The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

7:22 PM

The 7 Links Challenge

Posted by Magic of Spice

The 7 Links Challenge

I have recently been tagged in the "7 Links Challenge" by two lovely friends...
I was first tagged by the ever lovely Elisabeth of Food and Thrift Finds. Then
I was tagged by the wonderful and passionate Victoria of Mission Food.
The challenge is to list posts by each of the seven given categories, then pass
the challenge on to 5 other bloggers...

One: Most Beautiful ~
 What's for lunch? An Organic Gardener's Salad

For this category I went primarily by the popularity of the photo. It was a beautiful
salad and so very colorful, light and healthy. A perfect start to spring :)

Two: Most Popular ~
 What's for lunch? Pear and Gouda Grilled Cheese

I would have picked this for number "Five", but as it is the most popular
post/recipe it belonged here. And I have to admit it was absolutely delectable.

Three: Most Controversial ~
 What's for Dessert? Stuffed Baked Apples with Apple Velouté

OK, I don't think I really have any controversial posts, but as this sauce is
one of the "5 Mother Sauces" and typically prepared with fish or chicken...
then I go and use apples? Now don't get me wrong, the basic rule of
pairing your Velouté with a dish of the same was followed...
I made apple stock and served with baked apples!

Four: Most Helpful ~
 What's on the Side? Zucchini Bowls with Cherry-Chocolate Gastrique

This is actually one in a three part series featuring classic sauces, most specifically
learning reduction sauces. I of course did" Classic Sauces with a Twist"...

Five: Surprisingly Successful ~
 Whats on the side? Sunflower Salad with Pineapple Emulsion

Not that I did not completely enjoy this wonderful salad, but it had an amazing
amount of traffic. I am not sure what I did here but it ended up in the top 5 recipes.

Six: Did not get the attention it deserved ~
What's on the Side? Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Tomato and Pluot Marinara

This dish was a fun way to use fresh seasonal produce from a local farmers' market,
and was very well loved by all that happened to be around to enjoy. In fact I will
be making it again as soon as I get my hands on some squash blossoms ;)

Seven: Most proud of ~
What's on the side? Crimini Mushroom and Plum Wine Consommé

I am most proud of this post for a couple of reasons...One, it came out beautifully with
gorgeous rich flavors. The earthy mushrooms held up perfectly against the softly sweet
 and fragrant plum wine,  and I managed to pull off a vegetarian raft :) Second, it was
my first contribution to and featured on Honest Cooking Food Magazine.

I would like to tag the following friends:
Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks
Bonnie of Sweet Life
Cathy of Wives with Knives
Drick of Drick's Rambling Cafe
Priscilla of She's Cookin'

Enjoy ~ Alisha Magic of Spice

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Hot Buttered Honey Rum Maitake 
Mushroom and Olive Pizza -
 A 5 Star Makeover 

For our August 5 Star Makeover Challenge we were asked
to create a gourmet pizza utilizing any ingredients or
style of pizza we desired.

For my pizza I chose to re-create my champagne poached maitake
 mushrooms with a bit of a switch up using dark rum versus champagne.

Our olive choices are a bit special as well and both play off of each other
 nicely as well as adding a nice balance against the sweetness of our mushrooms.

First we have the  Lucques Olive considered by many to be the best olive in
the world. They are cultivated in the southern Languedoc region of France
primarily but can also be found in several other countries including the US.
The have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor and are positively delightful eaten
as a snack on their own.

Next we have our Sun-dried Purple Peruvian Olives,
these black olives are raw organic and uncured then dried in the sun.
They have a stronger taste almost like that of the kalamata but are
larger and meatier. We used them as is, but you can soften them
up a bit ahead of time in water or oil.

I used lemon verbena and lemon balm from my garden to create a
pesto like drizzle for a bit of tart zing and playful touch.

For the cheese selection I went with a Comté a semi hard cheese with a
strong and slightly nutty sweet flavor. I used this cheese for both our
Sauce Mornay as well as added a bit to our lemony drizzle.

The next cheese is a Raclette a semi firm cheese prized for it's
creamy buttery flavor and melting capabilities.

What you will need:
For the flatbread crust
2 1/2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour, sifted
1/2 cup almond meal, sifted
1 cup semolina flour, sifted
(plus a bit for dusting)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 ounce active dry yeast
1 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons almond oil

For the poached mushrooms
see recipe here
substitute champagne for 6 ounces dark rum
and 3 ounces herbal tea or water

For the toppings
1 cup Lucques olives, whole
1 cup Purple Sun-dried Purple Peruvian Olives
hot buttered honey rum maitake mushrooms
2 cups Raclette, grated

For the Sauce Mornay
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups hot cream
1/2 cup Comté, finely grated
pinch of fleur de sel
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

For the lemon verbena-balm drizzle
1 cup leaves of verbena and balm
1/4 cup salted pepitas, crushed
1/2 cup almond oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon Comté, finely grated

Let's get cooking:
For the flatbread crust
Begin by preparing your pizza dough. In a small bowl place warm water,
yeast, agave and oil then set aside. Next sift flours (note: it is best to do
these individual as the almond meal has bits of almond). Placing flours
in a large bowl with salt, mix until well incorporated. Place flour
mixture on a lightly dusted cutting board. Create a well in the center
and very slowly add a portion of your yeast mixture. Fold flour
 over the yeast mixture with a fork gradually adding more yeast
 mixture until you are able to begin kneading a dough.

Once you have a smooth dough ball, cover outer are with additional
dust of flour. Divide dough ball into 3 equal sections. Cover with a damp towel
and allow to rise for about 1 hour or so.

Place each section one at a time back on dusted cutting board.
Begin to kneed the dough ball, or punch down the dough to
remove air pockets. Loosely wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap
and leave on counter for an additional 30 minutes while you
prepare the other ingredients. Or if making ahead refrigerate
until ready to use, allowing about 30 minutes or so before needed.

Just before starting your sauce, take prepared dough at room
temperature and kneed a bit again to push out the air. Place
dough on a lightly dusted surface and roll dough to desired shape.
For the crispy flatbread crust roll to about 1/8th thickness.
Place rolled out dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or corn meal,
lightly brush tops with oil paying closer attention to edges.

Let's get cooking:
For the poached mushrooms
this step will take about 25 minutes
see recipe here

For the toppings
With a small sharp pairing knife remove the meat
potions from the olives and set aside along with grated cheese.

For the Sauce Mornay
Begin by making a blond roux by first melting butter in a sauce pan
then slowly adding flour. Stirring continuously for about 2-3 minutes
on a medium heat, do not brown but just achieve a lightly golden hue.
Now lower your heat and begin to make a  Béchamel sauce
by slowly pouring hot cream into your roux a bit at a time
continually whisking until sauce begins to thicken about
3-4 minutes. Now slowly add your salt, pepper and cheese,
  continue to stir while thickening for an additional 2 minutes.
Note: It is best to use this sauce immediately

For the lemon verbena-balm drizzle
This drizzle can be made with pizza is cooking. Simple add all
ingredients except oil into a blender or small food processor.
Once leaves are finely chopped slowly add oil until emulsified.

Spread sauce thinly and evenly to about 1/4th from the edge of
your dough. Top with mushrooms, olives and grated cheese.
Add a sprinkling of fleur de sel and fresh ground black pepper.
Bake at 450 degrees for 5-7 minutes or until cheese
begins to bubble.
Note: I used a pizza stone, other methods may vary in
time so check pizza after first 3 minutes to monitor.

Makes 3 small pizzas

The 5 Star Foodie Cooking Group
Hosted by 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro Cooks

Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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2:03 PM

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee with Allspice

Posted by Magic of Spice

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee
 with Allspice Coffee Drinks

Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica
 at altitudes of up to 5,000 feet. These rare coffees are strictly regulated
 and globally protected and certified. They are also one of the most
expensive coffee beans in the world at $30 and upwards per pound.

There are 3 levels (Blue Mountain #1, etc) of beans that distinguish
from each other by bean size. An additional 2 types of beans one being
Triage, which is a blend of the first three categories. Then there is the
Peaberry, my personal all time favorite :) The Peaberry and this beauty
is distinguished by it's round pea like shape. This anomaly occurs when
only one seed verses two becomes fertilized. This rare coffee yields only
5%  of the coffee harvest.

For more history on Jamaican coffees see this article on Jamaican Coffee.

Currently and though September 5th 2011, Starbucks is featuring a
limited supply of this coffee through their Starbucks Reserve selections

You are probably already familiar with allspice, but did you know that it is
actually the dried  Pimenta dioica berry? The spice was named by the English
due to it's multi spice flavor. And since we are enjoying coffee grown in
Jamaica and since pimenta berry/fruit is grown and utilized in Jamaican
cuisine we will be flavoring our coffee with it.

You can purchase these dried berries of many times find them ground
under the name allspice in many grocery and specialty stores. However
is you are not able to find it in your area, a simple combination of
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper in equal amounts
to get a close proximity. 

What you will need:
(measurements based on 6 ounces of coffee)
6 ounces water
2 tablespoons coffee, ground
1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground
one pinch each cinnamon, clove,
nutmeg and pepper, ground

*Note: depending on your preferred method of brewing, use
a similar grind of spice to that of the coffee.
Coffee Press - course grind
Automatic Drip - medium grind
Espresso machine - fine grind
You can use a finer grind of spice in an automatic drip, but be sure
not to use in a press as your ending results will be muddy.

Let's get brewing:
Set up your coffee preparation as you typically would. Grind your coffee
beans just prior to use for best results, then grind your pimenta berries or
allspice mix (see above) separately. Mix your spiced directly into your
ground coffee and proceed as usual.

Serve with sweetener and cream if desired, and either
as a hot or chilled beverage :)

Enjoy ~
Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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The Avila Valley Barn Shopping ~ Part Two
 and Summer Chillin" Pasta Salad

If you had a chance to see our "Part One" road trip to the Central Coast,
you got to see some of the gorgeous produce that we found at
The Avila Valley Barn. 

This charming barn offers a wonderful variety of treats aside from their
local produce. Personally I could spend hours just playing with
the kitchen gadgets :) 

There is also an on site bakery so the pies, cakes, breads and cookies
are fresh from the oven. And if that were not enough, there is an
additional building reserved for hand made candy and ice cream...
sorry no pictures guys as we were running out of time.

As I mentioned in the first post, they have a U-Pick seasonal offering
for families to enjoy. Along with a small petting zoo and hay rides.

You can visit their website to see all of the seasonal treats available
through out the year.

We of of course did not come home empty handed. Aside from
our fresh produce we picked up a few sauces and condiments,  habanero
 flavored garlic stuffed olives and a bottle of roasted garlic juice.

I threw together a quick chilled pasta salad that can
be served as either a main or side dish. The pasta is
another find from the barn and is a handmade tri-color
angel hair. And since I had a few ripe and ready goodies
in the garden, I threw a few in as well.

What you will need:
12 ounces tri-color angel hair pasta
6-8 teaspoons roasted garlic juice
(each teaspoon = 1 clove)
1/4 th cup grapeseed oil
2-3 limes, juiced
2-3 bell peppers, chopped
(I used yellow, red and orange)
3 medium sizes fresh tomatoes, chopped
4-6 lemon cucumbers
4 ounces habanero garlic olives, sliced
1/2 ounce dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted
1 small bunch fresh basil, torn

Garnish with
Grated Toscano and black pepper cheese, to taste
Ground Himalayan pink salt, to taste
Ground flower pepper, to taste
(black peppercorns with dried edible flowers)

Let's get cooking:
Prepare pasta according to directions, drain and run under cold water.
Note: I prepared each color separately, but you can mix if desired.
Place pasta in a large bowl and toss with roasted garlic juice, grapeseed
 oil and lime juice. Add chopped tomato, peppers, lemon cucumbers,
olives, mushrooms and basil, then toss until incorporated.

Add flower pepper and salt, toss adding more to taste.
Serve with a side of grated cheese.
Serves 4 main dishes 

Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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Avila Valley Barn Shopping
~ Part One

This past weekend we were in San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast
of California. Although we did not get much of a chance to roam
around as we were there for a wedding. We did however make
a stop in Avila Beach on our way back. 

The Avila Valley Barn is located in a woodsy area of Avila Beach.
The Barn is a charming, well barn, that is reminiscent of an old time
country market. You can find everything from fresh local fruits and
 vegetables to fresh baked goods and everything in between.
Think Farmers' Market on  steroids...

The fruit and vegetable selections are all locally grown with many from the
fields surrounding the Barn itself. They are open seasonally from
May through December and offer U-Pick Farm were you can
pick your own seasonal treasures.

We did pick up a few of our own treasured items which included
Lemon Cucumbers and Dapple Fire Pluots.

These pluots are a cross between nectorine, apricot and plum.
The skin is bright red and a bit speckled with yellow. The flesh is a creamy yellow
and the flavor is sweeter than a traditional plum but maintains the tart skin.

The lemon cucumbers receive their name based on the shape and color
 of the cucumbers. They are a mild tasting cucumber with a thinner
skin that more traditional varieties and can be used in any way
you would normally prepare them.

Avila Valley Barn
560 Avila Beach Drive • San Luis Obispo CA 93405
805.595.2810 or 805.595.2816

And of course I made a snack :)
I prepared a simple Lemon Cucumber, red onion and garden tomato salad
adding some fresh lemon balm and chive also from my garden.  Then tossed
in a simple citrus and grapeseed dressing with sea salt and ground pepper.

Then we prepared a Fiesta Dip mix and served along side
Rosemary and Sea Salt Flatbread Crackers and Baked Okra Chips

Stay tuned for Part Two were we will talk about some of the
other wonderful things that you will find at
The Avila Valley Barn

I  wanted to add a quick update here...a few weeks ago I submitted
a recipe to Spicie Foodie in a Spiced Up Dish Contest and
my Tropical Fajitas won :) Please take a moment to stop
by and see my winning recipe Guest Post

Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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Of Tinged Creams and Tasting Parties

Tasting or sample menus, especially in regards to appetizers have been
 on the restaurant scene for quite some time now.

No longer does a tasting menu merely included the selection of chicken strips, 
mini quesadilla and onion rings, but oh so much more. The restaurant world has
 taken us to new heights with special seasonal offerings, tasty chefs specials 
and a vast array of delicacies to sample.

Stores and specially shops are quickly filling their shelves with innovative and 
decorative dishware to entice most any willing host or hostess to be. The mini offerings
 are flooding our gourmet senses with creative ideas to stretch our culinary muscles.

Whipping your own fresh cream is far easier than one might expect. By it’s nature
 whipped cream is one in the family of culinary foams. Although we generally think
 of this as a tasty topping four our favorite sweet treats, it can also play a magnificent
 role in savory dishes.

Today we are leaning on the sweet side, with just a hint of heat here and there. You can of course use any combinations that you desire or have available to you. The main objective here is to spend a minimal amount of time and effort, but to disguise it under the gentle hues of elegance and sophistication.

There are a few key things to remember while preparing whipped cream. One factor is the basic, very basic science behind the process of whipping cream. This science tells us that both the temperature as well as the length and speed of whipping time can drastically alter the outcome. The whipping process introduces bubbles into our cream, the longer we whip the smaller the bubbles. And since our cream has no shortage of fat, this fat surrounds these bubbles and becomes creamier as we progress.

So if we were to do a scale diagram for whipped cream, the far left would have us enjoying a light fluffy cloud of puffed cream, while the far right would produce an equally delightful butter… However somewhere in the middle we will achieve a mousse like texture, and this is what we are striving for today.

Fresh summer fruits are typically abundant by this time in the majority of the  northern hemisphere. We have a fun variety of berries here that you may or may not be familiar with. If you note the photo showing the basket of berries, on the right we have typical fresh blueberries, in the center fresh gooseberries and on the left goldenberries.

The gooseberry bush is generally classified as a subgenus of Ribes, which includes the Current family along with a hybrid of the gooseberry and blackcurrent known as the Jostaberry. Some on the other hand place this berry within it’s own genus of Grossularia. The fruit is quite tart and makes an excellent berry choice for jams, pies or along side sweeter berries.

The goldenberry plant is withing the Solanaceae which includes the tomato and eggplant. The goldenberry is also closely related to the tomatillo. You may see several other names for this berry like cape gooseberry, Chinese or Indian gooseberry. However it is not related to the gooseberry and is far sweeter.

In addition to our fresh fruit finds we will, as our title suggests, be tinging our whipped creams with various treasures. Starting with our Black Onyx Dutch Cocoa, an alkalized cocoa powder that has a rich beautiful purple/black hue. This cocoa is lower in fat that more traditional cocoas and is recommended at a 25-50% blend. Our other cocoa is a Mayan Cocoa that includes a mix of chile pepper,
 cinnamon and vanilla powder.

A tasting menu of : Mint, Pepper and Cardamom Tinged Cream with Stone Fruits. 
Mayan Cocoa Tinged Cream with Mango. Black Onyx Tinged Cream with Banana 
and Cocoa Shavings. Honey and Anise Tinged Cream with Summer Berries.

What you will need:
For the whipped cream:
1 pint heavy cream
1 Tbs raw sugar, fine grain
1 large mixing bowl, chilled
4 small mixing bowls, chilled
Hand mixer or whisk, attachments chilled

For the mint and cardamon cream:
6-8 small mint leaves, finely chopped
1/8th tsp cardamom, finely ground
1-2 pinches black pepper, finely ground
1 Saturn peach, diced
1 nectarine, diced

For the Mayan cocoa cream:
1 Tbs Mayan cocoa
1 mango, diced

For the Black Onyx cream:
1/2 Tbs black onyx cocoa
1 banana, diced
1-2 Tbs 75% or higher cocoa, shaved

For the honey Anise:
1 Tbs honey powder
2-3 drops anise essential oil

Let's get mixing:
Starting with our whipped cream, place heavy cream in a large chilled 
mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer or whisk that has been chilled. Continue 
to beat cream until just softly peaked. Add sugar at this point and continue
 to beat until you have just achieved a slightly firm peak. Then quarter your
 whipped cream and transfer to individual chilled bowls.

Add flavorings such as above or your own desired flavorings until just
 incorporated and chill for 20 minutes or so.

To arrange, depending on you mini servers, add one layer of chosen fruit then top
 with creamy tinged mousse. Add an additional layer of chopped fruit 
and chocolate shavings where specified or desired.

Note: This recipe allows for an approximation of 8 tablespoons per quartered batch,
 so 1 tablespoon per guest will yield enough for eight guests. You can increase
 or decrease the amounts served depending on the number of guests.

This article was previously featured here on Honest Cooking Food Magazine

Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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Dragon Fruit and Coconut Cream Sherbet
the Vegan Version

I thought I was due for another play date with the coveted (borrowed)
ice cream machine. And when I ran across these stunning Dragon Fruit
(pitaya) I instantly knew they were destined for a sweet treat.

I am using the term sherbet or sherbert a bit loosely here, as our "cream"
is coconut milk and not the traditional dairy based cream/milk. So our
sherbet is a non dairy version and by distinction vegan.

Since I was in the mood to play, OK I know I'm always playing with
my food, but this was more experimental so to speak. I wanted
 to give this baby a full tropical feel, and so I thought I'd try
 whipping coconut milk instead of cream...the result?
 Silky creamy goodness!

What you will need:
2 ripe dragon fruit
1 lemon, juiced
2-3 tablespoons lemon zest
14 ounces coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice or raw sugar
1-2 pinches sea salt
Blender or food processor
Hand mixer or wire whisk
Ice cream machine

Lets get freezing:
Begin by puréeing dragon fruit and lemon juice in a blender
or food processor. Then fold in lemon zest and chill completely.

Next place coconut milk into a chilled bowl and whip until thickened.
Add sugar and coconut flour a little at a time continuing to whip until
you achieve a creamy whipped like texture.

Fold chilled purée into your coconut cream and gently incorporate.
Place in ice cream machine and follow your manufactures guidelines.

Note: For soft serve texture serve immediately  or freeze for up to
2 hours. For a firmer texture freeze for several hours to over night.

Alisha ~ Magic of Spice

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