Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Savory Profiteroles with Asparagus and Goat Cheese Recipe

Back in early March we vacationed in Antigua. It was our second trip there and I highly recommend it -- gorgeous island, friendly people and outstanding food and drink. I did a post on the food highlights from our last trip, but this time I brought back some ideas to recreate in my own kitchen.

We’re no strangers to digging into the local foods, but often the resorts where we stay come up with some delicious things as well. I spotted these profiteroles on the menu our first night and I was bound and determined to try them before the trip was over.

Not only did I want to try them, I knew as soon as I spotted them (and I'm pretty sure I said it out loud to my husband) – that’s what I’m making with the goat cheese!

Right before we left for the trip, I received a package overflowing with products from Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol, Calif. A Certified Humane goat dairy, Redwood Hill Farm is a small family farm that has been producing goat milk products since 1968.

My generous package contained -- Chèvre (including roasted chile chèvre!), Bucheret, Camellia (camembert), raw milk feta, goat milk yogurt in flavors like apricot mango and mango orange pineapple kefir. I also received some lactose-free products from their sister company, Green Valley Organics – yogurt, kefir and sour cream.

The kefirs have made a delicious addition to breakfast and those aged goat cheeses have been a true treat for the cheese plates my husband and I like to snack on over the weekend. But let’s talk about this chèvre.

First of all, I have not seen it in re-sealable packaging like this, and I love it! Usually I’m dealing with the log wrapped in messy plastic that is a pain to store in the fridge. This makes it so much easier to keep the fridge stocked.

Unlike the other treats that have been a joy to eat and drink as they are, I wanted to make some with the chèvre. When I saw those profiteroles on our trip, I knew that was it. I had the goat cheese and we were coming into asparagus season. Perfect.

These profiteroles are the answer to the traditional finger sandwich. I would take this light, puffed pastry filled with goat cheese over a roll with ham salad any day. They are also easy to make. I know puffy baked things can be intimidating, but even with my past baking challenges, I can make profiteroles without fail. They are not at all as complicated as they seem. Promise.

Redwood Hill Farm chèvre is ideal for this recipe because it has a creamy, almost whipped texture. It blends well with the steamed asparagus. Speaking of the asparagus, be sure to steam it until it is almost mushy and then chop it before adding it to the food processor. This will ensure the asparagus purees and blends into the goat cheese so you have a smooth filling.

Savory Profiteroles with Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Makes: 12 profiteroles


1 cup water
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
1 cup white whole wheat flour
4 eggs

6 stalks asparagus, steamed and chopped
8 oz. chèvre
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Add the water, butter and salt to a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

As soon as it comes to a rolling boil, stir in the flour and reduce the heat. Continue to stir vigorously until a smooth dough is formed. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the eggs. Stir quickly until they are completely mixed in and the mixture returns to a soft dough.

Use a tablespoon to scoop and drop the dough onto the baking sheet to make 12 large profiteroles. You can also use a pastry bag to pipe the dough onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until they are puffed and golden brown. Let cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the asparagus and chèvre in a small food processor. Pulse until combined into a smooth green spread. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chives, salt and pepper.

Use a serrated knife to cut open each profiterole like a bun. Spread an even amount of the goat cheese filling inside each profiterole and serve.

Disclosure:  The products mentioned in this post were provided by Redwood Hill Farm. I was not required to post about them and received no compensation for doing so.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A visit to St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA

As you cautiously weave the car around the blocks of abandoned buildings you will ask the question -- are we headed in the right direction? This is a sure sign that you are almost there. 

When you reach the water’s edge and the San Francisco skyline comes into view, three airplane hangars will emerge. Welcome to Booze Alley. Also affectionately known in the local media as Alcohol Alley and Distillery Row. 

The first of these hangars is Rock Wall Wine Company, the second is Faction Brewing and the third is St. George Spirits – home of Hangar 1 vodka. 

This area beckons for a visit. Not only for the high quality beverages, but for the views and the history. 

We’d checked a visit to Rock Wall and Faction Brewing off our list, so last Saturday we hopped on our bikes and headed out to tour St. George Spirits.  

Small scale alcohol production in airplane hangars is a brilliant idea. Plenty of room for processing and distribution, a wide open space to tour, and tasting rooms that have the appealing vibe of old warehouse meets modern design. 

I love it when food and drink tours load me with new information and the St. George Spirits tour did not disappoint. Put it on your list for a must-do when you visit the East Bay. These are few tips to help and some of my favorite highlights from our afternoon. 

A few tips for a visit:

  • Visitors have three options. A tasting, a basic tour with a tasting and a more in-depth tour and tasting. We chose the second option and it was perfect. More details on that below.

  • You have to purchase a tasting to try the vodka. Unlike Faction Brewing next door (excellent beer, by the way), you can’t just swing in for a shot or cocktail, although we really wish you could!

  • Book your tour online and get there 10 minutes early. There were only a couple spaces left in our tour which we booked about 30 minutes before leaving the house. We were on the printed list when we arrived, but we got there about 3 minutes before the tour started. Because of the line to get in, and people buying the tastings, we were late to join the tour.

  • Take your camera. They have some creative displays for their vodkas, the warehouse has original redwood ceilings from the 1940s and the view of the city from the area is gorgeous.

  • Visit in the fall. Our guide showed us a photo of the warehouse full of California and Colorado pears that are used to make the pear brandy. Apparently you can witness the warehouse full of fruit if you visit after they are shipped in during peak season.

  • We biked the 10 miles from our house. If you live in the city or anywhere that you can get in on the ferry to Alameda Main Street Station, bring your bike. It’s an easy 5 to 10 minute ride from the ferry terminal.

  • Plan to shop. They have a gift shop with some things that are difficult to find elsewhere. Some of the brandies were available in smaller bottles and they had a great 3-pack sampler of their gins. The bourbon was also available in the gift shop.


The tour, interesting facts and product highlights:

  • Our tour lasted about an hour and included a tasting of five St. George Spirits products that were selected for us and then we selected one other option to try. 
  •  Hangar 1 vodka is made from viognier grapes and wheat. There were four varieties available – Straight, Buddha’s Hand, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Blossom. 

  • St. George Absinthe Verte was the first released after the ban was lifted in the U.S. in 2007. 

  •  Hangar 1 vodka is incredibly smooth. Something that is pleasantly unexpected for a vodka. They get major bonus points for the creative flavors. I mean, who else would think to infuse vodka with Kaffir Lime? While sipping it I had visions of a spicy vodka martini with Thai chilies.

  • Their gins are outstanding. As described by our guide, the Bontanivore (I love that name!) has 19 botanicals that taste like a gin and tonic before even adding tonic. 
  •  The next on my list to try is the Terroir Gin, made from California botanicals foraged on Mount Tamalpais (Mt. Tam). To date, my only experience with Mt. Tam was the most difficult trail race I’ve ever endured, which I’d rather forget. I’m hoping the gin will change my perspective.

  • The Spiced Pear Liqueur tasted exactly like someone had gathered everything from the holiday season, distilled it and poured it in my glass. Despite being made from pear brandy, it tasted as described – like apple pie.

  • Two things I didn’t get to try that I hope to in the future are the NOLA-style coffee liqueur and the single malt whiskey. 

I’ve added St. George Spirits to my arsenal of options that I present when asked -- what is there to do in Alameda? One sip and you won’t dare underestimate the potential of a quiet island or abandoned warehouses again. Three cheers for repurposing old buildings, local products and some fine craft spirits!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

White Fish with Tomatoes and Olives Recipe

Earlier this year I mentioned that we set a goal of eating more fish. I’m happy to say we’ve kept up with it. Salmon, tilapia, sole, Pacific cod and several types of seafood have been the focus of our dinners a few nights a week.

The best part of this venture has been discovering new types of fish. I’m constantly coming across new options to research. The most recent is swai. It’s imported, but Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch considers it a Good Alternative.

This week, I was craving something with a rich tomato sauce so I decided that would be my first experiment with the swai. It turned out to be the ideal match for this firm white fish!

I’ve seen recipes that call for slipping the raw fish into the sauce to cook, but I felt better about baking the fish and adding it just before serving. Thoroughly cooking the fish helped it hold up better in the sauce.

I was surprised to find swai compared to catfish in my research. I guess the texture is similar, but the flavor isn’t nearly as fishy as what I remember when eating catfish. (My grandpa was the family catfish fisherman and I grew up attending plenty of Catholic Friday fish frys, so I’ve had my fair share of it over the years.) 

The simple tomato and olive sauce is versatile. If swai isn’t your thing, this would be equally good with a cod or even tilapia. Although, the tilapia would likely be more delicate. If you want to forgo the fish altogether, chicken cutlets or portobello mushrooms would be a delicious substitute as well.

White Fish with Tomatoes and Olives

Serves: 4

4 white fish filets
1 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil
¼ cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed or diced tomatoes (I use Trader Joe’s unsalted, crushed)
½ cup sliced green olives
½ tsp dried basil
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp smoked sweet paprika
¼ tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
¼ to ½ tsp fine ground sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat the fish filets with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the fish is barely cooked through and just begins to flake.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the onion and garlic, cook for about 3 minutes, until the onions begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the olives, basil, oregano, paprika and red pepper. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, until warmed through. Taste, and then add in the desired amount of salt. (The olives will make it slightly salty so this is based on personal preference. I use about ¼ teaspoon.)

Place the baked  fish filets in the tomato sauce and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for about 5 more minutes until the fish is reheated. Serve each filet with ¼ of the tomato sauce.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Chickpea and Spinach Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms Recipe

Every time I make a stuffed mushroom recipe, I have to research the correct spelling – portobello or portabella.  Have you ever Googled this topic? It’s more debated than most health information. 

Some say one or the other is translated from Italian. Others say it was a name made up by the U.S. mushroom industry and has no roots in any specific culture. Still others say that our made-up word in the U.S. has replaced what used to be the correct name in other countries. And with all that, there is still no clear answer. Does anyone really know at this point?

The best advice I’ve seen is that it’s up to author and both are correct. This leaves me uneasy, though. When it comes to food names, I really like to be correct, especially if the name has some historic or language-specific meaning. 

One thing I have learned is that I may have been meshing the two and creating my own word in the past. I could have sworn that portobella was an option. Ooops. 

For this recipe, I think I’m going to go with portobello. An “o” because, oh my goodness, these portobello mushroom caps I picked up at Trader Joe’s were huge! I’ve never seen such monstrous caps. 

They tasted delicious, stuffed with chickpeas, sautéed spinach and shallots with a hint of coriander. They also happen to be vegetarian, vegan and grain-free, if you are in the market for foods that fit those categories. The ratio of mushroom to filling was just a little heavier on the mushroom side. So if you set out to make these hearty portobellos (great, now I’m questioning myself on the correct plural of the word), opt for some small to medium sized mushroom caps. 

And if you have a reference on the portabella vs. portobello debate, do tell.

Chickpea and Spinach Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Serves: 2

1 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil (or your favorite cooking oil)
2 medium portobello mushroom caps
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves, chopped
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed and drained if using canned)
1 tbsp almond meal
1 tbsp low sodium vegetable stock
¼ tsp ground coriander
1/8 to ¼ tsp fine ground sea salt
Pinch of ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Wipe the mushrooms with a clean, damp cloth and gently scrape out the gills. Use the 2 teaspoons of olive oil to lightly coat each cap and grease the bottom of a baking dish or sheet pan. Place the mushrooms gill-side up in the pan. 

In a small skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook about 1 minute, until the oil begins to bubble, and then reduce the heat to medium to prevent burning. Cook for about 3 more minutes, until softened. 

Stir in the spinach and cook for about 1 more minute, just until the spinach wilts. Remove from the heat. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. 

Add the chickpeas to the bowl and use a potato masher to combine all ingredients, gently mashing the beans while you work. You will want the beans to be slightly chunky once the ingredients are mixed.

Stir in the almond meal and stock. Add the coriander and the salt according to taste. Start with 1/8 teaspoon and add more if you’d like. Stir in the pinch of black pepper.

Divide the chickpea mash in two and divide it between the two mushroom caps. Pack it firmly and mound it slightly to fill the mushroom. 

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the mushroom is tender and the filling is slightly browned.

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