Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Food & Fun Guide

We're scared. What's in that picture? Is it sending chills down your spine?

Could it be a scene from Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern gleefully eating 3-foot long worms accompanied by nuclear-spiced chili peppers? That was our first guess, but luckily it's Black & Orange Halloween Pasta from the folks at Epicurious. As you may know, FoodPair makes it easy to search for recipes across multiple sites like Epicurious, Food Network and Cookstr, so we found this savory & spooky recipe in a jif.

Now that Halloween weekend has finally arrived, FoodPair is here to present our Halloween Food & Fun Guide. We only have 2 days left till the big day, so let's get to it:

1. Buy some pumpkins to create your Jack-O-Lanterns.

Admittedly, most of us hadn't made Jack-O-Lanterns in a number of years and were intimidated by the prospect of turning orange with embarrassment. Luckily, most grocery stores have Pumpkin Carving Kits that are worth every penny of the $2 to $4 purchase price. Get some of those! Then, all you have to do is cut off the top of your pumpkin with a serrated knife, scoop the insides (naturally, you'll save the seeds for roasting and toasting) and it's time for carving.

Carving is where the genius of the kit is evident. They have pages and pages of cool designs and come with tracing and serrated carving tools that make creepy pictures possible. We found it best to tape the page from the kit directly onto the pumpkin and just carve through it with the tools. We've never been so proud of our handiwork!

2. Toasting the seeds

Toasting and roasting pumpkin seeds is easy. Simply put all the pulp & seeds in a pasta strainer for rinsing and pick out the pulp. Then, you have a ton of great options. The classic toasting method uses olive oil & salt, but the creative recipes are where the fun starts.

We enjoyed the spiciness of adding cayenne powder to the mix, the savoriness (aka umami) of adding garlic salt & parsley, and the sweetness of cinnamon & sugar. No need to limit yourself, so get creative with the toppings and then toast the seeds for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

3. Drinking tasty Halloween cocktails

Sure, Vampires drink blood, but for something sweet & tasty we're big fans of apple cider. There are plenty of varieties available this time of year and apples are in-season, so enjoy! Our favorite Halloween cocktail is to heat regular or spiced apple cider and serve it with regular or spiced rum. It'll warm you up and keep the pumpkin party going!

4. Baking, then eating fun cookies and candies

Sure, it's easy enough to go to the store and clean out their candy aisle. We're all fans of the classics and have fond memories of competitive trick-or-treating to see who could get the most mini Milky Way bars. But, it's actually very easy and fun to make your own Halloween goodies for in-house snacking.

First, these Peanut Butter Squares can easily be made into circles to replicate a Reese's. Second, these Chocolate & Orange Cookie Stacks are delicious and have the Halloween colors covered. Finally, you can decorate any classic cookie (like chocolate chip or sugar) with brightly colored frosting or sprinkles to make it Halloween ready. Red, for a fake-blood look is always good. Plus, get some funky cookie-cutters for spider, zombie, and vampire shapes!

We can feel it: you're ready for Halloween. Get out your best Justin Bieber, Twilight, Jersey Shore and Lady Gaga costumes and let's get cookin'!

Have other favorite Halloween recipes or tips? Post them in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Little Bacon goes a Long Way!

One lesson we learned from National Pork Month: everything tastes better with bacon!

At first, bacon was popular as a breakfast side dish and as the best part of a BLT. Recently, bacon's popularity has been on the rise and it's appearing everywhere, including as a dessert ingredient on maple bacon donuts or candied bacon ice cream. They definitely sound crazy, but people love 'em. We're also seeing anything and everything wrapped in bacon, including shrimp, scallops and hot dogs.

With so many great ways to use bacon, the FoodPair team thought we'd highlight bacon as an ingredient that makes veggie dishes sing. We all know people (and kids) who shy away from leafy greens and lima beans, but adding a little bacon will help them give those foods a try.

So, without further ado, here are some great side dishes with bacon. Enjoy!

Fresh Figs with Bacon & Goat Cheese
Start off with something tasty, sweet and savory.
Ingredients in this recipe: figs, goat cheese, bacon, balsamic vinegar

Green Beans with Bacon & Shallots
A great way to make green beans irresistible.
Ingredients in this recipe: green beans, bacon, shallots, butter

Collard Greens Miniera
Collard greens are delicious when sliced thin; add citrus to make it sing.
Ingredients in this recipe: bacon, collard greens, lemon juice or lime juice (optional)

Bacon Smashed Potatoes
Bacon and dill spice up potatoes. Mash 'em or smash 'em!
Ingredients in this recipe: bacon, dill, sugar, apple cider vinegar, Yukon Gold potatoes

Spinach & Chick Peas with Bacon
This Spanish-inspired side is great with pork chops or chicken.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, olive oil, bacon, chickpeas, baby spinach, red pepper flakes

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Thyme
Bacon and thyme will have you begging for more Brussels spouts.
Ingredients in this recipe: bacon, thyme, Brussels sprouts, salt, black pepper

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite ingredients you'd like us to highlight? Post them in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fun with Fall- Caramel Apples!

We have so many great ways to celebrate the Fall. There are the famous Oktoberfest, Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays. But, don't forget about the Harvest. There are plenty of great fruits & veggies in season now and we've got apples on the brain. Find your local orchard and go pick some apples. Just don't do what we did and pick 30 pounds worth. That's a lotta applesauce!

One of our missions at FoodPair is make cooking and food fun. One great way to do that is to combine a field trip, in this case apple picking, with a fun recipe, the Caramel Apple (check out this version from Simply Recipes).

Alright, let's get to it:

1. Pick a nice, firm apple like the Granny Smith

Whether you head to the orchard or supermarket, make sure to grab some firm & tasty apples that will hold up to some cooking and storage (because you shouldn't eat all those caramel apples in one sitting!).

2. Prep those apples

Next, you'll need to get the apples ready for caramel-ization. First, you'll need to wash and clean the apples by removing the stems. Next, dry them thoroughly. Finally, push a stick into the top where the stem was. We like using wooden chopsticks or popsicle sticks.

3. Make your caramel

The key tool for making great caramel is a candy thermometer. Run out and grab one because it'll help ensure precision, which is what you need when making desserts. Following the recipe, you'll combine sugar, butter, condensed milk, corn syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, molasses and salt in a saucepan. Keep stirring at medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Make sure to brush any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan back into the caramel. And, make sure it's smooth by rubbing some between your fingers.

4. Watch those temperatures!

Cook the caramel mixture until it gets to 236 degrees. Wow, that's precise! Then, pour it into a metal bowl and let it cool until it hits 200 degrees.

4. Dip, Cool and Decorate!

Once the mixture hits 200 degrees, grab those apples-on-sticks and give them a nice bath. Then, let them sit on a greased baking sheet or foil-lined pan and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. After they've had time to relax in the hot caramel bath and cool in the fridge, it's time to decorate. Go nuts with some chocolate, sprinkles, or nuts!

Have other favorite caramel apple tips or toppings? Post them in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween Guide- cook with Pumpkins

Fun Holiday Alert: Halloween is less than two weeks away!

To give you enough time to assemble that super-authentic Twilight or Glee costume AND cook some ghoulish dishes, here are some tasty recipes celebrating the pumpkin. No doubt you've already been seeing pumpkins for sale all over the place, but besides making killer jack-o-lanterns, did you know you pumpkins are actually good eats?

Pumpkins originated in North America and the oldest evidence of their existence dates back seven thousand years to seeds found in Mexico. They can be used for decorating, cooking and even chucking. Plus, they're actually healthy to eat because they're high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Fiber. Pumpkins are used in cooking across the globe, so look out for them in Italian ravioli, Thai curry, Japanese tempura, and Middle Eastern halawa.

So, without further ado, here are some simple & tasty pumpkin recipes to carry you through till Halloween or give you ideas for using Jack-o-lanterns once the flame goes out on November 1st. Enjoy!

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Wait! Keep the seeds from any pumpkin for toasting.
Ingredients in this recipe: pumpkin seeds, olive oil, salt

Feta and Pumpkin Pastries
A Mediterranean snack with a great sweet-savory balance.
Ingredients in this recipe: butter, feta cheese, pumpkin, raisin, black pepper, all-purpose flour, phyllo dough, cinnamon powder

Avocado and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Toasted pumpkin seeds are a great addition to any salad.
Ingredients in this recipe: avocado, olive oil, red onion, toasted pumpkin seeds, salt, black pepper, baby spinach, grapefruit juice, oregano, orange

Pumpkin Soup with Gruyere Cheese
Pumpkin makes a great soup, try this or a curry version!
Ingredients in this recipe: butter, cream, carrot, parsley, pumpkin, turnip, celery, thyme, bay leaf, salt, water, vegetable stock, Gruyere cheese, white pepper, yellow onion, dried sage

Chiffon Pumpkin Pie
Don't forget the classic pumpkin pie- great with fresh or canned pumpkin.
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, butter, cream, ginger, sugar, pumpkin, nutmeg, brown sugar, salt, milk, cinnamon, gelatin, gingersnaps

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite ingredients you'd like us to highlight? Post them in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hot Sauces Burning up the Globe

Now that the summer heat is gone, how are we supposed to sweat through our meals? Thus far, the best answer we've heard is to load up on the spicy foods. And, if the food still isn't hot enough you can douse everything in sight with hot sauce and follow it up with a chili pepper eating contest! Just make sure not to wipe your eyes, 'cause that stuff stings!

One of our missions at FoodPair is to be your kitchen assistant, or sous chef, and give you ideas for tasty food pairings or ways to spice up your meals. Well, we can't think of anything spicier or more versatile than hot sauce. Plus, who are we to say what you should or shouldn't put it on? So, grab a bottle of your favorite sauce or try a new one, and put it on anything you like. Let us know if you come up with anything exciting (or terrifying).

Here's our rundown of some of the most popular hot sauces around the world:

1. The United States: Tabasco and friends

Most casual restaurants stock every table with the starter kit of condiments: salt & pepper, ketchup & mustard, and hot sauce. The most common is Tabasco from Avery Island, Louisiana. Named after the state of Tabasco in Mexico and its namesake pepper, it's made from tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt then aged for 3 years in in white oak barrels. The original Tabasco is hot & tangy, and the Company now offers green jalapeño, chipotle and other varieties.

The great state of Louisiana loves their hot sauces, and other famous brands including Crystal, Louisiana and Frank's Red Hot all hail from the Pelican State. They're cayenne pepper based sauces, so they pack a great punch.

If you're looking for something even more intense, check out Dave's Gourmet Insanity Sauce, made with capsaicin extract so it's even hotter than habañero-based sauces. Apparently it was banned from the National Fiery Foods Show for being too hot, so test a drop first!

2. Mexico

Mexico is a great country for hot sauce aficionados. Mexico boasts a number of popular and tasty sauces including El Yucateo, Valentina, Búfalo and Cholula. A common misconception is that Tapatío is the most popular Mexican hot sauce, but we checked, and it's actually produced in Vernon, California and exported to Mexico.

3. Thailand and beyond

Sriracha is a great, fiery condiment used widely in Thai cooking. The very popular Sriracha from Huy Fong foods with the rooster on the bottle is thicker than the original Thai sauce. People put it on all kinds of dishes and it's a popular addition to Phở , the Vietnamese noodle soup.

4. Tunisia and North Africa

In Tunisia and other parts of North Africa, people love harissa. It's a hot chili sauce made from piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. Tunisians offer harissa with nearly every meal, so check it out on whatever you like.

4. South Africa

In South Africa and now around the world, peri-peri (or piri-piri) hot sauce is extremely popular. The most famous version is made by Nando's and uses African bird's eye, African devil, or African red devil chili peppers as it's base.

Have other favorite hot sauces or tips on favorites by country? Post them in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ingredient of the Day: Chocolate

We love chocolate, you love chocolate, everyone loves chocolate. So, it's not hard to understand how chocolate became our ingredient of the day.

Chocolate has been eaten as far back as 1100 BC in Mexico, Central and South America. Lucky for all you chocoholics, the stuff actually has some health benefits for the circulatory system and brain plus some anticancer properties. Unfortunately, because chocolate contains theobromine it's toxic to most pets, so make sure to eat every last bit yourself!

You probably started eating chocolate bars, candy bars and s'mores as a kid. Even though we don't want to leave those behind, here FoodPair presents some new and some classic preparations to help you satisfy your chocolate fix. Enjoy!

Cupcake Pops
They're chocolately, fun & easy to make.
Ingredients in this recipe: chocolate, canola oil, sprinkles, cream cheese frosting

Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Of course peanut butter pairs well with chocolate.
Ingredients in this recipe: chocolate, butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar

Go Get 'Em Smoothie
Add chocolate to your smoothies for energy and flavor!
Ingredients in this recipe: chocolate, honey, banana, milk, espresso powder

S'mores Sundaes
We call all make s'mores, but what's the next level? This is!
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, butter, walnuts, brown sugar, salt, vanilla extract, baking powder, whipping cream, bittersweet chocolate, marshmallows, whole wheat flour, coffee ice cream

Caramel Swirl Hot Chocolate
Another great use of chocolate in a drink.
Ingredients in this recipe: chocolate, caramel, water, powdered sugar, whipping cream

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite ingredients you'd like us to highlight? Post them in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide

You hear it all the time: wine goes well with cheese and cheese goes well with wine. But, once you start trying to plan a party or casual evening with both, things can get a little tricky. Key questions include: Which cheeses do you have in the fridge? Which wines do you have in the house? Which cheeses do you love or hate? Which wines do you love or hate?

Luckily, with the help of our quick tips, you can pair wine & cheese like a champ (or better yet, the champ's caterer). Volumes have been written on this topic, so let's start with the classics and revisit the area in the coming weeks and months once you're ready for your graduate degree.

1. Decide on a primary ingredient or theme.

To begin the wine & cheese pairing process, you first need to decide how to focus your energy. (1) Do you want to feature certain cheeses or use ones you already have? That's good, because once you select the cheeses, we can help you figure out which wines to drink. (2) Or, do you want to feature certain wines or use ones you already have? That's good too, because once you pick the wines, the cheese selections will be easy.

For themes, there are a lot of good ones out there. You could focus on a country for wine & cheese and a big four appear: France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Select delicious cheeses from a country and pair them with national wines. Or, pick a favorite wine, like Pinot Noir, buy bottles from different vineyards and select a handful of cheeses to pair with it. Finally, you could pick a favorite cheese, like Cheddar and buy different varieties and ages of Cheddar and select some wines to go with it. Having a theme makes things more fun and interesting.

2. Assemble the cheese plate.

We've heard some interesting tips for assembling cheese plates. One is to keep the number of cheeses Odd (3, 5, 7, etc.) because it keeps the plate looking good with a nod to Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

Starting at 12 o'clock on the cheese plate, arrange the cheeses from mildest tasting to strongest. It's also fun and helpful to have little labels for the cheeses. We've seen tiny paper flags with the name and type of the cheese written at the top.

Don't forget the accompaniments! Cheese always goes well with bread or crackers. Plus, adding various fruits, nuts, jams and jellies to the plate is a great touch and makes tasting even more fun.

3. For starters, focus on these classic pairings.

Red Wine Pairings
(1) Cabernet Sauvignon: The classic Cabernet flavor features deep, dark fruits, and are medium- to full-bodied, intense and bold. Cabernets pair well with cow's milk cheeses and milder blue cheeses, but don't pair well with goat cheeses. For popular pairings, try them with a sharp Cheddar, French Comte, Danish Blue, or aged Gouda.

(2) Merlot: Merlots are versatile and can be light and straightforward to deep and complex. They are generally full-bodied, deeply hued, high in alcohol and feature notes of cherry, plum and chocolate. Try Merlot with sheep's milk or cow's milk cheeses, but not goat cheeses. For popular pairings, try Camembert, Gouda or Gruyere.

(3) Pinot Noir: Pinot Noirs are lush, with notes of black cherries, berries, earth and spice, with an aroma that's reminiscent of everything from cola to bacon and roses. These wines pair well with cow's and sheep's milk cheeses, but not goat's or blue cheeses. For popular pairings, try a light Cheddar, Comte, Edam, Gouda, Gruyere, or Saint Andre.

White Wine Pairings
(1) Chardonnay: Chardonnay features rich and complex flavors of apples, citrus and hazelnuts. The best Chardonnays are medium-bodied, medium-dry, and highly acidic. Because of their high acidity, Chardonnays pair well with most cow's and goat's milk cheeses. For popular pairings, try Brie, Cambazola, or your favorite goat cheese.

(2) Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp, acidic, and light-to-medium-bodied grape is characterized by prominent grassiness with an herbaceous flavor and aroma. Classic Sauvignon Blanc's also display fruit and citrus flavors. They pair well with sheep's and goat's cheeses, but generally not cow's or blue cheeses. For popular pairings, try Brie, a sharp Cheddar, a Dry Jack or goat's cheese.

(3) Champagne: Oh, those bubbles! Champagnes generally have the acidity and sweetness to pair well with buttery triple-cremes and brie cheeses. For popular pairings, go with a creamy brie, Brillat-Savarin, Boursin, or Cambazola. For Champagne: the creamier, the better.

4. Explain what you're doing and ask for feedback.

We've found it fun to let people know what you're doing. Tell them the theme, whether cheese, wine or country focused, and ask them what they thought paired well and what didn't. Really, pairings are all a matter of personal preference, but it'll be great to remember your favorites for next time.

Have additional tips or favorite cheese & wine pairings? Post them in the comments section!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Celebrate Oktoberfest!

This year marks the 200-year anniversary of the first Oktoberfest. Naturally, there's no better time to break out your favorite German beer, grilled sausage, fresh pretzels, and the Lederhosen you bought but never wore.

Making sausage from scratch can be tough. Luckily, most supermarkets have a ton of great options on hand, especially now. But, what side dishes and desserts best complement those German beers and sausages? FoodPair to the rescue!

Even though you didn't have a chance to get to Munich this year, there's no reason you can't celebrate Oktoberfest with the same great foods they serve at the largest public festival in the world. Here's the FoodPair plan: (1) start with a great potato soup, (2) pair sausages with a bevy of tasty sides like spaetzle, dumplings, and sauerkraut and (3) finish the meal with a delicious German apple cake.

Let's hoist those beers, yell "prost" (German for cheers) and get this party started!

Potato Soup with Turnips
A thick and creamy soup, without any cream!
Ingredients in this recipe: basil, butter, onion, nutmeg, turnip, salt, chicken stock, Russet potato

Trust us, spaetzle is tasty, especially with cheese!
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, scallion, butter, nutmeg, black pepper, all-purpose flour, milk, Gruyere cheese

Sauerkraut with Bacon & Apples
A classic kraut, enhanced with apples and bacon.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, bacon, caraway seeds, sauerkraut, apple cider, white wine vinegar, yellow onion, Granny Smith apple

German Potato Dumplings
Another tasty Oktoberfest classic.
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, caraway seeds, salt, black pepper, all-purpose flour, baking potato, semolina flour

German Apple Cake
Apple cake is the perfect ending to a German meal.
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, butter, brown sugar, lemon zest, salt, all-purpose flour, baking powder, milk, cinnamon powder, Granny Smith apple

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite Oktoberfest recipes? Post them in the comments section!