Gourmet Dinner Starter: Cauliflower Apple Soup

Cauliflower Apple Soup

In September we asked some friends up to the house to help us with the site analysis for building our own pizza oven; one is an engineer, and the other a pizza oven owner.  This story and some cups of cauliflower apple soup are a wonderful example of my motto: Eat well and share the love!

September_Pizza Oven Site Analysis

While the guys evaluated the pizza oven location, we noshed and enjoyed some wine……

Pizza Oven Site Analysis_Noshing

We all love food and we have shared some fabulous meals together, including the Gypsy Kitchen Supper Club.  On a whim, I asked everyone if they would be interested in starting up a gourmet dinner club. Thankfully it was a resounding YES and two spectacular dinners have been hosted already.  Fine wines are poured and the fancy pants recipes are pulled out – the bar has been raised very high so I need to step up my game because David and I are hosting this weekend.

Gourmet Dinners 2012

The Schenker menu is written and we tested some of the recipes beforehand.  The first test was a cauliflower apple soup that will be served as a starter.  The recipe is adapted from the cookbook  The Perfect Bite by Jennifer Jasinski, a Denver chef who owns several restaurants.  I was intrigued when I saw this recipe because, not knowing any better, I would have added potatoes with the cauliflower – which would create a heavier, denser soup.  The apples lighten up the soup and it is full of rich, velvety flavors.  For the soup base, thinly sliced onions are sweated, cauliflower and apples are added and the vegetables simmer in chicken broth.  To finish the soup before pureeing, milk, heavy whipping cream and a few basil leaves are added (the recipe calls for straining the soup but I omitted this step because I like the texture).  For an elegant touch to serve alongside the soup, an apple matchstick salad with red cabbage, shallots and basil are tossed with a green curry vinaigrette.  It gives the soup some crunch and even more depth of flavor.  I think it will be an impressive hit.  Now I need to figure out which wines to pour.

To incorporate Hanukkah, our gourmet dinner will start with some mini 2011 Hanukkah Latkeslatke appetizers along with the usual fixings (our 2011 dinner shown here) and glasses of Prosecco.  The cauliflower apple soup will start off the dinner feast, three more courses will follow, and individual apple galettes with some Andrew Rich 2008 Gewürztraminer dessert wine will finish off the evening.  As usual, I will snap some photos throughout the night and will share the fun with you later.

Cheers to a wonderful Holiday celebration.  May yours be filled with many delicious treats, loved ones, good friends and happy times.

Eat well and share the love!Logo in Word

Cauliflower Apple Soup (print recipe)
Recipe: Adapted from The Perfect Bite by Jennifer Jasinski
Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients:
Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ small sweet onion, very thinly sliced
6 oz. (about 1½ cups) cauliflower flowerets, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 oz. (about 1 cup) chopped apple (Honeycrisp or Fuji) – peeled and seeded, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon green curry paste (or madras curry)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup 1% milk
1¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large basil leaves
Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon finely diced shallots or red onion
1 tablespoon chopped basil
½ teaspoon green curry paste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt and ground pepper
Apple Salad
1 apple (Honeycrisp or Fuji), peeled, seeded and cut into small matchstick pieces
2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds
1 tablespoon basil, chopped
2 tablespoons finely diced red cabbage or radicchio

Directions:
Soup: In a medium soup pot or Dutch oven, add the butter and heat over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onions and sweat until translucent, about 10 minutes; do not brown the onions.

Add the chopped cauliflower, apples and ½ teaspoon salt; stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes, until cauliflower is just heated through; do not brown. Stir in the chicken broth and curry paste and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the cream, milk and ½ teaspoon salt and let simmer on low for 15 minutes.  Transfer half the soup to a blender, add two basil leaves and place a folded kitchen towel over the lid.  With hand on lid so it doesn’t lift off, puree soup until smooth.  Transfer soup to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining soup, adding the last basil leaf.  If desired, strain the soup through a fine sieve for a velvety texture.  If you are serving immediately, transfer all the soup back into the pot and gently reheat – add ¼ teaspoon salt if needed.  Serve immediately. If not serving immediately, refrigerate and gently reheat before serving.

Vinaigrette: Add all ingredients to a medium bowl. Whisk together until combined.

Apple Salad: Add all the ingredients to a medium bowl and dress lightly with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette.  Toss gently, being careful to not break the apple matchstick pieces.

To serve the hot soup, ladle into bowl or cup (if a starter course) and serve with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the apple salad on the side. Before eating, add some of apple salad to the soup and enjoy!

· Use caution with hot items in the blender; the heat can cause the blender lid to blow off.  Be sure to place a folded kitchen towel over the lid and place your hand on top to secure it before turning motor on.  Do not fill more than half full.

Sweet Boy Murphy_October 2012

Sweet Boy Murphy in his element and sporting the “tough guy” look.

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Homemade Limoncello with Pistachio Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

There’s reason for celebration because my batch of homemade limoncello is ready, just in time for David’s birthday! I started the limoncello on August 16th and it was ready last Saturday (November 3). The recipe is from Joanne Weir and takes 80 days to cure. Made from lemon peels, 2 bottles of 100-proof vodka and some simple syrup, this limoncello recipe is easy to make, yielding crisp and bright flavors. My Mom has been making it for years so it was fun to carry on the tradition with my first batch here. An Italian classic, limoncello is served ice cold and sipped after dinner. I made pistachio chocolate chip shortbread cookies for something decadent and sweet. They offer a buttery, rich texture and pair well with the lemony, smooth alcohol. The shortbread cookie recipe is from Martha Stewart, with an added 1/3 cup each of the nuts and 60% cacao chocolate chips, both chopped. Be sure to roll the cookie sides in sugar (used turbinado for texture).

Speaking of sugar, you may remember from the Day 40 post that I used organic sugar in the simple syrup, which changed the color from the usual light golden (as shown here with Mom’s May vintage) to a tea color. Thankfully the color lightened considerably, but it is still darker than normal. I’m happy to report that the flavor is uncompromised.

The recipe yields 12 cups of lemony goodness. To make the bottle filing easier, ladle the limoncello into a measuring cup with a spout, place a medium funnel in the bottle and pour slowly, leaving an inch of space at the top. I found the long neck (small and large) limoncello bottles with red-capped corks at World Market; they also sell bottles with a clamp stopper, shown here.  Pier1 has some vintage-looking bottles with corks, and Amazon sells the clamp stopper bottles, plus more.
Store the bottled limoncello in the freezer.

Aside from waiting, the only labor involved is peeling all the lemons on Day 1. To recap from my earlier posts, here’s the abbreviated 80-day limoncello process (click on links for blog posts and recipe):
· Day 1: Add peels from 15 lemons to a 1-gallon jar, add 100-proof vodka
· Day 40: Add simple syrup and more 100-proof vodka
· Day 80: Strain mixture and bottle. Store in freezer and serve ice cold in small glasses

You can buy pre-made tags for your limoncello bottles, or quickly make your own:
o    Use beige heavy card stock, cut strips then pieces of the desired size
o    Cut the edges with wavy lines instead of straight 
o    Hole punch the top, use a highlighter to color the outer edge
o    Make horizontal lines inside the color and add a line around the inside edge
o    Finish it off with some interesting yarn (alpaca/wool yarn shown here), ribbon or colored raffia and if desired, make it long enough to tie a bow at the end knot

Done! Bottle tags are ready for use.

I believe a few friends have made a batch of limoncello after I posted and would love to hear how theirs turned out – friends, are you listening? Always love it when you share. How about you, did you start a batch, or have you made some before? Not just for the holidays, limoncello is wonderful on Valentine’s Day, for birthdays (including yours!) or just because.  Do make some, and please share.

Cheers, and Happy Birthday to my man!

Eat well and share the love!

Warm La Tur Cheese with Chocolate Sauce & Charred Torn Bread

Do you read the magazine La Cucina Italiana? It’s on my fav subscription list because the magazine is unique and authentic with beautiful food photography. I was reading the November 2012 issue last week and was riveted when I turned to page 34. Before me was a stunning photograph of warm cheese wrapped in charred parchment paper, drizzled with a chocolate sauce and served with charred pieces of torn crusty bread. Cheese, chocolate and bread? Oh, yeah! I even tweeted about it, because I was so inspired by the sight of it. The recipe is from pastry chef Brooks Headley of the famed New York restaurant, Del Posto. Upon sight, my mind was instantly made up and I knew I had to try this recipe, very soon, as in the next day. The star inside the beautiful little packet is La Tur cheese from Piemonte, Italy. Made from cow, goat and sheep milk, it has a unique buttery, tangy flavor. You can find it at Murray’s Cheese, and at most Kroger (King Soopers, Fry’s) stores as well. After signing up, the recipe is available on-line from La Cucina Italiana. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique course and think it will be perfect for our December gourmet dinner.

La Tur cheese up close and out of the container – about the size of a ramekin, comes with a bottom paper wrapper to contain the gooey goodness inside.

“From the great wine region of Piemonte comes La Tur: a dense, creamy blend of pasteurized cow, goat and sheep milk. Runny and oozing around the perimeter with a moist, cakey, palette-coating paste, its flavor is earthy and full, with a lingering lactic tang. The effect is like ice cream served from a warm scoop: decadent and melting from the outside in.”  

Region: Piemonte
Country: Italy
Cheese Type: Bloomy: Buttery & Rich
Milk Type: Pasteurized Goat, Sheep & Cow
Wine Pairing: Sparkling wines
Rennet: Animal
Age: 2-4 weeks

Source: Murray’s Cheese

Room temperature cheese, cut in half to show different layers (would not recommend doing at home, very messy and otherwise unnecessary). For easier removal from the container, loosen lid and turn cheese over onto lid while holding with the palm of your hand. Discard (please recycle) bottom part of container and carefully remove the paper wrapper around the bottom half.

Gently turn the cheese onto a piece of parchment paper (about 12 inches long). Wrap it like a present, seam side down, and fold extra paper at edges underneath.

And this is the reward! I used 60% cacao chocolate and would use just a splash of olive oil (definitely use a fruity extra virgin oil) next time instead of what the recipe called for; the cheese is so rich to begin with, I didn’t think it needed any more. And I would have liked the bread better if grilled, for a smoky flavor. Definitely serve with your favorite champagne. Cheers!

Thanks to La Cucina Italiana, and Del Posto for sharing!

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Eat well and share the love!

Got Biga? Make Focaccia with Red Onions & Rosemary

I have never met a focaccia that I didn’t like.  The best that I have tasted was in the Marche region of Italy, outside of Force.  We were staying at Paolo’s agriturismo, Ramuse, and were lucky to meet up with the other guests who were visiting from England, Chris and Graham.  After visting the local shoemaker for some Italian boots, Paolo took us all to a local wine maker and olive oil purveyor, Bruno.  We tasted white wine poured straight from the vat and felt like welcome friends.  After retreating to a dining room, we all sat down to enjoy some red wine. Paolo disappeared, only to return about 15 minutes later with warm, fresh focaccia from a local bakery.  Bruno’s olive oil and some lonza (similar to prosciutto) were brought out and we had a feast.  It was a highlight of our two-week trip.  My focaccia is a humble representation of our visit to Italy, and the friends we made in Marche.

Bruno even taught us how to taste olive oil: a small amount is poured into little glasses where the warmth of your hand gently warms the olive oil, the cup is swirled, then sniffed, sipped and savored.

This focaccia is made with a biga, or starter.  I have always thought bigas were such a sexy way to make a loaf of bread or focaccia, where some bigas can be many years old and fed daily with more ingredients to keep it kindled with life.  This recipe does take some time, a labor of food love, so you’ll need to plan at least a day ahead to start the biga.  Made from yeast, water and flour, a biga adds extra flavor – in my opinion a “je ne sais quoi” quality.

To get me started, I relied on Carol Field’s informative cook book, Focaccia – Simple Breads from the Italian Oven.  I cut the recipe down for the two of us and came up with a 12 x 9 inch focaccia (used a quarter sheet pan).  To replicate the focaccia from Marche, the top gets drizzled with generous amounts of good olive oil and topped with sautéed red onions and fresh rosemary.  After numerous recipe tests, this one has consistent results – even at my 7,500 ft. altitude.  The outside has a thin crispy crust and the interior is light and fluffy, just what I would expect.  I think my European chaps would approve.

Here’s a quick review of the focaccia making process (keep on scrolling for some visuals):

· Make the biga, or starter – let sit for 24 hours to proof

· Make the focaccia dough – let rise for 1½ to 2 hours

· Press dough into a quarter sheet pan (about 12” x 9”) or a baking dish – let rise for another 1½ to 2 hours

· Dimple the dough with your fingertips or knuckles, drizzle with generous amount of good olive oil and add toppings – let rise for 30 minutes while oven is heating

· Cook focaccia for about 25 minutes, serve hot with extra virgin olive oil and a glass of wine

First Rise: 1½ to 2 hours.  The dough can be made by hand or by using an upright mixer, as I did.  Here’s an easy trick to create a warm environment for the dough to rise: Before you start making the dough, heat oven to 200º and as soon as it reaches temperature turn the oven off.  Make the dough, add to a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, place a clean kitchen towel on top and let rise in warm oven.  The dough ball goes from this above, to this beauty below.

Second Rise: Press the dough into a sheet pan or baking dish and let rise for another 1½ to 2 hours. Re-warm the oven while transferring dough to sheet pan.

Third Rise: The dough will have doubled in volume during the second rise. Dimple the surface, add olive oil and toppings. Let rise for another 30 minutes and heat oven to 425º. Cook for 5 minutes, reduce oven temp to 400º F and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly golden.

Serve warm and be sure to enjoy with loved ones and friends, along with a glass of wine. I poured some Meiomi Pinot Noir and enjoyed reminiscing with David. Ah, if only we could be sitting on Paolo’s porch right now with his homemade vin cotto and some Italian focaccia in hand, chatting with friends and gazing upon the picturesque Italian countryside.

Eat well and share the love!

Focaccia with Red Onions & Rosemary and a Biga (print recipe)
Recipe Adapted from: Focaccia, Simple Breads From The Italian Oven by Carol Field
Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Cooking Time: 24 hours for biga, 4 to 4½ hours for focaccia rising/baking
Makes one loaf, approx. 12” x 9”

Ingredients:
Biga
2 tablespoons, plus 1 cup, 2 tablespoons warm water
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ cups plus 1/3 cup flour
Dough
3/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
3 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons biga
1¼ tablespoon olive oil
1¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Topping
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ red onion, very thinly sliced (sautéed)
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Kosher salt

Directions:
Biga: Needs to proof for 24 hours.
Add 2 tablespoons of the warm water to a large glass bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Stir lightly and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes until creamy. Add the remaining warm water and the flour; mix well with a rubber spatula or spoon. Mixture will be wet and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on counter for 24 hours, until thick and bubbly.

Biga will last for up to 5 days, refrigerated. Tip: portion out biga into Ziploc bags, freeze and use when needed; allow a few hours to defrost, or place in refrigerator to defrost overnight.

Dough: Can be made by hand or with an upright mixer (#2 speed) and dough hook. To rise the dough in a warm environment, heat the oven to 200º and turn off when it reaches temperature.

Add the warm water to a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over; lightly mix together and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes until creamy. Add the biga and olive oil and mix. Add the flour and salt and knead or mix together for about 5 minutes until dough is velvety and soft, not sticky. Place the dough ball in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place a clean kitchen towel (folded in half) on top. Let rise for 1½ to 2 hours, in warm oven, until dough has doubled in size.

Reheat the oven to 200º and turn off. Grease a quarter sheet pan, or roughly 12” x 9” baking dish, and press dough into pan. Start in the middle and with your hands flat, gently press and stretch the dough to fit the pan size. Let rise for another 1½ hours until doubled in volume.

While the dough is rising for the second time, sauté the red onions; to a small skillet, add 1 teaspoon olive over medium heat. Add the sliced onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until they are just soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

After the second rise, dimple the dough surface with your finger tips or knuckles, drizzle with a generous amount of good olive oil, sprinkle the chopped rosemary over top, add the sautéed onions – spreading out evenly and sprinkle with a good pinch of kosher salt. Cover sheet pan with plastic wrap and folded kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes.

If you have a pizza stone, place it on the middle rack and heat oven to 425º. Place the sheet pan on the pizza stone or oven rack and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 400º and cook for 20 to 25 minutes more until lightly golden. Serve warm with extra virgin olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt.

It’s the little things in life! Chris, our friend from Ramuse and the U.K., sent me this generous gift last week.  During our visit to Ramuse, we made gnocchi with Paolo and I wore Jamie Oliver’s apron – something I haven’t forgotten. Paolo was a truffle supplier to Jamie Oliver and Geraldo Contaldo – both of whom who have visited Paolo’s magical place. I am a lucky lady indeed!  Thanks again, Chris!

A Memorable Evening: Gypsy Kitchen Supper Club

Denver hosted the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) for 3 days last week (tickets sold out in less than an hour!) and the food, beverage and restaurant community was abuzz with excitement for the artisanal suds.  On Sunday, a local supper club offered a GABF-themed beer pairing dinner that was held at one of my favorite restaurants, Mizuna.  We snagged two seats for the Gypsy Kitchen dinner, excited to sample some of the beers and dine in this top Denver restaurant.  Sommelier Alex Kayir selected her favorite beers from the festival, deftly walking us through each sampling and food course.  I’m told the supper club is a passion project of Mizuna chef, Jon Robbins and it shows.  Each course was superb with crisp, bright and beautifully contrasting flavors.  I was a happy foodie!  The guests seemed to be kindred spirits and we all shared in the food sensory experience – it truly was a magical evening with amazing food and people.

Sommelier Alex Kayir sharing her knowledge with guests

The kitchen, the heart of the supper club: Jon Robbins on right

Have you ever heard of a finger lime? This was the first time I had ever seen one; the tiny pearls were used to further adorn the oyster. It reminded me of tangy lime caviar – loved the texture.

Red Kuri Squash Soup paired with New Belgium La Folie, Sour Brown Ale, Fort Collins CO

Escargots en croûtes, paired with Funkwerks Saison, Belgian Ale, Fort Collins CO

Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Ginger Carrot “Risotto”, paired with Prost Weisbier, Denver CO
(Can you tell this is the course I was most looking forward to devouring? After 3 or 4 blissful bites I realized I hadn’t taken a photo – whoops. Check out that crispy sear!)

Linguine with Little Neck Clams, Spicy Tomato Buido & Linguiça, paired with Avery Kaiser, Oktoberfest Lager, Boulder CO

Roasted Australian Lamb Chop with Apricot-Almond Tagine and Cous Cous, paired with Dry Dock Apricot Blonde, Aurora CO

Spiced Pumpkin Croquembouche, paired with Upslope Brewing Pumpkin Ale, Boulder CO
(I snapped the photo before the delicious pepita brittle was sprinkled on top tableside.)

Cardamom-Chocolate Torte, paired with Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island Barrel Aged Imperial Bock, NY

And the beer pairings – all excellent!

Something always fun to share with friends and loved ones, especially at Gypsy Kitchen, or Mizuna!

Eat well and share the love!