Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Results for Foodie Fights Battle Sesame Seeds and Star Fruit

The results are in for Foodie Fights Battle Sesame Seeds and Star Fruit! I came in a close second behind MSoSS of Girl of 1000 Faces and her Sesame-Seared Tuna Tempura Papaya Sushi with Spicy Sesame Sauce and Papaya Chutney. One judge picked my dish, Toasted Sesame Biscuits with Spiced Star Fruit Compote, for the winner and MSoSS for the runner-up, and the other judge picked MSoSS for the winner and my dish for the runner-up, which meant it came down to the popular vote. It was close, so thanks to everyone who voted!

If you're a food blogger I highly recommend you try a battle, it is so much fun! You can sign up on the Foodie Fights web site. Happy fighting! ;)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Toasted Sesame Biscuits with Spiced Star Fruit Compote

I love Foodie Fights. This is my 4th battle, and each one has been a lot of fun. When I first started blogging just over a year ago I had no idea such a thing existed. I found it by accident when I followed a link embedded in a comment on a blog post I was reading. A Iron Chef-type contest for food bloggers? I immediately signed up and am so glad I did!

This battle is Sesame Seeds and Star Fruit, and lucky for me, my grocery store actually had some in stock :) I brought three of the fruits home and started looking on the internet for ways to use them. I knew you could use them in salads (a favorite way because it showcases their very cool star shape), but was surprised to learn you can also cook them in both sweet and savory dishes.

I tried really hard to figure out a way to use them on a grilled pizza, but decided the chances of it ending badly were too high. Then I read about chutneys and compotes, which led to me come up with this layered shortcake-type dessert.

I made a compote (a cooked mixture of fresh and dried fruit) with star fruit, Gala apples, dried cranberries, vanilla, lime, ginger, and cinnamon. The smell in my kitchen as it simmered was luscious; the lime, ginger, and cinnamon blended perfectly. The finished compote was a smooth combination of flavors: spiced, and at the same time, sweet and tart, with the texture of perfectly cooked apple pie.

For the "cake" I made buttermilk biscuits with my Buttermilk Pancake Mix. I added sesame seeds--toasting them first to give them a nutty flavor--to the mixture and also on top of the biscuits. They are fabulous eaten alone (which we did with the first batch), and go really well with the flavor of the star fruit compote. I was actually a little surprised by how nicely they went together. Star fruit and sesame seed aren't two flavors I thought would work, which makes the final dessert even sweeter.

Click here to go to the battle page and view all of the contestants. Of course, I'd love for you to vote for me! :) Thanks!

Note: Make the compote a couple hours ahead of time so it has time to cool to room temperature and thicken.

Spiced Star Fruit Compote
Printable Recipe

2 cinnamon sticks broken in half
2 slices peeled, fresh ginger, about 1/2-in sq x 1/8-in
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 large star fruits, about 1 lb. total weight, cut into 1/2-in pieces
2 large Gala apples, about 3/4 lb. total weight, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Toasted Sesame Biscuits

3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cups Buttermilk Pancake Mix (shake container before you measure and level)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into 6 pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream

sweetened whipped cream for serving
fresh mint sprigs and chopped crystallized ginger, if desired

for the Spiced Star Fruit Compote
1. Wrap the cinnamon stick pieces and ginger in a double-layer of cheese cloth and tie it closed to create a small bundle. Set aside.

2. Combine the water and sugar in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium heat until it the mixture simmers and the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the star fruit, apples, cranberries, lime zest, lime juice, salt, and cinnamon-ginger bundle. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Then uncover the pot and simmer 10-15 more minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup. Stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

for the Toasted Sesame Biscuits
1. To toast the sesame seeds, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds to dry skillet and heat, stirring almost constantly, until they are fragrant and golden brown. Transfer the toasted seeds to a bowl to keep them from browning more as they sit in the hot pan, and reserve 1 tablespoon in a separate bowl.

2. Heat your oven to 425 deg and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the Buttermilk Pancake Mix, toasted sesame seeds (minus the 1 tablespoon reserved), and sugar; stir to mix. Add the cold butter and cut it into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender until most of the butter is the size of small peas. You can do this in a food processor if you want, but I'd rather just dirty the pastry blender and have less to wash.

4. Add the buttermilk and use a rubber spatula to mix and press the dough together. Turn the dough out onto a piece of waxed paper sprinkled with extra pancake mix. Use the waxed paper to fold the dough in half, pressing it gently together. Repeat with each side until the dough has come together to form a nice square, about 2 folds per side.

5. Sprinkle the top of the dough with extra pancake mix, lay a piece of waxed paper on the top, and roll it out to about 1/2-inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits; gather and gently re-roll the scraps to get 8 biscuits total. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream and sprinkle with the reserved toasted sesame seeds.

6.Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the tops and bottoms are just barely golden brown.

7. To serve, split the biscuits horizontally and layer the following: the biscuit bottom, about 1/4 cup fruit compote, whipped cream, biscuit top, about 1/4 cup fruit compote, whipped cream. Drizzle the plate with some of the compote syrup and garnish the dessert with mint and crystallized ginger if desired.

Note: The compote recipe doesn't make enough fruit for all 8 biscuits. Please double the recipe if you want to serve all of the biscuits.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cake Wrecks Salt Lake book signing Part 1: Fresco Italian Cafe

What can I say about Cake Wrecks? Well, you'll see things created with cake and frosting you never thought possible. And you'll laugh so hard at Jen's writing your sides will ache. I first visited Jen Yate's site just over a year ago after a recommendation from a friend. I spent the next 2 hours going through the site, and I laughed harder and laughed more than I had in a very long time. I was having a "moment" in my life, and it was actually quite therapeutic. Laughing is good. Thanks, Jen. :)

When my sister sent me an email a few weeks ago saying that Jen and her husband, John, were coming to Salt Lake City June 23 on another book tour I was ecstatic. Really. I knew we had to go. The only real question was would my sister and I take my teenage daughter, who also loves Cake Wrecks. I was pretty conflicted. I love my kids, but I also love (read "need") to go places without them. I finally decided we needed to take her with us because the opportunity would probably never present itself again; it wasn't like she could just go next time.

We got to The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake extra early so we could get dinner before the book signing party (and believe me, it's like a party). After dropping off our wreckplicas for the cupcake contest at the bookshop (more on that later) we walked two doors over and got a table at a gorgeous little place call Fresco Italian Cafe. I really wanted to sit on the patio, which was perfectly manicured with ivy-covered walls and bright flowers blooming in flower beds and hanging boxes, but was overruled by my daughter (you've got to let them choose sometimes). But our table was by some big windows so we had a great view of the beautiful patio.

The Fresco Italian Cafe is a very nice restaurant and not the typical place we frequent, so I poured over the menu, wanting to make sure I made the most of our visit. I am so often disappointed by what I order in restaurants (because I know I can make better food), but I knew dinner that night was going to be incredible. I was very excited.

After we ordered and before our dinner arrived, the chef sent us a "gift". It was a gorgeous little taste of radish slices, frisee, and a dressing that packed a punch. It was arranged on one end of the greatest rectangular plates (that I would love to have), and looked like something straight off of the set of Iron Chef. I'll happily take gifts like that anytime. It was so gorgeous, I wish I'd taken a picture. Sorry, you'll just have to take my word for it.

For my dinner I decided on the chef special of the day, Risotto della Sera: tomato risotto, green beans and fresh sweet corn, and a steak from Niman Ranch. Oh. My. Goodness. The risotto was perfectly cooked--toothsome and creamy--with a wonderful, bright tomato flavor. The green beans were delightfully al dente. And the steak, oh, the steak. Perfectly medium rare, the only way to eat a steak. The whole meal was divine. Absolutely divine.

My daughter got the Salmone Mediterranean, a pan-seared salmon fillet perched atop roasted broccoli raab, onion, and potato, with a lemon-caper vinaigrette. There were also some olives scattered on the plate. She let me taste the salmon, so I can vouch for her when she said it was very moist and not too strong. She wouldn't share the rest, though, so I had to just take her word for it that it was wonderful.

My sister got the Pollo Piccata Alla Maria, a chicken breast stuffed with asparagus and fontina cheese, and served with orzo pasta and a lemon-caper sauce. She gave me a taste and it was good, but I'm not a big fan of capers, so I definitely liked my dinner better. Truth be told, she did confess that she wished she'd ordered the steak and tomato risotto. I decided it was unkind to say, "Nee-ner, nee-ner, nee-ner."

Dinner was fabulous! Yum!
Check back for part 2 of this post and to see what we entered in the Cake Wrecks cupcake contest. Did one of us win a prize?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cake Wrecks and Foodie Fights

So, first, I have to tell you that I went to the Salt Lake City book signing for Cake Wrecks on Wednesday and it was awesome! I went with my sister and my teenage daughter and we had such a great time...a post with pictures for that is coming (I haven't had 2 seconds to rub together lately). If you've never been to Cake Wrecks, go now--you'll thank me :)

And then I have to tell you that I've been picked as a contestant for Foodie Fights #9 for the 2010 season, Battle Sesame Seeds and Star Fruit! I competed last season and it is so fun--I'm really excited! You can go here to get the lastest on the battle. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Egg Fried Rice + the dreaded "E18" lens error

No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them.The sound is a combination of grinding and ringing, then a series of beeps. "Wha?" You say as you look down at the camera. And there, spelled out on the screen, are the words, "lens error, restart camera".

This error message, sometimes known around the Internet as "the fatal lens error" or simply "E18" is, apparently, common in Canon digital cameras. Some speculate that the error is due to a design flaw, and Canon's refusal to acknowledge the flaw stems from fact that they'd then be required to refund millions of dollars or fix millions of cameras or both. (Here's a great reason to do your homework, people. 5 seconds of Internet searching could have saved me a whole lot of grief.)

I did find several blogs with ideas on how to fix the problem, everything from restarting the camera (yeah, first thing I tried--several times), to blowing canned, pressurized air into the spaces between the lens parts, to actually banging the camera on a counter top (the idea being that your camera is already not working, so if you hurt it by whacking it on the counter you're not really in any worse shape). All of these were aimed at dislodging the lint or grit or whatever that is causing the lens to not be able to retract.

As you can probably guess, none of the ideas worked for me, and I suddenly found myself without a camera a few weeks ago. Now, at the time, my main concern was our Yellowstone trip. I had to have a camera to take on vacation. I went to Costco and bought a small camera for about $140, and while it worked fine for taking pictures of bison walking past our car and Old Faithful erupting right on schedule, it was horrid at taking closeup pictures of things like, say, food. Now, of course, I wasn't terribly surprised, the thing was barely over $100. I took it back to Costco (love their return policy) and again find myself without a camera.

So! Since a food blog is nothing without pictures, I'm digging back into my picture files for things I never got around to posting. Hopefully we'll get the camera thing figured out soon and I'll be up and running with my whisk in one hand and my camera in the other.

Egg Fried Rice

When you eat this you're going to think you're in a restaurant. I know, I know, there are many recipes floating around the web that make this same promise, but this one delivers. The trick, of course, is using real Asian ingredients for the flavors. I know. Shocking.

A quick note about the rice. There seems to be quite the controversy on the net about whether the rice must be day-old, cold rice, or if you can use freshly made rice. There are some people who adamantly insist fresh rice is best, but I just don't see how it could possibly work. Fresh rice sticks together, if even just a little, and in order for fried rice to cook how you want the grains need to be separate. Oh, and you can slice your own carrots if you want, but I just use the frozen pea & carrot combo. It's supposed to be a super-easy recipe, anyway.

Printable Recipe

4 teaspoons soy sauce (please use real brewed)
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups cold, cooked rice
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cups frozen peas & carrots, thawed
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, and onion powder in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Spray a 12-inch non-stick skillet with non-stick spray and heat it over medium heat until it's very hot (but don't burn the spray).

3. Add the eggs and let them cook, without stirring, until they are mostly cooked through, 30-45 seconds. stir briefly with a rubber spatula. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the eggs are broken up and cooked all the way through, about 30-45 seconds.

4. Add the soy sauce mixture and stir well to coat the rice evenly. Cook, stirring constantly, until the excess moisture has evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add the peas and carrots and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the green onion, and stir and cook until the onion is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Makes about 3 cups rice.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bake sale newspaper article

Our local newspaper, The South Valley Journal, printed an article about the Share Our Strength bake sale I hosted on May 22! Very exciting :) You can read the article here. A huge "Thanks!" again to everyone who helped out!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yellowstone 2010

We've been back from Yellowstone for almost a week and I am just now getting this post finished. Man, is it hard to get back into the swing of your life after a great vacation! I found myself wishing several times in the last 6 days that I could just go back to Yellowstone. We had such a great time...

We stayed in a cabin at The Pines resort in Island Park, Idaho. I absolutely recommend them to anyone planning a trip out that way. The cabin was beautifully decorated and came complete with your basic kitchen tools, pots, etc., down comforters on the beds (nice), personal hot tub and very nice gas grill, and, most important if you have kids with you, a personal washer and dryer. The weather was less nice (read cold, rain, hail, snow, wind), but we managed to have a lot of fun, anyway.

Even in the wilderness, little girls need their Polly Pockets.

Waffles for breakfast....and the swan, purchased at the Grizzly and Wolf Preserve, that went everywhere with us.

S'mores on the porch at 10 p.m. What else is vacation about?

After watching Old Faithful erupt we ate dinner at the restaurant at The Snow Lodge.

Forgive the picture--I was working with a new (and crappy) camera and very yellow light in the restaurant. It tasted delicious, though: Bison Short Ribs braised in Moose Drool Ale, Mashed Potatoes, and Garlic Green Beans. The kitchen messed up my original order (seared tuna with soba noodles--I know, what was I thinking?), and I ordered this as a replacement. I've never been so happy to have the cook ruin my food. The bison was fork tender and so, so flavorful. I ate it all...every single bite. Yum.

We fished....

Of course, Ginny's idea of fishing is throwing rocks in the water.

We saw amazing things like this waterfall. I've never been so close to one of these marvels--the sound was awesome!

Another view of the amazing waterfall. This canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

There were lots and lots of stairs....

And beautiful things that made the stairs worthwhile. (Mammoth Hot Springs)

We lunched....

We saw more waterfalls while keeping Ginny from going over the edge...

I saw my first real-life beaver! He was so cute! (Fishing Bridge)

This wolf was at the Grizzly and Wolf Preserve in West Yellowstone. Being so close to them was incredible. They are just beautiful animals.

This cutie tried to eat my daughter's shoe lace. She loved it, of course.

A brother-sister pair of grizzly bears playing at the preserve.

Of all the animals we saw on our trip, the bison calves were my absolute, number one favorite. They are the cutest animals on the face of the planet! Love, love, love!!

As we drove out of the park on our last day we came up on a huge cluster of cars stopped and pulled haphazardly to the side of the road. In Yellowstone, this is usually a sign that there is something good to see. We slowed down to see what it was and saw this mother bear and her cub. Amazing! (My husband zoomed in as far a he could--the pair were pretty far away.)

There are some incredible smells in Yellowstone...

Smells that weren't appreciated by the younger people in our group. (Dragon's Mouth Spring)

This picture is at the Paint Pots. The minerals and heat from the bubbling geysers petrify the trees. I know they're dead, but isn't it a cool picture?

The color of this pool was simply beautiful.

And, of course, we can't forget Old Faithful.

Thanks, Yellowstone! We loved everything!
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