Thursday, July 31, 2014

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Feeling creative today! Could be the beautiful weather, or the fact that I have an abundance of vibrant produce in my kitchen right now. Either way, I decided to throw some interesting ingredients together for a new appy. 

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Life is too short to eat the same thing over and over again. I'm always in the mood to get creative in the kitchen. You never know when you might find something new that you love!
Recently, I attended a pesto cooking class at a local kitchen store called Whisk, where I had the pleasure of meeting several lovely people. One such person was Roxanne of Gourmet Grapes and Olives, a specialty online olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop. She sent me some of her favorite bottles to try out, including a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar! I was so intrigued by the vinegar that I was determined to come up with a new dish to feature it.

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Since peach season is going strong right now, which I am loving, I thought I would start there to add to my peach repertoire. Next, I did my usual peruse around the kitchen to see what I had in stock and decided I needed something salty and nutty to add to the sweet and savory. So, Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar was born. If you don't have dark chocolate balsamic vinegar laying around (which I am guessing most people don't), any aged balsamic will work here. I bet a fig infused balsamic would be great!

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Get a little creative today and try a new combination of might just surprise yourself!

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Yields: 1 small appetizer 
Prep Time: 3 minutes

1 peach, quartered
3 slices prosciutto
Parmesan shavings
Quality balsamic vinegar
Cracked pepper to taste

Assemble all the ingredients on a plate and enjoy right away. 

Peaches and Prosciutto with Balsamic Vinegar

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Wine

More on Aspen!! I thought I would share a few things about the wine that we experienced there. My travel buddy is certainly more educated in this area than I, so I will keep my comments brief. 

I am a bargain wine drinker, I will admit this. I have a hard time spending more than $20 on a bottle unless it is a special occasion. Most of the wine we buy is from Trader Joe's and goes for under $10/bottle. However, after 4 days in Aspen and this guy, my thoughts have changed. There are times when a bit more mullah is necessary, especially for Pinot Noirs. Life is too short to drink shitty wine!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Wine

If you are going to drink a Pinot Noir, might as well be one from Sonoma County, CA. I was able to attend a Sonoma Pinot class during the Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic, led by Mark Oldman, one of the country's top wine enthusiasts. He is THE BEST! He really impressed me because he took the "snootiness" out of wine drinking. He encouraged "brave" drinking and bargain bottles. The best part about him is that he confirmed 2 things that many people argue with me about:
  1. Twist tops are OK and can prevent wine spoilage.
  2. Red wines should be served slightly chilled.
Many people think that a twist top means that it is cheap wine and won't taste good (that the winery maybe skimmed on corking the bottles). Mark Oldman says that the twist tops are totally acceptable in the wine industry and can actually help prevent the rare case of spoilage caused by air getting through the cork. He also confirmed that you should definitely chill Pinot Noirs, specifically to 57F. Put it in an ice bucket with water and not the refrigerator. This helps focus the flavors of the wine and makes it more refreshing!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Wine

Even though the Pinot class was the only dedicated wine seminar we attended, wine was still very abundant in the Tasting Tents. If you remember from my first Aspen Classic post, the Tasting Tents opened twice a day for two hours. There was a large add-on tent in the back for Spain. We checked this out during our second Tasting Tent visit and proceeded to go back each time. It was featuring all Spanish wines and foods, which was my favorite. In my opinion, Spanish wines have the most flavor and complexity of all the other regions we tasted. They were also served with Spains renowned Jamón serrano

Jamón serrano

Another "trend" we noticed during the Classic was the plethora of Rosés and Rosatos, which are light pink in color. Another myth buster! I went for it and tried most of them determined to convince myself that a really good Rosé or Rosato doesn't have to be sweet AT ALL. Once I returned to NC, I noticed that Rosés were everywhere! All over the wine stores, grocery stores, markets, etc.....and I was LOVING it!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The WineAspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The WineAspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Wine

So, recap, wine lessons learned:

  1. Twist tops are OK and often better!
  2. Slightly chill red wine.
  3. Best Pinots are found in Sonoma and Bourdeux, France.
  4. Spanish wines rock!
  5. Don't be scared of a light pink wine.
  6. Mark Oldman is awesome!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spicy Sausage Asparagus Pasta

Our dinners have been Farm Fresh lately! We are loving all the amazing produce that is popping up at Farmers Markets, neighborhood gardens and in my own back yard! In addition, this is the first year that I have been able to maintain a nice herb garden. I love that I can walk five steps and cut basil or lavender fresh from the stalk. 

After a successful trip to the Farmers Market a few weeks ago, I was determined to come up with a recipe that used everything in my basket, including arugula flowers which was a new item for me. Arugula flowers are my new favorite gem from the Market! they are cream colored with a purple vein running through the pedals. The edible flower is nutty and peppery, just like arugula leaves. They are very perishable though, so buy them and use them up fast. 

Another new item in the basket was a spicy pork sausage with sage from Fickle Creek Farms. This vendor is a must-stop now after trying their organic chickens....yum! I found asparagus, peppers, onions, arugula (with the flowers) and even a fresh pasta vendor. After 20 minutes in the market, dinner was planned!

Since most of you don't live in my area, you can use any type of sausage. Jimmy Dean's makes a Natural Sage Sausage that is a good alternative if you can't find any at your local Farmers Market. Asparagus season is pretty much over too, so broccoli or zucchini is a great substitution for this here. 

Spicy Sausage Asparagus Pasta

Yields: 4 servings

1 pound sausage (we used Fickle Creek Farms Spicy Pork Sausage with sage)
1 pound asparagus, *cooked, chopped (or other vegetable)
3 red bell peppers, quartered and de-seeded (or use 1 jar of roasted red peppers)
1 small red onion, diced
8 ounces elbow pasta (we used TruRoots gluten free)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh arugula
Arugula flowers for garnish
Parmesan cheese, shredded

If making the peppers, Preheat the broiler to high and move the rack to the highest setting in the oven. Place the quartered red peppers on a greased cookie sheet and broil until the skin of the peppers are very charred. Quickly remove the peppers and place in a brown paper bag and seal. Set this aside for 15-20 minutes. Once the peppers have rested in the bag and are cool enough to touch, peel the skin off the peppers, roughly chop and set aside.

*Cook the asparagus (or other vegetable), there are few options here:
  1. Roast the asparagus in a 375F oven for about 15 minutes
  2. Steam the asparagus in a steamer (stove top or microwave steamer)
  3. Boil the asparagus with the pasta, but this might increase the asparagus flavor intensely.
While the peppers are roasting/sitting, cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saute pan, cook the sausage, breaking it into small chunks. Remove the sausage, reserving about 1 Tablespoon of the grease in the pan. Add in the onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes until slightly translucent. Stir in the cooked asparagus, sausage, arugula, peppers and 4 Tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer all this to a large bowl (to stop the cooking) and mix gently until combined. Serve with Arugula flower garnishes (if you can find them) and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

Well folks, that's it. I'm old! The birthday festivities were beyond incredible, and the fun continued into the 4th of July weekend. After several weeks of travel, fun and lots of great food, it is back to work and back to blogging!

I hope everyone enjoyed the 30/30 countdown on Kettler Cuisine! It was such a blast to put together and I have many people to thank, including several of the restaurants for making the food so photogenic and delicious (Kimbap and Trophy). For a full recap of my favorites, visit the Favorites tab above or go here.

While 30/30 was going on, I went to the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen to celebrate my big birthday with a dear friend!! Oh yea, it was beyond fantastic! The town of Aspen is a beautiful spot on its own, then sprinkle in top chefs, wineries and phenomenal food, and you have yourself one heck of a destination. I have so much to share that I will break it up into a few posts not to overwhelm everyone (and myself).

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

First and foremost, the memories! I was fortunate enough to share this experience with one of my closest friends, who just so happens to live 3000 miles away from me! But, we don't let distance, three time zones and busy lives interfere with our friendship. We met in Denver and hopped on a small plane up to Aspen. Everyone on our flight was heading to the Classic, including Michael Chiarello and a Tequilla distillery (yes, the entire flight smelled like Agave tequila). No complaining here :)

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

After a very quick (and intense) landing, we were greeted with blue skies and huge mountain backdrops. After checking in to the hotel and the Classic, we explored the adorable and beautiful town of Aspen.

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The MemoriesAspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

The three-day festival didn't disappoint. We met chefs, winemakers, restaurateurs, celebrities and many, many fun (and slightly drunk) people. It will be hard to recap everything, but here are some of my favorite and most memorable experiences...

Cooking and Meeting Marcus Sameulsson
Probably one of the most vibrant and vivacious celebrity chefs there, Marcus Sameulsson hosted a cooking session on "The Whole Nine Yards," using all parts of a chicken. This was our very first session and experience at the Classic, so it set the bar very high!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

He is extremely personable and an incredible talent in the kitchen. I was able to sneak a taste of several of his dishes, including his chicken soup!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories
I'm excited for Marcus' soup!

Meeting Ali Larter
I told you there were celebrities everywhere! I met her, got a signed cookbook, AND talked about my blog with her. She interviewed Giada De Laurentiis during a session on the second morning and really surprised us with her wit, intelligence and strong female power! It was great to see a fellow blogger that also has a passion for entertaining and cooking, along with a full time job (and children).

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories
Giddy after chatting with Ali Larter

The Tasting Tent
Oh, the Tasting Tent! The things in this tent! We have never experienced such a concentrated location of inventive, delicious and satiating food. Then there was all the wine, and more wine, and even more wine. We had to pace ourselves....

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories

The Tasting Tent opened twice a day for 2 hours. The first run was a learning experience, we were trying to get through as fast and as efficiently as possible. By the second run, we were experts. We focused on specific sections and took our time going through, getting to know some of the vendors and the back story of how they got there. (This also helped us from drinking too much too quickly).

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories
My best bud and I on the last run of the Tasting Tent.

Hugh Acheson's passion for Local
This guy is awesome! I don't have any other elequent descriptions other than he rocks! Even though he was born in Canada, he has earned a status among some of the top Southern chefs. He doesn't just cook Southern cuisine, but he immerses himself in it and constantly educates himself and others on the history, techniques and ingredients. The best thing about this guy, besides his laundry list of accolades and awards, is that he fully supports Local! He buys local, he eats local, he promotes local in pretty much all he does.

"Small steps will win this race and the first small steps are about your local sphere."
- Hugh Acheson

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories
Hugh Acheson, an accomplished and very friendly Southern Chef

Celebrity Sightings!!!
Oh, there were many. Mostly celebrity chefs like Giada De Laurentiis, Richard Blais, Andrew Zimmern (think Bizarre Foods), Gail Simmons, Michael Chiarello, Tom Colicchio, Jacques Pépin, Curtis Stone, Scott Conant, Johnny Iuzzini (think sweet treats), and just about every Top Chef contestant and winner you can think of! But I also saw and met Stephen Merchant...hilarious!!

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories
The Hubby was a bit jealous on this one! I was so nervous to meet him :)

Overall it was an amazing trip!! We ate a lot....

And drank a lot....

But most of all, we had a great time together...

Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic - The Memories