Reconnection and Colorado Sunshine

For a few weeks, our class has officially traded the heat of gas burners and convection ovens for the warmth of a Colorado sunshine. I’ve also inadvertently traded a working internet for a non-working one, but that little challenge has finally been resolved. Grateful to be reconnected.

As much as I love the kitchen, I’ve found my own little heaven weeding row upon row of three-inch fledgling cucumber plants. There’s something innately satisfying with removing obstacles and encouraging life. It sounds melodramatic. But I’m finding it incredibly fun.

We’ve spent time at two local farms which have completely different approaches to agricultural production both within ethical and sustainable parameters. It’s fascinating. Mornings can be early and days could seem endless, but how often can I say “we planted 100 thousand lettuce seedlings today?” We did. And in about three weeks they’ll look like this.

I’ll continue to get my hands dirty for the next few weeks on a larger scale, and they’ll surely stay somewhat soiled playing in my patio garden for the rest of the season.

And amid the recipes and farmers’ market photos I may just drag you back onto the farm and into the sunshine another time or two…

Carrot Pizza

Formal class time in the kitchen is quickly approaching its end (yes, you are hearing a few sniffles), and we’ll be heading out to local farms soon. No sadness on that end: I’m ready to get my hands dirty and learn tricks from several ethically managed farms in the area.

But our past few days in the kitchen have been creative ones in which we’ve had a little room to play with local ingredients that happen to be available. Pizza day last week was one of the most fun, and a classmate of mine concocted an absolutely delicious vegetarian Carrot Pizza. I still can’t get it out of my head, so I figured it was time to share it with you.

He began by sweating chopped carrots and onions in a little oil or butter, simmered them in vegetable stock (or water) until tender, strained, and puréed them in a food processor yielding a silky smooth and sweet carrot ‘sauce’ base for his pizza. He finished it simply with julienne of various veggies, fresh basil and a little cheese. It was brilliant. I’m still craving it.

I would love to know your favorite and/or most creative pizza flavor combinations! I’d also love a really fantastic crust recipe if any of you have one…

So while you’re still thinking about pizza, here are a few pics of more traditional pies that made the Pizza Day cut…

Pear, bleu cheese, pecan and balsamic. The same version, sans the bleu cheese, is above for the non-bleu-cheesers of the group.

Traditional tomato sauce we’d made during our days exploring canning techniques, topped with mushrooms and prosciutto.

Pesto of mixed salad greens with just a little basil- still quite delicious- with sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella we made earlier that day.

Anchovy, onion, basil and sun dried tomatoes.

All the meats, with a few shrooms. I’m thinking this one was made in retaliation to the carrot pizza above which avoided animals altogether.

Caramelized onions, prosciutto and fresh basil finished with an egg.

Finals and a Nutella Pound Cake

The past few days have been consumed in the fun of both written finals and practical finals in the kitchen. Ok, so maybe taking a written final isn’t ‘fun’ exactly… but it sure wasn’t the torture of a quiz on pharmacokinetics or medical biochemistry.

And a practical final in the kitchen? Three hours and a mystery basket- yes, I was literally given an actual basket, straw woven with a cloth napkin lining… full of obligatory ingredients… I was almost giddy! Definitely an intense few hours- unfortunately without time for photos- but in the end I was pleased with the final platings. Huge sigh of relief.

It would be lovely to tell you that I made this incredible pound cake as a celebratory dessert. But in actuality, it was a beautiful distraction as I was in the midst of study. This pound cake recipe had been posted in the last week or so by Sammie in her blog Sweet Samsations. And the moment she told me the dark swirl of marbling was Nutella, I was smitten. Copy and paste. And buy Nutella.

If you’ve met Nutella, then I don’t need to write another word. If you haven’t, it is the most glorious concoction of hazelnut and cocoa you’ll ever taste. Then why did I have to go buy Nutella for this cake? For nothing short of complete lack of restraint, I am no longer allowed to keep Nutella in my living space. Self imposed rule, of course, but strict nonetheless. Consider yourself warned.

And as for pound cakes… I think they get the short end of the dessert stick. With elaborately decorated cupcakes, trendy cake-pops and multi-layered confections, the pound cakes our grandmothers baked may seem less than glamorous. But there is something so comforting and nostalgic about a well-made pound cake. Moist, buttery and rich. And classic with a glass of milk or cup of coffee.

I’m fairly certain it’s hard to mess up a pound cake. Especially one containing Nutella. And fortunate for us, Sammie has already done all the work to tweak this recipe to marbled cocoa hazelnut perfection. Find her recipe here: Nutella Marble Poundcake. Make one in a bundt pan as I did or an angel food pan as she did, or even a classic loaf. Eat a slice (or two or three) and share the rest. You and someone else will both be glad you did~

Vermont Inspired Dinner for Twenty

Just as my ‘team’ in class had the fun of serving friends and family our rustic Italian inspired meal a couple weeks ago, the other half of class decided on an all-American dinner… with a little extra Vermont maple and white cheddar tossed in the mix.

We prepared most of the menu as a class, but when dining time rolled around, my team was able to sit and be served… quite a treat, actually! And the fuel for a leisurely natural light photo shoot. So enjoy a little home cookin’…culinary student style.

Amuse bouche to awake the palate: fried goat cheese round with balsamic reduction and citrus tossed micro greens…

Spinach salad with maple bacon balsamic dressing served in an asiago cheese bowl, and chilled vichyssoise with parsley puree and roasted red pepper oil…

A pork loin was given the royal rolled-up treatment: spinach, caramelized onions, tart green apples, and andouille sausage. Grilled spring asparagus, crispy onions and smashed red-skin potatoes… and cheddar jalapeño focaccia in the background…

Classic homestyle strawberry shortcake underwent an adult makeover: savory buttermilk biscuit topped with a compote of strawberry, maple, and orange liqueur… and whipped almond chantilly cream.

Two of my neighbors were sweet enough to keep me company and be my dinner guests. And if miles would permit… I’d set each of you a spot. Perhaps next time around~

Last Stop World Cuisine: India

Our culinary whirlwind world tour has reached a necessary end as we turn our focus to farm-to-table topics such as canning and preserving as well as practice for final examinations.

But thankfully a last stop in India gave us a chance to play with curries and lentils, lamb and naan…

Samosas in both vegetarian and ground lamb versions, with a crispiness that only a deep fryer can lend… I’m not generally a deep-fried kind of gal, but the filling flavors in these were perfect.

Lentil curry with a side of yogurt-based cucumber raita… I adore the refreshing flavor of a cucumber paired with savory healthy lentils.

Lamb vindaloo with its rich spiciness and our grill-top version of chicken tandoori:

More lentils made their way into Masoor dal…

And no Indian feast or everyday dinner could respect itself without naan. Our oven-stone version wasn’t entirely authentic, but it was as close as a Colorado kitchen could get without a tandoor. Caramelized onion (above) and garlic/parsley versions:

Thank you for the company on our little world tour~