BIG Announcement – Repost to Win! Carly Ellen has a new book for you!

How to Bake a Chocolate Soufflé is now available in both paperback and Kindle eBook!

***A free signed copy will be given TODAY to one lucky reader who shares this post on their blog or Facebook page!***

How to Bake a Chocolate Souffle Blue Cover

Forget what your English professor told you – life stories are not written in college.

Madeleine LaBlange, Annie Anderson, and Audrey Navarro shared formative years as roommates at Chicago’s Catholic haven for women, the historic Abbott College. If only they could have predicted the collisions between their carefully crafted life plans and the realities they discover beyond campus…

Madeleine harbors dreams of becoming a concert pianist while Dr. Reynold Fenwick, her mercurial graduate school mentor, harbors fantasies of Madeleine. Will pursuing her dreams be worth the cost? Will an evening in Budapest change her life forever?

Annie plans to build a perfect family with her perfect husband in the cutthroat news media industry, until an abrupt tragedy shakes the foundations of her marriage. What happens when she feels pulled between the two men she loves most, her husband and her father?

Audrey leaves her religious, restrictive parents behind and aims for Chicago’s downtown skyline, dating recklessly and staring down each grueling workday one Chicago Dog at a time. Will an island respite lure her away from her corporate future? When she finds herself in the arms of an unexpected lover, will she have the courage to stand up for her own evolving sense of self?

Follow the journeys of these remarkable women, and cheer them on as they navigate life, love, and chocolate soufflé.

Includes over a dozen decadent new recipes from Crowded Earth Kitchen!

Salade de Betteraves Marinées (Marinated Beet Salad)

WIN_20140915_133829

Americans just don’t have the same respect as the French for the humble beet.  This is unfortunate, as beets are as versatile as they are nutritious!  If my previous beet recipes such as Janine’s Pink Soup didn’t convince you, perhaps this one will.  Today’s simple salad recipe begins with plain ol’ boiled beets and – hang with me for a moment, ok? – lets them loaf around in a delightful marinate for a few hours.  The marinade imparts a fantastic flavor on the beets, and also serves as a build-in dressing for the salad.  So easy, so delicious.

WIN_20140913_153005Ingredients (serves 4)

8 cups mixed baby greens

16 spears of asparagus (or substitute green beans)

3 fresh beets

1 cup raw walnuts

1/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon crushed herbes de provence

1/2 teaspoon grey sea salt

lemon zest (to garnish)

WIN_20140915_131022

Directions

Step 1) Remove tops ONLY from three fresh beets, and simmer the whole beet bulbs in water for 45 minutes or until beets are fairly easily pierced by a fork.  You don’t want soft/mushy beets, but they shouldn’t be rock hard, either.  Think “al dente” like pasta.

Step 2) Remove beets from pot and place in ice water for a few minutes to cool.

Step 3) While beets are cooling, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbes de provence, and sea salt. Set aside.

Step 4) Trim ends from asparagus spears (or green beans). Blanch them by placing them in boiling water for 1 minute only… remove quickly and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Step 5) Peel beets (the skins should slide right off when you rub them), slice them into 6 or 7 pieces each.  Place beet slices in a shallow bowl and cover with a little more than half of the marinade.  Set in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.

Step 6) Place asparagus spears (or green beans) in a second bowl and cover with the remainder of the marinate.  Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Step 7) After enough marinading time has passed, assemble your salads.  Toss walnuts and greens together and arrange on four plates.  Top with beet slices and asparagus (or green beans).  Drizzle with a bit of the marinade, and garnish with lemon zest.  See? Beets really ARE delicious!

September Book Giveaway – Last Chance to Enter!

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic:  Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, by Daniel Imhoff

Crowded Earth Kitchen will mail a copy of this important book to THREE readers this month!

Contest Ends October 1st

***Click HERE to Enter!***

It would be easy for a casually concerned consumer to read the title of this book, think of the reusable shopping bags hanging by the door, and feel smug.  In 168 pages, many of which include shocking full color photos, Dan Imhoff lays out the clear and compelling case that we have a long, long way to go before we can even begin to consider our global packaging waste problem solved.  Appropriately published by Sierra Club Books, this 2005 text remains highly relevant for people who wish to really understand the scope and scale of the damage our current packaging habits are wreaking upon our planet.  This book serves as an excellent resource for those who wish to really delve into the complex changes that will be necessary to facilitate environmental healing.

As an educator, it strikes me that this would be a wonderful book for classroom use at the high school and college levels.  The author does a brilliant job of back-loading a copious amount of research into hefty appendices and end notes; as a result, the text itself tells an important story without becoming dry, and is as easy to read as it is informative.

In the first section, “The Packaging Landscape,” the reader is guided through an explanation of the sobering scope and scale of waste created by our tacit obsession with packaging (an average of 300 pounds of waste per person per year!).  The second section, “The Search for Solutions,” walks us through an engaging set of case studies which range from high tech electronics companies to frozen confections.  Promising research and development initiatives are explored, as are foreign legislative policies aimed at mitigating our global packaging waste crisis (not surprisingly, the United States lags woefully behind global leaders in this arena).  The third section, “A Future Beyond the Box,” provides the reader with guidelines for distinguishing between bad wraps and better packaging.  We are also provided with thirteen very clear, simply explained steps each of us can take to do our part to help solve this often overlooked global crisis.

Paper Or Plastic:  Searching For Solutions To An Overpackaged World is as well written as it is important.  Each of us needs to read this book.

Soupe de Potiron Nuefchâtel (Pumpkin Nuefchâtel Soup)

WIN_20140926_171153

A few nights ago, I had the privilege of attending the Fall Favorites cooking class at Coquette Café.  Once again, the Über Talented, high energy chefs at Coquette served up a fantastic four course meal, sharing recipes, techniques, and bits of culinary advice throughout the evening.  It was a grand night out!

A highlight for me was the soup course, Puree of Butternut Squash Soup with Spiced Pecans, Crème Fraiche, and Maple Essence.  Some day, I may tackle the entire three-part recipe.  Today, I used the recipe as a template (the chefs at Coquette love the word ‘template’) and used similar flavor combinations to create a soup that’s a little bit lighter and a whole lot easier, but delicious in its own right and chock full of fiber and vitamin A.  To add my own layer of flavor (another pet phrase at Coquette) I began by roasting a pumpkin before turning it into soup.  Give it a try, and have fun!

WIN_20140926_155315Ingredients (serves 8)

1 large pie pumpkin, approximately 10 inches diameter

1 acorn squash

4 cups vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon grey sea salt

8 ounces nuefchâtel cheese

WIN_20140926_165839Directions

Step 1) Carefully cut the pumpkin and squash into halves or quarters. Scoop out the insides (optional: save and roast the seeds as a garnish!). Place pumpkin and squash pieces skin side down on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and slow roast at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.

Step 2) After 90 minutes, remove pan from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Using a tablespoon, scrape flesh from pumpkin and squash skins.  REALLY scrape the skins, as the most rich, full flavors are trapped closest to the skin.  Transfer pumpkin and squash flesh to a stockpot, and cover with vegetable broth.  Add marjoram and simmer for 15 minutes.

Step 3) Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender.  Add nuefchâtel cheese and whisk until well combined.  If you want a perfectly smooth soup, use your immersion blender a second time.

Step 4) At this point, your soup is essentially done.  I like to offer diverse “table seasonings” so that everyone can personalize their own bowl of soup.  The chefs at Coquette add cayenne pepper to their soup.  Half Pint prefers sweet to spicy, and asks for a dash of cinnamon.  I like garam masala spice blend myself, and sometimes I’m in the mood for an extra sprinkle of sea salt.  This rich, hearty soup can take it – you aren’t going to overpower the awesome flavors of roasted pumpkin and nuefchâtel cheese with a dash of this or that, so feel free to experiment!  A garnish of a few roasted pumpkin seeds on top is a nice touch.

If you’re in the neighborhood of Coquette Café, stop in for dinner or – better still – sign up for a class.  You won’t be disappointed.  Tell the chefs that the diner in the front row with the annoying camera says ‘hello’.  :)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus… He lives in a French patisserie!

I owe an apology to the bearded guy in the red suit who lives at the North Pole.  I’m not trying to hurt his feelings.  It’s just that, really, there’s nothing he can fit on that reindeer-powered sleigh that compares to the magic… the absolute magic… of a French patisserie.  I’m not cooking for you today, just sharing a little magic.  Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meringue with chantille crème and fruit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tarte aux prunes (plum tart)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pain au chocolat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eclairs and petit fours

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Biscuits thé (tea cookies)

picture1283

Macaroons (sigh…)

French Spaghetti

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ll admit it.  The variety of pasta available in France surprised me.  In hindsight, that seems foolish, but there it is.  I just didn’t think of France as a pasta-loving country.  Wow, was I ever wrong!  Consider the variety of dried pastas available in a typical French market:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was surprised by the wall-o-pasta, Half-Pint was just plain delighted.  “Noodles!” He spotted with glee.  It didn’t take long for Half-Pint to wear me down… sure, we’ll have “pa-sketti” tonight.  :)  All we need are a few fresh vegetables, thin cuts of beef, a bit of mild cheese, and yes, spaghetti noodles.  Join us for a simple, if slightly surprising, dinner in France!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIngredients (serves 4)

1 pound dried pasta

1/2 pound beef, sliced in wafer thin (1/4 inch or thinner) strips

sea salt

black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion

4 cloves garlic

4 ripe tomatoes

2 ounces mild white cheese

1 teaspoon herbes de provence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADirections

Step 1) Dice onion and saute in olive oil over medium heat until onions are almost translucent. Add garlic and beef strips. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.

Step 2) Quickly brown the beef strips on both sides – this should take no longer than 1 minute per side.

Step 3) Remove beef strips from pan and set aside.  Add tomatoes, chopped, and saute with onions and garlic over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until tomatoes just begin to dissolve.  Return beef to the pan and stir gently to coat beef with tomato juices.  Remove pan from heat.

Step 4) Spoon tomato sauce and beef strips over pasta which has been cooked al dente (slightly chewy). Top pasta, beef, and sauce with thin slices of mild white cheese.  Sprinkle crushed herbes de provence over the entire dish. Serve immediately, preferably with a green salad and red wine.  Enjoy!

Figues et Fromage (Figs and Cheese)

WIN_20140914_204346

Figues et Fromage

French cooks do seasonal, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing really, really well.  It can be an intimidating art to mimic!  Figs make the attempt easy.  Somewhat exotic in appearance, figs become even more enticing when you slice them open.  Their distinct texture, rich wine color, mild sweet flavor, and light perfume makes them just about perfect all on their own.

WIN_20140914_203712Figs are in season right now.  If you know anything about figs, you know they only stay in season for about five minutes.  Run… RUN to your local market and pick up a few of these lovelies right way!

To achieve the presentation above, simply slice a fig into fourths and fan on a pretty plate. Add a single ounce serving of local cheese the side – anything mild and creamy will pair well with figs. I’m using L’Edel de Cleron, a soft cheese reminiscent of Brie, but with a slightly nuttier flavor and thicker rind.  Sprinkle with walnut halves and drizzle with honey.  It’s that simple! The next time someone stops by for coffee, try serving this instead of cookies.  Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One small section of the hundreds of cheeses available in a French supermarket