Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hot Summer Cold Dinner

I don't know about where you are but where I am it's lethally hot, literally between May and June we already have exceeded our annual average number of 100 degree days (average is 12) by 3 days and it's not even officially summer yet! What is a girl to do? Well aside from barricading myself in my house, shutting the blinds and cranking the AC I have to find ways to make due. Part of 'making due' includes trying to keep the stove turned on as little as possible so I've been making a lot more salads and no-cook meals.

Cool as a Cucumber Tuna Salad

2 Large Cucumbers, Peeled and Sliced into half-moons
1 Fennel Bulb, sliced thinly
3 5-oz cans Tuna packed in olive oil, drained and flaked
2 Tbsp White-truffle Dijon Mustard (or Dijon would substitute fine)
2 Tbsp Champagne Vinegar
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tsp Poppy Seeds
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Place veggies and tuna in a large bowl together.
2. Whisk mustard, vinegar, olive oil, poppy seeds and salt/pepper together.
3. Pour over tuna and veggies, mix well, serve!

Someone I have yet to introduce, the newest member of my family, Sam. He joined the family the day before Easter and has been finding his place in the house quite easily.

He's certainly enjoying himself (nagging my dad). His brother Jack has adjusted quite well to him (thank goodness) too. Now if I could just get him to quit using his loud-high-pitched puppy bark...that'd be a trick!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Beets....a stain on my heart (or face and hands)

Many moons ago when I was a baby my parents fed me beets, the photo lives on in infamy...really it's haunted me for years at many a family gathering.

So I ask how does one overcome such humiliation at such a young age? Beet 'em of course! Ok so that was pretty bad beet humor but oh well. In my zeal for local produce I've found that beets are ever-present this time of year at our farmers markets, not quite up to the challenge yet I ignored them last year and then early this year I tasted an amazing golden beet salad at Whole Foods, that was it, the hunt was on! I have taken to oven roasted beets with a variety of different oils/vinegars/spices atop them. One of my favorites is a salad similar to the golden beet salad I loved at Whole Foods...

Golden Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Sage
3 Medium Golden Beets, diced (approx. 1 inch cubes)
Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Sage, sliced in a chiffonade
3 oz Goat Cheese
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Toss beets with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
3. Place beets in 13x9 oven dish and roast beets until tender, approximately 30-45 minutes.
4. Remove beets from oven and let cool 10 minutes.
5.Chop up goat cheese (or crumble) as best you can. Place beets in a large bowl, top with sage and goat cheese, drizzle with vinegar.

While I adore this salad and have made a handful of variations on it, including adding blanched green beans, roasting the beets with various vinegars in the mix, using smoked salts, etc. I definitely tired of it. I started investigating the other ways to eat beets...(hear the sound of crickets??) there aren't many, at least not that I found appetizing. So I came back to the fact that I really like them roasted but needed something else.

Another variation on this included Chioggia, Golden and Red Beets, it's beautiful while it's being roasted (and then eaten!). I also swapped out basil for the sage.

Because I really liked the way the beets were off-set by the flavor of the goat cheese I decided to serve roasted beets alongside a goat cheese risotto.

Basil, Speck and Goat Cheese Risotto


2 tbsp olive oil
4 small shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio Rice
1/2 cup dry White Wine
2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
1/2 cup Goat Cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup diced Speck
Spice Globe Basil, thinly sliced (chiffonade)as garnish

1. In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
2. Saute shallot until soft. Add the garlic and saute for another minute more.
3. Add the Arborio rice to the skillet, making sure to stir it around in the olive oil so that each granule is coated, and toast it for about 2 minutes.
4. Next add the white wine and stir the rice. Wait until all the wine has been absorbed and then start adding the chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time, making sure not to add more until the previous addition has been absorbed.
5. Once the rice is just tender, add the Goat cheese and let it melt in, mix well. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with the Spice Globe Basil and Speck.

It's funny, sometimes the things you think you hate the most come back as favorites.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Noblest of All

Tucked away in the recesses of Cedar Park, TX (aka suburbia) you expect to find many a big-box chain restaurant and fast food location. If you guessed those are the only things in Cedar Park you guessed wrong! Alongside the soccer-fields and the mall you can find Noble Pig, the brain child of two talented chefs, John Bates, who you may be familiar with from his time at Asti and/or Wink, and Brandon Martinez, has spent time at the Inn at the Anasazi, in Santa Fe and Aquarello in San Francisco. At the core Noble Pig is a sandwich and breakfast shop, however if you step back you realize it is the convergence of a bounty of locally sourced foods, handmade condiments and breads and delicious food.

Mid-May I was one of a few lucky food-writers/bloggers invited to a tasting dinner at the shop. We enjoyed a multi-course menu that explored the breakfast, lunch and dessert offerings regularly featured on the menu as well as a terrific treat, a charcuterie platter to start off the evening.

The charcuterie platter was delicious, a Country Style Pork Pate, Sweet Italian Sausage, Linguisa Sausage, and Shiner Bratwurst. served alongside olive-oil pickles and a homemade mustard.

The country style pate was probably my favorite, I'm a sucker for a good pate! Each sausage had robust flavor, on previous visits to Noble Pig I have seen some of their sausages for sale in the case, after tasting each of these I will certainly be back to purchase some.

After the charcuterie we were served a selection of two of the breakfast items, a Biscuit Stuffed with Pecan-Smoked Pork Belly and Cheese and a house-made Chorizo and Egg Torta.

While both were quite tasty the biscuit remains my favorite, I'm a good Southern girl and any kind of biscuit is close to my heart!

Up next were the sandwiches two by two, first up were top-sellers Smoked Duck Pastrami with Russian Dressing and Rye Pickles and The Noble Pig, an unctuous combination of spicy ham, pulled pork, provalone and bacon. For this pig-obsessed pork lover The Noble Pig is a little slice (or big if you're ordering the regular size sammy) of heaven. The Duck Pastrami is also made in-house and is a delicious twist on a classic sandwich.

Note the house pickles on the corner of the tray, as some one who is picky about pickles I found these to be delicious, just like something mom would make. The second tray of sandwiches featured the Thai Chicken with Jalapeno-Cabbage Slaw and Cilantro and the second was something that would be more of a 'feature' than a regular item, Beef Tongue, slowly braised then sliced and seared, served with Manchego cheese, roasted red peppers and a fresh made mustard.

I adore all things Thai and found the Chicken sandwich delicious, the Jalapeno-Cabbage slaw is a great addition to the sandwich but can also be found as a side on the regular menu (it's well worth grabbing a full-sized serving of it). I've only eaten tongue a few times but if it all tasted like this sandwich I'd eat it far more often! The manchego cheese was a perfect accompaniment to the beef, paprika and peppers.

The last course of our tasting was one near and dear to my heart, dessert. My previous trips to Noble Pig had ended with a jar full of their ambrosia-like nectar of Spiced Chocolate Pudding so when I saw it on the menu I was already in heaven. The trio of desserts was Pecan Meringue filled with Spiced Pudding, Buttermilk-Basil Pie and Nutella Stuffed Blueberry French Toast. And yes each one was as good as it sounds.

While I don't think I could pick just one of these in the future, and I dearly love the pudding I think the Buttermilk Basil Pie was the biggest eye-opener for me. I love buttermilk pie as a rule and found the addition of basil to be enlightening, it truly opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities for one of my favorite classics!

While our servings were smaller (tasting menu and all) the regular servings are generous (although sharing might turn into a fight over the goods instead!).

I highly recommend a stop by The Noble Pig, if you're in Cedar Park check them out, they are open Monday-Thursday 6AM-3PM and Friday-Sunday 6AM-5PM.