Friday, August 20, 2010

I have a courtyard.

I have a courtyard. And it sits. And waits. But no one ever goes near it except for the occasional watering of plants. I have just recently discovered the beauty and potential of this little space. Swept clean of cobwebs and dirt that has formed a dust-like layer upon the tile, it begins to remind me of a little outdoor restaurant in Italy somewhere. My sister and I vigorously scrub the tile with water along with the metal chairs and table with spiral finishes and satisfied that it looked worlds cleaner, began to string rows of Christmas lights from one wall to the other, hanging paper lanterns every-so-often, and twisting the final stretch of light around a Japanese maple tree in the corner.

The little space comes to life when we throw a navy-blue and white table cloth in a fantastic design over the table, decorating every inch of the space with tea lights in amber-colored glass and larger creme-colored candles in magnificent glass-blown vases.

With this set-up there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to create a mini tapas restaurant in our own backyard. Inviting over one of my mother's closest friends, my sister and I hurriedly created a shopping list for the night ahead. And the kitchen was a mess by the time it was over. While "tapas" are supposed to be Spanish, we created tapas from around the world including baked brie with caramelized onions, lemongrass chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce, hand rolled California rolls with (yay!) successful sushi rice, grilled slices of polenta with ratatouille and Parmesan, Peach Melba in a caramel with homemade raspberry sauce, and our recipe for today: marinated bell pepper salad. Not only was this my favorite dish of the bunch that we made, but it captured the original spirit of Italy that the courtyard seems to encompass. It is a magnificent, surprisingly to-die-for salad that is also unbelievably easy. And unlike other salads, it can be made way in advance.

Marinated Bell Pepper Salad
(makes 4 servings, from the Culinary Institute of America)

you will need:
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
You can omit the red wine vinegar if you have a really good quality balsamic laying around. The red wine vinegar will overpower the subtle sweetness of a really good one. 
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
-1 1/2 Tablespoons of fresh herbs (optional, of your choice)

-1 1/2 cups mild olive oil
-1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onions
-1/4 cup black olives cut into strips (pitted, of course)
-1/4 of a bunch of cilantro, chopped
-1/2 jalapeno, minced
-1 clove garlic, crushed or minced

-3 bell peppers (one of each color, you decide which three. I used red, yellow, and green)
-toasted pine nuts (you can toast them yourself)
-Parmesan cheese (preferably in large strips which can be bought pre-grated or you can do yourself)

1. Cut the bell peppers into 1/2 inch strips

2. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together, pour over the bell peppers, and toss till evenly coated. (There will be an excess of liquid in the bowl.) Try and get as many peppers beneath the surface of the liquid as possible without smashing them, cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30-45 min or refrigerate until needed but let it come to room temperature again before serving.

3. Toss in the pine nuts, and grate fresh parmasean over the top and serve! Wasn't that easy? Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Sip of Autumn

So I know I have been like the worst blogger ever, randomly posting, having no schedule at all and telling everyone that I'll be more on top of it. But as it would turn out, my personality doesn't really support these promises. So I have decided to let go of any kind of "holding myself to it" and have decided to embrace the fact that the beauty of blogging is not being on any kind of schedule. The other reason I have been so held back from writing besides the fact that I'm awful at following routine is that I only ever want to write about truly mouth watering treats. Things that impress and inspire me and my foodie-ness. And it just so happens that this is one of those very foodie occasions.

And while I know that we are not exactly out of the summer heat yet (unless of course you live where I do and have been in mostly winter this summer) I am starting to have cravings for fall and all the wonderful food surprises it brings.

To me autumn feels like a point of renewal, a time to take a look at yourself and re-evaluate how you live your life. I have been having such thoughts of renewal as I contemplate my move back to the east coast to go back to school. I've made goals for myself: eat better, more veggies, exercise more, practice more, work more, care more about school and myself. And while I find it is absolutely fantastic to have so much free time in which to bake wonderfully sweet treats, I feel it is time to go back to the goodness of healthy, natural, simple eating.

Watching the food network a lot lately, I am inspired by the fact that they make everything from scratch. Things that I wouldn't normally make in order to save time such as broths and ice cream and pasta and mayonnaise. But making it from scratch ensures you are using wholesome ingredients, that there is no trans fat (which is the only fat with sufficient evidence that it can cause CHD, coronary heart disease) and that it is made, although perhaps with a side of frustration, from the heart. 

Today's recipe is still a little sugary but it definitely brings to mind the essence of autumn and renewal and the feeling that I can do anything (especially in cooking). Chai tea is one of my most loved warm brews to be sipped on crisp autumn mornings. I particularly love chai lattes which combine creamy and spicy together to make a richness that I imagine some princess in a snow castle drinking with Turkish delight up on a brightly colored cushion.

Homemade Chai Tea
adapted from the Earthbound Farms Cookbook

You will need:
-1 cinnamon stick (4 inch)
-6-8 whole cloves
-fresh ginger (3 inch piece) peeled and sliced thinnly
-1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
-6-8 cardamom seeds (or 1/2 tsp. ground)
-zest of one lemon or orange in thick strips (use a peeler)
-3 cups water
-4 black tea bags (I used Lipton and it turned out great)
-1/2 cup low fat milk
-1/2 cup half n half
-1/4-1/3 cup sugar

1. Crush the cinnamon stick, cloves, ginger, peppercorns, and cardamom by any means you have into pieces. It doesn't need to be a powder, just crushed enough that everything is in small pieces. I used a plastic bag and one of those kitchen hammer things (I don't know what it's called) and that worked fine.

2. Add your newly crushed spices to a medium saucepan and add your zest. Bring the mix to a boil and then turn the heat to low and cover for 10 min.

3. Take off the heat and add your tea bags. Steep for 5 min. with the lid on.

4. Remove the tea bags. Add your milk, half n half, and sugar and stir on medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

5. Strain the tea into whatever you want to store it in and discard of the solids. Serve immediately or let it sit out covered with plastic wrap with some holes in the top until it reached room temperature before storing it in the fridge.

6. Feel free to add whipped cream if you wish to serve it as a dessert. It is excellent!

I hope you enjoy this little sip of autumn. Happy Cooking!