Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grilled Avocado Salad

Salads, to me, are the epitome of spring foods. Even though you won't find the greens and other traditional salad accouterments in your garden until later in the summer, wild greens are out there if you know how to find them. Somehow as soon as the snow is gone and trees start showing some green I just can't bear to eat hot foods for lunch and I start to crave the fresh flavours of a salad. Whether you harvest your ingredients from nature or get them at the market salads are the way to go for spring.

My first salad of the season accompanied grilled chicken and steak. I barbecued the chicken and seasoned the steak with rich earthy flavours since there was still a chill in the air and the heartiness of the meat was a comfort indeed.
To balance it out, I made a Grilled Avocado Salad, again balancing the heavy richness of the avocado with the acidic sweetness of tomato and the pungent flavors of onion and sweet basil.

Grilled Avocado Salad
(serves 4-8)

1 Large Ripe Avocado
1 Medium Large Ripe Tomato
1/2 Red Onion
Salt And Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 1/2 Tbsp Basil Vinegar
1 Handful of Fresh Basil or 1 Tbsp Dried Basil (fresh is best but dried will do)
1/2 Tbsp Tarragon

Start by slicing the onion and tomato. You can do this any way you like but I like chunky tomatoes so I slice them, Halve the slice and cut each half into thirds. For the onions, halve the onion and slice it to make nice half rings. Add the spices olive oil and vinegar and toss well. Let this sit while you prepare the avocado. Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Drizzle some olive oil on a plate. Next slice your avocado vertically and lay the slices in the olive oil (coat both sides of each slice). Place your avocados on the grill on a medium heat (If grilling with charcoal put them midway to the outside of your grill rack not directly over the hottest part of the coals.) for a 1-2 minutes on each side. You will need to watch they do not burn but once they have browned a bit take them off. Finally cut the slices into chunks removing the outer rind and add the avocado to the salad mixture, toss and let rest until dinner is ready. (I like to do this right before the meat is done so the avocado is still slightly warm.)

The slightly smoky flavor and buttery texture of the avocado will contrast beautifully with the crisp onion and juicy tomato, and the basil will bring that breath of spring that will be oh so satisfying to your pallet.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

All Twisted Up

My day job as a radio broadcaster means that with spring comes the beginning of baseball season. As we broadcast these games my mind can't help but wander to my favorite part of trips to the ballpark, or any sporting event for that matter, the FOOD.

I love street food. Whether it's hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut or fried cheese on a stick there is something about this type of food that calls to me. One of my favorites (i can remember them being the highlight of high school Friday night football games) is the soft pretzel. That beautiful golden brown color, soft chewy inside and decadent jewels of salt. Yum!!!

So when food network recently posted a recipe for soft pretzels I had to try it. I noticed many of those who commented said it was too much work and I had never considered making my own pretzels but how hard can it be? Truth is, it's not difficult at all. Once you've given it a shot I think you will find it's worth the extra effort.

Here is the Food Network recipe.

Soft Pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
2 whole eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt

Making your soft pretzels:

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and grease lightly. (be careful not to over grease or it might burn in the oven)

In a large bowl combine the sugar with 1/2 c hot tap water. Mix it until the sugar is dissolved, then add a packet of active dry yeast, stir it gently and let it sit until the yeast is frothy. Approximately 5 minutes. To melt the butter, microwave 3oz approximately 6 tbsp of room temperature butter in a seperate small bowl with 1/2c water for 1 minute until butter is melted. Then mix with the last 1/2c cold water before adding to the yeast and sugar mixture. (you will want to make sure the butter and water mixure is not too hot or it will kill the yeast.)

The original recipe calls for using your stand mixer. I mix all my breads by hand because my mixer doesn't think it should knead and I know when it is ready better by the feel than by looking at it.
So mix in the flour a little at a time with a wooden spoon and once the dough starts to pull together you can use your hands. It's a sticky dough but after about 4c of flour I found it easy to handle. (Keep in mind that humidity will affect your dough and if you live in a damp climate you will likely need more flour than a dry climate where you might need to add more liquid.)

Next turn out your dough onto a floured counter and knead for about ten minutes. While kneading I incorporated a bit more flour (maybe 1/2-3/4c) but stopped when the dough was smooth and elastic. When ready, this dough was still damp and sort of clammy not powdery like bread dough.)

Now it is ready to rise. Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

I use the oven as my warm place and turn it on for 30-50 sec, then turn it off and pop the dough in to rise. You want it to be about 75-80F

An hour later...

Bring the water to a boil in a pot over high heat and add the baking soda. (a bit at a time as it fizzes up!)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape: take the right side and cross over to the left. Cross right to left again and flip up. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds, splashing the tops with the warmed water using a spoon. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula or a spider. Place 4 pretzels on each baking sheet, brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. (If you can!)

Sure you can buy them in a box from your local your grocers freezer, but if you make them yourself you can have not only more for your money but you can get creative with the flavors. (Just think of the parmesan herb pretzels from Auntie Ann’s, the possibilities are limitless!)

Consider this, the average price for a box of frozen pretzels is about a dollar per pretzel. Making them yourself will cost you a fraction of that and you will have control over the size, shape and quantity you end up with. You already know they freeze well and if you stop them just shy of being done all you have to do is take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven for a few minutes to have fresh beautiful home made pretzels whenever you want. Besides, the look on your family and friends faces when you serve them home made pretzels is priceless!