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Broccoli à la Catalan

This is Week #4 of my 2011 cooking challenge! Click on the above graphic to view all P&TC recipes. All recipes created for this challenge come from the Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2010.

I adore broccoli and peppers alike, but this recipe is most definitely not one that I would have picked out of a cookbook on my own. Which is precisely why I am loving this challenge! I'm broadening my horizons, and I am finding that I should not be judging recipes so harshly.

This was a fantastic side dish! My husband made chicken to go along with it for dinner, and everything tasted great together. Oooo, I just had an idea! Tomorrow night I am going to cube the leftover chicken and toss it in with the broccoli and peppers. Mmmmm, can't wait. Why do I get so excited about food?

Roast 4 red bell peppers. When they are finished (keep the oven on!), allow the peppers to cool.

Once they have cooled, peel, seed and core them and cut them into thin strips. Place the pepper strips into a bowl along with:

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Salt and pepper, to taste

Spread 1 tablespoon of pine nuts (I used chopped walnuts for this reason) on a pie plate and toast in the oven until golden, about 2 minutes.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine:

1 tablespoon golden raisins (I used 2 Tbsp)

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons water

Microwave for 30 seconds, until the raisins are plump. Let cool, then drain the liquid from the raisins.

In a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add 2 cups of broccoli florets cut into 3/4-inch pieces, cover and steam until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer broccoli to a bowl and toss with:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Microwaved golden raisins

Toasted pine nuts (or walnuts)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Spread the peppers on a platter and top with the broccoli salad. Serve immediately. Enjoy! 

Click here for a printable recipe!


How to roast bell peppers

Aren't roasted peppers pretty? Of course, I think all food is pretty, hence my interest in food photography. If you would like to gaze at and photograph some beautiful roasted red peppers (oh, and eat them, too), here is what you will need to do. It's the simplest thing in the world! Aside from maybe breathing.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Cut the bell peppers (of any color) directly down the middle and place them on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased aluminum foil.

Put the baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast for a total of 25 minutes, turning the peppers once at the half-way mark.

And that's that! Peel, seed and core the peppers to your liking. Easy, right?


Focus lock

Aside from exposure compensation, focus lock is perhaps my favorite feature on my camera. This feature can be found on almost every digital camera that has been made within the past few years. I use it ALL. THE. TIME. There is a time and place for changing focal points on a camera, and I will cover that in another post, but most of the time focus lock is all I need.

Focus lock allows your camera to quickly focus on a subject that you don't necessarily want to appear directly in the center of your photograph.

For example, I didn't want these leaves to appear directly in the center of my photo. I looked through my viewfinder and positioned the center focus point directly over the object I wanted most sharply in focus, the uppermost leaves in the foreground. I held my shutter button down half way until I heard a beep. Once I heard the beep, I knew my camera understood the exact point I wanted it to stay focused on.

Keeping my shutter button held down half way, I moved my camera down and to the left a bit until I liked where the leaves were positioned in my viewfinder. I pressed the shutter button the rest of the way down to capture this picture.

The leaves remained sharply in focus and they didn't have to reside directly in the center of my photo.

Keep in mind that this only works if both the camera and the subject do not change depths/planes. If I would have taken even a tiny step forward or backward after I had pressed the shutter button down half way, the leaves would not have remained in focus. I would have had to release my shutter button completely and start over.

Here is another example where I held my shutter button down half way after center-focusing on the big tree you see on the left and then moving my camera over to the right and snapping the photo. The tree trunk remains in focus, but it is not in the center of my photograph.

Getting to know this feature on your camera will allow you to view your subject, and the composition of your entire photograph, in a whole new way. It is fun to stray from the belief that everything you take a photograph of must remain directly in the center of your photograph.


Bacon & pepper infused vodka


 I love heat. All forms of it. I love sweating profusely as I lie on the beach and I love wrapping a warm blanket around myself while I lounge on the couch (neither happens often enough). My love for heat applies to food, as well. I love food that makes my mouth burn and my nose run. The spicier, the better!

When I read about the new trend involving infusing vodka with flavor, my first thought was that I wanted to try adding heat as my "flavor." I researched vodka infusion and found that creating spicy vodka is not uncommon! So, thinking in terms of a good spicy base for a bloody mary, I purchased three of the hottest peppers available at the grocery store and I kindly asked my husband to fry me up some bacon (for some reason, this is always a task he does).

In a large jar, I placed:

Two slices of peppered bacon, cooked

1 serrano pepper, halved

1 green chile pepper, halved

1 habanero pepper, halved

I poured vodka over the bacon and peppers until the jar was almost full (somewhere around 32 oz. of vodka). I used a middle shelf vodka. There's no need to go top shelf, but I tend to stay away from the bottom shelf, as well.

And then I screwed the lid on tight and put the jar in my garage, where it is dark and cool. And dirty. But nevermind the dirty part.

I let the vodka absorb the peppery, meaty flavors for 48 hours. If you love spice like I do, 48 hours is the perfect amount of time for the infusion. If you like just a little bit of spice, cut that time back to 24 hours.

I strained the liquid using a coffee filter that sat inside a hand strainer. Actually, my husband did the straining so I can't take credit for that part.

At the end of the 48 hours, my concoction SMELLED hot, so I was afraid to taste it. I took a tiny little sip and it was most definitely hot, but also full of flavor! For me, this will always be an addition to bloody marys. I don't plan to drink it alone or mix it with anything else. It is, through and through, a bloody-mary-only vodka.

And let me tell you, it makes a killer bloody mary. Delicious!


Bacon and Pepper Infused Vodka

Spruce up vodka with bacon and hot peppers!

Serves: 20

Total time: 48 hrs, 15 min

Bacon and Pepper Infused Vodka


  • 2 slices cooked bacon
  • 1 serrano pepper, halved
  • 1 habañero pepper, halved
  • 1 chili pepper, halved
  • 32 ounces vodka
  1. Combine all ingredients in a jar, cover with a lid and let sit in a cool, dark place for 48 hours. Strain, using a coffee filter and/or strainer. Serve with bloody marys.



Homemade marshmallows

In one of Ebby's recent posts, she talked about cute food being so much fun. I wholeheartedly agree! When I finished making this treat, I said, "Aawwww, how CUTE!" Then I may or may not have hugged the squishy ziploc bag filled with teeny, pink marshmallows. In addition to being cute, they were also deliciously tasty. I loved them as a snack, but I LOVED them in hot chocolate. YUM YUM YUM.

They don't take a ton of effort (at least not as much as I anticipated), but they do require some significant sitting time. It's worth it, trust me.

I had to force myself to stop taking pictures! Cute cute cute!

In a small saucepan, soften 4 tablespoons of unflavored gelatin in 3/4 cup of water. If you run out of unflavored gelatin like I did, substitute 1 tablespoon with flavored gelatin. In my case, strawberry. This ended up being a happy accident because it provided a hint of added flavor and color that I loved in the end.

Heat the gelatin slowly so it fully dissolves in the water. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and set aside.

Can you see an upside-down Pip taking a picture?

And now (below), can you see a four-eyed smiley face?

Sorry, I need sleep.

In a medium saucepan, combine:

2 cups white sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

3/4 cup water

Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Set a candy thermometer in the pan and, without stirring (I was so happy about this non-stirring part), allow the mixture to boil until it reaches 250-260 degrees F. This went a lot more quickly than I anticipated. I was a bit overwhelmed at this point because I was trying to do seventeen things at once, but it took somewhere around 15 minutes to reach the desired temperature.

While the sugar mixture is boiling, beat 2 egg whites in a large mixing bowl on high speed with an electric hand mixer until medium-stiff peaks form.

When the sugar syrup reaches 250-260 degrees, slowly add it to the whisked egg whites and beat with mixer until combined. Immediately add the dissolved gelatin to the mixing bowl and beat on high speed. It will turn to a liquid at first, but will eventually thicken. Continue beating until the marshmallow mixture thickens enough to hold its shape, about 5-8 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together:

1/2 cup corn starch

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Lightly grease two 8x8 inch baking dishes and dust them with part of the cornstarch-confectioners' mixture. Divide the marshmallow mixture between the two pans and smooth as flat as possible with a rubber spatula (do this quickly!). Allow the pans to sit uncovered until springy and firm, 4-6 hours. I let mine sit for a full 6 hours.

Using a sharp knife, loosen the marshmallows from the sides of the pans. Dust a long sheet of waxed paper with more of the cornstarch-confectioners' mixture and flip the marshmallows onto the paper. Dust all visible surfaces of the marshmallows with more of the cornstarch-confectioners' mixture. Allow them to sit for another 2 hours.

With a sharp knife, cut the marshmallows into even strips 1-1 1/2 inches wide.

Dip your knife into cold water after each cut to clean the blade and to make cutting a whole lot easier.

Cut the marshmallows into squares and coat all sides with confectioners' sugar. These cute little treats are worth the wait!

Click here for a printable recipe!