bacon. Simply put bacon was missing. They were tasty but too sweet, the smoky bacon would of added the needed balance of flavor as well as added a bit of moisture. We'll call it a nice experiment.

Now the cauliflower on the other hand was a superb experiment with these aromatic flavors.
Our midweek snow bound Indian inspired dinner was a hit overall.G felt the biryani could of used a bit more broth but I disagreed, this isn't risotto the texture was a bit dry but not the chicken and the flavors were divine. And the toasted almonds are a step to not leave out, that crunch and flavor really added something. Just for color impact I might add some fresh baby peas next time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Supper Club inspired by Julia

Last weekend was our February gathering for Supper Club. About 8 years ago we put out and also found a posting on the Cooking Light site looking to start a Tacoma area Supper Club . The posting we found was for a gals only supper club but we really wanted a couples supper club as we both were interested. We had tried to get something started initially just amongst our group of friends but it always turned out we ended up cooking time after time. Most of our friends were at a different stage of their lives at that point. So I had read in a Cooking Light magazine about starting a supper club with strangers, we gave it a try.

So one Sunday afternoon we all (the original 4 couples) met at a local Starbucks to feel each other out and see if we were interested in moving forward. It started with Robin & Shannon, Jenni & Arnie, Michelle & Tim (who have moved out of state sadly now) and us. We were all initially strangers. We decided we were all in and none of us stuck out as ax murders or anything so it seemed safe, although this was a new way of meeting people for all of us.

Over time the group grew; Kris & Jeff, Derek & Lisa, and finally Jason & Jodi joined our club. It's been a successful whim of an idea. We meet the 3rd Saturday of the month with the exception of July and August as summer just seems to get too busy for our group. For the most part we all honor our commitment and make it a priority with the occasional couple or two who can't make it.

The host/hostess choose the theme and assign accompanying dishes to the other couples. And everyone brings wine, beer or whatever drink they want for the evening. There was a time in our beginning that we all tried to stick to Cooking Light recipes but that soon faded into the background. After all these years of doing this we've hit many, many varieties of themes that I can't even begin to remember. A few I do remember; fondue night, Bobby Flay recipe night, Iron chef style secret ingredient nights (apple & hazelnut, lavender are a few of those that I remember), Thai, Mexican several times, Autumn theme, comfort food, Everything cooked on the grill, Italian, Mediterranean, the list is really too mammoth for me to accurately remember.

For this night our theme was inspired by Julia Child as picked by our hosts Robin & Shannon. They made Julia's Beef Bourguignon. G & I had made this same recipe just for the two of us shortly after we saw the movie so it was fun to try someone elses attempt.

Robin's Beef Bourguignon
This was one of our smaller gatherings for Supper Club as 2 1/2 of our couples weren't able to make it on this night. Jodi brought a great appetizer of vegetable samosas & eggplant tapanade. They were both great Sunset recipes finding Julia's appetizer recipes wasn't as easy as she had thought it would be.

Derek & Lisa made Julia's version of Cesar Salad and a green bean side dish. The salad preparation was so interesting. In Julia's version you don't make the dressing separately you make the dressing one ingredient at a time with your hands mixing with the romaine. It was delicious. Light and garlicky, not creamy and heavy. The also made the green beans with sautee'd garlic and shallot which were so fragrant and perfect with the rich beef.

Derek tossing the Cesar Salad

Lisa's Green Beans w/ Shallots & Garlic

Robin made some egg noodles with peas to accompany the wonderful beef bourguignon.
Robin's Noodles for her beef
We all sat down to a great meal and some lively conversation along with several bottles of wine.

G's Whipped Cream
G&I were responsible for the dessert course this time. I toyed with the idea of making my Gutsy Cooks Club dessert recipe assignment for the week but decided to stick with Robin's Julia theme instead. I used Julia's Master Crepe recipe and pre-made a batch of crepes to take with us. I then put together a filling bar to do make your own crepes. I put out a mascarpone cheese & shaved chocolate filling, lemon pudding, nutella for the rich inside choices. And then fresh blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, fried bananas, chopped hazelnuts. Two sauces; a bailey's chocolate sauce and a honey liquor blackberry sauce. And of course G made fresh whipped cream and put out powdered sugar and shaved chocolate to garnish. Everyone had fun making their own crepe version.

fried bananas for the crepes
The Crepe Bar
Jodi's crepe creation

My crepe creation
Lisa's crepe creation
It was another great night for our group. Everybody was  a good sport and let me photo document our meal.There's always laughter, sharing and of course lots of great food. We'll never regret this adventure that we put ourselves out there to try so many years ago now. I remember driving to Starbucks that day and saying to each other; " should we really be doing this, what if we don't like these people?" It's so weird now to think back to before we knew these great couples that have now grown into some great friends that we truly enjoy spending time with.

Food does bring people together!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dockside Bistro and Wine Bar

Last year one of the wine club, Fidelitas, that we belong to had a winemakers dinner at Dockside Bistro in Olympia that we attended.
 My sister lives in Olympia and we've had many meals out in this town about 18 miles south of Tacoma but for some reason before that event we'd never been to the Dockside Bistro and had actually never heard of it. But we loved our experience there having dinner with our great friends Lynne & Jim and have since also celebrated Lynne's birthday there with a larger group of friends earlier in September of this year. It was super exciting to actually find out during our first dinner experience that the Chef, Cedar Martin, was now the chef at Dockside. We had become fans of his food while he was the chef at the Oceancrest Resort where we had previously enjoyed several of his meals during some fantastic winemakers dinners over the years.

So it was with some excitement that we agreed to drive down to Olympia on a Friday evening (not usually something we enjoy doing on Fridays; traffic from Tacoma to Olympia on Fridays can be down right brutal!) to  go to dinner with Tracy & Mike at the Dockside Bistro which they hadn't yet tried.

Unfortunately as we feared the traffic was brutal on this particular night it took over an hour to drive this 18 miles of I-5. But once we finally arrived we were again happy that we had.

G & I arrived first and went ahead and ordered a bottle of Nelms Road Merlot for the table. Nelms Road is the second label for Woodward Canyon wines from Walla Walla.

When Tracy & Mike arrived we decided we'd start off with an order of the Pernod Steamers as we were all starving.They actually had been in the car for over 3 hours coming back from Bellevue after a day of trampolining with the kids. The steamers were wonderful with wild white prawns, mussels, clams, fennel & cream. The flavor of the fennel was subtle but satisfying a great start to our meal.
Pernod Steamers
The server then explained some of the specials for the night and we all decided on our secondcourse options from the specials list. The 3 of them had the salad with roasted beets over arugula and topped with a generous portion of humbolt farms goat cheese. I went with the seafood gumbo; which was okay not stellar. The flavors were rather murky and the soup came not quite warm enough as I expect soup to be served piping hot.
Roasted Beet Salad

We ordered our next bottle of wine for the table a Basel Cellars Claret. It was a good match to pair with our 4 choices of dinner.

For entrees G had one of the dinner specials of a combo of Elk steak and elk sausage with a huckleberry sauce and a potato cake. He was very happy with his choice.
Elk Steak & Sausage Special

I had the Duck breast from the menu  which was Duck Breast served with wine poached cranberries, pecans & roasted fingerling potatoes. The flavors were all great. I should have ordered my duck medium as opposed to medium rare because I just didn't enjoy it as much as rare as it was.
Duck Breast

Tracy had the Butternut Squash Ravioli sage brown butter, candied pecans & blue cheese. She enjoyed her ravioli very much.
Butternut Squash Ravioli

Mike had the special of seafood puttanesca which was seriously jam packed with seafood.

Seafood Puttanesca

We were all pretty stuffed after our indulgent entrees so decided we'd all share one serving of the huckleberry buckle served with white mountain vanilla ice cream. It was delish and a perfect ending to our great meal.

Huckleberry Buckle
Everyone enjoyed a version of coffee with the dessert but being the only non-coffee drinker at the table I decided to try the Justin Cabernet dessert wine. I am not a fan of port so this was such a treat. It wasn't thick and syrupy like a dessert wine but rather just a luscious, more sweet Cabernet.

Dockside Bistro continues to be a place we enjoy for a great meal paired with good wines.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GCC Mushroom Risotto

This week for the Gutsy Cooks Club Mushroom Risotto was on the menu from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible.

We've definitely made our fair share of risotto recipes as G loves risotto especially mushroom risotto. And given we had dinner plans out on Friday and our monthly supper club dinner on Saturday I knew we needed to get this one done during the week and this is simple enough to pull off on a Thursday so I went for it.

 It also served good timing as the snow has finally came back to the Northwest after quite a hiatus which meant G  took a personal day to hit the slopes while I slaved away in the school house. But I still knew he'd be psyched to come home to the smell of mushroom risotto on the stove.

This is really a simple version. I decided to do a mushroom combo of fresh baby bellas and dried porcinis.

 I started soaking my porcinis as I prepped the onions and bellas. In one of our well used risotto recipes we started heating the broth for our risotto, it helps speed the absorption process somehow so I heated the organic vegetable broth and started sauteing the onions.

I then added the rice for few minutes before adding the heated broth 1 ladle at a time.

While the rice was absorbing I also started sauteing the bellas in a separate pan. I chopped the porcinis once they were fully reconstituted.
Baby Bellas
Chopped Porcinis
After 30-40ish minutes the rice was ready for the mushrooms. I also added a splash of heavy cream just for a bit more depth and a good portion of grated Parmesan-reggiano.

We served the risotto with a Gorgonzola pear salad, garlic bread and big shocker a non-Washington red wine (a rare deed in this household), Dynamite Vineyards Cab from Sonoma which was actually very good and well suited with our simple, comfort meal. 

Not a tru challenge or a huge change of pace this week for my participation in the Gutsy Cooks Club this week but a perfect inspiration for a simple mid week meal. Which in itself after a very busy week is just fine too. Trust me having Valentines Day fall on a Monday made  for a very long elementary school week.

Sweet treats hangovers for kiddos and a full moon made for an interesting combination of student behaviors this week. But for many of my little ones Valentines day at school is just as exciting, if not more so than Christmas, which also made for some joyful excitement and precious encounters as well.