Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn {book tour + giveaway}

The Mermaid of Brooklyn

author: Amy Shearn
publisher: Touchstone
source: TLC Book Tours
soft cover: 368 pages

"foodie" elements: Not necessarily a foodie-novel, but there are moments where food and/or drink are mentioned...enough to inspire.

random excerpt: I squinted at Betty and Charlie, playing nicely together for once, even if they were sculpting a disturbingly phallic sand castle.  Sometimes I thought I had the kind of brain that had no right being near kids.  the other day at the Y play space, I'd heard a mom call out, "NO LICKING BALLS!" and I'd almost lost it completely.  It was terrible.  I'm not saying it wasn't terrible.  p. 165


Formerly an up-and-coming magazine editor, Jenny Lipkin is now your average, stretched-too-thin Brooklyn mom, tackling the challenges of raising two children in a cramped Park Slope walk-up. All she really wants is to survive the sweltering New York summer with a shred of sanity intact. But when her husband, Harry, vanishes one evening, Jenny reaches her breaking point. And in a moment of despair, a split-second decision changes her life forever.

Pulled from the brink by an unexpected ally, Jenny is forced to rethink her ideas about success, motherhood, romance, and relationships. But confronting her inner demons is no easy task. . .

my thoughts/review:  Here's the thing about me - when I read, I like to be transported.  I want a getaway. It's basically my "me time".  I love a day like today (warm sun, cool breeze) with nobody around but me and the people on the pages of a good book.  The Mermaid of Brooklyn is a mish-mash of reality and fantasy stitched like a favorite pair of jeans.  That means comfortably, people.

I don't think that there is a mother out there, stay-at-home or working, that hasn't felt some gradient of the feelings that Jenny has in this book.  From the sheer adoration of those perfect little angels that sprung forth from your loins to the (momentary) need to throw yourself off a bridge to escape the insanity that is your life...wanting (deserving) the acknowledgment for the never-ending job that you have...basking in the joy it feels to be desired...remembering what your life was like and who you were before you were a wife, a mom...

I loved every minute of this story. I felt like I could be friends with Jenny.  Like I could sit down next to her and Laura on a blanket in the park and people-watch with one eye while baby-watching with the other.  I actually "got" her.  I almost wanted a mermaid, a rusalka, to share my skin and force me to tackle uncomfortable situations head-on and to remind me not only who I was, but who I am.

Recommended reading for moms (especially stay-at-home moms), or women, in general who enjoy fiction, chick-lit, and a bit of fantasy or science fiction.

about the author:  Amy Shearn is the author of How Far Is the Ocean from Here. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, The Millions, Poets & Writers, The L Magazine, Opium, and Five Chapters, and she writes for Oprah.com and RedbookMag.com. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

further info: websitefacebook | twitter

recipe inspired by the book:  I really wanted to make a dish inspired by this book...HOWEVER, life got in the way.  I haven't had a whole lot of free time lately - and unfortunately no rusalka to jump in and give me a push...so I was last-minute reading.  Enjoying every minute, I might add.  If I had given myself just a day or two extra, I probably would have made a pizza from scratch, the crust studded with sexy roasted and caramelized garlic cloves and topped with spinach, fennel-studded Italian sausage, and maybe even some more garlic in honor of Jenny's first act of her new life: ordering pizza. Here was the passage that inspired me:

"We're ordering a pizza," I said.  So there.  Betty bugged her eyes out and then shrieked, "YAYYY!" galloping around the apartment.  I never ordered in.  It was a favorite indulgence of Harry's but one I always felt about about, what with the expense and the ease and the inevitable waste, so we ended up ordering Harry's favorites and never mine.  forget it.  I let the guilty tightness go, like the unwanted thoughts I was never able to release when commanded to in yoga.  Whooosh.  "With spinach and garlic," I added, "because that's how I like it."  Betty wrinkled her nose, but when it came, she wolfed down her slice happily.

     And that was the first act of my new life.  Ordering pizza.

     Hey, you have to start somewhere.  p. 99-100

GIVEAWAY (this giveaway has ended)
Would you like to win a copy of this novel?  It would make a great book to throw in your bag for bus, taxi, or train reading...maybe passing time in a waiting room or waiting car...or to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather...or save for the beach.  If you live in the USA or Canada, you've got just that chance!  Simply leave a comment on this post letting me know one of the best books you've read (or dreamed of having time to read) lately!  All submissions are due by 11:59 pm (ET) on 05/06/13.  I will choose a winner via random draw from all submissions and notify that winner via email (who will have 48 hours to respond).  Please be sure to enter your email address, so that I have a way of contacting you. Good Luck!

update 5/7/13: Congratulations to the winner of the book, I have sent you an email - Enjoy!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm craving pizza.  Pizza with all of MY favorite toppings.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, and the publisher is providing another copy for the giveaway.  All thoughts and opinions stated in this post are 100% mine.  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making Macarons: FAIL! {#SundaySupper: New Cooking Adventures}

Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
This week's #SundaySupper theme is all about trying something new in the kitchen.  Be it a recipe that you've had your eye on for a while (or filed away for decades...like I may or may not have), a new technique you've been wanting to master, or perhaps diving in to a cuisine that you are unfamiliar with.  We're talking adventures today!

Of course I have countless numbers of recipes just hanging out, waiting in the wings.  But I knew right away what I was going to do this week.  I was going to make Macarons - something I have been putting off for a looooong time.  Even when that huge macaron-craze hit a few years back.  There were macaron making groups.  I would visit their posts and think about how pretty those little French cookies were.  Shells in a spectrum of beautiful colors.  Fillings that ranged from buttercream to ganache to frosting and jam.  But I only admired from afar.

Honest to dog truth?  In all of that time, I never so much as tasted a macaron.  My first bite into that crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside shell wrapped around buttercream actually came a mere seven months ago, on my first day in Ireland.  It was good, but soon forgotten in a haze of whiskey, foie gras, brown bread, and adorable yogurt jars.

So, having read and intentionally/unintentionally prepared for this moment for so many years, I decided it was time to s*it or get off the pot.  And I wasn't going to start with just any macaron - oh no.  I wanted to attempt a Cheetos Macaron that I had recently read about.  Several times.  The shells were plain, and there was a cheetos-infused ganache in between.  I even saved a few cheetos for crumbling and dusting the top of the shells.
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
First came the ganache:  x-amount of cheetos infused in heavy cream and strained once cool.  Combine the now-cheesy cream with white chocolate to make a ganache.  Or so was the plan.  It all started out well.  Putting cheetos and heavy cream in a pot together made me unusually happy.  Until the cheetos soaked up every single last bit of cream, leaving none to be strained and used for the ganache.  Instead I had a wet mass of unusable goo.  Fail.

So, time to reformulate.  The rest of the bag of cheetos had already vanished.  And I was beginning to wonder whether I should have used cheese curls instead of cheese puff (the recipe didn't say).  Perhaps I should have figured, but when I heard cheetos, that what I went for.  Even though I, myself, prefer the hard, crunchy curls to the styrofoamy puffs.  Oh well, chalk it up.

So I looked at my pantry for a flavor inspiration.  My eyes went to a few precariously stacked boxes of tea.  Earl Grey.  I was going to make Earl Grey Macarons.  And put some cardamom in the shells.  So, I decided on an Earl Grey-infused ganache to go with it.  I had a half of a container of heavy cream left.  So, I infused the rest of the cream with the tea.  And I popped a few white chocolate chips (my nemesis) into my mouth while I waited.  I weighed out what I thought would be the right amount.  And then I popped the remaining chips in my mouth.  Ummmmm....can you guess where this is going?  I whisked my reserved white chocolate into my hot, infused cream - only to find out that I was short on chocolate.  Well, duh.  I was using an old ganache recipe that I doubled the cream for.  But FORGOT to double the chocolate for.  Doh!  And I'd already eaten too much of the "extra" chocolate to make up the difference.  So I whisked in what was left of the chocolate, stuck it in the fridge, and hoped for the best.  My best wasn't good enough.  It wasn't enough chocolate to set up to the point where it wouldn't just cascade over the edges when I set it on the shell.
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
Speaking of the shell, I added a bit of earl grey and a bit of cardamom to the almond flour and sugar.  I beat my eggs and other sugar to stiff peaks.  I folded them together.  I realized belatedly that my 1/2-inch pastry tip was missing - so I piped haphazardly from the cut corner of a baggie onto my parchment-lined baking sheet...which, by the way, I was far too lazy and concerned with lead (graphite?) poisoning to draw circlular patterns onto.  Okay, I did draww on a few and flipped it over, but that was far too much work, so I just free-handed it for most of them.

I sprinkled a few with more earl grey, stuck them in the oven and impatiently awaited the arrival of those gorgeous little shells.  SURPRISE!  Not so gorgeous, but still - THEY HAD FEET!  The most beautiful little feet in the world.  I was ridiculously proud of those feet.  However, they also had nipples.  Pert ones.  Squished ones.  Pointy ones.  Man!  But Susan told me that all I needed to do was push those little nipples down with a damp fingertip after piping, so I figured next time, I'd have perfect shells.
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
Fast forward a day.  I decided that my perfect shells were going to strawberry.  Strawberry macarons with (runny) Earl Grey ganache sounded pretty fabulous to me.  I was feeling cocky confident.  But I didn't really want to use food coloring, so I figured that since grinding freeze-dried fruit to a powder had worked so well to color my meringues last week that it would probably work just as well to color my macaron shells.  Oh the visions in my head!

So I added freeze-dried strawberries to the food processor with the confectioners' sugar and almond flour and whizzed them all up into a beautiful, pink powder.   Aw yeah, these babies were gonna be fabulous!
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
Next up, time to pipe.  I still skipped making circles on my paper, but I did find my piping tip.  So, pretty pink mounds dotted my parchment paper.  Nipples were wiped away with one damp finger.  But...and this should have been a sign...those little mounds never really dried out on the outside after sitting for 15 or 20 minutes like the first batch did.  I slid them into the oven anyway.  Afterall, they were well on their road to being perfect.
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
Until I opened it 12 to 14 minutes later to find not only nipple-less, but also foot-less little cookies.  Not smooth and puffed up proudly, but rather cracked and caving in on themselves as if burdened by my expectations of grandeur.

I don't know if the addition of the fruit was at fault...could it have added too much moisture?  I did everything else the same as my good shells.  I wonder if I'd combined the fruit powder with the egg whites instead of the almond flour if it would have made any difference?  I should have just used some stupid food coloring.  Or left it plain.  I'm not gonna be so "confident" next go-round.

Let me just tell you (if you don't already know), making macarons is flippin' expensive!  Almond flour is pricey!  Heavy cream is pricey!  White chocolate?  Oh yeah, it's pricey.  I was out of ingredients and out of money for this go-round.  No more macaron tries for me this week.  I had to admit defeat.
Making Macarons: FAIL! | www.girlichef.com
Now, I know I had the right idea.  I'm pretty fearless in the kitchen.  I know the basics...culinary school and a culinary apprenticeship saw to that.  But I've always leaned more towards the cooking side.  I did not major in pastry.  I'm a regular bread baker.  Yeast is my friend, but that elusive macaron remains a distant acquaintance. (Apparently I think yeast should be harder to master than a macaron.)

I'm not giving up for good.  I'll try again...and soon.  I'm reading a book right now for the current round of Cook the Books that has more macarons in it that a Parisian pastry shop, so I'm already set on heading back into the kitchen, armed with a new bag of almond flour sometime in the next 30 days.  Just you wait.
Shall we see how the rest of the #SundaySupper Movement members faired in this week's New Cooking Adventures challenge (hosted by Conni at Foodie Army Wife)?  Yes, good.  Here's the list of everybody's new cooking adventures...

New Expeditions (Sides, Starters & Staples)
Grand Quests (Main Dishes)
Escapades (Sweet Treats & Spirited Companions)

Sunday Supper Movement
So, how 'bout you?  Do you have any new cooking adventures that you'd like to embark on?  Maybe something you've tried that didn't work out?  Recipes or techniques that you've been putting off?  I'd love to hear about it!  Feel free to leave links and/or recipes in the comments.  Also, please join us for our live twitter chat tonight at 7pm (Eastern) using the#SundaySupper hashtag, and check out the Sunday Supper board on Pinterest

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Coming to Orlando July 19-21, the first annual Food and Wine Conference sponsored by #SundaySupper. Visit the website to learn more and join in on the fun.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Midnight Margaritas ...inspired by Practical Magic {food 'n flix}

Midnight Margaritas (with a side of remembrance) | www.girlichef.com
"There's some things though, I know for certain:  always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever  you can." 

Our food 'n flix pick for this month was an oldie, but a goodie: Practical Magic.  Sisters Sally and Gillian are raised by their quirky, lovable aunts after their father dies due to an age-old curse on the Owens women and their mother shortly after, of a broken heart.  The aunts serve chocolate cake for breakfast, they dose out love spells for the townsfolk, and they teach their nieces the importance of plants, herbs, and other magical properties.

Part romantic comedy, part supernatural, all chick-flick - how can I resist that combination?  Plus, the cast of women is amazing: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, and Dianne Wiest.  Throw in some cute guys (Aidan Quinn, Goran Visnjic, and Feuerstein) and some margaritas, and you've got yourself a fun afternoon!
Midnight Margaritas (with a side of remembrance) | www.girlichef.com
There are a lot of fun foodie moments scattered throughout this flick.  From young Sally's spell which dictates her true love will "be able to flip pancakes in the air" (and the cactus-shaped pancakes that Gary makes), to the beckoning table settings that you notice if you pay attention, to chocolate-covered strawberries and the aforementioned chocolate cake to the beautiful produce at the outdoor market (including those ill-fated green apples that tragically scatter everywhere when Michael is killed).  There's mention of Blessing Seeds (aka Nigella Seeds), and even the products that Sally makes for her shop, like the Mint-Oatmeal Shaving Cream ("...he couldn't stop eating it").

But what I chose as inspiration from Practical Magic comes from liquid nourishement.  One night when Sally and Gilly are grown up (Sally with daughters of her own), and have just dealt with a particularly unsettling event.  Cut to the aunts in the kitchen, brewing up something intriguing...music rising in the background (you put the lime in the coconut...)...and you've got one of my favorite scenes of the movie: MIDNIGHT MARGARITAS!

Instead of the traditional margaritas that it looked like they were drinking, I decided to make a twist on the name and make margaritas that were the "color of midnight".  Fun for drinking at midnight or noon - that's entirely up to you.  I left out the Belladona-laced tequila and instead, added a bit of rosemary for remembrance (wouldn't the ladies be proud).  Of course, I can't guarantee that you're going to want to remember the night.  I'd say that depends on the number of margaritas you consume.
Midnight Margaritas (with a side of remembrance) | www.girlichef.com
"Flip the switch and let the cauldron bubble!"

Midnight Margaritas (with a side of remembrance)
Rosemary is the herb of remembrance.  I suppose remembering Midnight Margaritas could be a good thing or a bad thing.  It's up to you to decide.  Leave the rosemary out if you're drinking to forget.
serves 8

2 heaping cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
2 heaping cups blackberries (fresh or frozen)
2 cups tequila
1 cup Licor 43
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup rosemary simple syrup
rosemary salt or sugar, for rimming (optional)

for the rosemary simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 sprigs rosemary

for the rosemary salt or sugar:
salt OR sugar
fresh rosemary

To make the margaritas, simply add both types of berries, tequila, Licor 43, lime juice, and rosemary simple syrup to a blender and puree until smooth.  If you wish, you can strain it (to remove any seeds and skins) - I usually don't bother.

Wet the rims of your glasses and dip them in the rosemary salt (or sugar) and then fill with the margaritas the color of midnight.  The rosemary will help you remember the night...

to make the rosemary simple syrup:
Combine everything in a pot and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to make sure all of the sugar is dissolved.  Allow to cool completely, and then remove the rosemary sprigs.  Store in a jar in the fridge.  (This makes more than you will need for a batch of Midnight Margaritas, but you can use the extra to flavor lemonade, tea, or other drinks and cocktails.)

to make the rosemary salt or sugar:
Use any amount you like - maybe a half cup of salt or sugar and a large sprig of rosemary for a single batch of these Midnight Margaritas.  Place the salt or sugar into a spice grinder or mini food processor along with the leaves from a big sprig of rosemary.  Grind together.  Store any extra (that hasn't gotten wet) in an airtight container at room temperature (or in the fridge).
Midnight Margaritas (with a side of remembrance) | www.girlichef.com
"There's a little witch in all of us..."

Glennis from Can't Believe We Ate is hosting Food 'n Flix this month, with her pick Practical Magic. Submissions are due by the end of the day tomorrow (April 28).

 Next month's pick is Delicatessen, hosted by Elizabeth at The Law Student's Cookbook. I hope you can join us!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, April 26, 2013

#ILoveAvocados for Cinco De Mayo Sweepstakes {Cinco de Mayo Paletas}

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Avocado App. All opinions are 100% mine.
Cinco de Mayo Paletas | www.girlichef.com
Cinco de Mayo is a huge day around these parts.  Sure, we use the old American excuse to party, drink margaritas, and eat lots and lots of tortilla chips and guac in commemoration of the Mexican victory in the battle of Puelba.  As many of you know, my hubby hails from Mexico (not Puebla, though) and he had never celebrated it before moving to the States.  It's really a localized celebration there.

Aside from those fabulous reasons to celebrate, we actually have FOUR Cinco de Mayo birthdays in the family (and one the day before)...one of those being my youngest hijo.  So really, we have no other choice than to celebrate the day to its fullest!  By mid-April, the search is on for Cinco De Mayo recipes that are going to make an appearance that year.

Though the menu always varies, there are two constants: cake (birthdays, remember) and avocados.  Without fail, there is guacamole (because I'm an addict).  But I like to try to mix things up and add another dish or two that contains avocado.  Aside from the slices and/or chunks that we add to our other dishes, of course.
Cinco de Mayo Paletas | www.girlichef.com
This year, I knew I wanted to make some paletas (popsicles) to add to the celebration.  It's usually about this time that I'm dusting off my popsicle molds, anyway!  I thought it would be a lot of fun to go with the colors of the Mexican flag.  For the red layer, I went straight-up strawberry.  For the white layer, my favorite paletas of all time, coconut.  And for the green layer, I used (I bet you saw this coming a mile away) AVOCADO!  I also added a bit of kale to the green layer.

Speaking of avocados, have you checked out the Avocado app?  The hubby and I have been giving it a test-run over the past couple of days.  Available for iPhone, Android, and the web, it is a "shared" app (between you and that someone special).  It's a way to stay connected, share photos (of that delicious guac you're eating on girl's night) or of the two of you, and send private messages.  We've had fun playing with it, and I think it will be a great way to stay in touch if/when one of us is "on assignment", per se.  Plus, I adore the icon (yes, I'm that girl).
Cinco de Mayo Paletas | www.girlichef.com

I also wanted to give you a heads-up about the I Love Avocados For Cinco De Mayo sweepstakes from Avocados from Mexico and Avocado (the app).  You can win up to $1000 + a premium version of Avocado app (that's 1st place...there's also 2nd and 3rd prizes) by simply posting a photo of you and your other half with your favorite dish made with Avocados from Mexico (or just the dish itself).  Enter by going to the sweepstakes tab after clicking on the Avocados on Facebook link at the bottom of this post.  Sound good to you?  Mmm hmm, me too.

And one last bit of avocado goodness to share, you will not want to miss the #iloveavocados for Cinco de Mayo Twitter party (May 7, 3-4pm ET) hosted by @Avocado and @guacgrl.  Be sure to join us for the chat, it's going to be delicious!

Cinco de Mayo Paletas (Strawberry, Coconut, & Avocado-Kale Ice Pops)
Cinco de Mayo Paletas | www.girlichef.com
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: up to 24 hours
Cook Time: n/a
Keywords: snack dessert vegetarian avocado coconut kale strawberries Cinco de Mayo popsicles American Mexican spring summer fall

Ingredients (10 (2.5 oz.) Pops)
    for the red layer:
    • 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled & quartered + a couple extra, chopped (optional)
    • 1/2 cup simple syrup
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • pinch of fine sea salt
    for the white layer:
    • 6.25 fluid ounce (just over 3/4 cup) canned coconut milk
    • 7 fluid ounce (scant cup) sweetened condensed milk
    • 1/3 cup half-and-half
    • big pinch fine sea salt
    • big splash pure vanilla extract
    • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened, shredded coconut
    for the green layer:
    • 1 avocado, pitted & scooped out of peel
    • 1 cup chopped kale (leaves only, packed)
    • 1/2 cup simple syrup (more or less, to taste)**
    • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
    • pinch of sea salt
    • 6-8 tablespoons coconut water (or milk of any variety - cow, coconut, almond, rice, soy)
    To make these ice pops, you will need: a blender, a popsicle mold (or plastic cups), popsicle sticks (or skewers)

    red layer:
    Begin by blending all of the ingredients under smooth in a blender. Fill the bottom third of your popsicle molds with the mixture. Add a few small pieces of chopped strawberry, if you wish. Freeze until solid (or at least extremely firm); it will take a few hours.

    You can either add the popsicle sticks the molds after an hour or so, when they're just firmer than slushy, or you can wait to add the sticks until you've added the next layer. It really depends on the size of the molds you're using and how deeply you want the sticks to go.

    white layer:
    Toast the coconut in a small pan until golden in spots (watch it carefully, so that it doesn't burn). Pour out of pan (into a bowl or onto a plate or parchment) and let cool completely.

    Add the cooled toasted coconut plus all of the other ingredients for the coconut ice pops to the jar of a blender, and turn on until combined. Fill another third of your popsicle molds with this mixture. Freeze until solid (or at least extremely firm); it will take another few hours.

    If you didn't add the popsicle sticks already, slide them into the center of the pop once this layer has gotten just harder than slushy (after about an hour in the freezer).

    green layer:
    Place everything in the jar of a blender and puree until smooth, adding as much of the liquid as you need to make the mixture pourable (but not thin and runny).

    I find the easiest way to get this last layer in around the popsicle sticks is to transfer it to a zippered baggie, snip off a small corner, and squeeze it in to fill the top third of the popsicle molds.

    Freeze until solid, another few hours.

    Pass them around your Cinco de Mayo celebration!

    You may have a little bit of one or another mixtures. If so, just freeze the extra into individual pops. Likewise, you could multiply any of the layers and make individual colored pops. Try making some striped and some of each individual color for a fun variety. If you don't have that many popsicle molds, you can still make a bunch, you'll just have to start a few days in advance. Once you make a batch and it is frozen solid, remove the pops from the molds, immediately wrap them in wax paper, and put into freezer baggies (store in freezer). Make as many more batches as you like until you have a stockpile of Red, White, and Green Paletas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!

    **Sweeten the avocado layer generously - when food is served cold, you need a bit extra seasoning to make sweet or salty flavors shine (in applications like this, or cold soup, for example).  You could substitute agave nectar, honey, splenda - just do it to taste.  Sweetened condensed milk would also work.
    Powered by Recipage
    Cinco de Mayo Paletas | www.girlichef.com

     photo b58c3aa5-dc72-4281-a6ab-8816b01b7ab5_zpse92c1fc2.jpgLooking for more AVOCADOS FROM MEXICO fun for Cinco de Mayo:

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    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    Bestowed ♥ {review + giveaway}

    I don't know about you, but I feel like a kid at Christmas when a package shows up at my front door.  I mean, even if I'm expecting it, there's nothing like the anticipation of wrasslin' open that box to see what's inside.

    If you're anything like me, you'd enjoy receiving a bright orange box at your doorstep every month that is filled with fun, healthy products.  Some items may be new to you.  Other items may already to favorites.

    I'm talking about Bestowed.  If you sign up for Bestowed, every month you'll have a box delivered to  your door that contains at least 5 awesome nutrition and lifestyle products inside.  These products are hand-picked by nutritionist and author Heather Bauer.  Each month is different, so you never know what you'll be getting.
    bestowed giveaway | www.girlichef.com
    I had the opportunity to receive a free Bestowed box this month.  Guess how I felt about the whole experience?  I loved opening that box to find some fun products to explore.  This month's box contained EBOOST, iTrain, Oloves Hot Chilli Mama Olives, Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts, KIND Healthy Grains Oats & Honey Granola, Gnu Foods Hi-Fiber Minis, and Nektar Honey Crystals.

    In a nutshell, I've had a blast exploring the new-to-me products (EBOOST, iTrain, Oloves, Hi-Fiber Minis, and Nektar) and was super stoked to have a couple of products that I already adore (KIND granola and Hemp Hearts).

    It was a no-brainer to decide that I wanted to receive a new box at my door every month.  How 'bout you?  Would you like to receive a Bestowed box at your door every month?  Maybe just now and again?  Well, Bestowed has given the opportunity for one of my readers to receive a One-Month Subscription to Bestowed today!  Details on how to enter in just a second.  But if you absolutely cannot wait, you should head over to Bestowed right now and sign up to start receiving monthly shipments (you can subscribe by the month or by the year).  If you'd like to sign up now, you can get $5 off of your subscription by using this code when you checkout: 5OFFBSTOWED01.
    bestowed giveaway | www.girlichef.com
    The folks at Bestowed have been kind enough to offer one free 1-month subscription to Bestowed to one of YOU, as well!  If you'd like to have a Bestowed box delivered to your door, here's what you need to do for your chance to win:

    • visit Bestowed and check out some of the items they've featured in the past.  Leave a comment on this post letting me know one of those items you'd love to have show up at your front door.
    optional (leave a separate comment for each one you do for it to count as a separate entry):
    • follow Bestowed on twitter - leave your handle in the comment
    • like Bestowed on facebook - leave your username in the comment
    • follow me on any social platform (they're all listed in the sidebar with links) - leave your username/handle in the comment
    • share this giveaway on any social platform, and leave a link to that share in your comment.
    All submissions MUST contain an email address at which I can contact you, if you are the winner.  This giveaway is open to US residents only.  Winners will be chosen by random drawing via all of the qualifying submissions (I will be verifying the option entries).  I will contact the winner via email, and the winner will be given 48 hours to respond, or a new winner will be chosen.  This contest is open from April 25, 2013 at 12:00 am (ET) through April 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm (ET).

    update 5/2/13: Congrats to the winner of the giveaway!

    I received a free Bestowed Box for the purpose of testing and reviewing. I received no compensation for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney

    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney | www.girlichef.com
    Condiment-a-holics raise your hands!  You know who you are.  You, with the refrigerator doors that are bulging under the weight of jars and bottles in every imaginable shape, size, and content. One shelf in your pantry has been taken over.  I'm guessing there is some sort of box, basket, or tray on your table...perhaps a countertop...displaying a few of your most-used, most-beloved condiments.  There's new, full-to-the-brim jars taking up residence amongst those with just the dregs, waiting to be shaken into an emulsified dressing of one sort or another.

    Is your hand up?

    Yeah, mine is too.

    Sauces and spreads, relishes and jams, mustards and mayos, vinegars and hot sauces, relishes and chutneys - which of these categories do you find that you have the most of?  My "collection" is fairly eclectic.  I do have a hard time resisting mustards and hot sauces, though.  One thing I find that I don't have very much variation in is the "chutney" category.
    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney | www.girlichef.com
    A chutney is similar to a relish, usually containing some sort of fruit and/or vegetable, some spice, sugar, and vinegar, making it simultaneously sweet, sour, tangy, spicy, and pleasantly chunky.  And in all honesty, I think the only type of chutney I've ever really eaten is the ever-popular mango chutney.

    What am I getting at?  Well, this month I was challenged to combine Pomì Tomatoes with eggplant, and after much deliberation, I decided I wanted to combine the two to make a chutney.  I could just taste the deep notes that both smoked paprika and smoked sea salt would lend to the meaty eggplant - and how they would be the perfect foil for the sweetness developed from cooking down the tomatoes and raisins with sugar.  A bit of vinegar for tang...mustard seeds and allspice to build the flavors.  I couldn't get the idea out of my mind.

    Scattered in a lazy blanket over a piece of salmon that was seasoned with Garam Masala and Smoked Sea Salt, and served on a bed of wild and brown rice, the deep, rich chutney made a perfect meal.  Next up, I'm heaping it inside of a grilled cheese sandwich that's been made with a sharp, nutty Cheddar.
    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney | www.girlichef.com
    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney
    by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
    Prep Time: 10 minutes
    Cook Time: 45-50 minutes
    Keywords: simmer sauce condiment vegan vegetarian nut-free tomatoes raisins eggplant

    Ingredients (~1 quart)
    • 1 (26.46 ounce) box Pomi Chopped Tomatoes
    • 2 small eggplants (~8 ounce), cut into 1/2" dice
    • 8 ounce granulated sugar
    • 4 ounce onions or shallots, chopped
    • 2 ounce raisins
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
    Combine everything in a medium-sized Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook until the color is a deep, rich red and everything has thickened up into a chutney (like chunky preserves), 45-50 minutes.

    Let cool a bit and transfer to jars for storage in the fridge. It will keep for months if refrigerated. I think it could probably be processed (canned), but I'm not 100% positive as it's not something I do often.

    Enjoy warm or cold as a condiment. Serve with grilled fish, chicken, or lamb. Serve with a cheese plate or cheese and crackers. Put into a grilled cheese sandwich with sharp cheddar or aged gouda. Thin out and use as a marinade or make into a sauce. This time I served it with a Garam Masala-dusted Salmon. The possibilities are endless.
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    Smoky Tomato-Eggplant Chutney | www.girlichef.com
    I am entering this dish in the April iPomì Challenge: Eggplant

    I received two boxes of Pomì Tomatoes at no charge to use as I pleased to test and develop a recipe using eggplant and Pomì Tomatoes.  I received no compensation for writing this post.  All opinions are my own.

    Sunday, April 21, 2013

    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues

    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues
    When I think of bridal showers, I tend to envision pink and gauzy and dreamy.   These visions are probably more of an ideal than a reality.  Well, my reality.  There may be plenty of brides out there who get to have those kinds of showers.  I, myself, have never been to one though.  I think I've only ever been to one or two bridal showers in my lifetime.  And nobody threw me a bridal shower, so...

    I'm not complaining.  Just explaining why my visions of dreamy bridal showers include flutes of bubbly pink champagne, or pretty-in-pink cocktails, or fun little pink meringue kisses like the ones I made today.

    Now, it's pretty ironic, actually... the way I envision a bridal shower.  Because if I had my way (and a bridal shower), I would probably choose a bolder color palate.  Sunflower yellow.  Tangerine Orange.  Maybe even Eggplant Purple.  And why is it that my mind conjures up variations on one color, anyway?
    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues
    I could plan one heck of a beautiful shower, that much I know.  But seeing as how pretty much everybody I know is already married, there probably isn't one in my near future.  That's what kids are for, aye?  By the time any of them are ready to get married, I'll have a whole fat binder full of potential themes and ideas!  Lucky them.

    So yes, these little puffs of sweet air are a brilliant bridal shower addition.  But you know what?  They're also great on a Friday.  Any Friday.  Around our house, they go by a few names, and I quote: Baked Cotton Candy, Squishy Cookies, Fluffy Thingies.

    Next time, I'm trying finely ground freeze-dried mango (sans rosewater), or maybe blueberries, or perhaps pineapple...

    Raspberry Rosewater Meringues
    Light and airy meringue kisses infused with the flavors of rosewater and raspberry.
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    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues

    by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
    Prep Time: 10 minutes
    Cook Time: 60 minutes
    Keywords: bake dessert eggs Mothers Day Easter Valentines Day candy spring summer

    Ingredients (~5 dozen)
    • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
    • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
    • 3/4 c. sugar
    • 1 1/2 Tbs. finely ground freeze-dried raspberries
    • 1/2 tsp. rosewater
    • 1/4 tsp. white vinegar
    Preheat oven to 250° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place on oven rack in the middle of your oven, and one in the upper third of your oven.

    Whip the egg whites together with the salt in a super-clean bowl on high speed until soft peaks are formed. Gradually add in the sugar and raspberry powder, and continue to whip until you have stiff, shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the rose water and vinegar.

    Transfer to a piping bag (or gallon-sized baggie with the corner snipped off) fitted with a star tip (~1/2-inch wide). Pipe 1-inch wide meringues onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about an inch or so of space between each one.
    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues | www.girlichef.com
    Slide into preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, at this point the meringues should look dry and set. Turn off the heat, and allow them to cool completely in the oven.

    Gently lift the meringues off of the parchment and store in an airtight container.

    If you spray your baking sheets with cooking spray before you set the parchment on it, it will keep the parchment from sliding around. I don't usually do it, but that's just because I don't want to have to wash the pan.

    The recipe that I adapted this one from used raspberry gelatin powder (instead of the ground, freeze-dried raspberries). If you can't get your hands on freeze-dried raspberries, then you could go that route...depends on your thoughts on the red dye in the gelatin.

    -adapted from latin d'lite by Ingrid Hoffmann
    Rosewater Raspberry Meringues
    Our #SundaySupper host this week is all about April "Showers" (bridal, baby, etc.), and our lovely host is Brandie from Home Cooking Memories.  Check out the menu below for all of the other fantastic shower contributions.

    Starters, Appetizers & Snacks
    Soups, Salads & Sandwiches
    Main Dishes
    Cookies, Brownies & Dessert Bars
    Sweet Treats
    Drink Recipes

    Sunday Supper MovementI'd love to hear about some of your favorite foods to bring to or serve at a Shower (baby, bridal, etc.)!  Feel free to leave links and/or recipes in the comments.  Also, please join us for our live twitter chat tonight at 7pm (Eastern) using the#SundaySupper hashtag, and check out the Sunday Supper board on Pinterest

    SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Coming to Orlando July 19-21, the first annual Food and Wine Conference sponsored by #SundaySupper. Visit the website to learn more and join in on the fun.

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    Caramelized Garlic Tart {National Garlic Day}

    Caramelized Garlic Tart (National Garlic Day 2013) | www.girlichef.com
    My top three holidays: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and National Garlic Day.  For real.   My kids even know when National Garlic Day is, because it's the first thing I write on my brand-spanking new calendar every year.  Okay, maybe it's not the first thing.  But that's only because I start in January and write things  "in order".  So, it's more like the fifth or sixth thing I write.  But it's there.

    I spend a good portion of the year trying to decide what "THE" dish for that year will be.  I make plenty of garlicky things on a regular basis, but I'm always looking for something a little special for the day.  Just like I do for any other holiday.  I'm a little disappointed, because I semi-promised myself that this would be the year that I made garlic ice cream.  I think I may have even told you that last year.

    Here we sit.  Ice Cream-less.  I guess I'm just going to have to make it as a treat for a non-holiday, because I absolutely cannot wait a whole 'nother year to make some.  The sad part is, I have several recipes patiently hanging out...waiting for me to try them.
    Caramelized Garlic Tart (National Garlic Day 2013) | www.girlichef.com
    But really, the lack of ice cream today has to be forgiven.  And (mostly) forgotten.  Because the tart you see here?  It deserves all of your attention.  It is a thing of glory (really, I'd sing songs about it).  There are three heads of garlic in there.  Three soft, caramelized, seductive heads of garlic.  There's also herbs.  And there's cheese.  Beautifully tangy goat cheese and creamy, nutty gouda.  I am enamored of it.

    Ice cream, shmice cream.

    Caramelized Garlic Tart
    Caramelized Garlic Tart (National Garlic Day) | www.girlichef.com
    by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
    Prep Time: 30 minutes
    Cook Time: 75 minutes (total)
    Keywords: bake entree vegetarian nut-free garlic cheese herbs

    Ingredients (serves 8)
    • 1 sheet (half of a 17.3 oz. box) puff pastry, thawed
    • 3 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
    • 1 Tbs. olive oil
    • 1 Tbs. Balsamic vinegar
    • 1 c. water
    • slightly heaping 2 tsp. sugar
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
    • sea salt
    • 4 oz. chèvre (soft goat cheese)
    • 4 oz. gouda
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/4 c. + 2 1/2 tsp. heavy cream
    • 1/4 c. + 2 1/2 tsp. crème fraîche
    • freshly ground black pepper
    Set a 9.5-inch tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet.

    Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom of the pan and hang over by about 1/2-inch or so. Line the pan with the pastry. Prick the bottom a few times with the tines of a fork. Line the pastry with a circle of parchment, foil, or wax paper and fill it with pie weights (or dried beans or rice). Set in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

    Slide the baking tray with the tart shell on it into the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Lift out the liner and the weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the pastry turns a light, golden color. Leave the oven on.

    You can start this part as soon as the pastry goes into the fridge, and continue on once it goes into the oven. Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with water by at least an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and wipe the pan dry. Add the olive oil to the pan along with the blanched garlic over high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add the Balsamic and the water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, chopped rosemary and thyme, and about 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Continue to simmer at a quick bubble until the most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a caramely syrup, 10-15 minutes.

    Crumble both cheeses (or you can shred the harder cheese, if you like) into the pastry shell. Spoon the garlic and its syrupy liquid over the cheese. Whisk the remaining ingredients together (with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper), and pour over and around the cheese and garlic, allowing the garlic and cheese to still show over the surface. You will use most of the filling, but may have a tablespoon or so that will not fit - no biggie, don't overfill the shell.

    Slide into the oven, close the door, and lower the heat to 325° F. Bake for ~45 minutes, or until the filling is set and the top has started to turn golden in spots. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a bit, so that you can comfortably pick it up. Once you are able to handle it, lift the bottom from the ring and then use a long, flat spreader (or something like it) to slide the tart onto a serving plate. Garnish with a couple of fresh sprigs of thyme, if you like.

    Serve warm or a room temperature. Store completely cooled tart in the fridge, wrapped tightly; reheat in a low oven until warmed through.

    If you don't have any crème fraîche, you can make a decent substitute by whisking about 1 1/2 teaspoons of buttermilk into 5 teaspoons of sour cream. I'm not saying it's an exact replica - but it works for me.

    adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
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    Caramelized Garlic Tart (National Garlic Day 2013) | www.girlichef.com
    Want more recipes featuring garlic? Here's a few I've posted in the past:
    And since one can never have too much garlic, here are some more GARLICKY GOOD recipes from a few of my friends:
    Caramelized Garlic Tart (National Garlic Day 2013) | www.girlichef.com
    I am sharing this post with IHCC theme: Get Back to your Roots!

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