Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Another rainy fall day is upon us here in the Pacific Northwest… With fall comes some of my favorite comforting recipes! As I am sipping my homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte, and thinking of National Coffee Day on September 29th, I thought I would share this delicious money-saving recipe with you all!
First off, I don’t have an espresso machine – they are expensive and cumbersome, and I have only a vague idea how to use them. While they too can make a great latte, I have found an easy way for me to do the same.
I use a Stovetop Espresso Maker, which makes a few servings of espresso. Mine makes about 8 ounces of rich, creamy espresso, using only about 3/4 of an ounce of coffee.

Here is my recipe for my pumpkin spice latte:
8 ounces of milk (I use 2%)
1 ounce of freshly brewed espresso
(I use just shy of 1 1/2 tablespoons)

Heat the milk in a small pan, but do not boil. When milk begins to steam, use a small whisk to work up a little froth. In a mug, add coffee and smallest amount of coffee syrup (you can always add more, but you can't take it away). Add hot, frothed milk and stir. Taste for sweetness and adjust in necessary. Top with freshly whipped cream and/ or a dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, if desired.

Here is my breakdown of pricing:
Milk $2.60/gallon
Coffee $12.95/13oz
Coffee Syrup $7.95/750ML

Cost per cup:
8 ounces of milk: 16.25¢
1 ounce of espresso: 9.38¢
1 tablespoon coffee syrup: 15.9¢

Total cost of my latte:  $0.42
Cost at espresso stand $3 and higher

What a great deal, right? And, you can customize it to your taste! I get my coffee through Just Love Coffee http://www.justlovecoffee.com/thevannotrics . They support adoptions of children from foreign countries. My brother and his wife are adopting a little one, and if you shop through the link above, you help bring home my niece! The coffee is great too! Today, I used organic/fair trade Peruvian coffee.

This latte recipe can be altered to suit any coffee syrup too! For instance, use white chocolate and raspberry syrups for a tasty latte! The variations are endless, and the money you save by making your own is amazing! Plus, you aren't driving just to buy your latte. Try serving this over ice too - without heating the milk. If I want coffee to go in the morning, I pour all the ingredients into a 2 cup glass measure, then it can be heated in the morning and poured into my travel mug.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dinner from the Garden

Tonights dinner was inspired completely by my garden! I picked large basket of green beans, several zucchini, a couple of radishes, and a bunch of new potatoes. I love a dinner harvested nearly completely from the garden! The menu consisted of New Potatoes with Fresh Dill, Sauteed Green Beans, and Oven Roasted Zucchini with Crispy Prosciutto.
To make the zucchini, I simply sliced it about 1/2 inch thick. Lightly brush a sheet pan and each zucchini slice with some olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt (I used roasted garlic salt). Roast in a 400 degree oven about 15 minutes, until zucchini is tender and lightly golden or longer for more pronounced color. In the meantime, sauté prosciutto in a small amount of butter until crispy. Drain on a paper towel. Top Roasted Zucchini with Crispy Prosciutto.
If you are wondering what Prosciutto is, it is a spiced, dry-cured, aged ham from Italy. Prosciutto means "ham" in Italian. This is usually sliced thin and served raw, but is also great crisped up as in this recipe!

Oven Roasted Zucchini with Crispy Prosciutto
To make the potatoes, place 4 cups of scrubbed small potatoes. Cover with cold water, and inch above the potato level. It's very important to use cold water instead of warm or hot water so that the potatoes cook evenly. Cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender. Toss with 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill. Season with salt (I used Murray River Salt) and pepper to taste.

Butter and Fresh Dill

Red, Yellow, and Purple New Potatoes with Butter and Fresh Dill

Monday, September 12, 2011

More on Salt... A Review of Salt from SaltWorks, Inc...

First off, my taste buds are dancing from all the great flavor from dinner tonight! I decided to taste all the samples tonight, in different applications, so I could compare tastes between salts. Here are the list of salts that I was able to try:
Fusion Black Truffle Salt
Fusion Thai Ginger Salt
Fusion Vanilla Bean Salt
Fusion Roasted Garlic Salt
Fusion Wild Porcini Salt
Artisan Fleur de Sel
Artisan Salish Alder wood Smoked Salt
Artisan Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt
Artisan Hiwa Kai Black Lava Sea Salt
Artisan Murray River Salt

I decided to grill some chicken and choose 2 different salts to try: The Wild Porcini and the Salish Smoked salts. They turned out beautifully, the Salish smoked chicken had a hint of smokiness to it and the flavor was well distributed because of the fine grind. The Wild Porcini lent a distinct mushroom essence to the chicken breast as well as a bit of crunch from the salt crystals.

On the top picture, you can see the Wild Porcini Salt Crystals, compared to the finer Salish Smoked Salt.

The next application I chose was as a finishing salt for zucchini. I stuck with the Hawaiian salts, both the Alaea (red salt) and Hiwa Kai (black salt). They both had an earthiness to them, but the black salt had presentation going for it. It contrasted the food so well and really made a great statement.

Above, is the striking Hiwa Kai Black Sea Salt on Roasted Zucchini.

 Here is the Alaea Hawaiian Salt on Roasted Zucchini     
On the grilled bread, I chose 3 salts to showcase. Murray river salt, which has a pleasing peachy-pink color and an interesting flake texture; Black Truffle salt, which actually has pieces of truffles in the salt; and Roasted Garlic salt, not your average garlic salt! I found the Murray River salt to have a great, versatile flavor good on many dishes. The Black Truffle salt was rich in truffle flavor and would lend a gourmet flavor to risotto, pizza, pasta, or whatever your heart desires. The Roasted Garlic salt was perfect for the bread, full of rich garlic flavor infused directly into the salt.

For dessert, we sampled the last few salts on a Maple Caramel. Thai Ginger, Fleur de Sel, and Vanilla Bean. I found the Thai Ginger to be one of my favorites, with the zip of spicy ginger flavor that melded so well into the Caramel. A close second was the Vanilla Bean salt, rich with real Tahitian vanilla beans blended with the salt. Fleur de Sel is a fantastic, somewhat moist salt that was very versatile and probably my husbands favorite on the caramel.
Above is the Thai Ginger Salt

This is the Vanilla Bean Salt - you can see the vanilla! 
      Fleur de Sel

In closing, my review of salt has opened a new world of taste for me! I highly recommend trying some of these fantastic flavors. For a beginner, I would get a universal salt, such as the Murray River, Fleur de Sel, or Himalayan Pink Salt as well as a couple of flavored salts. SaltWorks, Inc encourages you to contact them if you can't find what you are looking for, but I think they carry most anything you could think of! For more varieties or to purchase these salts, check out their website at http://www.seasalt.com/ .  Best of all, they are a local company based in Washington State. I have always felt a strong need to support local businesses and farms. Thank you to SaltWorks, Inc for allowing me to review some of their salts! It was a true culinary pleasure! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fresh Blackberry Cheesecake with Zesty Lemon Curd

So, the inspirations for this dessert came from the luscious blackberries dripping off the vine in my backyard and from some lemons I needed to use up! I also came across a dessert photography contest that I have entered this dessert in – I hope I am chosen as a finalist!
To make two of the elements in this dessert, I needed some seedless blackberry puree. To do this, I used my sauce maker! Sauce makers are so versatile, and much easier than forcing berries through a strainer. (If you are interested in what a one looks like, or if you would like to purchase one, check out the Amazon.com widget to the right. I also use this for making applesauce and tomato sauce.) The blackberry puree was used in both the cheesecake and the blackberry sauce used to garnish the plate.
For the lemon elements, I used zest in shortbread crust. I made a lemon curd to go on the plate as well, as an acidic element to cut through some of the richness as well as add a brighter color. Here is how I made the Zesty Lemon Curd:

Zesty Lemon Curd
1 Tablespoon arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 large lemons)
Zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon Limoncello (optional)
½ cup butter
4 eggs, beaten.
1 teaspoon vanilla

First, stir together the arrowroot and sugar. Add the lemon juice, zest, and limoncello. Add the butter, cut into a few pieces and place over medium heat. Cook and stir mixture until it’s bubbly and thickened. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in ½ of the hot lemon mixture, then return the mixture to the rest of the lemon mixture remaining in the pan. Whisking, cook for about 2 minutes. Mixture will be fairly thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and pour into a shallow container. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, except for a small corner to allow steam to escape. Chill until cool.

This lemon curd is great, not only as an element to my cheesecake dish, but in many other dishes! For a quick dessert, spread the curd into a baked pie shell, top with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Or, fold in a stabilized whipped cream (cream whipped with some gelatin) to some of the curd and pile in a pie shell. Use as a filling for a cake, a topping for waffles, or in Swedish pancakes. Such a versatile ingredient!

To make the sugared blackberries, simply dip your finger into some sticky syrup, such as agave, honey, or corn syrup. Lightly dab the surface of the blackberry, just enough to make it sticky, but not so much that it is dripping. Roll in granulated sugar immediately. Don't make them too far in advance, as they will turn juicy and sticky.

I will keep you all updated if I make finalist for this contest. If I do, I’ll be hitting you all up for votes!
Below is the photo I entered!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lemon Thyme Compound Butter

One of my favorite go-to gourmet fixes is a great compound butter. Basically, its butter with some flavors added to it. The varieties are endless and can range from savory to sweet. I love to make a big batch and keep it in the fridge to liven up a meal. Tonight's dinner is lingcod, topped with a Lemon-Thyme Compound Butter. Cooking of the fish can vary with this technique, so you can poach, steam, pan fry, broil, or cook on the barbeque. Tonight, I decided to pan fry. The fish variety can also be changed; any white fish would be great, even salmon. Here is how I made the butter...
Lemon Thyme Compound Butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, I used lemon thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
Salt/pepper to taste (I used smoked salt)

Stir all the ingredients together. On a piece of parchment or plastic wrap, shape the butter into a rough log shape. Roll up and refrigerate until firm. Slice into thin discs, then top hot fish.

Other uses for this butter - add to some angel hair pasta for a quick side dish. Top baby potatoes with a couple discs. Spread on toast - the possibilities are endless!
Dinner is pictured above! Lingcod (caught on the latest fishing trip) with the Lemon Thyme Compound Butter, Green beans (from the garden), and bowtie pasta salad, made with homemade pesto, some sour cream, and some buttermilk. Perfect end to a good day!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Salt is Salt. Right?

It was not until recently that I began to dabble in the salt world. You think all salt is created equal? Think again... There are so many salts out there! I thought I would share some information on some of them...

All salt is technically sea salt, but the harvesting and refining processes can differ greatly. Salt is made up of Sodium Chloride, but the flavor differences can be from environmental influences or from human influences.

The history of salt is fascinating! Believe it or not, salt has been used longer than history has recorded! Salt is one of the elements that have appeared in the history of almost every other country. Salt has been used for trading, for health, for religion, for status, and for preserving and flavoring foods for years! Now days, salt is still used for health, but also for gardens (Epsom salts), cleaning, ice-melting, cosmetic, spa, and culinary applications.

Salt comes in many different forms, such as flake, fine, coarse, and brick.
Flake salt is processed in a way that the salt appears to look like snow- "flakes". This type of salt is most often used as a finishing salt right before service.

Fine Salt is the salt generally used for baking, as it distributes evenly throughout the baked good. It is also the form of many sea salts and table salts.

Coarse Salt is great for putting in a grinder, providing fresh ground sea salt. Salt in this form is good for high humidity or long storage, as it is not as susceptible to clumping due to moisture.

Brick Salt usually comes in the form of a Himalayan Salt brick. These bricks come in many different shapes, and can be used to serve cold food or cook and serve hot foods. The bricks impart a briny salt flavor to any moist food placed on it. Bricks may be heated on the barbecue and used to sear meats or vegetables. Bricks may also be used to cure fish and seafood. The Himalayan bricks are a beautiful peach/pink color and can be used over and over.

Ok, now onto some salt varieties...

Table salt is probably the least healthy and most refined of salts. It is harvest and highly refined to remove all other minerals. It is then sprayed with an iodine mixture. This practice began in the 1920's during the Depression in conjunction with the government after many people were found to be suffering from Goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid caused by iodine deficiency. Many foods provide natural iodine, so adding the iodine in table salt to your diet is not necessary.

Kosher Salt is named Kosher due to certifications for maintaining guidelines during the processing in accordance with Jewish laws. It is also named because of its applications in the Jewish diet. This salt is not as refined as table salt, and has a larger, flake-like appearance than sea or table salt.

Grey Salt is becoming better known. I personally love to use this variety, as the flavor is much more complex than table salt! The salt has many different varieties, such as Celtic Sea Salt, French Sea Salt, and Grey Sea Salt. This salt has an almost moist texture and comes in coarse and fine varieties. The color appears grey due to the mineral content specific to the harvesting regions. Grey salt also has a lower sodium content, about 83-87%, so it is a better salt for you. The salt is harvested using the traditional Celtic method, off the shores of France and Portugal. The salt farmers or paludiers rake salt that has evaporated from sea water in shallow salt plots called salt pans, in which water has been allowed into by a dike that opens and closes. What sets it apart from most methods is that they use only wooden tools. Metal never touches the salt. The Celtic method goes back hundreds of years!

Fleur de Sel or "Flower of Salt" is a salt harvested in much the same way as grey salt, with the Celtic method. This salt is prized in France and is used all over the world. Fleur de Sel is a creamy off-white color. It is a fine art to harvest this type of salt, as too much movement could cause the salt crystals to sink and ruin the harvest. Fleur de Sel makes a great finishing salt, but is also great in general cooking.

Pink Salt is most commonly Himalayan Pink Salt, but there are also Murray River and Peruvian Pink salts. This is the salt commonly found in the brick form. Pink salt ranges in colors from a pale pink to a deep almost burgundy color. It contains 84 minerals and trace elements, which is why it is said to be so good for you!

Blue Salt comes in one variety - Persian Blue Salt. Blue salt is the rarest of salts, blue-flecked in appearance due to compressed, fractured crystals. Interestingly enough, the salt is not actually blue - it only appears blue. Harvested in Iran, this salt is highly prized for its taste and appearance.

Black Salt comes in 3 varieties - Black Lava, Black Hawaiian, and Kala Namak (pictured at left). Black Lava is a Sicilian salt that is combined with activated charcoal, which gives it its lush, black color. The charcoal also acts as a detoxifier! Black Hawaiian if from Hawaii, but basically the same as Black Lava. Kala Namak is mined in Central India. The salt is rich in minerals that lend a sulphuric taste to the salt. Despite its name, the Kala Namak is a light pink color when ground. 
Hawaiian Salt, also called Hawaiian 'Alaea Salt, is nearly red in color. The volcanic clay added to the salt, called 'Alaea is rich in iron oxide and is where the color of the salt is derived. The volcanic clay adds an earthiness not found in regular sea salt. 

Smoked Salt is a fantastically flavorful salt! The salt is cold-smoked with a variety of natural woods to lend a smoky, fresh-off-the-grill taste to any meal. The smoke coats the salt crystals, turning them a grayish brown. Make sure the salt you buy is truly smoked, not just flavored. Flavoring tends to bitter the salt. While grilling with a gas grill, is convenient, you can't achieve the true smoky flavor as you can in a campfire or over a charcoal grill. But, this gets you almost the same results! This is also great on oysters from the grill...

Flavored Salts are probably one of the most versatile categories! There are so many, some with lemon or herbs, some with sweet flavorings or vegetables, others with truffles or vanilla. Many of these salts can do double duty in the flavor department and work well as a finishing salt.

While I haven't tried all of these salts, I have certainly enjoyed cooking with the ones I have! I look forward to trying some new salts and I hope this inspires you to cook with some of these and change up your normal routine of "Please pass the salt"!

Pictures courtesy of SaltWorks, Inc. Check out their website for some great salt varieties!