Laura’s Pretty Foods

On March 9th I started a new Instagram account featuring photos of meals I’ve prepared and food enjoyed during my travels. With our world in crisis this account has connected me with chefs and foodies around the globe – and right now we can all use more connections. You can find me on Instagram at laurasprettyfood

Self Care, part eight

There was a moment during my journey that stands out, what Oprah would call an “aha!” moment.

It came from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa on The Food Network.

For months I hadn’t been able to focus on a book, movie or tv show. I had no appetite nor interest in food or cooking which had been passions of mine.

I’d lost my mojo.

Enter The Barefoot Contessa. I’d tuned into her show out of a need to fill the silence with a familiar voice but then found myself engaging. Ina’s on-screen warmth drew me in and whatever she was cooking (though I can’t recall what it was) had my full attention. Her joy of cooking ignited a spark in me and at that moment I felt a shift as my inner foodie began reconnecting with my heart. It was a big step forward. Though she’ll never know, just by being herself, Ina Garten helped me on the path to healing myself.

Another week of delicious meals from HelloFresh…

When I received my box on Tuesday this week I was disappointed to see that the two entrees I received were not the ones I selected. The good news was two-fold 1) the ones they sent were meals that looked delicious and 2) when I called, they immediately applied a credit to my next order. I offered to send photos and it was not necessary. An email arrived within minutes apologizing and documenting their resolution. I couldn’t ask for more.

Especially now that I’ve had both meals – absolutely loved them.

The first one I fixed the day I got the box. Although I’ve enjoyed some pretty spectacular burgers in my lifetime, it would be easy to say this might have been the best one ever.

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The Melty Monterey Jack Burger with Red Onion Jam and Breaded Zucchini. Seriously. This burger rocked my world.

Tonight I fixed the Sweet as Honey Chicken with Green Beans and Jasmine Rice. And again, I had a meal that was delicious and flavorful but also it was one of two 540 calorie meals that were offered for this week which was a nice benefit (others being higher in calories but still balanced and healthy). If I’d had this in a restaurant I would have sent my regards to the chef. As it was, I patted myself on the back.

So far, I’m a fan of HelloFresh and with each new box, I feel certain that my positive experiences will continue.

This blog represents my opinions and enthusiasm but no compensation from HelloFresh. From inception I didn’t want to have advertisements on my blog, (no judgements) simply my preference.

Sweet Potato Brûlée

So I’m having my mom over for dinner today and along with my famous rotisserie chicken, I wanted to create a new side dish.  Since Spence turned my mom onto sweet potatoes, she’s become a huge fan (as have I) and I came up with this idea.  This would also be a nice way to change up left-over baked sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Brûlée  serves 2-4

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • nutmeg
  • orange zest
  • sea salt
  • 2 t brown sugar

Bake the sweet potatoes after rubbing the skin with olive oil and salt at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Allow them to cool then slice them in half and using a soup spoon, scoop out the flesh (as intact as possible) and place into a buttered baking dish.

Using a microplane, dust the potatoes with nutmeg (to taste).  Using the microplane again, zest the orange over the top of the potatoes (to taste).  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Crumble the brown sugar so it is fine, no clumps, then sprinkle lightly over the potatoes.

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Preheat the broiler, placing these on the next to top rack for a few minutes, keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn.  When the top looks bubbly and like a brûlée remove from over and rest for five minutes, then enjoy!

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Can I just say this…..yummy!

 

 

 

 

 

Travels in Aruba 2016 – part fourteen

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At Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort, there is a very special, fine dining restaurant called Carte Blanche.  Seating only 14 guests per evening, the reservations must be made well in advance and re-confirmed 24 hours prior to dining.  We were celebrating my 60th birthday on this trip and I’m such a foodie that when I was able to secure reservations, I did so.

Promptly at 7:00 p.m., the doors open and the guests are ushered in.

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Hector puts the finishing touches in place as rose petals added to the romantic ambiance

Just a coincidence, when we sat down at the semi-circle, granite topped dining area, I’d chosen seats where the chef would be prepping and cooking right in front of us. Once we were seated Dennis and Glen, our chef, introduced themselves. Dennis would handle the adult beverages, offering a wine pairing with each of the chef’s special courses to come though diners could have anything they preferred. If you’ve visited this blog before, you may have guessed that we chose the wine pairing. Since we’d all be together for the next few hours they asked that we introduce ourselves, where we were from and if we were celebrating anything special.  Not surprisingly, we had anniversaries, newlyweds and birthdays.

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While Glen took drink orders, everyone had a glass of Prosecco (my favorite)  while we got a chance to talk with other guests, anticipating Glen’s first creation.

The Amuse Bouche was Grouper Ceviche, one of my favorite things in the world.  Dennis paired the Ceviche with a Reisling from Germany, Spence’s favorite wine.

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Absolutely delicious and such a refreshing start to the evening.

Glen prepared the appetizer next and to my delight it was a Seared Sea Scallop, wrapped in bacon and served over a Dutch-style potato salad with basil, capers, micro-greens, a dollop of creme fraiche, salsa verde and baby spinach.  Dennis paired this with a lovely Vin D’Alsace, French Pinot Gris.

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Presentation was perfection and the flavors were heavenly.

The next course featured white aspargus, finely chopped hard-boiled egg with ham and a white wine hollandaise with minced parsley and chives served with a Gruner Veltliner Terrassen, an Austrian white wine – perfect!

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Too pretty to eat (but I did)

Glen’s next creation was Red Snapper, Shrimp and Fennel with Carrot and Micro Mustard Greens plated over a Lobster Bisque cream sauce; Dennis paired this with Stag’s Leap Chardonnay.

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Seriously delicious!

Next up I saw the most succulent lollipop lamb chops that Glen was prepping.

The lamb chops were served with eggplant and basil roasted with tomatoes and spinach and paired with Malbec.

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What can I say?  Wow!

Around this time, Spence was nodding off a bit and I glanced at my watch – it was 10:30 and Glen was telling us that dessert was either a cheesecake or a chocolate choice, recommending we each try one and share.  As delicious as we knew they’d be, we were so stuffed, we opted to skip dessert and that last glass of wine.

All in all, a fabulous evening and a meal I won’t soon forget.

Scallops Chambord – in time for New Year’s Eve

Though I featured this post one year ago, it remains one of my signature recipes and one that we are having again tonight while ringing in 2016. It’s a tradition but also, it’s an amazing and delicious dish and so here it is once again! I hope you’ll try it!

Happy New Year!

Spence and I have spent 24 New Year’s Eves together.  At some point I came across this recipe that sounded decadent, festive and delicious.  The first few New Year’s Eves I made this as an appetizer/first course, then onto lobster tails and maybe even fondue as the night progressed.  Too much food, too rich and the star here was the Scallops Chambord. Fast forward, our holiday routine now firmly established, Scallops Chambord is the whole meal! This year I prepped 4 skewers but decided to prepare two of them first, then about an hour later, two more.  This was brilliant as we savored them over the evening with a fire blazing, Prosecco and later a special bottle of Champagne. I use most cookbooks as a “guide” so this represents my version which is better than the original in my humble opinion (patting myself on the back now).

Scallops Chambord

  • 20-24 sea scallops
  • 5-6 slices of bacon (not thick cut)

Rinse the scallops and rest on paper towels, blot the top.  Stretch the 5-6 pieces of bacon, just pulling gently to lengthen.  Cut each slice in half.  Prepare a broiler pan and four skewers.  Wrap the bacon around each scallop so that there is a complete wrap with a little overlap.  Thread onto skewers, keeping space in between them.  Set aside.

Chambord Sauce

  • 1 c seedless black raspberry preserves
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/4 c Chambord liqueur

 

In a small saucepan, add the preserves, honey and Chambord liqueur.  Stir together on a very low heat to melt the preserves and honey together and incorporate the Chambord.  You’ll want it to reduce sufficiently to coat a spoon. I usually make the sauce earlier in the day to assure the consistency is right.

Set oven to broil.  Place the broiler pan with skewers in on an upper rack.  Set your timer for 10 minutes but watch the scallops during the process – your oven may be hotter than mine. Remove, flip the skewers and return to the broiler for 3-5 minutes – again, you want the bacon cooked but not burned.

While the scallops are broiling, ladle your sauce onto the plate as shown above.  When the scallops emerge from the oven, remove them and set onto the plate.  At this point, I pour Spence and I a glass of Prosecco which we enjoy with our plated Scallops Chambord.

 

Chef’s Note:  If you can’t find black raspberry preserves, a perfectly good substitute is seedless red raspberry preserves.  

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Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

I’ve been growing herbs for almost 30 years. For a self-taught “gourmet”, it’s thrilling for me to go into my backyard and pick lush flat leaf parsley, flavorful chives, fragrant rosemary and thyme.  With our recent freezing temps and heavy snowfall, I was certain that I wouldn’t be harvesting herbs for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Then we had a thaw and under the weather damaged herbs, I was able to find an ample supply – hooray!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Start with 2 sticks of very soft butter (I use salted butter), add  1 generous tablespoon each of chopped flat-leaf parsley, thyme & rosemary, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic chives and 1-2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.  Stir together with a dinner fork.  Cover and store in a cool (not cold place) until ready for use.

As we speak, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I just prepared mine. Making ahead allows the herbs to really flavor the butter. While there are many uses for compound butters, I’ll use this one after gently loosening the skin of the turkey breast then taking gobs of it, massaging and slathering it between the skin and the turkey.  As it roasts in the oven, the herb butter self-bastes the turkey.  Enjoy!

My Famous Roasted Chestnut, Sausage & Apple Stuffing (or Dressing)

Here's the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!
Here’s the ingredients, prepped and ready to go, plus a glass of wine for the cook!

I know, I know. It’s stuffing if it goes inside the turkey and dressing if not. Whatever you call it, mine is seriously without equal.  Here you see the ingredients of what goes into it.  It’s just Spence and I on Thanksgiving and what looks like overkill on the quantity that I make, I call smart.  At least half of what I make I freeze – unbaked in air-tight freezer bags and some in large size muffin tins (once frozen popping them into freezer bags as well).  I make rotisserie and baked chicken throughout the year and this makes the best side dish, lovely to have on hand – simply thaw and bake!

This recipe is flexible. I’m going to list the ingredients and you can make as much or as little as you need:

Cubed leftover bread (I always have a lot in the freezer) I use a mixture some artisan, bakery & grocery store “regular” bread – even cubing up leftover cornbread if I have it on hand.  Place all cubed bread on a sheet pan in the oven overnight with the oven light on to let it dry out. (turn oven on lowest setting for 30-60 minutes the day of assembly if it’s still too soft)

Additionally I use both the Pepperidge Farm seasoned Classic Stuffing & Country Style cubed stuffing

1 lb cooked sage breakfast sausage, use your spatula to crumble it while it’s browning, drain off any grease and blot with a paper towel

Apples – I generally use two kinds and don’t peel them, just chop into bite size chunks

Lightly saute chopped onion and celery (about 6-8 minutes), in several tablespoons of butter, add some poultry seasoning during the saute.  I use equal quantities of onion and celery.

Chestnuts – I roast my own (check my blog for how-to roast chestnuts, link is below) if you want substitute toasted pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts.  (But the chestnuts are what make this special in my humble opinion)

Fresh herbs – flat leaf parsley, thyme, rosemary – adds both a pop of color but also lots of flavor, chop them. I use a mezzaluna (pictured above).

Poultry seasoning

Lots of chicken stock – have more on hand than you think you’ll need, trust me on this.

I assemble this using two very large mixing bowls and put half of the ingredients (except chicken stock) into each, little by little – and adding chicken stock and poultry seasoning along the way, stirring and then building more ingredients, seasoning and stock (you get it) until the prep station is cleared.

I fill a large oval baker and refrigerate this overnight – really packing it in (and fill a second one to refrigerate and bake later with leftovers. Freeze the rest). I take the oval baker (or casserole dish) out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning to take the chill off. It will have absorbed a lot of stock overnight so drizzle an ample amount over the top. Bake this at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, uncovered, until it’s browning a bit and there’s some crunch happening on top. If you’re making this and have your oven set at another temp when this goes in it’s not a problem – just watch the top and feel for the crunch.

Bon appetit!

Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!
Assembled and ready to be baked tomorrow!

As promised, here’s the link on how-to roast chestnuts:

Roasting Chestnuts

Mole Sauce/Wet Beef Burritos with Mole

I have loved Mole Sauce since I was first introduced to it at age eighteen.  My co-worker Loretta,  was of Mexican descent and one evening after work made us homemade cheese enchiladas with Mole sauce from scratch.  I was hooked.  Over the years, I’ve experienced everything from average mole sauce to spectacular mole sauce when dining at Mexican restaurants around the world. What I’ve never done is attempt to make this complex and richly nuanced sauce myself. That is until yesterday….

Cobbling together multiple recipes and then pulling ingredients from my pantry, fridge and freezer, I went to work.  It turned out incredibly well (Spence rated it A+ and 5 star). Of course, I neglected to write it down precisely while making it. That said, I’m going to share the steps I followed and what I used.  I’d encourage you to try it and play with these flavors until it tastes perfect to you. Was it alot of work? Yes.  Was the effort worthy of the outcome?  Oh yeah.

Mole Sauce

  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t cumin
  • salt & coarse ground pepper

Place the garlic, olive oil and dry ingredients (above) in a sauce pan set at a medium-low heat, warming and softening the garlic – not browning it – for 7-10 minutes. Into the same sauce pan, add the following:

  • 1/2 c chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 T Chipolte in Adobo
  • 1 16 oz can of chicken broth
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T grated or finely chopped sweet onion

After adding these items, bring to boil then reduce to simmer for 8-10 minutes. Pour through a strainer, place liquids back into sauce pan, discard solids.  Increase heat (not to boiling), adding these next ingredients:

  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 T smooth peanut butter
  • semisweet chocolate chips – between 1/4 to 1/2 cup (start with less, add more to taste)
  • 1-2 T sesame seeds – lightly toasted in a dry skillet

Stir together until smooth and allow to simmer at a low temp for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  The sauce will reduce and if it becomes too thick, add a bit more chicken stock.

Wet Beef Burritos with Mole

  • 1 recipe Mole Sauce – heated
  • Taco Meat – Ground Beef seasoned with garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt, pepper & Mexican seasoning blend
  • Finely Shredded Mexican Four Cheese Blend
  • Flour Tortilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat each tortilla, one at a time, on the burner of your stove until soft and pliable (20-30 seconds).  Assemble by spooning in meat, then cheese – rolling up like a burrito. Place in baking dish. Continue assembling the remaining burritos. Spoon a generous amount of mole sauce over each burrito covering top and sides, top with more cheese.

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Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is nicely melted on top.  IMG_7576

My favorite pantry items

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  • Miracle Blend Seasoning (truly a miracle, made in Michigan)
  • 21 Seasoning Salute (Trader Joes I salute you!)
  • Slap Ya Mama (I use this daily, gives a kick to everything imaginable)
  • Garlic & Wine Seasoning (a Melting Pot product that is not just for fondue)

If I were on a desert island but had the ability to cook I’d hope my tiki-hut kitchen would be stocked with these items!

Recommended by Spence’s Girl