The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

7:52 PM

What's for brunch? Oeufs pochés à la sauce Mornay

Posted by Magic of Spice

Oeufs pochés à la sauce Mornay
or Poached Eggs with Cheese Sauce

This dish is easy to prepare and perfect for a lazy morning breakfast
of Sunday Brunch. If you have never enjoyed a Sauce Mornay, it is a 
simple sauce to prepare and is basically a Cheese Gravy :) Typically
the sauce is half Gruyère and half Parmesan cheese, but I used a pepper
crusted Toscano and Comté. 

I ended up using a new egg poaching pan for the first time, and had a 
bit of a hard time the first try. The second attempt came out well though
and with a bit of practice I can see the convenience benefit from the more
traditional method.  So I guess I'll be keeping it. 

What you will need:

For the Mornay
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavey cream
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup Toscano, finely grated
1/2 Comté, finely grated
A few spashes of milk to thin sauce if desired
pinch of nutmeg
Fleur de sel and fresh ground pepper to taste
(Will make about 1 to 1 1/2 cups depending on thickness)

For the poached eggs
8 very fresh organic eggs
Egg poaching pan  with lid
or egg poaching cups and pan with lid

Let's get cooking:
For the Mornay
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the flour slowly
continually whisking until you have a blond roux, about 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium/low and slowly begin to add your half and half ,continue
to whisk until mixture just reaches a bowl and begins to thicken. Remove from heat
and add egg yolk and heavy cream, whisking briskly to avoid clumping. Once
everything is incorporated and smooth, add cheese and return to a very low heat
until smooth.Season to taste.

For the poached eggs
Fill your pan with enough water so that the bottoms of your cup are partially
 immersed. Bring water to a full boil then place the lightly greased cups
or cup tray in pan, filling each cup with one egg. Cover and reduce heat to
medium/low cooking for 2-3 minutes depending on desired texture.

Place each egg of a toasted slice of bread and cover with your
Sauce Mornay
(Note: you can reheat your sauce on low just
before serving and add a splash of milk in necessary)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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4:14 PM

What's for Brunch? - Cheese Board

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Cheddar Cheese Board with Organic Red Pear

A cheese board is a delicious and simple way to enjoy cheese as a snack, as well as a great way to try out new and exciting cheeses.  I had friends over the other day, and decided to make a small cheese tray to delight their senses a bit.  A cheese tray makes a great conversation centerpiece, and is wonderful for holding you over until dinner time.
To make a proper cheese tray, you will want to pick three or four cheeses that are similar in flavor and texture.  For example, three blue cheeses, or four hard Spanish cheeses would do fine.  For my board, I chose three different white cheddar cheeses picked up at my local cheesemonger.  Using more than three or four cheeses is a bit overwhelming, and can lead to too much overlapping in flavors.
Pair your cheese with bread, crackers, or another crisp snack, as well as with your favorite fruits or fruit spreads.  For this board, I picked up some beautiful cranberry hazelnut crackers, and a fresh organic red pear.  The pear was simply delectable; sweet and juicy, ripe to perfection.
If you like, you may serve your cheese with wine, or another favorite beverage.  Just be sure that you don't pair your cheese with anything that will overwhelm or distract from the flavors of the cheese.  Urge your guests to partake of their beverage, fruit and crackers between tastings of each type of cheese (this will help to cleanse the pallet for a full appreciation of each cheese's flavor).  For cheddars, a sweet red wine would be a perfect accompaniment.

For this board, the three cheeses I chose were:
Barber's 1833 English Vintage Cheddar (aged 20 months)
Beehive Big John's Cajun Rub Cheddar (a nice cheddar with rich Cajun rub on the rind)
Beehive Butter Bound Promont Cheddar
A quarter of a pound or less of each is more than enough for four or five people, but feel free to order more as needed.
Choose a bread or cracker that will go well without your cheese, without overpowering it.  Remember, the cheese is the star of the show, and you want to let the flavors of that cheese shine.  Here, I the crackers I chose were a nice accompaniment to the cheese, broken into shards.  Do the same with the fruit, picking something slightly sweet and not overpowering, such as a pear, an apple, or an apricot.
Let your cheese sit out (covered) for about fifteen minutes or so before serving, until it reaches room temperature.  Cold cheese tends to be lacking in flavor.  Just remember, cheese that is left sitting out too long will likely become mushy and oily, so make sure to wrap up and refrigerate any cheese you will not be consuming.
Serve your cheese in manageable slices or triangles.  If possible, serve your cheeses on a board with your crackers and fruit, and provide a variety of cheese untensils, allowing your guest to pick and choose what they would like to eat, and how.
Don't be afraid to try something new, and experiment a bit with your choices.  Just remember, stick with overall flavor profiles that you enjoy.  If you are unsure, just ask your local cheese professional for his or her opinions and recommendations.  Most cheese stores or stores that specialize in cheese will be happy to provide you with a sample.
I hope you have enjoyed this simple idea.  Keep it in mind for your next get together or tea party, and you will be pleased what the tasty simplicity of a cheese board can do for you.

Posted by Adam
(Truffle Shuffle)

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7:25 PM

What's for lunch? An Organic Gardener's Salad

Posted by Magic of Spice

An Organic Gardener's Salad 
 with a Citrus Dressing

Spring is here...even though Southern California started it of with a massive storm.
Regardless this salad came about and my garden was more than happy to indulge.
Now the citrus were actually organic market finds, and I encourage you to use what
ever fresh and wonderful ingredients you have available to you. This is of course not
an actual recipe but more of an ode to the fresh wonders of spring, so use
what ever you have available to you  :)

A quick note...the mint here is Apple Mint, and it has a glorious fruity aroma
as well as taste, but unlike the Pineapple Mint and here featured before it does have
 a mint like taste and your palate will let you know upon the initial meeting.

What I used:

For the salad
Young Rainbow chard,
 (leaves and stems sliced)
Arugula leaves, trimmed
Baby romaine leaves
Baby cucumbers, thinly sliced
Baby kiwi, halved
Lavender flowers
Apple mint leaves
Orange bell pepper, sliced

For the dressing
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh orange juice
Fresh lime juice
Sunflower oil
A pinch of ground pepper
A pinch of Fleur de sel
(2 parts oil to 1 part juices)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Orange-prune scented Couscous 
and Capacolla stuffed Chicken Roulade

So why is the vegetarian cooking chicken? Well it all started with a set of interview
questions from Food Lovers Website. A list of ingredients were posed and I was
asked to create a recipe from them. What were the ingredients you ask?
Couscous, oranges, scallions, chicken, and prunes. 

What a list of ingredients! Believe it or not I had all the ingredients, except the
oranges :) Grabbing up some lovely organic babies was an easy enough task.
So cooking I began...

What you will need:

For the couscous
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup water
1/4th cup orange juice
6-8 prunes
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon candied ginger, chopped
2-3 teaspoons butter
2 scallions, chopped
Pinch of salt
Small sauce pan with lid

For the chicken roulade
2 twelve ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
A mallet, using the flat end
4 ounces capacolla, thinly sliced
1/2 couscous mix per breast
Meat thermometer
Olive oil for basting
Baking dish

Let's get cooking:

For the couscous
In a small sauce pan bring water, orange juice and a pinch of salt to a rapid boil.
Remove from heat and add couscous, stirring until liquid id distributed evenly.
Leave off heat and cover letting rise for about 5 minutes. Add butter, spices and
scallions return to low heat uncovered for an additional 3 minutes then fluff with fork.

For the chicken
Place your chicken breasts between to sheets of plasic wrap on top of a sturdy
cutting board. Take mallet and pound out the chicken until flat. Remove plastic
wrap and layer on the capacolla then the couscous mixture. Starting at one end
 begin to roll inward as tight as possible. Place roulades on a greased baking sheet
 or pan. Baste each with a bit of olive oil.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees until internal temperature
reaches 165 degrees.

If you need a balsamic reduction recipe try this one, but replace the
cranberry sauce with prune juice.
Dress with a prune infused balsamic reduction if desired,
serve with or over a bed of organic micro greens.
Serves 4

Alisha~Magic of Spice

Food Lovers Web Interview with The Ardent Epicure

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3:09 PM

Happy Birthday to The Ardent Epicure~With Awards

Posted by Food Pear-ings

Happy 1st Birthday to The Ardent Epicure
with a few awards to mention

The Ardent Epicure~An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

Yesterday March 13th was the 1st Anniversary or Birthday of The Ardent Epicure.
This last year we have seen many changes and so much growth, well at least we think
so. We have met so many amazing people in this family of Foodies who share an
amazing and ceaseless passion for all things Food. How beautiful is that!

We would like to thank all of our readers for a wonderful year here at The Ardent
 Epicure. Your support and encouragement fulfills our drive to move forward. We
will be adding to this appreciation through the remainder of this month with
 giveaways and various other treats. But here today we want to acknowledge
a few awards and the people that extended the to us.

The Awards

The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award was extended to us
by Ami of Ami's Vegetarian Delicacies. A most delightful vegetarian
sight where flavor takes front stage. These are recipes that you will want
to have bookmarked, every one is a wonderful journey through a vegetarians
delight of the senses, a must see for all. Thank you so much Ami for including
us in this award forward. Such an honor and one that, like stated above,
helps to push  us forward and grow.

The Stylish Blogger Award was bestowed upon us by two beautiful
and extraordinary sites.

 The first being Elle of Bromography. Elle is a favorite of ours as far as food writers, not
 saying that there are not so many other attributes but she is an amazing food writer
 and every tid bit is a joy to read. From food facts to recipes, always a wonderful read.
If you  have yet to be introduced, we highly recommend that you
become acquainted.This will definitely be on the must read list :)

The next being Kristy of My Little Space. We doubt that there is much of
an introduction needed here, but if you have yet to come across her delightful
recipes and baked us you are missing out. Thank you so much Kristy
for including us in this award, and  it is such an honor. Please stop by and visit this
lovely site and if you are not already a should be :)

Again we would like to thank all of our readers...
Adam~Truffle Shuffle, Gely~Sugar and Spice and Alisha~Magic of Spice

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8:02 PM

Food Tip - For the Love of Pots and Pans

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Caring for Pots and Pans

Like the most coveted chef's knife your pan can very well dictate the outcome of your dish by the right choice of pan.. Not to mention the variety of pans to serve your culinary desires...The types of pans and their care vary tremendously, although there are a few basics, as we will talk about here today. 

What type of pan requires what type of care to preserve optimal efficiency? As you may see in the image above, the cast iron pans are minis.  However, care and seasoning remains the same regardless of size. One significant issue is how much oil to use while cooking, and what type. As a general rule of thumb, unless you are frying something, use the minimal amount of oil necessary to cook your food. As for cooking sprays, try not to use these for your pots and pans, as these tend to leave a residue that will build up over time.

  • Cast Iron - Cast iron pans are a great addition to any kitchen.  These pans are made from a brittle type of iron that conducts and hold heat very well.  Cast iron pans should be "seasoned" before use, by coating the pan's surface in a thin layer of vegetable oil or animal animal shortening.  Cast iron pans should never be washed by traditional means, and should either by wiped clean or cleaned with a stiff brush and hot water.  Never put your cast iron pan in the dish water, or wash with soap, as this will ruin the seasoning.  If you are purchasing an unseasoned pan, try using it for deep frying the first time you use it, as this will naturally season it.  Over time, the pan will become extremely stick-resistant, and will be create a wonderful flavor in your dishes.  Just be sure not to cook acidic foods in the pan, as they might ruin the seasoning. The pans will become blackened with age, but this is part of the antique look of a long-beloved cast iron pan, that can last for many years.  Just be sure you don't let your pan rust.  Enameled cast iron can be washed by normal means, as it has a thick enamel coating, and is resistant to both rust and corrosion unless the enamel is broken off.
  • Copper - Copper pans conduct heat very well.  Over time, the copper may begin to discolor, but the pans will work just as well, unless they become very dark from misuse.  Copper pans should be washed by hand with soap and water, and should be kept very clean and dry at all times.  If dark, unappealing stains develop, you may purchase a copper cleaner for your pans, but the natural aging and discoloration of these pans is generally considered as aesthetically pleasing, and unless you desire super-shiny pans, some oxidation is nothing to worry about.
  • Non-Stick Versions - Non-stick pans are coated with a material that helps them to cook food without letting it stick.  These pans can be washed either by hand or in a dish washer, and are generally very durable, especially at higher quality levels.  For best results, use wooden or plastic utensils on your pans, to avoid scraping off the non-stick coating.  If your non-stick pans become heavily scratched or start to rust, the non-stick properties are highly likely to be lost or diminished, and the pans may need to be replaced.
  • Ceramic - Ceramic or glass cookware is coated in highly-resistant materials, and is usually very durable.  Just remember that these can be broken or cracked, so wash them with care, either by hand, or in a gentle dishwasher cycle.
  • Aluminum or Steel - These types of pans are generally very inexpensive, and can handle a good bit of abuse.  Simply wash them in the dishwasher, and replace them if they become rusty or overly scratched or corroded.  Try not to cook acidic foods in aluminum cookware, as it can retain an metallic taste.  Anodized aluminum products are a little more resistant, and less prone to corrosion, and are likely to last a bit longer and take a bit more abuse.  Stainless steel cookware tends to be relatively cheap as well, but is more non-stick than cheaper aluminum or steel cookware, and is more resistant to damage.  To obtain some of the heat-retention qualities of copper at a lower price, try copper-core steel cookware.

What type of utensils are best  to preserve the integrative value of your pans? Well for one wooden utensils are a safe bet. However for some tasks, a rubber or plastic utensil is required. For most tasks the wooden utensil is optimal and comes in as many shapes as one could ever desire.  If trying to flip a pancake you may prefer a rubber spatula as they are far more flexible.
Okay, we really have this many wooden spoons and such, plus several more. What can we say, we love wood! But you get the point.  =-)

The right pan or pot can be as valuable to a chef as a great knife.  Each individual may have his or her idea of the best pot or pan, but in general, it is always helpful to have a good array to meet any cooking need!  If you are willing to spend a little money on your pots and pans, and give them a bit of love, they are likely to serve you for years.
Posted by Adam,
Truffle Shuffle

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12:31 AM

What's on the side? Moonlight Maitake Mushrooms

Posted by Magic of Spice

Honey Butter & Champagne Poached
 Maitake Mushrooms

I scored these pretty babies at a local heath food store near me. I have purchased
these before but they were a more blond in color, these pretty babies however scream
 amber and are a bit smoother in texture. If you would like to take a peak at the lighter
version you can see them here on a Whole Foods shopping trip.  This time an Orange
County exclusive shopping venture at Mothers Market . You can prepare this however
with any type of mushroom you choose including dried wild mushrooms, and I will
include the variances in preparation for you :)

These organic beauties grow in clusters and this is what inspired the recipe that follows.
Maitake is the Japanese name which means "dancing mushroom" and are also known
as "hen of the woods" in English speaking countries. The maitake are prised as a
medicinal aid to boost the immune system as well as other health purposes. Aside from
the numerous dietary pluses, they have the most incredible aroma and as you will see
at the end of this post, hold a full bodied firm texture even after being poached. I find
 the flavor to be quite unique amongst the mushroom varieties, although earthy they
have a subtle balance of underlying tones.

I will list here ingredient amounts per ounce of mushroom. As an example the
 mushroom clusters I used were about 3.5 ounces each and I served 1 cluster per
serving. If you will be using dried mushrooms consider weigh after reconstitution. If
 using a larger variety such as king oyster or portabella cut into 1/4 inch thick slices or
 thinner. Then you  can sauté the mushrooms in your honey butter directly for about
2 minutes each side. Still reserving half of your honey butter for final touches.

What you will need:
3~ 3.5 ounce maitake cluster mushrooms
8 tablespoons butter, halved
2 tablespoons avocado honey,or honey of choice
9 ounces champagne or dry sparkling wine
1 small lemon, sliced
Drizzle of avocado oil, or oil of choice
Pinch of herbs de provence
Pinch black pepper, finely ground
Tongs and sauté pan with lid
*Note: Use a deep enough pan that can be covered with
 mushroom clusters standing upright.

Let's get cooking:
To begin take half of your butter and melt over low heat, add honey until
incorporated. Now halve this mixture setting one half aside. Set your
maitake mushrooms in a bowl, taking one half of your butter/honey drizzle and
over your clusters.Taking your sauté pan place your mushroom clusters along
with lemon slices, herbs de province and a bit of pepper. Now add your
champagne and bring to a low boil, add avocado oil and remaining butter.
Cover and simmer for 6-8 minutes, then carefully turn each cluster with
tongs. Replace lid and simmer an addition 6 minutes or so. Remove
lid and turn your clusters flower facing up, continue to simmer until most
of your liquid is reduced. Place in individual serving vessels and drizzle
with remaining honey butter

Each cluster or equivalent of 3 to 4 ounces of mushrooms
per serving. Above recipe serves 3...I served these in oval shaped
ramekins but any small vessel that you choose will work. However
for presentation purposes a cup or ramekin would work best...

Now before closing I want to mention a treat I received in a giveaway
held by Toni over at  Boulder Locavore. Toni also included a special treat.
Along with this wonderful book, Toni added some organic beans from some
of her favorite Colorado farms. I added a few in the above photo :) And
if you have been reading us here for even a short while you probably know
just how much we love fresh organic beans. So I guess we will be cooking
something special up in the near future to thank our lovely Toni once again :)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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9:36 AM

What's on the side? Mac n' Cheese on a Date

Posted by Magic of Spice

Individual Macaroni and Cheese
in Grana Padano Cheese baskets

These are individual size macaroni and cheese sides in their very
own cheese baskets. The pasta I chose is a Spinach Capelli, the capelli
is a very thin long rod shaped pasta similar to capellini but thinner.

For the cheese selection we have Truffle Noir and Midnight Moon cheeses.
Our Truffle Noir is always a favorite around here and is a Gouda that has been
laced with black truffle. This is a semi soft cheese with a strong robust flavor.
The Midnight Moon is a new cheese find and has a wonderful buttery/nutty flavor.
It has a firm, smooth texture with a slight graininess to it. It is a goat's milk cheese
that is aged for one year or longer. for the baskets themselves I used Grana Padano.
This of course would work with any hard aged cheese.

What you will need:

For the mac n cheese
Capelli pasta, or other long thin variety
Truufle Noir cheese, large to medium grate
Midnight Moon cheese, fine grate
Small amount of truffle oil
Small amount of heavy cream
Small amount of butter
Fresh ground black pepper
Finishing salt if desired
Individualized ramekins per serving

For the cheese baskets
Grana Padano or other aged hard cheese
Baking sheet
Cooling wrack

*Note: Your baskets can be made the day before...

Lets get baking:

For the macaroni and cheese
*Note: The amount of cheese and pasta will depend on the both size of your
ramekins as well as how many servings you desire. An example would be for
every 6 ounces of pasta you will have 6-8 individual servings.
Prepare your pasta to al dente, strain but do not rinse then place in a mixing bowl.
While the pasta is still add a small amount of truffle oil, cream, a butter and
black pepper. Lightly oil each remain then take enough pasta to fill ramekin
to slightly less then half way. Top with grated Truffle Noir so that the ingredient
now reaches mid way mark or a bit higher. Add a second layer of pasta then
press down on the last layer firmly, add final layer of finely grated Midnight
Moon cheese and bake 350 degrees in a pre-heatd oven for about 20 minutes
or until cheese is bubbly.

For the cheese baskets
For you will need enough medium grated Grana Padano or other hard
cheese large enough to accommodate your individual servings of
macaroni and cheese. You can see in the small photo above I
have placed a serving on a prepared cheese disk to approximate.
You can do this by measuring the diameter along with the depth of
each ramekin then adding a bit extra. An example of a standard
6 ounce round ramekin is  2 inches in depth and 3.5 inches in diameter.
So you will want your discs to be to be 5.5 inches in diameter plus
about 1/8th to 1/4 inches over. Layer cheese out as evenly as
possible on a non stick baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated
oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until cheese has
melted and fused together.
 *Do not over bake, the center should still be slightly soft.

Remove from oven and carefully remove each disc one at a time for shaping.
You can cool these just to the touch before handling.  I shaped these 2 ways.
1. Using the ramekin as a shaping mold, gently press cheese disc into ramekin
until it almost reaches the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
2. Using the same steps as in #1 only use a slightly larger and more shallow
 bowl to shape each cheese bow.
These cheese bowls can be cooled overnight if desired once shaped, or
be stored in an airtight container with sheets of parchment paper
separating each for 2-3 days prior to use.
They also make a very tasty snack on their own :)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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