Girl + Fire = Food



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chopped-Inspired Dinner Party

Chopped is a Food Network show that pits 4 cheftestants against each other and a basket of mystery ingredients. I watch the show to take notes on the different ways the chefs prepare their various ingredients. Some of the baskets confound even the judges (one of whom is Aaron Sanchez, who we partied with on Quatro de Mayo). That's when you know it's good.

So fascinated have I been by the idea of "mystery ingredients" that I decided to host my own dinner party styled after the show. I've finally gotten comfortable enough in the kitchen that I think I can whip up something on the fly. Thankfully my guests didn't make it too hard on me.

Erik, Katie & Adrienne
The instructions to them were simple: each would bring either a protein, fruit/vegetable, and wild card item, and my only restriction would be that the wild card be gluten-free. The Chopped chefs only get 30 minutes to make an entree, but I told them I was giving myself an hour just to be safe. Adrienne arrived first with a bag of cooked baby shrimp. I had expected seafood, so I was relieved. Up next was Katie with herbed goat cheese and a polenta loaf. Finally my brother Erik arrived with oranges.

The goat cheese was camera shy.
My very first reaction to the oranges is not appropriate for young eyes. Suffice to say I panicked for a half-second.

While I loaded them up on wine, cheese, and strawberry jellies, I set to work in the kitchen. Inspiration came from the buns I had anticipated using if ground meat had come through the door (hey, even burgers can be sexy!). I grabbed my favorite kitchen tool (the mini chopper attachment on my stick blender) and set to blending the shrimp, goat cheese and orange zest together. I didn't know what it would taste like, but it sounded like a good idea. My brother wandered in at that point to shoot some video and ask if we were having shrimp shakes. He was slightly disappointed when I said no.

At first I thought I'd make shrimp pâté burgers with the polenta rounds as the bread. Then I thought about doing Napoleons. But something was missing. We had yellow bases topped with orangey-pink goop. It needed greenery. And bacon, because everything is good with bacon. So out of the fridge came the bacon and a bag of spinach. Bacon fried up and then the spinach sautéed nicely in its drippings.

Finally it was time to plate. A diced Roma tomato added the final touch.

I waited cautiously for everyone's reactions. My brother was the first to speak up, saying he thought the orange zest added a really good, interesting flavor. The girls agreed and we all dug in with gusto. Erik went on to eat four Napoleons. So at the very least I know he really liked them.

It was a lot of fun and I can't wait to do it again. Maybe will become the new Saturday Night Test Kitchen! (As I was writing this, I realized that Napoleons are supposed to be stacks of repeated layers, and these weren't exactly that. But that's why artistic license exists, right?)

Polenta & Shrimp Pâté Napoleons
yields approximately 5 servings

1 pound of cooked baby shrimp (250-350 per pound)
3 ounces of fine herb goat cheese
1 tablespoon of orange zest
1 pre-made polenta tube
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
8 pieces of bacon
1 six-ounce bag of baby spinach
1 roma tomato, diced

1. In a food processor, blend together the shrimp, goat cheese and orange zest. Pose for pictures.

2. Cut polenta into 1/4-inch rounds and sauté in the sunflower oil until a slight crust develops on both sides.

2a. Answer questions for the camera man when he wanders in asking about shrimp shakes. Give him more wine.

3. While the polenta is sautéing, cut the bacon in half cross-wise and fry in a separate pan. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels and reserve the pan drippings. Wilt the spinach in the drippings. Sauté just until the leaves wilt and turn slightly dark.

4. To serve, place the polenta in the center of the dish. Top it with the paté, spinach, a slice of bacon (or cut in half again to make the decorating process easier). Add a couple pieces of chopped tomato and serve.

5. Drink more wine.

My brother's funny little video of the night is available on our new Facebook page. Click here to Like Girl+Fire and watch a two and half minute recount of our Chopped-inspired night (Kevin Bacon may or may not make a cameo in the video...).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Corks Needed!

Remember this awesome cork bath mat we here at G+F wanted? Well here's the sad truth about where we are with the cork collection:

We need more corks! Please save your corks and send them to us. We are available for local pick up. Or if anyone has a connection to a wine store/bar, we will gladly relieve them of their cork clutter!

Pretty please?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bacon-Infused Scotch

Bacon is all the rage, some might even say it's passé. Being a staple of morning dining across this country, I scoff at that notion. Bacon is here to stay.

I'll eat bacon in just about anything. My friend Oakley, knowing about my love for both bacon and scotch, mentioned she was making bacon bourbon after our volunteering stint at the OC Foodie Fest. I'd never heard of such a thing but it sounded fantastic. Bacon-flavored alcohol! The problem is, I don't keep bourbon in the house. I wouldn't even know what a decent bourbon tastes like (a visit to Kentucky will need to be had). But I do love its foreign cousin scotch. So much so that friends have taken it upon themselves to gift me random bottles for birthdays. These are the types of gifts you must accept graciously and politely.

But finally, I found a remedy for the glut of harsh spirits haunting my liquor cabinet: bacon! There was one particularly rough scotch that a well-meaning man brought to me on a first date many years ago. Sitting on the shelf for a few additional years had done nothing to mellow its punch. So it was the perfect test.

Oakley's recipe was simple: add bacon fat to a bottle of liquor, let sit, freeze, then fish the fat out a day later. The result was a much smoother, less harsh alcohol.

I wouldn't try this with the higher-end scotch. You don't mess with a good thing. But it's a great recipe for the more run-of-the-mill varieties.

Bacon-Infused Scotch

3-4 strips fatty bacon
1 tablespoon freshly rendered bacon fat
1 bottle of scotch

1. Fry up the bacon. Save a tablespoon of bacon fat. Eat the bacon. (If 3-4 strips doesn't give you a full tablespoon, fry some more!)

2. Pour the scotch into a clean, wide-mouth container. You don't want to put the bacon fat in the alcohol's original bottle because some might get stuck in there, which leads to floating fat globules and that's not pretty.

3. Let the mixture marinate overnight.

4. The next morning, stash the mixture in the freezer. Scotch doesn't freeze, but the fat will. After a few hours, the fat will be solid, making it very easy to fish out. Even easier if you used a wide-mouth container.

5. Strain the alcohol back into its original bottle.

Your scotch is now ready to drink. Mmm.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Balsamic Pesto Pizza at Rosti Tuscan Kitchen

A few weeks ago a few bloggers picked my pizza as the upcoming Rosti Tuscan Kitchen Pizza of the Week. And that week was this past week!

The Pizza of the Week is displayed on their Specials board, which means that everyone walking in the doors saw it up on their wallas well as a shout-out to this here blog. So if you've found yourself here by way of Rosti's chalkboard, ¡hola!

Rosti has two locations, so I had to try it at both (well, at least the toppings, since I hadn't asked for a gluten-free version). The pizza that was served was, of course, different than what I created. But that's the great thing about food: ingredient lists are guidelines. My original pizza was very cheesy. The pie at the Encino location came with extra caramelized onions while the one at the Santa Monica restaurant had far fewer.

Original + Encino Pizza + Santa Monica Pizza
Everyone who tried it seemed to really enjoy it (or, at least, that's what they told me). It paired really well with the Coppola Diamond Zinfandel (that we ordered by the bottle—twice). We happened into the Encino location on Wednesday, when wine is half-price by the bottle. Lucky us!

The recipe is as follows, sans quantities so you can tweak to your taste buds (and also because I didn't measure them when making it). It's good, I promise! And 11 food bloggers can't be wrong.

Balsamic Pesto Pizza

Pizza dough, rolled to a 10-inch disc
Caramelized onions
Honey balsamic dressing*
Sun-dried tomatoes
Pancetta, crumbled
Balsamic vinegar
Mozzarella, shredded
Italian breadcrumbs

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough out over a floured surface.

2. Soak the caramelized onions in the honey balsamic dressing.

3. Top the dough with a generous helping of pesto. Add the onions and the dressing marinade, along with the tomatoes, pancetta, and balsamic vinegar. Add a generous amount of shredded mozzarella, then top with a handful of bread crumbs.

4. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve piping hot, being careful not to burn your mouth.

* Rosti's proprietary ingredients
I suppose you could use a pre-made crust, though recipes for making dough abound all over the internets. The pesto and honey balsamic dressing recipes are also up for interpretation since they are Rosti's proprietary creations, but those recipes are also available everywhere, even here.

Rosti's contest is ongoing. You too can win bragging rights AND free pizza for a year. Go to their Facebook page for details.