Friday, July 20, 2012

Pomegranate Sparkle & Chalkboard China

Salud! Cheers! Salut! Today here at the Cooking with Books kitchen we're celebrating! What are we celebrating? Nothing in particular, and everything all at once! I want to thank each and everyone of you that take time and read my blog. Thank YOU! I'm grateful to have you as readers, and even more so, as friends!

Celebrations don't need more than a grateful reason, and what's even better is being able to create unique drinks and serving them in special glassware to enjoy with your loved ones! When I received a set of flutes from Chalkboard China, I quickly wanted to create a new drink that was tart as well as sweet, and who doesn't love bubbly? Mixed in with Pomegranate Syrup from Skylake Ranch (which I will tell you more about in a future post, but definitely check them out!), this drink has now become a staple in our home!

Designed by Candace Jean and made in the United States, Chalkboard China is a collection of glassware, centerpieces, place settings, and more. The concept behind it is in line with the designer's Southern hospitality, personalizing everyday utensils and making guests feel even more welcomed. They all have a special chalkboard section which you can doodle, inscribe a name, or write well wishes! As you can see, being a newlywed I love seeing our names as Mr. & Mrs. Murray, so that is what I played around with.

The flutes are crafted with smooth crystal, the stems thin and withholding. The chalkboard area wipes clean with a wet cloth and leaves behind no trace of the previous chalk drawings and writings. Their collections also include Martini and Margarita glasses, as well as Carafes and more! Hand washing is preferable for longer durability. I'd definitely recommend these to anyone that regularly hosts parties and dinners, and it's the perfect gift idea for a housewarming, newlyweds, etc. Visit Chalkboard China on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for updates. Cheers!

Pomegranate Sparkle
Enough Celebration for 2-4

1 bottle of your favorite sparkling, either Champagne, Prosecco, or Cava
1 cup frozen green, seedless grapes

  1. The day before: wash and dry green grapes. Place in one layer in freezer and freeze overnight. These will allow your drink to stay cool for longer. 
  2. To serve: pour one tablespoon of Pomegranate Syrup in each flute. Top with sparkling of choice and float a few frozen grapes! Cheers!

Disclaimer: Chalkboard China provided Cooking with Books with items free of charge to make this review possible.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tuna Pasta Salad

One of my favorite dishes to make for lunch when I am not in the mood for a lot of cooking is pasta salad. I've become obsessed with making Tonnato sauce, a tuna based Italian sauce regularly served over veal, but great tossed in pasta salad and one of the stars in this dish.

And honestly, pasta salad does NOT have to be boring. It can be a world of textures and contrast of flavors, satisfying and delicious! The use of different dressings make this salad a simple meal that can be made with whatever you have in your fridge and pantry. Lately, I've been using Eden Foods Ume Plum Vinegar, which I received a complimentary bottle of, alongside some of their oils.

What's Ume Plum Vinegar? It's flavor. It's balance. It's bright! It's what every pasta salad needs in order to stand out from the usual suspects. Here's what Eden Foods has to say about it:
Treasured by-product from traditional pickling of EDEN Umeboshi Plums with sea salt and shiso (beefsteak) leaf. Ruby red, tangy, very salty. Sprinkle over cooked or steamed vegetables, add to salad dressings and dips, and use for pickling.
Added to this pasta salad, it makes the raw vegetables stand out, slightly pickling them as the salad settles and the flavors mingle. Bacon adds that needed salty element and tuna pulls it all together. The Ume Plum Vinegar has brighten up my cooking, were I've also tried my hand in quick pickling some radishes with it. The radishes pickle nicely when sliced thinly and turned a lovely pink color, thanks to the Ume Plum Vinegar.

Tuna Pasta Salad
Serves 4

1/2 pound dry pasta, cooked 
4 strips of bacon, diced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons Sriracha
1 can canned tuna
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 stalk celery, diced
1/4 of a small red cabbage, thinly sliced

  1. Reserve cooked pasta to the side and in a hot saute pan, cook bacon until crisp. Save bacon fat. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, olive oil, vinegar, Sriracha and mustard. Incorporate tuna, red bell pepper, celery, and red cabbage. 
  3. Drizzle in bacon fat and bacon pieces. 
  4. Toss together with pasta and adjust seasoning by adding salt and pepper. 
Share the Pasta Salad love! What ingredients would you toss in your pasta salad? 

    Saturday, June 16, 2012

    Orange-Poppy Seed Scones

    Lately I've been developing some breakfast pastry recipes for my summer restaurant job here on MV and one of my favorite things to make are scones. But not those dry as sand scones, no sir! These Orange-Poppy Seed Scones, adapted from a CIA recipe, are moist and have a tender crumb structure with some crispy bits on the edges. They're loaded with Vitamin C from all the citrus zest and a healthy dose of Dutch Blue Poppy Seeds.

    Dutch Blue Poppy Seeds, you ask? Well, Virtual Potluck has joined forces with Savory Spice Shop in developing a few new recipes using their products. We each have an entire shop section and mine was seeds; this was were I fell in love with their Dutch Blue Poppy Seeds. I'm the one that goes for the poppy seed bagel 9/10 times at the coffee shop, so it seemed natural I'd bake with them!

    Poppy seeds come from a yellowish brown opium plant native to the Mediterranean. They have been cultivated since the 6th century for the seeds, but also for opium, the narcotic that comes from the unripe seed. These mature seeds do not have narcotic properties. Nowadays these tiny blue gray seeds are mainly produced in Holland and Canada.  Poppy seeds have a nutty tasting flavor and are mainly used in baking. They are popular in breads, cakes, rolls and cookies. Although poppy seeds are difficult to grind, try dry roasting them first, then buzz them in a coffee grinder or spice mill. To make a paste, soak the seeds in water for 2-3 hours and then process in a blender with a touch of the liquid. Refrigerate or freeze poppy seeds to maintain freshness.
    -Savory Spice Shop

    Each Virtual Potluck member had a different set of spices to play with, so make sure to stop by Cookistry and check out the round-up post of recipes and giveaways! More spices, more chances to win!

    Orange-Poppy Seed Scones with Citrus Glaze
    Makes 8 large scones

    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 3/4 cup bread flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt
    1 cup milk
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 tablespoon orange extract
    2 tablespoons poppy seeds
    1/4 cup sliced dried apricots

    1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon milk
    to decorate: orange zest, poppy seeds

    1 cup powdered sugar
    2-4 tablespoons milk
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    orange zest

    1. Stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, and vanilla salt. Set aside.
    2. In a separate bowl, whisk milk and lemon juice until it "curdles". This takes about 2 minutes. Add orange extract, poppy seeds, and apricot slices. 
    3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together. You can do this in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, but using a dough whisk is a faster and easier way to go! 
    4. On a baking sheet fitted with plastic wrap, place dough and naturally form into a circle. Cut into 8 slices and freeze for 4 hours or overnight. I found it easier to cut after 30 minutes in the freezer.
    5. To bake: Preheat oven to 350F and place frozen scones on greased baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with orange zest and poppy seeds. Bake until golden brown.
    6. To make glaze, stir together powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest. Glaze scones and serve! You can always serve glaze on the side as well. 

    Thanks to the generous folks over at Savory Spice Shop, we're giving away a spice gift set for one lucky Cooking with Books reader! It's a fantastic set of spice blends that you can add to everything from popcorn to grilled steak! Entry Guidelines: leave a comment for each action done, as well as a contact email.
    • Tweet: Love Spices? Enter to win a spice gift set via @nella22 & @SavorySpiceShop
    • Head on over to the Savory Spice Shop Facebook page and post on their wall your favorite spice
    • Follow Savory Spice Shop on Twitter
    • Follow Cooking with books blog via Google Friend Connect (right-hand side bar)

    Connect with Savory Spice Shop

    Disclaimer: Savory Spice Shop sent Virtual Potluck members spices to test and develop a recipe with, free of charge. My opinions, as always, were based on product testing and tasting!  US mailing addresses only. One (1) winner will be chosen randomly. Prize will be shipped by Savory Spice Shop. The contest ends Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. The winner will be announced on Monday, April 23st via email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    Country Crock at the Murray Household

    This post is sponsored by Country Crock. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

    You all must be wondering, why is this die hard baker talking about something other than butter? Well, because more than a food blogger, I'm a wife that married into an apparent Country Crock loving husband. Before being married to M, it was rarely something I bought at the store but after almost 5 months of marriage, Country Crock has been a staple at the Murray household.

    The first time we were grocery shopping and he grabs the huge tub, I stared in dismay. He explained it was so much easier to spread, as well a it was a comfort food to him; he grow up with it melted into his veggies and spread on his morning toast. How could I ever go against childhood memories?! And now, it's become a favorite of mine as well, for the best reason is that I love buttered toast and it's SO much easier to spread Country Crock than frozen hard butter early in the morning. Plus, I definitely agree with the homey, comforting tasting.

    Since we're newlyweds and childless, we really don't have to get veggies into the kids, but if you are a Mom or Dad looking for quick and simple tips and recipes to make serving veggies more fun, this is great:  Download the free Clare Crespo Cookbook here for fun and whimsical recipes your family is sure to love! In the meantime, I adapted one of the cookbook recipes and made it as breakfast! 

    Sweet Potato Hash Browns
    Adapted from the Clare Crespo Cookbook
    Makes 2 servings

    1 sweet potato, peeled and grated
    1/2 small yellow onion, peeled and grated
    1 large egg, slightly beaten
    to taste: salt, pepper, Sriracha
    1/4 cup Country Crock Spread

    1. Mix the grated sweet potato, onion, and egg in a small bowl. 
    2. Season with black pepper, Sriracha and salt.
    3. In the Clare Crespo Cookbook, she then makes small mounds and brushes Country Crock over them to bake at 350F until golden brown. Since I didn't feel the need to turn on the oven so early, you can melt some Country Crock in a cast iron pan on the stove top and cook the hash browns until golden brown and cooked. 

      Connect with Country Crock:
      Country Crock’s Facebook page:
      Country Crock’s Twitter page:!/countrycrock  

      Sunday, May 13, 2012

      My Experience with the Cooler Cleanse

      As you all know by my tweets, Instagram pics, and Facebook statuses, I did the 3-day Cooler Cleanse last month and today I'd love to share my thoughts on the cleanse, the flavors, how I felt, and my feelings before, during, and after it. 

      What's the Cooler Cleanse you ask? A cleanse of course, composed of raw, gluten-free fruit and vegetable juices, as well as a few nut milks that provide your body with much needed nutrients, as well as pure energy. It helps rid the body of toxins and gives it a much needed time to focus on itself rather then having to digest endless amount of food. The 3 days were each composed of 6 juices each day, taken every 2 hours or so. Below is an overview of the 18 juices I received!

      Juice #1 "Sweet Greens": As the first juice of the day, it pretty much woke me up. The taste is sweeter than I expected, with and herbaceous flavor under the sweetness.

      Juice #2 "Watermelon & Lime; Pineapple & Ginger; Grapefruit & Mint":  By far, these were my favorite juice flavors and sipping on them inspired new flavors for me to add to my baking list. Watermelon & Lime was a burst of what summer tastes like, the Pineapple & Ginger had a spiciness and tart sweetness, and the Grapefruit & Mint was...minty fresh with a bitter tartness that was actually very pleasant.

      Juice #3 "Essential Green": This is exactly what you'd expect from a green juice. A slight bitterness, it was one of my least favorite but definitely still drinkable. You'll definitely FEEL healthier after sipping on Essential Green!

      Juice #4 "Young Coconut Water & Spicy Lemonade": Refreshing and naturally sweet, both of these were perfect mid-afternoon. I felt most hydrated after drinking the Young Coconut Water, and the Spicy Lemonade put a pep in my step! I've had a very spicy lemonades before, and most of them have an artificial lemon candy-like flavor. This was purely what a tart lemon would taste, with a touch of raw agave to balance it out.

      Juice #5 "Essential Red":
      Consider this your early dinner, and it fills you up almost like a regular dinner. It's a hearty juice that blends the sweet apple and earthy beet, with a touch of lemon and the beneficial qualities of carrots.

      Juice #6 "Spicy Hemp Milk; Almond Nut Milk; Brazil Nut Milk": I considered this my treat, my sweet dessert and my reward. My favorite? Hands down the Almond Nut Milk, laced with vanilla bean and blended with dates, it was almost too much to drink! It's thick like a milkshake and I loved it! The Spicy Hemp Milk was a close runner up, with Brazil Nut Milk trailing behind because honestly? Brazil Nuts are my least favorite nuts!

      Three Days Before The Cleanse: I stopped drinking coffee, which meant removing 4 cups of caffeine from my diet. The smart way would be to slowly wean yourself off of it if you drink more than a cup, but I went cold turkey and paid for it the hard way. My first day off caffeine was awful: headaches and flu-like symptoms. The next day was much better, and after that I got used to not having coffee. I eventually didn't have coffee for an entire week. I also reduced red meat consumption, as per suggested by Cooler Cleanse and tried to eat more veggies. Sure, I had pasta the night before, but it was like a good bye moment. 

      Day One:
      As with everything new, it was honestly the hardest day for me. After sipping on the first two juices, I went on a short 30 minute walk and after getting home, felt lightheaded for a good hour. The feeling woudn't shake, plus I started to feel nauseous so I decided I needed solid food. It hadn't even been 24 hours since my last meal! I had some sweet potatoes with cheese, and this small meal would be what carried me through each day. The day continued on, feeling much better after a small meal and my other juices.

      Day Two: Other than a slight headache, this day went smoothly and for my small meal I tossed some canned tuna with greens and avocados. Adapting the cleanse to what my body needed made it work for me. 

      Day Three: By the end of the cleanse, I was ready for solid food! Small meal this day was a salad with more avocados and quinoa, and the juices were being gulped only when I started to feel hungry (more or less every 2-3 hours). 

      Results and Final Thoughts: What did I realize about my body and food intake? First of all, I'm not a mindless eater. I rarely snack much and just really rely on meals. I missed the act of cooking, and realized it was the way I timed my day as to what I was doing and cooking. What surprised me the most was the amount of energy I had, even without the caffeine in my system. I also felt great about what I was putting into my body and could feel it regenerating and taking in the nutrients, which I loved. As for weight loss, I lost about 4 pounds, but for me this was the least important result. The way I felt (after getting used to the juices), was a better result! 

      Thanks to the awesome folks at Cooler Cleanse, we have one 3-day cleanse to give away. If this is something you've always wanted to try, here is your chance! Below are ways to enter, be sure to leave a separate comment for each entry you do, as well as a contact email! 

      Disclaimer: Cooler Cleanse was provided free of charge in order to facilitate this review. No monetary compensation was received. Before doing any cleanse or detox, consult with your doctor. US mailing addresses only. One (1) winner will be chosen randomly. Prize will be shipped by Cooler Cleanse. The contest ends Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. The winner will be announced on Monday, April 23st via email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen

      Friday, May 11, 2012

      Quinoa Ragu Lasagna

      Sometimes, lasagna is all we crave. Layered cheese, creamy sauces, rich meat, and pasta noodles. What else do you need? We made this before leaving for NYC last month and baked it in a loaf pan, since most of our cooking is for two (with leftovers!) Oh and why quinoa? We had some leftover cooked quinoa in the fridge from a previous meal and decided to load up the lasagna with a nutritious grain that not only added health benefits, but provided texture in an otherwise smooth and creamy lasagna.

      Quinoa Lasagna
      Serves 2, with leftovers
      Fresh or Dry Pasta Noodles, 1/2 pound
      large pot of water, salted
      1 cup quinoa, cooked

      2 tablespoons vegetable oil
      1 small onion, chopped
      1 small carrot, chopped
      1 stalk celery, chopped
      1/2 pound ground beef/pork/chicken
      1 cup diced canned tomatoes
      1 tablespoon granulated sugar
      salt and pepper to taste
      2 tablespoons butter
      2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
      2 cups cream
      1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
      salt and pepper to taste
      1. Set aside the cooked pasta and quinoa. Start by heating the oil in a medium saucepan and saute the onion, carrot, and celery for about 4 minutes. Add the preferred meat and sear.
      2. Add tomatoes, sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 25 minutes, until meat is cooked through.
      3. In the meantime, make a quick Béchamel sauce by making a roux with the butter and flour. Cook for 2 minutes and whisk in the cream. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
      4. When the meat sauce is cooked, fold in the cooked quinoa.
      5. To assemble: Grease a loaf pan with butter or oil. Cover bottom of the pan with 2 tablespoons
        Béchamel sauce. 
      6. Layer with a strip of pasta noodle and then top with meat-quinoa sauce.  
      7. Drizzle bechamel over meat-quinoa sauce and repeat layer of pasta.  Finish with Béchamel sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. 
      8. Bake at 400F for 15-25 minutes, until cheese and Béchamel are browned. Serve with a salad of greens and crusty bread.

        You can make this gluten free by using cornstarch in the bechamel and using gluten-free pasta noodles. We made fresh noodles using Domenica Marchetti's Pasta Recipe and they turned out great in this recipe. Whenever we have the time, we make fresh pasta instead of using dry pasta. The results are noticeably different; the long noodles soak up both sauces and provide structure to the meal.

        How do YOU make lasagna? Links are welcome, so make sure to share your favorite recipes with us!

        Monday, April 23, 2012

        Thai Iced Coffee

        It's Spring! Not like that's news to any of you, but I just want to be extra excited and happy it's Spring! It means the days are warmer, longer, and the season here on Martha's Vineyard is bustling up with excitement of what's to come this Summer. But before even mentioning Summer, let's stick with Spring and it's daffodils, fresh breezes, and most importantly, iced drinks. 

        Lately I've been browsing Robert Danhi's newest cookbook, Easy Thai Cooking: 75 Family-Style Dishes You Can Prepare In Minutes which Tuttle Publishing sent to me as a review copy. Who's Robert Danhi? Well, in short, the man knows everything and anything that has to do with Southeast Asian cuisine. I had the pleasure of meeting him and attending a demonstration he did at CIA a few years ago about Asian Sauces. Here's an excerpt that I wrote in 2009 about that demo that illustrates Chef Danhi's work:
        When you think about Asian Cuisine, what are the things that come to mind? Beef Teriyaki, Crispy Tangerine Chicken, normally dishes made with a specific sauce. While attending a conference on Asian Sauces at the Culinary Institute of America on November 11, 2009 presented by Chef Danhi reminded me that Teriyaki, Soy Sauce and Hoisin are not the only ones out there.  Chef Danhi has been all over Asia discovering the sauces that make up a cuisine, the sauces the grandmothers make at home.  Starting with the explanation of the how-to process of Soy Sauce, Chef Danhi takes us on a culinary adventure like no other. He is an amazing storyteller, illustrating flavors, developing stories and above all capturing the audience with his words.  His story is of photojournalism that leads him to meet the love of his life, his wife. At the same time of meeting this love consequently he meets his culinary love, Southeast Asia.  He tells of walking down the streets and up dark alleys, finding the old lady that has been cooking squatted down for the last decade; of the amazing smells that slapped him in the face as he walked past street stalls; the colors invading his sight were uncontrollable to him.  
        The Asian Sauces guided tour was an awakening of the senses and started with a snack of Roasted Peanuts with chili and lemongrass flavors swirling around on your tongue. Commencing with the soy sauces and how they are brewed the traditional method. They both had a rich soy flavor which would ideally marinate meats. Moving on to one of my favorites, Plum sauce made from preserved Chinese plums, ginger and chili. It is normally used as a dipping sauce for roast duck and other roasted meats, but Chef proposed trying it over vanilla ice cream. Marvelous! Following the plum sauce was the Oyster Sauce, a unique recipe made from the founder of Lee Kum Kee products in 1888. Tradition says it was a mistake, as with all wonderful culinary discoveries that an oyster soup reduced to a syrupy sauce and this sauce was invented! Oyster sauce is a basic Chinese sauce, used in cooking and also marinating. After these sauces were explored, the trip kept moving on with Hoisin Sauce which can be best described as a spicy-sweet sauce made from selected spices and ground soybeans; Black Bean Garlic Sauce, mostly fermented black beans and garlic; Chili Garlic Sauce, Thai Sweet Chili Sauce and one that graces the tables of our Farq Hall, Sriracha Chili Sauce.
        At the end of this culinary travel, Chef Danhi exhorts foodies everywhere to Question Everything! Ask, wonder, and be curious. A cuisine is not just the flavors but the geography, etiquette, ethnic diversity, history and population. Experiment Everything.
        As you can see, he's extremely passionate about this food and the culture behind it. The book is complete with tips on stocking your pantry with Thai staples, as well as help with planning a Thai Menu. Chapters range from Snacks to Seafood, and one of my favorites, Noodles and Rice. Ending with Desserts and Drinks, I thought it'd be appropriate to share his recipe for Thai Iced Coffee, the perfect Spring 2012 drink!

        Thai Iced Coffee 
        From Robert Danhi's "Easy Thai Cooking"
        Serves 4-6

        1 1/4 cups Thai Coffee mixture "Oliang Powder"
        4 cups water
        1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
        6-8 cups crushed ice
        4-6 straws
        1. Measure the coffee into the filter of the electric coffee maker. Fill the machine with water and run according to manufacture’s instructions. You may also use a French press to make this coffee base.
        2. Stir the condensed milk into the brewed coffee. Chill in the refrigerator.
        3. Fill the glasses with crushed ice, then top with the chilled coffee, it’s best if served with straws.

        Stove top method: Stir the coffee grounds into the boiling water. Brew for 5 minutes. Strain through a
        coffee filter, very fine wire mesh strainer or cheesecloth.

        Hot Thai coffee method: Fill each cup with 3 to 4 tablespoons of condensed milk; top with 1 cup (250 ml) of hot coffee.

        Notes: If you can't find Thai coffee, use any coffee bean you like but make sure it's a dark roast. Also, to keep your iced coffee chilled but not diluted, make coffee ice cubes! Brew extra coffee, chill, and freeze into ice cubes. And last but not least, make your own condensed milk! Thanks to Tuttle for sending me a copy of this book, and you should go out and get a copy for yourself as well!