Thursday, December 31, 2015

Natural is Trending

Food predictions make good filler on 24-hour news cycles at this time of year.  Darlings like kale, foam garnishment, bacon on everything, and more to come all have their moment.  Food theories and lifestyles open debate about the relative importance of Atkins protein diets, the role of calories, the mystery of gluten-free success for non-celiac sufferers, the merits of veganism and more.

It's complicated and changes all the time. 

That's why I had to smile when I heard that 'natural' will be trending in 2016.  The idea is that food companies will be helping us out by adding more natural ingredients to prepared foods because consumer interest in the topic has grown to influential numbers.  Also expect to see less than natural ingredients replaced with better counterparts.

Until this trend is a reality, plan on making your own trend and creating your own more natural diet.  It only takes one guiding principle--- Eat Real Food.

That's what every recipe posted on the Pure Foods Project blog for the past six years has been offering.  Every meal, snacks and even desserts can and should be real.  When you eat pure, real foods you will be satisfied sooner.  You will enjoy every bite more.  You will feel good.  Flip through the categories on this blog for recipes that use real ingredients so you can eat more pure food.

Deputy Ron Kelley 
You do not have to seek out organic foods only, turn to veganism or grow sprouts to feel better and stronger in 2016. Don't fuss over food trends.  Just eat what you know but insist on it being real.  If you make this your habit, you will find the best brands for you, the best shortcuts to cook your favorites from scratch and the best way for you to eat that allows time for life's other pursuits. 

Two caveats to the Real Food Rule:  If you are hooked on sugar or salt (and if you are eating a lot of processed and packaged foods you may well be), make the effort to cut back severely here.  Your taste buds will adjust quickly and you will taste all the others flavors in the universe that salt and sugar have been masking.  That is what eating real food can do for you.

Happy New Year! 

Photos: Pennsylvania Game Commission deputies know how to treat game properly and safely.  Above, the crop of a ruffed grouse shows the bird's natural diet.  Left, local deer processors make a local favorite, kielbasa, using a venison base.  Ron's tip for kielbasa- steam the delicate meat.  Deputies deserve to eat pure food!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lobster Seafood Pasta

New Year's calls for a special meal and Lobster Seafood Pasta is both impressive and easy.  Have it before you go out reveling or on New Year's Day to start the year off right.  Pure celebration food.

A little prep to cook the shrimp and lobster is needed beforehand and this can be done up to a day ahead.  If you have a great fishmonger, you can ask to have the lobster steamed and the shell cracked.  You can also buy pre-cooked and shelled shrimp.

I cook a large lobster in my biggest pot of boiling, well salted water.  When I say well salted I mean several tablespoons of salt.  Taste the water-- does it remind you of the sea?  Now we're cookin'.

A 2-pound lobster placed in boiling water will simmer, covered, on low heat for 8 minutes.  Check to be sure the water is bubbling not boiling.  Once I fish out the lobster to cool on a rimmed tray I toss 1 pound of medium (shell on) shrimp into the hot water.  Cover but do not turn the heat back on.  The shrimp will be cooked in 6-8 minutes.

The recipe also calls for scallops.   Use fresh sea scallops if you can find them.  Otherwise defrost frozen sea or the smaller bay scallops.  You will butter sauté them when compiling the pasta dish.  No need to cook them ahead.  If you cannot find scallops, use a bit more shrimp.

The recipe serves 4 and I recommend making the full recipe since the leftovers are good gently heated in a skillet the following day.  Use a smaller lobster (1 1/2 pounds) and halve the rest of the ingredients if you only want two full servings.  

Lobster Seafood Pasta
Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a first course

1 2-pound lobster, cooked and meat removed from shell (here's how)
1 pound shrimp, cooked and peeled
1/2 pound scallops
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup peas
1/4 cup dry white wine (or clam juice, chicken broth)
1/2 cup cream
1 lemon-- juiced and zest
1 pound fresh pasta (linguini recommended)
1/4 cup fresh, chopped parsley (or try dill, cilantro, tarragon or other favorite green herb)
As needed: salt and black pepper

  1. Place a large pot of salted water on high for the pasta.  Heat the water to boiling while you prepare the sauce.
  2. Dry scallops using a paper towel.  In a large skillet sauté scallops in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  If using fresh scallops, leave them alone before turning so that they brown slightly.  Previously frozen scallops may not brown.  Do not over cook them.  Remove scallops to a plate when opaque.  
  3.  Add the remaining butter and oil to the skillet.  Over low heat, warm the lobster and shrimp.  Leave the lobster claws whole if possible.  Spit the tail down the middle or chop in large pieces.  
  4. Next add peas and wine.  Cook until most of the wine has cooked down, 2-3 minutes.
  5. Time to cook the fresh pasta.  It only takes about 3 minutes so be ready to serve.
  6. While pasta cooks, add cream, lemon juice and lemon zest to seafood mixture.  Gently heat.  
  7. Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of cooking water. 
  8. Stir cooked pasta into the seafood sauce.  Add cooking liquid to help loosen the pasta strands.  
  9. Cook just another minute more to allow flavors to meld.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. 
  10. Add fresh herbs just before serving.  Reserve some herbs for garnish. 
Leftovers should be stored covered and refrigerated.  To reheat, add some liquid-- water or broth---to a skillet over medium heat.  When liquid simmers, lower heat and add leftovers.  Heat until just heated through, strring gently to break apart strands of pasta. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Apple & Pear Sauté

Slivers of unpeeled pear and apple skin add a festive note.
What side can I bring?  Add a recent potluck, our hostess added sauteed apples to a group dinner whose center piece was pulled port.  It was a hit that's inspired me to create a simple and fast Apple & Pear Sauté to accompany all kinds of pork over the holidays.  The key is to create a savory bridge from the fruit to the meat.

Use firm apples for cooking like Macoun, Winesap, Pink Lady or  Granny Smith varieties.  Pears tend to be less firm than apples so you will put them in the pan second but check your pears and if they are quite firm, add all the fruit at once.  Bosc pears are generally a firm pear and you can also use Anjou or Bartletts.  At this time of year, we are often the lucky recipients of sweet Comice pears which are  terrific paired with a tart apple variety.

Herbs like thyme and a little balsamic vinegar provide the savory bridge.  Try to use fresh herbs in this dish.  If you do not have thyme, try a small amount of fresh sage. Oregano would also work.  A drop of honey and butter bring it all together. 

Apple & Pear Sauté
Serves 4

1 apple, partly peeled, cored and sliced
1 pear,  partly peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme

  1. While your roast rests, melt butter in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Add the apples and cook until they are beginning to soften. Gently stir with a wide spatula.  This will take 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add the pears and continue to cook, stirring gently to turn fruit.
  3. Add balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.
  4. Lower the temperature and cover the skillet.  Cook for a few minutes more, until fruit is soft but not breaking down into small pieces.  The slices should keep their shape.  
  5. Just before serving toss in fresh thyme.  
 Serve immediately as a side to pork dishes.  

Any leftovers of this quick fruit sauté pairs nicely with cheese.  Serve
at room temperature in a small bowl next to the cheese platter.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bûche de Noël Rectangulaire

Now is the time to plan for a show stopper Christmas dinner dessert.   This chocolate lovers' cake is simple and can be made in stages several days ahead.  Assemble and decorate with the help of guests and other elves on the big day.

It starts with a very moist chocolate cake baked in two 8 inch X 8 inch brownie pans.  Each cake is split in two to make four  8 inch X 4 inch layers.  A generous filling of Double Chocolate Nutella Frosting divides these layers before the whole cake is enrobed in a dark chocolate ganache.  Red and green nonpareils are not only decorative; they guide the knife for perfect loaf slices.  Beware- this is a very rich cake.  It serves 8-10 generously and even half a slice will top off the night.

Here's how to pull it together over several days:
First the cake layers.  You can bake them a day ahead or several days ahead and freeze layers individually.  Layers defrost quickly and you can even frost before they are fully defrosted. 

You can also make the Double Chocolate Nutella Frosting ahead of time and refrigerate it until ready to frost.  Let the frosting sit at room temperature about 15-20 minutes to soften. 

If your kitchen is not too busy, others can pitch in at the Chocolate Ganache and decorating stage.  Try to wait at least an hour for the ganache to fully set before slicing and serving the cake.  It will still knock your socks if you cannot wait.  Or, the cake can be finished a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. 

We updated a classic ch0colate cake recipe as our base-- Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake.  Use there's or try ours with buttermilk.  (When using buttermilk baking soda takes over for baking powder.)

Bûche Dee Noël Rectangulaire 

Serves 8-10

Updated Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water

  1. Preheat oven to 300˚F.
  2. Use 2 8” X 8” brownie pans to make a loaf cake (or four 8 inch cake pans) lined with parchment paper in the bottom and greased lightly on  the sides.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Use a whisk to mix everything together well. 
  4. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix well.
  5. Add boiling water to batter. Mix well.
  6. Pour batter into square brownie pan or four 8 inch cakes pans and bake at 300 degrees for about 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. 
  7. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully invert and cool on cooling racks.  Peel away parchment paper once on the cooling racks.  Do not frost cake until it is completely cool.
  8. Slice each cooled cake in half to create 4 layers. 

Double Chocolate Nutella Frosting
Make the Double Chocolate Nutella Frosting while the cake cools.  

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (e.g Nutella)
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder

1 t vanilla
1/3 cup sour cream
¼ cup  milk or cream

  1. Combine softened butter, shortening and chocolate-hazelnut spread.  You can do this by hand or use a mixer on lowest setting.  
  2. Sift powdered sugar and cocoa together.  Add to chocolate-hazelnut mixture, stirring well to combine.  
  3. Add in vanilla and sour cream.  If mixture is a it thick, you can add milk or cream to create a spreadable consistency.  
  4. To frost the cake, place the first (cooled) cake layer on a rectangular serving platter and tuck strips of wax paper around the edges to protect the plate.  (Pull away the wax paper when finished to reveal a clean line between cake and platter.)
  5.  Roughly divide the frosting into fifths.  This will ensure you have enough left to frost the sides of the cake.
  6. Place a fifth of the frosting on the first layer and spread it out with a spatula or offset frosting knife.
  7. Lay the second layer on top and frost with another fifth of the frosting.  Continue until the fourth layer is frosted.
  8. Use the remaining frosting to cover the sides.  Do not worry about getting this perfect.  You will cover the cake with  ganache. 
 Dark Chocolate Ganache
This makes a very generous amount and is poured over the frosted cake.  Leftovers can be stirred into hot milk to make an awesome hot chocolate.

6 ounces good quality dark chocolate
8-10 ounces cream 
optional: 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or hazelnut liqueur

  1. Chop chocolate into a fine dice.  If using chips, roughly chop.   Place chocolate in a medium sized heat proof bowl
  2. Heat cream.  We use a microwave for this but if this is your first ganache, heat the cream in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and watch it carefully so it does not scald.  
  3. Slowly pour half the hot cream over the chocolate stirring constantly.   Mixture will be thin at first.  Keep stirring and slowly adding more cream as the mixture comes together and become glossy.
  4. Let mixture cool slightly-- a few minutes-- then carefully pour the ganache over the frosted cake.  Use a spatula or the back of a soup spoon to help spread the thick ganache over the cake and down the sides.  You can let the ganache drip naturally or smooth it over to cover the entire cake. 
  5. Decorate and enjoy.
Leftovers can be stored, covered in the refrigerator.  Slices can be frozen for mid-winter indulgence.