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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken Marsala Soup - A Hearty Spin On Italian Classic

I think the groundhog got it all wrong  this year. It's February 27th, and I see the snow out of my window. It's Pacific Northwest, for crying out loud! It should be raining!
Soup sounds good. But not just any soup - a hearty soup. Like this one:

To make this you'll need:
  • 4 chicken breasts, cut-up into chunks
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 3 cans of diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can of NW white beans (I didn't have any, and substituted for black)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 8 oz. fusilli noodles (uncooked)
  • 0.5 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 Tbs. of fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbs. of fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs. of fresh thyme
  • salt & pepper (to taste)
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • 4-5 cups of chicken stock or water
First, brown the chicken in 1 Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat, about 7-8 min.
Add tomatoes, beans, noodles, garlic, herbs, cayenne, pepper, wine, and broth and bring to a slight boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 25 min.

 I like to make hearty soups in my trusty cast iron pot, so I can stick it in the oven for another 15-20 min., at about 350F. Fresh herbs are really what makes this soup explode with a unique flavor, so try to use them instead of dried herbs. And by adding noodles, the traditional classic soup turns to a nice comforting hot food for a cold day.

Serve with fresh, crusty but soft bread. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and garnish with fresh parsley. Stay warm! :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

With Great Anticipation Of Bavaria!

With just a little over a month left until our trip home (for me) and to meet Europe (for Rich), it's needless to say we are very excited. Girls have been asking to pack (!), and we've been looking at places to see and, of course, to eat at. Our journey will start in Bavaria and the Austrian Alps. Think Mozart, Beethoven, Freud, and "The Sound of Music". Plus sausages, sauerkraut, pilsner, and... the split pea soup. :)
I have to say, split pea soup was served a lot more often in my childhood than it is now. It's one of those things that are greatly loved on a once-in-a-while basis in our family. So ridiculously easy to make, split pea soup has to be done right!

  • 1 onion, diced and sauteed in olive oil until soft and golden
  • 3 cups of split peas (50% yellow and 50% green), soaked in water for at least a few hrs.
  • 1 pkg. of smoked pork chops (preferably bone-in, about 5-6)
  • water, just enough to cover it all,  at approx. 2-fingers height above
  • salt to taste (added at the end)
Once the soup begins to boil, skim off any protein foam, and simmer, partially covered for about 1.5 hrs, or until the peas have become creamy and the soup has thickened.  That is all!
If you like your soup more creamy and puree-like, use more yellow peas, as they tend to be more starchy. If you're a texture fan, use more green peas, and reduce the soaking time to just a couple of hours. Doing so will prevent the peas from completely cooking out to a creamy consistency.

The soup itself should remain simple, although some people like to add celery, carrots, etc. It certainly doesn't ruin anything, but is also not quite as authentic :).
Where you go crazy is the toppings. Pumpernickel croutons are a MUST, as well as freshly ground black pepper, diced green onions,  and some crispy bacon crumbles. We also like to add shredded colby cheese. Oh, and don't forget a cold Lager - it goes great with split pea!

Guten Appetit! :)

Chocolate Lover's Cream Cheese Cake With Lavender Ganache

I'm not a baker at heart. I have very little passion for cakes, and I don't like frosting. Once in a while, however, something stands out, and I get excited enough to try it. It was the case with this recipe.
A Betty Crocker's original, I've made a couple of changes to suit my taste: omitted the nuts (see "Filling" in the link above), and instead of the store-bought frosting I made a delicate chocolate ganache with a hint of lavender. The end result is far from disappointment:

A simple chocolate ganache is very easy to make:
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate chips
Heat up the cream just until it's steaming, then add the chocolate, constantly stirring, and remove from the heat immediately. Ganache burns quite fast, so it is important to follow these three steps diligently. For extra touch of elegance, I  added a tiny pinch of dried lavender flowers.

What I really like about this cake is that it's not heavy, not overly sweet, and is chocolaty to the core. Can't go wrong with that, can ya? :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Sweet, Sweet Valentine (How a Local Newly-Discovered Eatery Made It Even Better!)

Battle Ground has sure grown over the past years. It's hard to think of anything that's missing in this community any more: you got your supermarkets, new schools, a gazillion of neighborhoods, parks, stores - you name it. Historically though, the city has been struggling with a selection of decent sit-down places to eat. Sure, there were a handful starters here and there, none of which really took off, and most of which have closed their doors since.
Choosing a place to celebrate our Valentine's Day was easy. We came here for our very first V-Day dinner. This time the eatery had a new name, but the location was right for a Monday (workday) eve. Plus, trying a  new restaurant is always adventurous, and we are always up for it.  Not to mention that they boast in using local meat and produce. We went to Main Street's Paparazzi.

The place itself is quite unassuming from the outside, and having never been inside after the remodel, we both had an open mind about Paparazzi's fare (which typically doesn't call for high expectations).

Once there, we were promptly greeted and seated - so far so good. The place gave out a feeling of cozy, intimate simplicity. Not too simple, but not fancy, either - just right. We got a booth right next to the kitchen area, which added an interesting bit to our outing. There were four guys in the cooking area, each doing his own thing, yet beautifully working as a team of masters at the occasional command (for the lack of a better term) of the head Chef. Watching these guys reminded me of a music band concert. Each playing a different instrument, but together making an incredible melody.

Thanks to the occasion, Paparazzi was running a special, in addition to their regular menu. We settled on what seemed like the best deal, and it sounded pretty appetizing too!

For the starter choice we went with blackened shrimp and grits in cream sauce. It was DELICIOUS! Not heavy, as some cream sauces tend to get, not too laden with garlic. Grits were perfectly cooked - firm, but not chewy. Generous shavings of fresh parmesan definitely complimented this delightful little appetizer. By now we were falling in love and ready for more.

Even though Paparazzi offers a relatively short wine list, it is quite interesting and inclusive. From Maryhill's Table Red (their "house" wine selection), to Chianti (and some in between) for reds, and several selection of whites, this is sure to satisfy the many "winos" out there.
Beer drinkers would be equally happy with great choices of ales and IPAs, as well as those who'd prefer a typical Corona-type stuff.

Served in a cute goose glass, the Goose Island's Matilda beer is a must-try for any beer connoisseur out there! This was our first time ever hearing of the Goose Island beers, and at the kind suggestion of our darling waitress to give it a try I'm sure glad we did!

Our meal came fairly soon, and plenty of it! It smelled intoxicating, of garlic and fresh butter. Once again, there was not a hint of heaviness. Chicken breast was incredibly moist. Blue cheese mashed potatoes were just to die for! With such a strong flavor that usually comes from blue cheese, I was super pleased to taste the freshness of the potato, which was simply enhanced by the cheese. Yellow squash and zucchini were so perfectly done, that even my squash-hating husband left his plate empty. That, in itself, is a powerful testimony!!! :) The Dijon cream sauce tied all the flavors of the meal like a pretty ribbon on a gift box. What a fantastic combination! Yes, we're in love!

All in all, this was one of the best local meals we've had in a while. Although not quite authentically Italian, Paparazzi serves up a clever and delicate Italian-inspired fare that's fresh, local, creative, and downright exceptionally tasty. My hope is that this little gem gets to stick around, because we will be coming back often.
And as for my sweet, sweet Valentine - thank you, darling, for your gift of sharing your love for good food with me. It's been a heck of a journey so far! I love you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Perfect Shredded Beef Tacos - another step closer to enjoying Mexican food.

After having lived in the States for over 14 years now, I'm still working on developing a taste for Mexican cuisine. It is a slow process for me.
Rich, on the other side, having been influenced by the culture growing up, has a very special place for Mexican food in his heart. He is very particular about the "true" Mexican food.  You won't see him at any National chain eatery; in fact majority of places he visits are "hole-in -the-wall" types, where English is not a primary language.

Shredded beef tacos were on our menu for tonight.
Rich prepared a beautiful chuck roast with herbs and spices last night, then got up before dawn to get it slow cooking for dinner. Our house smelled heavenly throughout the whole day.
Once the beef is cooked and shredded, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo, and refried beans are on the table - all fresh and bursting with a definite ethnic flavor - I take a bite.

Oh yeah, I can do this. :)