Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spiced Pear and Cranberry Pocket Pies

When I was little, I remember eagerly waiting for my dad to come home from grocery shopping.  He would unload all the big bags full of fruits, vegetables, and canned goods, and I would always be peeking to spy the inevitable sweet treat that he had snuck in with the rest of the healthy groceries.  We didn't eat many 'gourmet' foods back then (this was in the pre-foodie era), so the sugary surprise might have been some Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, or maybe some Swiss Rolls, and I can remember eating Entenmann's Raspberry Danishes on dozens of occasions.  I would usually gobble up a slice of Entenmann's danish after school, but those plastic-wrapped Little Debbie treats usually made their way into my lunch bag since they were perfectly portable.

And speaking of wrapped, lunchbox treats, I can't forget about all the Hostess Fruit Pies that I used to eat!  My memory of whether or not we had fruit pies at home is slightly foggy, but I do know that I could get them with my lunch if I ordered from the school cafeteria.  I remember I could never quite decide which flavor to get, but I could be sure that the filling would be super sweet, oozing, and not at all 'made with real fruit.'  The pie 'crust' was waxy, chewy, and also laden with sugar.  As a kid, this was exactly the way I wanted it.  

Nowadays, I prefer more adult-type treats, but that doesn't mean I need to completely shake off my childhood addiction to snack cakes.  For grown-ups and kids alike, a dessert that will give you the tasty goodness of a slice of pie in a compact hand-held form is delicious and just plain fun.  Plus, there is the added aspect that it is yours, and only yours; it is your own personal pocket pie and you don't have to share it with anyone.         

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Presidio Picnic, with Italian Pressed Sandwiches

Remember when I told you that I looove to have dinner parties?  Well, that same passion applies to picnics, barbecues, and brunch dates with friends; anytime I can put together a little meal to feed someone, I am a happy camper.  So imagine my delight when I realized I had advanced to Round 6 of Project Food Blog (woo hoo!!!) and that I had the pleasure of packing up a picnic lunch to take on the road that will travel well and still look great!  To celebrate the end of picnic and barbecue season I decided to kick my usual picnic fare up a notch. I hope you really enjoy the picnic lunch I planned, and that you will continue to show your support and vote for me in this round! 

Before we officially get into my menu, here are a few things I keep in mind when planning to take food anywhere on the go:

-Food that is compact and self-contained (ie. does not have lots of sauces, condiments, etc.) transports best, and creates the least amount of mess.  This also means you don't need to worry about 'assembling' dishes after you arrive at your picnic or party.
-When appropriate, I use high-quality prepared foods that I know are as good as 'homemade.'  This saves time and energy.
-If possible, I like to stick with foods that don't need much cutlery or serving utensils; since it is a picnic, it is more fun to eat with your hands anyway!
-I always think about the aesthetics of my food, and try to keep things festive, fun, and colorful, or use packaging that translates into ease of transportation.   
-I choose dishes that are relatively easy to make, or that I have made before and loved, so there are no snafus and everything tastes fabulous and fresh! 

Keeping these things in mind, I formulated my picnic menu:

Drink: Pomegranate Berry Spritzer
Snack: Parmesan and Gruyere Cheese Straws
Main: Sopressata and Provolone Italian Pressed Sandwiches
Side: Shredded Red Cabbage Salad with Pistachios
Dessert: Spiced Pear and Cranberry Pocket Pies

I got all my food and drinks ready to go, I loaded up my Project Food Blog cooler, and I headed out to meet my good friend Jill at the Presidio of San Diego for an afternoon picnic.  

To start out my menu and wash down all these delicious picnic treats, I decided to go with a refreshing Pomegranate Berry Spritzer.  The good folks over at POM had sent me some awesome POM wonderful and I was eager to try it out!  Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, so this drink not only tasted great, but also was healthy too.  Since pomegranates have a sweet-tart flavor, I decided to boost the sweetness factor by making a simple syrup from blueberries and blackberries.  The simple syrup combined with the POM and lime sparking mineral water was a perfect combo and was so easy to make by just bringing along the bottles of POM, a bottle of mineral water, and the syrup in a small container.  Plus, who can resist the deep ruby color of pomegranate juice!   

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brie and Bacon Piadina, with Balsamic Fig and Onion Marmalade

I am ecstatic.  I am jubilant.  I am in round 5 of Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog!  This is such an exciting and fun competition, and I have been overwhelmed by the by both the quality of the posts from all the bloggers participating, and also by the huge support that I have received from my readers and other bloggers.  It is an honor to keep providing you with these entry posts and I hope you will continue to support me by voting for my entry on Foodbuzz The competition is pretty much at the halfway point, and I am thrilled to be moving ahead with a fantastic group of 72 other bloggers.  For this fifth challenge post, Foodbuzz asked us to get creative and put our own spin on the classic dish of Pizza.  

When I first saw that the chosen dish was pizza, I immediately thought of all the homemade doughs and the many pizzas I have enjoyed at home.  My go-to pizza dough recipe is fantastic and easy, but I wanted to stretch my boundaries and experiment with something slightly different, yet not so crazy that I wouldn't eat it on any normal day.  Enter the Piadina.  

For those of you not familiar with Piadinas, or Piadas, they are a very popular Italian flatbread sandwich that originates from the Emilia-Romagna region near the Adriatic Sea.  Traditionally, Piadinas are filled with cured meats, such as prosciutto and mortadella since they were first produced near the same region in Italy. Piadinas are also filled with various meats and cheeses, or even sweet fillings such as Nutella, and they can be eaten either warm or cold.  While traditional fillings tend to be the most popular, there are infinite possibilities for Piadina recipes.  In fact, the Italians have a saying, "Ogni donna fa la piadina a modo suo," or, "Every woman makes piadina in her own special way."  Well I decided I wanted to make my piadina in my own special way too, and so I channeled some of my favorite ingredients.

Before I tell you about the fillings and sauce that I decided to use, lets talk about the dough.  Piadina dough is made from simple ingredients of flour, water, and olive oil, and the absence of yeast classifies it as 'unleavened.'  You can add in any number of other flavorings such as spices, herbs, or pastes to change the taste of your flatbread.  What I really like about this dough is that it is extremely easy to work with (making it super easy for dough-beginners) and it can be made at a moment's notice since there is no rising time.   I kneaded my dough by hand and didn't have any problems with sticking or getting a smooth, elastic finish, but you could just as easily use the dough hook on a stand mixer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rocky Road Ice Cream

I think chocolate and marshmallow might just be soul mates.  Or maybe more like yin and yang.  Chocolate is the dark, and marshmallow is the light.  Dense and rich belong to chocolate, while marshmallow owns air and fluff.  The pairing of them together in any sort of dessert is a match made in heaven, or maybe more like a perfect dinner date between heaven and hell. 

In any case, I hope none of you missed out on my last post, where I made homemade marshmallows and graham crackers from scratch as my entry in Project Food Blog.  There are photo tutorials, adorable heart-shaped marshmallows, smiling honey bears, and open flames; if none of these are able to convince you that my post is a must read, well then, we might not be able to keep being friends.  (Joking, obviously.  Sort of.)  But seriously, it has been my most viewed post to date, so I hope you are enjoying it!  If you think it is really great, voting is still ongoing for round four of Project Food Blog, so pop on over to my entry on Foodbuzz and show me some love with a little vote.   

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Making S'mores from Scratch: Homemade Marshmallows and Graham Crackers

I have great news!  I have advanced to the fourth round of Project Food Blog!!!  Thanks SO much for you all your votes, and I hope you will continue to support me during this round!  Voting is officially open, so check out my entry on Foodbuzz and vote here!  

This thrilling news means that I have another post for you this Sunday that is part of the competition.  I hope you all enjoyed my Luxury Dinner post from last week, but this time I wanted to focus on something a little more lighthearted and fun.  And honestly, can you think of anything more fun than s'mores?  I can.  S'mores made with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers.  Oh yeah.  These are the real thing, no jet puffed pillows or plastic enclosed crackers here.  

When I decided to go camping this weekend, I knew the trip could not be complete without sweet graham crackers, rich chocolate, and sticky, gooey marshmallows for s'mores.  So make sure you keep reading all the way until the end of this post, so you can check out some serious flames as we toasted the marshmallows over our campfire.  No plans to go camping anytime soon?  No worries, there is no shame in toasting these babies over your grill or gas burner on your stovetop.  In fact, I completely support any methods that allow you to enjoy a delicious s'more; just make sure you don't burn your house down in pursuit of marshmallow goodness. 

To tell you about my experience of making these marshmallows and graham crackers, I am going to do things a little differently this time.  While I usually regale you with kitchen tales and general ramblings, and then share my recipes  at the end of my posts, this time I will be walking you through step-by-step how to complete each recipe.  There are loads of photos and helpful tips, so making marshmallows and graham crackers on your own should be easy-peasy.  And let me tell you, the graham crackers were good, but the marshmallows were out-of-this-world.  Truly, they are nothing like the ones you can buy in the store, and I will definitely never buy them again!  If you want a printable recipe, I will be adding to this post by the end of next week.    

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Announcing a Fresh Express Salad Contest!

Look at this beautiful lettuce!  It is intensely green, fresh and crispy, and so delicious.  If you could make any salad with these in-season greens, what would you make???  That is exactly the question you will need to answer to participate in my recipe contest!  

I am excited to announce the beginning of my Fresh Express Salad Contest, as part of my Fresh Express Artisan Ambassador series of posts.  This contest will be the perfect way to stretch your creativity and dream up new, exciting, healthy salad recipes, or just to share your family's best-loved weekday salad.  At the same time, you will get to enjoy the new Artisan lettuce blends brought to you by Fresh Express. 

So how do you participate and how can you win??!  I am hoping to get a wide variety of recipes submitted for this contest, and to have those submitting the recipes be from many different backgrounds; for this reason, the rules and guidelines will be simple and few.  Here's the run down: 

-Your entry can be an original recipe, with new ideas for dressings and interesting ingredients, or can be an adaptation of an existing recipe (just be sure to cite the source!).  If you are a blogger, your recipe should not be something you have already posted on your site. 

-Your recipe entry can include any ingredients, but the lettuce base must be either the Sierra Crisp Herb or the Wild Rocket Zest Artisanal Salad Blend from Fresh Express (These can be bought in CA at Vons, Safeway, or Pavillions; other states, check your local store.  Get a coupon for $1 off!  See more below.)

-Both bloggers and home cooks alike are welcome and encouraged to submit recipes!  If you are a home cook, this contest will give you a window to share your recipe with the world. :)  If you are a blogger, all the entries will be posted in a recipe round-up on this site, which is great exposure for your blog! 

-If you are a blogger, please post your recipe and any photos on your site, link back to this post, and mention you are entering The Cilantropist's Fresh Express Salad Contest.  (I am aware that many bloggers may be busy with PFB; if you are, and have posting constraints, just email me and let me know.) 

-To enter, email the following information to, subject line-Fresh Express Salad Contest:
1. Recipe Title
2. Full Recipe, or entry post permalink (if applicable) 
3. Which Fresh Express Salad Blend you used
4. One photo
5. Name, contact info, and blog name/blog url (if applicable)  

-TWO winners will be chosen!  One winner will be chosen by popular vote based on the recipe round-up posted on this site after the contest is over.  The second winner will be chosen by random, which means that any recipe and any photo can win!  For the prizes Fresh Express will be providing a $25 gift card to Vons/Safeway/Pavillion that you can spend, or a $25 AmEx card that you can use to buy whatever you like.  Your truly (that means me) will also be providing a super cute set of salad themed dish towels and beautiful wooden salad tongs from Crate and Barrel!  Plus, the winner will get a totally awesome badge that you can proudly display on your site to announce that you are a salad master. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Leek Confit and Goat Cheese Crostini, Topped with Asian Pear

It is Monday morning and that means voting is OPEN for round three of Project Food Blog!  If you haven't already, be sure to check out my entry for this third challenge, A Luxury Dinner, with Leeks, Lemon, and Lamb; if you love my dinner party (and maybe wish you had been invited!) please vote for me!  It is just as simple as following the link and clicking on the heart to show your love.  I appreciate all your votes and kind comments so much, and I am having a fantastic time sharing great food with you in Project Food Blog.  I hope I can continue!   

So for anyone just tuning in, my dinner party included 4 courses as listed here:

In my main post detailing my dinner party, I shared the recipe for my second course: Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallops, Lemon Oil, and Caviar.  This was my favorite dish from my dinner, but the Leek and Goat Cheese Crostini were a close second!  I think I liked the crostini so much because they were extremely easy to assemble, and the flavors and textures were spot on.      

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Luxury Dinner, with Leeks, Lemon, and Lamb

Have I told you before that I love having dinner parties?  Actually, I love having gatherings of any kind; afternoon tea, Easter brunch, Labor Day parties, you name it and I would be happy to host it.  Any day that I can bring people together to eat, drink, and be merry, is a good day for me!  I will usually use any excuse to invite friends and family over to my place, so when I heard that one of the challenges for Project Food Blog was to host a Luxury Dinner and to share entertaining tips, I squealed with delight.  

To me, luxury means a lot of different things...Buying fresh flowers from the farmers market; relaxing with a latte and a good book; treating myself to a beautiful trinket from a local boutique; or relishing in a well-prepared meal at my favorite restaurant surrounded by family and friends...I think all these things are simple luxuries.  When it comes to food, I think of the luxury that is more traditionally fancy, where crystal wine glasses, rich, creamy foods, full-bodied wines, and decadent desserts are involved.  I knew that I wanted to have this type of dinner party, although I didn't want it to be too over the top.                

For my dinner, I wanted my table to be colorful, elegant, and to have simple beauty.  I think one part of hosting a good party is making sure you have a space where your guests can feel comfortable that is appropriate for the occasion.  

If your party is casual or you are serving foods family-style, then keep it simple with an uncluttered table and plenty of room.  For a formal dinner party, I try to use coordinated place settings to set out everything before the guests arrive.  But here, lets be realistic: not all my silverware matches, I might not have four of the exact same wine glasses, and I am not Martha Stewart.  I work with what I have, and I usually add extra items like fresh flowers or matching napkins if they are within my budget.  I have a penchant for pretty glassware, so I used some of that for the table, along with a candle arrangement that I have had on my buffet for years.  The idea is to make it look fancy, but not put you out of a lot of time and money.  I also printed out menu cards (a first for me!) which made the occasion feel even more special.     

And speaking of menus...I decided to have a four-course meal with two wine pairings and turkish coffee with dessert.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Giveaway Winner, and a Preview of Things to Come

Happy Friday! :)  Just wanted to put up a quick post today to make a couple of announcements, and tell you about some exciting things happening in this next week.  

-First, my CSN giveaway closed last night and I was thrilled to have 64 entries!  And, I am even more thrilled to announce that the winner of the $35 gift certificate from CSN is Victoria K. of Mission Food!!!  Congratulations Victoria!  She gets to spend the money on anything she wants from any of CSN's great online shopping sites, and I have no doubt she will choose something fabulous.  Check back to my site often if you want the chance to win more free stuff, because I have several other giveaways scheduled for these upcoming months. 

-Second, I am very pleased to tell you that I advanced to the third round of Project Food Blog!!!  I have been loving every minute of being involved with this contest, and I am so excited about moving forward with the next challenge entry.  I hope you enjoyed my last entry, Tom Yum Goong with Homemade Nam Prik Pao, and that I might have inspired you to try some Thai cuisine in your own kitchen.  I also cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the wonderful comments, encouragement and support, and of course your votes!  The next round of Project Food Blog challenges us to plan and execute a Luxury Dinner party.  I love love love hosting dinner parties, and I am looking forward to a Luxury Ladies Dinner, full of indulgence and new tastes.  My entry will be posted on Sunday, so be sure to check back for a full report on the party!  (Hint: It might involve leeks, lemons, and lamb.)

-Third, next week I will be announcing the details for my recipe contest sponsored by Fresh Express!  This contest will be part of my Artisan Ambassador Series of posts, and it will be very simple to enter.  All you need to do is create a fresh, delicious salad!  There will be two prizes for two winners, with one prize sponsored by Fresh Express and one prize provided by yours truly.  If you want to start planning ahead, grab a coupon from the Fresh Express site to buy your lettuce blend and start getting creative!  If you think you will participate in this contest (no commitment!), go ahead and leave a comment here so I can better plan the details.  

-I finally harvested the last fruits from my tomato plants this season, and now I have sown new seeds for Arugula, Mizuna, and Red Mustard.  So in parallel to my recipe contest, I will be sharing details about planting cool-weather lettuce varieties so you can enjoy fresh, in-season greens grown right from your own garden.  Look!  My seedlings have already started growing! 

Ad Hoc at Home

-Lastly, I have recently been making lots of recipes from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller.  In case you missed the original posts, check out my Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Sweet Creamed Corn.  They were both divine.  I have found this cookbook to be really fabulous, and so I will share another recipe with you (it might involve cookies) and give you my overall review of Ad Hoc at Home.  Look for my review and recipe post next week! 

Enjoy the weekend!