Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vacation is a Good Thing

We all need to take time to recharge from time to time. Vacation is a good thing. Taking a total break from email, blogging, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, texting and aimlessly scrolling through Buzzfeed was a good thing.

The Husband and I spent a week wandering the Northwest visiting friends, eating, drinking, hiking, roadtripping and eating some more. We actually went without a schedule or much of a plan, which was a desperately needed change of pace. Sounds cheesy, but the journey was totally the adventure.

Between traveling and watching the World Series every night (Go Cards!), I'm playing catch-up. Enjoy some Northwest gorgeous while I get my shit together in the kitchen.

More pics on Instagram!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Signing Off

Morgan out! Taking a vacation and self-imposed sabbatical from social media. See you on the flip side.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Goose Island Beer Dinner and Balsamic Beer Reduction

Ever since I heard the call of the phone-shaped 312 tap in my Chicago days, I've been a big fan of Goose Island. So I was thrilled when I was invited to a Goose Island Beer Dinner here in St. Louis. The lovely folks at Goose Island treated my fellow bloggers and me to a delicious dinner with beer pairings at Table in Benton Park. 

Three delicious beers were paired with a tasty three-course meal, along with demonstrations from the Executive and Pastry chefs. Here's what was on tap:

Beer #1: Sofie Farmhouse Ale (my favorite)
This wasn't my first encounter with Sofie and I wasn't sad to see her again. This red wine barrel-aged ale has just the right balance of flavor and lightness for me. A zippy floral nose and orange notes, without tasting like you're chewing on an orange peel. The chef paired this with a local radish, scallion and sorrel salad. Loved the bright zesty beer flavors with the peppery bite of sorrel. This would be great with watercress or arugula too.

Beer #2: Matilda Belgian Strong Ale
With the second beer, Matilda, things started to get a bit darker, in the most delightful way. This nutty ale had a earthy, nutmeg flavor. It was incredible with the salted dark chocolate on our table. With it's spiced flavors, I think it would be lovely with all the pumpkin dishes going around the blogs right now too.

For this dinner, it was paired with an awesome braised pork belly with roman gnocchi (which was really more of a polenta in my opinion); all with a balsamic-beer reduction. This sauce was pretty much the shit, though did not photograph well. Believe me and try the recipe at the bottom of this post.

Beer #3: Lolita American Wild Ale
The name for this beer couldn't be more fitting. This saucy minx had a tempting sweet and sour duplicity. I'd never tried this one before and it's bright color was the first thing that struck me -- that deep bright red, that stains your fingers when you eat raspberries. The beer delivered on its appearance, with strong berry flavor. The tart and fizzy beer was lovely with the creamy, vanilla-bean flecked panna cotta dessert. Lord knows this girl loves a panna cotta.

A tasty night overall with great beers to complement bites. Since you guys couldn't all join me, I've included the recipe for the delicious balsamic-beer reduction sauce from Table below. This would be great on pork tenderloin or grilled asparagus. Try it out and let me know what you think. Cheers!

Balsamic-Beer Reduction
1/2 cup Matilda Belgian Strong Ale
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine beer, Balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in small pot. Simmer on low until thick, syrupy and reduced by half. Spoon over pork tenderloin or grilled asparagus.

Disclosure: The company that owns Goose Island is a client, though I was not directly paid for this posting. Opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, opinions or strategies of Goose Island or my employer. I really do think the beer is delicious.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weeknight Idea: Cranberry Quinoa Acorn Squash

Hope you guys are ready to keep the fall flavors flowing, because it's squash season. I love the stuff in nearly every form. Be still my butternut beating heart. Pitter patter for pumpkin. Adoration for acorn. 

All squash alliteration aside, squash for best known for it's robust flavors and filling bulk. Acorns are particularly well-suited for weeknights because the cook relatively quickly and the stuffing options are damn near endless. This version is full of wholesome quinoa, sweet onions and tart dried cranberries. I also like that each person gets their own squash serving dish. Makes me feel fancy.  

These guys will be in season for months, so what will you be stuffing yours with this fall and winter? I'm thinking I need to put together a wild rice and sausage version later this winter. 

Cranberry Quinoa Acorn Squash
2 acorn squashes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
2 small yellow onions, chopped
1 cup beef or vegetable stock
2 handfuls dried cranberries
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place acorn squash in a baking dish, skin side down. Brush squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, until just fork tender. 

While squash bakes, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until quinoa absorbs the liquid, about 15 minutes. 

In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add stock and cranberries, simmering until liquid reduces by half; about 5 minutes. Add cooked quinoa, stirring to combine with liquid. 

In the last 5 minutes of baking the squash, brush with maple syrup. Once it looks sticky and thick, remove from oven and spoon in quinoa mixture. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Whipped Pumpkin Goat Cheese

Remember yesterday when I was all like, "when did pumpkin steal apple's fall thunder?" Well now I'm part of the problem. Pumpkin madness continues!

My family has caught the whipped feta fever and now insist that I bring it to nearly every gathering. It had gotten out of hand, so I thought I'd try a autumnal variation. It certainly delivers on easy and who doesn't love goat cheese? I'm pretty sure it was born to marry pumpkin, because the sweet and tangy play are a beautiful pair.

This ended up being a celebration of all things Trader Joe's. It happens... particularly in the cheese case. And I hit the JACKPOT with their seasonal pumpkin, cranberry crackers. They're gingerbready and amazing. Get them or live with a life of pumpkin regret.

Whipped Pumpkin Goat Cheese
1 log goat cheese, softened
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
Salt and pepper

Combine goat cheese, whipped cream cheese, pumpkin, salt and pepper in a food processor. While processor runs, stream in olive oil until smooth.

Serve with crackers and dried cranberries. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Apple Pear Crisp

It has officially arrived. Crisp apples and morning air. Cold office drafts warrant boots. Pumpkin spice Instagram freak outs. Fall made it. In Chicago I always hated fall -- the deep freeze ever-looming -- but here the pleasure outweighs the threat. I've been trying to get in the culinary spirit and delicious Honeycrisps called my name. I love the firm texture and sweet-tart juices. Impeccable raw with a spread of peanut butter and good for baking too. 

I had my mom for dinner the other night and wanted to make simple desert that really let the apples shine. Juicy pears and crunchy oats bringing out the best of the Honeycrisps. 

Crisps are casual and rustic enough that you don't really have to be exact with measurements. Heck, I mixed half of this directly in the baking pan. Left the skins on the apples and pears too. Easy peasy.

The topping comes together in about 2 minutes in a mixer. I really love the texture the oats give and they take on a fabulous crunch in the oven.

Apple Pear Crisp
For filling
2 small Honeycrisp apples, cored and sliced
2 bosc pears, cored and sliced
1 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For topping
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine apple and pear slices in a medium-sized baking dish. Zest half of the lemon over fruit and squeeze lemon juice over fruit. Spoon over sugar, flour and cinnamon. Toss to combine. 

Combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, oats and butter in a bowl of a mixer. Mix on low speed for 1 minute until crumbly. Spread evenly over fruit. 

Place baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for about an hour, or until filling is bubbly and topping browned. Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving... it will be hot. Enjoy!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Weekend Reading

Is millet the new quinoa? I need to think about ways to try this one out.
~via NPR

Lentils never looked so good.
~via With Style & Grace

One of my all time favorite magazines, Domino, is about to hit shelves again. Glorious resurrection!
~via Design Sponge

Bootie call! I'm trying to decide if I should bite the bullet on these Boden beauties or go with the Madewell ones.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Balsamic and Bleu Beef Sandwiches

You know those recipes that linger on your Pinterest boards? I hope a few of mine are on yours -- shameless plug to follow me. But it's always kind of a bummer when you find an amazing recipe in July that is so clearly something for winter. Now that we're in October, I finally feel like I can bust out those recipes I found this summer.

I'd been dying to try Add A Pinch's Balsamic Roast Beef and it did NOT disappoint! I had a guest the other night who doesn't eat or drink alcohol, so this was a great alternative to my red wine-loaded braised beef. Balsamic vinegar is often a great substitute for red wine in recipes, but you'll always need to adjust the proportions to be sure it's not too bitter.

I thought this soft, fork-tender beef would be great with crusty french bread and for additional punch, none other than bleu cheese.

Yeah... still figuring out this lighting sitch. Better, but still not there. 

One thing I love about the slow cooker is that you always seem to have TONS of food afterward. Hello delicious leftovers. 

Patience is always a challenge when caramelizing onions. It'll all be worth it, if you take it slow.

Balsamic and Bleu Cheese Beef Sandwiches
3-4lb beef chuck roast
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flake
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 loaf french bread, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles

Place beef in the bottom of a slow cooker. Combine beef broth, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, honey, red pepper flack and garlic in a medium bowl. Pour over beef and cover. Set slow cooker to high for 4 hours.

When 30 minutes remain on the beef, heat olive oil over low heat in a large pan. Add sliced onions and stir every few minutes. Onions will slowly caramelize, but keep an eye on them to be sure they don't burn.

Heat broiler. Spread butter on one half of french bread and bleu cheese on the other half. Broil for 3-5 minutes until bread is toasted and cheese is melted.

When slow cooker is finished, remove beef to a sheet pan with tongs. Use two forks to shred beef. Skim the fat off of the remaining liquid in a slow cooker and discard fat. Pour remaining liquid into a pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes, until liquid reduces by half. Pour gravy over shredded beef.

Assemble sandwiches with beef and top with caramelized onions. This is great with an arugula salad. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lemon Jalapeno Chicken

Some restaurant dishes just stick with you. I always marvel at the flavor combinations that the pros come up with and it doesn't have to be fancy to be memorable. Fish Bar in Chicago has this tasty basket of fried onions, lemons (including peel) and jalapenos. Holy yum... best $4 appetizer I've ever had. Cruel reality is, I don't live there any more, so I decided to borrow from the flavors to mix up grilled chicken.

Honey chars the skin and counters jalapeno heat with sticky sweetness. Grilled onions and lemon lend bitter depth. Not your average grilled chicken.

Another cruel reality... I'm losing natural daylight during dinnertime and have yet to "figure out" my new artificial light situation. Thanks for you patience. Excuse the shiny-ness.

Lemon Jalapeno Chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 chicken, quartered
2 lemons
4 jalapenos, 2 sliced and 2 left whole
2 onions, sliced

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, honey, cider vinegar, juice and zest of one lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place chicken in a large freezer bag, along with two sliced jalapenos. Pour marinade over chicken and seal bag. Allow chicken to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Remove chicken from fridge about 30 minutes before grilling. Discard marinade and sliced jalapenos. 

Preheat grill and then grill chicken over direct high heat. Skin will blacken (it's just fine). A few minutes before chicken finishes, grill onion slices, two remaining jalapenos and halves of remaining lemon. Remove chicken from grill when internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Allow chicken to rest and squeeze grilled lemon over chicken while it's resting. 

Enjoy chicken with sliced onion and charred jalapenos...they will be hot!