Secret love: Cinnamon Spice

I couldn't help but smile when I read the Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen post about cinnamon this morning. Just another reason to confirm my love for this blog. I find a way to incorporate cinnamon in or on or around just about everything that I eat and drink. Daily, I put it in the two cups of coffee I drink in the morning and on top of my daily graham crackers + peanut butter fix. Weekly, cinnamon will find its way in a rice dish, curry, chili, or chicken marinade, and its ALWAYS used when I bake.

The Kitchen post this morning titled, "From the Spice Cupboard: Cinnamon," read:
If we were trapped on a desert island, cinnamon is definitely one of the spices we'd want in our magical picnic basket. Cinnamon, or one of its cousins, is used in almost every world cuisine, plus it can do double duty in both desserts and savory dishes. There are literally hundreds of ways it can be used.

True cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a tropical tree related to the bay laurel (of all things!) and is distinguished as Ceylon or Sri Lankan cinnamon. As the bark dries, it curls on itself into those distinctive slender sticks, or "quills." Cinnamon is light reddish-brown in color and highly aromatic. It has a mild and sweet flavor without the robust spiciness of cassia.

Previous posts including cinnamon:
Granola recipe
Carrots and Mango recipe
Morning Berry Muffins recipe

Best Spring Salad Recipe

It occurred to me recently that my palette is quite eclectic; always changing, constantly surprising me, and never afraid of a healthy challenge. With that said, my trips to the grocery store have proven even stranger. I left the Whole Foods Market in Mount Pleasant yesterday with the oddest assortment of items. Among other things I came home with kiwis, French apricot preserves, Japanese Mochi, plain Greek Yogurt, Ak-Mak sesame crackers, and organic peanut butter?

There was no logic, reason, or set recipe use for ANY of these purchases! Typical.

Similarly, it seems to be all but uncommon for me to enter my kitchen without a concrete plan of action or recipe for my next meal. Today, however, I was more than pleased with the outcome of my "impromptu" recipe:

Strawberry, Avocado, Feta Salad with Garlic Confit Vinaigrette*
- handful of mixed baby lettuces
- handful of baby spinach
- 2-3 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
- 4-5 fresh strawberries, sliced
- half of an avocado, diced
- desired amount of crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tbsp garlic confit vinaigrette* (recipe follows)
- Mixed all the above ingredients, toss lightly with Garlic Confit Vinaigrette

Garlic Confit Vinaigrette

Makes 3/4 cup of vinaigrette. The extra garlic confit can be stored in the refrigerator submerged in the remaining oil for about a week.

(For the garlic confit)
the cloves from 2 heads of garlic, peeled and stem ends sliced off
3 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
1 to 1/2 cups olive oil

(For the vinaigrette)
8 cloves (or so) garlic confit
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup garlic-infused olive oil

First make the garlic confit. In a very small saucepan, combine the peeled garlic cloves, thyme or rosemary and the olive oil. Make sure the olive oil completely covers the garlic cloves. Cook the mixture over as low a heat as possible for 25 to 35 minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and very tender. Allow the garlic and oil to return to room temperature.

To make the vinaigrette, take 8 or so of the garlic cloves and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and using a spoon, mash the garlic until it is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and whisk to combine. In a slow, steady stream, add 1/2 cup of the oil that the garlic cooked in, whisking to emulsify. Grind in a bit of fresh cracked black pepper and taste to see if the seasonings need adjusting.
Rosemary Feta MOCHI

Asparagus Quinoa and Tabasco Butter

Tabasco & Asparagus Quinoa Recipe:
(adapted from Heidi Swanson's recipe)
1/2 cup / 4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
25 drops Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 pound /1 bundle asparagus, cut into 1-inch segments

4 cups cooked quinoa*
1/3 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts, toasted
scant 1/4 cup sour cream - optional
more Tabasco sauce to taste
sliced green onions (to garnish)

Start by making the Tabasco butter. In a food processor, or with a hand blender, whip the butter until it is light and airy. Add the mustard, Tabasco sauce, lemon juice and salt. As I mention above, you can make it stronger if you like, adding more hot sauce to taste.

Boil the asparagus in a large pot of well salted water, for just for a minute or so - depending on the thickness of your asparagus. Drain. If you are serving this immediately you can leave the asparagus hot, but if you are going to wait to serve this, or think you'll have leftovers I recommend you stop the cooking with cold water or a dunk in an ice bath, then drain well before using.

Take the 4 cups / 20 oz / 565 g of hot cooked quinoa and toss with 3 tablespoons of the tabasco butter. You'll have leftover butter - you can serve that on the side or use it for other purposes. Stir in the asparagus, pine nuts, and dollop with creme fraiche. Serve with more Tabasco sauce on the side and garnish with green onions.

Serves 4 - 6.

*To cook quinoa: Combine 2 cups of well-rinsed dried quinoa with 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes or until quinoa is tender and you can see the little quinoa curliques.

Inspired by Skye Gyngell's Asparagus with Tabasco Butter recipe in My Favorite Ingredients (Ten Speed Press, 2010).

Strawberry Easter Cake

Easter is not only the most important day in the Liturgical calendar, the day Jesus rose from the dead, but it is also a beautiful celebration of the commencement of Spring!
After a lengthy discussion with my mom about the Easter menu, my little sister and I had no trouble determining the dessert - fresh strawberry cake!
The menu went accordingly:
Salad: "LeBlanc Salad" - Cucumber, Avocado, Tomato trio with mixed greens, feta cheese, and an Italian herb vinaigrette.
Entree: Rosemary marinated chicken and vegetable kebabs AND Orange/honey marinated duck and vegetable kebabs
Sides: Herb-roasted potatoes/carrots with Dijon glaze AND fresh sourdough baguette

Now for the dessert. This strawberry cake is exceptionally dense, but light in taste, and deliciously fresh! My dad even broke his strict "chocolate-only" dessert rule to try this cake and admitted, "This beats a lot of chocolate desserts - I love it!"

Strawberry Layer Cake RECIPE: (source: Cooking Light magazine)
Everyone in the family pitched in for the Easter feast:
-Dad prepared the duck and manned the grill
-Mom and I prepared the chicken kebabs, salad, and roasted veggies
-I made the cake
-Charlotte made the icing and decorated the cake with beautiful simplicity :)
-Sarah set the table and took all of the amazing photographs!
-Lance ATE ;)

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

It's Crawfish time in South Louisiana!
Nothing beats a true Southern crawfish boil: Live crawfish, cajun music, local Abita beer, good people, great time! Live "mud bugs" before their boiling bath...I know they say you shouldn't play with your food before you eat it, but I couldn't resist!Rinse

*Crawfish Boil hosted by the Hill's for a family reunion - Lafayette, Louisiana*
*Crawfish boiled and prepared by Thomas and Gregory*
*Photography by Sarah Knowlton*